Friday, 15 June 2018

Hadrian's Wall by Bus

On this trip I was hosted by Visit Britain.

Last year Narrelle Harris and I visited Hadrian's Wall, constructed in AD 122 by the Roman Empire in order to mark and guard its northernmost border.

You can hike the entire length of the wall, but that's a long way to walk - the trail runs 135 kilometres from eastern Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway in the west. And the best section is in the middle, where the hilly country with its lower population has left much of the structure intact.

The solution for us was to catch the seasonal AD122 bus. The bus runs between the railway stations of Haltwhistle (in the west) and Hexham (in the east), with easy connections to Carlisle and Newcastle.

As it stops at key sites along the wall, including museums and former forts, it makes the historic structure accessible to everyone, though there's still some walking to do from the bus stops to the wall itself.

Not everyone's up for a long walk, especially in such hilly country, so it's a good option for travellers who are less mobile.

In the end we did walk a section of the wall, taking a leisurely two hours to stroll up and down the sloping trail west from the fort site now known as Housesteads.

Once we'd had enough of that, we used a farm access road to get back to the main road, where we were happy to flag down the next bus. A day ticket allows multiple rides, and the bus will pick up anywhere that's safe along its route.

The walk was great, but we were happy to get back on the bus and use it to reach the ruins of the former Roman military town south of the wall, Vindolanda [pictured above].

We used it the next day as well, to see some of the wall-related sites closer to Haltwhistle. It was a great way to explore Hadrian's Wall, and allow some walking without exhausting ourselves.

For more details about the AD122 bus, click here.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Mind Your PMQ: Hong Kong's Design Hub

I was hosted on this trip by the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

When I visited Hong Kong last year, I spent an afternoon at PMQ.

Opened in 2014, this arts and design hub is housed within the former Police Married Quarters from the British colonial era.

The complex contains workshops, galleries, pop-up shops and food outlets, housed within two seven-storey blocks remaining from the original institution.

These wings are linked by a modern structure called QUBE, which has a rooftop garden.

It's interesting to wander around the complex, up and down between the floors. There's always something new to see in each shopfront.

For an article I was writing, I talked to some young designers who were able to get a start in otherwise-expensive central Hong Kong by taking on a shop in PMQ.

One, Coney Ko [pictured left], designs and sells jewellery with a retro look reminiscent of Art Deco. Another, Yeung Chi, is an award-winning fashion designer.

It's a fascinating place to visit, both for its outlets and its heritage. To learn more about the latter, you can join a regular free PMQ Heritage Interpretation Guided Tour.

For tour bookings and more information, visit the PMQ website.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Nexus of Change: Gdańsk Shipyard, Poland

I visited Poland in 2016 courtesy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.

In 1980, the Solidarity trade union was founded at the Lenin Shipyard (later renamed the Gdańsk Shipyard) in Gdańsk, Poland.

Led by electrician Lech Wałęsa, Solidarity became the first independent trade union recognised in Eastern Europe's communist bloc, after a massive strike forced the Polish government to legalise it.

A decade of struggle, repression and civil disobedience followed, until the collapse of the Berlin Wall and of Europe's communist regimes.

The Wall's collapse can be traced back to Solidarity, its foundation having forced the first cracks into the totalitarian structure.

Nowadays the Gdańsk Shipyard is much reduced as a working facility. On part of its former footprint stands the European Solidarity Centre, opened in 2014 with an exhibition explaining the long struggle for freedom which began here.

I walked through it on my 2016 visit, and for a student of history it was fascinating. From mock-ups of communist-era homes and offices, to chilling details of the surveillance state, it gives a sense of what it was like to live through those times.

At the end of the exhibition is a stylised replica of the circular conference table which negotiated a peaceful end to the regime. I saw it as a symbol of hope. Not every tussle for power has to end in bloody civil war.

In addition to housing the Centre, the shipyard site has hosted major rock concerts to mark Solidarity's struggle, and its distinctive Gate Number Two has become a symbol of freedom.

The gate still stands, and makes an impressive architectural counterpoint to the hyper-modern ESC building.

In a time of political uncertainty across Europe, with democracy seemingly shaky, this site - so crucial in the spread of freedom across the continent - is well worth a visit.

The European Solidarity Centre is open daily from 10am, admission 20zł ($7). For more details, visit its website.