Sunday, December 22, 2013

Land down under

Australia...the land down coming soon

Remember those crazy songs we learned as kids...the ones to make us seem more "worldly"? Yeah, we'll, I finally know what a kookaburra looks like and what a gum tree is.
We spent our first afternoon driving up the Gold Coast area, and extremely popular tourist area, particularly surfers. The beaches are gorgeous and extensive and people line the shores in the summer. Fortunately we were there just before the Christmas holiday starts so there was a lull...we won't be so lucky next week when the tourists show up in droves. Julie and I took of for some shopping she needed to do...omg I could totally live here. The number of organic markets is phenomenal! Naturopaths are available everywhere. I was able to easily pick up a few things I was running low on. Wandered through some really cool paper shops as well as some high end art galleries.
Roeland and Julie live at the top of a mountain at Mt. Tambourine. Their place is easily a walking place: few minutes to a small shopping area-two different directions, a walk or bike ride away from the main city...yeah, small main city...but with pretty much all the services you need. It's really a beautiful place. Love sitting out in he deck watching the birds that Roeland is befriending with bribery.
We hiked down to the village of Mt Tamborine the following morning. Trails exist everywhere, taking us along the highway and through the rainforest to get to the village (40 min) where we had to try out Hillbilly Coffee before heading on to another hike to Curtis falls. I must admit, the falls suffer from a lack of water at this moment but there are promises of lots of water to come. Every January the rains come, monsoon type rains. There are signs everywhere warning drivers that if it's flooded, don't try it. Cars get carried down creeks and rivers by the fast running water. They even had to go to some pretty drastic measures to protect the house...the basement flooded yearly.
The area here is mostly rain forests and the hiking takes you up and down through the terrain. The water is unbelievably clear, producing stunning reflected pictures. If my hiking partners hadn't wanted to move on, I could have snapped a hundred shots!
Today we headed up to Witches falls.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Shopping in Delhi

Outside market selling hangings
Shopping in New Delhi is a real experience. Oh yes, you have stores that people have lots of souvenirs, great deals, and not so great deals but then there are the street markets. We headed out one evening for Janpath market, a market area that stretches for well over a kilometer (or so I heard), an area that caters to tourists whether they’re from other parts or India or around the world. It really can be a haven for budget shoppers and people looking for handicrafts, garments and various curios and trinkets, however, you really need to be ready to bargain!
Fortunately, we traveled with Lana and Phil in tow, both experienced in the fine art of bargaining. Phil even worked on bringing a lady down on the price of some wall hangings – and he had no intention of buying, just doing it for fun (I bought 2). We wove our way through the shops, looking at every kind of carved animal and Hindu deity known to mankind. There were so many different styles of clothes available, trying them on over whatever you were wearing (or at least attempting to). The quality varied from shelf to shelf and store to store. At first it was impossible to tell but after a bit, and with Lana’s skillful eye, we began to note the subtle and not so subtle differences between the wares.

The shops were a mixture of tiny rooms with everything crammed together on shelves to outdoor markets with the stuff spread out on tables or on the ground. It was reminiscent of Otovalo in Ecuador with extremely canny sellers, though sometimes we could get them down and they’d finally sell. Phil helped me bargain for a vest for Jeff and when we walked away, someone finally ran up to get us to make the sale!!!

The other interesting side of shopping in Delhi were the people that came to you. At every stoplight, someone had something they were selling, ranging from trinkets, to cotton candy, sliced coconut, toilet paper, toys, and on and on. They would just walk from car to car, scurrying back to the mid-line when the light changed.

Driving down the roads (always something about driving it seems) the people always make 6 lanes out of 3, expertly (or not) weaving through traffic. Despite the extreme hectic and unpredictable driving, goods were frequently delivered by hand carts being shoved or drug through the streets. That's high on the list of a job no one would want! 

Couldn't resist ending with with a well-earned nap!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Crystal Glass playing

I know you can get some beautiful sounds from crystal. I've heard people "ring" it by striking it (lightly, of course) or by rubbing their finger around the top of the bowl. I have never heard anyone play crystal the way this man did.
We were wandering the street of Venice one morning when we saw a crowd. Well, if there's a crowd, there must be a reason so we checked it out. I was astonished to hear him playing - wish we had been there for the entire performance!
Didn't know that glass could be so versatile. The glass apparently vibrates and when you add water, it varies the pitch of the sound. He has to keep his fingers wet - I actually watched 5 or 6 times before I saw him dipping his fingers in a cup to keep them wet. I've seen glass struck before but never rubbed like this. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Venice Bridges

Our bridge - with Mary checking
out the views!
Now, you can’t have a bunch of islands interconnected without bridges, LOTS of bridges. There are literally hundreds of bridges here, from very tiny bridges, to huge bridges spanning the Grand Canal. The infinite variety is amazing – brick is the primary building material but the myriad of ways they put them together gives you a never ending variety of different bridges. Sadly, even though they were all different, I still spent the majority of my time being lost and positive that all the bridges, or at least that the majority, looked alike.
The "modern" Constitution Bridge

The major bridges over the Grand Canal were a bit easier to identify. The Rialto bridge had stores (the spendy ones, of course) that lined the span across the water. They did keep the stores in the center, allowing for space for gawkers to photograph the never ending scenes on the water. The Constitution Bridge was spectacular with its steel construction of great red tubes holding up the concrete and glass walkway.  Acadamia Bridge was a large, wooden bridge that connected some of the college and other institutions on the island.
With laundry, of course

Metal worked bridge
The smaller, nameless bridges were harder to identify. They connected the hundreds of little islands, the meandering streets, the homes and businesses that abound on this tiny community. Some of them were really not very high at all – the drivers of the boats had to duck WAY down to get under!

We found one area where a group of 5 bridges came together. There was one major "post" in the center with the various bridges fanning out to take you across the main canal or one of the smaller side ones. Reminded us of the many bridges over roads in Japan.


Windows on Venice

View from our window
Venice is actually built on a large group of lots of small islands, islands that originally started as farm land for Italians escaping various conquerors routing through the country. Eventually they stayed, building their homes and towns. The result we see is an interconnected, random web of streets and alleyways with innumerable bridges, large and small, over the meandering canals.  We wandered round and round, getting lost, finding ourselves, even making a full loop, unexpectedly being deposited on our doorstep. The best part is that there are no cars to dodge, no bikes racing down the paths, only a few little scooters for the smallest kids. A very addicting lifestyle!

The Turkish influence
Wow – the views of Venice are many and varied! There’s no telling what you’re going to be viewing on the next corner, though I will say there were lots of canals, brickworks, fascinating windows and colorful clothing just hanging around. I’m going to start with views of windows here. Venice was an extremely successful trading hub at one time. The hundreds of different settlers and merchants brought with them their origins, their concept of what buildings look like. Since many were very wealthy, large palaces sprung up all over the islands. What is left is an amazing array of buildings across the town. 

An upper floor apartment - with a nice view
2nd story window - reflecting the
walkway below
Many of the buildings, particularly those that are found along the Grand Canal (the major, widest canal through Venice) were the old palaces. Anyone with money would build their rather large home prominently on the main canal. I don't know that many of them have a single family residing in them any more. Many of the ones we saw have been put to multiple uses with restaurants or other shops on the ground floor, and apartments places above. Some of the grandest palaces have been turned into hotels, catering to the tourists - the main source of income for the islands. Check out the reflections on the right - there were quite a few windows that picked up unexpected views of the surrounding area.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Amsterdam - the first time

Bike parking - 3 layers!
Old bridge - had operated
I love Amsterdam! It is so much fun to walk around this city and check out all of the beautiful parks, canals, and old buildings. I also love the fact that you can get everywhere by walking, biking, or taking a tram or bus. In fact, honestly, I think it would be difficult to drive. The roads converge constantly. There are arrows everywhere and the wonderful dotted lines showing you where to go. Some roads allow cars, some don't - and I've yet to figure out how to tell. Bikes and motorcycles are on the same road, except when motorcycles travel with the cars. Sometimes you can follow a tram, sometimes not. Then you must add the thousands of bikes and pedestrians who wander about in a seemingly random pattern. You never hear horn honks...except from the bikes. It's an amazing web. Have to wonder how the dance changes in the snow.

Dam Square view
Imagine walking through green parks, grass, trees, wonderful willows, as well as paths winding round ponds, canals and flower gardens. These wonderful parks are dotted across the downtown area of Amsterdam, able to be found at any bend in the road. We discovered a rather long rambling one that semi headed in the direction we were going in so we wandered along its paths to discover fairy lights! The brilliant sun was reflecting off meandering waterway, sending dappled lights dancing through the trees. It was so cool to walk through them and check out the infinite variations found on the different trees, different lighting, and different angles of the sun on the water. The video came out pretty good - although I must admit it was best seeing it in real time. Sadly, it's not loading here but if you go to my account on Facebook, it is posted there. 

Our Harry Potter door
under the stairs
We stayed in a small B&B in Amsterdam, located nearer the various museums. This one was quite small but homey and I have to say I loved the entrance...a small door under the stairs...though this time it led to more stares and a basement apartment. We had a fabulous view of a great potential garden. It was sadly overgrown but out in the middle was a beautiful Japanese Maple. I have to admit that I really wanted to go out there and liberate the poor plant! I mentally planned that garden out - wish we could do stuff with our garden back home. Ah well...frustrated gardener here. He has plans to get the garden in order so I hope he posts pictures.

Brugge...Land of Canals

On the train early in the morning, heading for Brugge. We had a steady drizzle all the way down, making us feel like we're right at home. Never poured, never rained, just stayed gray and misty all day. Fortunately, we were on the train so it made no difference.

Honestly...the canals are wider
than most of the roads! The view is
from our window
We arrived in the drizzle, standing outside, sans umbrellas, trying to snag a cab or figure out the bus system. Not easy when they insist on writing everything in Dutch...doing lots of guessing. Got the cab and was SO glad that we did. The roads are crazy narrow - Japan has wide roads in comparison! We wove through the town, totally lost - and so was the driver! She mistook where we were going and when she realized it; we had to wind back through the narrow lanes to find our apartment. I think we could navigate the bus now but glad we didn't try first thing.

OMG The place we have here is fantastic! Jeff has been reserving small apartments through a new website and boy has he found some wonderful places. This one has two great rooms downstairs along with a wonderful a great sitting room/kitchen upstairs. We have a view of the canal and houses across the way - old brick houses bedecked with ivy, ferns, and window boxes filled with flowers. The room is rustic modern - a great blend of old style wood and furniture with a modern twist.

One of many canals
Roaming through the rain-soaked streets we found history oozing at us. Brugge is a canal-based city and is sometimes called the "Venice of the North" because so much of the city is build around the many canals meandering through the area. Historically it was the chief commercial city of the world because of its location on trade routes. Like other cities, it has gone up and down but now tourism has taken over with millions coming to check out historic monuments and churches. Well, we're here to vouch for thousands roaming the streets! It's interesting staying in a home instead of a hotel. This side of town (the area is a whole 1.5 miles or so across) is relatively quiet; a few restaurants nestled in the houses, a small bar here or there. Across the market area, things change, with many more pubs and bars with outside seating and lots of music surrounding the various hotels.

An evening ramble took us through some of the gorgeous churches in the area. The Church of Our Lady has one of the tallest brick towers in the world. It dominates the city skyscape. The church was built over the period of 200 years - apparent in the various styles and structures found around the building. It follows one of the many canals, giving picturesque vistas of the building and surrounding water at sunset.

Brugge - continuing the adventure

Rob with baby Jack
Contented dog...watching
Spent the day today with some other ASD teachers; Rob, Lauren and their newborn, Jack. Took Jack on his first boat through the canals, under bridges, and into areas not easily seen from footpaths. We even got to see a contended dog, lazing about on a pillow protruding from an open window. He was so still you first thought he was a wax figure but no, his eyes followed the boat as we motored by. He was the star of the show! I'm still amazed with the history here - we have so little of it in the states and here are buildings some of which have been around since the 13th century (though most have been renovated, many during the 1800's).

The rule of the day was movement - Jack really liked the cobblestones and as long as we were moving, he was content, quiet, and usually sleeping. Lauren and Rob did the typical passing baby along so that each one could take turns eating and we left shortly after we finished eating, allowing Jack to catch up on his bouncing. We wandered through the streets, checking out the chocolate shops (omg do they make delicious chocolate), all in the name of entertaining Jack.

At one time in its history, Bruge was a walled city. While virtually all of the walls are gone, four gates still remain with bits of pieces of 14th century walls. The walls were surrounded by a moat and today you can walk along a park that follows the old wall. Along the way there are four windmills that were used to grind grain into flour. Supposedly there are small museums in a couple and one at least still turns, although we found none of the above at any of them. We did see a man open the gate and enter one of them. We stuck around, hoping he was going to "start" it but alas, it was not in the cards.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Brussels...a great place to explore

We met with another teacher from ASD, Arianne, who is from Belgium. She was visiting her mother and so volunteered take us on a tour! She met us at the apartment and whisked us off to a walking trip through old town, a view of numerous churches and historical buildings, and then off to the countryside.

Belgium apparently is quite divided between the southern French speaking portion and the generally northern Flemish (Dutch). 

Brussels, the capital, is one of the few places where things are available in both French and Flemish, although admittedly, there are things like the information booth where there's one for the Flemish portion and one for the French. Pity the poor tourist just looking for information!

TinTin - famous
cartoon character
European cities of old always have a town "square" or market place. Generally various important buildings surround the squares; government, shops for different trades, religious, as well has houses. It was generally considered to be the most important place in the city, a place to gather what you needed, along with the local news and gossip. Their function has generally remained, with tourist shops and restaurants taking over the trades and tourist groups gathering information from guides fluent in numerous languages. Performances of various kinds often occur, from jugglers to musicians. Belgium did not disappoint.
We headed off through the streets towards a park called Tervuren, located outside Brussels. It is a huge natural area with paths wending through a sloping forested area with large and small bodies of water. A few buildings are present there including the Royal Museum for Central Africa. Apparently King Leopold bought an area in the Congo, making it a Belgian colony.  During the 1897 World Fair, a huge building was built to house a colonial museum. Sadly we were there too late in the evening to have to opportunity to explore it.

 Had to include the cartoon clip - it was found on the wall of a building. There are stores here that specialize in selling TinTin dolls, all the books and all sorts of paraphernalia. My kids at school would go crazy with it - the books are extremely popular!