4th January 2021 – TONY GERVIS (FRPS) – “One Man and His Van”

How could we start a new year better, during these times of restricted movement, than to welcome Tony Gervis (FRPS) with his travelogue through the Middle East and into Eastern Europe. The whole adventure started when he was introduced to a rover who woke up one day and decided to walk around the world. Although Tony didn’t plan such an extreme adventure, he forward planned a trip, buying visas in advance, taking a circular route, travelling 190 miles each day, taking 57 photographs per day covering 22,00 miles through 22 countries. He mostly wore shorts, a smile on his face and a natural warm personality, a gregarious outlook, happy to meet and greet people, especially children, and accept any invitations to break bread with them.

The first destination that was described was Slovakia, then Romania followed by Turkey – a country populated by ancient Roman ruins and places of mystery and intrigue all waiting to be discovered, Aphrodisias, Karapinar Crater Lake, Zaglossus, Semele monastery, Ishak Pasa Palace, Cappadocia and Mount Nemrut all photographed with casual ease and often including the locals and frequently, inquisitive children.

Next, we were in Iran, filling up with diesel from a bowser (at no cost) travelling on challenging roads to Persepolis to Achaemenid to an Empire unfinished by 330BC and razed to the ground by Darius11, his tomb an Eagle Griffin in Huma was close by and our host bought a hand printed tablecloth for $20. Onward to the Shah’s Palace and the polo parade ground (1628) in May Dam Imam. Throughout the people were described as friendly and welcoming treating their animals in a very different way from which we are familiar. Visiting the city of Qum, seeing the faithful called to prayer, all viewed with smiles and bright clothing even Tony put trousers on in the locality to observe local custom.

Soon we were crossing the border into Turkmenistan, a country in Central Asia bordered by the Caspian Sea and largely covered by the Karakum Desert. It’s known for archaeological ruins including those at Nisa and Merv, major stops along the ancient trade route the Silk Road. Ashgabat, the capital, was rebuilt in Soviet style in the mid-20th century and is filled with grand monuments honouring former president Saparmurat Niyazov, usually brightly illuminated at night. Travel is severely restricted and an accompanying guide is essential as there are no road signs, routes, distances etc. are all recorded. Markets were a feature of this presentation and the variety from car spare parts to fresh fruits and vegetables was truly amazing.

Next came Uzbekistan, a Central Asian nation and former Soviet republic where the Aral Sea was dried to destruction to irrigate the Russian cotton industry, leaving ships lying as forlorn wrecks in the desert. It’s known for its mosques, mausoleums and other sites linked to the Silk Road, the ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean. Samarkand, a major city on the route, contains a landmark of Islamic architecture: the Registan, a plaza bordered by 3 ornate, mosaic-covered religious schools dating to the 15th and 17th centuries.
Continuing this fascinating tour, we passed into Kazakhstan, another former Soviet republic, extends from the Caspian Sea in the west to the Altai Mountains at its eastern border with China and Russia. Its largest metropolis, Almaty, is a long-standing trading hub whose landmarks include Ascension Cathedral, a tsarist-era Russian Orthodox church, and the Central State Museum of Kazakhstan, displaying thousands of Kazakh artifacts. A revealing look into a café and bakery lead to a policeman pointing out that Tony’s van had lost a rear panel and number plate, on the ghastly road, a good-humoured resolution was found and Tony was given a cigarette lighter.

Travelling East must always lead to Russia and the particular destination was Lenin’s birthplace, in Streletskaya Ulitsa, Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk). A statue of Lenin and many souvenir shops are there. Moving on to Moscow where Tony parked the van by Red Square without any problem, Views of St Basil’s, a huge cast bell that cracked and never rang were seen by the eternal flame. The Peterhof Palace, is a series of palaces and gardens located in Peterhof, Saint Petersburg, commissioned by Peter the Great as a direct response to the Palace of Versailles by Louis XIV of France.

Our evening’s entertainment was finalised with visits to Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Estonia (here Tony was given a place to stand and photograph the Greek Orthodox Church Service by the actual Head of that Religion – how to make friends and influence people!).

A fascinating evening which was a clear demonstration of Tony’s sense of humour, courtesy, personality and his warmth which encourages people towards him – and facilitates the opportunity to take their pictures. This was well received by our members and, undoubtedly, we will see him again as he is very widely travelled and his mention of America particularly attracted our attention.
A visit to his website is recommended at – http://www.tonygervis.com

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