Corsican Craft

Words by Kieren Toscan & Photographs by Renae Smith

It was October when we arrived in Bastia, Corsica’s northernmost city. The summer had already left on its annual journey south, taking with it the best of the heat and the bulk of the tourists; a draw I would argue was a win, allowing us to have the still-sun- kissed island all to ourselves. Alas, as a result there are fewer flights to and from Corsica at this time of year and this, combined with vagaries of airline delays, meant it had taken the best part of the day to fly from London. Nevertheless, rest and Napoleonic history were on my mind – even if they required further travel – so my wife and I left the airport to chase the softening glow of the sun west towards La Balagne.

Bastia to La Balagne is not far as the crow flies and, even accounting for the narrow roads that wind and unwind along the way, it should have taken little more than an hour to drive the distance, yet we found ourselves arriving well on the wrong side of two. Traversing the tip of the high granite backbone that runs almost the length of the island proved to be more than we bargained for. But this wasn’t a challenge of conditions, rather one of attention.

No sooner had we started our journey than the landscape began to show us glimpses of its harsh beauty, beckoning us to stop at every turn and marvel at its offerings. Partially covered in dark green, fragrant scrub – which makes up a biome known as maquis – the ranges and peaks seemed to fold over and into themselves, again and again off into the horizon, and grew more indiscernible as the sun receded, almost to the point of confusion. Was that another range? An angry bank of dark clouds making its way towards us? Or something else entirely?

It was harder still to keep moving once the ranges had parted and dropped away to reveal the deep blue of the Ligurian Sea, still sparkling in the early evening light. Bordered in parts by golden sand, topped with the occasional white cap, and finished with gusts of clean, salty air, the scene was one we had known would be bountiful, but was unexpected nonetheless – worlds away from the wintery London we had so recently departed. By the time we reached La Balagne we were wholly enlivened and rendered utterly refreshed, retiring with the travails of travels past a faint memory.

Given our glorious introduction to Corsica, we awoke the next morning greedily wondering what more it would gift us. The answer revealed itself as we arrived in Pigna, a small medieval village of sand-coloured buildings, blue shutters and cobbled alleys, perched on a hillside with expansive views towards the coast. It was here that we had the good fortune to meet some of the artisans of Strada di l’Artigiani – the Artisans’ Road – a serpentine, scenic drive between the villages of La Balagne, conceived in 1993 to help regenerate the region and promote Corsican heritage. Along this route one can find craftsmen and women creating everything from sculptures, ceramics, honey and wine, to leather goods, music boxes, wooden flutes and guitars. Part of the joy of journeying along Strada di l’Artigiani is found not just in the creations encountered but in the time spent with the artisans themselves after you’re welcomed into their workshops, where they reveal just how keen they are for visitors to understand a little more about them, their art and their island home.

Renae and Kieren’s full article appears in the Lodestars Anthology France magazine. You can order a copy here.

 

Coffee and Culture in Champa Gali

Words by Lee Grewal & Photographs by Bhanu Uttam & Isabelle Hopewell  

The tight laneways of Saket in South Delhi, lined with sauntering cows and haphazard roadside fruit carts, are an unlikely gateway to one of the city’s best-kept secrets. But walk a little further into the village of Saidulajab and you’ll find yourself in a Parisian-style passageway complete with design studio, tea rooms, cafes and laneway seating. Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of Champa Gali, even locals are only just starting to uncover this creative Delhi hideaway.  

Until recently the poetically named Frangipani Lane was home to makeshift furniture stores, cow sheds and workshops, but it was transformed into the avant garde arts hub a couple of years ago and is slowly gaining in popularity. The community space holds a natural appeal for artists, writers and photographers who collect in the artisan coffee houses. Even though it’s been tried before, the success of turning a ramshackle village in Delhi into a cultural hot spot has given Champa Gali a feel all of its own.  

It’s only one street, but like the backstreets of European towns where the most creative and free-thinking cultures emerge, so it is with Champa Gali. The uni students with open laptops leaning against the whitewashed walls give the lane a youthful low-key vibrancy. Friends wander in and out of the little stores looking for original art pieces and handmade gifts. In the ambient reading room and tea house of Jugmug Thela, the owner calls himself the Chief Chaiwalla and is happiest serving customers his fusion chai blends and filling the space with spicy aromas. His was one of the first stores to open and Jiten Suchede is still the person most likely to share the secrets and history of Champa Gali with curious visitors.

This thriving little village lane is a hub for meetings, both social and corporate, with plenty of places to inspire. There’s Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters, where the aroma of coffee catches you as you walk in. Patrons mull over projects and catch up along the communal table that acts as the room’s centrepiece, while the shaded courtyard at the back is abuzz with chatter. If your taste buds seek something more, then the fusion flavours of Pho King Awesome will take you on a whirlwind trip around the world. With a mix of Asian, Mexican and Indian dishes it tastes like the Spice Route but feels like a rustic cafe and looks something like Mykonos. 

By day the street has a lovely rural feel, a fleeting escape from the jumble of mainstream Delhi just blocks away. Occasionally in the evening it comes alive with pop up events and offbeat music programs. Hosting art exhibitions, poetry and music nights, Champa Gali shares its soulful, blended experience with those looking for the unceremonious side of Delhi. And it’s blossoming into a liberating little urban neighbourhood along the way.

You can find more of 2gals work by clicking here.

Wanaka Wandering

Words & Photography by Angela Terrell

It’s immensely satisfying whiling away a week in Wanaka. Only an hour from Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island and sitting on the shores of tranquil Lake Wanaka, this town merges arresting topography with holiday charm; its dramatic backdrop, the mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park, the perfect playground for an array of activities that would keep even the most demanding outdoor enthusiast content. During winter, nearby Cardrona and Treble Cone are ideal skiing destinations, but in summer, whether tramping, cycling, paragliding, kayaking, jet-boating or clinging precariously to a via ferrata, it’s a paradise for adventurers, photographers or those who find simply sitting and enjoying the serenity gratification enough.

Any opportunity to leave the city behind and explore nature is welcome in my books, but it’s the mountains that elicit the most visceral response. I’m never sure if it’s their immensity or their harsh and unforgiving beauty that appeals to me most, but going heli-hiking with Eco Tours was a marvellous opportunity to lose myself in a mountain wonderland.  

Soaring along the braided river and over serrated ridge-lines we swung down sentinel-like outcrops to three lakes hidden within the folds of the alpine terrain and impossible to see until we were literally above them. This is real hiking with no marked trail, the tussock grass providing stability and necessary hand-holds as we traversed the steep mountainside. The views were magnificent though; razor sharp mountains as far as the eye could see, glaciers glistening under the scorching sun and lakes illuminated in rainbow hues; the emerald, aquamarine and turquoise rivalling any tropical oasis. 

If helicopters aren’t your thing, the walk to Rob Roy Glacier is equally breath-taking. Starting from the carpark in the flats of the river valley you ascend (sharply at times) through cool verdant forest to the Upper Lookout sitting in a glacier-carved basin, the enveloping schist mountains softened by carpets of dandelions, terraces of cascading waterfalls and glaciers clinging to the mountain like buttery icing. Sitting by the torrenting stream it was hard not to feel a mild sense of unease; the wind rushing down its course ferociously loud and obviously reflecting the amount of water coming off its melting core, and I wondered what would happen if a wall of ice clinging precipitously to the mountain above carved off. In landscape this erratic and magnificent a sense of powerlessness is inevitable, although once reassured that the glacier was still a kilometre away (perspective is definitely a challenge in this environment) and any falling ice would remain in the arms of craggy gorges above, it was possible to enjoy the all-encompassing vista with a little more ease!

Closer to home the Glendhu Track around Lake Wanaka is perfect for walking or cycling. Starting in town (after first organising a wonderful picnic from Big Fig – slow food served fast is their motto) what started as a relaxed ride became rock-hopping over knobby hillsides, the hairpin turns a reminder that any loss of concentration could result in falling into the water glistening like Christmas tinsel below. But around every corner was a panorama well worth assiduous pedalling.

As weather is ever-changing in New Zealand, options for days where hiking wouldn’t be enjoyable is always advisable, driving to Blue Pools on the Haast road a great choice. Setting off on an inclement morning the scenery played a constant game of cat and mouse with the weather, moody clouds sheathing the mountains so they appeared as ghostly suggestions then breaking to allow bursts of sunlight that saturated hues and added to the dramatic landscape. Passing bucolic sheep-filled paddocks encased by craggy hills then Lake Hawea, the road hugging the shoreline like a velvet ribbon, we reached the Pools where walking through ferny undergrowth laced with skeletal tree-trunks we stood under moss-laden limbs of rainforest trees (the perfect umbrella) and admired water so clear it was possible to see trout languishing in its aquamarine depths.

Of course there’s one activity that tops the lot and costs nothing, and that’s sitting by Wanaka’s lakeside as the sun slips below the mountain tops and the water changes chameleon-like from orange to pink then purple to eventually black as the day’s heat softens. Ducks share the shoreline with people frolicking in the shallows and picnickers chat as they enjoy delights such as fish and chips from Eric’s or pizza from Francesca’s food trucks. Not a mobile phone in sight, laughter floats across the ripples and the spectacle is better than any screensaver, its simple beauty ensuring an overwhelming sense of contentment. Whether whiling away a week or moseying a month, Wanaka is a delight for all.   

A Certain Alchemy

Candle-making with Earl of East

Words by Sarah Kelleher & Photographs by Richard Kelleher

In the crowded urban jungle that is London, the premises of Earl of East, aptly located in London Fields at Bonds of Hackney, stands out as an oasis of calm amidst the chaos of the capital. During the day, light floods in through the front windows and overhead skylights, bathing the pale wooden accents, trailing greenery and succulents and a coffee bar, where excellent brews are served on demand. I wasn’t here for the coffee however, but to experience one of Earl of East’s equally delicious candle-making workshops.

While Oscar the French Bulldog pottered happily around our feet, the other attendees and I settled in with prosecco and cake as co-founder Paul Firmin introduced the brand. Although the seeds were sown earlier by a love of variously, travel, creativity and a serious devotion to all things east end (the very name is a homage to Paul’s passion for Hackney), Earl of East really came into its own in 2015, when Paul and co-founder Niko Dafkos launched a range of hand-poured scented candles. With a strong adherence to the four pillars of their enterprise – curate, create, collaborate and community – Earl of East has gone from strength to strength, is stocked world-wide, and has partnered with other brands includingPeroni, Canon and Larsson and Jennings

A key part of their considerable success is their focus on integration rather than balance – after all, as Niko said, in a statement so true that I immediately wanted to embroider it on a cushion, balance is ‘not a thing’ in London. Earl of East was never intended as just a candle-making business, but a creative project that draws on several sources, and one that has the capacity to expand into multiple outlets. And Niko and Paul both combine their creativity with their day jobs, proving that artistic endeavour can flourish alongside a pragmatic approach to the realities of living and working in London.

As the workshop got underway, Niko took over, passing out scent sticks for us to guess at, and regaling us with a brief but fascinating history of perfume-making. The art as we know it began in the Middle-East before filtering through to Europe, particularly France. Interestingly, the idea of separate ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ scents was not developed until 1920, largely as a marketing strategy. It goes without saying that Earl of East develops scents that go beyond such rigid categorisations, and to my delight, participants in the workshop were able to pick from two scents for their personalised candle – Elementary, whose scent recalls autumn, and a return to the school year, and Smoke and Musk, which smells deliciously like sweet campfire smoke.    

 

Through their workshops, Earl of East have provided the perfect way for people to experience the addictive alchemy that is candle-making. Pouring, mixing and blending the scents and soy wax (prized for its ability to hold scents well, and burn at an even and long-lasting rate), while chatting with the other attendees was a relaxing and engaging way to spend an evening, and the venue at Bonds ably assists in slowing the hectic pace of London to a languorous crawl. This workshop was aimed at beginners, but they do offer more advanced workshops, and either way it’s a lovely feeling knowing that the candles you produce can be picked up from Bonds, or sent on to an address of your choice for you to enjoy – a little bit of Earl of East’s light to take away with you.

To learn more and book a workshop, click here.

Those Swiss Yaks

Words by Dan Richards – you’ll find more of his writing in our soon-to-be-released France magazine.  

I’m in Switzerland.

In the morning, when the massive meringue of the mountains alpenglow pink, I sit with coffee by my window and read — today it was a Maigret (mysterious body in a canal). My cabin is a two-level brutalist pod, hanging on hawsers from a concrete canopy… named Fuhrimann.

Every hour, like clockwork, a little train trundles past — two green carriages appearing through a gap in the woods before sweeping in a wide slow arc over to the village L’Isle, then back. It’s very comforting. As much a part of the landscape as the farms and barns, the trees, the cows; it’s whistle as familiar the klang and clonk of their bells.

I’ve been to Switzerland twice before. The first time, I tried to climb Dent Blanche, a 4,357 metre peak in the Pennine Alps which looms sphinx-like over Evolène and Zermatt. My father came too. The trip was not a great success and we ended up benighted on the side of the thing with an unwanted but admittedly spectacular grandstand view of The Matterhorn.

The second visit was more successful, inasmuch as I got to the top of Dent Blanche, led by a Swiss Guide named Jean-Noël Bovier — although such was the quiet fury with which he dragooned my inept form aloft that I my greatest wish became, far above self-preservation, to make the man happy and, failing that, climb ahead and pull the thing up after me.

Now I’m back, third time lucky. I have a residency at Fondation Jan Michalski until December 20th and plan to use it to write. Admittedly, the library where I’m sitting is about 750 metres up Mont Tendre, a mountain which rises unseen somewhere behind me, but almost everything’s halfway up a mountain here… but the Jura are quite small and green in the general scheme. No, the view of the great whites across the lake is enough for me and the more lake and blue distance between us the better.

So you can imagine how my heart skipped when an email arrived yesterday from Walter, my editor at Faber who oversaw the climbing book.

But it was fine, he wasn’t demanding I shin up anything precipitous, which was a relief. Rather, he was writing to ask how I was, how the new book was going and, teasingly, whether I’d been back to see ‘those yaks.’ Ah yes, I thought, those yaks — a 2015 encounter in the high Valais which I remember very fondly but have until now never set down.

The yaks belonged to Rosula Blanc, if yaks can be said to belong to anyone. Enormous ancient beasts, their scale was the thing that first struck me when I saw their recumbent humps through a telescope, far and high across the valley from Yak shu lo ché / Yaks on the rocks, the farm in La Giette where she lives.

Only recently, Rosula has sent me photographs of a four day trek she made with several of her herd across the alps and I recognised a picture of an animal I met in 2015 — a steer named Naulekh, after a Nepalese peak. Shaggy white wedge face alert, black eyes, black nose with a grey-pinkish surround, slate horns swept back like a winged helmet. He lies on the puckered snow serene, rump to the camera, his back rises frosted and pale as a winter fell. Around him straw grasses poke through the snow. Behind him another yak, black with a pale muzzle, huddles up bunched with horns like chopper handlebars. The picture looks utterly cold but the pair seem happy enough; patient, beatific, almost biblical.

There’s something so sweet-natured in Naulekh’s face that he seemed holy. The scene took me back to childhood nativities and thoughts of shepherds, comets and mangers, church cribs, young children with tea-towel and hairband keffiyehs, ideas of warmth and gentleness. I was a shepherd once, in primary school; St. John’s Church, Keynsham. I vaguely recall competition for places. After the star turns: Mary & Joseph, the Kings, the inn keeper — and The Star itself now I think of it — the shepherds were best. I see us walking slowly down the main aisle past pews of proud parents, following the star — an Edward Ardizzone illustration, a Dylan Thomas short story; A Child’s Christmas in Keynsham.

We had one cassette in the car at that time, Under Milk Wood narrated by Richard Burton. A voice of rich coffee, warm dark and pause, never hurried but compelling; leading the way into that strange world — and later others: Zulu, War of the Worlds. But Under Milk Wood was my first encounter; I, in the backseat, invisible, listening, as my father drove — in my memory it’s always night; sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack… and I didn’t understand it all but I could always lose myself in the music of the words. There were cattle in the story, I remember. Christ-like cows. Hateful Farmer Watkins of Salt Lake Farm shouting at his cattle on the hill as he shoos them home for milking. A cow turns and kisses him:

SECOND VOICE

He bawls to the cow who barbed him with her tongue, and she moos gentle words as he raves and dances among his summerbreathed slaves walking delicately to the farm. The coming of the end of the Spring day is already reflected in the lakes of their great eyes. Bessie Bighead greets them by the names she gave them when they were maidens.’

BESSIE BIGHEAD

Peg, Meg, Buttercup, Moll, Fan from the Castle, Theodosia and Daisy.’

And Naulekh perhaps. ‘Five years old and my best,’ wrote Rosula, ‘the one with the most ambition to walk and a tough body, a strong character.’

Flash forward to this evening, early December, 28-something years after my turn as a nativity shepherd. I’m standing at my cabin window looking out into a Swiss dark full of processional stars — cars, little trains, the sky full of flickering planes for Geneva, two pinnacle beacons flashing red, flashing green— and the tinking clonk-song of cattle unseen, stood out in the night.

All these threads meet later this month when the Silvesterkläuse are abroad, uncanny wax and paper-masked New Year Mummers in ornate costumes and bells. They’ll sing sedate yodels known as Zäuerli whilst proceeding house to house celebrating Saint Sylvester whilst ringing Christmas out and the new year in — die Schöne (the beautiful) in traditional dresses, peacock-like headgear and spangles, and die Wüeschte (the ugly) mantled up in moss and pine clippings, hefting cow trychels big as propane bottles, clanking in their wake like evergreen yeti.

These rituals are then repeated 13 days later, a Janus déjà vu dating back to Gregory XIII’s introduction of his snazzy new calendar in the 16th century. The Swiss, quite reasonably taking umbrage with the papal postponement of New Year by almost a fortnight, began to celebrate it twice. So old Julian’s Silvesterkläuse falls on December 31st and Gregorian gets his terrifying turn in January.

It was on my second visit to Switzerland that I scrambled up the mountainside above Evolène with Rosula to meet the yaks. First we drove as high as we could up a series of steep hairpin tracks until we reached a farm building with a pitched red roof. Behind it steep green flanks rose to meet silver boulders, scree, cliffs and sky. Atop that somewhere was the crest of Pointe du Tsaté, but we weren’t going quite that far… although it felt like it as we climbed and my legs began to ache and lungs began to crackle. I’d mostly acclimatised to the altitude and heat in the few days I’d spent at Yak shu lo ché but I was not yet fully there — unlike the yaks for whom these steeps are a step down from the Himalayan plateaus. It was summer then and the days were blistering hot. The yak were specks near the sun, but grew as we climbed; first to the size of woolly washing machines, then cars and, finally, tractors. Massive animals watching us approach, very still, almost impassive, broadcasting potent mass; mammoth in almost every respect.

When we reached them, Anuun, an Australian Border-collie of tremendous enthusiasm, began to skirt around the outspread herd. At this, the statuesque yaks erupted up and chased her away. I stopped dead, frozen mid-step. Agog. The tableau had broken and exploded before me. What had been a pasture recalling Heidi was now a steep scarp of careering bulls.

Then it stopped. Just as fast as they’d exploded, they relaxed, sat back down.

As you were, they seemed to say. Just keep that dog over there.

Anuun sat down as well, over there, two hundred metres away. I’d frozen, he’d fled. I looked at Rosula who’d none neither. ‘They’re very protective of the calves’ she explained with a gesture to three yaks yonder — two tractors and a sit-on mower. ‘Tsarang, son of Chele and Udari was only born last week.’ 

I wonder how Tsarang is now, in December, in the snow. Two and a half years have passed since I saw him, new to the world and hobbledehoy, peering big-eyed from behind his mother. The heat was liquid that day, the air hardly stirring, the streams almost dry. I wondered how the yaks could stand it. They don’t really sweat, Rosula told me, and pant like dogs when they’re hot. They  regulate temperature by adjust their elevation; higher in the heat, lower in the cold.

They were high on the ramparts of Pointe du Tsaté that day — Yak Olympus.

That was June. How and where are those yaks tonight? Snug in the timber barn at Yak shu lo ché? Steaming, snuffling around, asleep. I hope so. I imagine them there, anyway. They’re family to Rosula, who talks of each as a distinct personality, reeling off a parent’s evening precis of each. Naulekh, for example, is ‘not the easiest one. He is really my yak, I know how to manage him and I adore him… but he is not always gentle and respectful with other people. He knows what he wants.’

There’s a short story that I love by Richard Brautigan called ‘I was trying to describe you to someone’ in which, having tried and failed to describe his love in terms of other people — ‘I couldn’t say ‘Well she looks just like Jane Fonda, except that she’s got red hair, and her mouth is different and of course, she’s not a movie star…’ I couldn’t say that because you don’t look like Jane Fonda at all.’

So he ends up describing her in terms of a movie about rural electrification, ‘a perfect 1930’s New Deal morality kind of movie to show kids’ which he saw when he was a child in Tacoma Washington — a movie about farmers living and working without electricity, until a new dam is built and electricity flows, appears to the farmer like a young Greek god, to take away forever the dark days of his life:

‘Suddenly, religiously, with the throwing of a switch, the farmer had electric lights to see by when he milked his cows in the early black winter mornings. The farmer’s family got to listen to the radio and have a toaster…’

‘That’s how you look to me,’ he ends.

It’s one of my favourite stories. I carry it with me. The way it slots together, crafted piece by piece, the lightbulb moment with the cattle at it’s heart. Electricity as a gift of love; as love itself.

One final piece.

One valley west of Pointe du Tsaté is Grande Dixence, the highest gravity dam in the world. A great stop: 15 million tonnes of concrete, 285 metres high, reservoir fed by rain and the meltwater from 35 surrounding glaciers.

In 1976, Dorothea and Ivor, my great-great-aunt and uncle visited Dixence. Ivor would have been eighty-three and Dorothea eighty-one, I can imagine them driving up zig- zags to the telepherique, returning together to the sites of some of their greatest adventures; birdlike in hats and coats, natty dressers.

They were great climbers in their youth. They put up routes on mountains all over the world but their ascents in the Pennine Alps are still celebrated. Their 1928 ascent of the Dent Blanche with Joseph and Antoine Georges, their great friends and Swiss guides, was the reason that I was drawn to climb it and my father before me in 1981 — the magnetism of the peak increased by the fact that it was our family who’d cracked the famous problem of it’s north arête… and it was after our benighting opposite the Matterhorn that I met Rosula’s partner, André Georges, great nephew of Joseph; and it was only through him I met the yaks.

Like the yaks, André is gigantic. I have a photograph of him stood with one of the animals which could captioned ‘man with yak.’ This is atypical. Were I to stand next to the same yak the caption would read ‘yak wholly obscuring man.’

And now, every December, I get a Christmas card with a yak pun and pictures of the beasts at play in the snow. Rosula rolling in the hay or perched precariously on the back of a yak named Thor or Hermes or some such immortal deus. Wishing you a bull-iant Christmas and a bovine New Year — the yaks brought into Christmas like they’re brought into the barn, included; if not domesticated then met halfway.

‘Animal husbandry partly involves orientating animals towards the human world, for instance by including them in human communication,’ wrote Karl Ove Knausgaard in a recent essay collection Autumn. ‘In all animal husbandry there is a zone that lies between humans and animals, where they meet.’

These boundaries blur at Christmas. Peace, good will to all men; get the yaks in and let them bounce on the sofa…

But what do the yaks get from Rosula, apart from winter bed and board? They are not completely domesticated and nor does Rosula want or expect that. In the summer the herd need to be self-sufficient on the mountainside but when Rosula pitches up they engage, orienting themselves towards her. The fact that Naulekh is not the easiest, needs careful management, has wildness within him, knows what he wants, is a given. That’s the relationship he has with Rosula. To the world he is a wool humvee or, more likely, an unknowable white dot up near the sun. But he and Rosula have a companionable understanding, and whilst he loves to be smoothed and brushed and fussed he is no pet — there are still flashes of Bos mutus, the elemental wild yak, in his heart.

So, freed of the old ways, yak as constant beast of burden, yaks for milk and meat, Rosula has opened up a path back to yak as long distance trekker — something not explored in Europe for millennia. This is a joy to both parties, the yaks love to boldly go. Particularly Naulekh whom Rosula refers to as her ‘best sports-yak’ — the one with the most ambition to walk.

Can a yak be said to be aspirational? Certainly says Rosula, they are a team, enthusiastically supporting each other — ‘yaks are intelligent and skilled on difficult ground. They carefully examine every obstacle and consider other possible routes before walking on.’ And indeed there is film of this which shows a bright eyed curious yak in a forest slow down, stop, look around at the stumps and mulch in her way then, thoughtfully licking her nose, proceed, leading her party on.

This is the gift. As the electricity was a way of talking about love, so that yaks, to me, represent a flash of pure joy, a way back into a childlike world of wonder. A miraculous meeting of worlds. I thought that the first time I saw them, so strange and beautiful.

As well as herd, the collective noun for yaks is cabinet — or wardrobe perhaps; wardrobe with all its mysterious Christmas connotations. Rosula leading the way through heavy lanolin-scented wool and fur into a land of snow.

She sent me another picture this morning: six yak on a snowy mountain pass, backs laden with tents and bags. They look alert, heads up, picking their way — greatly venturing, as great-great-aunt Dorothea used to say. Marvels in a marvellous world.

Rosula Blanc’s yak trekking in the Swiss Alps is a unique adventure — groups can head up and out for a near Himalayan hike with these most awesome and beautiful beasts in breathtaking scenery. Rosula herself describes it as like ‘being a nomad for a few days, living at the rhythm of the yaks, close to mountain nature and the elements surrounded by peaks of more than 4000m in altitude.’ Treks run for groups from April to June and September to October — there are no treks in July and August since it is too hot for the yaks.
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Contact Rosula and her team for more information — www.yakshuloche.ch / info@yakshuloche.ch
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*. *. *. *. *
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Dan Richards was born in Wales in 1982.
 
His first book, Holloway (faber, 2013) was co-authored with Robert Macfarlane & illustrated by Stanley Donwood. First published as a limited run of 277 letter pressed books in 2012, Holloway went on to become a Sunday Times bestseller when published in a general edition by Faber in 2013.
 
Dan’s second book, The Beechwood Airship Interviews, (HarperCollins, 2015) took a journey into the creative process, head-spaces and workplaces of some of Britain’s celebrated artists, craftsman and technicians including Bill Drummond, Judi Dench, Jenny Saville, Manic Street Preachers and Stewart Lee.
 
Climbing Days, an exploration of the writing and climbing lives of Dan’s great-great-aunt and uncle – Dorothy Pilley & I.A. Richards – was published by Faber in June 2016. Writing in the Observer, Katherine Norbury hailed Climbing Days as ‘[T]he most enormous fun… Richards has something of Jerome K Jerome about him. It’s a miracle he lived to tell this tale and Climbing Days is a wonderful achievement.’
 
Outpost, a book about far flung shelters and eyries, isolation and wilderness, will be published by Canongate in 2019.
 
Dan has written about travel, literature, art and music for publications including The Guardian, National Geographic, Harper’s Bazaar, Monocle Magazine, us (of course), Ernest Journal, The Quietus and Caught by the River.
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Delectable Destinations

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”  George Bernard Shaw

We’re often asked why we travel, and the answer is simple … to eat! So we’re thrilled to be journeying south later this year with Carol Ketelson from Delectable Destinations, exploring the connection between flavour, culture and wanderlust. With this is mind, we sat down with Carol to discuss the joys of travel, business ownership and food. 

What inspired you to set up Delectable Destinations? 

18 years ago I worked for a company organising medical conferences. One of the first meetings I did took place in this beautiful little town called Ravello, on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. I fell in love with absolutely everything. I returned again and again with family and friends and decided I must share this region with everyone! I was fortunate to meet the daughter of a famous cook in the town and she definitely was the driving force behind this idea. She saw my passion and convinced me to give it go. I did and never looked back. 2018 will be DD’s 10th anniversary.

Do you have a culinary background? 

No, I don’t. I love to cook and my mother and grandmother were amazing cooks. My grandfather was a master pastry chef and my brother is a great cook as well. I guess it’s the family genetics.

What do you love more about travel? 

I absolutely love the people I meet. Year after year, I have development priceless friendships with my guests and the people I work with. From the local vintner to the villa owner, the local chefs to the warm and welcoming drivers. This is what traveling is all about for me. I never would of met all these wonderful people if not for travel.

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How much can one learn about a country from its food? 

I could not imagine traveling and not sampling the food. Exposing yourself to history, traditions and culture, it all revolves around food. Visiting with locals and sitting around the table, hearing their stories, it unifies us, as humans. There’s so much to learn and at times it slows us down and reminds us to truly appreciate life.

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What can people expect on a Delectable Destinations tour? 

I always tell people, this is not a ‘cookie-cutter/bus tour’ but an experience where you explore a region through its culinary traditions, culture and history. I focus on a specific region with my local business partners and guests get a true taste of the area and an appreciation for slow travel. Each day is a discovery in local life, visiting with the local passionate producers, chefs, artisans, restauranteurs and knowledgeable guides and historians. One day might focus on a cooking class, the next on a wine tasting at a private vineyard, olive oil sampling or truffle hunt.

One of the main advantages of my company is the solid contact list. Because of it, incredible opportunities pop up for us – like making pizza with Franco Pepe (recognized in Italy as the world’s greatest pizzaiolo), or raking olives during the harvest before watching the first press. Of course, these spontaneous moments are usually the highlights of the trip.

The tour staples are lots of eating and unique, hands-on experiences. Aside from the food and drink, culture plays a significant role. We visit some of the more off-the-beaten-path locations, so my groups feel like they’ve had the opportunity to experience more than the average traveller.

Has the company changed much over the years? 

Yes, and all in a positive direction. It began with only one destination – the Amalfi Coast – and following that, many doors opened. I now offer Tuscany, Puglia, Sicily, Andalucia, Spain, Ireland, Burgundy, France, India and new ones to come. While Italy has my heart I truly have fallen in love with Spain and plan to discover more of this wonderful country.

Has there been a particularly memorable experience on one of your trips?  

There has been so many, I could probably write a book, but one of the most memorable ones was when I visited the Darjeeling region of India for the first time. We stayed on a tea plantation and when we arrived it was dark with a beautiful clear sky. I could make out flickering lights around me and realised they came from the small homes that the tea pickers lived in. Standing outside and looking around, you could not tell where the earth and sky met as the lights in the hills matched the stars above. It was like stepping into another universe. Flying out and seeing the top of Mount Everest was quite spectacular as well.

What advice do you have for someone looking to launch their own company? 

Research and solid contacts. If you do both right, you will be on your way. I could not offer what I do if I did not develop the wonderful relationships with my local business partners over the years. It takes time but is well worth it.

To learn more about Delectable Destinations you can check out their website here

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” J. R. R. Tolkien

 

The Nation’s Kitchen

Words & Photographs by Angela Terrell & Illustrations by Flora Waycott

This piece originally appeared in our Japan magazine – you can order a copy here.

The first thing you notice is the noise. Pedestrian crossings, escalators and subways trill and beep while alleyways resonate with emphatic voices luring you at full volume into shops and arcades. Totally bewildering at first, flashing lights, brash advertising and constant momentum only add to this raucous cacophony and you quickly find yourself a bemused observer of the throng. Yet Osaka is enigmatic and under this clamour is another world, one populated by friendly citizens who don’t take themselves too seriously, and plenty of paradox.

Wide promenades are criss crossed by neighbourhood laneways seemingly narrower than the cars navigating them. Fluorescent neon floods the sky whilst lanterns and a canopy of exposed power-lines light historic alleyways. Shrines, love hotels and street food vendors sit side by side, and immersed within the teeming masses, instead of feeling hemmed in, you experience a surprising sense of calm.

So how to explore the layers and ambiguities of Osaka? Getting your bearings from the top of its tallest buildings, the Umeda Sky Building or Abeno Harukas, is a start. But then it’s best to just meander, locals happy to help disorientated tourists lost in the maze. Composed of village-style neighbourhoods, you’ll uncover tiny vintage and design shops (not to mention cat cafes) amidst the quiet lanes of Nakazakicho or boutiques of bustling Umeda. You can walk for kilometres along the vibrant arcades of Shinsaibashisuji and Tenjimbashisuji, visit frenetic Amerikamura with its cutting-edge shops and quirky lampposts, or window-shop in a daze along Midosuji Avenue. Turn off throbbing Dōtonbori (following the scent of incense through seemingly empty alleys where jazz first appeared in Japan) to Hozenji Temple where the juxtaposition of pious worshipers and chaotic nightlife is enthralling.

Wherever you go, food is ever- present. Thousands of stalls and restaurants line the streets where Osakans happily kuidaore, or ‘eat oneself to ruin’. Known as ‘The Nation’s Kitchen’ from its roots as a major trade and rice storage port, today this food-centric city has a reputation for entrepreneurship and creativity, even boasting the first sushi train. The Japanese believe those from Tokyo will become paupers from buying shoes, in Kyoto from kimonos and in Osaka from food, and while regularly frequenting three or four restaurants and bars in one night could induce poverty, the rule that ‘cheap is good’ sees residents snub non-compliant eateries.

Whether enjoying over-the-counter Kappo style dining (in such close proximity the chef adapts ingredients to suit customers’ moods), tachinomi (where standing while drinking is the custom), or dishes from street food stalls, the fare is unfailingly good. Over days spent wandering through markets and arcades guided by replica plastic food and orderly yet eager queues – or even blindly guessing from menus – I ate my way through Osaka. In Dōtonbori I feasted on moreish takoyaki, dough balls filled with octopus then lathered in sauces. For something different, Takoriki in Karahori uses kombu dashi, red ginger and freshly boiled octopus to create delicious morsels served with Champagne. In Shinsekai, kushikatsu, deep-fried skewers, were covered in a light, crunchy batter, magically maintaining the sweetness of tomatoes and succulence of salmon. Dipping only once in the accompanying sauce lest I wreaked the wrath of fellow diners, they were a perfect snack. Numerous restaurants and stalls offered okonomiyaki, savoury pancakes loaded with a variety of ingredients (cabbage is a staple) then doused in decorative sauces. Once only a meal for the aristocracy, today it’s enjoyed by everyone, especially at Yukari which has been perfecting its recipes since 1950. Said to combat diabetes, the pork, shrimp and squid mix is a classic, precise flipping ensuring the ingredients are steamed perfectly before being topped with ‘dancing bonito’.

At Kuromon Market, a 190 year old destination for local gourmands, the seafood choices are plentiful but my pick for quality sushi is Ichibazushi where tasty morsels (customarily devoured in a single bite) are prepared with artistic flourish. Despite the language barrier it was a joy to interact with the chef as he cut and seared fish that tantalised my taste buds – although I declined tessa (pufferfish sashimi) despite knowing it wouldn’t be lethal in his expert hands. Markets also proffered yakiniku, beef barbecued over charcoal and seasoned with salt, sesame oil or sweet wasabi. While I was too full to sample the horumon barbecue, where every part of a chicken (including pieces I didn’t know were edible) is cooked, I later tried kitsune udon, the noodles floating in a light dashi unique to Osaka and topped with tofu. Having even found stalls selling giant candy floss and the world’s tallest soft- serve, eating myself to ruin had been accomplished.

Mirroring the conundrum that is Osaka, alongside these hectic food stalls and tiny eateries are some of the world’s premier dining establishments. At Michelin three- starred restaurant Fujiya 1935, chef Tetsuya Fujiwara uses childhood memories to create a progression of courses that excite the senses, the food more about the feelings and sensations they evoke than individual ingredients. Chilled wasabi pasta decorated with carrot leaf and topped with sorbet followed the curves of the lotus-shaped plate like a work of art. Smoke from smouldering embers under a chestnut pudding with coffee jelly rose like a magic potion, its scent reminiscent of traditional autumn hay-burning. More than just a meal, eating here is like unwrapping a seasonal gift from nature enhanced by youthful recollection.

But what creates the flavours of Osaka? Seaweed expert Junichi Doi believes it is umami, the savoury taste found in kombu kelp, the basis of all broths in Osaka. Wearing gloves to handle seaweed that had ‘slept’ in a box for four years, we studied its greenish-grey hue, admiring the quality of the Hokkaido harvest. Fully aged, it is prepared for sale in Doi’s shop so anyone from Michelin chefs to home-cooks can create delightfully aromatic dishes. Those equally dedicated to their craft are the knife- makers of Sakai, traditional craftsmen from Mizuno Tanrenjo employing centuries-old techniques to shape steel and iron into the sharpest of tools. Few have mastered this art, with knife making a descendant of sword making, famously produced in the region before the fall of the samurai. Locals take as much pride in cutting and slicing as they do in cooking, the right knife imperative in ensuring food’s piquancy is preserved.

Sated after days of dining, I required amusement and while Osaka is proud of its thriving comedy scene, traditional forms of entertainment also flourish here. Hoping to protect the arts for future generations, Yamamoto Noh Theatre holds workshops and has performances in Noh (mask theatre), Rakugo (comic storytelling) and Bunraku (puppetry) that, despite being written over 600 years ago, are just as apt today; family worries, jealousy and vengeful woes apparently timeless. Sitting in the audience with the troupe from Cirque du Soleil I became lost in stories told purely by animated expression, intonation and evocative movement; with my lack of Japanese it was the only way to listen. Being able to draw an audience into the histrionics requires enormous mastery and years of training (it takes 20 years to control a puppet’s facial expressions), but by combining commitment with newly written plays on contemporary issues this intense art will continue to captivate.

There are also plenty of nearby destinations for day-trips such as Himeji, with its glistening white castle and Koko-en Garden, and Nara, with its roaming deer. Above a valley of rice paddies and owering cosmos is Kōyasan, a sacred Buddhist site where temples abound and the divine entity Kōbō Daishi, who brought Buddhism to Japan, lies in eternal meditation. Pilgrims have visited the site for over 1,000 years and following some through the cedar-filled Okunoin, with its 200,000-plus graves and moss-covered monuments, was serene rather than sombre.

Mount Inunaki, near Kansai International Airport, is a spiritual mountain retreat guaranteeing tranquillity. Wandering along pathways built over 1,350 years ago, past pristine waterfalls and shimenawa ropes denoting hallowed ground, I contemplated my tiny place in this beautiful natural setting. The gods of fire and water (appearing in the form of a sword-swallowing dragon) can be worshipped here, wishes fulfilled and purification attained by the ascetic exercise of ‘waterfall meditation’. This ritual can be brutal, some monks staying under icicle-laced water for hours, although quicker reflection is acceptable for visitors. Afterwards, Minamitei is perfect for a kaiseki-style lunch where a sequence of artistically garnished seasonal dishes are served as you sit on tatami mats in private dining areas. Later, relaxing with mothers, daughters and gossiping grandmothers in the healing waters of the onsen I understood true satisfaction.

With so much to discover, it’s worth getting lost in Osaka’s flamboyance, for it is then that you’ll find quietness behind the noise and meet people that charm. All the while revelling in plenty of guilt-free eating.

Forsthofalm

Daydreaming upon a bed of cushions, I open my eyes. Rain is falling on the glass ceiling and walls as I watch as a group or goats wander over the neighbouring hill, oblivious to the late October chill. It is there, warm and content in a post yoga-and-sauna daze, that I release just how glorious Austria is – regardless of the season. Whether you venture to the mountains beyond Salzburg to ski, cycle (this hotel is found by one of Europe’s biggest mountain bike trails) or hike, you’ll surely be swept up in the Forsthofalm magic (and the setting of course). 

While it may be found near the town of Leogang, Forsthofalm feels very much like it’s in the middle of nowhere; beyond these walls there is nothing but forest and mountains that make the idea of returning for a winter jaunt remarkably tempting – ski-in ski-out doesn’t get much more convenient/scenic than this. With only 54 rooms spread across seven floors, this in a sports hotel (there is no need to leave the premises for anything other than an adrenaline hit) with a difference. It is family run, offers the finest and heartiest fare and has an eco-friendly heart.

I’d journeyed here to try my hand at the Forsthofalm Mountain Life Programme – a series of indoor and outdoor exercise sessions ranging from early morning yoga (the ideal way to wake up) to rather intense pilates classes (good intense, don’t worry), hikes, weights-based workouts and evening saunas (to name just a few of their offerings). Even as one without a particularly effective core or a sizeable amount of motivation I found myself hooked; the combination of endorphins, expert teaching and sense of fun making the entire experience all the more enticing. And of course, when you work out you become totally deserving of a spa treatment – and on this front Forsthofalm once again delivers. After winding down in a series of scented saunas, it’s time for a massage, which is catered to one of the five moods you may find yourself in. The oils and scents used are created on site from wild herbs collected in the garden and forest for a little added bliss. 

Should you be able to pick your suite I’d recommend asking for the ‘Secret Forest’, which comes complete with suspended wooden bed, fireplace, private sauna and panoramic view of the mountains. That said, each sizeable, beautifully designed room, boasts plenty of charm. The hotel is built almost entirely from wood. The walls are spruce, as are the nails, the sculpture-like furniture is larch and bed is made from pine. Situated as it is in the middle of nature, it made sense to construct the building from natural materials – an added incentive for those in awe of the wild to travel up the mountain. These rooms are also designed to grow more more beautiful with age – the patina of time adding to Forsthofalm‘s warmth.

Here it really is all about seasonality. In summer you’ll find a rooftop bar by the outdoor pool serving a mix of cocktails and ice cream (the ideal post-sauna/work out cool down) and during October I sipped autumnal cocktails by the roaring fire of the bar. The restaurant menu also shifts throughout the year. Food is at the heart of hotel – indeed, it began as a place for skiers to enjoy winter lunches back in 1972. Enhancing their hearty meals (the menu changes every night and the ingredients used are largely organic and sourced from local farmers) is a collection of 300 wines – 50 of which are natural, a relatively new trend in Austria.

After dinner there are a string of events on offer, from live music to cocktail tastings, all designed to bring people together and help foster the sense of community the hotel prides itself on. That said, don’t underestimate the deliciousness of returning to your cloud-like bread and drifting off with a good book, no doubt dreaming of your return journey – which, let’s face it, is inevitable.   

You can learn more about the hotel and make a booking here.

Island Life

Words and Photographs by Emma Lavelle

Earlier this year, my feet began to itch and I found myself desperate to explore somewhere a little off the beaten track. My previous summer’s adventures in Iceland were still fresh in my memory and I craved empty roads, isolated hot springs and dramatic landscapes. With the budget tight I spent days searching for European destinations that offered everything I needed – and then I saw a friend’s Instagram photo and knew instantly where I was heading: the Azores.

If you haven’t come across this island chain before, I’m not surprised. Situated smack bang in the middle of the Atlantic, over two hours by plane from Portugal, they’re pretty isolated. As hopping between individual islands isn’t exactly cheap (or easy) I concentrated on the largest isle, São MiguelThe perfect juxtaposition of the geothermal landscapes of Iceland and a tropical, Lost World paradise, São Miguel appears like a mirage in the grey Atlantic. Filled with cloud-covered peaks, hot springs, dense greenery and waterfalls, it’s like nowhere else in Europe.

Hiring a car, my boyfriend and I based ourselves in the capital, Ponta Delgada, and split the island into easily digestible chunks to be explored over four days. Our adventures began in the island’s west, driving up steep roads in search of the elusive views of the Sete Cidades Lakes. Elusive because of the relentless mist, not for the lack of places to pull over and admire the scene. The twin lakes lie in a gigantic volcanic crater and local legend says that they were formed from the tears of a blue-eyed princess and her green-eyed lover, shed when her father would not allow them to marry. On a clear day, the lakes do indeed appear to be different colours, despite actually being one body of water divided by a road. Also worth admiring is Vista do Rei, where the ruins of a brutalist concrete hotel greets you through the mist. Then there’s the utterly sublime Boca do Inferno viewpoint, where the view of the crater, lakes and coastline in the distance is nothing short of spectacular.

A short journey from the lakes takes you to one of the island’s most alluring hot springs, Ponta da Ferraria, which is the only São Miguel hot spring found in the sea. A pink path leads first to a modernist changing hut, then down to a black volcanic beach where a ladder descends into a rock pool. As waves crash into the pool, visitors can hold a rope to steady themselves, enjoying the change in temperature as cold water rushes in to meet the warm.

Looking for the perfect end to a day exploring the west of the island? Visit the small coastal town of Mosteiro to feast on the seafood that São Miguel is famed for. My top tip: always order the octopus.

We also make a stop at Furnas, a geothermal town situated inside a volcanic crater. There are two areas boasting hot springs here – Poça da Dona Beija offers a series of small, relaxing natural jacuzzis, but it’s Parque Terra Nostra that shouldn’t be missed. Situated inside these majestic tropical gardens is a huge yellow-hued geothermal lake perfect for swimming. Furnas also offers a collection of smouldering caldeiras and anyone interested in local cuisine should head to the lake to see how traditional stew is made by burying pots underground for several hours. The earth steams here and the smell of sulphur seems to rise up into the thick mist enveloping the mountains above.

The final hot springs of São Miguel are found at the protected Caldeira Velha, where you must venture along a harrowing road and wander through thick tropical forest to reach the pools. Climb the hill to find a couple of small wooden changing huts before plunging, admiring a small waterfall trickling down from the cliff above. 

Across the island lie a network of hiking trails; those that snake along the numerous crater lakes are perhaps the most dramatic but don’t underestimate how strenuous these routes can be. If you prefer to admire the scenery from the comfort of a car, the drive along the coastal road that winds along the east coast is unmissable. Perhaps the most perilous and slowest road to navigate on São Miguel, the views of the ocean and towering cliffs are as dramatic as they get.

How to end a trip to São Miguel? Whale watching was at the top of our agenda but, alas, high winds thwarted our plans. If you visit during calmer weather conditions don’t miss a chance to take to the sea as these Atlantic islands are one of the best places in the world to spot a wide array of cetacean species including sperm whales, blue whales and dolphins. Other highlights for landlubbers include visiting the tea and pineapple and plantations, the latter featuring on almost all of the island’s restaurant menus.

São Miguel is like nowhere else in Europe. Hot springs, luscious  forests, towering cliffs, crater lakes, tea plantations and cascading waterfalls all collide to create an otherworldly landscape. My advice? Take a punt on an island not yet on the tourist trail – for there’s something rather magical about having a hot spring in the forest all to yourself. 

Be sure to check out more of Emma’s work here

Meteora Wandering

Words and photographs by Angela Terrell. 

Travel reveals many wonders; it may be an unexpected destination, a spectacular meal, curious wildlife or scenery that far surpasses any postcard (from any era). But it can also reveal something far deeper – a sense of our place in time. 

Greece, renowned for the relics of its ancient civilisations, is the perfect place to really grasp the tiny role we play in the narrative of human history. Either walking over hillsides of olive groves that have seen the toil and sweat of countless generations or through the remains of amphitheatres and temples, you can’t help but be moved by the thought you’re walking in the footsteps of those who’ve come before you, who like us, were both an integral part of the big picture, and fleeting snapshots in time.

So many destinations here have withstood the eons, but it’s Meteora in central Greece where the whispers of history hold special significance, and spending time here you feel lucky to be part of its rich and varied story. Here, massive pillars of conglomerate rock rise almost vertically from the valley floor, their shapes alluring from a distance and magically morphing into elephants, monkeys and even old men with furrowed brows as you draw closer. Searching for solitude, hermits once lived in the hollows of the cliff-faces, but it was monks, centuries later, in their desire to further connect with the Divine, who built an estimated 24 Eastern Orthodox monasteries atop these spectacular rock formations. Marvels of ancient engineering, they’re the perfect unity of nature, culture and history, their stalwart walls merging seamlessly with the cliff faces that plummet to the valley below. Even today the tranquil isolation the monks once sought is still palpable and, despite the tourists, you can envision the sense of protection these towers offered all those centuries ago.

There are roads to the six monasteries that remain, but walking up to them from the valley is not only an exercise in stamina but the chance to really feel the peace the area affords. From Kastraki and Kalambaka, the nearest towns, we trekked to Megalo Meteoro, Varlaam and Agia Triada, and soon after leaving the villages with their hotchpotch of colour and delightful gardens we were climbing through a combination of cool forest and sparse, rocky vegetation baked by the sun. Constantly dwarfed by the soaring monoliths, their monasteries haloed by the sun’s rays, we felt part of history as we walked, our steps further polishing the stone path already smooth from the footsteps of the monks, pilgrims and travellers who had been here before. Once at the top and seeing todays inhabitants tend the sanctuaries and their gardens, we took comfort in the thought that with such care Meteora’s story should become history’s future narrative.

It was later in the evening, watching the sunset from the rocks above Roussanou monastery and admiring the magnificence of the silhouetted shapes against the coloured sky, that we sought words for how we felt. Awed, humbled, amazed? Maybe they all suited. One thing for sure though, in the future there will be many more sitting in the same place watching the sky turn crimson who will in turn be playing their own small part in its epic story.