Saturday, October 31, 2009
The first impression of the Nile is of its immensity. An appreciation of the beauty of the Nile comes later, when you have seen it at various times of day, in the early morning, at mid-day, at dusk and at sunset. Like many functional things that have served a population for centuries, the felucca, photographed at Luxor in 2004, is a thing of grace and beauty.
We thoroughly enjoyed Phaestos, an ancient site on Crete, which we visited in 2004. Because there has been no reconstruction here as there has, for example, at Knossos, there were only the ruins themselves and the beauty of the site to work unimpeded upon the imagination. Phaestos sits on a hill with views overlooking the valley below. Another attraction is that these Minoan ruins are much older than the Greek and Roman sites we have visited, and yet they are relatively unknown, at least compared with Knossos.
Friday, October 30, 2009
The 34 Ellora caves, near Aurangabad, are a World Heritage Site. The Hindu caves, where this photo was taken in 2007, date from 500 to 1,000 B.C. The carving is of Lord Shiva, one of the triumvirate of Hindu gods, the two others being Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu. Lord Shiva is commonly thought of as being associated with destruction, but this is incorrect. Instead, he is seen as being responsible for maintaining the balance in the cosmos between creation, dissolution and re-creation.
This young girl, photographed from the train in India in 2007, would likely be typical of many rural children raised in poverty in that country. The 2001 census reported a rural population of 740 million out of a total population of 1.17 billion. Although fertilizers and irrigation have improved the productivity of the soil, most of India's rural population remain poor, and many are deeply in debt to the extent that suicide is a major problem. Because the debt passes from father to son, their situation appears hopeless. Experts estimated, for example, that there were approximately 17,500 farmer suicides each year between 2002 and 2006. Recently, the government has initiated a program of debt relief for farmers. Though it will no doubt help, it is unlikely to solve such a huge problem.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Along the coast in this part of Brittany, outcroppings of pink granite have been eroded, forming unique fantastical shapes. We had a long walk along the coastal footpath here in 2008. It was refreshing to be near the sea on one of our few days in Brittany without rain.
In 2008 we visited this very attractive cathedral, built between the 13th and 16th centuries, and located in Quimper, Finistere, Brittany. The stained glass is some of the nicest we have seen. It is easy to imagine from this example how stained glass was originally intended as a way to instruct people about Christianity and the life of Christ at a time when hardly anyone could read and write.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
This unique bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, was only one of many interesting things to see in Florence, which we visited in 1994. The bridge, dating from the medieval period, is noteworthy for continuing to have shops contained within it, as was once common. The shops were originally butcher shops, but today are mainly jewelers, art dealers and sellers of souvenirs.
At Agrigento in 2000, as elsewhere in Sicily, we were able to walk freely among the ancient ruins, something that made it possible to appreciate these beautiful sites in a new way. The city of Agrigento was nothing special, but near it there were several Greek temples to wander about in. These have been designated a World Heritage Site and date from the 6th and 5th Centuries B.C.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
At the Luxembourg Gardens, which we visited for the first time in 1994, there are always many people having a relaxing time and enjoying the lovely surroundings.
We visited Stonehenge late in the afternoon in 1997. The atmosphere at that time of day made it easy to imagine Druids in long white cloaks conducting their strange rituals. The whole experience was enhanced by the absence of hoards of other tourists. We walked around for quite a while enjoying the unfamiliar, somehow mildly threatening, ambiance of the place.
Monday, October 26, 2009
The photo shows the entrance to the 14th Century fortress of Devagiri at Daulatabad near Aurangabad in Maharashtra. The fortress, built on a mountainside, is considered to have been impregnable, and was only captured once, and then as a result of treachery. There is a long, long climb to the top. At one stage, our guide led us through a totally dark, narrow zig-zag passage intended to be a deterrent to invaders. There were several other interesting features designed to protect the fort including a deep moat.
Maheshwar, in Madhya Pradesh, is a very attractive town on the Narmada River. Here is one of several 17th Century temples located there. If you enlarge the photo, you will be able to see examples of the lovely carving that embellish the buildings at Maheshwar. When we visited the town in 2007, we had a very enjoyable walk beside the ghats on the beautiful river.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
With the Hudson River on our right, we had an enjoyable stroll beside Battery Park in 1998. The fog created a cozy atmosphere. We were especially interested in Battery Park City, because of our association with architects who had designed an important part of it.
What an impressive medieval castle this is! It is huge, and has had an important role in England's history. The great hall is a particularly memorable room. You can really imagine that knights in armour may appear at any moment! The photo was taken in 1997.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The Basilica of St. John Lateran, photographed in 1994, is the cathedral of Rome, and as such is the official seat of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. The site was originally a fort which later became a palace. Some time around the year 313, the palace was given to the Bishop of Rome by the Emperor Constantine. Renovations were made during the 18th Century following an architectural competition. The facade, seen in the first photo above, was designed by Alessandro Galilei in 1735. Set directly behind the facade is the narthex - a lobby or porch, featured in the second photo. It is a wonderful space, like so many that are to be seen and enjoyed in Rome.
In 1996, when we visited Charleston, South Carolina, we took a long walk through the historic district. Many of the old houses featured verandahs like the one in the photo. It was easy to imagine the elegantly dressed people of years ago drinking their mint juleps while sequestered within the cool shade of the verandah. On our walk, we stopped at the city hall, where a very nice lady gave us a half-hour talk on the interesting history of Charleston.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Here we are in 2003 on Desolation Sound located north of Powell River in British Columbia. We were told that a very large area around here had been mapped by volunteers who had also laid out miles and miles of hiking trails. We were shown a beautifully coloured map, and were very impressed by its detail and the extent of the trail system. You could kayak, canoe, hike, fish and camp in this beautiful, remote area hundreds of miles from the nearest city. We promised to return when we had more than a couple of days to stay.
In 1994, we spent several days in Richmond, intending to walk in the North York Dales, something I had dreamed of doing for years. However, the weather did not cooperate. Although it was August, temperatures were more like winter, and the rain was never-ceasing. Since we were leaving England for Italy, we hadn't packed much warm clothing. You always anticipate rain in the north of England, but the cold temperatures were a surprise. This photo captures the bleakness of Swaledale in the rain, and, while the dales are beautiful in any weather, we had a disappointing time. We had a Border Collie puppy at home and were very eager to see a herding and jumping competition one evening. The rain and wind were so severe, however, that we very reluctantly stayed indoors.
Monday, October 19, 2009
This small mausoleum is the first marble building made in India. It is located in Mandu, a small town in Madhya Pradesh. Other buildings located here include a fort, at least two palaces and a large mosque, mostly dating from the 15th Century and protected by the government. Very well-informed guides have been provided to take you around the large site. This marble mausoleum was admired by Shah Jehan who was inspired by it when he made his plans for the Taj Mahal.
This photo taken in the Orchha railway station in 2007 is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, notice how clean the floor is. This is because in India there are sweepers everywhere. These are people from the scheduled (lower) castes whose job is to sweep the streets and other public places. You will see them busy in the early morning before many people are up and about. Within the last ten years or so, the government has taken measures to reserve a proportion of the jobs in the country for such people in order to free them from caste restrictions as to their employment. Although the caste system was made illegal under British rule and also in the 1950 constitution of India, it remains strong in the attitudes of the people.
The photo is also noteworthy because of the way the bull is allowed to wander freely within the railway station. No one except perhaps a recently arrived tourist would find it remarkable that he is here, because Hindus consider cows to be sacred and therefore to be protected. They are seen everywhere, even on the busiest roads where attempts to avoid hitting them can be a serious traffic hazard. It is thought that cows originally gained their status because their milk was essential to life, and bulls because they were, and still are, an essential beast of burden. Sadly, when their useful life is over, people no longer feed these animals, and they are forced to forage for food. You will see them in and around piles of garbage which seem to collect on the side of the road in every town.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Presqu'ile is in Morbihan, the southernmost district of Brittany, located on the Atlantic coast of France. At Presqu'ile in 2008, it was a very windy day and the waves came crashing in. We could experience at first hand the enormous power of the sea.
What for me is captured in this 2004 photo is the beauty, peace and tranquility of the Nile - especially to be experienced at sunset. The boat is symbolic of Egypt's farming communities' dependence upon the river, their life blood since time immemorial.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
A visit to the Downland and Weald Open Air Museum was a unique experience for my mother and I when we traveled to England together in 1984. The objective of the museum is to preserve barns, houses and other rural buildings about to be demolished by moving them to an outdoor museum. Here they can be seen in context, enabling visitors to experience rural life even if only in a small way. We thoroughly enjoyed walking here and admired the concept very much. Located in Sussex, it now includes 45 buildings.
Here we are in 2002 at breakfast in a very remote part of Cornwall near Falmouth. We were not enjoying ourselves in Spain, and so took a very late evening flight to London. Then, we went on by train to Devon and Cornwall for a wonderful two weeks in the West Country. Although it was October, the weather was warm and sunny for the entire time, and the lady who operated this B&B treated us like royalty, even inviting us to join her for an informal evening with several of her friends. I'm sure we could never find the place again. It was a few miles from a main road. Reaching it meant driving on very narrow lanes with barely enough room for a car to pass between the hedgerows. Our days were spent walking and enjoying wonderful views overlooking the sea.
Friday, October 16, 2009
I will never forget driving the Karpas peninsula in 2006. We seemed to go on and on forever in the heat in our small rental car with no air conditioning. The road deteriorated near the end where an old monastery was located. This looked unappealing so instead we headed for the beach, and parked our car where two Turkish boys tended a car park. To be at the very easternmost tip of Cyprus miles from the nearest town or village was quite exciting, and the fact that there were only two or three other visitors added to the experience. The wind was very strong, so we didn't swim for long. When we returned to our car, we discovered it had a flat tire. We were in a panic until we realized that the two boys were expert tire changers for a price of around ten dollars. Now it was necessary to drive all the way back to civilization on our little replacement tire. We were fortunate that the two boys were able to assist us, though it did cross our minds that perhaps all visitors to this out-of-the-way place were blessed with flat tires.
In 2008 we stayed for four days at a bed and breakfast in a medieval manor house near Treguier in Cotes d'Armor, Brittany. It was a lonely place, off by itself, hidden in the depth of the French countryside where the sun never seemed to appear. On a morning like this one, however, the village in the photo, only a mile or so from the manor house, was transformed into a place of great charm and beauty.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
This photo of West Wittering was taken on a 1997 vacation to England. I walked here for some distance with my husband and my son on a bleak, damp, cold, and windy day. This seemed a very English thing to do: it reminded me of the times I had seen people enjoying themselves at the beach in this kind of weather. One of the things I admired in the English when I lived in their country was that bad weather never seemed to deter them from outdoor activities even on a cold winter day.
Here are two of our children, Lindsey and Jason, on a beach in Puerto Rico in 1993. This was a two-week vacation in which we toured around the entire island and also visited the small nearby island of Vieques. Some of the things we enjoyed were the great swimming; a day's outing on a sail boat; a visit to San Cristobal, a fortress at San Juan; and a few days at the El Convento, a lovely old hotel in historic San Juan.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
On the ascent to the acropolis at Lindos on the island of Rhodes, we stopped a few times to admire the spectacular view. At the top, there were ancient ruins, including the remains of the Temple of Athena, the Doric stoa, and the Byzantine church of St John. Looking at the photo will give give you an idea of how high we were above the level of the sea.
It was very rainy while we were in Dalyan in 2006, to the extent that one evening there was a power outage that lasted for a couple of hours. The highlight of our time in the town was an outdoor restaurant which specialized in traditional Turkish cooking. As Turkish cuisine is thought to be among the best in the world, we looked forward to our lunch. We chose a type of stew that is cooked in a clay pot. Traditionally, the pot is broken open; however, the modern pot that you can see in the photo allowed access to the food without damaging the pot. It was truly delicious, and the charm of the young waiter added to our enjoyment.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
This photo, taken in 2000 near the town of Cefalu, is quite typical of Sicily's beautiful scenery. Cefalu itself is a very charming resort where we spent two or three days. When we first arrived in the town, we couldn't find our hotel. It was on the beach quite far below the level of the main street, and I don't believe we had a telephone number for it. When we asked for directions, the woman we approached could speak German, and her husband, French, but neither could speak much English. Then, a man came along who could speak English, but didn't know the hotel.
An amusing situation developed when these three people were approached by a fourth, and a lengthy but friendly argument broke out as to which hotel was it and where was it located. Though we could get the gist of what was happening, we could only stand by quite helpless while the dispute went on. At last, some level of agreement was reached and we were given the directions to the hotel by the English-speaking gentleman. These people were very happy to help us, and we were grateful for their kindness, because, as it turned out, we could never have found our small hotel on our own.
Monday, October 12, 2009
When we visited Crete in 2004, Kalamaki had only recently become a resort. The Lonely Planet Guide to Crete recommended it as a lovely place off the beaten track. That was enough for us. We discovered in Chania, however, that there was no bus service beyond a point some distance away from our destination. Fortunately, after walking on a hot, dusty road hauling our suitcases for fifteen or twenty minutes, a nice gentleman stopped and drove us to our B&B. This was run by a wonderful Cretan family. We especially enjoyed the company of Rula, the daughter, who spoke excellent English.
For our first dinner, we went to a taverna on the beach, but soon after we ordered, there was a power outage. Without power, there was no way to cook, nor was there any light. We spent the time until food was finally served looking at this beautiful view of the sun setting over the sea.
Taking a cruise on the Bosporus, as we did in 2001, is definitely a must for visitors to Istanbul. First, it is beautiful, with the intense sparkling blue of the water and the brilliant sunshine. Then, there are the palaces, mansions and small scenic villages along the way. Most of all, there is a feeling of excitement when you realize just where you are, poised between Europe and Asia and on your way to the Black Sea!
Sunday, October 11, 2009
This photo of an auto-rickshaw was taken in Maheshwar, Madyha Pradesh, a small historic town on the Narmada river. Everywhere in India, these are the most popular mode of transport. Many are powered by electric motors, thus helping to reduce air pollution. You would be surprised by how much these small vehicles can hold. We once saw one that held thirteen people crowded together mostly standing. Together with the trains and the occasional long- and short-distance taxis, auto-rickshaws provided our transportation while visiting the country. They are inexpensive and there are so many of them that it is always easy to find one that is free. Only in Jaipur and Delhi did we see the traditional bicycle rickshaws.
Orchha was founded by the Rajput Bundela dynasty in the 16th Century. The Rajputs ruled the village and the surrounding area until 1950 when Orchha became part of India. In the town are numerous cenotaphs or chhatris like the ones in the photo taken in 2007. These give the town its character. Other major buildings are a fort which includes several connected buildings, including two palaces, and the Lakshmi temple. Orchha is a peaceful town where you can escape the crowds of visitors you may see in other more well-known places.
Friday, October 9, 2009
When you visit France, be sure to try the trains, which I think must be the best in the world - clean, very fast, modern and not overly expensive. The photo, of the Gare de Lyon, was taken in 2008.
I love this photo, because it shows how beautiful the desert can be. Taken in 2004, it was one of my first photos with a digital camera, my Nikon Coolpix. I was surprised by the quality of a photo that could be produced by simply pointing and shooting. I was also surprised by the unexpected beauty of the Sahara. My impression of the desert, before actually seeing it, was that it would be nothing more than desolate wastes of shifting sand. How wrong that was!
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Syracusa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a very interesting town to visit as we did in 2000. There is an old medieval quarter that is seriously dilapidated but would have great potential if Sicily could establish a tourist industry of any size. It would be a wonderful place to explore on foot if cleaned up. There is also an ancient Greek theatre. But perhaps the most interesting place in Syracusa is the large harbour. This is where, in 431 BC, a huge expeditionary force of Athenian ships sailed and were trapped by a chain drawn across the harbour entrance. The result was the destruction of the ships by fire and the death or capture of thousands of Athenian sailors.
Near Avignon is a small village called Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, which we visited in 1999. We took the footpath that runs for perhaps a mile among trees beside the river to a grotto. Here, the river gushes forth from the rock and forms a pool. The village is famous as the home of Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca), the Italian poet who lived from 1304-1374. He was one of the earliest humanists of the Italian Renaissance.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
My cousins took us to Jehay castle near Liege in 2008. The castle, which was was built in the 16th Century, has been owned by the family of Guy van den Steen since 1680. Extensive renovation work was done following World War II. The castle has a moat, as you can see in the photo. It is set in beautiful grounds and is furnished as it would have been at the time it was built.
Before we took our 2008 vacation in the north of France, we had heard of Mont St. Michel and seen photos of it. As we approached it, I wondered if seeing it was worth the huge climb that would be required and if, in fact, we were up to it physically. Once we began, however, it wasn't so bad, and seeing the interior of the abbey church was well worth the effort.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
We stayed for several days in Pont l'Eveque when we visited Normandy in 1999. A very attractive village, it is famous for Pont l'Eveque cheese, which has been made here since at least the 12th Century. It resembles Brie or Camembert and was delicious. We would occasionally have lunch in our car. This would consist of Pont l'Eveque cheese, wine which we drank from the bottle, pate and a baguette. What a great way to indulge ourselves!
By the way, most of the photos can be enlarged by right clicking on the photo and then clicking on "open link in new window."
In 2002, we drove in a bus with our tour group through the High Atlas mountains of Morocco - an area so dry it seems never to have had the slightest amount of rain. When you descend into valleys like this one, however, the irrigated land is beautifully green and supports productive agriculture.
Monday, October 5, 2009
These two men, photographed in Orchha in 2007, are sadhus. A sadhu is a Hindu who has renounced normal life in order to achieve liberation through meditation and prayer. Many wander about and live on donations. Sadhus often wear ochre-coloured clothes to symbolize renunciation. After meeting these two, we learned that, in areas frequented by tourists, you may be approached by men pretending to be sadhus in order to obtain your money. That is unlikely to have applied in Orchha, however, as it is a small town definitely off the beaten track.
Soon after our arrival in India in late 2007, Paul had his shoes shined in Delhi. It was one of our first encounters with the people of India. My heart went out to this boy. Like many thousands of poor Indian families, his was forced to send their children out to work. When I saw his delightful smile, I wished he could have a life such as any Canadian child would take for granted. I can only hope that, in spite of being poor in material goods, he is relatively well-off when you consider love and the other things in life that really matter.