How did communist Albania help preserve neighbouring Corfu? An interesting fact


The reason for this area of Corfu remaining unspoilt to this day, as we discovered, is its proximity to communist Albania.

The reason for this area of Corfu remaining unspoilt to this day, as we discovered, is its proximity to communist Albania.

Beyond Agios Stephanos, the Albanian coast and Ksamil by the sea

 

Boat entering Agios Stephanos bay, opposite Albanian coastline

Boat entering Agios Stephanos bay, opposite Albanian coastline

While holidaying in the North-Eastern part of Corfu, in the area of Agios Stephanos, we discovered a very interesting fact about Albania and Corfu.

Albania is geographically very close to the North-East of Corfu, the distance is said to be about three quarters of a mile. And during our stay, we could actually see Albania’s mountains and coastline very close from our villa, in Agios Stephanos.

It is the southern part of Albania that is so near that you feel “you could touch it with your hand” (an Albanian expression). The same for the small town by the sea of Ksamil, the ancient archeological site of Butrint and the southernest mountainous village of Konispol. Their lights would shine across the sea, at night.

It is so close that I kept asking my father constantly “is that Albania” in disbelief, “is that our country”? He kept answering “yes, yes, and yes” till I stopped asking.

I was so surprised by the proximity because up until now, aged 35 I had no idea that Albania was so close to Corfu. I knew it was close from Saranda, a bigger town of the South, half an hour away from the border. (We had departed from Saranda to Corfu when I was 12, my first trip abroad with my father, so I was familiar with that route).

But here, in the precise location of Agios Stephanos, Albania was much closer. It seemed to me that it is possible for a good swimmer, to swim across the sea, in perhaps 1 hour, from these nearest points on both sides. After some research I found the answer to this. A British, Thomas Hodgkinson, has actually swam the distance of three quarters of a mile, from Albania to the bay of Agios Stephanos in 2011, in 1 hour 10 minutes.

Corfu being so close to Albania at this point, made me think about the excellent opportunity the location must have presented at the time, to escape the communist regime.

It must have been the Mecca of all those wanting to leave the country and find refuge in a western country.

But as you would expect, the area was fortified with a heavy military presence, to prevent the escapees from reaching Greek shores. And it was possibly mined, I was told recently.

On the other hand, from Corfu shores, the heavy military fortification of the Albanian border, presented a threat and was a cause of fear.

And this is where it starts to get interesting. The area of Agios Stephanos, is a beautiful part of Corfu which has remained unspoilt from the building boom of the 70s where most parts of Corfu were developed into resorts and blocks of flats for European tourists.

From the hilltops you can enjoy a clear view over olive trees, the bay of Agios Stephanos and in the distance, the imposing mountains of Albania.

The reason for this area remaining unspoilt to this day, as we discovered, is its proximity to communist Albania. Because it was so close, building in this area was “restricted”. There were no roads either, before the 70s, something that slowed down the pace of development. But the main reason, for this part of Corfu keeping its original unspoilt character, was Albania’s communism.

It is quite ironic that on one side, the location was a golden opportunity for escaping from the country but also an impossible mission, as every movement was watched and the area heavily patrolled. No one would leave the shore alive.

On the other hand, communist Albania had a beneficial effect on neighbouring Corfu, as it preserved one of its best areas as a traditional fishing village, to this day. Thanks communist Albania!

For us going there from London, me being Albanian and my husband English, with my Albanian parents, the fact was very telling. It was insider’s knowledge as well, as the owner of the villa we were staying in, an architect and builder, told us this story.

What an irony of history! It is the same sea, the same place. On one side of it, the country and its people are degraded by a brutal regime and on the other side, the countryside is preserved and enriched thanks to the same brutal regime and the threat it represented.

It is a shame the enriching and preservation didn’t happen on both sides. But Albania will catch up and its coast and its villages will also turn again into traditional places that display a rich culture and history. What is happening now, is similar to what happened in Corfu in the 70s, an uncontrolled building boom.

It will take some time but anecdotes like this one, will also be told to tourists, on the other side, the Albanian side, about some positive effects Corfu had on a part of Albania which will be preserved at its best.

There are examples already, the archeological site of Butrint who receives a lot of attention from Corfu and foreign tourists in the area. Agios Stephanos also share the same patron, the father of the Rothschild family (insider’s knowledge again, from the same source).

Family day at the Battersea Arts Centre – great way to discover the centre with your children, enjoy live music and free lunch (for kids)


Me and my two boys went on a rather special outing on Saturday morning (27th september), at the Battersea Arts Centre. The centre holds a Family Day event, on the last Saturday of every month (next ones will be on 25th October, 29th November and 27th December 2014).

The toddler was very excited as I had explained that we are going to:

“a new place where there will be toys and a play area for you to play in, live music (with real instruments and real musicians, something amazing for my toddler!), a workshop where we will be making things (less amazing, he’s not very good at sitting still and making things…) and we can also have lunch there, together (“and get an orange juice or an ice-cream” I could read on his face)”.

It all sounded a dream and I could see his face, beaming with happiness as I finished my explanation.

He was getting impatient in the morning (while I was having my beauty baby-feeding nap) and was asking “mami (the Albanian version of mummy) when are we going to that thing”?

As soon as daddy dropped us off at the centre, the excitement began with the toddler noticing balloons outside the main entrance, “mami, look there is a party”.

We went in and were welcomed by a girl who asked if we wanted to take part in the workshop. “Yes please”.

Then parked the buggy, took shoes off and got ready to go in the Bee’s Knees, a magical indoor play space for under 5s . That’s where the workshop was going to take place. But my toddler rushed off to discover “the magical play area” and showed no interest whatsoever in the making of the workshop. I ended up doing it myself at the end, as I thought we should have something, to take back home after such a lovely morning…

But the toddler loved the setting, the toys, the bridge and the hills in the play area, as well as playing with other children (and their parents, a couple in particular he befriended). A place to go back to again, I thought, observing him play, as I was rocking the younger baby in the sling.

(I didn’t see many other mums or dads on their own with 2 children, but didn’t realise that until I was home and was feeling exhausted; no wonder, looking after two children at the same time…).

As part of the workshop we also went to the Grand hall, to see the spectacular glass window, up in the ceiling in the shape of a dome. My toddler wasn’t very impressed by this either and was impatient to return to the main hall, where he noticed the musicians were setting up and the instruments (a cello and 2 guitars) were out.

More activities were available to children to play with in the main hall, next to the staircase, which my toddler was quick to spot.

Then began the music, a kind of gypsy mixed tunes, which reminded me of the music of the Orpheus production we had seen last year at the BAC, beautiful cabaret style music and performance (I definitely recommend it, if it’s still on).

In the meantime the toddler was getting hungry, tired and thirsty and it was time for some food. We ordered at the bar, ‘beans on toast’ for him and ‘mushrooms on toast’ for me and with our drinks in our hands we were listening to the music in the main hall, dancing and waiting for our lunch.

The toddler’s lunch was free, a nice little gesture by the centre.

It had been fine until then, but hot and tired toddlers are a receipe for disaster. While I was getting hot myself (the cafe is really warm), with a headache (the coke I was drinking relieved it somehow) and my shoulders aching from the sling and the weight of a 6.5 kg baby, the toddler needed more attention and distraction, while the lunch was being made.

The order took a long time to arrive (the only criticism) but then when it did, it was very quickly gone. He finished his beans in no time and I took a big longer to eat my mushrooms, dropping some on the baby’s head…

We left at about 2pm, having arrived at 11am after a morning heavy in playing, music and some dancing, lunch and even a pair of cute baby slipper we bought from the clothes swap, at the centre.

All in all, a wonderful busy morning, in a lovely arts centre.

Here is the toddler enjoying his drink and listening to the live band performing.

20141002-145746.jpg

The Pope’s visit to Albania has turned Albania (my lovely country) into a positive example abroad


The Pope visited Albania yesterday, Sunday 21st of September 2014.

It was an emotional visit for many, catholic and muslims alike, as he was seen by Albanians as a  blessing to their country and its continuous efforts for improvement and an homage to its long suffering people.

Also very importantly the Pope’s visit has turned Albania into a positive example abroad and an inspiration for other countries. Albania’s portrayal by the media abroad, under a positive light is amazing on many fronts:

- it is so unusual as the opposite negative image is often aired, of a country crippled by corruption and organised crime. So hopefully images and stereotypes will change and ordinary citizens will be able to remember a positive fact about Albania.

- it will be inspiring for others abroad and hopefully show that it is possible to have different religions co-exist harmoniously – especially in the current efforts to counteract the violence and extremism shown by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Currently 3 religions co-exist peacefully in Albania, muslim, catholic and orthodox. The key to this is perhaps a moderate level of belief, not taken to extremes which allows for the acceptance of other forms of belief.

- it will be inspiring for Albanians themselves who have very little trust in their politicians and institutions. A blessing from the Pope can give people that touch of magic or supra-natural belief that things will get better for them.

- it will genuinely improve Albanians self-image and confidence as they can refer to an important collective event that enhanced them as people.

- it is a recognition of Albania’s hundreds of martyrs who died or were persecuted by the communist regime when Albania became the first atheist country in the world to officially ban religions. The communist dictator Enver Hoxha took the idea that “religion is the opium of the people” to an extreme and waged a war against religion, killing many priests and imams, and transforming many churches and mosques into cinemas, warehouses etc.

- it will help the collective psyche to accept the communist past and its horrible crimes better and reognise the pain suffered by its many victims. There are still people in Albania today who praise the dictator Enver Hoxha as the leader and the saviour of the nation!! ( I don’t know in which world they live but they need to wake up and listen to the victims’ side of history).

 

 

While watching the various photos and videos posted online by friends and media, I felt many times emotional (almost weeping but that’s probably due to the early-motherhood hormones) and mostly proud of my little country, who has indeed suffered a lot and has not had a very smooth history.

It is up to people to change their history and I hope the Pope’s visit will have given my fellow Albanians more courage and hope to tackle the problems and issues they face (which are many, unemployment, lack of opportunities, fleeing of the youth to other countries looking for better opportunities, poor health system, corruption, etc, etc).

The Telegraphs article

Pope visits Albania: 10 things you may not know one of Europe’s least understood countries

is quite nice and gives a few interesting facts about Albania. Do have a read.

Some beautiful photos were taken during the visit

http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/380220/news/world/muslims-and-christians-throng-albania-streets-to-greet-pope-francis

Do also have a look.

Let’s finish with a blessing, God (or the Pope) bless Albania.

 

Mama of two goes to the movies – the Big Scream – to watch Luc Besson’s, Lucy


Do you think going to the cinema with a baby is a good idea? I am sure you don’t, you have in mind noise, crying, other people tutting at you, stress. That is how it would be, going to a normal cinema screening, with your baby.

Imagine for a second, going to the cinema with your baby and it all going well: the baby feeds, sleeps, is a little unsettled but nothing too inconvenient and guess what, there are other people in the same situation as you. You are not alone and no one is going to tut at you or say shshsh. Wouldn’t this be incredible or indeed possible at all? Yes, it would and luckily (for those parents near a Picture House cinema) it is a real-life, scenario, not one just imagined. The cinema with babies is real.

It is called the Big Scream and it is a stroke of genius. They have customers who otherwise they would miss out on and the mamas and papas of young children, have the chance to go to the movies and enjoy a moment of normality with a sense that life with babies, is still quite, errr, similar to before. “See we even go to the cinema, it is not that bad”, I can hear myself tell childless colleagues at work.

Ok it is not the same, as going to the cinema in the evening, the sessions run at 10.30 am and you don’t usually have a beer or a glass of wine before or after. Instead you have a cappuccino or a late (offered by the cinema). And it is something you can only do, if you are on maternity or paternity leave. “Yes there are some dads with their babies, yes on their own, at these screenings, I have seen one or two”, for those that are asking the inevitable question, are there men at these fabulous events?

So mama of two is back, with 7 weeks old baby nr. 2 at the Clapham Picture House. The movie I watched this week is Lucy, Luc Besson’s latest. I was excited to go back to these sessions, 3 years after going there with baby nr.1.

There are aplenty official reviews of the movie that gave me a feel of what to expect: “the blockbuster of the summer”, “silly but eccentric”, “an interesting idea with a questionable execution” (the one I agree the most with).

Apparently, Besson himself, has said Lucy is a film in three acts: “The beginning is Leon The Professional, the middle is Inception, the end is 2001: A Space Odyssey.”. Quite ambitious I thought (as did the official reviewers) and intriguing enough, to make me leave the house without my morning nap, finishing the house chores, getting the dinner ready, speaking on Skype, watching the last “Live at the Apollo episode”, etc etc (life is busy for a mama). I just got ready and left (with baby still in his pyjamas…).

I am not going to give a full review of the movie, as the point is to talk about, mama’s outing. Nor I want to give the plot away. Just a few thoughts:

- Lucy was thought provoking, a good attempt at imagining how would the human brain function at 100% capacity (now we are at about 10% according to the movie, something considered more widely as a bit of a myth)
- Informative, the 10% (as a theory) but also other aspects of our evolution. I will be able to remember that life appeared 1 billion years ago thanks to the movie (I remember better visual information, and I hope Luc has got the facts right). I will also remember, the first ancient human ancestor we know of, was called Lucy
- The plot was satisfying from a woman’s point of view with all the action and the killing of the bad guys performed by a woman (not a muscled man)
- And also satisfying for giving the role of having the full brain capacity to a woman and seeing what she does with it. What concerns her, it turns out, is knowledge and the philosophical questioning of human life and what are humans doing with it. “We are too concerned with having rather than being”, says Doctor Norman (Morgan Freeman), a neuroscientist who has conducted research into the evolution of the human brain and its growing from 1% capacity to 10%. This kind of a concern, knowledge and the human brain do echo with me and i believe with many other people around the world. And it is good to see they are shared by Luc Besson too.

Some more thoughts. What would I do if I had 100% brain capacity? I asked myself that question and my immediate answer was, I would explore the universe, find other planets for humans to live in “peacefully” without the need to fight over resources. And at the end I would surely get used to it and would lead a normal human life with a 100% brain capacity.

What does Lucy do with her 100% brain capacity?

- She transfers all her newly gained knowledge about how the brain works into a USB memory stick (yes, hilarious) and gives it (after having disaperead from her human form into a form of being everywhere) to the doctor.
- She travels in times, backward only… I would have loved her to travel in e future… And sees, New York’s Time Square as it was back in the early 20th century; when Indian populations lived in that piece of land, riding their horses and looking baffled by the view of a woman sitting in a desk chair; when dinosaurs were roaming around and finally when Lucy was alive. Our Lucy obviously had to meet her.

Some parts of the movie that are difficult to believe:
- The drug that allows Lucy to gain the full brain capacity. Where is it, can we all have some please?
- Her nearly fully dissolving in the toilet cabin of an airplane only to regain her full figure, after having some more of the blue drug. And also why blue, has Luc been watching too much Breaking Bad?
- All the killing which doesn’t seem justifiable and not believable either, does it really happen?
- When Lucy first realises she is gaining new supernatural abilities, she calls her mother and starts by saying “mum, I feel everything, I feel the planets, I feel gravity (it all sounded a bit far fetched for a real-life type of conversation), I can remember everything, the taste of your milk in my mouth (quite sweet), the room and the 1000 kisses you gave me (definitely sweet but not enough to make the whole story believable).

So to conclude, Mama of Two, enjoyed Lucy, it poses good questions about the meaning of life, our knowledge of human brain and human evolution. It is entertaining and it is a good attempt at trying to imagine the full brain capacity. I would have wanted more scientific information around that, more than philosophical meandering. But as we, humans don’t have the answers yet, Luc does not either. He is not able to see into te future, as he hasn’t yet reached 100% brain capacity, himself. The quest continues although Luc has ruled out, a Lucy 2.

Now it is time for us to leave, go and have some lunch and back to the joys of breastfeeding and being the mama to a lovely, sweet little baby, who is part of my answer to the question of the meaning of life. As it is for many other people, I am sure.

See you next week for another Big Scream movie.

20140829-155545.jpg

Published in the Guardian – how can social landlords help with childcare and allow many parents to work


Exciting news! In my previous post I did hint that something was maybe coming.

I had my first commission from the Guardian, in their Guardian Housing Network about a piece which makes the case for social landlords to take a role in facilitating childcare as key to removing a significant barrier to work for parents, especially mothers.

Receiving the commission itself was exciting and at first I felt the pressure that I had to find the material and do a good job at writing. I sourced the material thanks to great contributions from housing providers across the country and to the amazing work they are doing.

I spoke to New Charter operating in the Manchester area; to Peabody in London, and Family Mosaic in London and the South East. I also spoke to childcare providers operating in Birmingham, pressure groups and mothers for whom access to affordable childcare is key to be able to work.

As to the writing, that was the more stressful part, juggling between facts about unemployment, single mothers in social housing, the lack of affordable childcare in this country, Nick Clegg’s recent announcements and commentary, quotes and examples from landlords.

The training from my London School of Journalism course was pretty useful to structure my thoughts and also my tutor’s comments.

And above all, my husband’s great editing and his analytical skills which came in handy to structure the headings better and allow me to find a thread for the story.

The end result was published today!

Children at childcare

Childcare costs the average family 30% of their income, a similar proportion to mortgage repayments. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

http://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2014/apr/07/affordable-childcare-encourage-parents-work-housing-providers

So all in all, a great team effort with contributions from many people, some mentioned in the piece some behind the scenes.

And as a result, a published story that invites landlords to do more to help their communities improve their lives and those of their children. Something I am pleased I have played a role, in being discussed and accepted more.

 

The art of pitching – how to suggest ideas to potential markets


Lauraslittlethings:

If you don’t ask you don’t get – How to pitch ideas for potential markets and make sure you get editors attention? By using grabbing subject lines when sending your pitch. There are more things I learnt when preparing this assignment for the London School of Journalism.

Originally posted on Laura's Little Things:

My last assignment (nr 7) for the London School of Journalism’s “Freelance journalism” course was all about pitching and identifying potential markets for your writing. The potential markets are either related to your specialism or your passion or your local area.

When it comes to pitches:

- keep them short and sweet, only a couple of lines is enough
- be as focused as possible so that editors can see that you have a specific idea and outline in mind
- think abut your sources, the more original they are the better; busy editors or newspaper staff don’t have the time to interview people from every sector or specialism, so if you know of someone with an interesting story or are aware of some new research published but not widely known yet, pitch your idea
- quotes and interviews are what make the difference and keep the interest alive
-…

View original 774 more words

The art of pitching – how to suggest ideas to potential markets


My last assignment (nr 7) for the London School of Journalism’s “Freelance journalism” course was all about pitching and identifying potential markets for your writing. The potential markets are either related to your specialism or your passion or your local area.

When it comes to pitches:

- keep them short and sweet, only a couple of lines is enough
- be as focused as possible so that editors can see that you have a specific idea and outline in mind
- think abut your sources, the more original they are the better; busy editors or newspaper staff don’t have the time to interview people from every sector or specialism, so if you know of someone with an interesting story or are aware of some new research published but not widely known yet, pitch your idea
- quotes and interviews are what make the difference and keep the interest alive
- after sending the pitch follow up with the editor to get something back, even if they say they are not interested in this idea but they can suggest another angle or idea
- keep pitching, it is good practice and there is learning to be gained from the process
- an inspiring example has been the story of the Butterflyist who tells her story from a mental break down to being a writer for the Guardian. She has examples of her pitches and what she has learnt.

And here is my story for this assignment

As with other modules from this course, it was great practice to put myself in the position of thinking about potential articles I could write for possible outlets.

The main outlets I identified for the assignment are related to my housing work – the Guardian Housing Network, an online network part of the Guardian newspaper and website that covers issues and news from the housing sector and Inside Housing, the housing sector’s trade magazine and online website.

My local area, where I live – the Brixton Blog, a collective blog about Brixton. Or where I work at the moment – the Fulham Chronicle, a newspaper that covers the Hammersmith and Fulham area.

My passion for photography was another area with Photography Monthly, a monthly magazine for amateur and professional photographers, being another possible outlet.

Part of the assignment is to suggest ideas about articles as well as identifying the markets. So I had to include some ideas about what I could write. Here are a few of these ideas:

Fo the Brixton blog

- local news reports in relation to schools or nurseries – being a mum this is right up my street

- a special report about a major regeneration project in Lambeth, in Myatts field, that is being delivered by the company (Pinnacle psg) I am doing a secondment with at the moment

The Guardian Housing Network

- Housing management seen from an outsider’s perspective’

Inside Housing

- What does it mean to be a housing officer today, a front-line perspective’

Photography Monthly

- Interview with professional photographers on tips for setting up your business as a photographer’

The other part of the assignment was about suggesting an article for a chosen outlet. I chose to suggest an article for the Guardian Housing Network about a number of half-term events that were organised by Pinnacle, in Hammersmith and Fulham. I did complete this part of the assignment for the course and I did also suggest it to the Guardian Housing Network. This is the title and a proposed approach:

When housing providers have a direct impact in their community – Pinnacle Psg half-term activities in the Fulham area

A range of half term activities was delivered by Pinnacle psg who are in charge of managing social housing stock on behalf of Hammersmith & Fulham council, for the south of the borough.

These activities attended by about 100 residents, included a detective event at Lancaster Court, a magician show at West Kensington tenants hall, a ‘Bling your bike’ workshop at Gibbs Green tenants’ hall and Cinema Clubs in other resident halls.

My pitch went on about the benefits of these free events to families on low-income, how resident engagement is something Pinnacle are very committed to and how customer engagement is key to business success, in particular for private companies who are very dependent on their measured and visible performance.

I did send the assignment to my tutor and the pitch to the Guardian and was happy for a couple of days. Satisfied that I had completed another module.

The tutor came back with his comments, which were very good and constructive. And the Guardian came back saying they didn’t feel the suggestion was wide enough to cover various providers across the country. But they did suggest some other ideas, which I did follow up and maybe they may lead to something. Who knows, watch this space.

The key lesson that came from the tutor was about the length of the pitch – it only needs to be a couple of lines. Mine was almost a full page!!! Important learning there, don’t send long pitches, keep them sweet and short.

I have to admit I did write the article or what I thought was going to be the article, in order to be able to write the pitch. I couldn’t just list the ideas I wanted to cover without having them clearly set out in my head and the potential article structured between facts, quotes, observations, etc. So all in all, good practice and great learning!

 

Our memorable family holiday in the Ardeche region, south of France


This is the reworked and final draft of my ‘travel feature’ assignment – I shared an earlier version of it here on the blog and after I received some comments (by email, a great benefit of sharing your work) I have reviewed it below.

_______________________________________________________________________

For the adventurous family who likes to design their holiday and enjoys driving, France is an excellent destination offering countless possibilities.

After having completed the rite of passage of most British car travellers and spent a week in Brittany, the previous summer, we decided to travel further afield this time, to the south of France.

Our final destination, Vallon Pont d’Arc, a small town in the centre of the Ardeche region, offers spectacular views of the river Ardeche meandering through towering limestone cliffs.

River Ardeche meandering through gorges in the Ardeche

River Ardeche meandering through gorges in the Ardeche. The night before we had a storm raging through but barely bringing temperatures below 30 degrees next morning.

An impressive 60 m high, naturally formed arch gives its name to the town and forms the entrance to this tourist honeypot.

In the summer, streams of colourful canoes go under the Arch in their descent of the river Ardeche, the most popular activity in the area.

With two very young children, our two year old son and our French friends’ one year old daughter, we opted for the comfort of a holiday house. To our benefit the house had been recently renovated, with a particularly exotic touch – a spiral iron stairwell brought from Thailand!

A house within walking distance to the town centre was ideal and soon our early morning strolls for fresh croissants, became a ritual that the children enjoyed.

Vallon Pont d’Arc is centrally located making it easy to go on half-day trips to nearby places. And for us long distance travellers, it was fantastic not to spend a lot of time on the road.

The town itself is home to a host of markets where local producteurs sell their delicious products. Ham, saucisson, wine, cheese and lavender flavoured nougat were some of the delicacies we tried.

Lavender is a local speciality and many by-products are sold in the local Lavender Museum, where visitors can also take photos in idyllic lavender fields.

Lavender fields at the Lavender Museum in Vallon Point d'Arc, in Ardeche

Lavender fields at the Lavender Museum in Vallon Point d’Arc, in Ardeche

Although tempted to only relax by the river or sit in a cafe while watching locals play petanque, we also had more physical activities and went canoeing, through the famous arch and into unspoilt pebbled beaches alongside the river. For those interested in pre-historic art, the area is a real treasure with its many pre-historic caves.

And if after swimming and canoeing in the river, enjoying panoramic views or immersing yourself in history, you feel eager for more, there is still plenty to do.

A number of villages of particular beauty are close by and have old houses clinging on to steep slopes, impressive beaches surrounded by high cliffs and pedestrian only centres where you can cool off with an artisan ice-cream.

Beach by the river Ardeche, in Balazuc

Beach by the river Ardeche, in Balazuc

Having a chocolate and vanilla ice cream might not be the climax for everyone but it certainly was for our son as was the coffee flavour for our friend Jérémie.

The impressive range of activities, natural beauty and culinary delights made Vallon Pont d’Arc a perfect holiday destination, worth getting to after long hours of driving from London. In a car without air-conditioning, I can now reveal, something that we will remedy before our next drive through France.

Photographing people in the street, is it easy?


Lauraslittlethings:

Do you find street photography easy or like me you feel a bit awkward when meeting the look of a stranger questioning your intentions as you are about to press the camera ‘click’? But good news, we can all get better at it by practising and asking for permission or with a look, ‘can I’? Usually people say yes and can also engage in conversations. Here is an earlier experience of mine.

Originally posted on Laura's Little Things:

I set myself a task to get better at photographing people in the street. 

That is an area I like and I want to get better at as I like observing what people do, how they dress, how they behave and interact. But of course as fascinating it can be it is also quite difficult. What I worry the most about is people’s first reaction, whether they want their picture taken and whether they will interact with me to say ‘please delete’ or whether they will turn away. What happens most times is people turn away to avoid being photographed. So the type of images I kept shooting were ‘stolen’ images which were not very well framed, or were taken in a hurry or didn’t have any expressions in them. 

So I decided to change that and started asking people if I could take their picture. Here are some of…

View original 184 more words

Falling down a rabbit hole – looking back at slavery after watching ’12 Years a Slave’


This is a revised draft of part of my assignment – the column on a news story – which I decided to write on the issue of black people’s slavery perpetrated by white men. This was after the release of ’12 Years a Slave’ movie.

I wrote a first draft, now revised after watching the movie and being completely taken by it. The movie is very harsh but that reality was harsh. What black people went through, the sufferance, the humiliation and the psychological damage, were brought to life very convincingly. What has happened is shameful and the effects are still around us; as a society I believe we should look at this and try to remedy it. Here is the new draft. I am happier with it and will send it to my tutor. If you have any views/comments please share them with me. Thanks.  

________________________________________________________________________

It is impossible for those who have watched the movie Years a Slave’, not to feel a deep sense of empathy but also shame about a dark part of our history. And that is common history for the western world not only for America, as is often misunderstood.

Many are hoping that director Steve McQueen will give us another exceptional movie about the slave trade and Britain. In the meantime, Chiwetel Ejiofor the movie’s main actor has invited us to look at Britain’s role in the slave trade.

“There is this reflex fear that once you expose something, once you talk about it, you are really talking about your society. That is why we do not really investigate what Bristol or London or Bath would be without the slave trade”.

Although not immediately welcome as a topic for public debate, looking back at slavery can only help better understand a number of issues.

First, the movements of population between Africa, and America and the Caribbean as part of the transatlantic slave trade. And later in more modern history, between the Caribbean and Britain when many Afro-Caribbeans came to live in the UK.

Second, the immense contribution of black African people in the making of modern Britain and other European countries. Acknowledging this would be restoring some long-due justice to their historic role.  

Third, I cannot think of many worse forms of abuse than psychological damage, which has long-lasting effects on entire generations of people. We need as a society to remedy our past mistakes and find solutions to improve life chances for those left on the margins.

Chiwetel said, he fell down a rabbit hole with the book of Solomon Northup, the story of ’12 Years a Slave’. He has certainly gone through a journey into the heart of darkness, something we should all do to find the truth at the other end.

Our family holiday in the South of France, in the Ardeche region


This is the second part of my assignment for the ‘Freelance journalism and feature writing course’ with the London School of Journalism. I have to write a 500 words travel feature about a place I have visited recently. I chose to talk about last summer’s family holidays we had in the Ardeche region, in the South of France (covered in the blog in 4 previous posts Holidays in Ardeche, South of France 1, 2, 3 and 4). This is a summary of the trip with useful information about the practicalities, how to get there, finding your accommodation and our impressions. At the moment it feels a bit like too much brochure talk, not very personal, what do you think, do you find that? I would appreciate some thoughts on how to change it and make it more personal. Thank you. 

Vallon Pont D'Arc in Ardeche_________________________________________________________________________

For the adventurous family who likes to design their own holiday and enjoys the thrill of driving through a country, France is an option close to home.

When travelling, in the summer, a car with fully functioning air-conditioning is a must for not spoiling the fun.

Out of all the exciting options France has on offer, we decided to travel to the South, in the area of the National Reserves of the Gorges of Ardeche, from London. Recommended by our French friends we embraced the idea of discovering a new part of France but also having a different holiday by a river,  rather than the sea.

Travelling with a 2-year-old means some compromises need to be made, such as breaking the journey in two parts and if possible travel at night. Crossing the English Channel through the Eurotunnel, is quicker and more economical that taking the ferry. Also children love it.

Driving down and back through the ‘Autoroute des Anglais’, the A26 from Calais to Troyes is straightforward, although the tolls need to be considered in your budgeting. On the way down we stopped at Dijon and on the way back in Reims, taking the opportunity to visit its famous Cathedral. The second leg involves driving through the A6 and A7, the “Autoroutes du soleil’, quite busy going south but less so, on the return.

After Montelimar you leave the motorway for smaller, meandering routes, up high in the mountains of Ardeche.

Vallon Pont d’Arc, our final stop, is a beautiful town with many markets and artisan shops.

Finding the right holiday house can be easily done through English or French websites. A place that is at walking distance from the town centre is a bonus, as it is pleasant to take the children for a stroll in the morning to buy the croissants.

Most of the activities are child friendly but depending on the age of the child, you may choose to go for a swim rather than take a toddler in a cave, especially not the ones with many steps going down a dark cavern.

The river Ardeche, does not get very deep and its cool waters are sublimely refreshing. Canoeing is very popular and you can choose from trips of different grades of difficulty. The scenery is stunning particularly as go under the iconic Arc, a natural formation, the town gets its name from.

A number of villages of particular beauty are at close driving proximity and have river banks for a quick swim or pedestrian centres where you can stop for an ice-cream while you watch locals play petanque.

Vallon Pont d’Arc has all the charm of a French holiday destination, with an impressive range of activities for the whole family, alongside natural beauty spots and culinary delights. The perfect mix recommended by our family, for a perfect holiday.

Falling down a rabbit hole – the slavery debate sparked by ’12 Years a Slave’


Lauraslittlethings:

How has the film ’12 years a slave’ affected you? Is it helpful to make us here in Britain think about the past and the trade slave? This is not only an issue that concerns Americans, it is relevant in the UK as well as in other European countries involved in this trade. Check out why having a debate on the issue of the slavery trade would be beneficial for us here in Britain.

Originally posted on Laura's Little Things:

In a previous post I was looking for some ideas and suggestions on how to write a column. It is one of my assignments for module 6 of the ‘Freelance journalism and feature writing’ course I am doing with the London School of Journalism.

For this part of the assignment I had to write a 250 words column based on a recent news story. My choice went for the debate generated by the movie ’12 Years a Slave’ and its main actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who called for the book and the movie to be taught at every school in Britain. Here is my (very concise) draft (I would have written much more on this but I had to keep it to the word count). Again any views or comments would be much appreciated. Thank you. 

_________________________________________________________________________

’12 Years a Slave’ a movie poised for numerous awards, has opened the…

View original 249 more words