Weekly Photo Challenge: Culture

This week’s photo challenge is Culture (click here to see more entries). It posed a problem for me at first. I have visited many places, and lived in quite a few, and taken lots of photos on the way, but I struggled to find a photo that really represented the culture of those places to me.

I ended up going right back to some photos that I’d taken with my very first digital camera. Due to that fact, the quality isn’t great.

One of the benefits of working as a holiday rep is that you get to experience most of the day trips and excursions as part of your job. One such excursion for me was to the Achaia Clauss winery in Greece.

From the first moment I entered Achaia Clauss, I was swept away into a Mediterranean fantasy. Even before I got near the wine, I was impressed by the traditional architecture and the welcoming atmosphere. When I entered the wine cellars, I was even more blown away. Our very enthusiastic guide told us all about how they produce and store the wine, and the importance of it to their culture. What amazed and impressed me the most, though, is the detail and artistic thought that is put into the intricate details of the wine casks. Each one is a work of art in itself, and I was impressed by the fact that that someone had put so much thought, time and care into something that so few people would see. Most of the people who drink the wine would never know that it had come from such a beautiful vessel.

Of course we got to try the wine. Their speciality is Mavrodaphne, a very dark red wine that is almost like port. Personally, I don’t usually like red wine, but I would make an exception for Mavrodaphne any day.

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Travel theme: Pale

In complete contrast to this weeks photo challenge, Colour, Ailsa’s travel theme this week is Pale. Click here to see the other entries.

When I thought about which photos I could use for this theme, I was reminded of a shot I took whilst I was working on the Greek island of Kefalonia. The weather in Kefalonia swings dramatically from glorious sunshine to huge thunderstorms and their resulting earthquakes. In nice weather, the White Rocks beach and rocks are a blast of bright oranges and yellows, under a vivid blue sky. I took the photo below just as a storm was coming in from the sea, and the rolling clouds seemed to wash all the colour out of the scene. It was an incredible sight, and I’m glad I captured it.

White Rocks

Travel Theme: Multiples

Ailsa’s travel theme this week is Multiples. Click here to see more entries.

I love photos of multiples, so much so that I have a postcard collection of them that I have picked up from around the world. Wierdly, though, I don’t seem to take multiples shots myself. When I looked through my photos, this was the only one I could find.

Xi Beach

Most beaches in Greece look like Xi Beach in Kefalonia (above), with lines and lines of parasols. Unlike Xi, however, the parasols are usually a plain white or yellow, quite often with the name of a hotel printed on them. These parasols caught my eye because of their bright colours.

Travel Theme: Hot

Ailsa’s Travel Theme this week is Hot. As it is currently incredibly cold here in Wales I’m hoping this theme will help me feel a bit warmer.

Myrtos Beach
I experienced a lot of hot places when I lived in Greece, including Myrtos Beach in Kefalonia
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Death Valley is probably the hottest place I’ve ever visited, though. We’d prepared by filling our water bottles up before we got there, but even they were boiling within an hour.
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I thought I might be imagining things when I saw the General Store. I bought soda and an ice lolly and they tasted sooooo good.

Shop Windows – HHH Challenge

Hitch-Hikers’ Handbook’s photo challenge has provided a fun diversion for me tonight – Interesting shop windows from around the world. Below is my contribution, click here to see more.

Ithaca Shop Front

I took this photo of a shop front on the Greek island of Ithaca. Initially, it was the bright colours that attracted me to this shot. As with everything in Ithaca, it was painted in bright tones that matched the natural hues of the island. When I looked closer, though, I was intrigued by the contents in the window. They reminded me of jars that my science teacher used to keep in a cupboard in the school lab. I certainly didn’t want to try eating them!

Travel Theme: Mystical

Ailsa’s travel theme this week is mystical. The word mystical immediately reminded me of my summer working in Kefalonia.

Kefalonia is part of the Ionian Islands in Greece, and is situated between Zakynthos, or Zante, and Corfu. I must admit, when I first went to work there I knew absolutely nothing about the island. An old manager of mine from Rhodes had persuaded me to move to the other side of the country to work on a team that she was taking over. I was a little surprised, therefore, when she mentioned on our first day of induction that ‘Kefalonia is famous for it’s earthquakes’. What? I suddenly piped up from where I’d been half-listening in the corner of the room. Nobody had told me about the earthquakes until now.

Kefalonia experiences earth tremors, which are like little tiny earthquakes, every day. The big quakes happen about every one to two months in the summer. Even though scientific evidence for the earthquakes is readily available, in a land shrouded in so much myth and legend, it’s hard to believe that there’s not some Greek God at work somewhere. I soon learnt that the biggest earthquakes happen after a storm. I took these photos of a storm that was brewing over the island. The storms, and the following earthquakes, happened quite a lot in the six months that I lived there, and every time was no less mystical. One minute the island would be basked in glorious sunshine and 45 degree heat, and then all of a sudden huge rain clouds would roll in and the sky would turn grey before releasing heavy rain, thunder and lightening.

Facing My Fears 2 – Scuba Diving

Back in September, I told you about how I Faced My Fear of heights by taking up rock climbing. Another of my phobias is the sea, although I don’t believe that this fear is entirely irrational. I didn’t learn to swim until I was eleven years old, and I had a scary experience at the beach when I was just six. Where I grew up on the North West coast of England, the Irish Sea is a wild and dangerous stretch of water that only the bravest, or craziest, swimmers tackle. Unlike the calmer shores of the southern and eastern seaside resorts in the UK, Blackpool and it’s surrounding coastline is attractive for its sandy beaches and bracing air rather than it’s water. About 8 miles north of the bright lights of Blackpool town centre, my village has it’s own little stretch of beach that my dad used to regularly take me to as a child. It was on one such visit that I was caught by a freak wave and dragged out to sea by the current. Luckily, very luckily in fact considering that he can’t swim that well himself, my dad managed to rescue me, but it put me off swimming in open water for life. I remember my dad sitting me in the front of the car to try and dry me off and warm me up, and thinking that I hated the sea. I also remember my dad suggesting that maybe we shouldn’t tell my mum about what had happened when we got back to the house, and me pointing out that she might question why I was soaked through with seaweed sticking out of my hair.

So that, along with a dislike of swimming with fish (I have no idea where that one came from), is why I have a phobia of the sea. Just like with my phobia of heights, I decided to tackle this one head on. My chance came when I went to work in Rhodes in summer 2004. One of the benefits of working as a holiday rep is that you get to experience a lot of the excursions that you sell as part of your job. In Rhodes, one of our most popular days out was scuba diving with Waterhoppers.

From absolute beginners to qualified PADI divers, Waterhoppers are a great school to dive with. Even if you don’t want to dive, it’s still worth going along with those in your party who do. You can have a go a snorkelling, or just chill out on the boat and sunbathe. The Waterhoppers team encourage all the reps to take their PADI course whilst working on the island. Not only does it give you an in-depth knowledge of the sport to be able to sell the excursions, but it also gives you the opportunity to work for the diving school yourself someday. Although I never got round to taking the course, I did have a go at the introductory day.

Working as a holiday rep is incredibly hard. You’re on 24 hour call seven days a week, you work long hours and you have to deal with every situation that you could possibly imagine might happen whilst you’re on holiday. So, when you only have one day off a week, dragging yourself out of bed in the earlier hours to go and meet the diving boat isn’t easy. The first up in our building was Steve. Steve was always the first up in our building. Before becoming a rep, Steve was in the army and had not got out of the habit of tackling everything with head-on military determination. He forced the rest of us out of bed, including Neil who wasn’t actually diving but just wanted to come along and laugh at the rest of us in all the gear. We grabbed a quick breakfast on the way to try and head-off our hangovers from the night before. The diving instructors had told us not to drink alcohol the night before we dived, but on our one night off of the week that instruction and been forgotten about by the time we finished work at 9pm. Refuelled, we headed down to Kalithea Bay where we would be meeting the boat and diving from. ‘Kalithea’ means ‘beautiful view’ and the bay is situated just north of Faliraki, the famous party town of Rhodes.

We boarded the boat and joined a group of holidaymakers for our briefing. After learning the basics of diving, what signals to give when and what safety aspects to be aware off, we were split into smaller groups and sent off to relax on the beach until our designated time. Relax is probably the wrong word to use. Steve had dived before, so he was far too excited to relax, and the rest of us were more than a little nervous. By the time our group were called up, I’m sure I was the same colour as the seaweed.

The first time you put on a wetsuit, before you’ve learnt that trepidation is not the way to go about it, is always interesting. Especially when you’re on a boat that’s bobbing back and forth in a small bay. After about twenty minutes of wrestling ourselves into the suits that looked half the size of us and constantly bumping into each other in the process, our group were all zipped up and ready to get into the water. Even though we were on Rhodes, known as the sunniest island in Greece, this was early May and the water was freezing. Afterwards, one of the instructors commented on how good my diving posture was because I wrapped my arms around my body instead of using them to try and swim. I omitted to tell her that I was only like that because I was desperately trying to keep myself warm in the water, good diving posture was the last thing on my mind.

Before I tried diving, I’d always assumed the hardest part for me would be swimming so far under water with all those fish. Weirdly, once I was under the water I was absolutely fine and all fears of being in the sea completely disappeared, Instead, what I found incredibly hard was just putting my face in the water with my regulator on before I even properly got into the water. I felt so stupid. All I had to do was put my face in the water and breath, but it was the hardest thing in the world to do. Even though I knew I could just pull my face out of the water again if I had to, it took me ages to fight against my instinct and breath through the regulator. Once that was out of the way and I’d acclimatised to the temperature of the water as best as I was ever going to, I was away. Steve, as always, was like a kid in a sweet shop, zigzagging across the seabed every time he saw something that remotely looked like a fish or a stone. He was kicking up sand in everyone else’s faces, the instructor desperately trying to hold him back with the rest of the group. Due to the underwater sandstorm that Steve was creating, I wasn’t able to see much for the first part of the dive. Help came in an unlikely form. Another of my colleagues, James, had incredibly white legs (which were still the same colour six months later after a whole summer of Greek sun) and under the water they were so bright that I was able to follow them through the murky sand. I don’t think I would have seen much on that first dive, anyway, I was concentrating so much on just breathing and being in awe of the fact that I was actually scuba diving. I loved it, though, and signed up for the second optional dive as soon as I got out of the water.

The second dive was much more interesting, and Steve had calmed down a lot by this point so we were all able to see a lot more. The instructor took us to a cave that has a hole in the top of it that opens up above ground. The sunlight streams through the hole and into the water, and from your underwater perspective it really is the most incredible sight.

Although I loved my day scuba diving, I never did go back again. Unfortunately I was diagnosed with sinitis shortly afterwards, and my doctor forbade me from diving again that summer because I would be unable to equalise. Equalising is when you hold your nose and mouth shut under the water and blow. I have to do it a lot when I’m skiing, due to the altitude and my useless sinuses, and when I was diving I was almost constantly equalising. I had to resurface at one point as well because the pressure was hurting my head too much, and as I was being lowered back into the water the photographer chose this point to take my picture so my souvenir photo isn’t as cool as everyone else’s. I’m very proud to say that I have got my photo, though, and that I tried scuba diving at least once.

Scuba Diving

Travel Theme: Bright

Ailsa’s travel theme this week is Bright. We definitely need some brightness to stand out against the autumnal colours in wet, windy Wales at the moment.

Ithaca Shop Front

During my time working in Greece, I was lucky enough to visit the small but beautiful island of Ithaca. Compared to its larger neighbours, there’s not much on the island, but I’ve never seen a place look so bright and colourful. I loved this shop front with it’s mysterious looking jars in the window.

Ithaca boat

Even the sea was a bright turquoise blue.

The biggest TV in the world, Las Vegas

I couldn’t resist putting in a shot from Vegas as well. This is the biggest TV in the world. Coming from Blackpool, I thought I was used to bright lights, but nothing could prepare me for what I saw in Vegas. Before I took this shot, I’d just stood there for five minutes with my mouth open.