Friday, 11 August 2017

Starting our South African trip - late January 2017

We arrived in Johannesburg by plane from London on 28 January 2017; our friend Cathy kindly met us at the airport and drove us back to their home.  The first photo I took was that evening, reminding me  (as if I could forget!) of the wonderful African sunsets.
As always, spectacular colours!

On the following morning, we all walked up the road to a popular local suburban cafe for breakfast.  Here are Cathy, Steve and Nigel ordering up a feast in the warm southern summer sunshine!  


Standing on the cafe's corner, I managed to get a shot of the high rise office blocks of the Johannesburg CBD in the distance - this was the closest we ever went to the city centre, the largest city in South Africa. Greater Johannesburg has a population of 10.5 million and is the capital of Gauteng province.  Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, is some 30 miles (50km) to the north, but the two cities are today almost joined by development. We can remember the days in the early '80's when many miles of countryside separated the two  cities!

For the next 3 days, I  hardly picked up the camera; we were visiting friends, partying and shopping!!


This is part of the Cresta shopping centre, always one of our favourite places to shop.  It was first opened in 1977 and over the years it has grown and grown, to become one of South Africa's largest shopping malls.

On 1 February, with thanks to Cathy for letting us use her second car, we drove the 300 km (180 miles) to Mahikeng (previously Mafikeng and before that, in the days of Queen Victoria, it was Mafeking!)  to meet our friends Christelle and Patrick.
En route we saw many overloaded vehicles!! Toyota have long had a factory in South Africa and have invested lots of money in improving their designs to cope with the extreme uses to which their vehicles are put. It is not uncommon for their pickups (or bakkies, in SA slang) like the one above, to run for up to 1 million kilometres before an overhaul.

Acres upon acres of maize (or mealies, as they are known locally), the staple diet of most country people....

and a typical African-style stop sign where there were road works.

On the following day, we took a tour of Mahikeng centre, reminding us of the time we lived there in the early '90's. Taxis like those on the right are everywhere, and are vital to the majority of the population for getting around.

It seemed much busier than when we lived here,  but the badly potholed roads made driving more like an obstacle course!

Police vehicles were conspicuous,  but we were not sure if they were working or shopping!  We  had to carry out the final replenishment of supplies, as the next day we were off to Botswana for a week of game viewing. The border is only 26 km (15 miles) away, but Botswana itself is a big country, about the size of Texas in the USA.


Arriving in Gaborone, the capital, there were signs everywhere celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence. It was on 30 September 1966, that Botswana (then known as the Bechuanaland Protectorate), was granted independence from British rule. A generally quiet and peaceful country, with kind and courteous people, its wealth comes principally, I would say, from the diamond and cattle industries.

Our first stop was a two night stay-over at the rhino sanctuary, where the local  Batswana people are being fairly successful  at present in keeping the scourge of poaching to a minimum. Long may they continue!

We chose this isolated A frame chalet a kilometre away from the full amenities of the main camp - hence no electricity!  Nigel and I were lucky, we had the downstairs, while our friends had the upstairs.  The toilet and shower were in the open wooden building, just visible to the left of this shot.  A little scary going to the toilet at night, as what had Patrick spotted just outside the front door?....

Yes, this was the paw print of a leopard - see the claw marks at the front!  Sadly we did not get to see one at all on our whole trip, as they are not often to be seen in daylight!

Enjoying the dinner that Nigel and Patrick had cooked on the barbecue, or braai as it is known in South Africa. Head torches are pretty much essential if you want to see what you are doing! On a moonless night, it's almost pitch black away from artificial lighting.

I hope that this gives you a taste of the episodes  which will be following. Thanks to our friends, we spent most of the remainder of our holiday deep in "the bush", looking for wildlife of all kinds. Following very heavy summer rains, the grass and undergrowth was unusually tall and thick, making the task of taking photos more than difficult! However, I managed to snap a good selection of animals and birds, plus some incredible views!

Also see my daily diary HERE


and My Life Before Charente (updated  25 September 2016) I will get back to this eventually! 

Friday, 28 July 2017

Some of my favourite 2017 photos used in my daily photo blog.

All photos were taken in the Charente unless otherwise stated!
07/01/2017 Eurasian blue tit on the window sill.

23/01/2017 European robin on a rosemary root.

24/01/2017 Eurasian blue tit taking a bath.

04/02/2017 Giraffe in Botswana.

04/02/2017 Southern yellow-billed hornbill in Botswana.

07/02/2017 Elephant in Botswana.

19/02/2017 Bushbaby in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa.

01/03/2017 Meika - Golden Chinchilla at friends in Johannesburg, South Africa.

29/03/2017 Hoverfly on a sage flower.

01/04/2017 A 'framed' lamb.

13/04/2017 Aesculapian snake on our veranda.

29/05/2017 Green lizard also on the veranda.

31/05/2017 Bee Beetle on the cotoneaster.

16/06/2017 The Vienne river at Confolens.

29/06/2017 Rose in our garden.

27/06/2017 Common blue (female) butterfly on the lavender.

01/06/2017 Two hoverflies on a very pale Californian poppy.

N.B. I will be blogging about our trip to South Africa, hopefully in the not too distant future!!


Also see my daily diary HERE



and My Life Before Charente (updated  25 September 2016) I will get back to this eventually!  

Monday, 26 June 2017

A visit to Busserolles.

Busserolles is  a small and ancient village, occupied since Roman days.  It lies in the Dordogne, just a few kilometres  from the Charente border; five roads meet there, perhaps to help the population get to the local well (of which more later!). The area is quite hilly and difficult to traverse, which no doubt accounts for the  fiendishly twisty and narrow roads surrounding it!  The  population in 2014 was 511, a lot less than in 1962 when there were 941 inhabitants!  The village has changed its name a number of times; the first mention of it was in the 13th century, when it was called Buxerolla in the local Occitan language (of which I have written before).  In the following century, it was known as Buysserola and it remained thus for half a millennium, when the map makers recorded the name as Buxerolles. Back then, people weren't too fussy about spelling, but there could also have been adjustments to make pronunciation easier for French speakers, who had perhaps become more numerous in the countryside.
Our first stop in the village was (of course!) at the local bar and restaurant known as Le Vieux Puits (The Old Well).  Set in a tiny square at the point where the five roads meet, it's a good place to stop for some refreshment  and we find that the friendly Dutch owner is also fluent in French and English!

This is the old well in the Place de Puits.  The mastiff, belonging, it seemed, to the bar owner,  was a friendly dog who decided to bomb my photo!

Inside the bar, on one of the walls, is this painting of the town and church as it must have been in past ages.

This is my photo of the same scene with a narrower lens, showing how accurate the painting is. The church of Saint-Martial was built in the 12th century, although it was substantially rebuilt in the 15th century.  It was registered as a historical monument in 1958.

It was difficult to take photos of the church facades, because I couldn't get far enough back in the narrow streets! The small main entrance is a bit unusual in that you have to go down four stairs to enter the church. I am guessing that the building of the street's hard surfacing happened much later in time and the ground levels didn't work out!

There were two naves...

separated by large stone columns...

holding up a vaulted ceiling. The masonry techniques are quite impressive for such a modest and unrefined place of worship.

At the back was the beautiful old stone font and the ubiquitous confessional booth!

Colourful stained glass windows, that above in a modern style, but that below of a  more ornate design reflecting a much greater age....

threw interesting lighting into the church.

A bit further down the street, I loved this old house with a mansard roof of traditional design, and especially the decorative art work on the chimneys, which possibly also serve as reinforcement to the brickwork.

The doorway of the above house in more detail. As with the church, one has to wonder why the building and street levels are so different! Maybe the basement had an influence. Nonetheless, it's an attractive and imposing feature, designed to impress. Perhaps a merchant's house or that of a local landowner.

Another attractive, and no doubt costly doorway with ornate balcony above. Strange to see these  incongruous displays of wealth cheek by jowl with labourers' housing which you can see below.

One of the main streets through the village. I guess all the people who live here  have small cars!

The war memorial.  For a small  place like this, it must have suffered badly in WW1.  There are at least 100 names on the 3 plaques, and in some instances 4 have the same family name!! Those  hundred men could have been 10% of the village at that time and a big proportion of the manpower - what a great sacrifice!

Also see my daily diary HERE


and My Life Before Charente (updated  25 September 2016) I will get back to this eventually!  

Monday, 12 June 2017

Talmont-sur-Gironde and the Gallo-Roman site of Le Fa.

Talmont-sur-Gironde is a small commune in the department of Charente-Maritime in southwestern France, on the eastern side of the mouth of the wide Gironde estuary.

The enclosed and fortified village, situated on a peninsula, was founded around a church in 1284, according to orders issued by  Edward I of England, who  controlled that part of France at that time. The church (of which more later), then about 200 years old, was the only building  standing in that isolated spot. The village became a focus for pilgrims journeying from the north of France to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. It survived the long wars of the Middle Ages, but in 1652, it was destroyed by the Spanish and had to be rebuilt!

An aerial shot of Talmont as it is today, photo copied from a post card, as I don't have a drone!! The ancient church and its cemetery can be see on the cliff edge, to the right.

A photo of the lovely B and B where we stayed, taken from the other side of a watery inlet.

One of the narrow traffic-free streets of the village, which is on the list of the most beautiful in France. It's a real tourist destination in summer and many of the little houses have been converted into shops and cafes.

I was fascinated by this magical water tap!

The Mairie (Mayor's office), a focus in every French village.

An interesting doorway, formed with old dressed stones no doubt "liberated" from older, grander, residences which haven't survived!

An old religious artefact recovered from a grander building and thoughtfully incorporated into a restored wall  of one of the village houses.

The church dedicated to Sainte Radegonde, a 6th century religious figure, was built in 1094.

Simple stonework inside the church.

An ancient arch or doorway. Moving on, we arrive at Le Fa..........

What some scholars think might be the town of Novioregum, or Le Fa as the French now call it in the absence of complete proof as to its identity, is in the present day commune of Barzan, very close to Talmont. The extensive archaelogical excavations started in 1975 have revealed a small town, considered to be one of the most important Gallo-Roman trading ports on the Atlantic coast. The Roman stone walling at the base in this photo formed the foundations of an ancient Roman temple called the Sanctuary.


The ruins of a windmill built on the old Roman base. The whole town seems to have been razed to the ground some time in the 4th or 5th centuries A.D., the remains being buried in sand dunes and lost to memory.


Excavations revealing walls forming the rooms of the thermal baths. More excavations are in progress with the hope of uncovering relics which might identify the mystery town.

A reconstructed hypocaust - Roman underfloor heating! Hot air from a nearby fireplace, stoked with wood by slaves, was channelled through the underfloor cavity, warming the stone floor slabs on its way.

An oven used in the manufacture of ceramics, partly restored.

Reproduction of an original mosaic found in the the Roman villa at Séviac, further south in  France.