Making my Dream a Reality

 Sometimes it is difficult to make your dream a reality, and sometimes the reality is not exactly what you dreamed it would be. If you are lucky the reality is even better than what you dreamed. Since I can remember my biggest dream has always been to travel and to see the whole world. I couldn’t wait to make this a reality and jumped at the first chance I got to travel abroad. Since then I haven’t really stopped.

I have taken a short break from travelling and have been living in Cape Town, South-Africa for 4 years now. But the travel bug has awoken from hibernation and it is time to pack my bags and go on another big adventure again. Personally I see travelling not only as visiting a new place but also as living there and immersing myself into the new culture! So this meant that I had to sit down and choose a new country in which I would like to live for a year or two. Not the easiest thing to do.

“Hold fast to dreams, For if dreams die, Life is a broken-winged bird, That cannot fly”.  ― Langston Hughes

This is how I decided where to go next:

1. Make a list of the countries with interesting cultures, countries that are not at all similar to where I grew up. For me these countries have to be different in culture, language and even beliefs. I know that countries like these pose a challenge and culture shock but that is what makes travelling exciting!!

2. Choose a continent, as the list of countries to go to would otherwise be never-ending. I have decided in Asia, as I love travelling in Asia and would love to go back.

3. Research the culture of each country on my list and eliminate the countries I feel I wouldn’t want to live in for a year or two. Countries that might be quite similar to ones I have lived in before or that are not very accommodating towards woman travelling alone. I previously lived and worked in Vietnam, Japan and South-Korea so they were not even on my list to start with.

4. Next, I looked at the travel prospects. which places within each country would I like to explore and how easy is it to travel to other countries from there.

5. I then researched job opportunities in each country on my list and created a short-list. I ended up with China, Hong-Kong, and Taiwan on my short list.

6. When planning on living in a country for a while, knowing the living cost could be a big deciding factor. Seeing as the living cost in Hong-Kong is extremely high it got scrapped from my list.

7. I was still deciding between China and Taiwan when an earthquake hit Taiwan. So that made up my mind for me. China it will be!!

The secret to change is one step at a time.” —Mark Twain

This is how I am making this travel dream a reality:

1. Focus. I have written down this dream to keep it fresh in my mind.

2. Getting organized and coming up with a strategic plan. I have made a checklist of what I will need to do in the coming days or weeks to realize my dream. Rather than just dreaming about it and hoping one day it comes to pass, create a plan that you could use to actually see it become reality. With a check list I can see what I have done and keep track of when I need to do certain things.

3. They always say that if you want something to become a reality, that you should tell people about it. I have now told my family and closest friends so that I will have a support system while I am trying to reach my dream. I do think it is sometimes harder to make a dream a reality on your own. By sharing my goals and dreams It helps me to stay encouraged and excited.

4. Apply for jobs!! To make my own life easier for me I have decided to find a job through an agency this time round. There are many job agencies out there so I had to do some research and found one that I really liked and connected with.

5 Believe in yourself and your abilities completely, that you will get that job you want!! In the simple but powerful words of Peter Pan: “The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.”

6. Make a decision and then stick to it. There are so many different kinds of jobs out there and when you start getting offers it is quite difficult to decide which one to accept. And once you have accepted an offer it is normal to doubt yourself. But that doubt just dampen the excitement of getting a new job, so once you have decided, trust in your decision and don’t look back.

7. Getting excited and enjoying the moment!! I can not wait to move to China and to start another big adventure in Asia.

Again I am making lists. Now of things I need to do to get my work visa, things to do before moving abroad, things I need to buy like plane tickets and so much more….But I am trying to not let the stress dampen my excitement.

And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Why you should walk down Varvarka, the oldest church filled street in Moscow

Ulitsa Varvarka, inthe South-African language of Afrikaans, this would mean street pig. So naturally when I read this I just had to go down this street. The street is just around the corner from the Red Square and I ended up visiting this steeet more than once during my stay in Moscow. Here is why you should walk down this street.

  1. Varvarka Street was once the dwelling place of the artisans who sold their wares on the Red Square and holds a claim to being the oldest street in Moscow. Although this street is very short, it actually has the most churches of any street in the city. It took us some time walking down it and exploring all the churches on our way. Some of these old churches are hidden down alley ways or behind other newer buildings and you can see that most are in the middle of being restored.

If you visit in spring or summer you have to buy a glass of ice cold kvass from one of the small carts in front of the Red Square. Kvass is a fermented drink made from black rye bread which makes the drink black. It is classified as non-alcoholic by Russian standards because the alcohol content is between 0.5 and 1%.

2. Ulitsa Varvarka takes its name from the Church of St. Varavara. St. Varvara, who was killed by her father for her Christian beliefs somewhere in Asia Minor around the beginning of the 4th century, is considered in Moscow to be the patron saint of merchants. Next to the church is the English Court, which was originally a palace built for the wealthy merchant Bobrishchev and is one of the oldest buildings in Moscow.

3. The Church of St. Maksim whos bell tower is famous in Moscow for being visibly off-center. It is known as the city’s ‘leaning tower’. I think this is a stunning church but we couldn’t go inside, it is locked up and not in use any more. It’s sad but at least they have restored the outside, it looked like they were working on the inside though. Most churches and Cathedrals in Moscow are undergoing restoration after they were left unused during communism.

4. The next section of the street is linked with the Romanov family, Russia’s rulers for three centuries. Before Mikhail I was elected Tsar by the Boyars’ Assembly in 1613, the family had long been prominent Moscow aristocrats, and this area was their domain. After the family moved into the Kremlin, the area was given over to the Znamensky Monastery.

5. Znamensky Monastery home of the first printed bible in Moscow.The most noticeable feature is the monastery’s red-and-white bell tower which is separated from the rest of the monastery by the Rossia’s elevated ramp. The monastic quarters, which stand by the monastery’s main entrance, date from the 1670s and are now used as a shop selling Orthodox icons and religious souvenirs and worth a quick snoop.

6. Visit the Palace of the Romanov Boyars which now houses a museum showing the lifestyle of Moscow’s medieval nobility. Next door is the Cathedral of the Sign, a large brown-brick church topped with four green domes, which was erected in 1684. Unfortunately this church has been locked every time I have tried to go inside which is a shame as these old churches are extremely beautiful.

7. The Church of St. George stands, which dates from 1657, was built with contributions from wealthy merchants. This pretty church with its slender towers and spangled cupolas is typical of the period. The pale green bell tower was added in 1818. The church now houses another shop selling icons and Orthodox souvenirs. It seems like every church or Cathedral in Moscow has a small shop inside selling religious goods.

8. The hiddeen 17th century Church of the Trinity in Nikitniki .Situated between modern buildings down an alley way it has been beautifully restored and is now a working church again after being turned into a museum during communism. We were lucky enough to attend a short part of a service when we went for a look inside. There are no seats inside, everyone stands for the whole duration of the service so you constantly have people entering and leaving during the service.

It’s amazing how many treasures you can find walking down one short street in Moscow.

Published as part of Throwback Thursday,  a weekly reminiscent movement where you re-post past events or photos. They can be from years ago or from just a few days ago. Its a great way to look back fondly on some of your favourite memories…… 

Ely Cathedral, a wonder of the Middle Ages

One of my favourite Cathedrals in England is definitely Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire. I have visited this Cathedral  a couple of times now and every time I have been amazed at the beauty and architecture of this Cathedral.  Ely is only a 25 minute drive from my parents house so it is one of the first places my mother takes any visitors from South-Africa. The Cathedral is filled with many different architectural styles, all blending together to make a striking whole. History abounds around every corner, and the beauty created by artists in wood, stone and glass is seen everywhere.           

Ely Cathedral is the only UK building to be listed as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages”. Visible for miles around, the Cathedral is often referred to as “The Ship of the Fens”. The Fens a coastal plain in eastern England so is very, very flat.

The city of Ely may be small in comparison to other cities but its Cathedral is a magnificent structure with a history dating back over 1300 years. Despite its remoteness, Ely has an association with well known Kings & Saints who have shaped the history of England.

The Cathedral was first a monastery, built in 673 A.D it was destroyed by the Danes after 200 years. The present structure dates from 1081 and is a remarkable example of both Romanesque and Norman architecture.

Ely Cathedral
Admiring the intricate carvings of Ely Cathedral

 It was during the early part of the 12th Century the existing monastic church achieved Cathedral status and since that time there have been various additions, changes and restorations throughout the centuries. Some parts of the cathedral have very intricate stone or wooden angel carvings, which look quite gothic.

Ely Cathedral
Yve trying to get a good look at the painted ceiling

The plan of the building is cross-shapedand has massive oil warmers to keep the Cathedral heated during winter. But because the Cathedral is so huge it was only slightly warmer than outside and we kept our gloves and jackets on while exploring.

At certain times of the day there are free tours of the Cathedral that is a must if you want to learn a lot about its rich history and architecture.

The nave is over 75 m long and is actually the third longest in the UK, and the same length as Ely High Street. Walking down this nave my eyes were turned upwards towards it’s spectacular roof of painted panels which depict the Jesse Tree, and move from Creation to Revelation. This story can be seen as you walk from the West End up to the Crossing, and believe me by the time we reached the crossing my neck was hurting.

The Nave’s imposing Gothic columns led us from the main West Door to another feature unique to this Cathedral and definitely my favourite part of the Cathedral. This octagonal shaped tower, known as the ‘Lantern Tower’ which is 23 m wide and 52 m high is a wonder of the mediaeval world and globally recognised as a masterpiece of engineering. The masterful coloured panels, designed by George Gilbert Scott, open out creating a spectacular view as you look up into this tower. Although it is supported on eight massive masonry piers, the lantern itself is constructed from oak timbers

The angels painted below the windows are purely Victorian inventions, a product of the restoration under Thomas Gambier Parry in 1874. I think they are a fabulous addition to this beautiful Cathedral.

Ely is one of the few remaining Cathedrals to have resident choristers. The boys’ choir has been part of the English Choral tradition since the mid-16th century and can be traced back considerably further to the time of King Canute. Today the world famous choir consists of some 22 boy choristers and six adult lay clerks, and can be heard most evenings at Choral Evensong as well as on Sundays and Feast Days.

In 1321 work began on a massive (100′ long by 46′ wide) free-standing Lady Chapel the largest of its kind in the UK. It is linked to the cathedral by covered walkways. I am always struck not only by its size but by  the extraordinary sense of light and vastness of this magnificent space. This beauty is tempered by the destructiveness of the Reformation, as many of the carved figures in the walls are either beheaded or defaced.

I am sure this Cathedral will see me again on my next visit to England.

  Published as part of Throwback Thursday. It is a weekly reminiscent movement where you re-post past events or photos. They can be from years ago or from just a few days ago. Its a great way to look back fondly on some of your favorite memories…… 

Stonehenge, Home of Magic, Druids and Pagan Rituals

One of my first great adventures was exploring England, nearly ten years ago. Very high on my England Travel wish-list was definitely the much speculated about Stonehenge. It is one of the mystical places where it seems nobody actually knows what it was used for or by whom it was built. It is surrounded in mystery and your imagination can run wild with all the different stories about Stonehenge out there.

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England and undoubtedly one of the most famous sites in the world. Stonehenge is the remains of a ring of standing stones Archaeologists believe was built anywhere from 3000 BC to 2000 BC.

Stonehenge!!
I am at Stonehenge!!

As we approached Stonehenge we could actually see it from the bus as the main road actually passes right by it. This was very disappointing as it took a bit of the magic away for me. I imagined walking across a green field with Stonehenge in the distance. surrounded by nature and quiet.

As a child I used to spend hours watching Asterix and Obelix and in my mind they are synonymous with the magical Stonehenge found in the South West of England. As I walked around the massive stone obelisks I could almost imagine a Druid lurking somewhere between these huge rocks. I read somewhere that Stonehenge appeared due to the druids that used it as a sacrificial temple for making their gory rituals. It was one of the first visions disproved with the development of the science and technologies but I still like the idea.

Stonehenge!!
Can just imagine a Druid among all the huge stones

Wild theories about Stonehenge have persisted since the Middle Ages, with 12th-century myths crediting the wizard Merlin with constructing the site. More recently, UFO believers have spun theories about ancient aliens and spacecraft landing pads.

 Here are five major (and not necessarily mutually exclusive) reasons Stonehenge might exist.

1. A place for burial
1. A place for burial

1. A place for burial

Stonehenge may have originally been a cemetery for the elite, according to a new study. Bone fragments were first exhumed from the Stonehenge site more than a century ago, but archaeologists at the time thought the remains were unimportant and reburied them. Now, British researchers have re-exhumed more than 50,000 cremated bone fragments from where they were discarded, representing 63 separate individuals, from Stonehenge. 

2. A place for healing
2. A place for healing

2. A place for healing

Another theory suggests that Stone Age people saw Stonehenge as a place with healing properties. In 2008, archaeologists Geoggrey Wainwright and Timothy Darvill reported that a large number of skeletons recovered from around Stonehenge showed signs of illness or injury. The archaeologists also reported discovering fragments of the Stonehenge bluestones — the first stones erected at the site — that had been chipped away by ancient people, perhaps to use as talismans for protective or healing purposes. 

3. A soundscape
3. A soundscape

3. A soundscape

Or perhaps Stonehenge’s circular construction was created to mimic a sound illusion. That’s the theory of Steven Waller, a researcher in archaeoacoustics. Waller says that if two pipers were to play their instruments in a field, a listener would notice a strange effect. In certain spots, the sound waves from the dual pipes would cancel each other out, creating quiet spots. The stones of Stonehenge create a similar effect, except with stones, rather than competing sound waves, blocking sound.

4. A celestial observatory

No matter why it was built, Stonehenge may have been constructed with the sun in mind. One avenue connecting the monument with the nearby River Aven aligns with the sun on the winter solstice; archaeological evidence reveals that pigs were slaughtered at Stonehenge in December and January, suggesting possible celebrations or rituals at the monument around the winter solstice. The site also faces the summer solstice sunrise, and both summer and winter solstices are still celebrated there today.

5. A team-building exercise
5. A team-building exercise

5. A team-building exercise

Or perhaps Stonehenge was something like an ancient team-building exercise. According to the University College London’s Pearson, the beginning of the site’s construction coincides with a time of increased unity among the Neolithic people of Britain. Perhaps inspired by the natural flow of the landscape, which seems to connect summer solstice sunrise and winter solstice sunset, these ancient people may have banded together to build the monument, Pearson suggested in June 2012.

The fields surrounding Stonehenge
The fields surrounding Stonehenge

  Published as part of Throwback Thursday. It is a weekly reminiscent movement where you re-post past events or photos. They can be from years ago or from just a few days ago. Its a great way to look back fondly on some of your favorite memories…… 

My Art Hero, Dalí’s Theatre-Museum

Since I became aware of Dali and his surrealist paintings he has been my art hero. I have been to every Dali exhibition I could attend so I jumped at the chance of getting to see his theatre-museum in Spain. We took the train from Barcelona up North, to a town called Figueres. The building is quite easy to spot as it is painted a bright red with huge eggs on top of the wall and turrets. This was back in 2005 so things might have changed a bit since I was there.

The Dalí Theatre-Museum, which he and his wife opened in 1974 evokes the life and work of Salvador Dalí. It felt surreal being able to walk around in a building designed by the famous artist himself, knowing that he spent hours and days here, creating and displaying his art. It is described as “the world’s largest Surrealist object”. The heart of the museum is the town’s theatre that Dalí knew as a child. This is where Dali held his first exhibition at the age of 14 and it is only a few blocks away from where he was born in Figueres, Spain.

Dalí Theatre-Museum
Mw at my Art Hero’s own museum!!

The Dalí Theatre-Museum includes some of the painter’s greatest masterpieces and includes over 2,100 works from every moment and in every medium of his artistic activity. Around every corner there is a new piece of art, even the building and entrances are pieces of art work. In addition to Dalí paintings from all decades of his career, there are Dalí sculptures, 3-dimensional pieces and other curiosities from Dalí’s imagination. A big attraction is the 3-dimensional  living-room installation with custom made furniturethat looks like the face of Mae West when viewed from a certain spot. I usually don’t take photos inside museums or art galleries but made an exception and took just a couple of photos here. I got a very grainy shot of most of the face.

 A glass dome crowns the stage of the old theatre, and Dalí is buried in a crypt below the stage floor. The space formerly occupied by the audience has been transformed into a courtyard open to the sky, with nude figurines standing in the old balcony windows.

A Dalí installation inside a full-sized automobile, inspired by rainy taxi (1938), is parked near the centre of the space. My photo definitely does not do this piece of art justice.

I could have spent days exploring the museum and reading about his life, but unfortunately we only had an afternoon to spend here before we had to return to Barcelona. This visit was a real experience, a journey into the unique, captivating world of Salvador Dalí. One I will always treasure and definitely hope to repeat someday.

I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be [a] totally theatrical museum. The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.

— Salvador Dalí

Think twice before running with the Bulls

My friend and I backpacked through Spain for a month in 2005 and we started our Spanish adventure by attending the running of the bulls in Pamplona. The bullrun is part of the festival of San Fermines, a festival that runs between July 6 and 14th each year. The first ‘race’ is held on July 7th, and then each morning thereafter. Bull running is on the bucket list of many people, but the thought of actually running never even crossed my mind, I was only there to watch and to enjoy the Saint Fermines festivities with my friend.

The bull running kicks off at 8 o’clock in the morning and barely lasts for a few minutes. The tradition is more than 423 years old and I couldn’t wait to see it for myself. This race takes place through the narrow streets of Pamplona and may be the most dangerous thing to do in Spain.

Seeing it on TV and seeing it live are two different things. Right before the run the bulls are often confined to small dark enclosures before being forced out into the menacing crowd on the street, frequently through the use of electric shock prods. As the bulls try to get their bearings the runners immediately begin hitting them with rolled-up newspapers to get them going. These bulls are panicking and literally running for their lives among the hundreds of runners. The bulls often lose their footing, slamming into walls, sometimes breaking bones and otherwise injuring themselves, or into people in their desperate attempt to flee from their attackers. The runners were also trampling each other, falling over each other to get away from the panicking bulls.

It is estimated that 56% of the runners are foreigners, a lot who travelled to Spain especially for this event. Participants must be over 18, physically fit and not be under the influence of alcohol to participate in the run. We actually knew a couple of guys who ran that first morning and I am sure that some of them were still under the influence from the previous night as why else would they have done something this crazy!!

Huge oxen were also released with the bulls. These served the purpose of guiding the bulls to run in the correct direction towards the bullring. We saw as some of the bulls got turned around and some even ran into the fences set up to guide them towards the bullring. Men and even some young children run in front of the bulls, provoking them and then trying to outrun them into the bullring. This cruel race originated when the bulls were originally transported to the bullrings to get sold. Men would try to speed up the process by running in front of the bulls to provoke them, a process which turned into a competition.

Running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain
The bulls enter the arena

All the runners hopefully make it into the bullring and that is then where they all have some very cruel fun with the bulls. The bulls are led into the bullring and then teased by hundreds of people who would then trample each other to get out of the way of these angry bulls. Everyone was wearing white pants and shirts, accessorized with a red bandana around the neck or waist. One legend says the look is meant to honor San Fermin, as the white symbolizes sainthood and the red the fact that he was martyred. Others say they are dressed like the butchers who originated the tradition. But did you know bulls are colour blind? Bulls are easily provoked and follow movements fast. They follow the speed of the runners, not the red colour of their uniform.

Running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain
People teasing the bull and then trying to get out of the terrified animals way

This race is sometimes fatal. Since 1924, when officials started keeping record, 15 people have died. Every year, around 200-300 are injured in the race. Most people get injured when they fall down or fall into a barrier meant to keep the bulls on the course. We saw some of these injuries as people got trampled or thrown by the bulls.

The whole scene was quite disturbing so we left before the end as I was afraid that they would actually kill these bulls. It was here that I got a disliking for this event. And after watching a real bullfight, I have turned completely against this “sport”.

Is the running of the bulls still on your bucket list?

Tsaritsyno, Catherine the Greats’ Park in Moscow

I think there is no better way to spend your summer mornings in Moscow than walking around and enjoying the sunshine and the many parks it has to offer. The parks were all filled with brightly coloured flowers and loads of people out to soak up the sunshine.

As I entered the park the smell of flowers and the sound of the big water fountains gave it an eerily tranquil feel even though the park was filled with people.

As I entered the park the smell of flowers and the sound of the big water fountains gave it an eerily tranquil feel even though the park was filled with people.
The huge fountain found near the entrance of the park

In 1775, the estate was bought by Empress Catherine the Great, and named Tsaritsyno, which means “Tsarina’s” (Queens). In 1776-85 architect Vasili Bazhenov built a new palace for the Empress here, but in 1786 Catherine ordered it to be partly pulled down.

Until 1797 architect Matvey Kazakov was working on the construction, but the palace remained unfinished. The palace was then left in ruins but restored in 1984 and is now a very popular tourist attraction.

Tsaritsyno, Catherine the Greats’ Park in Moscow
Standing in front of the Grand Palace

As we crossed the bridge and walked through a beautiful archway to enter the palace grounds there was a tiny blue church. The little church was quite plain on the outside but true to Russia it was filled with gold and icons on the inside.

Tsaritsyno Park and Estate is located in the South-East of Moscow and I couldn’t believe we were still in the city after we entered the park. It was quiet and peaceful, a quiet haven away from the busy city. While I can’t say much about that neighborhood, the park itself is a real beauty with a rich historic legacy. I would advise packing a picknic as walking through the Palace grounds can take quite a while and the park is a beautiful place to spend a whole day.

We had a stroll through the huge park, all around the lake and then sat down on a lovely grassy spot for the afternoon. We had packed a picnic and enjoyed the sunny day by having some Russian vodka and blowing bubbles!

I just love watching and feeding squirrels. But I am always a bit scared to get too close, what if it actually bites?

  Published as part of Throwback Thursday. It is a weekly reminiscent movement where you re-post past events or photos. They can be from years ago or from just a few days ago. Its a great way to look back fondly on some of your favorite memories…… 

The Blood sport Bullfighting should be banned.

Bullfighting in Spain is deeply controversial. It is called a “fine art” by its supporters and a “blood sport” by its critics.

Years ago, during the famous bullrun, I had the opportunity to watch a live bullfight in Pamplona, Spain. I have always associated Spain with bullfights so it came as no surprise that I would want to watch a bullfight while being in Spain. I thought that I knew what happened during a bullfight, but seeing it live opened my eyes. After watching this gruesome ‘sport’ up close I will never recommend it or even condone it again.

So that you can decide for yourself whether you want to see one when you are in Spain I will tell you a bit about what happens during a bullfight. 

The bullfight started with a parade in the ring where everybody involved in the bullfight presented themselves to the public. It looked like they were getting ready for a show. Moments later a door opened and the first bull entered and the spectacle started for real. It was cruel and I had to force myself to watch and not to leave.

The bullfighter entered on horseback, armed with barbed sticks. He then proceeded to tease the bull and stuck these small barbed sticks into the charging bull’s back. By the time the bullfighter had finished with this ‘ritual’, blood was dripping down the bulls back and you could see that he was in pain.

Next the bullfighter armed himself with a lance which he stuck into the flank of the bull. Only after the bull had been tired out and stuck full of holes did the bullfighter get off his horse and take up his muleta. A muleta is the red cloth that he used to coax the bull.

The bullfight ended quite bloody when the bullfighter used his sword to kill the bull. Personally I thing there is nothing noble or sportsman like about this.

Here are the Arguments For Bullfighting.

  • Bullfighting is an art form that should be seen as an equivalent to dance, or music.
  • It is a traditional in many areas and in places like Spain, it is living history. Bullfighting has existed for much of human history, and within Spain it dates back at least 1,000 years.
  • Bullfighters are skilful and behind all the pomp and ritual, the bull is actually being killed in a very efficient manner.
  • The bull is usually eaten after a fight, so its death is not in vain.
  • Far more bulls are killed to be eaten by abattoirs than die in the bullring.
  • In some places bullfighting is perceived as being an integral part of the regional culture.

Here are some Arguments Against Bullfighting

  • The practice is barbaric. Essentially, bullfighting is ritually slaughtering an animal purely for fun.
  • Tradition and recognition does not make it art. Other once-traditional animal sports, from the fierce lion-tiger battles of Ancient Rome to medieval bear-baiting and cockfighting, are now deem wrong,so why is bullfighting any different.
  • As there is no competitive element, bullfighting cannot strictly be called a sport, but it is seen as an art form by its fans.
  • It is not just the bulls who suffer, horses are also injured and suffer death (not to mention the bullfighters themselves, who can be maimed or killed as well).
  • The death of the bull is extended and painful, making it unnecessarily cruel. The argument that the bullfighter kills the bull efficiently is clearly questionable, if anything, the customs of the spectacle demand that the animal’s death is drawn out, rather than quick.
  • People who are for bullfighting play down the amount of bulls killed, but figures gathered by animal rights groups suggest that 2,500 bulls are killed in Portugal each year and in Spain the figure is closer to 30,000.
  • Bullfighting inflicts unspeakable suffering on the animals, from the confusion and panic created by the crowd noise to the physical abuse the bull will sustain throughout the spectacle. The death might be quick, but the fight is barbaric.

Compassionate people understand that this cruel and bloody spectacle is needless and unjustifiable violence, and opposition to bullfighting is growing both within Spain and around the world. And each year there has been a decline in the number of bullfights.

What do you think?

Are you for or against bullfighting?

Would you ride an elephant in Bali?

Riding an elephant in Bali
I got to ride an elephant in Bali

Everyone wants to ride an elephant when they travel to Asia. Including me. Unfortunately it was only afterwards that I learned the disturbing truth about this popular activity. All I thought about was how incredible it would be to sit atop a massive 9 foot tall, 4 ton beast while lumbering through the rivers and jungle of Bali. I couldn’t wait to get a photo of me riding on top of a massive elephant!

Riding an elephant in Bali
Riding an elephant in Bali

I did some research on the elephant park just outside of Ubud in Bali and it mentioned that the animals had been rescued from areas in Sumatra where many elephants were forced to work in harsh conditions. In my naiveté, I was convinced that they had it much better toting around tourists all day in Bali. So, without a second thought, I booked a tour to experience the elephants.

Riding an elephant in Bali
After a lot of convincing I got of the chair and sat on the elephant itself

Once there, I was appointed the baby elephant to ride on. Even though it was a baby, it was huge once I got to stand next to it. I climbed onto a large chair like saddle that was strapped around the elephant’s belly and joined the line of elephants already carrying their squealing tourists. I handed my camera to the guide who then took photos of me on this little fellow as we walked through the dense jungle.

An elephant’s gait is not smooth and the entire ride felt like I was slowly being shaken up. The ride was uncomfortable, to say the least, and I was left wondering if there was any reason to ride an elephant other than just to say you had. Which really isn’t a good reason to do much of anything.

However there’s a dark side to elephant tourism that I was not aware of.

These animals had to be extensively trained to become docile ride givers and performers. I don’t know about the training methods used at the park I visited, but the training is often peppered with horrific abuse. While elephants are able to carry a significant amount of weight, the total load of the saddle, guide, and two or more passengers can easily overburden the beautiful animal. The weight, combined with the hours they are forced to cart people around, is often detrimental to the elephant’s physical and mental well being.

Riding an elephant in Bali
My elephant adventure is done.

Have you ever done anything while travelling that you regretted later on?

 

Culture shock in South Korea

I have lived in a couple of different countries teaching English and one of the strangest places was South Korea. I moved to South Korea from Vietnam just before new years to teach at a winter camp for 1 month during January ’08. Not only was it a big culture shock it was also a huge adjustment to move from the tropical weather of Ho Chi Minh to Jeonju in the south of South Korea.

It snowed for my first 3 days a shock to the system coming from hot and humid Vietnam but the whole place looked picture beautiful covered in white. I sat in my new dorm room watching the snow fall and the mountains in the distance, wondering if I had made a mistake coming here.

The school where I was working was not in town, it was a couple of miles outside of Jeonju. A quiet little place with not much going on. I stayed on school property and got 3 meals per day in the school canteen. Most Korean food is spicy and hot and that is something I really can not stomach. They love this very spicy cabbage that’s been fermented in chillies, named kim chi. Unfortunately they loved to mix this in with the fish or chicken and even with the rice sometimes. So some evenings I would only be able to have rice or veggies, so I was quite hungry by the end of the month.

There was a local bus I took in and out of town a couple of times although it was not very pleasant waiting out in the cold snow for the bus. This was mainly due to me not having the correct winter wear for these snowy conditions.

The first time I went into town to look for a coffee shop to sit and read in I got a rude introduction into the Korean culture. The coffee shops refused to seat me because I was alone as if that is a crime. I finally found a small weird coffee shop that would seat me and that became my usual hiding place on weekends or evenings out. On snowy wet days I would head into town and sit in this sweet little coffee shop reading on their comfy couches. Whenever I ordered a hot chocolate or coffee I got a plate full of different cakes for free and once even got an ice-cream, in the midel of winter!!

Cormorant Fishing in Yangshuo

Chinese fisherman on his bamboo boat fishing with his Cormorants
Chinese fisherman on his bamboo boat fishing with his Cormorants

For more than 1000 years fishermen in Yangshuo have used trained cormorants to fish in the rivers. Going out on the Li River at night to watch these fishermen at work is one of the most popular activities of Yanshuo’s nightlife. This way of fishing has existed in china for generations and over the years, it has become a way to earn money and attract the tourist. 

We were taken out onto the river in a small boat and got to cruise next to the fishermen at work on their bamboo rafts.

The birds are taken by the fisherman at a young age and become bonded to them. They then catch fish according to natural instincts but are prevented from swallowing all but the smallest fish by a ring placed around their neck during the fishing process. However, the birds are not stupid and refuse to catch more fish unless they are rewarded occasionally which the fishermen do with small crabs and fish.

Fisherman retrieving the fish from a Cormorant
Fisherman retrieving the fish from a Cormorant

With an order from the fisherman, the well-trained cormorants dove into the water to find fish and catch them. They are so good at diving that they went under water for quite a long time. When they succeed in getting any fish, they proudly swam back to the raft with their catch.

Seeing how close I can get to these magnificent birds.
Seeing how close I can get to these magnificent birds.

The fisherman then has the bird spit the fish up and sends him back into the water again. My impression was that they looked quite healthy and were enjoying diving into the river after the fish. They were treated very well by the fisherman who looked very serene standing atop his bamboo raft.

It was a short trip, about 40 minutes but it included a stop for photos where I actually got to hold one of the cormorants!

I got to have a Cormorant on my arm!!!
I got to have a Cormorant on my arm!!!

Throwback Thursday: Experiencing Sumo Wrestling in Tokyo!!

Just as geisha is synonymous with Japan so is sumo.  I was fortunate enough to be in Japan during one of their six Grand Sumo tournaments and wasn’t going to miss it.  My friends, Michael, Shaun and I headed of to The Sumo Hall at Ryogoku Kokugikan Station in Tokyo, early morning to be there in time for the cheap seats. By 11am all the cheaper seats were sold out and we were lucky enough just to make the cut off.

Not knowing a lot about sumo we entered the arena just after buying the tickets. The wrestlers begin their warm up fights around 9am in the morning and from 11am you could watch some lower lever club wrestlers doing their thing. Some of these fights were really mismatched, with a really thin dude against a huge dude. It was funny too see the thin dude actually outwit the huge dude.

During the warm up bouts the stadium was quite empty
During the warm up bouts the stadium was quite empty

Sumo is a very competitive full-contact wrestling sport where a wrestler is declared the winner of a sumo bout by being either:

  1. The first wrestler to force his opponent to step out of the ring.
  2. The first wrestler to force his opponent to touch the ground with any part of his body other than the bottom of his feet.
Wrestlers are crouch down and ready to start the bout
Wrestlers are crouch down and ready to start the bout

 This sport originated in Japan, the only country where it is practiced professionally. I was very excited that I would get the opportunity to witness this sport here in Tokyo!!

The wrestlers really have a great girth and when they stamp their legs before the fight their whole body wobbles and it’s a bit nauseating to watch. When a couple of them fell flat on their stomachs everything wobbled like blubber, it was quite something to see. A lot of the wrestlers are renowned for their great girth as body mass is often a winning factor in sumo. 

The wrestling ring with aroof resembling a shinto shrine
The wrestling ring with aroof resembling a shinto shrine

The sumo matches took place in a ring, of rice-straw bales on top of a platform made of clay mixed with sand. A new dohyō (ring) is built for each tournament. At the center are two white lines, the shikiri-sen, behind which the wrestlers position themselves at the start of the bout.[A roof resembling that of a Shinto shrine was also suspended over the ring.

The wrestlers walking into the arena dressed in their ceremonial suits.
The wrestlers walking into the arena dressed in their ceremonial suits.

The REAL fights started around 3pm. The opening was spectacular with them all walking into the arena dressed in their ceremonial suits. During the ceremony the wrestlers were introduced to the crowd one-by-one in ascending rank order and formed a circle around the ring facing outwards. Once the highest ranked wrestler was introduced they turned inwards and performed a brief ritual before filing off and returning to their changing rooms. The crowd waved and cheered and got ready for the excitement to start.

They performed their ritual before exciting the arena again
They performed their ritual before exciting the arena again

The build up to each fight took about 4 minutes with each wrestler performing a number of rituals derived from Shinto practice. Facing the audience, they clapped their hands and then performed the leg-stomping shiko exercise to drive evil spirits from the dohyō as the referee announced the wrestlers’ names once more.

Clapping their hands and then performed the leg-stomping shiko exercise to drive away the evil spirits
Clapping their hands and then performed the leg-stomping shiko exercise to drive away the evil spirits
Both wrestlers stepped away and were given a ladle full of water ("power water")
Both wrestlers stepped away and were given a ladle full of water (“power water”)

They then Stepped out of the ring into their corners, each wrestler was given a ladle full of water (“power water”), with which he rinses out his mouth; and a paper tissue  (“power paper”), to dry his lips. Then both stepped back into the ring, squatted facing each other, clapped their hands, then spread them wide (traditionally to show they have no weapons).

The wrestlers would each throw salt into the air to purify the place
The wrestlers would each throw salt into the air to purify the place

 Many ancient traditions have been preserved in sumo, and include many ritual elements, such as the use of salt purification, from the days when sumo was used in the Shinto religion. So with the stomping the wrestlers each also throw salt into the air before getting into position. It looked as if this challenging part was very important and it took each wrestler a while to get into position and signal that they were ready for the fight.

The bout or fight would only last a couple of seconds
The bout or fight would only last a couple of seconds

The wrestlers would then crouch down at the starting lines and try to stare the other down. When both wrestlers placed both fists on the ground they then sprang from their crouch for the initial charge. Sometimes after staring at one another for a while they returned to their corners for more mental preparation. More salt was thrown whenever they stepped back into the ring to start the bout.

Half time adverts!!
Half time adverts!!

The fight or bout however only lasted about 30sec to 1 min before it was over. If you looked away for a second you could have missed the whole wrestling match!! Each match is preceded by an elaborate ceremonial ritual, and was very interesting to watch.

Two wrestlers greeting each other before they start the bout
Two wrestlers greeting each other before they start the bout

There were obvious favourites among the wrestlers and the crowd would go crazy when they were introduced, and especially if they won their match. I know too, little about sumo to actually appreciate the nuance of the fight and watching this for the first time I didn’t actually know what detail to look for.

The crowd throwing their red cushions into the air as the wrestling ended
The crowd throwing their red cushions into the air as the wrestling ended

In the tournament that we watched the best wrestler was a Bulgarian guy named Kotooshu. When he won at the end the crowd stood up and everyone threw his or her little pillow they were sitting on into the air.

We really enjoyed our day out at the wrestling and got exposed to a whole different part of Japanese culture than what I have up until now.

  Throwback Thursday, is a weekly reminiscent movement where you re-post past events or photos. They can be from years ago or from just a few days ago. Its a great way to look back fondly on some of your favorite memories…… 

Sunrise on the Mekong River

Sunrise on the Mekong River
Mom and I watching the sunrise on the Mekong River

One of my most memorable experiences was watching the sunrise while floating along the Mekong River in Vietnam with my mom. The Mekong River is the 12th longest river in the world. It is about 2,700 miles long and flows through China, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar.

Sunrise on the Mekong River
Floating down the Mekong River

My mom came to visit me in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam where I was living and teaching English in 2008. We got to “cruise” along the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh city all the way to Cambodia where we spent most of our holiday together.

One of the highlights of our Mekong Delta trip was getting up at 5am to be on the river at sunrise. We had a guide who rowed us along the river al the way to one of the rural villages along the river.

The Mekong Delta is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea through a network of distributaries. It’s a water world that moves to the rhythms of the mighty Mekong, where boats, houses and markets float upon the innumerable rivers, canals and streams that criss-cross the landscape like arteries.

We had such a peaceful morning, floating past the villages on the bank of the Mekong River and even past the floating houses that are found in certain parts of this river.

Sunrise on the Mekong River
The banks of the Mekong River

This is definitely one of my top 5 travel experiences!

Becoming the “Local Foreigner” in Japan

Becoming the "Local Foreigner" in Japan
The small restaurant sladh bar that became my Favourite place to eat and spens an evening

To experience the cuisine of the country I love trying out the local places. It is here that you get a true taste of the culture as the dishes are not prepared for tourists or changed according to tourist expectations. While living in Japan I came across this very quaint and small restaurant slash bar in the neighbourhood where I lived. This little place became my regular stop on Thursday and Sunday evenings.

Becoming the "Local Foreigner" in Japan
The owner busy preparing a dish at the grill

The owners were an old Japanes couple who hardly spoke any English but they were so welcoming. I would sit up front at the grill area and watch as the owner prepared all the delicious dishes. I would always have my little phrase book at hand and he would point to the dish name he was preparing and sometimes made some amendments as he would use different ingredients.

I would usually try out a new dish that one of my students had told me about but my favourite was definitely Okonomiyaki, a Japanese savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients. The name literally means “grilled as you like it” in Japanese . Toppings and batters tend to vary according to region or city where I would try them out.

In most versions okonomiyaki is made with shredded cabbage and a pancake-like batter, but that’s where the similarities end. There are a two general styles of okonomiyaki: Hiroshima-style and Kansai-style. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is layered like a giant omelette and often includes yakisoba on the inside, with a fried egg on top. Kansai-style okonomiyaki on the other hand is mixed together before being cooked like a pancake. I asked the owners permission to take some photos as he was preparing this dish for me and a friend that I brought along to taste Japanese pancake for the first time.

Every now and again one of the customers would be able to speak a bit of English and would always translate questions and answers between me and the owner. He loved hearing about my home country South-Africa and I would always have loads of questions about the dishes he prepares and the Japanese food customs. I got to practice my very bad Japanese and the other customers go to practice their limited English.

This went on for a couple of weeks and one night a local walked in and seeing me seated at the grill area  gave me the evil eye and turned to the owner. He then asked quite rudely “who is this foreigner  and why is she sitting in here.”

The owner gave him a puzzled look and said: ” she is the local foreigner, so she is welcome here.”

The guy nodded and then actually turned towards me and greeted me. And just like that I was part of the local community and got invited to the local events that spring.

On top of the Andes

On top of the Andes
Mist covered Andes as we drove up to the ski resort

My very last outing while living in Chile was to the Valle Nevado a ski resort located at 46 km to the east of Santiago, the capital of Chile. It is on the El Plomo foothills in the Andes Mountains and was already covered in snow although this was only the start of winter.

On top of the Andes in Chile
The ski slope right in front of the Hotel

I was cutting my stay in Chile short and had so many places on my wish-list that it was quite hard to choose one for my last weekend in Santiago. But I couldn’t leave without visiting the famous Andes mountains. The only way to do this was to go on a day trip up to one of the many ski resorts on this long mountain range.

On top of the Andes in Chile
My view while sitting the bench for a rest

The Andes is the longest continental mountain range in the world. It extends from north to south through seven South American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.

On top of the Andes in Chile
Such a magnificent sight

I got to travel up into the heart of the Andes, 30 miles west of Santiago. Here lies Valle Nevado one of the most modern tourist and ski centers in South America. The route up the mountain, snaking its way through the slippery snow and ice, had more than 40 curves. I stopped noticing the curve boards after number 40 and focused on the beautiful scenery around me.

The resort, Valle Nevado, includes housing facilities with hotels, shops, restaurants, pubs and bars to meet the holiday and entertaining needs of the holiday makers throughout the entire year, carrying on activities, tours and events both in summer and winter.  It is very pricey as it caters to the tourist market. But a warm coffee and crepe after traipsing through the cold snow all morning was more than worth it!

On top of the Andes in Chile
Me in the heart of the Andes ountains!

It was a bright and clear day, ideal for walking through the thick snow up the ski slope to get views of the beautiful mountains all around. Although it was cold you couldn’t walk around without sunglasses as the glare from the snow on this cloudless day was blinding.  I would love to come back someday and actually ski or snowboard down these beautiful slopes. But just standing there in the snow among the beautiful Andes Mountains was an amazing experience.

On top of the Andes in Chile
I would love to use these ski lifts next time

Was a great way to spend my last Sunday in Chile before moving to South Africa in 2013.

On top of the Andes in Chile
The Andes Mountains, Chile

Throwback Thursday: Inside the Secretive Kremlin

Moscow Kremlin
I am going inside the Moscow Kremlin!!

The Moscow Kremlin is a symbol of the Russian State and probably known as one of the most secretive places ever! This beautiful building is one of the greatest architectural complexes in the world, and I got the chance to walk around inside these red walls!

After moving to Moscow I couldn’t wait to explore the wonders of the Kremlin, to see this place that I have heard so much about. The Moscow Kremlin includes four palaces and four cathedrals all enclosed by the red Kremlin wall and Kremlin towers. The complex still serves as the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation, but I didn’t get to glimpse him or any other famous officials during my visit.

Walking along the red brick walkway I could hardly contain my excitement as I  entered the Kremlin through one of the towers.

The Kremlin’s wall length is 2235 meters in length, and I think it would have been great if you could actually walk on top of the wall and view the city that way, but unfortunately half of the Kremlin is still in official use and not accessible to the public.
Inside the Secretive Kremlin
Row of cannons at the entrance
On our way to the Cathedral Square, which is the heart of the Kremlin, I passed a whole row of old war cannons. I wonder if these cannons were actually used during the war or if they were here just for decoration?
My favourite place in the Kremlin was definitely the Cathedral Square which is surrounded by cathedrals and other beautiful buildings. I love Cathedrals and this was like a playground for me, each Cathedral was unique with a different history and story and we spent quite a lot of time exploring them.

The first Cathedral I entered was the Cathedral of the Dormition which was completed in 1479. This is where all the Tsars of Russia were crowned! Several important dignitaries and patriarchs are buried here and their stone coffins stand along the one wall on the inside of the Cathedral. I couldn’t actually photograph these but they were elaborately decorated and covered in gems and gold.

The Cathedral of the Annunciation was my second Cathedral and it is magnificent gold a gilded Cathedral built in 1489. This magnificent gold structure kept my attention for quite a while as it has very detailed work and paintings of all the saints on it. The cathedral is actually famous for its magnificent iconostasis (screen) which shields the sacred part of the church from view.

The Cathedral of the Annunciation was originally the domestic church of the Grand Dukes and Tsars and was connected by passages to the private quarters of the royal family. The Cathedral was used to celebrate name-days, weddings and baptisms. There was no sign of these secret passages otherwise I would definitely have tried to make my way into the Kremlin.

On the South-East side of the square looms the much larger Cathedral of the Archangel Michael , where almost all of the Muscovite monarchs from Ivan to Alexis I of Russia are buried. The Archangel Michael, the heavenly figure for war, was chosen as the patron saint of the rulers of Moscow and stands as protector above all the tombs in this church. With all the stone coffins that fill the church it does feel a bit more like a cemetery than a church. I had to squeeze between the tombs that covered the Cathedral floor just to get to the other side.

The inside of the Cathedral was dark and decorated with an abundance of rich, earthy colours. I would have loved to take photos of all of the Cathedral’s frescoes…maybe someday.

One of greatest treasures here is the burial vault of Ivan the Terrible. Ivan was the first to take the title of Tsar and therefore merited a special burial chamber, the construction of which he oversaw himself.  He also had the Ivan the Great Bell Tower named after himself. It is said to mark the exact centre of Moscow and resemble a burning candle.

The Tsar Bell is the largest bell in the world and stands on a pedestal next to the Ivan the Great Bell Tower. This bell unfortunately broke while they were transporting it and was left standing right where it fell.

 

There was still so much to see in the Kremlin that I had to come back another time as it is too much to take in all in one day!

Throwback Thursday: Towers and Markets in Jerusalem

The David’s Tower museum in Jerusalem is where Jesus was said to have been condemned, it was interesting but a bit of a let down compared to all the other sites in Jerusalem. The audio guide was definitely useless!! But walking around the tower and museum was still worth it all.

Built to strengthen a strategically weak point in the Old City’s defenses, the citadel that stands today was constructed during the 2nd century BC. It contains important archaeological finds dating back 2,700 years, and is a popular venue for benefit events, craft shows, concerts, and sound-and-light performances.

Inside David’s Tower museum
Inside David’s Tower museum

The name “Tower of David” is due to Byzantine Christians who believed the site to be the palace of King David.

The exhibits depict 4,000 years of Jerusalem’s history, from its beginnings as a Canaanite city to modern times. Using maps, videotapes, holograms, drawings and models, the exhibit rooms each depict Jerusalem under its various rulers. Visitors may also ascend to the top of the tower, which command a 360-degree view of the Old City and New City of Jerusalem.

As I walked from Jafa Gate to Damascus Gate I got to buy a couple of souvenirs along the way at some of the lovely stalls. The Arabs actually loved me in their stores and kept offering me coffee. Think it might have been the black hair and pale skin as I havent seen sunshine in ages in Moscow.

 

Who doesn't like chili's!!
Who doesn’t like chili’s!!

That evening I joined the market tour of the hostel where I was staying. We went for a walk through the market and bought loads of ingredients.  I just love the fresh vegetables and bright colours of the market. Everything was fresh and smelled so goo. I wouldnt know how to use or combine half of the herbs and spices sold here but would love to buy them and learn how to cook with them. After doing loads of shopping we cooked a lovely Arabic meal in the hostel with the help of the tour guide. It was a fabulous evening, cooking and drinking red wine!

I think from now on I should definitely try and do a cooking lesson in each new place I travel to.

The people in Jerusalem are very friendly, and not once have I felt unsafe or threatened. They are sometimes too friendly, seems like loads of SA people go through here because as soon as they hear I am from SA they say “hoe haan dit?”. One guy even commented “jy het mooi oe” and another started talking to me in Zulu. 

Jerusalem’s Dome of Rock Mosque

 The Dome of Rock
The Dome of Rock

Jerusalem is filled with so many beautiful and historic places that after a week of exploring this city, I still hadn’t seen everything I wanted to see. Early morning I met up with one of the other hostel ocupants, the Canadian girl, Bobbi who went with me to the Dome of Rock where Abraham had to sacrifice Isaac. The Muslims built a beautiful mosque covering this rock. The whole mosque is covered in mosaic and the dome is actually covered in gold leaf.

Walking through the Dome complex
Walking through the Dome complex
Artist drawing the Dome of Rock!!
Artist drawing the Dome of Rock!!

We stood in line for over an hour before finally getting in, you can only enter between 12:30pm and 13:30 and at 13:30 they actually chased us out of the complex.

Until the mid-nineteenth century, non-Muslims were not permitted in the area. Since 1967, non-Muslims have been permitted limited access, however non-Muslims are not permitted to pray on the Temple Mount, or carry any form of religious artifact or anything with Hebrew letters. The Israeli police help enforce this.

The Dome of Rock took my breath away the first time I saw it!!
The Dome of Rock took my breath away the first time I saw it!!
A closeup of the Golden Dome
A closeup of the Golden Dome

The structure has been refurbished many times since its initial completion in 691 CE. The site’s significance stems from religious traditions regarding the rock, known as the Foundation Stone, at its heart. The Dome of the Rock is located at the visual center of a platform known as the Temple Mount. It was constructed on the site of the Second Jewish Temple, which was destroyed during the Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

The Dome of Rock is just stunning!! I so wish that I was allowed to go inside it!
The Dome of Rock is just stunning!!

The structure is basically octagonal. It comprises a wooden dome, approximately 20 m in diameter, which is mounted on an elevated drum consisting of a circle of 16 piers and columns. Surrounding this circle is an octagonal arcade of 24 piers and columns. The outer side walls are made of porcelain and mirror the octagonal design. They each measure approximately 18 m wide and 11 m high. Both the dome and the exterior walls contain many windows.

I do wonder what this mosqye looks like inside, unfortunately we were not allowed inside, which is a shame.

Lunch with Bobby at one of the Old gates of Jerusalem!!
Lunch with Bobby after our adventure!!

 

Exploring South Africa’s oldest colonial building

I took my family on the hop on hop off red bus tour of Cape Town and one of the main stops was the Castle Of Good Hope. I actually live just down the street from the Castle, a star or pentagonal  shaped fort built in the 17th century here in Cape Town, South Africa. Its position, although unremarkable today, indicates the original position of the shoreline, which, thanks to land reclamation, has been extensively changed. It’s strange to think that the original entrance to the fort had to be moved due to the waves that sometimes pounded against its doors!

The main entrance to the Castle still bears many reminders of the nearly one and a half centuries of Dutch presence in the Cape. Sections of the moat, which previously formed part of the defence system of the Castle, were rebuilt in 1992 and it adds to the authentic castle atmosphere.

Built by Jan van Riebeeck and the Dutch East India Company, the building was completed in 1679. The Castle of Good Hope is now the oldest surviving colonial building in South Africa. The building’s 18th-century décor has been restored and it now functions as a popular museum. 

Castle Of Good Hope
The Castle Of Good Hope

At 11am we joined the first free Castle tour of the day. Not only did we get to see the castle but we also learnt a lot about its history and what went on here years ago.

During the tour the guide took us for a walk atop the battlement. The Castle was planned from a central point with five bastions, named after the main titles of Willem, the Prince of Orange. The Western bastion was named Leerdam, followed in clockwise order by Buuren, Catzenellenbogen, Nassau and Oranje. From the battlement we had a phenomenal 360 degree view over Table Mountain, Devil’s Peak, Lion’s Head, the towers of the city centre and the other districts in the east.

The tour lasted just about 30 minutes leading us through all the main features of the Castle.

Castle Of Good Hope
A look at Table Mountain from the castle battlements

The Dolphin Pool, today is a recreation after the original had been demolished by the British.

 

The tour took us into places the public wouldn’t ordinarily be allowed to visit including the old prison cells and the gunpowder store room underneath one of the bastions. We even got to go into the torture chamber where confessions would be drawn from men whether they were innocent or guilty.

The fortress was once the centre of civilian, political and military life. Today the Castle of Good Hope is seat of the military in the Cape and hosts three museums, including: Castle Military Museum, Iziko Hope Gallery and William Fehr Collection, in which rooms are historically decorated with furniture, paintings and accessories of the 17th to 19th century.

The fortress housed a church, bakery, various workshops, living quarters, shops, and cells, among other facilities. They say the yellow paint on the walls was originally chosen because it lessened the effect of heat and the sun. It didnt do much to cool us down on this hot and sunny day, except when you were inside the cool building.

After the tour there was enough time to stroll around, take photos and to visit one of the museums before we continued our red bus tour.

Castle Of Good Hope
The main Castle building

I must admit that the tour should be a priority for anyone looking for a fun and well informed venture around the castle. The Castle of Good Hope is not just for history lovers or military fans but also for families, tourists and locals a perfect excursion, a Cape Town must!

Christmas night in Bethlehem, Israel!!

 Saturday 24 December 2011

At 3o’clock the afternoon on my first day in Israel I joined the Abraham hostel tour to Bethlehem. Unfortunately the guide was absolutely useless, he didn’t give us any extra information about the area or even tell us where we were going or what we were going to see.

Shepherd’s Field He took us to the Shepherd’s Field first.

Shepherd’s Field“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:8-10)

The fertile fields of Beit Sahour are believed to be where this biblical scene took place, 2 km southeast of Bethlehem. The ruins at Al-Ruwat include a cave used as a church from the 4th century, of which the barrel-vaulted roof (5th century) still survives. It is approached by a flight of 21 steps and has three apses with traces of mosaic and old frescoes.

After this we went into Bethlehem and to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world. The structure is built over the cave that tradition marks as the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth, and thus it is considered sacred by Christians.

Floor mosaics surviving from the original basilica.
Floor mosaics surviving from the original basilica.

It is designed like a typical Roman basilica, with five aisles formed by Corinthian columns. The columns are made of pink, polished limestone, most of them dating from the original 4th-century Constantinian basilica.  There is also a vault in the eastern end, where the sanctuary is. The church features golden mosaics covering the side walls, which are now largely decayed. Trap doors in the present floor reveal sections of floor mosaics surviving from the original basilica. The mosaics feature complex geometric designs with birds, flowers and vine patterns, making a rich and elaborate carpet for Constantine’s church.

We stood in line for 3hours to get into the Grotto.

Lanterns Inside the Church of the Nativity
Lanterns Inside the Church of the Nativity
Church of St. Catherine
Church of St. Catherine

Church of St. CatherineWhile standing in line I wandered away from the group and went into the adjoining Church of St. Catherine, the Roman Catholic Church. It was built in a more modern Gothic revival style. This is the church where the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem celebrates Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Certain customs still observed in this Midnight Mass predate Vatican II, must be maintained because the “status quo” (the customs, rights and duties of the various church authorities that have custody of the Holy Places) was legally fixed in 1852, under the Ottoman Empire.

 

When I wanted to get back to the group the connecting door was locked seeing as they were busy closing and getting ready for midnight mass! Luckily I found a guard who then helped me get back in.

Inside the Church of the Nativity
Inside the Church of the Nativity

We entered through a very low door, called the “Door of Humility.” We then went down a Staircase on the side of the Sanctuary that leads down to the Grotto.

Bethlehem candles

Candles at the entrance to the Grotto
Candles at the entrance to the Grotto

The Grotto of the Nativity is an underground cave located beneath the basilica, it enshrines the site where Jesus is said to have been born. The exact spot is marked beneath an altar by a 14-pointed Silver Star set into the marble floor and surrounded by silver lamps. This altar is denominationally neutral, although it features primarily Armenian Apostolic influences. Another altar in the Grotto, which is maintained by the Roman Catholics, marks the site where traditionally Mary laid the newborn Baby in the manger.

We were unfortunately rushed through a bit, and got held up because a very big lady bent down to kiss the Silver Star and then got stuck under the altar and it took two guards to pull her out of the little grotto again.

Unfortunately it started raining during dinner, it was pouring down and my shoes were not water proof. I bought a small umbrella but had to walk around with wet, cold feet the whole evening, my toes were freezing!