Showing posts from September, 2013

Bulgaria: A postcard from the periphary

The industrial remains of Soviet Socialism are very evident in the towns on the outskirts of the Bulgarian capital Sofia. Decay and dereliction scars the region.  Listen to a podcast description of the startling views from a bus window travelling west towards Macedonia.

Photo:  A warm welcome in the village of Dobrinovo

In Limbo, In Istanbul

On leaving mount Athos the everyday realities of speed, poverty, greed, manipulation and ostentatiousness seem utterly surreal. Crossing the Greek Turkish border our bus drivers were arrested for smuggling iPhones among the supplies. A group of English Muslims en route to Syria with an aid convoy of five ambulances were held up in customs with us. One of them told stories about government forces making a mother drink the soup of her own boiled baby; and that Hezbollah were carrying out attacks on white Journalists to make it look like the work of ‘rebels.’ Truth being the first victim of war, none of this could be taken at face value, but he felt his help was needed: “I’m helping to bring Islam and topple dictators who stop the prayer, Islamic way of life.”
Once in Istanbul a cab driver hiked up the agreed price mid journey and spat on the ground when I refused to travel any further. Hotel hustlers assumed I was wealthy and tried to sell me overpriced room deals.When talking with some…

Mount Athos Epiphany

The ferry to Mount Athos is a serene, sedate affair. Women have been left behind. Black clad bearded monks and priests finger rosary beads and contemplate the steep rise of pine clad foothills to the sharp jagged mountain pinnacle. Peppered amongst the black gowns are logo brandishing pilgrims flicking mobile phones; some carrying wooden staffs. 

Here 21st century meets ancient tradition head on. Although Athos is a peninsula the feeling is of cutting away from the modern world, to an island set back in time. Among the foothills to the Mountain there are many monasteries where one can stay and pray. Since praying for my life Afghanistan I had lost all resistance to deep contemplation or prayer. In the words of William Dalyrmple Athos is, “A self governing monastic republic dedicated to prayer chastity and pure untarnished orthodoxy.” So it was to this rather austere environment I came for solace.  Fortuitously unplanned my arrival comes at an auspicious time. It is the feast of th…