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.   

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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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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Through the Larder

Källagården

For our new book with New Heroes & Pioneers (click here to find out more), Tom Bunning and Jen Harrison Bunning ventured to Skåne in Southern Sweden to meet the chefs and producers who are transforming the region into a gourmand’s dream. While their chapter in Lodestars Anthology: Pathways is a delight (please ignore our proud-parent bias), many of their wonderful images and words simply didn’t fit in the book – there are just never enough pages. So we thought we’d share some of their unpublished gems here below while we think of summer and Sweden’s foodie delights . . . 

. . . Hörte Brygga’s indoor kitchen is integrated into the dining spaces, the grilling shed with its up-cycled-rubbish-bin-smoker runs out to the terrace bar, which takes you on down to the sea, or back into the kitchen where the chefs and staff work amidst the guests, stopping every so often to change the record on the turntable. The menu is small and ever-changing, inspired by the best of whatever Martin can get from his producers, or pull from his generous store of pickled goods . . .

. . . Bookings can be made from March through to December for intimate suppers, tasting menu feasts and special evenings with guest chefs, but the rest of the time Hörte Brygga operates on an ‘open to all’ basis. By abandoning lunch reservations, encouraging people of all ages and from all walks of life to drop by for coffee, drinks, food, or a browse through the shelves of the farm shop in the newly-converted boat-house, Emma and Martin’s singular vision of a community-focused, produce-led, friendly place to eat has been more than just realised; it’s a triumph . . .

. . . Arriving at Villa Strandvägen is like stepping into a deliciously relaxed home from home. Designed in 1899 by acclaimed Danish-born architect Peter Boisen, this unassuming wood-panelled country home sits in a quiet corner of southern Sweden’s most southerly tip, amidst lush gardens and surrounding woodland . . .

With its seven cosy bedrooms, black and white photos from the owners’ personal collections lining the walls, and intimate drawing room-cum-kitchen-cum-dining room bedecked in New England-inspired florals and stripes, Villa Strandvägen delivers Swedish costal luxury with oodles of homely pleasure and a generous dash of romanticism . . .

. . . Nature-lover and hiking-enthusiast Helena is a modern farmer, conscious of her duty to handle the land and its offerings with a light touch, but also of her responsibility to keep her grandparents’ legacy alive. In addition to her core role as farmer and producer, she runs a bed and breakfast and local tours for visitors, sells meat and skins from her flock, and performs sheep-whispering on her apple-obsessed beasts . . .

. . . She is also savvy, for Källagården, together with some 90 other growers from relatively small farms in Skåne and its surrounding counties, is a member of the Äppelriket collective: an outfit that stores, sells and markets its members’ fruit as a single enterprise. By clubbing together, saving on storage space, packing costs, and labour, Äppelriket gives its members the power in numbers required to compete with bigger, more commercial farms on price and production, and the strength to protect themselves from grocers’ price wars. All in all, very simple, very effective, very fair, and very Swedish . . .

. . . The family-run Spirit of Hven distillery produces organic pot-distilled vodka, gin, rum, eau de vie and schnapps, much of it made from grain grown on the Island of Ven, but it is their single malt island whisky that they’re best-known for. Whisky enthusiasts can come here to stay in the 4* hotel, take a tour around the world-class distillery, or just to while away an evening in the Backafallsbyn bar with its some 500 different whiskies from the best distilleries around the world . . .

. . . Here at Spirit of Hven they’re practicing the art of precision spirit production. Mashing, fermenting, distilling, oak-cask ageing and bottling all takes place under one roof. The contents of bright copper stills bubble away in the distilling chamber, barrels are racked in neat rows in the adjoining cask room to age – some hooked-up to speakers for a dose of radio-wave maturation experimentation. Next door, bottle necks are hand-dipped in simmering wax to give them their distinctive seal, whilst upstairs in the laboratory, test-tubes spin and sampling machines blink continuously. This is the seriously scientific craft of spirit-making, and distillers from all over the world send samples to Hven’s laboratory to undergo their rigorous analysis process . . .

. . . Next stop, Malmö Saluhall: a bustling market hall that’s home to grocers, butchers, florists, fish-mongers, ice-cream parlours and food stalls in a formerly dilapidated 19th-century freight depot. At Papi’s open kitchen and bar we sampled spicy Fegatelli and damp cellar-hung mortadella procured from ham rock-star Massimo Spigaroli’s farm, soft strips of lardo and home-cured prosciutto, accompanied by hunks of chewy bread and a glass of very good red wine. Saluhall is busy but not overcrowded: it’s rather like our beloved Borough Market in miniature and without the hoards of tourists, and we could have stayed here all day, chatting wine and food with the guys over the bar and pottering around the stores. But next on the agenda was a not-to-be-missed date with the nation’s top pastry chef, so off we went to the old Rosengård district for our first ice-cream of the year with Joel Lindqvist . . . 

. . . We stepped off a busy main throughway into the serene Mat- & Chokladstudion world of grey-limed walls, birch shelves bearing assorted glass jars and beautiful books, with a vast oak tasting table at its centre. But this is no colourless land: this is Willy Wonka chocolatiering Skandi-style . . .

. . . There is no menu or wine list at Bloom in the Park. The menu is inspired by seasonal ingredients and changes each day according to what chef Titti Qvarnström can procure from her band of trusted producers, and from her own garden.

In the small patch of land around her home in one of Malmo’s sleepy suburbs, Titti has created a kitchen garden of dreams. With basket and scissors in-hand, we trail Titti around the garden as she gathers hyssop, goosefoot, wild strawberries, rose petals, elderflower and more, stopping here and there to smell or taste from our harvest, chattering all the way. One last stop to poach a few sprigs of mockorange over a neighbour’s wall and then we are on our way back to the city for lunch in a 60s shopping centre (us) and prep (Titti) . . .

. . . We left Bloom to wander back to our hotel, stopping for a nightcap in the buzzing Möllevången district. The Bloom card with its QR code to look up the menu and wine list for the evening sat on the table between us, but our phones stayed in our pockets and the menu remained unknown. For us, the magic of this particular meal could not be confined to a list of ingredients or a description of plating. Our evening at Bloom would remain the icing atop a perfect day, flavoured by the people we’d met, scented by our afternoon in our chef’s garden: its tastes, smells and textures committed firmly to memory . . .

Extracted from the full article, commissioned for Lodestars Anthology: Pathways.

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

Israel – Fahrenheit Fair Enough

Photographs and words by Cihan Bacak – @cihanbacak

I bought my new camera earlier this summer, just 48 hours before boarding a plane to Israel. The lens was as impressive as the Tel Aviv temperature and I was itching to document the light and life of a country I had read so much about. I had a week in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and Bethlehem and Jericho, and although I lost a few kilos in my attempt to capture this series under the Middle Eastern sun, I cannot wait to go back.

Coming from Istanbul (a huge city with 17 millions inhabitants) Tel Aviv was like a breath of fresh air. I loved the fact that people de-layered right after work and walked straight to the beach. You don’t even need loud music or alcohol to party in the city; a late-night bike ride by the beach in Old Jaffa was heavenly enough. The fact that I hailed from Istanbul roused Israeli interest and I, in return, couldn’t help but feel jealous – everything just seemed so effortless, chic and laid-back here, in both modern Tel Aviv and the Old City. Perhaps that has something to do with the allure of foreign shores …

Later I spent time in the desert by the Jordan border and the light here was something else. Although I strive to see new places each time I travel, the urge to return to this place continues to grow. In that desert vastness I found a different kind of tranquility that shocked me. I never felt like an outsider in Israel, nor did it feel like my first or last time in the Holy Land. All I know is that there is much, much more to capture.