Monday, July 4, 2016

France 2016, Part 1.

 Traveling in southern France was an eye opener because of the variety of cultures that rose and fell since the times of the Roman Empire.  Most interestingly the old Roman public works are in better shape than those built during the Middle Ages. France hosted the European Soccer Championships this year and as a result it was busy with a high state of security and expensive hotel rooms. I will post various blogs covering this trip in the order of the places visited.

Cluny Abbey

At one time this Abbey was the largest Catholic Church building in the world until the Vatican Basilica was built.  It was founded by the Benedictine Order in the IXth Century and owned large landholdings that were run by the lay population.  The monks at Cluny were dedicated to continuous prayer so they hired workers to do the field and other physical work such as cooking, etc.  The monks at Cluny despite their vows of poverty ate well and drank wines produced from their lands.  There were also gold and silver church ornaments and religious vestments made of linen and silk.  It had one of the largest collections of manuscripts during the Middle Ages.  Decline started in the XVIth century with the beginning of the religious wars and all came to an end during the French Revolution when it was abandoned and used as a quarry and the stones used for construction material so very little is left; and most of what is there today was reconstructed.  Rebuilding and archaeological work is an ongoing process.  Below are a few images, the building with the double set of stairs in the front was a barn; it has an intricate ceiling that looks like the reversed hull of a wooden ship.  This is one of several stone faces inside the cathedral. The last image shows the leftovers from a night of partying of the ghosts that now frolic around the ruins.







 Macon is an ancient river port in the Saone River going back to the Iron Age.  In the Middle Ages it was part of the French Religious Wars and Huguenots influences.  One of the rewards of travel is running into not just contemporary interesting characters but also into historical figures of which I had no knowledge.  Alphonse de Lamartine born in Macon was a poet and politician, a member of the Legion of Honor and of the French Academy.  He wrote poetry, but also history and literature.  Look him up in Google - an interesting historical figure.  The wooden house below was built around 1610 and is considered the oldest house in Macon.  One can see above the second floor (first floor if you are in France) window a carved strip with grotesque figure of animals and humans.  The latter are not depicted in their best behavior; details in the second image below.



Still in Macon,  a photo of the former Ursuline Convent, now a museum and below St. Vincent Church,  also a museum; it was the church serving the Ursuline Convent during its better days.  Next one of the many doors that I photographed during the trip and finally, a block of buildings facing the riverfront.
 



The Hospice of Beaune was a hospital for the poor built in the 1450’s with a unique pattern made of ceramic tiles.  One of the halls holds the hospital proper which is lined with rows of beds for the patients. There is a space between the rows of beds and the walls that allowed access to the patients by the nuns from both sides of the bed.  At that time the beds were shared by more than one patient. 




 The famous Beaune Altarpiece is found here and is composed of six hinged panels that when closed show figures of Saint Sebastian and Anthony plus those of the donors. The photo shows the open polyptych with paintings representing the last judgement.  A polyptych is composed of painted panels usually attached to a central panel and depending on the number of panels (tych), it can be a dip, trip, quadri …depending in the number of panels attached.  So I count 9 panels in the Beaune Altarpiece, so it is a nonatych.  The last image is that of the Collegiale Notre-Dame de Beaune.  For the mundane, the Chevrolet brothers who were in the automobile business, lived in Beaune before emigrating to Canada and eventually to the USA. The business became part of General Motors and that is why you may have driven a Chevy during your lifetime



In Chalon I was surprised to see the statue of Niecephore Niepce, considered the inventor of photography; I had no idea that the inventor of my hobby was born here.  There is the Niepce museum where a copy of the original first photo and the wooden camera he used are on display.  He also delved into other projects such as the bicycle below.



Below is the Chalon cathedral with a magnificent organ and a stone burial cover carved with 3 figures; wonder if this was a case of mass burial.



Perouges is a preserved medieval walled town that in its heydays was a textile center. It is frequently the site for French films but there is really not much here other than lots of narrow streets.  Notice the gorgeous roses and the hanging corn in the main plaza. 



There is like a tunnel connecting 2 streets; the image of the door below is inside the tunnel to the right side.  I ran into the most grotesque carving what looks like a midget with his fingers stuck in their mouth.




Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Challenging India, Part 2.

From Singalila, drove down from the Himalayas to New Jalpaiguri to take the overnight train to Guwahati.  When the vehicle got to lower altitudes, tea plantations bordered the highways and women in their colorful outfits were picking tea leaves. Some of the plantations had the famous brand names found on the tea bags marketed in the USA.


 Boarded a sleeper train car for an overnight ride to Guwahati. It was clean and I was provided with clean sheets, a blanket and pillow.  There was no restaurant service so I survived on a granola bar. Upon arriving at Guwahati, was driven to Kaziranga for the next few days.  Driving in India is a hazardous ordeal. The one who blows the horn the most and gets closer to having a wreck gets the road.  The roadside is full of all kinds of wrecked colorful vehicles; if those blue eyes could talk what stories would they tell? (These are iPhone unprocessed images; I am getting lazy).







While walking in Karingala looking for a Wi-Fi hotspot, ran into a group of friendly kids trying to practice English and a couple of goats having the noon siesta. The accommodations were fine but it had the strangest bathroom arrangement I have ever encountered.  As you entered it, the sink was first, then an open shower and then the toilet.  When one takes a shower, the whole floor gets wet, making it impossible to get to the toilet without getting the floor messed up wearing shoes.    I also found the brand of the toilets very appropriate: HINDWARE.




Had a morning and afternoon drive to in Kaziranga National Park every day, just like a safari in Africa.  The park appears to be in a river flood plain with lots of water and tall grasses; the latter made photographing the wild animals difficult.  There were elephants, water buffaloes, samba deer and the one-horned Indian rhinoceros; the park claims that the largest concentrations in the country are here.  The tame elephants (below) are used to work in the maintenance of the parks; there are also wild ones.





 The Indian fish eagle, a relative of our bald eagle and the African fish eagle, was relatively easy to approach.  The bar-headed geese were a surprise, never having seen them before; the black stripes make their color patterns unique. The Indian roller was similar in coloration to the African one but the latter, in my opinion, is the second most beautiful bird in the world.  The Indian roller, the white-breasted kingfisher and the emerald dove were the colorful birds but there is always an ugly duckling, in this case the Greater Adjutant Stork






From Kaziranga, was driven to Pakke National Park, a distance of only 104 kilometers that required four hours of driving.  Crossed the Brahmaputra River Bridge in Tezpur. The river is wide at this point but with very little water; India is currently undergoing a drought. After arriving at the park, I was driven to the Forest Rest House after crossing a larger river and other smaller ones through the forest. The house had all the amenities of a modern home but…they were not working. Anyhow, I did not go Pakke for the facilities but to take pictures. 




There is no India without elephants but I was appalled about the beating that I witnessed of two working elephants…I thought that the relationship was more benign and this may have been an exception to the rules.  There were numerous wild elephants in Pakke and was lucky to observe them coming to a cliff near the bank of a river to lick the minerals in the rocks.  The wardens are supplementing these minerals by dispersing just regular cooking salt. I was at the top of the cliff looking down on them; what a great experience.  The yellow fruit below is known as an elephant apple since it is part of their diet; it also eaten by humans.  It is tough and fibrous with a kind of bitter taste; I prefer to leave them all to the elephants.




Few birds were seen and these, as most of the other wildlife except for the elephants, hard to approach.  At the end of one day, a large flock of bee eaters landed in the trees around the forest house and were just playing around, giving the opportunity to get great shots. The same evening I noticed thousands of “worms” hanging down from the end of what appeared to be silk threads. When closer to the ground, they just dropped and formed into line marching to the base of the tree.  There they marched around and around in a close circle.  The next morning, there was a tent made of fine treads and all the caterpillars were just under it. I uploaded a video of the caterpillars that is the last entry in the blog; do not if it will work.




The Pakke Tiger Reserve was heavily poached and deforested in the past and now the government is trying to restore it to its natural state.  There are tigers as well as other animals but not abundant - scarce due to the past heavy hunting.  A cat was the most interesting beast I saw in one of the camps; its markings may make it eligible for entering into the certified pedigree registry of Cat International Association. The park is renowned because of the variety and abundance of rare orchids.  The government has established more than 20 anti-poaching camps with about 100 wardens forming the anti-poaching team.  There is a large school program to teach the children about protecting the forest and the fauna that makes it their home in the surrounding villages.  Because opportunities of seeing wildlife are scarce and the conditions of the facilities and transportation, the park may have a difficult time becoming an important tourist attraction.  Below is one of the warden camps headquarters and small hutch used for observation.






 This was a demanding trip.  It required walking at 10-12,000 feet high in the Himalayas, long drives, being feasted upon by the local fauna and the typical maladies suffered by the world travelers. I was feasted upon by fleas on the train. On a night drive got stung by a giant wasp that caused my left hand to inflate like a red balloon; it was painful and took 3 days to get better.  The last day while walking in the forest, the guide told me that my right pant leg was bloody behind the knee.  I lifted the pant leg and found 5 leeches feasting on me.  My reaction was to pull them but the guide said not to because I would bleed worse because of the anticoagulant substance they inject to able to suck the blood . So I was watching them feast on me until they dropped. Upon departing Pakke, drove back to Guwahati airport for the night flights to Amsterdam and then home. Looking back, it reminded me of the trip to Mongolia but I would do it all over again…to both places.










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