Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Bikaner in Rajasthan is situated in the desert not far from the Pakistani border. Temperatures were warm during the day - we visited in December - but fell close to freezing at night. We saw more camels here than elsewhere, possibly because of the town's remoteness, or perhaps because of the camel research centre located there. We liked this camel for its typically haughty facial expression. He seems to be telling the world that he is king of the road, and perhaps in Bikaner he is.
When India gained its independence from Britain in 1947, rulers of the Rajput states, including Udaipur, chose to join the new Dominion of India. Since that time, there has continued to be a Maharana of Udaipur. He is the heir of the former Maharanas, and, though he has no formal position or power, he is deeply respected by the people of Udaipur. We were in Udaipur in 2007 when his 63rd birthday was being celebrated. At the City Palace, which continues to be his residence, there was a very long queue of well-wishes bearing him gifts.
The Peacock Square or Mor Chawk in the City Palace in Udaipur gains its name from the peacocks in vivid blue glass mosaic that decorate its walls. This is only one example of the many beautiful rooms we admired in India. The peacock is the national bird of India.
In 2007 the City Palace complex in Udaipur was one of the most interesting palaces we saw in India. We had a very nice, very informative guide all to ourselves for over an hour. The palace was built by the Rajput Maharana Udai Singh beginning with the royal courtyard in 1568. He was given the title of maharana in recognition that he did not submit to defeat by the Mughals. The palace complex is a blend of medieval European and Chinese architecture. It has buildings of immense beauty, as well as gardens and fountains - all well planned and finely executed over the years.
Our favourite place in India when we visited in 2007 was Udaipur in Rajasthan. When people think of the beauty of Udaipur, they immediately visualize Lake Pichola. This lovely pavilion on the lake is reputed to have been where the Udaipur Maharanas entertained their ladies.
Monday, March 1, 2010
One of the very memorable moments of our trip to India in 2007 was meeting these women from Goa. They approached and surrounded us with broadly smiling faces, welcoming us to India. They said that we must go to Goa on our next visit to India, because we would have such a good time there. The only word to describe them was joyous, just because they were so delighted to see us. It is rare and delightful to encounter people who are so unabashedly happy.
The population of India is more than 1.1 billion. It is understandable that when traveling there, you expect to see a lot of people. They tend to be gregarious. For instance, if you have a problem and are seen discussing it, in no time at all there will be ten people, usually men, congregating nearby to listen and offer helpful suggestions. Some of the most popular places for people to gather are the ghats beside the rivers. Maheshwar is an out-of-the-way town that is not accessible by train. At the city of Indore, we hired a driver to take us there. The Narmada river is very clean and beautiful, and the people were having an enjoyable time. Maheshwar and Mandu, located in the same district, were wonderful places to visit - all the more so in that they were quiet and far from the more popular tourist destinations.
Much of the success of our trip to India in 2007 depended on the railway porters. We took many trains including six that went overnight, and everywhere there were plenty of porters to help us. Often, within the station, it is necessary to climb stairs that take you over the tracks and down the opposite side. With two suitcases for a six-week vacation we couldn't have managed unassisted. The porters also help you find the correct train and coach - a challenge until you learn how to negotiate the system. Trains were uniformly clean, safe and reasonably punctual. It was a great way to experience India and meet the people
Sunday, February 28, 2010
This twelfth-century monastery, which we visited in 2006, is a fine example of Gothic architecture from the Lusignan period. There are extensive ruins set in lovely grounds in the mountains about ten minutes from Kyrenia in North Cyprus You can also visit the abbey church. Being there was a pleasure; it was calm, peaceful and beautiful. Not far from here you can look up and see St. Hilarion, a castle, originally a monastery, perched high up on a mountain.
As you can see from the second photo taken in 2006, the Troodos mountains are beautiful. We stayed a couple of days at a lovely village called Kakopetria. The first photo is of Archbishop Mykarios' mausoleum which is located in these mountains. Even today, many years after the partition of the island, there is in Cyprus a strong dislike and even fear of Turkey, feelings that were initially promoted by Mykarios and which continue to make it impossible to achieve an accommodation between the two peoples of the island. Recently, the Muslims of the north voted decisively to unite with Cyprus in order to become a member of the EU. However, they were spurned, and, as a result, must continue to rely on the support of Turkey and to suffer from a lack of investment and development.
In 2006 when we visited Cyprus, Paphos was a disappointment. The Lonely Planet guide described the town very favourably, raising our expectations. Little remained of Cypriot culture. Even the food in the restaurants was English, perhaps reflecting the effects of British rule from 1878 to 1960. Almost all of the old buildings in the town have been replaced with the mediocre architecture of the 1950's and 1960's. The town was quite spread out, making it necessary to use a car, but parking was hard to find, and there was no beache until we finally found a nice municipal one in a nearby town. Based on the Lonely Planet guide's recommendation, we had reserved a hotel for four days, and could hardly wait to leave. Paphos is well worth a brief visit, however, in order to see the wonderful mosaics at Roman Paphos. They are by far the most impressive we have ever seen. Perhaps they will be surpassed by those at Ravenna which we haven't yet seen.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
In 1999 we visited Normandy and saw the beaches where the allies landed on D Day in 1944. In the first two photos are war memorials. The third shows Juno beach and the fourth Omaha Beach.
In 1999 we toured the area in Normandy where the D Day landings were made in World War II. It was interesting and very moving. In the first photo you can see one of the German gun emplacements that were situated on the cliffs overlooking the coast. The second photo was taken at Pointe du Hoc where American airborne forces scaled the cliff under heavy fire and were able to gain a foothold in spite of heavy German defenses.
Friday, February 26, 2010
The houses in Simi's lower town share a distinctive Neo-Classical style and are all painted in pastel colours. After Greece joined the EU, most of Simi's dilapidated houses were renovated under the municipality's strict guidelines. We were told by a resident of Simi Town that much of this activity has been made possible by foreign investment. The result is lovely, making Simi one of the Greek islands we love most.
Simi having no airport, we arrived in 2007 by boat after dark. We didn't know quite what to expect as only that afternoon had we decided to leave Rhodos two days earlier than planned and go to Simi instead. We were met at the harbour by the French lady who owned our small but lovely hotel. She was very welcoming and recommended a good seafood restaurant. In the morning we saw how beautiful this small island is. We hated having to leave the next day and wondered for a while if we would be able to. Dark black clouds promised a terrible storm as we waited at the harbour, unsure if the ferry for Rhodos would arrive. Eventually, rather than the ferry we expected, a hydrofoil came instead and took us to Rhodos safely but very stressed. The first photo shows the harbour at Simi. In the second we are having a Coke at the harbour and basking in the beautiful sun.
In 2007 we planned to stay at a hotel at Monolithos on the west coast of Rhodos, but it lacked air conditioning and was not very clean. We continued, therefore, on our drive around the island, hoping to find a boat that afternoon to the island of Simi, which we were interested in and knew was close to Rhodos. We were in luck and had to wait only an hour or so at the harbour in Rhodos Town before boarding our boat. We eagerly anticipated Simi, taking the change of plan in a spirit of adventure. The photos were taken at the harbour in Rhodos Town while we waited for our boat.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Hagia Sophia is a familiar landmark of Istanbul. The cathedral was built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian between 532 and 537 and is considered the prime example of Byzantine architecture. It is famous for its huge dome. After Byzantium was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the city became Muslim and Hagia Sophia became a mosque. It was very dark inside. My main impression was of its immense size and the incredible height of the roof. There are some beautiful mosaics as well. I believe it has now become a museum.
One of the most interesting ancient ruins we explored was in 1997 at Perge in Turkey. Originally a Helenistic settlement, Perge became a major city in Ancient Rome. The ruins are quite extensive and it was easy to visualize the ancient city. From top to bottom: 1) where sculpture, now in a museum, was displayed; 2) entrance to Perge; 3) fountain and waterworks; 4) colonnade and agora (i.e., street with columns forming the market area of the city).
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
The views looking down from the acropolis at Lindos on Rhodes are truly breath-taking. The photos do not exaggerate the beauty or the intensity of the blue colour of the Aegean.
In 2006, when we looked up at the Lindos fortress from below, it was intimidating to think about the time and effort we would need for the climb. Taking it gradually, we frequently stopped on the way up to admire the views of the sea which were spectacular.
All along Cleopatra Beach are hotels, some quite inexpensive, with each hotel claiming a slice of the beach for its umbrellas and loungers. This is the best beach we've ever seen for swimming. There are usually big waves, but no noticeable undertow. The sand is nice and very clean, and the water is beautifully warm. Hills surround the beach on all sides, adding to its scenic beauty, and there is a view of the Turkish fortress perched high on the rock overlooking the bay. The main road is just the other side of the hotels, giving easy access by minibus to restaurants and any other parts of Alanya you may wish to visit. On a former vacation in 2001, we found an outdoor fish restaurant where we had a table directly beside the sea. After a while, the full moon rose above the mountains making a lovely reflection in the water. It was a most romantic setting! On this trip in 2006, we tried to find the restaurant, but to our great disappointment it was no longer there.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
One of our favorite activities while in Turkey is to go out for a day's swimming off a gulet, one of the boats that are to be seen everywhere along the Mediterranean coast. The entertainment provided by the crew is one of the day's major pleasures. Photographed in 2001 in the last picture at Alanya are Hassan on the left with his crew. The third photo shows a very amusing dance performed by a crew member. Hassan was a very nice man. He asked me many questions about Canada, explaining that he wanted to emigrate. I remember thinking, "How very sad. Lacking the skills that Canada would recognize, he most likely would be unable to achieve his goal, and, even if he did succeed, he would find the differences in culture very difficult to adjust to, and would probably be terribly homesick for his life in Turkey." He was unhappy because he was unemployed all winter - he did not own the gulet - and had a seven-year-old son whose future he worried about.
Monday, February 22, 2010
This photo captures perfectly the atmosphere we experienced on our visit to the south coast of Turkey in 2006. Instead of the brilliant summer sun you expect in the Mediterranean, dark clouds and heavy, heavy rain seemed an almost daily occurrence. My very favourite place to swim is at Cleopatra Beach in Alanya. There was only one opportunity to swim in our three days there, and even then, we had to run to escape a cloud burst. We had a drink in the outdoor bar of our hotel and hoped the rain would stop, but it didn't. It wasn't all bad, though. To be in the Mediterranean in stormy weather was new and different. The threatening clouds and violent rain created a feeling of adventure, particularly when having to go somewhere by boat.
The Betwa at Orchha, India is a very beautiful river, clean and calm. As with many of India's rivers, ghats have been built along its banks. These are steps leading down to the water where Hindus take a purification bath. They may also perform puja, a type of ceremonial worship. For Hindus, all water, particularly river water, is sacred. Consequently, the river is of great importance in Indian communities.
We saw idols of Ganesh everywhere in India. The one in the photo, located in the Lakshmi Narayan Temple in Orchha was one of the most attractive we saw during our India vacation in 2007. As the Hindu god of opportunity and good fortune, Ganesh protects the entrance to homes and other buildings. In Orchha, we asked a travel agent to buy us a train ticket. When we picked it up later, he gave me a small brass idol of Ganesh and wished me good luck. I put it near the front entrance of our house, where it has remained ever since. Giving it to me was such a lovely gesture from this young man, and I shall never forget it. It was only one of many endearing things done for us in India.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
In 2000 we spent two wonderful weeks in Sicily. We saw many interesting things - ancient Greek temples being the most noteworthy. The food was excellent, the people were friendly, hotels were very good and not too expensive, and the swimming was great. Featured in the photos is the citadel of Erice. Occupied since ancient times, Erice has two castles and sits atop a mountain some 750 metres above the sea. We spent an hour or two exploring the place. I found it interesting, but, because most of Erice was totally deserted, the experience was somehow threatening. Perhaps I was affected by a slight tendency to vertigo and an overactive imagination that made it seem possible I might be tossed into a medieval dungeon at any moment. The first photo above is the view looking down from the citadel.