Knopf, 80 mile beach, Western Australia


Posted Jun 13, 2009, 6:35 pm
Today is the big day that we make our move to Switzerland. We are prepared, have the car all packed up and got some guidebooks. Our destination is central Switzerland. 

Posted Jun 13, 2009, 6:51 pm
In Baden-Würtemberg we left the Autobahn to buy fresh strawberries and asparagus so we can cook dinner for our hosts for the first few days.
It’s actually a holiday, Fronleichnam, here in Germany, so the shops are closed but in this rural area the farmers sell their produce directly.
Look at the shed with lot’s of tools and spare parts and meet the goads.

Posted Jun 13, 2009, 6:57 pm
We are in central Switzerland right now, in the Kanton Schwyz.
Here’s the view from the window of our bedroom.
We can see the Pilatus mountain straight ahead
And the Stanser Horn to the left with the Bürgenstock in front of it and the Rigi all the way to the left.
Here the view of the Rigi from the garden. We’ll go all the way up there tomorrow.

Posted Jun 13, 2009, 7:06 pm
It’s a beautiful sunny day and we took the car to the Seilbahn station that goes up onto the Rigi from Weggis.
You can see our car down there and of course the station and Lake Lucerne or Vierwaldstättersee as they call it in German.
Only about 1/3 of the way up (and this one doesn’t go all the way to the top) and look at how high we are already. Mt Pilatus is in the clouds.

Posted Jun 13, 2009, 7:40 pm
After getting off the Seilbahn (aerial lift) we climbed up some way and over to the north. Here you can see Küssnacht (and the house we are staying in if you look closely) and part of Lake Lucerne.
A bit to the east is the Zuger See.
Somewhat higher still is a railway station where one can take an old little steam train up to the top. I however am tougher than that and took the hiking path. It was exhausting! I need to get into better shape and get into better shape and get used to this altitude. The summit is at about 1'797,5 m.

Finally on the top of the mountain! I need a rest now.
This radio mast was also visible from the garden, so you know how high we are now.
Here’s the view to the north with Lake Zug and the Ägerisee beyond it.
Here’s the view towards the east towards Lake Lauerzer and the town Schwyz in the distance.

South, over Lake Lucerne with the snow covered Titlis.

On the way back down, a bit below the summit is this hotel/restaurant and the Swiss flag is nicely recognisable in the wind.
The trains from different directions, including the little steam train come up to here.
There it is on the way up again. Doesn’t it all look like a big model train landscape? Only second and third class wagons are available right now.
Many years ago the tourists were carried up here in sedan chairs. The locals were unhappy about the railroad lines because of the loss of income.
When I got there it was still in the little station. There are the bags of coal to make it run.
I talked to the Schaffner (conductor, here with the original bag and a tailored uniform after the original one from 1901) and he told me that this is the last train with a steam engine where the boiler is upright. It used to be in the traffic museum in Lucerne but this summer it operates here as a special event.

Posted Jun 13, 2009, 10:02 pm
The clouds cleared up some more and I had a good view of Küssnacht and the lake again.
This is were the paragliders start.
This appears to be a training session:
Some already made it up there.

There are also farms and cows up here. The milk tastes of all the herbs that grow in the pastures.
Nearly on the level of the railway again, we found a little chapel at this spring.

The last 3rd of the way down

Posted Jun 14, 2009, 1:14 pm
In the evening we walked through the town:
The church and the former prison in Küssnacht am Rigi.

The harbour of Küssnacht at Lake Lucerne:
The church and the town hall:

Posted Jun 14, 2009, 1:24 pm
Today we could move into our new home. So here's the view of the Stanserhorn from the shopping center in Stans.

Posted Jun 26, 2009, 12:30 pm
I learnt interesting trivia  I wanted to share...

Soon there will be another tournament of 'Schwingen' close to here. It's a Swiss sport and a big thing around here. People come from all over and tribunes are erected for many people for only one weekend. It's a bit like wrestling, but the contestants have to grab each other's special trousers and swing the opponent with the back onto the ground without grabbing him elsewhere. When one wins, happy dances or triumphant fists or things like that lead to disqualification and the winner has to clean up the loser. It's very civilized and polite.

Posted Jul 5, 2009, 8:58 pm
We had a few colder days and nights and the snowfall got down to 1700m. You can see some of the rests of the snow fields on Mt Pilatus:

Posted Jul 5, 2009, 8:59 pm
We got an early start this Sunday and drove to Bouchs to enjoy a morning at the lake side. It’s quite idyllic early in the morning.
There’s a camping ground and different sports facilities here, like soccer fields, tennis and beach volleyball courts and a bathing center for the lake, a small harbour, places to put canus or other boats into the water or to go swimming and a nice path for pedestrians.

We meet many people who walk their dogs. Dogs are supposed to be kept on a leash but few people actually do that. I have to admit that it is fun to watch them splashing around and playing in the water, though.
Today there’s a children’s soccer tournament taking place. We can always her one parent or another yelling for their kids to go for it, watch their field position or “hop, hop”. I’m glad I’m not playing soccer.
In the harbour, where the shouts aren’t that loud anymore we come upon a family of ducks. The hen has a lot to do. She’s constantly looking around for all of her 5 chicks and calling for them probably to stay together or at least keep moving in the same direction but there’s always a straggler. One of the nearly jumps out of the water to catch some insects that are sitting on a pole a bit above the water’s edge. When it sees us so close by it quickly swims off to its nearest sibling lit panicked “peep, peeehhhhppp”s. Cute. There are also other water birds that I don’t know the name of.

The place becomes quite busy closer to midday. There are also tour boats out on the lake with folk music for the tourists and small motor planes are carrying sailing planes up into the air so we decide to have a peaceful lunch at home.

Posted Jul 5, 2009, 9:01 pm
Today we went to Lucerne. We started out at the Verkehrshaus (traffic house),
a museum about all kinds of moving stuff with lots of rides for kids (or big kids), an IMAX that’s currently showing Ice Age 3, a planetarium etc. This year it’s 50 years old and it’s the most visited museum in Switzerland.

We walked along the water to the old center of Lucerne.

There were young swans at the waterfront. Their mommy got real mean whenever someone tried to get too close.

Some of the houses along here seem a bit Belle Epoche.
We finally got downtown and to famous chapel-bridge (Kapellbrücke). It burnt down some time ago and now there’s a discussion about weather or not to replace the burnt original paintings with replicas that are by now also quite old.
It has a nice view:
concert hall(KKL for short)/ history museum; main station, old Post office.
Old town
And Jesuit church from the outside and here from the inside:

We went back over another bridge and through the old town with some nice facades:
I particularly liked the optical institute with the stargazer:
Or the restaurant Fritschi, he’s the guy in the middle of the top row and the local carnival hero:

After all that, I deserved some lunch on a boat. This was my view over Lake Lucerne:

Then we had to hurry back home to watch Roger Federer play the final at Wimbeldon. I think pretty much everybody did the same, because it was very quiet out on the streets.


Posted Jul 17, 2009, 8:21 am
I was invited to an Apéro and while there I saw this beautiful rainbow. We only got hit by a few drops, don’t worry, and it was definitely worth this view:
It was a perfect bow but not that intense on the one side.  It got more color when the clouds moved together and nearly vanished on the other side.
Then there were even two rainbows above each other:

Posted Jul 17, 2009, 8:22 am
Today I took the train to Luzern:
They are currently having the ‘BlueBallsFestival’ where many bands play and there food at the lakeside etc. My mentor thought the name funny for some reason but we had fun.
There were lots of tourists around from all over the world, so we didn’t feel so stupid taking pictures of me.
It was hot (30°C) and humid so went went to the promenade along the lake in hopes of some wind (and some ice cream).  We sat down ad watched the ducks and the shipe for a while before doing the required reading.
I longed to be in the ‘Badi’ like those people over there. It’s planks in the lake, so it would probably be easier to just jump in at a different point. Other people were doing that, too, or were lying on the grass getting a tan.

Posted Jul 20, 2009, 9:36 am
We went for a walk and I saw a medi-helicopter land at the hospital today.
Here it’s flying away again.

I also went crane-watching, like the young boys who are passing by.

Later we watched the sunlight play with the moving clouds around Mt Pilatus. Isn’t it pretty? One of my favourite things about living in the mountains is watching the cloud movements.

Posted Jul 29, 2009, 7:05 am
Here I am in front of the KKL (concert hall) in Lucerne. It's directly at the lake. There are lot's of people and different boths here. This is the BlueBallsFestival with live music in different parts of the city. I had fun listening to some of the bands and trying different food.

Posted Jul 29, 2009, 7:14 am
Today it was very warm again and we went to the lake to go swimming. Here we are at the end of the little harbour, watching the ducks. The horizon always seemsed to move from my viewpoint on the little pier.

Posted Jul 29, 2009, 3:18 pm
This morning we had an early start and drove to the aerial lift in Morschach to take it up to Stoos & Mt Fronalpstock. You can see it behind me in the picture above at Bouchs.
Today there's a family spa hotel here, but formerly this was a very illustrious place to go on holidays. Queen Victoria of England, Ludwig II. of Bavaria and Winston Churchill belong to the tourists that visited here.
Up here it's very beautiful. One can go skiing in winter and in summer there are many hiking paths. Many people just take the ski-lift up to Fronalpstock, though, to look from there onto Lake Lucerne, surrounding mountains, in some places until the Jura mountain range or to Zürich. One can also see the Rütli meadow, where the legendary Rütlischwur was sworn that laid the foundation for Switzerland. It will be re-enacted next week on on the 1. Aug, the Swiss National Day.
We went hiking, but without the heavy camera. It was too hot and the path we took too difficult for that.
In the late afternoon we took the lift down to Morschach again. Look where we were (and Morschach is already part of the way up on the mountain).

Posted Jul 30, 2009, 9:50 am
We decided to take part in a very Swiss experience and make cheese fondue over an open fire at the lake.
We found a wonderful place here:
(These are actually 2 different parts of the same mountain that are next tp each other but look alike from this perspective.)
The sun was already low in the sky but I checked out the way the waves hit the shore. The water looked very clear and inviting.

While the big people built the fire, I rested at the lake.

We later witnessed a beautiful sunset:

Then it was time to put the pot on the fire, put in the cheese mix, lemon juice, white wine, cherry liquor and some spices and stir it:
we dipped in bread and apple pieces and banana. It was good!

With a very full stomach, we settled down to watch the light play again.

I like going to the lake! When it was nearly dark there were still some scuba divers coming up.

Posted Aug 6, 2009, 10:01 am
Today is Swiss National day and all shops were closed, people went hiking or mountainbiking etc and had bbqs with flags and lanterns as decoration. There were fireworks all day long but esp in the evening. Many mountains had Swiss flags on them and when it got dark they had lights in the form of the cross from the flag on them. You can see one in the distance behind me.

Posted Aug 6, 2009, 11:15 am
Another beautiful and warm day here in central Switzerland. We got time off work and enjoyed being lazy and watching all the little insects humming around in the garden. People pull these mushrooms out of the ground. I rather like them...

Posted Aug 8, 2009, 7:26 pm
Here I am, driving towards the Brünig Pass. It's only a bit over 1000m high, but behind these one can occasionally see the higher mountains: Mönch, Jungfrau and Eiger.
Here's the beautiful view back:

Posted Aug 8, 2009, 7:55 pm
This is he administrative building of the museum at Ballenberg. Old houses from all parts of Switzerland were taken apart and rebuilt here to preserve them.
Here's the very cute Richterswil house.
It's complete with kitchen garden, ducks and all kinds fo outbildings.
One can go inside and see the furniture and a kind of small hairdresser museum.
This is the bed of a young woman. It's in the cupboard of the family room. I'm sure she must have been very small, otherwise it would have been very tight in here.
There seldom was a nursery like this, most houses just have the crib in the parent's bedroom.

Different crafts are also explained and shown here.
This water wheel powers the saw:

While walking I also saw this butterfly. It wasn't shy at all.
This shows how carpets and farics are woven and how silk is spun.

There is some information about doctors and midwifes 100 years ago. Until the flu epidemic in 1918, there was still the combined job of surgeon-hairdresser.
This room is realy cute.
This house has landry hanging outside.
Not my idea of a 'quiet place'...
There's a big barn with a wagon, a hay loft, huge cow bells etc.
This house has an extra cheese-storage house. Inside, a man is doing some woodwork.
On the wall there's an old notice about what to do during bomber alarm (WWII).
This is an old festival pavilion that give a good view of the next old farm house. Ther were some authntic animals. I particularly liked one mud-spotted piglet.

The oldest house, from the 14th century had this huge keyhole.
And again a big vegetable garden.

Lot's of Swiss men had to have been in the military in order to obtain an official marriage license and were then married in their uniform. The bride of the earl 20th century traditionally had black wedding dresses that could long be used as 'good' Sunday dresses and later for the funeral.

In this house, jewelry is designed and made.
Here are ll the small tools.

Here's a big farm house after the image of the gentry's houses, built by a rich farmer in the earl 19th century.
It has a beautiful garden:
And another building for the cheese storage.

The useum is close to Interlaken, there are some beautiful water falls and grottos near here.

Different cow bells, the cows truly all wear them around here and one can pretty much always hear some closer or further away. One gets used to the sound and luckily the cows seem to move little in their sleep, so it's mostly quiet at night.

People often make their own sirup of mint of different plants, to put in their water.

Posted Aug 9, 2009, 10:11 am
We visited Geneva today.

It’s the weekend of the Fête de Genève but unfortunately the weather isn’t very good and we can’t stay long enough to see the fireworks, because we have a long drive back. We saw the floats with the firework, though and they were huge. It must have been great.
Different countries had booths with info and traditional food. Esp. impressive was that of the Sultanate of Oman, where one could get one’s hands painted with henna, buy incense or traditional clothes and try some sweets.

We also saw the Protestant cathedral. They have ‘Calvin’s chair’ here.
I like the choir a lot. Don’t I make a good dragon rider?

These canons were part of the defence of Geneva once upon a time.

Many musicians, writers, philosophers… send some time in this city, Franz Lizt stayed in this house for some time in 1835/6.

This old school, originally from the 16th century is being renovated now.

Among all the old buildings I found this funny little graffiti demon:

Posted Aug 9, 2009, 5:14 pm
The most visited museum in Switzerland is probably the Verkehrshaus (traffic house) in Lucerne. It certainly is the most fun one for children. There’s too much there to see in one day. There are extra buildings for: railway, aircrafts, cars, ships, a planetarium and the imax cinema.

We started out with the railways:
There were also demonstrations, like a little ride through the building of the Gotthard tunnel in the late 19th century.

These model trains are the right size for me.:
A car that climbs a mountain like climbing stairs.
An early (1858) horse coach train:
A  ‘high’speed steam engine:
The Blue Arrow, built for maximum capacity in transporting passengers and without the streamline form because of it.

A horse drawn tram car form Zurich, from the times when taking the tram was a luxury:

This kind was hand powered:
And here is a car that runs on rails:
This is a big (real) version of the cog railway that goes up the mountains. The steps are there so the visitors can look inside.
Outside is kind of a playground where children can direct remote controlled boats, drive carts,
work on a real construction side with lots of machines and drive small vehicles. It's funny to watch, I wonder if the playground is more fun for the kids or the dads.

Here is the building that shows cars etc.. I was very impressed by the airport fire truck. Look how big it is compared to me:

This is a crash test simulator. One can try it out, but only at 13km/h.

There're also some bleachers around an area where a single vehicle, the viewer's choice is shown.
The viewers make their selection via pressing big red buttons as often as possible while their favourite is shown on a screen and then this machine
gets it out of storage and places it on a revolving stage in the middle and plays a commentary.
There are all kinds fo older and newer cars that can be selected: (for a special someone who asked to see thos super sportscar)

Many model cars in storage could be selected for viewing similarly:

I wouldn't mind this kind of wall decoration in my room:

There are also other kinds of moving things shown, from strollers over shopping carts to carrousels.

Of course, what's inside is also very important. Here a normal gasoline and a diesel engine:

There were also model cars to play with. The zoomed by so fast, it was hard to take a picture.
The next hall is contains all kinds of aircrafts and flying objects.

There were models of planes throughout the ages, with a special view of Swiss creations.

This little machine showed the creation of a tornado by heating water in the bottom bowl and adding wind from above:

Another specialty of Switzerland is that because of all the mountains, they need very good mountain rescue and use the helicopter a lot.
It's a special Rega designed helicopter and they had to built their own interior for transporting injured people.
It also explains which rescue ways are used in which weather.
In medium god/bad weather the helicopter can't fly very high, so if someone has to be transported over a high mountain, like the Gotthard, a helicopter flies to the town nearest the mountain, the the patient is transported through the tunnel in an ambulance and on the other side changes back into a helicopter to reach the hospital. Very complicated if you ask me. The visitors can imitate the ways in this model:
In very bad weather the whole way would be done by airplane in very good weather all by helicopter.

There's a small model of life in a space station. I am afraid I'd loose all my stuff in 0-gravity because it would just float away. Autronauts ahve to be very orderly and put everything away again in bags and compartments so things don't get lost or plug up air filters.

There's also a planetraium and another hall with ships and another with cable cars but I am tired and need to go hoem and relax. I've seen enough for today.

Posted Aug 12, 2009, 9:01 am
Bad weather on the northern side of the alps drove us to flee to the south for the day. The Gotthard-Pass (San Gottardo) is the main way for traffic to pass over the alps. It also seperates the German speaking from the Italian speaking parts of Switzerland. It's 2091 m high.  In winter one often can't pass over here but has to take the tunnel.

Here I am still on the cloudy side around Andermatt.

At the highest part there's still some snow...

... and the clouds are clearing from the low darker cloads to high photogenic ones.

The view south towards the Ticino and the plains around Mila behind it.

Just look at the way the road is winding down:

The railroad can't get up here in a straight way and still has to make 3 big loops as we saw in the Verkehrshaus last weekend.

Going down again on the otehr side, it looks much nicer already.

Posted Aug 12, 2009, 12:20 pm
We visited beautiful Laveno on the eastern shore of the Lago Maggiore.
I watched the car drive off and on the ferry,
There were lots of fish in the water and many motor boats on the lake.

Posted Aug 13, 2009, 9:51 am
Here I am in Varese in Lombardy at the foot of the Sacro monte di Varese in the Campo dei Fiori, a place of pilgrimage.

This is the Palazzo Estense.

Posted Aug 13, 2009, 10:07 am
North of Varese we drove towards the alps again
we passed Bellinzona, the city of fortresses and

and took a good look back south and west when we were on the mountain.
It was very windy up there but just over the Pass the wind stopped and we were in the clouds again.

Posted Aug 16, 2009, 10:52 am
I did something special today, I went up on the Titlis glacier.
First I had to drive to Engelberg and take the cableway up to Trübsee at ~1800m,  then on to change again at Stand in 2500 m and up with a rotating aerial lift to the small Titlis at 3020m altitude (or 10 000 ft).
Here we are wating for our cabin, each seats 6 people, or 3 and a bear.
Looking back to the station and Engelberg:
The view out the window:
There are lots of cows below on the alps, cheese dairies, a mountain railway for transport of heavy goods, ski-lifts etc.

Waiting for the next lift at the station in Trübsee:
Here's Trübsee, a great place for kids to play in the water with floats and on slides or for older people to have an even surface to walk on.

From Stand we went up to the glacier
The sttion at Stand, Trübsee is on the plateau to the farr left of the picture

The cabin itself didn't rotate as we expected but the platfor the passegers were standing on did within the cabin. It was a bit surprising and hard for the older passenger who couldn't hold on to anything.
The shadows of our gondola cabin and another passing in the air
Nearly at the summit...

After exiting the gondola we decided to skip the lines waiting for the elevator and walk up the 5 floors to the observation deck. After 3 floors, we felt how thin the air had gotten. We were so quickly out of breath.
When we were outside we put on jackets as windprotection, even though it wasn't really neccessary, the sun was shining, making it quiet warm.
The view back towards Engelberg. The mountain in the middle is the Stanserhorn.
We went out onto the snow a bit.
Small streams are running in many places in between or under the snow.
View toward the Berner Oberland:

Another narrow valley on the other side
Climbing up here felt funny
With this drop at the side
But the view was very good and clear.

We're this far up from the observation deck and already adapted quite well to the lack of oxygen. But I feel bad for a the babies that have been dragged up here and aren't used to it.

It'S amazing to see how the mountain changs from snow covered to a kind of desert of rocks to tree covered to very green grass to the valley with the river in the middle.
Please don't let me fall into a crevasse!

Maybe my favourite view was to this side, possibly because I had to work  bit and climb up further than most toursists go to get there, but probably because of the structure of the mountains.

The warning of the drop seems a bit flimsy...
The rocks do have their own beauty, but I can see when from time to time some come down and there are big steel fences above the roads in some places.

Here in the center of the mountainsrange in the distance you can see Mönch,  Jungfrau and Eiger again plus a few other mountains of over 4000m. It seems that we see these from all sides.

Time to go back down, our gondola is arriving:
A last look up
I like all the patterns in the snow.

Trübsee again, about 1000m below us, we'll walk around there a bit on the way back.
Nearly in Stand, it's a bit disconcerting to see how little actually holds us up in the air.
I'm lucky I'm not afraid of heights, some people here are and they have been banned to sit in the middle of the gondola where they can only see the other passengers. I hope they aren't also claustrophobic.

Looking up to the Titlis from Trübsee:
Staying at the lake (See = lake in German) sees like fun too.

We'll take this cable way down
over the plateau and on to Engelberg:

Posted Aug 16, 2009, 1:16 pm
As you can see I arrived at another beautiful and this time very calm place in the mountains, at bannalp. One can again only reach it on food or with a cableway.
I watched the cows on these steep meadows and wanted to stay but work starts again tomorrow.

Posted Aug 31, 2009, 2:18 pm
Ray and I went for a walk into town today:
Coming toward the center of town from a little up the mountain...
We got to the church and village square. We could hear the organ from outside. The was a children's service going on.
I esp. like the church tower with all the small details. Ray couldn’t decide.

Posted Sep 9, 2009, 12:32 pm
There was a big article in the newspaper about hiking in Switzerland and how it has become very popular again. Well, of course we have to join in, after all it's the only way to really see the mountains in summer. We drove to Niederrickenbach and took the cableway up to Maria-Rickenbach.
There's a monastery of Benedictine nuns up there which is a place of pilgrimage. No road leads up, so the mail, groceries etc. are also brought up by cableway.
Maria-Rickenbach is a bit above 1000m high. Our destination was the Brisenhaus at 1753m. There were many friendly cows with their bells around. That way it's never really silent here, even if there are no people or machines around.

We climbed up from just over 1000m nearly to the Brisenhaus at 1753m.
There were single houses along the way, some offering a place to sleep in the straw.
The way got steep and eventually changed from gravel road to a path over the meadows.
We got closer to the tree line and also to the clods that hung low over the mountain ridge.

Finally we could see the Brisenhaus. The climb from here was scheduled for another 30 min because it was so steep and the way wasn't good.
We had a good view over the Stanserhorn.

On the way back down we took a quick look at the monastery garden. It was very pretty with a good view and peaceful.

Posted Oct 8, 2009, 7:04 pm
We were off on another hike, taking advantage of the (still) good weather here in Central Switzerland. This time we took a small ropeway from Oberrickenbach to the Bannalp, Chrüzhütte and walked from there over mountains calles Walenstöcke to Engelberg. It's called the 'Walenpath'
Here they are:
Zoomed in, these made a very nice picture, the way they lay there like ying and yang or something similar.
I was fascinated by how nature worked those very artistic lines into the rock. The way was very steep in this part and the drop to the side was scary, I was happy to be carried. I thought it funny that my hosts walked to slowly, but they assure me that it's proper to walk slowly but steadily when hiking in the mountains.

We still made very good time to the highest point of our hike where we broke for lunch.
The cows have a lot of freedom here and even when it's nearly silent otherwise, there's the sound of a cowbell from somewhere.

And here I am looking out over Oberdorf.
The higher of these two outcrops was the highest point of our tour.

After 2 more hours of walking, first down and then up again (how annoying!), we thought we deserved a little rest with view of the Titlis glacier and Engelberg.
We enjoyed the barefoot path at Brunni and made the steep descent to Ristis, where we took a big cableway to Engelberg. We had to hurry to the station to catch out train back to the car.
The train switches to kind of a cog railway for the very steep passages.

Posted Oct 8, 2009, 7:25 pm
We went to visit the Rosengart Collection, a museum showing mainly Picasso and Paul Klee. It was very impressive, with free info sheets in every room with explanations about he painters and every painting. Unfortunately, bags or tvs weren't allowed inside. But here I am passing the main station. It surrounded by stands full of bicycles on 3 sides. People use those a lot here. Parking in Lucerne in mostly restricted to parking garages and zones for inhabitants.

Posted Oct 8, 2009, 7:41 pm
Today I witnessed the Alpabzug(Swiss), Almabtrieb(German) from the window. This is where the cows are led from the mountain pastures to the barns in the valleys. Unfortunately I wasn't able to go down and see it from close-up. But you can see how the cows have extra big and festive bells, that don't allow them to eat and are decorated with flags of Switzerland and the cantons. Traditionally there are also flower-decorations on the cows.

Posted Oct 8, 2009, 9:13 pm
The mountain we are going to go on today is Mt. Pilatus, according to the tourism industry the mounain of Lucerne city, even though it lies on the border of the cantons Lucerne, Obwalden and Nidwalden, with its peak on the border between the two latter cantons.
We chose the way via the Pilatus Railway, the world's steepest cogwheel railway, starting in Alpnachstad, Obwalden.

The local legend goes that the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate (Pontius Pilatus) was buried in one of the mountain lakes. Everywhere else they wanted to bury him, thunderstorms rose up so a bis mountain, like the fractus mons (fractured mountains) as the mountain was called in the 11th/12th century. The officials in Lucerne didn't want the grave to be dissturbed, so they forbid the ascent of the mountain, a law that stood until the 16th century.
The lake however eventually dried out. When it is once again foggy and clouds cling to the mountain, locals say that a big dragon has risen from within and is breathing smoke.
I am sure that, as always with oral tradition, there are many different versions of this tale. But this is the one I was told during the drive there. There are also many other stories of oral tradition surrounding this mountain.
Here's the dragon of Mt. Pilatus, at the railway station:

Inside the steepest cogwheel railway in the world:

Looking down onto Lake Alpnach.

The maximum incline is 48%.
This isn't it, but it's quite steep already.

Today the mountain truly looks like something out of a fairytale. It has a certain beauty but does not always feel nice.
There's a cave, called Mondmilchloch (moon milk hole), the name refers to the light colored little being that help the diligent at night and punish the lazy and mean have been said to live in these caves. Stories of such creatures are very popular in the German speaking areas, each seems to have its own local version of the story.

We arrived at the Kulm at 2073m.
Unfortunately there isn't much of a view:
and the fog got even worse because it rose up from the lake throughout the day.

The biggest functional alphorn is to be foudn in the mountain. And even though it can't be one of these, the still are of an impressive size and play a haunting melody.

We climbed up a bit further to the Esel at 2118.7m (about 7000ft).
There we saw the mountain doles.

We desceded on the opposite side from the one we came from and took the gondolas down to Kriens.

Posted Oct 21, 2009, 5:23 pm
Today we had the day off and visited the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, or Groussherzogtum Lëtzebuerg (as the local dialect, a kind of Moselfränkisch, calls it) or Großherzogtum Luxemburg (German one of the 3 official languages, along with French and Luxembourgish).
We walked through the streets and had a look at the shops, some lunch and of course he had to visit the Grand Ducal Palace, the official residence of the Grand Duke, where his offices are located and which is used to house foreign dignitaries and different official functions. They even have a guard up front but I was a bit dissappointed that he just wore a regular uniform, nothing special like the guards in London.

Posted Oct 29, 2009, 10:54 pm
*pssst, Knopf's love affair with a ladybug*

Posted Dec 15, 2009, 6:24 pm
Today was very exciting. We went to a postcrossing meeting on the Christmas market in Essn. postcrossers from different towns in Germay and some from the Netherlands and from Belgium came here.
First we met everybody at the big Christmas tree opposite the main station of Essen. The first part fo the christmas market starts here. BlackCat brought Santa Claus caps for everyone so we would have an easier time finding each other again in the crowds.

We went to the restaurant of Galleria Kaufhof where many postcards were signed and gotten ready to send. Some of the postcrossers were also toyvoyager hosts, so we were 12 toyvoyagers.

When the cards were all ready to go to the postoffice, we walked to explore the Christmas market and came by he old carrion. As it was close to the full hour we waited for a bit. It played a Christmas song and the doors opened for different figures to come forward.

On the Burgplatz (castle place) in front of the minster church there's a big ride every year. For the past few years it's been this ferris wheel. We decided to ride it to get a good look over the city.

Here's the minster church. It was built for a convent where rich ladies (not nuns) lived that actually had a lot of power for women in the middle ages because they owned a lot of land around here. It's well known for the oldest known golden Madonna. It can be seen free of chrage in the church but we couldn't take pictures inside because a choir was singing at the time.


Posted Dec 28, 2009, 3:41 pm
The day before Christmas Eve, time to put up the Christmas tree. We bought a big one. It was packed into a net and now has to be shortened and put into the holder. Then the net can come off:
Is it turned the right way?
Later lot's of tiny lights are put in which is the biggest piece of work. A few hours, 3 different chains of lights, some replaced little lightbulbs and lots of frayed nerves later it looks like this:
Then comes the fun part. There are many different ornaments in big and small boxes: stars made of straw; glass orbs in many different sizes and colors, shiny, matt or transparent, with or without little pictures or stripes; wooden angels, Santas, skiing children, moon and stars...
We decided to go for the very traditional Christmas colors: red, green and gold this year.

Posted Dec 29, 2009, 12:05 pm
I went for a walk along the Ruhr in Essen-Horst. The neighbors go right down to the river in some places.
Here's the club house of a local sportsclub and many multicolored site caravans.
It's a beautiful clear winter day in this industrial landscape.
This is the old Horster Mühle (mill).
Here's the weir that produces the faster water flow
and the part where boats can pass it:
Directly above it on the Ruhrhöhen (heights) is the Villa Vogelsang. It was built for the industrial Friedrich Ludwig Niemann according to plans by Karl Friedrich Schinkels in 1840.
He didn't live in it very long and later the Vogelsang family that had the rights for the coalmining close by took over as premier industrials in the neighborhood. Here's the main hall that housed many of the  neccassary functions.
Above me in the picture you can see an an old tower that's now in someone's backyard but probably belong to the Vryburg, a circular hillfort from Carolingian times that's located on that site of the river.

I took a look back to the Villa and weir
before passing over the new footbridge next to the old railroad bridge and taking in the view toward Bochum:

Posted Jan 22, 2010, 1:30 pm

Posted Jan 22, 2010, 1:33 pm
Finally, after 1.5h, the lights of Dover harbor were visible. It was still dark and there was fog, so we couldn't see the cliffs very well, even after leaving the ferry on the bus. But the landscape was still covered in snow.

Posted Jan 22, 2010, 1:56 pm
After the usual traffic in Greater London, we made it to Southwark and the major sights.

But before we started off to all that we checked into our hotel and admired the room and the great bathtub that had a window into the bedroom.

To start our quick tour we went to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.

A walk through Green Park and by many people feeding very cheeky grey squirrels and different kinds of birds, we reached Buckingham Palace. Apparently the Royal family wasn't in residence.

The underground got us quickly to the Tower of London. Unfortunately every famous building seems to be partly covered in building tarp. Nevertheless we walked to the middle of Tower Bridge and held up foot traffic by standing in the way to take pictures like any self-respecting toursit would.
This sign on the ground explains:
"This site formed part of Tower Liberty, an area originally kept open for the defence of the Tower of London. In 1687 a charter was granted, giving priviliged status to those living within its confines, amongt them the freedom of the jurisdiction of London. Although the last vestiges of these priviliges were finally dissolved in 1894, the tradition of the Beating of the Bounds takes place every third year on ascencion day.
William Penn, founder of Pennsylania, was born in Liberty in1644 and baptizes in the nearby Church of all Hallows, Barking."

After an afternoon brunch (we just hadn't managed to get any breakfast or lunch) of sushi and detox soup, we moved our photosession on to St. Paul's Cathedral at dusk.
Just a short walk away was the Millenium Bridge that resisted any depiction on film or electronic material from the angle but gave us a good look over London and all it's lighted buildings and bridges.
The rides on the double decker bus were very bumpy at times but we had a good view at others, better and much cheaper than many city tours and overheard locals giving their guests private tours of the city this way and learnt a lot more than we would have otherwise, both about the city and about the firends, relatives and aquaintances of said persons. (I am still wondering whether this one guy was really introduced with info about the size of his house and checkbook by his friend in Brazil, or if maybe that was a bit of "subtle" bragging to the blonde he was giving the tour to.We'll never know...)

Posted Jan 22, 2010, 1:58 pm
Saturday morning we went to the market on Portobello road. It's largely touristic but there were some good finds along the way, like doll house accessories, unsual stamps or postcards and make-up for very little money.
After a bus drive we landed near the Temple where we found these charming streets and the court house.

After two long days in London we boarded our bus again in the late evening to make our way back to Germany.

Posted Feb 6, 2010, 7:08 pm
I finally got myself some jeans. Here I was measured and they were custom made for me.


Posted Feb 7, 2010, 6:42 pm
Today we took a walk to the ruins of Isenburg castle.

Some Inofrmatio boards were put up in 2002

Here we are in the main part of the former living areas. The Isenburg was built in 1240 by Dietrich von Isenberg who wanted to reclaim his father's inheritance: some of the profitable land of the convents of Essen and Werden. In 1244 those plans came to an end when the archbishop of Cologne conquered the castle. In the following decades it was the biggest and most important fortification in the area, but not for long. In 1288 it was destroyed and never rebuilt.

We also walked around the castle, which was built on the heights above Lake Baldeney.

The rock itself has an interesting structure with little caves.


Posted Feb 26, 2010, 2:57 pm
This year we had a lot of snow for this area. I love it! Here I am making a snow angel.

Posted Mar 21, 2010, 4:42 pm
This weekend there's the PYROFORUM 2010, a meeting of all kinds of professional pyrotechnicians and producers of fireworks.
On the evening of the 2nd day the producers usually present their current products. Some in the form of a fireworks display, others fire the single products and name each. In the end we saw about 4 hours of fireworks. Here are some pictures with me: Sorry for being so blurry on most:
(Here a stepped out of the picture during the long exposure.)
There are all kinds of fire works like fountains, waterfalls, bombs etc. of different sizes and one very nice pinkish color. I also like the saturn-like fireworks (like a ball with a different colored ring around it).
They also had such huge kites with fireworks on them. They looked great!

Posted Apr 4, 2010, 11:51 am
Happy Easter everyone!

Guess what, I met the Easter bunny today:

EB agreed to help me with the egg hunt and told me when it got "warmer" or "colder".
Not the right direction...
We had a really good eggy breakfast together after all that work.

Posted Apr 14, 2010, 8:09 pm
We had to go back to university for 3 days of exams and stayed in his B&B:

Posted May 22, 2010, 3:33 pm
Crush and I found a bird's nest:
Look how pretty it is, all polstered with feathers
and covered with moss.

Posted May 22, 2010, 3:47 pm
I took the train from the station in Merzig:

I went to Mettlach where boat tours along the bend of the Saar start.

Here's the statue of Ludwinus.

You can see a great Panorama Tour if you click on the link on this site.

Posted Jun 23, 2010, 4:08 pm
Today is Japan day in Düsseldorf, the city with the largest Japanese community in Germany. My host took me along because it was a great day and she wanted to kno how authentic some of the demonstartions were, now that she had a Japanese native with her.
We had to wait in line in the car park for a car to leave so the next one could go in, even though the system outside had told us there were free spaces. It was several stories below earth and a bit scary, with it's low ceilings and so many cars. When we got out and arrived at a small harbor close to the film museum.

The old own of Düsseldorf was very crowded but I saw some narrow old houses, one with a carrion.
And the town hall where we could breathe for a change and stop without being run into.

We got to a square directly at the Rhine where stages were set up, a camera constantly took in the scene and a Japanese children's choir was performing at that moment.
It got more and more crowded along the food booths and we saw lot's of people dressed up as manga characters, or dressed in kimonos.
It was too full of people for my taste, so we got a little reprieve from the people and from the sun in some side streets.

Back on the Rhine promenade we saw these kids with different rhythmn instruments. They made a racket and their sense of rhythmn didn't seem all that coordinated, yet.
The promenade is very nice, though. These houses look over the Rhine.
Here's the Rhine river with the TV tower and one of the bridges:
We saw some demonstartions of Kendo and Aikido.
And spent some time squeezing through the crowd (you really had to watch out for your children or the got hurt) but finally gave up and went back home.

Posted Jul 9, 2010, 5:32 pm
In the garden are lots of currants which Crush and I had to pluck and decided to make into little cakes.
We made a dough of yoghurt and maple syrup with some flour, eggs, a little salt and butter and added the currants. It looked a little like big white caviar.
I put them in the oven while Crush adjusted the temperature
and voilà, here's the first load.
The sides aren't burned, it's just the juice that got so dark.

Posted Jul 18, 2010, 2:08 pm
I've seen some great sunsets here, even in the city. At the moment the weather is still warm, but it tends to rain for a bit in the late afternoon or evening. So I got to see this great sunset rainbow:
The intensity of the rain and the light changed a lot and I got to see it shift a little and get stronger or weaker.
I like that it is an actual bow:
This is where the light came from. I watched it vanish slowly.
Good night!

Posted Jul 18, 2010, 4:59 pm
I already wrote that Essen or the Ruhr area in general is European Capital of Culture 2010?
The Ruhrgebiet consists of many different cities that kind of flow into one another and make up a "city" with over 5 Mio inhabitants. Through this area, the A40 connects the cities as a fast way to get from one point to another. If there isn't too much traffic at the time.
Today, 60 km of this Autobahn from Dortmund to Duisburg-Häfen hvae been completely closed to motorized traffic and instead one side is for bikes and inline skates and on the other side 20 000 tables built a long row and some groups have staged events like dancing, music, painting... It's called Still-Leben Ruhrschnellweg (still-life Ruhr(the river) Schnell(fast)weg(way/lane) which is an alternative name for the A40)
To the left is the bus lane, to the right the ingress ramp.
Someone didn't think very clearly when they chose this very exposed place for the urinals.
Children can let a bloon fly:
And this is supposed to be the world's biggest "Arschleder". (ass-leatherand this is a proper term, something coal miners just to slide downinto the pit on, the Ruhrgebiet became what it is because of all the coal mines)
And here a secondary school is cooking with solar energy.
On the other side there seems to be a bicycle-jam.
Some people are even decorating with coal:
The Gänsereiter (goose riders) are a company of riders that can also be seen at the carnival in Freisenbruch. They wear blue shirts and red scarfs, and dark blue hats sometimes with goose feathers.
The tables are all marked like this and can be bought on the Hellweg stores for €49.99 (one table + 2 benches).
Down there people are challanged to do bench presses and kick boxing for small prizes.
Things have relaxed enough that people can actually enjoy their ride.

Posted Jul 19, 2010, 12:44 pm
It is very warm here these day, up to 38°C and I mostly laze around in the garden with Crush.
The flowers and the grass aren't taking thta much sun and the dry weather all that well.
But I did discover a spider, trying to spin her web.
Relief comes va the sprinkler. It's fun to splash through the water.
To dry off, I hang out with the Cat.

Posted May 14, 2012, 8:31 pm
Yesterday we got on a plane and landed on this pretty dry looking volcanic island: Gran Canaria. Today I am just checking out the surroundings. These are the dunes of Maspalomas:

Posted May 14, 2012, 8:37 pm
Today we visited the port of Mogan. The area around the port has been rebuilt in the traditional style and is quite pretty to look at. A yellow submarine offers tours for tourists and glass bottom ferries run to other ports in the south of the island.

Posted May 14, 2012, 8:39 pm
Galdar was the capital of the Guanches at one time. We actually came to visit the Cueva Pintada, a cave with geometric rock drawing,s and the archeological park. Unfortunately, contrary to the information in the guide book, it was closed. So we wandered around the historic city and watched people prepare for the festivities of a holiday tomorrow: the Day of the Constitution. We found a great "dragontree" in a courtyard.

Posted May 14, 2012, 8:42 pm
We are at a lighthouse at the very northwestern point of the island. The Atlantic Ocean crashing against the rocks is awesome.

Posted May 14, 2012, 8:45 pm
After a stop at the harbor of Sardina for lunch we drove on to the Valle de Agaete, one of the greenest and supposedly prettiest valleys of Gran Canaria. The narrow dead-end road leads along the northern slope and unfortunately there was no place to stop where one could really see or photograph along the valley.

Posted May 14, 2012, 8:47 pm
To complete your trip aournd the eges of the island we took the often narrow winding road along the west coast back to the south. The views could be spectacular, but unfortunately the tour wasn't anything for a weak stomach. I am really lucky that I do not get motion sick, as opposed to some of my travel companions.

Posted May 14, 2012, 9:03 pm
Baden-Baden has been a spa town since the Roman times. There are some old ruins, and there's also a rather well-known race-track for horse racing, but we didn't visit any of those. We saw the more modern parts of the town. It became popular as a spa town again in the late 18th century.

Posted May 14, 2012, 9:06 pm
The day was really warm and sunny, so we got a little cool-down on a house-boat.

Posted May 14, 2012, 9:22 pm
We took a business trip to Berlin. We had a lot of work to do, but we squeezed in a realy quick sight-seeing tour before sunset. We saw: (among other things) the holocaust memorial, Brandenburg gate, Reichstag, cathedral.

Posted May 14, 2012, 9:28 pm
Before we had to catch our train, we saw picked the Pergamon museum out of the museums on the newly re-done museum island, to see. The great thing here are the rebuilt altars (Pergamon altar), market gates and the smaller one of the Ishtar gates and precessional street. A special exhibit about the "rescues gods of Tell Halaf" was really interesting with very modern looking statues that had to be rebuilt like puzzle pieces.

Posted May 14, 2012, 9:37 pm
From Berlin we actually went to Hamburg, a big port in the north of Germany. But we had "Schietwetter" (bad weather), except for some pockets of sun on the first afternoon and evening.
We visited the fish market on Sunday morning and got very wet but eventually were able to take out the camera and take some photos:
-The Rickmer Rickmers, now a museum ship about trade in the 16th/17th century.
- St. Michaelis church, or Michel for short, and the view down from the viewing platform are popular with tourists and photography schools.
- the green-roofed townhall
- The swans have to be caught and transported to winter quaters when it gets real cold.
- The Binnenalster (inland water part of one of the two big rivers alog which the city was built: Elbe and Alster)

Posted May 14, 2012, 9:41 pm
Speicherstadt in the evening light:

Posted May 14, 2012, 9:46 pm
On our last day in Hamburg we visited the aquarium of Hagenbecks Tierpark.  We were climbed upon by Kattas and watched lots of fish and reptiles.

Posted May 15, 2012, 6:03 pm
This is a holiday in Spain: the day of the constitution.
Lot's of people are having picnics in the mountains or going out to hike or just for a meal at a restaurant. The Barranco de Guayadque is a favourite place for all of this apparently. This valley is mainly known for all the cave dwellings, real cave villages and hotels and restaurants that are still in use.

Posted May 15, 2012, 6:07 pm
Next, we took the serpentine road via Ingenio to Tejeda.
We passed volcanis craters, pine forests and small towns and finally ascended to a level over the blanket of clouds. The road isn't in agood condition in all places and it helps to have a good stomach and a good car.

Posted May 15, 2012, 6:10 pm
This is the town of Tejeda. You can see Roque Nublo in the background. This area has lots of almond trees, I collected some from around the trees and cracked the shells with a stone. There are many specialies involving almonds here: cake, ice-cream, bienmesabe and a dulce that can be added to other things or eaten on bread. It's very good!

Posted May 15, 2012, 6:13 pm
We hiked and climbed up Roque Bentayga, the holy rock and the guanches. There's another sacrificial altar and some smaller caves. A bigger cave is supposedly still closed up by some rocks and there might be some interesting things in there because no graverobbers got to it so far. There's a Berber inscription on the other side of the rock that has only been discovered relatively recently and hasn't been deciphered, yet. Looks like there are still a lot of mysteries to be solved by ambitious archeologists here.

Posted May 15, 2012, 6:18 pm
Our way back to the south led us through the Valley of Fataga, known for all the palm trees in the valley, even though they are hard to see in the picture that looks back through the valley. We stopped at a hotel there and had great almond ice-cream and cake with mint sauce before we drove down the valley leading directly back to Maspalomas. 

Posted May 15, 2012, 6:24 pm
Cuatro Puertas is a site featuring caves made by the indigenous people. The main cave has 4 entrances, hence the name, and is about 17 x 7,5 m big. The flat area in front of the entrances has roughly the same wize and round indentations, possibly used for poles to hold a roof. The big cave is thought to have been the court of a king or priest. a bit above it on the top of the 300m high hill is another site of worship or sacrificial altar, called the Almogaren. You can see how tiny I am in comparison. From here you also have a good view of the coast, and nowadays of the airport.

Posted May 15, 2012, 6:28 pm
On the south side of the hill there are more caves:
Cueva de los Papeles: with a door-like entry that has a rectangular extension and a sloping entrance that leads to a drainage system. Inside are more indentation for something and some hardly visible triangular markings.
The last is an entrance to more caves that lead into each other. We couldn't actually access them, but more clearly handmade entrances to caves can be seen on the steep south side of the hill. Some books suggest that is was kind of a convent for priestesses (maguadas).
Even outside the actual caves, there are what seem to be storage areas hewn into the rock (Or maybe they were caves to accomodate toyvoyagers, the size fits!), and what looks like fireplaces.

Posted May 15, 2012, 6:35 pm
One cannot visit Gran Canaria and not walk through the dunes of maspalomas if one if able. It can be hard going, the sand can be hot, but sliding down the high dunes is a lot of fun, there's lots of strange vegetation, seeds with spikes that dig into skin or fur, fields of salty sand that give a good foot massage, big lizards, birds of prey, rushes higher than people, and areas with impassable brush.
(The pictures look different because many were made with a camera phone, sand isn't good for the big camera.)
We started out the at Riu Palace hotel and went south-west, our goal being the Faro de Maspalomas.

Posted May 15, 2012, 6:45 pm
We took a long busride to Telde and looked around th etown and at all the people doing their Christmas shopping. There was a huge nativity scene set up in the city that also featured modern safari trucks and other scenes. It was fun to figure out all the details.

Posted May 15, 2012, 7:46 pm
We went to Munich on a business trip and had very little time to see the city in daylight, but here are the impressions of the city center on our last day:
Karlsplatz, model of the city center, cathedral, new and old town hall, Viktualienmarkt, theater, hunting and fishing museum

Posted May 18, 2012, 1:30 pm
I helped to pack lots of things that are much bigger than myself. I am tired and hoping for an uneventful trip tomorrow. Guess where we're going!

Posted May 18, 2012, 1:33 pm
We arrived back at home an have lot's of Christmassy things still to do.

Posted Jun 13, 2012, 7:55 pm
After a long journey we arrived in this bed&breakfast last night and were glad to get to take a (cold) shower. This morning we had a typical breakfast: gallo pinto, fried platanos, scrambled eggs, fruit and toast, not to forget the coffee! Speaking Spanish during breakfast went better than expexcted. Now we have to catch a bus to our first real destination.

Posted Jun 14, 2012, 11:48 am
We arrived in Monteverde in the early afternoon and took a walk along the main road (only a few mostly unpaved roadslead off of it) and into the town of Santa Elena. We had a look around the shops and backpacker hostels and all the activities that can be done here. I want to go zip-lining or repelling down waterfalls! The way back up the mountain had us a bit out of breath. I guess we are higher above teh sealevel than I am used to.

Posted Jun 14, 2012, 3:15 pm
This is a view we had near our house. You can see down the mountain towards Puntarenas and You can see the Gulf of Nicoya and the Nicoya Peninsula behind it. The clouds look different every few minutes and sometimes one cannot see much at all.
Later we hiked on the public paths and along the road. I saw a bit of the Children's Eternal Rainforest (El Bosque Eterno de los Niños) and then went up into the direction of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Posted Jun 18, 2012, 1:44 pm
Here's the view from close to our house over the Gulf of Nicoya again. It's amazing how different it can be and the clouds are always changing!

Posted Jun 18, 2012, 3:58 pm
The Hummingbird Gallery is a nice art gallery and gift shop near the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. There are a number of feeders with sugar water that attract the many different species of colibris that live here. One can see the different sizes and colors and hear bird experts exclaim over spotting a rare species.

Posted Jun 23, 2012, 3:36 pm
Today we visited the Cloud Forest Reserve. The are multiple reserves in the clouf forest but apparently this is the one with the most wildlife. Read more here.
We did see many different plants and birds, some of them nesting in caves, and even saw the resplendent quetzal high up in the canopy, as well as a groupd of monkeys. Unfortunately I could not take photos of me with all those animals because they refused to pose for the camera. If you look very closely at the last picture, you can see the tail of a little green/brown snake vanishing over a log. The snake surprised us, crossing the trail while we were being quiete and taking pictures.

Posted Jun 24, 2012, 2:00 pm
After a small rest for lunch we decided to check out some other paths through the reserve. The ticket is good for the whole day, so we planned another 2-3h hike.
We were all alone on small paths that were partially pretty steep and made aour way over a few small bridges to a view point from where one can see fromt he Gulf of Nicoya, which we just made out under the clouds to the central valley and volcanoes. Unfortunately you can see that the view in that direction was very much obstructed by clouds.
All in all we had great hiking weather, though. The forest grows so well because it's about 18°C here all year round with about the same high humidity level. We had a largely sunny and dry day, though, with nice warm temperatures. In a few places the fog made it dark and a bit spooky, though.
We passed over a hanging bridge a little below the canopy level. It was an amazing view but the bridge tended to swing a little bit and we had to take care not to fall. Look what a long way down it was!  We also saw some plants that are often featured on postcard of Costa Rica because they look like kissing lips. All in all we had a great day.
Tomorrow we are going to catch another bus and make our way down to the beaches of Guanacaste. We heard it will be HOT!

Posted Jul 1, 2012, 11:02 am
This week we are relaxing a bit, spending our days on the beautiful beach of Flamingo, being very careful not go get pulled out by riptides, and trying anything to avoid the heat and humidity.
At night it usually rains and the frogs make a lot of noise outside the doors to our hotel room. At the beach the howler monkey sometimes scare me with loud noises like a dog barking. They sit high up in the trees and eat fruit and leaves and are enjoying the sun. We also took small boat trips to other beaches, but everything got very wet so we couldn't take a camera.
Along the beach lots of little snails are lying in the sand and streching out their legs everytime a wave passes over them. It's funny to walk on them but can't really be avoided as there are so many.

Posted Jul 7, 2012, 10:06 am
To me one of the interesting things about travelling is seeing all the different money. I like the colorful Costa Rican Colones. 500 Colones equate to about $1. I especially like the see-through part of the 1000 Colones bill.

Posted Nov 11, 2012, 11:57 am
After a long journey we are back in Germany. I'm exhausted!

Posted Nov 11, 2012, 11:59 am
Emil and I are in a train going to Paris!

Posted Nov 11, 2012, 12:16 pm
We took the metro and funiculaire up to Sacré Coeur Basilica. The metro exit has many steps! The weather wasn't that good but the colors fit the colors of Parisian rooftops. We walked a bit and went by the Moulin Rouge. Dinner and a show were too expensive for us. So we went shopping and bought some yummy macarons.

Posted Nov 11, 2012, 1:37 pm
We bought a picnic dinner and took the metro to Trocadéro. As you can see it was foggy. We took our time enjoying the fountains and illumanation and crossed over the Seine to the Eiffel tower. We were just in time for the blinking lights that are on for 5 min every full hour in the evening. Unfortunately it started to rain and we had a wet way back to the metro.

Posted Nov 11, 2012, 4:07 pm
Today Emil and I took the train from Paris to Fontainbleau castle. We had really nice weather with about 20°C and sun and were abel to enjoy the walk through the park and the courtyards. We saw the staircase where Napoleon said his farewells on his way to Elba, as well as his private rooms and office and other furnished rooms of the stale. We esp. liked the gallery of Franz I with the salamander (that looks to us like a dragon) emblem everywhere.

Posted Nov 19, 2012, 2:36 pm
On Monday Emil and I did a typical tourist tour around Paris. We started out at the Eiffel tower (photo 1&2), strolled along the Champ de Mars, admired the bears designed to represent the different countries in the world (3), crossed over the Seine (5) to experience the traffic chaos that is the Place de la Concorde (6), looked along the axis of the city from the Louvre(13) through the Jardin des Tuileries(7-12), the Place de la Concorde to the Arch de Triomphe and La Defense, enjoyed the warm autumn day and just generally had a good time. We crossed the Seine again at the Hotel de Ville (14) and sat in the small park next to Notre Dame de Paris (15&16). We strolled through the Quartier Latin (17) and in the evening returned home via Metro like all those working Parisians.

Posted Nov 20, 2012, 1:21 pm
On our last day in Paris we wanted to visit the Musee d'Orsay. We took the RER to the museum station, but when we got above ground we were directly in a mass of people with big flags and signs right in front of the museum. Apparently it was a demo of some sort and the museum was closed due to it. We fought our way through a row of police men in riot gear and the stalled traffic to the sidewalk along the Seine. We crossed a bridge with many signed locks along the bannister and deciced to join what was left of our time in Paris in the Jardin des Tuileries, sitting in the sun and reading and talking along with many tired tourists and Parians of break or students getting out of school for the day. After a picnic lunch we made our way to the Gare du Nord to catch our train back to Germany.

Posted Nov 20, 2012, 6:37 pm
We had some great galettes filled with egg, bacon spinach and cheese in the Breton streets of Paris. Yummy! But unfortunately so greasy that we didn't manage a serving of the sweet version for dessert.

Posted Dec 20, 2012, 2:50 pm
I am packing my bags again, tomorrow I am going to escape this sleet and enjoy the sun!

Posted Dec 20, 2012, 2:58 pm
There are some busses for public transportation and of course some organized sight-seeing tours, but to really see the island and go to interesting places, one need to have a car. So we rented one and drove to the north. The roadsigns aren't always logical, e.g. the main road out of the rotary might not have any directional sign at all or there are signs to show the way to a sight coming from the north, but not from the south or signs to a museum that lead you through a pedestrian zone. So we took some unplanned detours and one of them led us to this place where we got a great view or waves hitting the beach and also of some surfers further east and west.
Behind me you can see part of one of the biggest highway bridges in Spain. It's built around the hillsides.

Posted Dec 20, 2012, 6:30 pm
After driving up a curving ad nearly deserted road, we found Cenobio de Valeron. These caves were supposedly a granary for the Guanches, also containing dried fruit and possibly also used for some ceremonies. The caves were closed with stones and possibly sealed with seals pressed into clay, maybe to signify the owners of the stored grain, but it might also have been communal. It seems to me that the historians don't really know all that much about the Guanches and their culture.
We did have a nice view down towards Las Palmas and could see big lizards living undisturbed on the slope.
We went on to Gáldar to see the Cueva Pintada museum. Unfortunately photos weren't allowed at all in the whole museum. The cave itself could only be visited in groups and light was only turned on for 4 min per group to protect the mural. The really interesting thing I learnt, apart from some facts about the social structure of the Guanches, is that the cave was painted in the middle ages, not anywhere near the stone age I imagined.

Posted Dec 21, 2012, 7:52 pm
Today we went to the Pico de Bandama. It's the highest point around the crater of the Bandama volcano. From there I could look over the northern and eastern coast of the island: see ing the capital Las Palmas, the coastline, the vineyards we drove though to get here to the north-west and the oldest golf club of Spain (founded by the British in the 19th century) to the south-west.  (views are: north/east/south-east/north-west/south-west)
On the way back down from the top I took a peek into the crater. It's about 1000m wide and 200m deep. If you look closely you can see a farmhouse at the bottom. Warm air is rising along the sides. It feels somewhat dangerous.

Posted Dec 21, 2012, 8:15 pm
We continued on unto the parking lot of the golf course. This is the view into the crater from the south. The island is very green this year, apparently there was a lot of rain this autumn, even though we saw some signs of the forest fires that raged here last summer. Look how pretty and colorful it is here even though December also means winter here.
I looked back at the Pico de Bandama. The road to the top leads around it in circles.

Posted Dec 22, 2012, 11:18 am
Next, Emil and I wanted to visit a pottery center where the traditional production of ceramics is shown, but it was closed with no information about when it would be open. So we just took a look around the town.

Posted Dec 22, 2012, 8:48 pm
On our way towards Santa Lucía via Fataga, we found this goat farm near a view point.

Posted Dec 22, 2012, 9:14 pm
The Fortaleza de Ansite consists of several rock formations with multiple caves rising out of the valley near Santa Lucía de Tirajana.The are counted as a fortress because they were (and are) hard to access. Supposedly it was the last stonghold of the prehispanic people in Gran Canaria and was conquered by General Pedro de Vera in 1483 after a 5-year-long siege, during which many Guanches surrendered themselves. According to the story we heard, Bentejuí, one of the leaders of the Guanches and several of his followers in the end preferred to jump off the cliffs to surrendering to the Spanish. The Fiesta de Ansite commemorates this event each April 29th.
(The first 2 pictures are from a view point, the next from the biggest fortaleza incl. some caves.)

Posted Dec 23, 2012, 11:30 am
Here I am in the air. The flight takes about 4h.
(The date in the camera settings was wrong.)

Posted Dec 23, 2012, 11:35 am
Here we are in the garden of our bungalow. It's still early enough to go grocery shopping, swim in the pool and relax a bit.

Posted Dec 23, 2012, 4:03 pm
We are on the road again toward the center of the island. Here'S a look back towards the valley of Fataga.

Posted Dec 23, 2012, 4:10 pm
From the road above Tejeda I had another good view over Roque Bentayga and could see the top of the Teide of Tenerife rise above the clouds.

Posted Dec 27, 2012, 10:04 pm
In stead of taking the bus to the lighthouse of Maspalomas, or walking to the beach of Playa del Ingles, more often than not we opt to walk through the dunes. It's hard going up the dunes but so much fun sliding down the steep ones.

Posted Dec 29, 2012, 2:10 pm
Artenara ist a town in the highest montainrange of Gran Canaria. We could see Roque Nublo (left) and Roque Bentayga (center) and the over Caldera de Tejeda. We could see where the Cuevas del rey are, but they cannot be visited because the are in danger of caving in.

Posted Dec 29, 2012, 2:18 pm
We walked around the town and up to a view point. Many houses seem to be built in front of older living caves, and combine the living space. We didn't find the cave with the altar for the Virgen de la Cuevita, though and neither did other tourists we met on the way. It was warm in the sun but cold in the clouds and they were moving in, so decided to get back to the coast.

Posted Dec 30, 2012, 10:52 am
It's nearly time to go back to Germany. We said good-bye to the sun, the palm trees, the poinsettias that can get very big here, our Christmastree and the pool and packed our bags to wait for pick-up.

Posted Apr 25, 2013, 7:53 pm
I am excited to have a plane ticket in my hands once more. Our first flight will lead us to Riga.

Posted Apr 25, 2013, 7:54 pm
Our plane had to wait for something to be fixed and then we flew longer htan expected and now we have to rush through the airport in order to get though passport control and to our gate that is boarding already.

Posted Apr 25, 2013, 7:57 pm
After an uncomfortable night flight and 2 hours spent at customs we finally get out of the airport and are greeted by the green city of Tashkent.

Posted Apr 26, 2013, 5:28 pm
The first thing I noticed in Uzbekistan after trading money was: I am rich!
For 50 Euro I got this stack of money.
Apparently, 1000 sum is the biggest bill here and it equals about 40 Euro cents at the moment. (And it really does, since a beer is about 6000 sum etc.) And most people do not have bank accounts and paying with a card or check isn't done so people really can sleep in their money here. Imagine going to buy a car...

The second thing I noticed is that Uzbekistan, at least the East, is very green now in spring.

Posted Apr 26, 2013, 5:43 pm
After an exhausting 24h we reached a real highlight: the Gur-Emir mausoleum in Samarkand.
Madrasas used to stand on both sides of the mausoleum, now only their foundations are left.
There were some tourists but not too many of them to really appreciate the beauty of Tamerlan's mausoleum.
To top it all the sun did us the favour of coming out and lighting up the colors in some great late afternoon light.
When we got out we got a look at it in the evening light which might be even better.
The mausoleum is from the 14th/15th century. It was originally built for Tamerlan's grandson but whe was buried here as well as one of his mentors.

Posted Apr 27, 2013, 10:28 am
Our first real day in Samarkand started with panpackes filled with ground meat or cottage cheese for breakfast and then a trip to the Registan, a big place in Samarkand with a madrasa on 3 sides. A fourth was planned but never built which leaves us this beautiful view. The are not in use anymore and most of Samarkand's souvenir shops are to be found in the firmer student quaters.

Tilya-Kori Madrasa (17th century):
From the courtyard you can reach the golden mosque:
The stones on the floor are deliberately uneven so everybody would have to enter with their heads bowed.

Ulugh Beg Madrasa (15th century):
And its courtyard with a view of the small 2 story student quaters:

Sher-Dor Madrasa (17th century):
view out the front towards Ulugh Beg Madrasa:
What used to be a "shopping center" behind the madrasa:

Posted Apr 30, 2013, 6:03 pm
After visiting the Registan we ambled thorugh the generous pedestrian zone to the Bibi Xanom mosque, the biggest mosque in Central Asia. It was built for Timur's favourite wife Serai-Milk-Xanom. (Bibi Xanom means old queen)
Main portal:
Side portal:

The story goes that Bibi Xanom wanted to speed up the contruction in order for it to be ready when Timus returned from a campaign. In return for making the impossible possible, the master builder demanded to kiss her once. When Timur returned he found out about the kiss and while the master builder fled, the queen was to be pushed off the highest minaret. However she demanded to be allowed to wear all her silk dresses and was thus saved, because they functioned like a parachute.

Inside the complex (that's not the main portal, it's the main entrance to the actual mosque on the inside) in front of a big Koran holder:

There were problems witht he static because the building was too big for the materials and was built too quickly. (within 5 years) Then people used the old buildings as source of building materials over the decades and this mosque still needs more work to be restored than the other buildings we've seen around here.

For lunch time we visited the bazaar:

Posted May 1, 2013, 8:26 am
Next we visited the mausoleum complex Shohizinda. It's a place of pilgrimage and on this Sunday many pilgrims from Uzbekistan were here, some even brought a chicken to be sacrificed.

The older mausoleums are in the middle of the more modern graveyard.
First we had to go up these stairs:

You can see the outline of many different mausoleums:

There are more open and more narrow places.

Again, there'S a story behing this complex and it being a place of pilgrimage:
Qussam ibn Abbos, the 'Living Ruler' or 'Shohizinda', a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed was killed by infidels in the 7th century while he was praying by cutting off his head, but he didn't actually die but took his head under his arm and descended into earth through a well, where he continued to live in paradise. Supposedly he was buried here, but excavations proofed that the grave is actually empty.


Posted May 1, 2013, 10:30 am
Today takes us to she house of fashion designer Valentina Romanenko. She works with colorful silks, inspired by the history of Uzbekistan:

Her house is very nice with lanterns made of dried pumpkins, decorated with chillies against the evil eye:


Posted May 1, 2013, 1:48 pm
Next on our itinerary was a visit to the Imam Al Bukhari complex.
Imam Al Bukhari was a Sunni scholar who wrote one of the major anthologies about the life of Mohammed in Sunni tradition. He died in 870 outside of Samarkand after being exiled from Bukhara. His grave was only found in 1958 when a prominent Lebanese visitor to the USSR wanted to visit his grave.The Communist Party officials had to enquire at teh academy of sciences and started a big search all around Bukhara and eventually Samarkand. The current memorial is from 1998 and was built with international contrubutions.

Posted May 1, 2013, 2:46 pm
We used the afternoon to walk around Samarkand. The big avenues center in an intersection with a statue of Timur in the center.
Here's the former Intourist hotel of Samarkand:
The Ruhabad mausoleum
Behind the mosque and the Registan
Tasting the wines of Uzbekistan
(As much as I like the country so far, the wines I do not like too much, very very sweet...)

Posted May 1, 2013, 3:06 pm
Here I feel like I've been taken back to Switzerland! But I am in the Pamir mountains. You can see the car convoy with our drivers. There are no car rentals in Uzbekistan.


Posted May 1, 2013, 4:07 pm
We are going via the mountains to Shaxrisabz, the birthplace of Amir Timur.
leaving Samarkand region
looking forward


Posted May 1, 2013, 4:52 pm
This is the only thing that is left of Timur's summerpalace, the Oq Saray.
This portal alone must have had twice its current height (about 38m) while the palace was about 300x600m big.
Here it is from the back:

We also visited K'ok Gumbaz mosque:
The inside is painted and looks like wall paper. Even though it was recently renovated on the inside, because of lack of roof renovations, you can already see the water damage.


Posted May 1, 2013, 8:09 pm
Our journey to Bukhara led us through the Kizilkum desert.It is probably a good idea to come here in spring!

Posted May 2, 2013, 8:35 pm
We made it to Bukhara.
Here's the first highlight of the city: the Samanid mausoleum from the 10th century.
Job's fountain, supposedly the water form the well inside cured many diseases. We didn't try it but as it'S supposed to have lots of iodine, the woman witht he very thick neck in front of us might actually profit from it.

Bolo Hauz mosque from the 18th century:
Craftsmen making decorative plates of metal and tar:
The citadel Ark with the emir's throne 'room':

The center of Bukhara with the great minaret which was also a kind of light house to guide the caravans and a watchtower. It belongs to Kalon mosque next to it, the second biggest mosque in Central Asia. ON the opposite side is the still active Miri Arab madrasa where boys play ping-pong int he yard.

There are 3 main covered bazaar in Bukhara, each for a different trade, coin makers, jewelers and money traders:


Posted May 3, 2013, 3:15 pm

Here I am relaxing in our hotel in Bukhara. It is a small and familiar hotel in the old part of town with a typically bleak and unprepossessing exterior and this nice inner yard with typical Uzbek furniture: where people sit/lie down/eat and could spend nearly all their lives. We saw many of these outside houses when driving through the villages and most houses have inner courtyards where people spend a lot of their days from spring to fall because while the winters bring snow, there's not a whole lot of rain in this country.
The nice man from the hotel saw me trying to relax on this huge thing and immediately provided me with a toyvoyager size version. How nice of him!


Posted May 3, 2013, 5:49 pm

Another covered bazaar. Bukhara is of course famous for carpets, silk stitching (many blankets and table cloths have traditional tree of life themes) and some other crafts.
Another of the typical crafts here is puppet making. This workshop was opened with help of the UNESCO to show the typical craft involving papier mâché. The hand puppets are partically very finely worked with earrings, weapons and armor.
You can see Ali Baba and the 40 thieves. Some faces were inspired by prominent personalities in real life:

The Madrasa Nadir Devon Begi was actually supposed to be a caravansary. When it was nearly finished, the Khan  sommented, that it was quite a beautiful madrasa and since a Khan is always right, the building because a madrasa, eventhough it lacked the typical big school room and had the big doors to fit camels instead.

Hodscha Nasreddin, something like the Turkish/Central Asian Till Eulenspiegel, if you are from a German speaking country, a trickster about whom there are many small anecdotes in different area where he plays tricks on the mightier and richer people.

In the evening we listened to saome music and enjoyed a beer:

Posted May 4, 2013, 1:36 pm
Here I am walking thorugh the Jewish quater of Bukhara.

This is Chor Minor (meaning four minarets) a mosque that's built to resemble the Taj Mahal a bit, a style not typically seen in this area.
We were able to ascend to the roof:
This is the view of the surrounding city:


Posted May 4, 2013, 9:07 pm
Today we drove to the Naqshbandi complex, the very popular place of pilgrimage. It's a rather big complex of mausoleums and places to stay the night, centering around the memorial for the Sufi Naqshbandi, founder of an important order of Sufi who lived in the 14th century.(see the big pole)

This old tree supposedly has healing powers, but for them to work for you, you have to aquire a piece of bark to take with you and you may not use any tools, only your fingers. It didn't seem to be so easy. Many people tried in different places for quite some time.

Posted May 5, 2013, 7:43 am

This is a house museum: the house of Fayzulla Khojaev (or Faizulla Khojayev), a rich Bukharan merchant, political opponent of the Emir of Bukhara and later part of the regional administration of USSR. He was executed in 1938 among with many others in Stalin'S repressions.
The house was built in 1890. It consists of and outside part (havli berun - tashkari) and an internal (women's) part (havli durun - ichkari). The outside part was for trade and storage of goods, the inside part was private.

We had tea and were shown traditional Uzbek cradles where the babies are tied into the cradle and a kind of chamber pot is worked into it. It didn't look very comfortable.

Posted May 7, 2013, 7:10 pm
This is Chor Bakr. The main buildings are from 1560-1563: a chanaka, madrasa and mosque. All around are family mausoleums.
Apart from the Zoroastrian crosses, little fireplaces can be found here as a sign of adherence to old customs.

Posted May 9, 2013, 10:54 am
To reach the next oasis: Chiwa, we have to drive 8 to 12 hours through the desert. The time depends on how for the road crews have gotten. Parts of the road were to be renewed, but while the crew that was to demolish the old road has already finished the work, the crews that were to built the new one are only partially finished. One of the two crews had to start all over again because of bad quality work.
The desert is blooming and mostly alive at this time of year. We saw some nomads with their sheep, but the red color of the sadn that the desert is named for only came out later in different light. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get a good photo with me in it.

Posted May 11, 2013, 3:02 pm
This is the southern gate of the old town of Xiva (Khiva, Chiwa). The wall is pretty much complete still. There are graves along the city wall on the inside and the outside. People who died outside the city weren't allowed to be brought back inside through one of the gates for fear of diseases. So they were buried on the outside of the wall. When a Khan died outside the walls, the citizens took the rule literally and made a hole into the wall to pass the body through because the rule only said not to bring the body through any of the gates.

Now we're inside the old town that's also called Itchan Kala. This a a town known for its carpenters. The koran holders that can be used in up to 9 different positions through folding them is a popular souvenir.

The wood sticking out of buildings is fairly characteristic for Xiva. As I understoo it it was part of the scaffolding needed to build and was left there in order to confuse evil spirits so they will think there's still construction going on and noone living there so there's no need to go there.

Posted May 12, 2013, 11:57 am
This is the entrance to the khan's palace in Xiva. The very thick minaret was originally supposed to be higher but the Khan made the builders stopp when he relized that the people would be able to look into his private rooms if the minaret was built as originally intended. Many of the different courtyards look very similar with blue majolica and wooden pillars but if you look closely they are not the same. There's a round elevation for a yart in many of the courtyards where th khan received nomads who functioned as his army in order to emphasize his own nomad heritage coming from Genghis Khan.
This leads to the crown room. The Khan came through a hidden door inside, whoever came to see him through on of these 3 doors depending on their relevance, foreign dignitaries and very important people to the right, where the were close to the throne, important citizens etc thorugh the middle door and simple people through the door to the left, a long way away from the Khan. That way he alsways knew how powerful or important the person coming to see him was, even during a long day of audiences.
The majolica is actually nailed to the wall and you can see the little symbols that were needed to put the handpainted original tiles in the right places, since no 2 are the same.

Big and small, open and closed corridors and small rooms lead from one place to the next like a maze... The court of law is somewhere in the middle making escape or rescue nearly impossible.
There are no pictures of the harem, sicne that was only a roofed hallway and room. The harem in Xiva was the female workforce fo the palace. Officially no man, not even the Khan, was allowed into their chambers. It did not have the same function that is associated witht he Turkish or Persian harem.

These are the private rooms of the Khan. He was allowed 4 official wives, so there are 5 sets of rooms in the courtyards, the slightly higher one for the Khan, the others for the wives. The balcony at the end could only be reached by a ladder and was used as a "time out" place for the wife if one displeased the Khan. At least that's the story our guide told us. Since a man could "divorce" his wife by banning her (in daylight) and sending her away with anything she is wearing at the time, the wives took care to put on all their jewelry every morning as an insurance.

From the watchtower on the western wall we could look over the palace and the city:

Posted May 12, 2013, 8:15 pm

Even on mosques and madrasas you can find these Zoroastrian crosses:
A cemetery inside the old town:

The Juma mosque is very plain on the outside, the inside is a collection of 212 pillars, collected from all over and fit in here.

The Pahvalon-Maxmud-Mausoleum: mausoleum of the local hero, a famous wrestler of his time (1247-1325). We saw a newlywed couple come to pray at his grave and again many people drank water form the fountain in the yard that is supposed to be a fountain of youth.

Walking thorugh the old town is very interesting, not just for the old houses that are plastered in mus and straw, but also to see the amulets again evil: bottled filled with salt, chillies, horned animal skulls...

Posted May 14, 2013, 2:32 pm
This is the khan's summer palace outside the city. We had a dinner here in the women's dining room. The men'S part on the other side also has a dining room and a smoking room. We were allowed to eat with our whole group together, though.


Posted May 14, 2013, 3:19 pm
We managed to experience one of only 5 rainy days per year in Xiva, and that out of season. The locals say the Russians must have fired one of their rockets into space again (the base is in south Kasachstan).
As is rained all night and most of the day and heavily at that, the normally dusty roads were turned muddy and everybody had to watch their steps so as not too slip and fall. We visited a palace from czaristic times with nice stoves with tiles from eastern Germany.
As we left, nearly 50 busloads worth of school children were dropped off in the old town of Xiva. Good that we explored it yesterday!

Posted May 16, 2013, 7:08 pm
Instead we went on to visit mud fortresses from a time when the Amurdarja river had it's bed closer to here and they weren't completely in the desert.
Due to the rain and partially rough roads we couldn't get into this one. But we travelled on none the less.
This is Jambaz Kala, which we were able to visit. Today is one of those days that the muddy fortress is reduced in size due to the water.

Posted May 17, 2013, 3:11 pm
We went on to a yurt camp not far from Jambaz Kala. Note the umrellas at the door. Taking off the shoes to enter the yurt also turned into a muddy activity and the roof wasn't water proof in all places.
The dramatic light and the warped little yurt made for picturesque photos. Today was a day full of adventure!

Posted May 18, 2013, 5:42 pm

From Urgentsch we flew back to Tashkent and into another rainy day.
We saw one of the oldest Korans in the world (no photos allowed), walked along wide avenues, took the metro thorugh beautifully decorated and very clean metro stations (no photos allowed) and saw the Timur Museum that'S also on the 1000 sum notes:
Soon it'll be time to brave the customs and check-in procedures again and go back home. I had a great time in Uzbekistan, a very interesting and peaceful country!

Posted Jul 8, 2013, 8:09 pm
I've packed my bags and made my way to a small airport to catch another cheap flight. Here we go again.

Posted Jul 8, 2013, 8:42 pm
I flew to Edinburgh and took a bus into the city center. The shops were all closed when I arrived and I had to fiond my way through steep and narrow little alleyways to get to my hostel in the old town: normally it's a student dorm but currently the students are home for the summer.

Posted Jul 9, 2013, 1:55 pm
We met up with our group and tour guide on the High Street in Edinburgh.

Posted Jul 9, 2013, 5:37 pm
We stopped near the old and new bridge of Queensferry crossing.

Posted Jul 10, 2013, 3:26 pm
The old cathedral at Dunkeld was beautiful in the summer weather.

Posted Jul 11, 2013, 11:33 am
We found this wonderful little view at the hermitage of Ossian's Hall along the river Braan.

Posted Jul 11, 2013, 5:31 pm
We put in a little stop at Newtonmore's Highland Folkmuseum whereone can experience life in the 18th century highlands.
Roof were covered with whatever was at hand, including heather. The doors had to stay open to allow the smoke from the fires to leave the house. The air inside wasn't very good as I found out and animals also took shelter in there so diseases were widely spread.
I met a new pal: Stitch. He isn't a toyvoager but is a travelling toy.


Posted Jul 12, 2013, 5:25 pm
Scots got very sad at Culloden battlefield. The red line signifies where the English soldiers wehre lined up, the blue flags where teh Jaboties started out. Newer stones mark graves of the soldiers, sorted by clan in so far that was possible.
Hand to hand combat must have been hard in this bog.
I also saw some highland cattle, or hairy cows as I like to call them.

Posted Jul 13, 2013, 10:49 am
Not far away are the mysterious Clava Cairns.


Posted Jul 14, 2013, 12:27 pm
The day started with a quick photo stop at Dunrobin castle.

Posted Jul 15, 2013, 4:14 pm
We were in good time to reach our ferry and had time for a walk along the cliffs at Duncansby Head.


Posted Jul 17, 2013, 7:02 pm
We drove out to John o'Groats:


Posted Jul 18, 2013, 6:16 pm
On the ferry to St. Margaret's Hope on Orkney:

Posted Jul 21, 2013, 9:14 am

We arrived on the islands and first made our way to the Tomb of the Eagles.

In the visitor center we got an introduction and were allowed to actually touch some of the tools found in the bronze age house and the stone age tomb where also a lot of eagle bones were found, suggesting that the communities identified themselves with a kind of mascot animal. Apparently outher tombs on the islands contained other animal bones next to the human ones.

The mile long walk out the the sites along the cliffs was very scenic.
First we came to the bronze age building: it had a big stone trough, a drain for water and small compartments along the sides, possibly seatings areas. The use of it can only be guessed at. Maybe it was used to prepare animal skin or to cook, using heated stones placed in water, but  noone knows for sure.

After the spectacular cliffs, we came to the stone age chambered tomb:
One could crawl inside or use the pulley, at least one is regulae human sized. I could walk of course.
There were several side chambers inside, some of which I needed a flash light to explore because of the low entrances.


Posted Jul 21, 2013, 8:19 pm
Scapa Flow is a body of water that's encircled by the islands of Orkney. In WWI a captured German fleet was held captive there and rather than leave the ships to the enemy, the sailors sunk their own ships, many of which have been retrieved by now but a number of them are still under water and an attraction for wreck divers.

Posted Jul 22, 2013, 6:37 pm
After dinner we went out to Mull Head to enjoy the nice weather with a walk along the cliffs. The Gloup is a place where waves can come further inland throu a small opening, but the tide was low and the sea calm so we didn't hear the characteristic sound.
We climbed down into this bay and from there up through the rocks to a place with the ruins of a small chapel.
What a great way to end the day!

Posted Jul 24, 2013, 2:14 pm
The next morning led us to Skara Brae, a neolithic village that's about 5000 years old but very well preserved because at some point the woods that must have surrounded it were replaced with the sand of a new bay and the stone houses and stone furniture were buried underneath it.
We started out with another small museum where one could touch and sort old tools and learn fro interactive displays. Ten we entered this reconstruction of one of the houses before going out to the site in the rain and the wind.
There one could only look into the houses from above. Corridors connected them.
Each has a central hearth, stone enclosed beds to the sides andstone shelves on the wall opposing entrance.

We took refuge from the rain in near Skaill House.
There I discovered a secret compartment in a book sholf in the study.

Posted Jul 25, 2013, 7:11 pm
We had lunch in Stromness and a little look about the town.

Posted Aug 4, 2013, 8:11 pm
Next, I got a chance to visit Maeshowe.
It's a neolithic structure made of huge stone slaps with a door that can only be closed form the inside, leading throzgh a low hallway to a square chamber with 3 side chambers. At midwinter the sunset directly illuminates the chamber. You can find videos of that. Personally I am not entirely sold on the theory that it was a burial chamber, but the architecture is amazing, the stone is that smooth.
Especially fun are the viking grafitti all over the walls. (like on the walls of men's washrooms) They show that humans didn't really change all that much over the centuries.
Unfortunately photography wasn't allowed inside.

Posted Aug 5, 2013, 6:27 pm
Our next stop was at the Stones of Stenness. As you can see the are located close to Maeshowe, the Ring of Brodgar, another big excavation site of neolithic ruins and the water.

Posted Aug 6, 2013, 7:32 pm
Here I am at the marvellous Ring of Brodgar.

Posted Aug 8, 2013, 7:16 pm
In the evening we took a walk along the cliffs of Yesnaby, just sun wind, rock, waves and grass.
What a day!

Posted Aug 10, 2013, 11:21 am
Today we have to leave Orkney, but we first visited the Italian Chapel, where Italian prisoners of war were very imaginative building a chapel and creating other entertainment and community for themselves. They used food cans to make candles holders etc.
Their job was to built the Churchill barriers (to prevent submarines from making it into the Scapa Flow:
We stopped to buy some Orkney wine (from red fruits), cheese and souvenirs before making our way to the port.

Posted Aug 11, 2013, 12:59 pm
Unfortunately it's time to say goodbye to the islands. Many people want to go on the ferry with us and I am fascinated that they actually all make it onto the ferry. The people at the Harbour are very good at using every little nook. The cars first had to drive in a U-shape through the ferry and are in 2 lanes under the decks.
Welcome back to mainland Scotland!

Posted Aug 12, 2013, 4:15 pm
Next: a quick photo-stop at the Castle of Mey.

Posted Aug 14, 2013, 5:04 pm
Because apparently John o'Groats is not the most Northern point of mainland Great Britain and someone (we won't mention names) wanted to take a photo at the actualy most northern point, we drove to Dunnet Head. There's not a whole lot there, except for a light house, a couple of houses, people camping and tiny lochs.

Posted Aug 15, 2013, 6:28 pm

This is a clootie well, pieces of cloth are dipped in the well and hung on trees to signify leaving your problems behind. Do not take anything off the trees! You can also make offerings to a spirit or saint or circle the well a number of times. It all depends on what you believe in.

Posted Aug 16, 2013, 4:44 pm

We're at Chanonry Point on the Black Isle to watch out for dolphins (far away) and enjoy the breeze.

Posted Aug 18, 2013, 4:39 pm
Psst, I'm hanging out and watching for Nessie!

Posted Aug 19, 2013, 5:32 pm
From above Urquhart castle I had a wonderful view over Loch Ness. It really is very long and rather narrow. Since there'S not much left of the ruined castle, I didn't want to pay the entrance fee.

Posted Aug 20, 2013, 5:39 pm
We visited the old Telford-Bridge in Invermoriston. The old bridge doesn't look too stable anymore but vehicles are now going over the new bridge next to it.

Posted Aug 21, 2013, 4:41 pm
Here I did not see Ben Nevis fromt he Commando Memorial. Maybe next time.

Posted Aug 22, 2013, 5:34 pm
I found the ruins of Inverlochy castle. It's not much really, just the outside walls and some of the towers at the 4 corners remains, but it's still fun to explore for a bit.
I posed with Stitch for these because while you might have a hard time finding Stitch on the walls, you never would have found me by myself.
Behind it flows the river Lochy.

Posted Aug 23, 2013, 4:53 pm
Here I am standing in the mud looking out over Loch Shiel and the Glenfinnan monument. The monument commemorates the Second Jacobite uprising, as so much in the highlands does.
It was windy and a bit rainy, but that's the weather I expected when I came to Scotland so I wasn't dissapointed.
Toward the other side I saw the Glenfinnan viaduct.
You can see how the wind blew the camera strap everywhere.

Posted Aug 24, 2013, 9:49 am
Tha Caledonian Canal connects the east coast of Scotland with its west coast via the Lochs of the Great Glen. It was comleted in 1822 and it'S fun to watch a group of boats navigate it.

Posted Aug 25, 2013, 12:45 pm
This is a futile effort to get a picture of me with the great complete rainbow we saw.
And the second time we did not see Ben Nevis due to clouds.

Posted Aug 27, 2013, 3:54 pm
Free day at Fort Augustus, and that means hiking for us!
We made our way up an old military road ('Road' is very flattering!) to get this view over Loch Ness and the surrounding countryside. Now we are going to walk part of the Great Glen Way.


Posted Aug 29, 2013, 1:40 pm
When we came back from our hike we were just in time to see some boats crossing the Caledonian Canal and into Loch Ness.
Others were waiting to go into the opposite direction. Five of tehm fit into the first 'basin' and it took quite a while for it to fill up to the level so it was even witht he one above it.
When the water was level the gate opened and the boats passed forward a little bit into the next basin one by one. It was slow going because they kind of had to squeeze close together.
Then that gate closed and water spilled down from the basin above to even out the levels of those tow and the whole process was repeated until the boats had passed this part of the canal into the next loch.

Posted Aug 30, 2013, 10:45 am
We are on the road again and our first stop is Beauly. It's short for 'beau lieu' and has ruins of a priory.

Posted Aug 31, 2013, 12:40 pm
We went to Rogie Falls, trying to spot jumping salmon (We didn'T see any, despite what some might say.) and we had a lot of fun hopping on and shaking the suspension bridge.
Here's another look in the way back.

Posted Sep 1, 2013, 7:59 am
We're driving northwest towards Ullapool. It all looks a bit bleak out there but one could also just call it atmospheric.

Posted Sep 3, 2013, 3:21 pm
Signs in English and Gaelic tell us about our next stop.
We are on a small suspension bridge than can carry a max of 6 people at one time and below us it goes way down! It's a little bit scary. The water is rushing down on one side and the other one seems even steeper and deeper (60m).

Posted Sep 4, 2013, 4:49 pm
Do you want to find out where this little stream comes from? I did, and followed to to its spring.
There's the sea, our next goal.

Posted Sep 7, 2013, 8:41 am
A whole beach full of skipping stones, isn't it lovely?

Posted Sep 8, 2013, 9:08 am
This is a bit of an island-hopping-trip, so I am in Ullapool to catch another ferry. A quick dinner of fish&chips, and here it comes:
Bye-bye, Ullapool!
Stitch's mom photo-bombing me:
We had a great view and stayed on the deck for a long time even though it was pretty cold.

Posted Sep 8, 2013, 4:21 pm
We arrived on the Isle of Lewis and checked into our hostel in Stornoway. We had a very relaxed evening in the comfortable common room with Orkney wine and cheese. Did you know that there are different pounds stirling in England and in Scotland?

Posted Sep 9, 2013, 6:35 pm
The Isle of Lewis mostly looks like this. It's very boggy, there are mosquitoes and you can find piles of cut peat.

Posted Sep 10, 2013, 6:25 pm
The outer Hebrides have some great beaches! This is one of them. A lonely sandy beach with beautiful views, some salt water pools and mroe to explore.

These guys were very sceptically and di not like to actually be touched!

These iron age houses have only partially been excavated, so they do not completely dissapear. More archeological work apparently has to wait for more funding.

Posted Sep 11, 2013, 3:50 pm
The Callanish or Calanais Stones are amazing! They are built like a cross with two rings around the intersecting lines. At one point in time there was a grave in the center, but the looks and use of the site seems to have changed multiple times throughout history.

The view from the site:
Getting here was adventurous because the main road was blocked by contruction work and as you can see fi you look at a map: there's water everywhere so alternatives can be small and few.

Posted Sep 13, 2013, 11:42 am
This is Dun Carloway, a broch, a stone tower with hollow walls from about the 1st century BC. Archeoligists can't decide if these were primarily defensive/offensive structures or homes of wealthier families.
The view from the walls:
The stairs inside the walls:
Blooming heather:

Posted Sep 14, 2013, 9:26 am
We visited the Gearannan blackhouse village, or baile-tughaidh.
You can come here for a short visit or rent a blackhouse as a holiday home. The houses weren't all on even ground. One tilted very much to one side so one had to walk up to get to the bedroom and be careful what was put in the table or other even surfaces. The air wasn't particularly good because of the peat fires that didn't give off that much heat but a lot of smoke. We saw tweet made and had a nice walk around and some tea.
Peat for the ovens.

Posted Sep 15, 2013, 8:12 am
Another cliff walk! I connot get enough of those! This time we are at the Butt of Lewis, the most northern point of the island. The Gaelic name Rubha Robhanais sounds much nicer, though. It'S windy and wonderful!

Posted Sep 17, 2013, 5:48 pm
We're driving south from boggy Lewis to more rocky Harris.
Here's Loch Shiphoirt (or Loch Seaforth):

Posted Sep 18, 2013, 4:59 pm
In the south of the Isle of Harris, far way from any bigger town we found this great beach. It's a big bay with lots of white sand and a big sand bank. You can see the island of Taransay opposite and walk over the dunes to Tràigh Rosamol and see the mountains of northern Harris in the distance below some raining clouds. We had a great change of sun and a little bit of rain. I definitely want to come here for longer some day.
Now you can hardly see the mountains anymore.

Posted Sep 19, 2013, 5:28 pm
At Tarbert I caught the ferry to Ulg on the Isle of Skye.

Posted Sep 20, 2013, 5:55 pm
The Isle of Skye showed us its dramatic side at Cuith-Raing. We got drenched and I feared being blown off the cliff but we walked on the see the sights and actually thought that the weather fit the landscape very well. We could nearly imagine the landsclise that formed this particular site.

Posted Sep 21, 2013, 10:59 am
We stopped at this waterfall to climb up and make a wish from the fairies.
It looks easy but the mud makes the slope very slippery, especially on the descent.

Posted Sep 22, 2013, 3:52 pm
We stopped by this river to be told a story. I am not going to repeat it here, it was gross and ridiculous. But it ended with everybody sticking their face in the water for 7 sec.
That was fun and everyone had a good laugh, which is what it was all about, really.

Posted Sep 23, 2013, 3:16 pm
Toward the end of the day, our journey took us by this waterfall in the Cuillin hills.

Posted Sep 24, 2013, 6:46 pm
The last day of our tour has arrived. Early in the morning we left the Isle of Skye via the bridge connecting it to mainland Scotland and made a short surprise stop at Eilean Donan castle.
The castle was destroyed in 1791 and rebuilt in the early 20th century, the bridge was a modern addition.

Posted Sep 28, 2013, 12:11 pm
On the way back east we stopped for a few stretches and a view of Loch Garry.

Posted Sep 29, 2013, 10:02 am
Next we walked through beautiful and dramatic Glen Coe and heard about the massacre of the MacDonalds.
(Psst...Did you see Hagrid's Hut?)

Posted Sep 30, 2013, 6:59 pm
On the was back towards Edinbrugh we stopped to enjoy the view over Rannoch Moor: pretty and muddy.

Posted Oct 3, 2013, 11:24 am
Here I am in front of Doune castle. You might know it from Monty Python & the Holy Grail or Game of Thrones. It has an actual colourful history as summer residence, hunting lodge and prison. I didn't go inside, though because one has to pay and the inside isn't actually historically preserved.

Posted Oct 4, 2013, 4:20 pm
The Wallace Monument is a very strange building in a hill overlooking the city of Stirling. We didn't go insde but joked about the historical (in-)accuracies of the movie Braveheart instead. (A movie which we all enjoyed anyway.)
The view over Stirling:

Posted Nov 24, 2013, 2:53 pm
After a busy summer at home I am ready for another adventure. I'm off to the airport!

Posted Nov 24, 2013, 3:25 pm
Good morning Mexico City! From the hotel room I can see the cathedral and the Zócalo (Plaza de la Constitución). It's loud here, even at night with construction sounds and churchbells, though strangely all restaurants and bars close early.
I checked out the pedestrian zone and surroundings where the shops are only starting to open:

Posted Nov 27, 2013, 1:28 pm
I took the metro to the Mueaum of anthropology to get an idea of what I will see when travellung around Mexico and its archeological sites.
On the wall there's a copy of an aztec chronicle that despicts how they trvelled to dofferent places and encountered different civilizations there. The tiny feet and pictorgrams actually seemed very modern.

Graves were not neccessarily aligned accoring to north and south.

This pyramid I can see later at Teotihuacan, but it's not so colorful anymore.
Here's the layout of the site and there's information about a secret tunnel that is only now being cleared little by little with a robot. Maybe archeologists will find something really interesting...

This mural looks nearly like a modern Spanish artist or two.

The little squares hold signs and numbers.

Many societies differentiated between eagle and jaguar warriors:
Snakes were important mythological figures.

In the region around Oaxaca there were Zapotc and Mixtec people.

This jade mask shows the murcielago (bat god):

This one looks a bit like me!

A reconstructed grave:

Very little is know about the Olmecs who left beihnd these giant heads:
This was apparently found buried just in the position:

The old god:

A child's burial:
Adult burials:
And a pyramid grave:
(That of Pakal at Palenque, buried in the 7th century, found in 1952) The body was covered with a mask:

Enough culture for today!
Some people seem to have private helicopters to come or go from home:


Posted Nov 28, 2013, 5:28 pm
Back in the historic center of the city, I saw the cathedral. When the Spanish conquerors came to here in 1519, this was a big lake area with an Aztec city on an island accessible by bridges with temples/pyramids and canals running through the island to prevent flooding. The whole basin of the Valley of Mexico was later laid dry and a huge modern city was built on it. Now the problem aren't floods anymore, but the sinking ground, which can been seen particularly well in the cathedral that is lower than ground level and very much shifting to one side, as the pendulum shows as well.
Here you can see that the archways aren't straight at all:
Here'S a model of the Aztec city:
The cathedral was built on the remains of the raized temple area. Parts of Templo Mayor can be visited again.
This is the name of the Aztec city: Tenochtitlán

Posted Nov 29, 2013, 5:45 pm
I took the metro to visit a different part of the cty today: Coyoacán a representative neighborhood.
To get to the center of the neighborhood I crossed a park where many people were jogging or having a yoga lesson and there were squirrels!

Here's the casa azul, Frida Kahlo's blue house. Once had to buy a photography license to take pictures inside which was quite expensive, so I didn't do it.

Posted Nov 30, 2013, 10:21 am
I took the metro a few stations further to see the UNESCO World Heritage site at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. It was a bit hard getting there because for some reason, none of the 5 available guide books had instructions about which metro station to get off when visiting the mentioned sights in the books and it was not infact the metro station called universidad, as one might have supposed but one before that. A nice student finally took me with him on the way to class. The university is not exactly new, but has a lot of open sports courts and free green areas.

Posted Dec 2, 2013, 4:52 pm
Day of the Dead offering at a tourist shop with reproductions or figurines and masks.

Posted Dec 3, 2013, 8:31 pm
Today I visited Teotihuacán, a significant city in the cultural entitiy of Mesoamerica. Around 100 to 750 AD it was an important place due to almost a monopol on obsidian, the hardest material available at the time and used as tools. It supposedly had around 200 000 inhabitants. A lot of the pyramids are still uncovered and an underground tunnel is being explored as we read about at the museum. For some unknown reason the city was abondoned around 740 AD. When the Aztec people came into this area centuries later, they thought of it as a gathering place of the gods and gave it the name that is still being used today.

Unfortunately the Quetzalcoátl temple (the one with the animal heads that was reconstructed in the museum) was closed off by the archeologists.

This is the sun pyramid:

And this the moon pyramid:

Here you can see the thick layer of lime mortar that originally covered the buildings and the remainders of the colors.

Some areas were clearly living areas, parts of the city seem to have been inhabited by other cultural groups, like Maya, Mixtecs and Zapotecs.
Here one can still see murals:

Indoors, the colors have been preserved:

Back outside we had a good look at the moon pyramid and actually climbed up to the first level (it isn't accessible any further for tourists). The steps are really high and not exactly even.
But the view down the "street of the dead" makes up for it. It'S teh central axis of the complex and, as with all these pyramids, built according to astronomical marks.

You can see "hills" that are covered up pyramids in all directions:
And the mountain beding the sun pyramid has nearly exactly the same shape:

For a change, this is not a jaguar, but a mountain lion:

I also climbed on top of the sun pyramid. It is a long way up! And exactly the same size as the Pyramid of Gizeh.
This tip used to be covered with something that shone like gold.
There's the moon pyramid:


Posted Dec 5, 2013, 3:35 pm
Next to our lunch stop I saw a big Day od the Dead offering and the lady who put it together was kind enough to explain it to me: there are tiny skeletons, arranged in ways in which their real counterparts were found in various ancient burial places.
...things that looked like mummified roadkill...


Posted Dec 7, 2013, 2:36 pm
In the evening I arrived in Puebla. The center of the old town really felt like a nice student town.
University buildung. Psst... exams in progress!
People were putting up Christmas decorations in the streets.
Finally, it got too dark to take good pictures but not too dark to stay out in the busy streets.

Posted Dec 8, 2013, 11:37 am
Early the next morning I looked out the window to find out if I could see the Popocatepetl. And I could!
I was so excited that I climbed up onto the roof the get a better look:
Sunrise is the best time to see it because lateron the volcano is wrapped in clouds.
After breakfast I took a walk around the city that was only just waking up:

Posted Dec 10, 2013, 4:01 pm
I stopped on the way to Oaxaca to take some cacti pictures. I saw lot's of beautiful landscapes on the way, but decided to enjoy them indead of trying to get a photo through the window of a moving vehicle.

Posted Dec 15, 2013, 1:35 pm
Today I am exploring the center of Oaxaca. Luckily it has a pedestrian zone that makes a stroll more relaxed.
Convent of St. Domingo
These dogs on the roof were interested in everybody passing by.
Some Dia des los Muertos decorations were still up around town. The smoking seems very apropos, but a marriage scene? Someone has a sense of humor!
Lot's of old "Käfer" every where in Mexico!

In the market hall we tried a spedialty: grasshoppers (the are starved first so that their intestines are empty and srayed with lime juice, like lots of things here.

Posted Dec 19, 2013, 2:09 pm
In the afternoon I visited Monte Albán, formerly a big city with homes, tombs, observatory etc of the Zapotec/Mixtec cultures. It's on the top of a montain ridge that's been leveled. Similar structures are only now being excavated in a neighboring ridge.
Here'S a modle of the ridge and a closeup of the excavated parts:
The weather turned out to be quite dramatic this afternoon.
A house with pretty thick walls:
view from another house toward the ceremonial areas:

The view down into the valley, we're at about 2000m.

The ceremonial areas with pyramids...
...remains of sculptures...
...view over the main area from north to south, the building that's not quite in line is the observatory...
...the observatory faces a tunnel in one of the buildings along the side of the plaza, again this was built along some obscure but accurate astronomical axis...

Here's the opposite view, sounth to north from the pyramid:
pyramid on top of the pyramid:
back on the main plaza: carvings on the observatory wall:
A very small ball park:


Posted Dec 26, 2013, 10:06 am
In the evening we watched a folklore dance with dinner.

Posted Dec 28, 2013, 2:35 pm
Today, after an adventurous drive over narrow muddy roads I undertook a short but wet, muddy and steep hike in the mountains. Suspension bridge at about 3000m altitude anybody?

Posted Jan 2, 2014, 3:45 pm
Here, I saw how to make Mezcal. It's a liquor made of agave plants.
They are chopped down to this pineapple-like form:
are baked in an "oven" and then ground:
finally the mezcal is distilled:
Some of them have a worm inside the bottle, you take them with 'worm-salt' that had ground worm, salt and pimiento in it and with lime:

Posted Jan 3, 2014, 2:23 pm
Mitla is a town that has continuusly been inhabited for the last millenia. There's a mix of riuns of Zapotec and Mixtec origins, the conquerors built a church in part of them:
The ornaments, simply made by placement of the same-sized bricks, make this place special to me.
Some of the original painted mrotar remains:
This little corridor led to an inner courtyard:
from which 4 chambers can be accessed:
(the smaller door is the one coming in from the corridor)
Each of the 4 had different patterns inside.

The town is known for weaving. I saw some looms and men at work:

Posted Jan 4, 2014, 4:25 pm
We are making an overnight stop near the warm Pacific and the weather is really warm and humid. I am not all that sad to leave so soon.

Posted Jan 5, 2014, 12:15 pm
The Sumidero Canyon has walls taht are over 1000m high, but that cannot be seen here because a dam was built to retain the Grijalva River and a lot of the walls is underwater now. I took a speedboat ride to see the natural formations and the animals taht live in the national park:
Here's an alligator:
And another one:
There are lots of vultures:
Now we are approaching the actual canyon:
Pollution is a big problem, all teh stuff people throw into or close to the river at some point lands here eventually:
Orchids and bromeliads can be foudn in the trees:
And there are caves and something like mineral water falls, where the minerals in the running water leave these structures running down the walls:
The most impressive is the "christmas tree":

Posted Jan 6, 2014, 4:41 pm
Here some people are selling shoes with soles made from old tires. The are supposed to last very long!
I am on my way to the market place. This isn't a tourist market and the vendors aren't all happy to see me. Many don't want pictures taken of their wares and I hear people complaining about me watching and standing in the way btu not buying anything.
A lot of things waren't being weighed out but are sold by bucket or stack or some other number.
There are a lot of Maya women and children trying to sell things here. Apparently the teacher have been on strike for some time now and there is no school but some children who are offering services as shoeshine boys etc. don't look like they do this only during the strikes.

I visited the jade museum and saw different colors of jade and some information on what it was traded for all over Mesoamerica:

Here's part of the main plaza:

Posted Jan 8, 2014, 11:55 am
Today, I am visiting Palenque, a pre.columbian city of the Maya, that was at its prime in 500-700 AD.
Look at the spiky trees:
This is the temple of inscriptions, where the first pyramid grave was found in 1952, that was "Pakal" that is reconstructed in the museum in Mexico City.
Here's the so-called palace:
Aome reliefs on the side are still recognizable.Here's a non-human face, with the symbol-filled eyes of a god:
As with most city ruins, only less than 20% of the structure have been excavated, mostly parts of teh ceremonial center of the city.
The palace ruin is mostly accesible.
These are thought to show cultures that have been conquered by the Maya from Palenque, but that's just one of several theories.
These T-shaped holes can be found in several of the walls and line up according to astronomial lines.

Special about Palenque is that a small stream runs through the city whereas many other Maya cities had to rely on other water supplies and water reservoirs.
View up towards the "cross" group:
I climbed up there to take a closer look.
And further up onto this temple, all for a view of the other structures and of more depictions of Pakal, but they are too protected behind wire to take a photo.
You can see by the light that it is getting late on a fall afternoon.

Posted Jan 9, 2014, 1:27 pm
All these little green dots are pieces of leaves and this whole things is a road of leaf-cutter ants that goes on and on to both sides.
I looked at them while waiting for the small boat to take us from Frontera Corozal along the Usumacinta river to the ruins of Yaxchilan, another Maya city the actually was at war with Palenque in 654 AD
On the right you can see Guatemala, on the left Mexico. Yaxchilan is in a river bend, surrounded by teh river on 3 sides and no roads leads to is by land nowadays, it is only accessible via the river.
It is located in what'S called the Lacandon Jungle, a certain kind of rain forest. Here are some howler monkeys above us. Unfortunetaly, they are a bit photo shy.
One has to cross thorugh the "labyrinth" to get to the main plaza. I didn't have a flash light of my own, so I tried to stay really close to the people who had one, because ti's very dark, there's squishy and crunchy stuff underfoot and there are bats.
Pfhh,... I made it thorugh to the other side:
Here's the main plaza and it'S really close to the river. The water level is very high at the moment and a tree just crashed into the river here behind this ruin.
There are several well-preserved lintels like this one:
or this:
This isn't a clean site with snack booths along the way, but feels like something of a jungle adventure.
(with partially a lot of people)
Stelae depict former rulers of this community with colorful names like "bird jaguar" and the like.

These steps lead up to what'S now called Structure 33.
I climbed all the way up. Inside the building at the top I foudn this: apparently the statues of rulers weere beheaded after their reign.

Even further up through the jungle I left most other tourists behind me and made it to the "South Acropolis"  (what I'd seen before being the Central Acropolis)

And I found these funny little things:

Posted Jan 12, 2014, 2:26 pm
I cannot visit the Carribean without some quality time at the beach.


Posted Jan 13, 2014, 6:06 pm
It's Sunday, and the entry is free to locals which makes this place very busy. And it'S hot, much more so than any of the other places I have been to before on this trip.
The famous Kukulkan pyramid, where at the equinox, the shade of the steps is thrown onto the side of the staircases, so that only the triangles of the stairs and the snake heads at the bottom are in the sun and it looks like a big snake. Kukulkan is the Mayan name for the Atztec Quetzalcoatl, depicted by a snake head with feathers, I've already seen those depictions in Teotihuacan and Yaxchilan, for example.
Again, here'S a main plaza with a big ball court and other representative buildings, surrounded by up-scale houses. This city and its holy cenote must have been very important around the 8th to 11th century and many people came here and paid tributes to visit the cenote. That seems to have been the main income, the cenote the main "trade object".
Plataforma de Águilas y Jaguares, the eagles and jaguars platform:
And the Skull platform:
These lead to the great ball court:
It's really big compared to the ones I have seen before and high on the walls are the stone rings that the balls had to be maneuvered through. In Aztec places, the games was largely played with elbows and knees, but the chiselled pictures along the sides suggest the use of bats here.
The stories that the losers (or winners, noone is quite sure, but if being a human sacrifice was something the players strove to be, then picking the losers for this would lead to some lousy games, if the players thought of it as a fate to be avoided it would be logical to pick the losers.) were sacrificed after the game originated from these pictures, where in the middle of the field, there'S a player with what looks like a knife indeated of a bat and a head in his other hand, and , separated from him by a shull, another player's body with what looks like a fountain where the head sholud be.
This platform has man-bird-like faces with a snake tongue on all its sides:
After a short walk, I got to the holy cenote. I couldn't really see a way out once you fall in so I stayed well away from the edge.
Here's the Warrior temple and the hall of (1000) columns:
The "hall" of cloumns endes like this, where one can still see the remains of a roof.
There are many more buildings, I couldn't look at all of them closely. The Caracol, the one with the tower, used to be an observatory. Its staircase is built like a snail.
This is the so-called Church:
There are holes in the stone that suggest that fabric was hung around it like exchangable decorations.
This is part of the outside wall of the Mojas complex, one of the most complex buildings of Chichen Itza it seems. It's a pity that I cannot visit the inside, neither is one allowed to climb any of these stairs or even get too close to many of the buildings, unlike in all the other ruins I have seen on this journey. Only the iguanas are allowed to climb around on the stones here.

Posted Jan 15, 2014, 10:01 pm
I am always amazed by the looks of different kinds of money. It takes some getting used to actually handling it.

Posted Jan 16, 2014, 4:11 pm
This is the roof where I am hanging out to enjoy the weather and relax. I was visited by a coati and saw lots of birds and dragonflies.

Posted Jan 17, 2014, 9:03 am
I am home to celebrate Christmas with Emil and Huhn who came back here just in time. Merry Christmas!

Posted Feb 3, 2014, 7:32 pm
I am on the road again and just arrived in Havanna, La Habana in Spanish, capital of Cuba. I checked into a hotel on the edge of the old town and decided to make my way through the old town today. Normally, people take the busy pedestrian street called Obispo, but I took a parallel street of more residential roads because the old town is slowly getting busy on this nice sunday morning.
On the way I saw some of the famous old cars and the morbid charm of this city.
While to the Cubans this is winter, I find it quite warm.
This is a temple facing the Plaza de Armes:
And this the former governors' palace, the  Palacio de los Capitanes Generales:
The street in front of it is paved in wood instead of stone, to minimize the noise of wagons for the comfort of those within.
On the Plaza de Armes, lots of people are selling books:

Posted Feb 4, 2014, 1:25 pm
Cuba had a rail system pretty early on and this car was the Presidential car. One can now see it in Havana's old town,. but only form the outside.
Most buildings have inner courtyards and this one has a cistern in the middle.
Here's the Plaza Vieja, with lots of restored old houses.
The very colorfully dressed women work for the history department and represent typical professions in old Havana. For a small price one can take a picture with them and men will get a coloful kiss from freshly blushed lips to carry the print around with them.
The house opposite this wall is being restored, so the facede as it should be and a number of historical figures associated with it are painted on the opposite wall.
I am approaching the Plaza de la Catedral:
Time to find a place for lunch. It's getting too hot and crowded here for my taste.

Posted Feb 6, 2014, 3:47 pm
After lunch I took a stroll through Miramar, a part of Havana where many embassies are located. It's very calm and green.

Posted Feb 8, 2014, 9:56 am
Here I am in the more lively and modern Vedado.
I visited the  Cementerio Cristóbal Colón, the biggest cemetary in Latin America.
This is a monument dedicated to firefighters.
Amelia La Milagrosa (Amelia Goire) became quite famous and people come to her grave to ask for miracles. They knock on th egrave to wake her, talk to her, put down flowers, and walk around the grave without turning their backs to it. I actually got a chance to see this done by other visitors. Some people put up plates thanking her if they were successful.

On to the Plaza de la Revolución, which is surrounded by government buildings.

Posted Feb 9, 2014, 12:43 pm
Welcome to our hotel!
Today we are going into the other direction, not into the old town but into central Havana.
This is the Parque Central.
Through the space occupied by these hotels once ran the city wall.
It'S not far to the capitol, that currently closed to visitors due to contruction works.
Again, Havana's somewhat morbid charm and many well kept-up older cars. I heard that under the hood these are completely new with parts that had to be made to somehow fit, because the original parts could not be replaced.
I walked along the Paseo del Prado, the main boulevard to see and be seen where on weekdays elementary schools hold their physical education classes, and adults meet and barter and do (intermediary) trades.
On the right a nice hotel, on the left the ballet academy.

Posted Feb 10, 2014, 4:31 pm
Back in the old town we had lunch and got a tour of another community project with a barber shop and school (this is actually a working shop!), a senior center/daycare for the elderly and a playground (where kids can also get a new haircut).
I also saw how cigars are rolled:

Posted Feb 12, 2014, 12:31 pm
We're on the outskirts of Havana where a neighborhood has decided to decorate the walls with murals, teach art and music to children and get support from some famour artists:

Posted Feb 13, 2014, 3:41 pm
After a short siesta back down the Prado to the bay. Here's the entrance to the habor and part of the defensive structures of old Havana:
I walked partway along the Malecón.
The 6 lanes of traffic going 80km/h and the very bad shape of the buildings plus the blinding sun in my face didn't make for a nice afternoon, tough, so I turned back and made my way back into the old town eventually to enjoy some "cócteles" in the old town.

Posted Feb 14, 2014, 4:33 pm
Today I leave Havana, fierst goal: Cienfuegos. On the way I drove through lots of fields, many of them sugarcane, as ouy can see here:
Cienfuegos, the name of the city has nothing to do with a hundred fires, unfortunately but it was named after former Captain General José Cienfuegos. The bay is the 3rd biggest in Cuba. It's very calm and beautiful today. The view of of the Sierra Maestra mountains.
In the early 19th century, white settlers from France and the French  colonies were brought here to form a bigger settlement and to improve the ration of white citizens to slaves.
The town became a big port for the sugar trade. One can see this influence in the villas and the architecture of the old town.

Posted Feb 18, 2014, 1:56 pm
Here I am in one of the state shops on Cuba where people who live and are registered in this neighborhood can collect their alloted rice, milk, bread, soap etc as well as buy other things.

Trinidad was the 3rd Spanish settlement in Cuba, founded in 1514. It became a rich city due to sugar cane farming and slave trade.
It has a pretty old town and unlike Cienfuegos it wasn't built like a chessboard but deliberately confusing so pirates would get lost in it. We did find the Parque Cespedes in the newer part of town:
This houses now also functions as a shop but you can still see the typical architecture: to the left the entrance from the street and high windows where people can observe the street and chat with pedestrians, beind me (and alos on the other side of the room) an opening that's only halfway closed off by decorative doors, leading to the main bedrooms (his and hers), where I am and to my right sitting/dining rooms and kitchens, more bedrooms etc behind that. One rocking chair per member of the household is a must!
Here'S the center of the old town with the plaza major.
There's a typical drink of Trinidad: la canchanchara, consisting of lime juice, ice cubes, some water, honey and of course rum. You need to stir it well due to the honey and it seems quite common here to mix cocktails with little or no alcohol and offer the bottle of rum for fill ups!
Next up is a visit to the Museo Histórico Municipal, formerly the  Palacio Cantero, where one can see antiques and climb up narrow stairs (only if not too many people are on the top) of the tower to have a view over the town to teh mountains in one direction and the sea in the other direction.
the Plaza Major:
the courtyard of the palacio:
Now I am off to the beach!

Posted Feb 20, 2014, 4:43 pm
Here I am in the valley of the sugar mills which is actually 3 caonnected valleys. It used to be full of cane sugar mills, plantation houses and slave barracks in the 18th and 19th century.
Behind me you see the Manaca-Iznaga Tower, built in 1816 it is 45m high and there was a bell on top from where beginning and end of working hours were signaled and a fire alarm was rung.
I climbed up the narrow wooden steps to have a good look around. I can see the valley and the plantation house from here.

Posted Feb 22, 2014, 11:48 am
My next stop is in the capital fo the province: Sancti Spiritus.
After crossing the Rio Yayabo I found a market where lots of shoes were on offer, unfortunately none in my size, as well as all kinds of things for daily use, uncluding this construction which is apparently a kerosine stove. It doesn't look entirely save but seems to be relatively common here.

Posted Feb 28, 2014, 2:34 pm
We don't have a whole lots of time in the thiy city, but I can tell you that it is crazy: bicycles everywhere, very strange traffic and very narrow and confusing roads. We are exploring the town by bici-taxi. It seems the fastest, if a bit scary way to get around.
The original town was founded in 1514, but was moved inland because of pirate attacks twice.
There's an artist who has put up statues of life-size figures up in town and in her backyard there's this fountain:
This is a small park where legends are being told on the walls:

Posted Mar 3, 2014, 8:42 am
Quick stop in Bayamo, second oldest town of Cuba and origin of the national anthem, the Bayamesa. It was however destroyed in 1869 in the fight for Cuban independence.

Posted Mar 6, 2014, 2:31 pm
Here I am in the Sierra Maestra mountains. It rained during the night so it is slightly muddy but wonderfully green.
I saw this pig and a little later...
... these incredibly cute piglets. There were even more along the road, all with their noses in the leaves and dirt.
In the village I was first loudly greeted by a very excited mule and then invited for coffee at a local farmer's house. The beans were roasted in sugar and then the coffee was made with sugar water so it was very sweet. Every step from planting the plants to grinding the coffee is done by hand here. It's seasonal work, people are supposed to earn enough during the season to live off for the whole year, which doesn't look to be all that easy but people seem proud to show off their houses which are very clean and orderly despite large families running in and out all day. Kitchens are mostly outside the actually houses and people have chickens and pigs in the yards.

Posted Mar 9, 2014, 10:19 am
Today I visited the shrine for the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, the patroness of Cuba, many people come here dressed in yellow, leaving yellow flowers and small sacrifices like clothes, diplomas etc.
The story told is that 3 young men were caught in a storm while in a tiny boat on the Bay of nipe and prayed to Virgin Mary for protection when they storm passed and they saw a statue of  the Virgin with skin color of mixed heritage and real clothers and real hair, completely dry, floating on the water. There was an inscription saying "Yo Soy la Virgen de la Caridad". They took her back with them and a small chapel was built for her. On night, the statue was gone and back again the next morning without any explanation, this kept happimng even after she was moved to El Cobre, until a girl found her on a small hill. So a church was built for her on that hill and she didn't vanish again.

Posted Mar 13, 2014, 3:42 pm
A rainbow welcomed me to Santiago de Cuba.
It seems to be a pretty bug and busy city, at least for Cuba.
From my hotel roof I had a good view of the old town and the bay.
The cathedral was damaged my hurricane Sandy but the angel on top of it wasn't. It's a miracle. (and haunted if you believe some locals)
I had a mojito for relaxation. This town is way too loud to go to bed early.

Posted Mar 17, 2014, 2:04 pm
Join the crowds on a Sunday in Santiago de Cuba!
Museums are largely closed but there's music, there are people all over, kids running about, people getting food of vendors that sell stuff from their stoops and windows (we were warned not to try it, in fact these people shouldn't try it but they do anyway), there are lots of shoe stores, people sitting in plazas, playing dominos, holding a weigh-lifting competition for boys...
These are the Moncada barracks. They are famous because of the (failed) attack on it on July 26th, 1953 that today marks the beginning of the Cuban Revolution. The holes were reconstructed lateron as today this builting serves as a national monument.
Today children play baseball, or football with a baseball in the free space.

Posted Mar 19, 2014, 5:02 pm
Most people associate the name "Guantánamo" with the US Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, but it's firstly the name of the Cuban province and its capital city. Of course most people also know the song "Guantanamera". That's not the only well known music from this area, the Son Cubano originated here.
In the 18th century when there were bloody slave rebellions in the French Carribean colonies, some settlers came here from what is now Haiti. They were mostly coffee or cacao farmers with their households. A subculture developed by what were very well educated and elegant slaves. The Tumba Francesa is now considered an intangible cultural heritage by the UNESCO. I got to hear their music and see their dances. There was a queen presiding over the presentation.

Posted Mar 23, 2014, 4:28 pm
Here are some pictures of the road to Baracoa:
On the pass road people were selling chocolate and coconut candy. The had very adventurous wheeled vehicles on which to roll down the roads but no motors for rolling up hill. The area aroudn Baracoa has the last big parts of original forest on the island. In most places it had been cut down to make way for plantations.

Posted Mar 26, 2014, 5:37 pm
I made my way out into the forest and froudn these funny fruit that are very sour.
Then I took a boat trip on the Duaba river.
The ocean is back there:
In the background you can see a table mountain, the Yunque de Baracoa.
Where the river flows into the sea I found some fishermen's huts, they only stay out here during teh day and only for a special season like right now when tiny (really tiny!) fish can be caught that are a local specialty.

Posted Mar 30, 2014, 2:52 pm
In this area there are cocoa plantations and chocolate is being produced so we visited one plantation.
I saw the fruit and the beans and how everyting is processed. But to tell you the truth the part I like best ist eating the chocolate.

Posted Apr 1, 2014, 3:55 pm
Here's one of the two Cuban currencies: the peso convertible (CUC) that is used for tourists but also for locals if they want to go to a restaurant or buy things in private businesses. There's actually a 3-CUC bill.
I walked around Baracoa: this church is teh home of the remains of one of the original wooden crosses that Columbus brought over to the new world.
This commemorated Hatuey, someone who fought for the freedom ofthe idigenous people of Cuba. He sure looks fierce!
More so then in other Cuban cities, simple horse carriages serve as (public) transportation, some look almost like busses, or bici taxis (pretty big ones) etc. Cars aren't the main means of transportation.
One of the fortifications of the bay:

Posted Apr 5, 2014, 9:37 am
Despite what you might think, Playa Baracoa is not a beach or even close to Baracoa, it's a little town with a regional airport that'S located west of Havanna. So I flew here today in this
all the way from Baracoa in the east.
This is the baggage claim.

Posted Apr 7, 2014, 5:50 pm
Today I explored the Biosphere Reserve Las Terrazas in the west of Cuba. There are some monkeys on the small island and peopel selling vegetables next to the lake.
These houese look out onto the lake, directly above the water. It is very beautiful. even the bathrooms have windowns going out that way. I visited the house of Polo Montanez, a famous singer.
Unfortunately I was not allowed to participate in the canopy tour:
Instead I got some coffee specialties which were very good!
The houses are all built according to a certain scheme and have blue or orange shutters.
I did get to swim in these beautiful natural pools:
It was very refreshing because while the sun came and went, it was quite warm and humid.

Posted Apr 21, 2014, 4:52 pm
We went on to visit a former french Coffee platation. You can see all the way to the oceanmon from here.
These barracks are the places where the slaves slept, more then 10 to one of these tiny rooms. It was nto neccessarily a nice visit.

Posted Apr 25, 2014, 4:12 pm
As a contrast to teh farms in the east of Cuba, I visited one in the west. It first looks like a normal street with one house next to the other, but when you pass through the back yards you get out to the fields.
Kitchens gardens...
and fields...

Posted Apr 27, 2014, 11:36 am
This area of Cuba is where the tobacco for the famous cigars is grown. There's also a very beautiful valley, that unfortunately I couldn't visit because it was closed off due to flooding. The pictures tell you why.
Tobacco is dried in these special building all over the area where they are protected from the rain but get sufficient ventilation. When they have a cloth-like texture they are rolled into cigars like I already saw in Havanna.

Posted Jan 10, 2015, 6:00 pm
After a long return trip back via Havanna and Paris, I have finally made it home and am off to sleep. Good night!

Posted Jan 10, 2015, 6:08 pm
After a quick stop on Sao Miguel I island-hopped here to Terceira island and am taking my first look around.
My first impression: becautiful islands, humid climate, very peaceful.

Posted Jan 10, 2015, 7:05 pm
In Biscoitos there's this cute little wine museum. These islands do not have a huge production and mainly produce dessert wine, for example Vermelho. I did not like it much.

Posted Jan 11, 2015, 11:35 am
Next I visited the  Furnas do Enxofre, sulphur springs, a sign of the highly active volcano under there islands.
In places you can see a bit of smoke but mroe than that I could smell it!
The day is quite cloudy and overcast, the typical weather for these islands.

Posted Jan 11, 2015, 1:27 pm
Today I am taking a tour of the town of Angra do Heroismo, a UNESCO World Heritage site, even though it is not original but rebuilt  because a lot of the original old town was damaged by an earthquake in 1980.
These black and white street decorations are very popular here.
Here are the orderly municipal gardens, the Jardim Duque da Terceira in this case where I climbed up the hill for a view over the town.
Angra was the first settlement on Azores to actually become a city.

Posted Jan 11, 2015, 2:11 pm
After another short flight I am on an island called Faial. There are not that many actual beaches on these islands, more commonly there are lava pools like this with ladders or ramps to access them.
Red flag, no swimming today!

Posted Jan 11, 2015, 2:38 pm
This lighthouse used to be at the coast and corner of the island, but in the 1950s a volcano eruption created first a small island, and later a connection to the main island.

I can feel hot air coming out of these cracks!

Posted Jan 12, 2015, 5:30 pm
Looking down onto my base for the next few days: Horta, nowadays a realtively vibrant but still relaxed port for Atlantic crossings or water sports.

Posted Jan 13, 2015, 4:17 pm
Another day, another island: Pico, the volcano and highest mountain in Portugal is also called Pico and usually has a hat of clouds.
Looking back towards Horta:
The lava walls seperate small fields, mostly of vine, but here are also some figs:
The sea is rough again today.
And the peak is hidden in the clouds.
It's beautiful up here in the highlands of Pico. I wish I could explore some more.

Posted Jan 14, 2015, 5:27 pm
The crater of Faial, and I am walking around it and through the clouds.
The huge hydrangea bushes on the idlands are well known but not actually native but were introduced as decorative plants and then went wild.
If you look closely you can see Sao Jorge to the left and Pico to the right.

Posted Jan 16, 2015, 4:52 pm
A ferry this time, took me to Sao Jorge, another one of the Azores islands. Of course there had to be a dragon to slay on an island named for St. George. This tiny town is the capital, Velas:

Posted Jan 17, 2015, 7:40 am
Today I am walking to the Fajas, small villages and farms on little flat areas on the coastline, many are not accessible by car.
A Faja
That'S Graciosa island in the background.

The local attractions are unbloody bull fights. The bulls are let loose in a town or another area and are 'on a leash' loosely held by the men in while shirts. It can move freely in the area and some men will try to anger the bull with movement or an umbrella. There'S booths and food and folklore later on at night.
A church lottery:
Look what I won!

Posted Jan 18, 2015, 8:48 am
There's a green and a blue lake down there but in this light it's hard to decide which is which. The green one appears green because of algae or because of the reflection of there green hills, stories idffer. The water quality is actually not that great, it'S pretty warm and always close to completely decompensating. But as with many things, there's a local legend with a tragic love story in different versions. This is supposedly the king's view (Vista do Rei) but only in good weather I guess and contrary to most fo the trip we are experiencing typical Azores weather again today: cloudy and wet.

Posted Jan 19, 2015, 6:26 pm
Today I am driving all over the island of Sao Miguel. Here'S one of the beaches closest to Ponta Delgada and a popular weekend destination:
An actual pool in the sea...

And one fo the main attraction on the itinerary today: Furnas, a town with sulphur springs and a bath culture.
Here the grounds gets so hot that the springs are visibly cooking. Big pots of Cozido, a local specialty with all kinds of meat, sausage and some vegetables, are being buried in the ground to cook.
Pots are marked like this:
Boiling! water
Boiling mud!

And this is the beautiful park of the baths: and the sulphur pool, nice and warm.

There'S also tea production on Azores. Chinese specialists were brought in to cultivate it. It was the advantage that the climate is good for tea but not for its usual pests.

Posted Jan 20, 2015, 4:55 pm
The last day and time to hike a bit more, this time at the coast to another small town that inaccessible by car.
These stones were very slippery int he steep passages down.

The parks of Ponta Delgada:
Tomorrow I have to fly home. But these are beautiful islands that you should definitely visit if you get the chance.

Posted Jan 21, 2015, 7:27 pm
I am sitting at home and searching for my next destination... where to go?

Posted Jan 21, 2015, 7:33 pm
Here I am in the capital of Morocco. I arrived yesterday via Casablanca and already discovered the busy street life here in the evening.
This morning started out with visiting the royal palace. It's more like a town, with a school, library, village for the people who work  here etc. This is the gate to the actual palace with all kinds of guards.

I also visited the mausoleum of Mohammed V. It's a beautiful  building and the guards are happy to pose for a photo.
The Imam is there to read from the Koran.

Right in front of it is what remains of the great mosque and the  Hassan tower. All the pillars supported to roof that was destroyed  the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. There were over 400 pillars.

Next came the necropolis of Chellah. The gates are from the 14th  century. Merinid sultans and Marabouts (holy men of Islam) were  buried here. Again, a lot of it was destroyed in the above mentioned  earthquake.
The are also some remains of Sala Colonia, a roman settlement.

Posted Jan 22, 2015, 5:05 pm
Next I visited the fortified old town: Kasbah des Oudaïas. It'S in blue and white to keep the homes cool. Here are the outside walls:
And here I am looking down to the river Bou-Regreg.
The old town gates are closed at 6 p.m. Time to leave and find a place to have dinner.

Posted Jan 24, 2015, 9:13 am
Here I am in Meknès, which used to be  the capital of Morocco under the reign of Moulay Ismail (1672–1727). Here's one of the beautiful old gates:
The remains of Heri es-Souani, the huge royal stables and granery and the water reservoir next to it, are also one of the main sights.

And the mausoleum of Moulay Ismail:


Posted Jan 27, 2015, 6:55 pm
We drive on to Volubilis. It's a former Roman settlement and there are some excellent mosaics left from that time! I can't even show you a quarter of them here.
Volubilis was given up by teh Romans in 285 but continued to be inhabited for the next 700 years or so until the town was moved to Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, not far from here at the edge of the mountains. The ruins remained largely intact until the were first destroyed by an earthquake and later by agriculture and when the stone was used for other buildings. It was "rediscovered" and excavated under the French rule in the 19th century.

Posted Jan 29, 2015, 5:07 pm
Here I am in front of the royal palace in Fès, the oldest of the four imperial cities.
This is the Mellah, the former Jewish quater, both Mellah and royal palace in the the "medieval new town": Fes el Jedid.
This is another city that had a modern town, Ville Nouvelle and a very big old town, Fès el Bali, with mazy souks, and the above mentioned medieval town. I experienced it mostly in the rain, pouring rain at times. I didn't mind too much. It gave the place a whole different atmosphere.
Here we are entering the souks:
In between: views of beautiful courtyards of mosques and madrasas.
And another place of pilgrimige, the Zaouia Moulay Idriss II, tomb of and shrine to Moulay Idriss II.
There's also tanneries in the middle of all this:
I have to keep peppermint close to bear the stench.
It was a very interesting day and a bit (or a lot) of a culture shock.

Posted Feb 3, 2015, 2:27 pm
I travelled through the Middle Atlas mountain range. I saw some Barbary macaque which was nice. But I was sad to hear about all the extinct species like Barbary lions and bears.
I saw some beautiful landscapes, though.
There are even ski resorts here because the mountains reach up to over 3000m. The population is mainly Berber and many buildings that I passed had signs in French, Arabic and Berber.
This is the Tafilalt oasis along the Ziz river.
The desert is quite beautiful.

Posted Feb 5, 2015, 5:54 pm
Are you ready for the picture perfect desert experience? I sure am.
Here I am at Erg Chebbi to do some dromedar trekking. Tonight I'll spend the night at the foot of the highest dune around here. It's 150m high. I learnt that an Erg is a dune landscape and there are two in Morocco, this one has the highest dunes.
My ride is the tallest one:
Here's the camp in a little oasis. I am glad for the shade. The sun is very strong here, even in the late fall.
The dune is high and it feels like one step forward, two steps back when trying to climb up here. See how little (and isolated) our camp is?!
I enjoyed a beautiful sunset up here.

Posted Feb 6, 2015, 3:39 pm
After a freezing cold night in the desert watching the stars, I get up in the dark to ride back to the nearest town. From there the bus takes me to Risani, and the mausoleum of Moulay Ali Cherif, the founder of the Alaouite dynasty.
I walked alittle bit around town an reached the Ksar Abbar, one of the typical old ways of living in fortified villages built from clay.
Inside the walls it now looks like this. Apparently there's no waste collection.

On the road I came across large fields of this:
It's rows of water wells that are all connected by underground canals built an in inclide so the water from the mountains could be transported over miles to the next town and the fields.
See how many there are in rows upon rows!

Posted Feb 7, 2015, 10:00 am
Here's a view of the oasis of the river Todra in Tinghir. I walked through the narrowest part of the gorge, but really, I liked the sunny green parts better. There are kind of communal gardens where every family gets a patch and can plant something, the water is also allotted.

Posted Feb 8, 2015, 1:30 pm
The landscapes here in southern Morocco are really beautiful. I passed this one the way to the Dades gorge.
There'S a nearly unrecognizable cemetery here. See hoe the stones have different directions?! Those mark the graves, male fo female. When you pass by you are supposed to greet the people lying here.
(Yes, this is a bridge.)
As you can see there are lots of old kasbahs around here. The dry river bed is used as a road with painted stones as markers. I would be worried about flooding.

Posted Feb 8, 2015, 6:49 pm
The goal for the day was reaching Ouarzazate, a city known for its film studios, but today I only have time left to visit the Kasbah Taourirt. It was built in the early 20th century by  Thami El Glaoui. He was a leader of the Berber tribe of Glaoua which has adopted him after he was abondones as a baby in Marrakesh and he was the  Pasha of Marrakech from 1912 to 1956. He was first given rights by teh sultan, later supported the French protectorate and got a lot of power in return, then somewhat took part in the nationalist movement. He was a big part of the overthrow of Sultan Mokammed V but he and his tribe lost their power when the French couldn't hold Morocco anymore and Mohammed V returned from his exile.

Posted Feb 9, 2015, 5:10 pm
The film studios here in Quarzazazte were used for lots of Biblical stories, anything that needs a desert and far landscapes like Game of Thrones, Gladiator, Der Medicus or Kingdom of Heaven.
Here'S part of a scenery from Astrix and Obelix.

This, seems to be in use currently:

Part of the Marco Polo movie:
Many parts of the studios cannot be cvisited because films are being made. I am going to watch out for those when I see movie trailers!

Posted Feb 10, 2015, 5:42 pm
The Ksar Aït-Ben-Haddou is a famous Ksar (fortified village) in southern Morocco.
The gate to the right was built for the Gladiator movie, but the reast is the original Ksar that was built somewhere between the 12th and 16th century, historicals sources aren't quite clear on that point. It was important as a stop on the caravan route between Marrakesh and Timbuktu (which apparently took 52 days to travel by caravan).
It's in habited by mostly berber from the tribe/family called Ben Haddou. Nowadays most families live in the newer parts. The old town was without electricity until relatively recently.
This is another exciting bridge to cross:. Not too long ago the only alternative was to be carried across on a mule or donkey. Now there's also another newer bridge, but I crave a bit of an adventure.
We visited a house that's still inhabited. People dry fruit on the roof:
The new town is on the other side of the still mostly dry river bed.
There are pens for chicken, goats or donkeys inside the houses.

Posted Feb 12, 2015, 5:20 pm
More scenes from the south of Morocco.

This is another old Kasbah. It was built from 1860 by the Glaoui tribe. It has some nicely decorated rooms.
But it was also a bit spooky with dark passages and no signposts and few people.
I want this window seat at home!

Posted Mar 10, 2015, 6:33 am
On the way to Marrakesh we passed the Tizi n'Tichka, the highest major mountain pass in North Africa.

Posted Mar 11, 2015, 1:20 pm
Marrakesh, fourth biggest city in Morocco and one of the four former imperial cities.

I started my visit in the Menara gardens. The big basin is supplied with water by a complicated hydraulic system and underground canals are used to irrigate the surrounding gardens. The gerdens were built around 1130, the Saadian pavilion was added later and served as summer residence for later sultans.

Here I am walking towards Koutoubia Mosque, the largest mosque in the city.

This is the Bahia Palace, a little oasis of green and quite in a large and busy city. It was built by teh grand vizier in the 19th century and later raided, so there is no furniture left, but beautiful courtyards and woodwork can still be admired.
Back through the streets of Marrakesh to the Koutoubia Mosque and the Saadian tombs, the entrance it hidden next to it.
The Saadian tombs were built in the 16th century as a mausoleum for Saadian celebreties (rulers and their favourites) and was "lost" to general knowledge until the French rediscovered it on aerial photographs in 1917.

The city wall surrounds the medina and is from the 12th century, the gate, Bab Agnaou, is the most famous one.

In the medina there ware multiple apothecary shops that sell herbs for cooking or as medicine.

Posted Mar 13, 2015, 2:10 pm
Marrakesh also has modern parts. Among them lies the Jardin Majorelle, originally built by landscape painter Jacques Majorelle, it was later bought and restored by Yves Saint Laurent.

Near the bus station:

The famous Jemaa el-Fnaa:
The name means something like "assembly of good-for-nothings" and was once a place of executions and has always been a place of food and market stalls and story telling. In day time there are trained monkeys and snake charmers additionally to souvenir stalls, stalls selling freshly pressed juice and women offering to do henna tattoos. At night the barbecue stalls and rolling kitchens arrive and the story tellers, and the place is full of (the more traditional) locals. Unfortunately I couldn't understand a thing.
Other parts of the city were mre modern where women without head scarf met in the evening at Starbucks or in the big modern malls.

Posted Mar 16, 2015, 7:24 pm
Next stop: the medieval port of Essaouira, known in the 11th century as Sidi Megdooul, or later by the Portugese as Mogador. It was a well protected port and a haven for pirates for a long time and had a big mellah, because Jews had been encouraged to come to the city as it was a flourishing trade port in the time of caravans. Now it's a place popular with sufers and tourists.

Posted Mar 18, 2015, 6:11 pm
A last look at the Atlantic coast on the trip back to Casablanca and the airport:

Posted Mar 21, 2015, 9:20 am
The former cathedral is falling apart nowadays.

Posted Mar 22, 2015, 5:21 pm
Hassan II Mosque is the largest mosque in Africa and the 7th largest in the world. It has the tallest minaret at 210 m and was partially built on the sea as per the King's wishes. It was finished in 1993 and can house 25000 worshippers, another 80000 fit onto the outside grounds.
The balcony above is for the women who come in through seperate entrances and reach it over covered stairs.
In the lower parts there are big wash rooms for the ritual washing:

Posted Mar 26, 2015, 2:29 pm
Finally! This winter has been grey and wet so far but today there was some snow that actually stayed for a bit. 

Posted Mar 28, 2015, 9:55 am
My day started early yesterday with a bus trip, then a train, then a plane and then another plane. When I arrived at my destination I had to get out the passport and pretty visa and handed over a whole lot of money to a person and got this stuff back:
During another hour in a car I learnt that I am in Yangon, or Rangoon, the biggest city of Myanmar and the capital of the country until 2005. There are still many different ethnic groups in Myanmar today and this was area was inhabited by Mon people, then for a time governed by the British. I visited Sule Pagoda in the city center and walked around to get a little impression of the city (and in search of food). I love the writing, just couldn't understand anything.
This Sunday the park, for which oen has to pay an entrance fee, semmed to be very popular with the locals, esp. with young couples.
In parts the city is modern sky scrapers, in others it has a morbid charme similar to that of Havanna.
Street food is very common here, mostly eaten while sitting on very low little stools and it comes with free green tea, called "Chinese tea".


Posted Mar 31, 2015, 6:18 pm
I drove west and reached Kyaik Pun pagoda in Bago. It features images of the four Buddhas that have reached Nirvana: Kassapa Buddha, Kakusandha Buddha, Konagamana Buddha and Gautama Buddha. They were built by King Dhammazedi of the Mon Kingdom of Hanthawaddy in 1476. Each image is 27m high.
The story goes that four Mon princesses were pledged never to get married as long as they lived. If one of them was to get married, one of the Buddha statues would collapse. According to the legend one of the women broke her promise and got married, resulting in the collapse of one of the images, the Kassapa Buddha. The image was later restored.
Finger and toe nails are decorated with glass.

Posted Apr 11, 2015, 9:23 am
A pretty adventurous ride while queezed onto the back of a truck (all tickets included life insurance) took me up from the base camp to the Golden Rock, Kyaiktiyo Pagoda.
There's the Golden Rock at the edge:
Only men are allowed that close to put gold leaves on the rock.

The legend: Buddha gave a strand of his hair to a hermitwho tucked it away inhis own hair safely and carried it around until he evetually gave it to the king to have the hair enshrined in a boulder shaped like the hermit's head. The king took a rock from the bottom of the sea and built a pagoda, where the strand was enshrined and prevents the rock from tumbling down.

Three pilgrimages up here from the Kinpun base camp in one year will bring the pilgrim wealth and status. I think originally it meant on foot. Then for a while the trucks only went up to the middle camp and pilgrims had to walk the rest of the way, but nowadays there's a new road that the trucks take all the way to the top of the hill, so I'm not sure if that still counts. But there were a lot of pilgrims from Myanmar but also from other Asian countries and a few Western tourists.

Before enjoying sunset at the rock I took a walk along the village with many herbalist shops behind the pilgrimage site.
After sunset, I had to walk down to the middle camp in the dark. A flashlight was very helpful and I passed a lot of family homes where people were cooking on small fires and watching tv.

Posted Apr 18, 2015, 2:47 pm
I was woken at 4:22 am by the singing of monks who were collection their food for the morning. At 6 am the sounds were joined by the Burmese equivalent of country music that a friendly neighbor decided to share with the whole valley. So I was able to take sunrise pictures before breakfast and before walking to the truck station to take the truck down to the base camp. Unfortunately the truck took a while to fill up enough that it made sense to purchase the tickets for the open seats so we could finally get started, and then we had to stop and wait for the trucks coming up the road to pass because this old road is essentially a one way street. We were rewarded with a rollercoaster-like ride down. I am not sure if the life-insurance of the extra seats would have been applicable.
On the drive back to Bago we passed a rubber plantation. Do you see the chicken nesting in a basket that's attached to the side of the house?

Posted Apr 26, 2015, 12:07 pm
Back in Bago I visited the Shwemawdaw Pagoda, built by the Mon over 1000 years ago it was partially destroyed in earthquakes several times, the last big one was in 1930. The stupa is 114 m high today.
People throw folded bills into the little cups that symbolize whatever they wish for health, prosperity etc. while the cups and figurines move like on a carousel.

Posted Apr 30, 2015, 5:36 pm
This is the view from the former royal palace over the gardens. Unfortunately, only ruins remained of the original palace with its big teak pillars and the reconstructed palace and museum isn't quite like what Europeans understand under a museum. All in all the Burmese seem to have a rather practical relationship to history. Much of it is still oral, spread in legends and stories, the ancient buildings are being repaired and the buddha images given new gold, new cloth, new lights, being repainted, all the the style of the current time etc. or they are not used any longer and simply left alone. That's different from the museum education (Germans even have the specialized term Museumspädagogik) approach that I am used to.
But next I visited Shwethaluyaung pagoda, with a 54,8x16 m big buddha image, not the biggest lying buddha image in Bago, but maybe the nicer one of the two. I particularly liked the glass encrusted soles of his feet, the play of very bright light through the partially open sides of the building and the picture story (this time with English translation) of how buddhism came to this former kingdom.

Posted May 2, 2015, 2:19 pm
I took a plane from Yangon north to Lashio in Shan State. The plane stopped several times on the way until we finally landed and I got a car to Hsipaw. When I finally got to stretch my legs to take a walk through the nearby Shan village with a local guide.
The stake keeps bad spirits away and collects all the bad things throughout a year when it has to be replaced in a ceremony with visiting monks.
People here are farmers and grow rice, watermelons, corn, pineapples and various other fruit and vegetables, a lot of it for export, esp. to China.
(I got my first close up views of water bufallo today.)

Posted May 10, 2015, 4:58 pm
In the morning a boat took me up river, passing some small viallages, fields, and places where locals pump the pebbles and sand from the bottom up the river up through a sieve to gain building material.
I got out and walked some way to a small monastery where the little novices have to learn the Burmese and the Shan alphabet, among other things. (It was dark inside, so the pictures aren't so good.)
Ths novices had to pray before taking their lunch. In the monastery, they only get to eat breakfast and lunch.

Back on the boat I saw people loading and unloading goods from small boats.
We drove up to the river confluence, then turned back.
Out next stop was at another Shan village. Women were peeling corn for export to China and someone had made spicy soy cookies.
A railway passes through the village. It was an interesting day that ended with some local beer in the village, listeing through the open doors to children reciting their lessons in a school, some had private English classes till late in the evening. They have to study quite a bit to learn Burmese, Shan, Chinese and English.

Posted May 17, 2015, 10:01 am
The morning started by taking the bus from Hsipaw to Kalaw. It took a long time because of long stops to load up sacks of rice and what looked like wood pellets. We ended up sitting on and under all the stuff and noone had their feet on the ground in the end.
From Kalaw we started directly up into the mountains for a hike. Here's the first (Shan) village:
Further up we came to a Palaung village.
This water buffalo did not want to enter the small pond for his skin care mud bath.
This one seemed quite content.
We had lunch at a local family home. You can see the fire place on the bamboo floor. The house is on stilts.
Roofing looks liek this:
And there's traditional weaving. The village also has a stupa and a school.

Posted May 23, 2015, 12:56 pm
Before the next part of our journey, I went to the morning market here in Kalaw. There's a morning market and in a different part of town an afternoon market that I passed through yesterday.

Posted May 30, 2015, 11:27 am
I took a train from Kalaw to Pyin Oo Lwin. The Upper Class Seats were covered in bubble wrap but very comfy.
Here we are going over the  Gokteik viaduct (or Goteik, of Gohteik), which at 2260 feet long, 320 feet high was the highest of its kind when it was built in 1900.
The view down into the river gorge:

Posted Jun 13, 2015, 12:01 pm
Driving down into Mandalay the air got hot and dusty and there seemed to be a layer of smog over the whole valley. I can understand why the British prefered to have their homes in the higher Pyin Oo Lwin. Mandalay was the last capital of the Burmese kingdom in the late 19th century and is a sprawling city, most of the olf building like the royal palace were destroyed first by the invading British forces, than in World War II by fights between the British and the Japanese armies. So there are not many historical buildings to be seen. It is well known for it's gold leaf production, that I also saw today:
With a big hammer the gold is pressed between special paper in many layers until it is thin enough. There's a lot of demand for gold leaf to donate to Buddha here in Myanmar. It is sold in little squares, available it most big pagodas and Buddha images.
Like this very famous one, the Mahamuni Buddha, said to be a real image of buddha and esp. revered because of it, so much so that the body, arms and legs of the statue have been covered in so much gold leave that they are barely recognizable now. Old Photos show how it has changed over time. As with most of these images, only men are allowed close to it and to put on the gold leaf.
A woman donating water at the alter of the day of the week of her birth. (Sorry for the bad quality pictures, it was very dark inside.)
There's a small museum showing the way buddhism spread over the world and the different steps to reach nirvana.

Posted Jun 20, 2015, 10:43 am
I visited Ava (today: Inwa) which is the former cpital of the Ava kingdom from 1364. It's located at the river confluence of Ayeyarwady and Mjitnge. The Shan people of Ava waged wars with the Mon of the Pegu kingdom for many years, the Pegu finally won and teh Taungu ruled from Ava from 1635 but lost their influence in the 18th century. Another dynasty named Konbaung gained control of big parts of Burma and made Ava their capital from 1765 to 1783. Ava saw some bloody times after the big king Alaungpaya died until finally his son moved the capital to Amarapura and destroyed much of Ava. It was reerected in turn by his son in 1821 but destroyed again by an earthquake in 1841.
So you see that this city had some very colorful history, even more so if you read up on the wars waged by these kings. But today it seemed hot, dusty and very, very calm and soothing and beautiful. Maybe that is beacause it is reached mostly by boat via the river, only some farmers live here and there's only one hotel.
This is what you walk on barefoot, so be careful!

Posted Jul 2, 2015, 6:24 pm
Before Ava, Sagaing was the capital. Now there are more than 600 stupas, monasteries and meditation centers that are home to over 6000 monks and nuns. I had lunch and visisted a nunnery. I was amazed to see them use prayer beads like Christians do rosary beads. Sometimes the world isn't all that different after all.

Posted Jul 5, 2015, 7:38 am
Amarapura was the capital of Burma after Ava from 1781 to 1857 (when Mandalay became the capital). All these former capitals are really close together so i could see them all in one day.
In Amarapura I visited a very big and famous Buddhist monastery.
These are the big ovens in the mostly open kitchens of the monastery:

Amarapura is famous for the U-Bein bridge, a bridge of Teak wood over the Taungthaman lake. It's more than one kilometer long and quite shaky. Some parts had to be replaced by concrete and I cannot imagine the bridge holding up like this for much longer. Just take a look at the supporting beams! It was a Sunday at sunset and the bridge was crowded with tourists and locals. This si the bridge in the late dry period when the water is low. In the rainy season the water nearly comes all the way up to the walkway.
The boats were lining up for a good view of the sunset behind the bridge.

Posted Jul 12, 2015, 11:05 am
A bus took us 155km south west to Nyaung U, where we checked into our hotel and then took rented mountainbikes into Old Bagan.
Here, spread out over 36 square kilometers, there are more than 2000 pagodas and temples today, originally it must have been over 6000. For over 400 years, Bagan was a big unified kingdom that covered nearly all of today's Myanmar and Bagan was one of the biggest medieval cities in the world. In 1056 King Anuruddha was converted to Theravada Buddhism which was further spread in the kingdom after he conquered to Mon kingdom and imported their scholars. The monasteries were given land and "slave villages" for their sustainment. In 1287 the city was conquered bythe Mongolians led by Kublai Khan and the kingdom split into smaller kingdoms again.
Here I am at Shwezigon Pagoda, built by Anuruddha.
Before Buddhism there was a snake cult in this area and of course, the nets were integrated ninto Buddhism.

Most of the pagodas are built from bricks. Partially the stucco is still intact.

Posted Jul 18, 2015, 6:58 pm
The next day was also spend riding all over Old Bagan, exploring new temples, some without another tourist in view, others visited by tourists and pilgrims.
Ananda is one of the very popular temples: there are 4 Buddha images, each is 12m high, and the aritecture is Indian.
There were lots of bats in the high building:
The temple was being restored by an Indian historical society.

At 61m, this is the tallest temple in Bagan:

There were surprise disceveries in some tempels, like an accessible roof, or murals:

Posted Jul 25, 2015, 11:01 am
Today we have an excursion to Mount Popa planned. That's a volcano not far from Bagan, but what we really want to visit id the pedastal hill, Taung Kalat, a volcanic plug where there's a pilgrimage site to worship 37 nats.
First we had to get there and on the way we saw some people harvesting coco nuts.
And a village.

Here's the Taung Kalat:
The nats are spirits of very famous, not always very nice, historical persons, that can influence the real world positively or negatively so it's good not to annoy them. The shrine is dedicated to the 37 most powerful of them, images of the can be seen on the way up to the shrine:
About 770 steps lead up to the shrine and one has to walk them barefoot, after all one has to work for it to be a pilgrimage.
Stories of the nats can be found along the way, but almost exclusively in Burmese. The nat that actually lives here is Popa Medaw, the other of the mountain. She was an ogress called Me Wunna that lived at Mount Popa and ate the beautiful flowers.  She fell in love with Byatta, gatherer of flowers for the king of Bagan, some time in the 11th century. However Byatta was takes from her and executed by the king. Me Wunna continued to live here at Mount Popa until their sons were also taked from here to be raised at the palace and eventually she died of a broken heart. According the the legend Me Wunna, Byatta and their sons all became nats.
The view toward the actual mountain:
Monkeys live here so the steps aren't all that clean, even though some people work to clean them all the time, receiving donations for their efforts.

We then had lunch at a nice hotel on the mountain site and looked back at the shrine:

Posted Aug 1, 2015, 9:35 am
The next morning we boarded another flight, to Kalaw this time and from there went directly to another village and a hike that took us deep into a valley along a steep decline and through a little forest fire.
Luckily only the loose leaves on the ground burned, not the actual forest but it was a bit scary, so there are to photos of that. When we got through it, though we were met by some mahouts and taken to their elephant camp.
The camp is home to old or injured elephants from the timber company and an orphaned baby. Each elephant has their own mahout that lives here with his family and takes care of the elephant. At night they roam the forests. They have wooden "bells", kind of like the cow bells in Switzerland.
We actually got to feed and wash them! The biggest bull was quite interested in me. I think he thought I might be edible.
All in all, this was the most amazing day!

Posted Aug 9, 2015, 10:36 am
The next two days saw us trekking from Kalaw to In Dein at Inle Lake.
There are places along the roads for people to get drinking water, which is much needed in this climate in the dry season. Usually they are under Banyan trees, in memory of Buddha.
We took a lunch break in a private house in a village along the way. This is the fireplace:
We passed by an abandoned monastery:
Dry rice fields:
An in the village where we spent the night we had the good luck to see an initiation ceremony for young novices.
The are Pa O people, the black dress is traditional and their 'dragon skin' since they trace their heritage back to dragons. We also heard the drums and loud music all through the night over load speaker.
This is the monastery:
The night wasn't that comfortable. It's customary to jsut sleep in the floor and even with the luxury of this mattress, that just isn't what we are used to.

Posted Aug 16, 2015, 2:02 pm
A second day of trekking started early and from about 10 a.m. on, there was no more shade to be found.
Some fellow wanderers:
We arrived at our goal in IN Dein, a town on Inle Lake with a big field of old and new pagodas. Legend says some of these are throusands of years old. Scientists say the oldest date back to the 16th century. I don't care. The scenery is stunning either way:
THe oldest pagoda is protected by a roof and a screen.
In some parts of the big field older pagodas are being restored:
From In Dein, we went on by boat via a canal onto the proper Inle Lake to reach our hotel for the night at the northern part of the lake.

Posted Aug 23, 2015, 12:21 pm
The morning started in Nyaung Shwe on the northern shore of Inle Lake with getting onto a boat and driving all the way south to visit a weekly market.
There are many different towns along or on the lake and they hold markets on different days. The boat-parking and getting off and on is quite funny to see and very busy.
This is the apothecary, where one can buy ointments or pwoders for all kinds of stuff.
No digital scales here.

Next we went to see some of the other places along the lake like the smithy,
the cheeroot makers,
the weavers,
(This woman was gaing yarn from lotus plants for special (and very expensive) clothes, mostly ceremonial robes for monks.)
and the silver smiths:

We had lunch at a private home and got Shan noodles. They were very good!

Famous Buddha images were presented to a monastery centuries ago. The are taken over the lake in a precession of big dragon-like boats once a year, but one always has to stay behind. When they still took all the images, storms came up and sank one of the boats with one images, that was later mysteriously found in the monastery again. At least that's what the locals say and the took it as a sign that one always had to stay behind. Because of the many pilgrims who come and donate gold leaf, the images now basically just resemble big blops of gold. As in most places, only the men are allowed to approach the images.

Here you see the transformation of the images over time and the procession boats:

Posted Aug 30, 2015, 12:45 pm
After all that hiking and visiting it'S time for a short beach break. This is just north of the main Ngapali beach, a little bay with only one hotel and local fishermen, playing local children and stray dogs.

Posted Sep 6, 2015, 10:55 am
Another flight took us from Thandwe to Sittwe and from there a long road trip, partially along the dust next to roads that were being built, to Mrauk U where we arrived after dark.
On the way we saw another Buddhist pilgrimage site in a cave, the mounts of Vessali ruins and since we had the good luck to wrrive on the first full moon in March, the Mahamuni Paya pagoda festival.
From many kilometers out we say people going tot the pagoda festival by truck, bike, on foot or in any kind of vehicle. People were really excited and more so to see and touch and photograph the only exotic foreigners (us) there. The Mahamuni Buddha image that we saw in Mandalay originiated here. There's a smaller replica where people worship today.

Posted Sep 13, 2015, 1:39 pm
Mrauk U is so far away from the more famous sites and the big infrastructres of toursimn in Myanmar and in a state that is still largely closed to visitors, so that there are few foreign tourists.
It was capital of the Arakan Kingdom (incl. what is now part of Bangladesh) from 1430 to 1785, when it was conquered by King Bodawpaya. Trades were made with India, Persia but also the Netherlands. There were some Dutch settlers in this region.
The name is pronounced more like "Myauk U" and a funny myth is that the city was named by a prince, for his origin from a "monkey egg". A lonely female monkey, mated with a peacock and laid the egg from which the (human) prince was born. Incidentally "monkey egg" was also the local description for a potato.
We started our exploration of Mrauk U early to escape the heat and started it with a highlight, the most amazing temple: Kothaung (=90,000 Buddha images)
And a welcoming ogre.
The girl on top sold flowers for pilgrims who wanted to donate them.
The view fromt he temple:
This passage with all the carved Buddha images all over the walls leads all the way around the structure, with ogre guards along the stairways.
There used to be painted floors here, but they were destroyed. the dome on top was newly donated and built.

On a nearby hill was  half destroyed round temple with Buddha images looking out into all directions and I got another look at Kothaung Temple.

Towards the town there's another temple set up on a hill with yet different design and other fable animals as guards:
A very devout guide showed us around.

From there I saw people gathering for yet another initiation ceremony:
The abbot of the local monastery was chanting up front. It was very different from what I saw at the Pa O village.

After circumnavigating some contrsuction work where mostly women hammered bigger stones to take the rubble in big baskets to the road and then pour tar over it that was heated in burning barrels by the site of the road, all that in the burning heat and in flip flops, we got to anoth comglomeration of pagodas.

Here two sibling ogres guard a pagoda and monastery:
In the modern Burma, people donate LEDs instead of candles.

Thsi golden Buddha image in the pride of a small monastery that also offers medition stays, mostly to the Burmese but some of the small cabins are also slightly more comfortable to house foreign guests.
This pagoda is known for its colorful flower decorations.

The heat of the day got to be too much and further exploration had to wait till the afternoon. Siesta time!

Posted Sep 20, 2015, 4:45 pm
After a siesta it wasn't all that much cooler. Luckily we visited Shittaung temple, which is also a museum with pictures of Buddha's life on the ceilings and walls.
The ogre at the foot of the altar:
The mix of Hindu and Buddhist imagery was very interesting in this temple and showed the miximng of cultures and how close thsi area is to Bangladesh and over the sea to India.
The are several covered galleries amm around the temple in concentrical circles. Each had its own theme.
These statues are very old, some of the color has been redone at some point in time, though.
The innermost gallery is the most diverse with various deities and depictions of fables and fairy tales.
And ogres!

Behind that temple came the next pagoda complex.
And the next behind that. Some are more hidden in vegetation on the hills, some are open on small plains.

A bigger fortified-looking temple has depictions of 16th century people and their typical hairstyles.

And in between all these temples people are growing beans and squash.

We climbed in a small hill to watch the sunset.


Posted Sep 30, 2015, 5:17 pm
After a visit to the market and soem searching we visited another Pagoda that was guarded by a small pack of dogs. We had a nice view over the area. There never seems to be a clear view here.
These are the ruins of the former royal palace, that is being excavated slowly.

And we are back to where we visited yesterday. The town isn't all that big.
This well seems to be the main water source for people living in this area while the little pond is also used for washing laundry.

Posted Oct 6, 2015, 7:08 pm
A 5-hours boat trip took us back to Sittwe and another flight back to Yangon for one last night.

Posted Oct 11, 2015, 5:13 pm
In Singuttara hill the famous and imposing Shwedagon pagoda looks over Yangon. It consists of many different tempels and pagodas, in the center of all the big Naungdawgyi pagoda, a 46 m high golden pagoda that contains the hair relics of Gautama Buddha. It was supposedly built during his life-time in the 5th century by the kind and by two traders,  Taphussa and Bhallika, who donated the hair relics and for the elder of whom the pagoda was named. Archiologists date the pago back to possibly the 6th or 10th century, reliable mentions of it in historical documents date back to the 14th centruy. It had been renovated and enlarged many times since, most recently a new umbrella was donated in 1975. The umbrelly itself is 13m high and 5m in diameter and weighs 5000kg, 500kg of that are gold. Many people seem to have donated their family jewellery which was worked into the umbrella (83850 items like gold rings or earrings) plus there are 4016 small golden bells. You can't really see that from below but there's an exhibition room with photos of the pagoda through history and with closeups of the umbrella, vane and the diamond orb on the top. We didn't get to see the actual pagoda, because the gold on the outside was currently being renovated, but the bamboo scaffolding actually didn't look too mcuh out of place.
Here you can see people praying in front of Saetawmu Buddha image, a wish-fulfilling Buddha image.
It was Sunday, so many locals were visiting the pagoda, as families, young courting couples or groups of teenagers, as well as Burmese tourists and pilgrims. This was clearly the place to be and there were halls to rest in the shade or sleep in the floor at night, people brought picnics and ate sitting in the ground, which was partially really hot, especially the dark stones in the midday sun.
So, with this highlight in mind we grabbed our bags and got a taxi to the airport. It has been a wonderful and interesting journey.

Posted Oct 23, 2015, 3:41 pm
At the airport once more, ready to start the next trip...