The Wandering Scot

An occasional travel journal.

Sudan: Pyramids!

Nuri Pyramids

Greetings from the Pyramids! No, no, not the Egyptian pyramids, the Nubian pyramids!

I’m in Karima, in Northern Sudan. I’ve been visiting various Nubian archaeological sites, including three sets of pyramids. They are much younger (7th – 3rd c bc), much steeper and much smaller (40 to 60ft tall) than their Giza brothers, but they are still pretty cool. They were build as memorials atop the tombs of Nubian Kings.

Jebel Barkal Royal Necropolis

I’ve been overlanding it from Egypt, along the Nile and across the desert. I am traveling solo, except of course for my guide, my driver, my cook and our loyal Toyota Land Cruiser. Ahem.

This part of Sudan was heavily influenced by Ancient Egypt, with many temples built by Egyptian occupiers. But my Nubian guide puts much greater emphasis on the glorious 25th Dynasty, when the Nubian Kings conquered all of Egypt and ruled as Pharaohs. Ha!

Tomorrow I’m off to Meroe and yet more pyramids…

Hawaii: Kilauea Lava Lake

For the last few weeks the level of the lava lake at Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has been unusually high, meaning it’s visible from the Jaggar Museum viewpoint, 1.1 miles away.  This is as close as the Park Service will let you get. So I seized the moment and visited. Unlike Nyiragongo, Kilauea was merciful and did not eat my camera.

During the day, the lake surface was mostly a dull gray, with only faint hints of red cracks at the edges. But there were also two lava fountains, frothing up lava and flinging it up to 30 ft in the air. Through a good lens, this was extremely striking and very cool. dsc09202b
By night the lava lake is much more striking, with the cracks in the lake now bright red and the glow from the fountains reflecting off the smoke and crater edge. dsc08900
I also hiked out to near where the flow from the Pu’u O’o vent is entering the ocean. Lots of steam, but also some bright red lava. A tour boat captain came in, cutting in very close to the lava.  Clearly a fine lunatic, so I took that boat ride next day! dsc07886


Last year in the Masai Mara, I managed to see 1 (one) wildebeest swim the Mara River. So this time I was back on the Tanzanian side, hoping to get a better view of the Great Migration.
The wildebeest came through for me. The rains have been late, so wildebeest herds were crossing both ways across the Mara, hoping for greener grass on the other side.
I was happy to watch all wildebeest, all day, every day, but for some reason my guide kept wanting to take me off to see leopards, or lions, or black rhinos. “Yes, yes, that’s a very nice lion, but could we go and see some more wildebeest now?” dsc05208

Moscow’s Gulag Museum

Moscow Gulag MuseumMoscow’s Gulag History Museum has moved to a new, larger, building with new exhibits and a new narrative.

The building’s exterior is deliberately stark and austere, even forbidding. The interior exhibition space has been given a distinctly prison-like style. It is mostly one large multi-level hall, with many side rooms for specific topics.

Gulag Museum.2The Museum covers the history of the Gulag, describing the transition from the revolutionary optimism of 1917 to the harsh realities of the 1920s and 1930s, and then on through to Stalin’s death in 1953. There is a reasonable amount of English signage, although for some detailed topics there is only Russian. The exhibits start with a collection of cell doors and include various gulag artifacts and prisoner’s possessions. A side room shows videos (with English sub-titles) of now-elderly victims describing their arrests and trials.

Gulag Museum.3I had been concerned that as part of the move to new quarters the Museum’s messages might have been softened, as has happened at Perm. But, no, the signage is very clear and crisp in describing the use of the Gulag system not merely for common criminals but as an instrument of political repression. Unusually for today’s Russia, there is a willingness to confront some of the harsher realities of the Soviet past. For example, the description of the Great Purge of 1937-1938 speaks freely of 1.5 million arrests and 700,000 executions.

I spent a couple of hours wandering around, reading the signs, watching the videos, and reflecting.

If you are interested in Soviet history, or in the impact of the past on today’s Russia, it is definitely worth a visit.

Practicalities: Here’s a link to the Gulag Museum Website. The Museum is at 1st Samotechny per., 9, bld. 1, Moscow. The nearest metro is Dostoyevskaya.

Harbin Ice Festival 2016


Harbin St BasilsI’m in Harbin, China, for the annual Ice Festival.  This includes various fine ice sculptures, etc.  But the highlight is the gloriously insane collection of giant ice buildings at the Ice and Snow World.  After dark they are lit from within, to stellar effect.

This year the collection included buildings loosely modeled on St Basil’s, the Blue Mosque, the Brandenburg Gate, and many others.

Harbin Blue MosqueIt’s hard to capture in photographs, but the reality is wonderful over-the-top genuine top-of-the-line insanity.  It’s complete madness!  It’s really great!!

Despite rumors of Arctic weather, the early evening was a balmy Zero Fahrenheit (-18° C).  So distinctly cold, but quite tolerable in my North Face down jacket!

Harbin.4 Harbin Brandeburg

Imelda Marcos rememberedMarikina Shoe MuseumI’m at the Marikina Shoe Museum, in Manila.

It’s a modest affair, in one large two-level room. It extols the shoemakers art and boasts a central column decorated with wooden shoe lasts accompanied by a giant boot.

But that’s not why people come. The undisputed draw is the Imelda Marcos Shoe Collection. The great lady left behind an amazing collection of over 3,000 pairs when she and her husband fled into exile in 1986. Not surprisingly, the collection became a symbol of the excesses of the Marcos family.

The museum has room for only 800 pairs, but they still make for a daunting array. There is a lot of subtle variety, but only within fairly narrow ranges. Somewhat to my surprise, the styles are generally quite restrained, nothing too splashy.

Marikina Shoe Museum Marikina Shoe Museum

It’s a somewhat eccentric experience, but I found it quite amusing.

The museum is at 14.6296,121.0963 at the junction of J.P. Rizal St and I. Mendoza St in Marikina, a slow 40-60 minute taxi ride from Intramuros and downtown Manila.