Monday, 8 August 2011

Travel Tip - Mekong basin area

If you're planning a trip to one of the countries in the Mekong basin area (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar or the Chinese provinces of Yunnan or Guangxi), or even if you live in the area, here's an interesting link: Responsible Tourism in the Mekong.

The site features responsible tourism operations and operators, and has been developed to complement existing travel guides to the Mekong Region. Designed with the intention of providing mainly independent travellers with a choice of responsible operators who will cater for all their needs: accommodation, activities, sites to visit, restaurants, shops, museums and wellness services, it can also help you find responsible tour operators if you prefer an organised trip.

P.S. Check out the logo!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A clumsy chronicle

The Last Colony: An Experience of Reunion Island is one of several e-books written by Michael Steane, and recounts his time spent on Reunion Island (a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean) during the early nineties. It seems to have been written in 1997 in Australia where the author went to live after leaving Reunion, but appears to have only been published (as an e-book) in 2010.

cover of The Last Colony: An Experience of Reunion Island

Chapters are short, manageable, and are broadly thematic, and the narrative is not too linear. The author is at his best when describing Reunion's beautiful landscape, scenery and outdoor attractions. However that is where most of the positive points of the book end.

It is littered with punctuation errors and spelling mistakes in English and in French (eg 'messayge') that a simple re-reading and/or use of a spell checker would have eliminated, and I found this distracting.

There are also numerous factual mistakes (calling the French electricity company EDS for example, instead of EDF; confusing the given names of Verges father and son; saying that Tromelin is one of the Mascarene islands instead of Rodrigues); the wrong use of French terms (eg 'octroi mer' instead of 'octroi de mer'; saying that a 'casier judiciaire' (criminal record) is needed when what is actually needed is an 'extrait de casier judiciaire' (proof of no criminal record) !); and debatable generalisations (eg 'St Denis is a largely Muslim town' or 'it is fairly commonplace for [university] lecturers to have sexual relations with their students'). There are also some repetitions (e.g. the visit of his mother to the island).

All in all this is one of the first books I've read where I felt I should be awarded points for effort (for reading the book) rather than the author !

The author is well-meaning and his appreciation of the island is apparent, (although not immediately), but better fact-checking (a lack of which is inexcusable for any self-respecting self-publisher in the internet age), along with fewer generalisations and less repetition of clichéd opinions would have helped his case (and the island's reputation amongst those non-speakers of French who don't know Reunion).

P.S. I have not listed all the mistakes and errors in the book as there are far too many for a simple review, I've simply highlighted a few to illustrate my points.

Further reading:

A review from the blog "Around the world in 80 books!!!".

Monday, 1 August 2011

48 hours in Amsterdam

Amsterdam's canal ring is inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List

Well, actually only 36 hours as we arrived from Indonesia on Saturday morning and left on Sunday evening, but never mind! 

As we were only staying one night we booked a night at the Citizen M  hotel next to the airport which markets itself as "affordable luxury". The room was quite small but well designed and included a Philips' mood pad. After we'd stayed there I saw it had been voted Trip Advisor's Trendiest Hotel in the World 2011 !

shower, Citizen M hotel, Amsterdam

The day we arrived we were rather tired and the weather was not good - rainy and cold - only 12°C although this was late July. It was very quick and easy to take a train into the city centre from the airport.

main train station, Amsterdam

 Because of the weather we decided to visit something indoors. There were big long queues outside Anne Frank's house, so we chose the Royal Palace Museum. I found it unusual because unlike other countries where royal palaces have been transformed into civic buildings, this building started off as the City Hall 350 years ago before being turned into a royal palace by King Louis Napoleon in 1806.

magnificent central hall

The next day we visited the Rijksmuseum - no photos allowed unfortunately. (Rijksmuseum is the general Dutch name for a state/national museum; used by itself it refers to the main arts museum in Amsterdam). It is currently being renovated until 2013 but it is still possible to visit part of the collection. One of  its most famous paintings, which we were able to see, is Johannes Vermeer's The Kitchen maid:

(c) Rijksmuseum

Afterwards we visited the Rembrandt Museum, which is actually his former house:

Rembrandt was a famous 17th century painter and etcher. 


Although I like his work one of my favourite etchings in the museum was not actually by him, but by a contemporary named Jan Saenredam:

Sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus
(Without Food and Wine Love will Freeze)

Suggested reading:

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. Historical fiction about Vermeer's household.

For more of my posts in the "48 hours in..." series click here.