Tuesday 22 October 2019

Armchair Travelling by Postcard

I have found a new way of armchair travelling.  A website called Postcrossing.com has revived an old tradition, the postcard.  I am enjoying it.

Someone once gave me a travel-writing tip, “Send yourself a postcard”.  When I am abroad, I buy a postcard.  I write a message recording my immediate impressions of a place, address it to myself at home and post it.  I always sign off with “Wish you were here”.  It is a delight to receive the postcard when I get home.  It reminds me of my first reactions to a place and the “Wish you were here” is strangely pleasing.

 But, back to my discovery, Postcrossing.com.  It is simple and free to sign up.  You upload your address and a little information about yourself to the site.  You have an initial allowance of five postcards to send.  

It’s best then to buy a small supply of postcards of your home town and some stamps, £1.35 is standard airmail postage for cards in the United Kingdom. Then you say you would like to send a postcard. You will be given a name and address and a reference number.

Send off a few postcards.  When they reach your correspondents, they register the number on the site.  You will be told it has arrived and there is often a short message of thanks.

Most importantly, registration triggers the site to give your address to someone else and soon you will receive a nice postcard from somewhere random in the World.Here is a diagram from the site showing how it all works.

I have been on the site for a couple of months and already I have a collection of colourful and interesting cards.

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Bolshoi Zayatsky Island Labyrinths

600 miles north of Moscow is the White Sea.  In this sea, a huge inlet in Russia's arctic north coast, lie the Solovetsky Islands.  They were remote enough in distance, access and people's consciousness to be the place for Stalin's first Gulag.  These islands have always been a place for mystics, dissidents, and heretics. 

In the archipelago, I walked on the uninhabited Zayatsky Island.  Isolated and dark for a quarter of the year it may be, but people once lived here.  Before even the Sami hunter-gatherers, people of the Stone Age came here and laid down 13 stone labyrinths.  Locally, people call them Babylons though they were already ancient when that city was built.  They are simple double-spiral paths between low rocks, set into the heather.

People with no more than flints and furs came here.  They were people like us; they were spiritual and imaginative.  They told stories.  The original purpose of the labyrinths is uncertain.  Some guess that they were portals to the underworld, made labyrinthine to prevent evil spirits finding their way to the surface.

Under a clear, cold sky, I walked one of the labyrinths, slowly curling in to the centre of the maze and into my own thoughts.  At the centre, the path wound out again interlaced between the inbound lanes.  It would have been easy to find an altered state of consciousness here.

I sensed something universal and timeless, but elusive.  There is a labyrinth in the cathedral at Chartres.  Rock paintings in Mexico show the same design.  Some lost idea connects all these labyrinths through time and place.  Labyrinths must have led our ancestors to a place that we have forgotten how to find.