The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba

Source:Wikimedia

Amazing fact: In the 10th century the Spanish city of Cordoba was the largest city in the world with about one million residents (as a comparison, London’s population was probably around 25,000 at the time). Cordoba had an advanced civilisation with over 1,000 mosques, 600 public baths, a central water supply, paved streets, street lighting, schools, a library with 500,000 volumes, an extensive bureaucracy and was advanced in art, science and law. Under the rule of Abd al-Rahman III, Cordoba broke away from the Damascus-based Umayyad dynasty and established an independent Caliphate of Cordoba.

This doorway was used by the Caliph to go and pray.

The greatest of these mosques was the Umayyad Mosque of the West, now known as the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. It was started in 786 during the rule of Abd al-Rahman I. It was modelled on mosques in Damascus and Jerusalem and used some Roman-era materials in its construction. It was later enlarged by Abd al-Rahman II, Al Hakam II and finally Almanzor, more or less doubling in size with each expansion, making it the largest mosque in the world by the year 994.

Here are some photos from my visit in June.

With the knobbly column tops and spreading arches, the early Arab architects may have been reminded of their date palm groves back home.
The double arches allowed for higher ceilings.
As well as being decorative, the double arches helped the mosque to withstand earthquakes
By the time of the Al Hakam II enlargement, the decor had become more lavish with stylised plant motifs, marble and mosaics.
The mihrab (the niche indicating the direction of prayer) is much larger than usual and is highly ornate with a scallop shell dome and ornamental mosaics. Unusually it also faces south rather than south-east towards Mecca.
But the most extraordinary feature of this mosque is that it has a huge Christian cathedral embedded right in the middle of it.
The Cathedral is a beautiful building in its own right, but why here?
A large section of the mosque had to be demolished to make way for the cathedral which was built from 1523-1606. It is said that when King Charles V saw what his architects had done he was horrified and said ‘You have built here what might have been built anywhere else but you have destroyed what was unique in the world.’ This may be true but, had the mosque not been converted into a Christian place of worship, it would probably not have survived until today and would have been demolished or remodelled beyond recognition like the rest of Cordoba’s mosques.
A peak through this archway reveals church walls behind the Islamic decor.
The remains of the old minaret have been integrated into the bell tower.
The Roman bridge of Cordoba crossing the Guadalquivir river dates back to the 1st century BC although it has been reconstructed at various times since. The Mosque-Cathedral can be seen beyond.

I would like to have seen more of Cordoba but our time there was limited. Next stop Granada.

Splendours of Seville

Seville is the largest city and capital of the Spanish region of Andalusia with a population of around 1.5 million. Its historic centre is packed full of splendid buildings and tourist attractions including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Not surprisingly, it was heaving with tourists when I visited earlier this summer.

Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede, Seville
Seville Cathedral – The tourists must have been avoiding the horse drawn carriage drivers.

One of those World Heritage Sites is the Cathedral, Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede, which is said to be the third largest church in the world, after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The Cathedral started life as a mosque, built during the Moors’ 800 year occupation of Andalusia. It was mostly destroyed and rebuilt as as a Gothic style church in the 1400s.

La Giralda, Seville
La Giralda, a name derived from the weather vane (giraldillo) on the top.

La Giralda is the magnificent bell tower attached to the cathedral. The base of the tower was originally the minaret of the mosque with the upper floors (from the bells upwards) being added later by the Christians.

Alcazar, Seville
One of the courtyards at the Alcazar. The name comes from the Arabic ‘Al Qasr’ meaning palace.
The beautiful gardens at the Real Alcazar.

Facing the cathedral is the Alcazar, a complex of palatial rooms, courtyards and gardens lavishly decorated in the Moorish style.

The magnificent golden dome in the Hall of the Ambassadors symbolises the Universe. The frieze that runs along the top of the room contains portraits of Spanish monarchs. A unique fusion of cultures.
Here we see more fine Islamic-style decor on the ceiling and plaster work using only geometric patterns and Arabic calligraphy.
Pabellón Mudéjar – Museo de Artes y Costumbres

This architectural mix of Muslim and Christian styles is known as Mudéjar and can be seen again at Pabellón Mudéjar in Maria Luisa Park. It was built between 1913 and 1915 and served as a permanent pavilion for the 1929 Ibero-American Exhibition. It now houses a museum, the Museo de Artes y Costumbres.

One of the ornate towers of the vast Plaza de España which covers 50,000 square meters. It has been used as a location in many films including Lawrence of Arabia and Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator.

The Plaza de España in Maria Luisa Park, was also built for the 1929 expo. The fancy, wedding cake architecture is somewhat ‘OTT’ but you cannot fail to be impressed by the scale and ambition of the project.

Torre del Oro

The Torre del Oro was built around 1220 by the Almohad Caliphate (the Moors) to control access to Seville via the Guadalquivir river. A heavy chain was slung between it and another tower (since demolished) on the opposite bank to block the river. Guadalquivir by the way, is the Hispanicized rendering of Wadi Kabir, meaning big wadi in Arabic.

A thriving Jewish community once lived in Seville’s Santa Cruz Quarter.

Jews were the other big community in Seville during Moorish times and around 5,000 of them lived in the Santa Cruz Quarter until they were expelled during the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century. Today Santa Cruz is a popular tourist area with narrow lanes, shops and restaurants.

Palacio Arzobispal

There are lovely buildings wherever you look in central Seville. This is Palacio Arzobispal (Archbishop’s Palace), situated just behind the cathedral.

Portuguese Consulate in Seville

And this beauty is the Portuguese Consulate in Seville.

Hotel Alfonso XIII

Hotel Alfonso XIII was built for the 1929 Exhibition to accommodate international visitors. Now it is part of the Marriott’s Luxury Collection.

Fabrica Real de Tabacos
University of Seville.George Bizet’s Carmen, the gypsy cigarrera, once rolled cigars on her thighs in this building.

The University of Seville’s HQ has, since the 1950s, been housed in this neoclassical stone building which was originally a tobacco factory, Fabrica Real de Tabacos.

Casa Pilatos

Casa de Pilatos was begun in 1483 and is a mixture of Italian Renaissance and Mudéjar styles. It contains one of the world’s largest collections of azulejo glazed tiles.

Café Bar Macarena

The Macarena District was once one of the poorer slums in Spain but is now smartened up somewhat and is a popular spot for tapas, small bars and quirky shops. The district surrounds the Basilica de la Macarena where a virgin statue of La Macarena de la Esperanza is displayed. The statue is adorned with five emeralds which were donated by the bullfighter Joselito who has his own statue outside the church.

Las Setas

The Metropol Parasol, referred to by locals as Las Setas (the mushrooms), is a striking modern structure said to be the largest timber-framed construction in the world and sits, rather jarringly, in the heart of the old city. You can take a lift to the top and admire the view from an elevated walkway while skateboarders clatter around below.

We only spent a couple of days in Seville and could only scratch the surface of this impressive city but I hope this gives you a flavour. Next stop Cordoba.

Places To Go Near Fethiye, Turkey

In May 2022 we went for a week’s holiday in Turkey, our first trip abroad for three years, thanks to Covid.

We were based in Fethiye on the ‘Turkish Riviera’, also known as the Turquoise Coast, and every day we visited places of interest on this beautiful stretch of Mediterranean coastline. Here are some of the highlights.

Calis Beach

Calis Beach lies at the northern end of Fethiye. It is a shingle beach with sun beds and umbrellas for hire. There are restaurants, bars and shops all along the beach front.

Fethiye Rock Tombs

Fethiye appears to be a modern city but it has some very ancient roots, being built on the site of Telmessos, the largest city of the Lycian civilisation.

Carved into a hillside on the southern edge of Fethiye are a number of Lycian rock tombs, including this one thought to have been built around 350 BC as a tomb for ‘Amyntas, son of Hermagios’.

Xanthos & Letoon

Letoon Amphitheatre

Xanthos and Letoon are two neighbouring archaeological sites about an hour’s drive from Fethiye. Xanthos was the ancient capital of Lycia and the ruins include tombs, pillar-mounted sarcophagi, Roman-style amphitheatres, temples and a nymphaeum.

Xanthos
Harpy Monument

The Harpy Monument is a well preserved example of a Lycian pillar tomb, believed to be the grave of Kybernis who died in the battle of Salamis in 479 BC. The marble carvings at the top are copies since the originals were spirited away to the British Museum in the 1840s. Isn’t it time western museums returned all their foreign treasures to their countries of origin? The British Museum could concentrate on British treasures instead – there are plenty of those.

Kalkan

Kalkan

Kalkan is a pretty fishing town and tourist destination with steep, cobbled streets, lined with restaurants, bars and shops. Definitely worth the 75 minute drive from Fethiye.

Eating & Shopping

Talking of restaurants, we found the food to be excellent everywhere we went and very good value thanks to the weak Turkish Lira at present. The Turks are friendly and hospitable so what’s not to like? We didn’t do much shopping, mostly food, but shoes are a widely sold item and good value.

We saw fake goods on sale and even this whole supermarket looks fake with a logo that looks suspiciously like Lidl.

Babadag Cable Car

On the road between Fethiye and Oludeniz is Babadag Teleferik, a cable car attraction which opened in 2021 to transport tourists to the peak of Babadag mountain (1969m). Unfortunately only the first leg was open during our visit which terminates at 1200 m but that was still high enough to give fantastic views of Blue Lagoon, and the surrounding coastline.

We enjoyed a cup of Turkish tea and a snack in the restaurant at this level. If you wish, you can strap yourself to a paragliding pilot and jump off the mountain here to gently glide down to a (hopefully) soft landing on Oludeniz Beach. It’s a very popular thing to do.

Oludeniz Beach

This is a lovely sandy/shingle beach in a beautiful setting at the foot of the mountain with full facilities provided (sunbeds, umbrellas, showers, changing rooms, restaurants etc.) The beach has a lagoon on the inland side (Blue Lagoon) where you can also swim. It gets busy but it’s huge so doesn’t feel too crowded.

A view of Oludeniz Beach. You can see why it is called the Turquoise Coast. Did you know that the word turquoise derives from the French word for Turkish?

Continuing south, the coastline becomes more rugged, concealing beaches like this one, Kelebekler Vadisi, accessible only by boat.

Gocek

Just 30 minutes drive west of Fethiye is the chic resort of Gocek with its up-market marina, posh waterfront properties and fashionable boutiques.

Gocek Marina. So this is where the oligarchs are parking their mega yachts! This one is called I Dynasty and registered in the Cayman Islands. According to Wikipedia it is owned by a Kazakh billionaire.

Tlos

Tlos is another major archaeological site. Four civilisations have left their mark here with Lycian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman remains scattered around the complex. In mythology, Tlos is said to be the home of Pegasus, the winged horse.

Archaeologists are still busy unearthing ancient finds.
Amphitheatre at Tlos. There was still snow on the higher peaks here even though it was late May.

Saklikent Gorge

Saklikent canyon is a striking natural feature 300 m deep and 18 km long. Tourists can walk along the river bed for part of this distance during the drier season.

If you don’t want to get your feet wet there is an elevated boardwalk for the first 500 metres or so.

Patara

Santa Claus was born here.

Patara Beach was probably the best beach that we visited with endless soft sand (18 km long). It is protected from development due to loggerhead turtles nesting here and its proximity to Patara ancient city (yes, more ruins!). Saint Nicholas (of Father Christmas fame) was born at Patara in 270 AD.

Dalyan

Dalyan Mosque
More Lycian rock tombs at Dalyan.
A river boat tour is the thing to do in Dalyan.

Dalyan has a different feel. It is a small riverside town near the mouth of the River Dalyan. Fishing and tour boats are parked at the river bank offering tours down to Turtle Beach (Iztuzu Plaji). Along the way you can see more ancient rock tombs, a river delta lined with tall reeds and another archaeological site. Or you could try out a therapeutic mud bath.

Turtle Beach

We managed to cram in a lot of sights in our week’s visit to Fethiye but there’s still much more to see on the Turkish Riviera. We will have to return.

Eildon Hills Walk

Northumberland Traveller

The Eildon Hills are three prominent peaks just south of the Scottish Borders town of Melrose. The highest, known as Eildon Mid Hill, reaches an elevation of 422 metres (1,385 ft). That’s not particularly tall – there are over 8,000 higher peaks in the British Isles – but its conical shape provides excellent views from the top. Eildon Hill North is almost as high, at 404 m, while Eildon Wester Hill is just 371 m at its highest point.

You can climb all three peaks as part of a 9.5 km circular walk starting at the Nutwood car park in Melrose. You can find an online route map and directions on the walkhighlands website.

Here are some photos from our two trips.

Melrose is an attractive small town and was voted the best place to live in Scotland in 2018. The Romans established a camp here called Trimontium (Place…

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Where to Retire for a Perfect Climate

Soaring energy prices are affecting people all over the world. Here in UK, people are feeling the pinch, especially those on fixed incomes, like retirees. My last bill for heating oil cost 108 pence per litre, compared to just 30 pence a year and a half ago.

This got me to thinking. Wouldn’t it be great to live in a place where the temperature was comfortable all year round and you didn’t have to spend money on heating or cooling your home. Do such places exist and, if so, where are they?

Madeira

What Climate is the Healthiest?

First of all you have to define what constitutes perfect weather. This is subjective. Lots of people in Britain complain of feeling too hot when the temperature rises above the 25°C mark (that’s 77°F in old money) but for me, having spent many years in desert and tropical countries, 25°C is just starting to get comfortable. But I am in the minority.

Surveys have indicated that, for Europeans at least, the preferred temperature range is 20 to 26°C and that 22 or 23°C is considered ideal. Warm, dry and sunny weather without extremes of heat or cold is known to be beneficial to physical and mental health.

Which Places Have These Ideal Temperatures Year Round?

If you Google for an answer to this you will come up with various lists of places. One of the more systematic studies is this one by Mr. Nolan Gray where the author ranked 194 cities around the world and determined whether or not you would need air-conditioning and/or heating based on their daily mean and average high/low temperatures.

The author concluded that the 13 cities in the world with the best year round temperatures are as follows:

Antananarivo, Madagascar
Bogotá, Colombia
Caracas, Venezuela
Durban, South Africa
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Lima, Peru
Mexico City, Mexico
Nairobi, Kenya
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Quito, Ecuador
San Diego, California
São Paulo, Brazil
Sydney, Australia

with Guatemala City having the absolute perfect climate.

That’s very interesting and I’m sure these are beautiful places but most of the names on that list do not strike me as retirement destinations when you take things like crime, safety, medical facilities and so on into account. It is no use having an ideal climate if you are too scared to step outside your front door! Even Sydney, which is ideal in many ways, suffers from high property prices and Australia does not grant retirement visas. Nor does USA. So unless you are American or Australian, or have some connections in those countries, you will probably not be allowed to retire there.

What About Europe?

A number of European regions rank highly on the ‘best weather’ lists that you can find on the internet. These include the Canary Islands, Madeira, Andalucia, the Greek Islands and Cyprus.

I have chosen one city from each of these five areas and compared them weather-wise using statistics found on climate-data.org . The five cities I have chosen are Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Funchal (Madeira), Malaga (Spain), Chania (Crete, Greece) and Paphos (Cyprus).

Climatic FeaturesTenerifeFunchalMalagaChaniaPaphos
Temperature Range
°C
14-2311-248-288-2710-29
Avg. Temperature18.516.617.617.219.6
Avg. Humidity75%74%70%70%71%
Rainfall mm. per year281582485853365
Rainy Days per year4983486941
Hours Sunshine per day7.65.79.29.39.8
Months with average
temperature below 15
36755
Months with average
temperature above 26
00204
Average High/Low
Sea Temperature
18 / 2318 / 2415 / 2314 / 2517 / 28

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

Tenerife Postcard

This city’s temperatures move in a comfortable range of 14.3 – 23°C with an annual average temperature of 18.5°C. The average humidity is 75%, the highest of the 5 areas but all of them have humidity in the 70-75% range so we can ignore humidity for this comparison.

Rainfall is sparse with just 282mm per year so parts of the island are very arid although the northern slopes have rainfall and are green as shown in the above postcard..

Sea temperatures in Tenerife are swimmable all year round (15°C is considered the minimum water temperature for bearable swimming).

Overall, Tenerife has the best climate of the 5 places if your objective is to minimise your heating and air-conditioning bills but it is not as sunny as some of the others.

Funchal, Madeira, Portugal

Funchal, Madeira

Madeira has a similar mild climate with moderate year round temperatures but with more rainfall and fewer hours of sunshine.

Malaga, Andalucia, Spain

Andalucia is a big area with a variety of micro-climates. Cabo de Gata in Almeira for example is said to be the driest place in Europe with only 117 mm of rain annually. That might be ideal for arthritis sufferers but the scenery could be too barren for some. I have chosen Malaga for this comparison as it is the capital of the Costa del Sol.

Malaga has cooler winters and hotter summers than Tenerife and more rainfall, although the number of rainy days is almost the same. Malaga is sunnier. Most properties on sale in this area are equipped with air-conditioning and heating and presumably they are needed at times.

Chania, Crete, Greece

Chania has a lot more rainfall than the other places but still manages to average 9.3 hours of sunshine per day.

Paphos, Cyprus

No problem swimming in the Eastern Mediterranean in September.

Paphos has the highest average temperatures of the 5, the fewest rainy days and the most hours of sunshine. Sea temperatures are also significantly warmer in summer than the other places. More to my liking! But you would definitely feel the need for AC and heating at times.

Kyrenia, Northern Cyprus

What About Other Factors?

To find the perfect retirement destination let’s combine the climate statistics with other factors such as crime rates, cost of living and other quality of life indicators as well as the ease of getting a visa.

TenerifeFunchalMalagaChaniaPaphos
Crime Index (low is good)2715261930
Cost of Living Index
(excluding rent, London = 86 for comparison)
50.9249.1652.5257.08*52.86
Pollution (low is good)3824302537
Healthcare (high is good)5150716064**
Traffic (low is good)81868811768
Golden Visa
Ranking
4th1st4th3rd6th
Property Prices (price per sqm. outside city centre in Euro)15401400227014661325
* Insufficient data, this is the index for Heraklion. ** Insufficient data.

These statistics are sourced from Numbeo, a crowd-sourced global database of quality of life indicators. Some of the statistics lack sufficient data and need to be interpreted with caution but they give us a general idea.

Traffic Index is a composite index of time consumed in traffic due to job commute, estimation of time consumption dissatisfaction, CO2 consumption estimation in traffic and overall inefficiencies in the traffic system.

All of these countries have Golden Visa schemes which allow non-EU citizens (which includes us Brits post-Brexit) to apply for permanent residence in return for a minimum investment in property or other assets. The above rankings come from this website.

With the lowest crime rates, cheapest cost of living, lowest pollution and the best Golden Visa scheme, Funchal in Portugal pulls ahead of the competition.

Anywhere Else?

Head to the hills. Berjaya Hills in Pahang, Malaysia

I also looked at other places in the world with ‘perfect’ climates which are not included on Mr. Nolan Gray’s list.

When European powers were colonising Asia they realised that by retreating to the hills they could escape the stifling heat in the plains below and they created hill stations in a number of countries. Places like Simla and Darjeeling in India do not achieve the aim of eliminating heating bills because they are knee-deep in snow in winter but Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, Da Lat in Vietnam, Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka, Baguio in the Philippines and Bandung in Indonesia have much more moderate climates.

The annual average temperature of Genting Highlands in Malaysia for example hits the sweet spot of 22°C with maximums and minimums constantly within the range of 22-26°C. Annual rainfall is a whopping 2548 mm but because Malaysian rain tends to fall in short, torrential downbursts, Genting still manages to average 7.6 hours of sunshine per day. At an altitude of 1865 m it is often in the clouds and with humidity reaching 90% you would probably still want to use air-conditioning, or at least de-humidifiers, to prevent your walls from turning black with mould. I guess nowhere is perfect.

I hope this little study is helpful if you are looking to reduce your energy bills by moving to a better climate.

The Last Sultan of Zanzibar

This relatively modest semi-detached house at 24 Victoria Grove, Southsea (Portsmouth) was, for over 50 years, the home in exile of Sayyid Jamshid bin Abdullah, the last Sultan of Zanzibar. This was not the life he would have expected. How did he end up here?

Sayyid Jamshid was born into privilege on 16 September 1929 in Zanzibar and would have spent his youth flitting between palatial residences like this country palace at Kibweni. He acceded to the throne in July 1963 following the death of his father Sultan Abdullah bin Khalifa Al-Said. He could not have imagined that his reign would only last seven months.

Zanzibar is an archipelago off the East African coast. The islands are famous for spices, particularly cloves. It was ruled by Oman from 1698 to 1858. A branch of the Omani Al-Busaid royal family ruled Zanzibar as Sultans as commemorated in this stamp marking their bicentennial in 1944. Zanzibar came under British protection from 1890 until December 1963 when it became an independent constitutional Sultanate. A month later the Sultan was deposed by a bloody revolt in which the majority black African population overthrew the minority Arab elite. Many Zanzibaris of Arab or mixed African/Arab descent relocated to Oman in 1964 fleeing riots that left thousands dead.

Sayyid Jamshid escaped to Oman, hoping to be granted permission to settle but when this was denied he flew to London with his entourage of 61 close family members and retainers. He spent some time in London hotels but was running short of money until he was granted a lump sum of £100,000 and a monthly allowance of £1500 by the British Government.

This money allowed him to settle in Southsea on the southern English coast. Why did he pick Southsea? Perhaps he liked the look of Portsmouth’s crest with its Islamic-style moon and crescent motif. Or maybe the seaside reminded him of his island paradise of Zanzibar. Or perhaps it was just better value for money compared to living in London.

It must have been a major culture shock for the former Sultan. He kept a low profile and his neighbours described him as a quiet and respectful man. Those who visited his home were often shown his complete collection of Zanzibari stamps from 1860s to 1960s bearing the portraits of himself and his 10 ancestor sultans.

The stamps told the history of his life, with the first set of his reign commemorating Independence (Uhuru) from Britain which took place just six months after he became Sultan. The following month he was deposed and his portrait was defaced with an overprint proclaiming a republic (Jamhuri). Later that year, Zanzibar merged with Tanganyika to form Tanzania.

He continued to lobby for permission to move to Oman, the country of his ancestry, but these requests were rejected by Oman on security grounds, perhaps feeling that having two Sultans in the country could be destabilising. Many of his family members however were allowed to relocate to Oman in the years that followed.

Sayyid Jamshid bin Abdullah, age 91, arrived in Oman in September 2020

In September 2020, after 56 years in exile, as a humanitarian gesture, he was finally given permission to return to Oman to spend his remaining years. He will have plenty of company. Tens of thousands of his former subjects and their descendants live in Oman after being granted citizenship in the 1970s and 1980s.

Here are some old photos of Stone Town, Zanzibar.

The main shopping street in 1936 decorated for the silver jubilee of the Sultan Sayyid Khalifa bin Haroub (the ninth Sultan of Zanzibar and grandfather of Jamshid bin Abdullah).

The same street from a different perspective. Perhaps taken during the 1960s judging by the car and the movie poster for Beau Geste.

An older view of the same street (now called Kenyatta Road) with Shangani Post Office on the right. A look on Google Maps Street View shows that the buildings are still all there, the only differences are that the Indian tailors have been replaced with tourist souvenir shops.

The yellow building on the right is now the Freddie Mercury Museum. Freddie Mercury (the Queen singer) was born in Stone Town Zanzibar with the name Farrokh Bulsara and came from a Parsi family. He and his parents, along with many other South Asian families, also fled Zanzibar in 1964.

Zanzibar looks an interesting place. I’ll have to visit one of these days.

Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Common Currency Zone

Recently I came across this photo of a Malaya and British Borneo $1000 banknote dated 1st March 1959. The design was never adopted but $1 and $10 denomination notes from the same series were issued and used in circulation in the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei.

The reverse of the note features a paddy field scene and displays the emblems, in left to right order, of Brunei, Sarawak, Malaya, Singapore and North Borneo.

Brumasi Dollar

This banknote got me to thinking how convenient it would be if the modern-day nations of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei could share a common currency in the same way that the 19 European nations in the eurozone created the euro.

Brunei and Singapore have a Currency Interchangeability Agreement whereby banks, businesses and the public can accept payments in each other’s currencies at par and without charge. Malaysia used to be part of this arrangement until 1973 when it went its own way. Since then, the Ringgit has depreciated from parity to roughly three Ringgit to the Singapore Dollar.

Could there be a way for Malaysia to rejoin the Agreement? Probably not, because it would involve delegating too much responsibility for monetary policy to the Monetary Authority of Singapore which may be politically unacceptable for Malaysia.

An alternative could be to create an entirely new currency to replace the MYR, SGD and BND – let’s call this new currency the Brumasi Dollar for the sake of argument. The Authority for this currency could be headquartered in Singapore, a global financial centre with a track record of maintaining a strong, stable currency, but with the participation of board directors from the Malaysian and Bruneian Central Banks as well as the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

What would be the benefits of having a Brumasi Dollar? A common currency would facilitate tourism, trade and investment between Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, with lower costs and price stability. Malaysians would enjoy the confidence of having a strong, stable currency which maintains its value against the US Dollar and other leading currencies.

Establishing a Brumasi Dollar would not be an easy task but, if there was political will on all sides to make it happen, it could definitely be achieved.

A common currency for all ten ASEAN member countries is not seen as likely in the foreseeable future since their economies are in different stages of development and their political systems are widely divergent.

Borderless Zone

Since we are talking about copying the eurozone why not also consider copying their Schengen Agreement and introduce free movement between Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei without internal border checks?

Picture: Shin Min Daily News

Millions of man-hours wasted queuing up at both ends of the Singapore/Malaysia causeway could be saved. Singaporeans would find it feasible to live in Johor where property prices are cheaper and Malaysians would find it easier to commute to work in Singapore. Removal of Brunei/Malaysia border posts would improve journey times between Sabah and Sarawak.

No doubt there would be a lot of objections to this idea on grounds of national security, sovereignty and so on but if the 26 countries in the Schengen Area can make it work it should surely be possible for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei to work together and come up with practical solutions.

Just an idea!

Pakistan 50 Years Ago

As mentioned in an earlier post, my parents and my big sister lived in Pakistan during 1970/71 and I used to travel out to visit them from UK during my school holidays. My big brother was studying at university in England at the time but he joined us on at least one of those holiday trips.

These were fun family times. Here are some of Mum and Dad’s photos of Pakistan fifty years ago.

Murree

Bus on the road to Murree.

My Dad was working at the British High Commission in Islamabad. Whenever he had a day off he would drive us up into the hills to places like Murree, a hill station only 19 miles from Islamabad. Here, at an altitude of around 7,500 ft, the air was cooler (and snowy in winter), the air was fresh and scented with pine and we could see for miles.

Cecil Hotel, Murree

We sometimes had a lunch or afternoon tea at the Cecil Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in Pakistan dating from 1851. It was used for a while as an official residence for Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India.

Church in Murree

The Holy Trinity Church on the Mall was built in 1857 and was the centre of colonial life in the town during the days of the Raj.

The Mall in Murree.
New West End Hotel and Restaurant with three bookshops downstairs.
The Ambassador Hotel boasted a ballroom, skating and billiards.
Cable Car near Murree.
On the way to Abbottabad.

On one occasion Dad drove us as far as Abbottabad in the mountainous Hazara region of 75 miles north of Islamabad. This town was founded and named after Major James Abbott in 1853. It was here that Osama Bin Laden was found hiding in 2011.

Islamabad & Rawalpindi

View of Margalla Hills from my parents’ house. Obviously security was not such an issue in those days.

My parents’ house in the British High Commission compound in Islamabad looked out towards the Margalla Hills. The compound had a communal swimming pool, a tennis court and a clubhouse for High Commission employees.

My Mum never learnt to swim but she was happy enough to splash around in the shallow end. My sister was on what, today, we would call a gap year which mainly involved lying around the pool working on her tan. She enjoyed the club and found that she could order a steak and chips and Swan Lager and just sign for it on my Dad’s account.

Staff of the British High Commission Club.

My sister was young and pretty and attracted a good deal of unwanted attention from gawking locals. To better blend in, she sometimes wore locally-made trouser suits instead of the short skirts which were in fashion in Europe at the time.

The Durzi

The durzi (tailor) would come to our house with his sewing machine and find a shady spot on the terrace and in a couple of hours he would make up whatever clothes my Mum and sister requested.

One of our short-lived cooks.

Mum was happy with the house which was modern and simply furnished by the British Ministry of Works. On arrival in Pakistan she was told that she should hire a cook but she had difficulty in finding a Pakistani cook who could live up to her exacting standards and they didn’t stay long. The record was Mohamed who was fired on his first day. Mum sent him to the market to buy a few things and he came back with some scraggy old mutton and tried to cheat her out of the change. She decided then not to bother with a cook. She was always a good cook anyway.

Government Offices in Islamabad in 1970

When Pakistan became independent in 1947 its capital was Karachi but in 1958 the Pakistani government started looking for a site for a new national capital. It selected a plateau below the Himalayan foothills near Rawalpindi and a Greek architect and town planner was chosen to design the master plan of a new city to be named Islamabad with spacious verdant avenues arranged on a grid pattern. Construction began in the 1960s and the British High Commission compound was still incomplete during my parents’ time.

A general view of the new city of Islamabad.
The Intercontinental Hotel, Rawalpindi.
Horse drawn tongas were still a common method of transport in the 1970s and not just for tourists.

Habib Bank Computer House, probably in Rawalpindi. If the building housed Habib Bank’s computer centre it must have been quite advanced for its time. My Dad banked with Grindlays Bank in Rawalpindi.

A pretty pink mosque near Islamabad.
Smiling street urchins in Rawalpindi. They’re probably all millionaires living in London now.
Camels all decked out for a wedding.
I think this is St. Paul’s Church in Rawalpindi.In 2017 it was estimated that Christians made up 1.27% of the population of Pakistan.

After writing this post I think I would like to go back to Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Murree to see how things have changed.

Afghanistan 50 Years Ago (Part 2)

Khyber Pass

Further to my recent blog on Afghanistan, I have come across some more old photos of Pakistan and Afghanistan while sorting through the belongings of my mother, who sadly passed away recently.

Here are the Afghan pics from the period 1970-71. They are photos of slides projected on a wall so the resolution is not great but they have a certain vintage quality to them.

Jamil Hotel, Kabul 1970

The Jamil Hotel in Kabul. I don’t know if it is the same place but this is what Lonely Planet says about Jamil Hotel in its latest Kabul guide: ‘This hotel was popular with backpackers until recently, when the police banned it from accepting foreign guests. Rooms have en suite, and although there is sometimes a problem with the water, the management should keep you supplied with buckets.’ Fortunately my parents did not stay there!

Oops!

No sure if this is Afghanistan or Pakistan. Both had equally high incidence of traffic accidents due to overloading, poor maintenance, dangerous roads and lack of driver training.

Typical scenery.
Khyber Rifles

The Khyber Rifles was set up as an auxiliary unit of the British Indian Army to help control the lawless North West Frontier province. After independence, they became part of the Pakistan Army. This is their headquarters, Shagia Fort, near Ali Masjid in Pakistan, photographed by my parents on their way to Afghanistan via the Khyber Pass.

Salang Pass?

The average altitude of Afghanistan is around 4,000 ft but climbs to as much as 20,000 ft in the Hindu Kush mountain range. This looks like a mining or quarrying settlement. And yes, that’s snow in the distance.

Salang Tunnel

This is the anti-avalanche gallery at the approach to the Salang Tunnel cutting through the Hindu Kush mountains about 60 miles north of Kabul. At the time this photo was taken it was the highest road tunnel in the world at an altitude of 11,200 ft. It was built in 1964 by the Soviet Union as part of the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Treaty. It came in handy when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan fifteen years later. The date on the tunnel reads 1343 which corresponds to our 1964. Afghanistan, like Iran, uses the Solar Hijri calendar, unlike most other Muslim countries which recognise the Lunar Hijri calendar.

Kabul 1970.
Desolate mountains and fertile valley. Nice artistic photos by my Mum.

I’ll write something about Pakistan in my next post.

Northern Ireland’s Coastal Scenery

Northern Ireland is often overlooked as a tourist destination. Partly this is because of the province’s troubled past and partly because the neighbouring Republic of Ireland attracts the lion’s share of visitors to the Emerald Isle. But Northern Ireland has a lot to offer the traveller, including some of the best coastal scenery in the UK. My wife and daughter and I spent a week there in October 2018. It was barely enough time to scratch the surface but we gained a favourable impression. Here are some of the highlights:

Dunluce Castle was one of the grandest castles in the region and in the early 1600s it included a fine Jacobean manor house, now all in ruins. The castle occupied an almost impregnable headland location with steep cliffs on all sides.

The popular Game of Thrones HBO series was filmed in various locations across Northern Ireland and the local tourism authorities are making the most of the connection to attract visitors. The rugged coastline at Ballintoy Beach featured in a couple of episodes.

The tiny harbour at Ballintoy is protected from churning seas by a seawall. Burned limestone and sett stones used to be exported from here to the British Isles.

Nearby is the small island of Carrick-a-Rede which is joined to the mainland by a rope bridge suspended 30 metres above a chasm.

Northern Ireland’s most famous natural wonder is the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a landscape made up of an estimated 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, mostly hexagonal in shape.

It is difficult to imagine that nature could have formed these regular-shaped 12 metre high columns.

There are a number of clifftop trails from which to enjoy the stunning scenery around Giant’s Causeway.

The sun fading over the dramatic coastline at Fairhead, Ballycastle, another Game of Thrones filming location (Dragonstone Cliffs) in the northeastern corner of Ireland.

The landscaped estate called Downhill Demesne was the creation of the Earl Bishop of Derry, Fredrick Hervey, in the 18th century. One of its best features is the circular Mussenden Temple, built as a library for the Bishop and modelled on the Roman Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Italy.

Built on a clifftop, Mussenden Temple has fantastic views of the beach and railway below.

There are excellent beaches all along the coast of Northern Ireland such as this blue flag award-winning Whiterocks Beach at Portrush. Pity about the gale force wind and grey skies!

Away from the coastal scenery, other places we managed to visit while in Northern Ireland included:

The Old Bushmills Distillery where they have been making Irish whiskey since 1608.

Belfast City Hall contains an interesting permanent exhibition on the history of the city.

Construction of the new (Anglican) Belfast Cathedral began in 1899 and continued for nearly 80 years. A stainless steel spire was added as recently as 2007.

The Palm House at the Belfast Botanic Gardens opened in 1840 and was one of the first curvilinear cast iron glasshouses in the world. It is filled with gorgeous tropical blooms and temperate plants.

The Big Fish is a 10 metre long statue on Donegall Quay, Belfast. It is clad in printed ceramic tiles.

The people of Northern Ireland that we met were very friendly although the accent takes a bit of getting used to. They certainly seem to have a good sense of humour.

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