Wonders of Sri Lanka

 

srpart1.j
Mihinthale

The treacherous climb to the top of Sigiriya, Lion Rock, is a tourist must.  We had told Nimal, our first-rate Sri Lankan driver and mentor, that we were reasonably fit and up for moderate hiking.  That was before I viewed this massive monolith of stone with steep vertiginous metal staircases attached to its walls: definitely more than moderate. I wanted to wimp out. My courage and determination dissolved.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was hot, very hot. There were no trees to provide shade en route to the top.  It was crowded, a single file of slowly moving bodies inching upwards on those dreadful stairs. This did not look like fun.  Was it worth it?  Could I make it?  After the Chinese disaster (See previous post:  “China II:  The Fall”) I could not risk another crash.

sl.part1.w
Nimal

“You can do it,” Nimal assured us.  He arranged a local guide.   I let him carry my camera and water and concentrated carefully on every step. Fortunately a landing with a gallery of remarkable frescoes provided a welcome break en route up.  The reward, stunning vistas atop, was well deserved.  It is generally believed that Sigiriya was a royal citadel during the fifth century, although another theory maintains that it was a monastery and religious site.   Our guide adhered to the citadel theory and told us that King Kassapa had 500 concubines, for whom he built swimming pools with diving boards.

srpart1.k
Superb views atop Sigiriya

There are many more astonishing sights in Sri Lanka, an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of India.  Although not much bigger than Wales, Sri Lanka packs a lot into a small area: glorious beaches, ancient temples, hillside tea plantations, wildlife sanctuaries, rain forested peaks, more challenging climbs.

The country’s 30-year civil war, which ended in 2009, kept visitors away. That has changed dramatically. At Sigiriya, and just about everywhere we went during our two week tour of the country in late February, we encountered lots of tourists.

We visited many other sites, temples and ruins.  The city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s ancient capital, is a complex of archaeological and architectural treasures.  We followed a parade of worshipers walking along a giant piece of orange cloth, 300 meters long according to Nimal.  It symbolizes Buddha’s skin, he told us, and was to be wrapped around Ruvanvelisaya, a magnificent white dagoba or shrine for sacred relics.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Devotees help carry  the orange cloth which will be wrapped around Ruvanvelisaya (below).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The climb at Mihinthale, another temple complex, was beyond us:  1,843 granite slab steps with the sun blazing down on them. No shoes allowed –you had to ascend barefoot.  No way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Tough feet, as well as stamina, required for this climb.

Polonnaruwa was Sri Lanka’s medieval capital from the 11th to the 13th centuries before it was abandoned to invaders from South India.  We – and many others — toured the area by bike with stops to admire and photograph.  The major attraction is the site with colossal Buddhas carved out of rock.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Reclining Buddha at Polonnaruwa

At Dambulla Royal Rock Temple, some 150 different Buddhas are enshrined in five  caves.  The Disney-like entrance to the site, with a monstrous Golden Temple and

srfone.13
Cave Buddhas

mammoth concrete Buddha, seems out of place, but the gentle climb along a wooded path to this hilltop temple complex is easy and pleasant.  Entrance to the caves is controlled with a certain number admitted for each visit. It is well worth the wait to see these remarkable statues in this dimly lit, mystical ambience.

srpart1.nBoth tourists and worshipers flock to Kandy, a lovely hill town whose magnet is the Sacred Tooth Temple where one of Buddha’s teeth is said to be hidden inside a golden shrine or casket which in turn contains six more caskets, much like a Russian box.   We joined a large crowd and patiently waited in line for a night time opening of the heavily guarded room containing the tooth shrine, and our turn to file by the relic casket.   Although there was little to see, the holy ritual and huge temple complex are intriguing.   According to Lonely Planet, Sri Lankan Buddhists believe they must complete at least one pilgrimage to the tooth temple.

ad,sr,maldives.fone 218
Worshiping at the Sacred Tooth Temple

Nimal De Silva, (ndsilva67@yahoo.com and dsltours.com)  chauffeured us around his country, made hotel arrangements, arranged local guides at many places — and taught us much about this fabulous country.  He is a delight, very patient and accommodating. We were happy with all.

st.part1.l
Gaudy entrance to Dambulla complex

More on Sri Lanka in coming posts:  flora and fauna;  food, markets and produce, beaches and hilltop retreats.  Don’t miss it.  If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared. 

Please feel free to comment – just scroll down, below following photos,  click, scroll down again and add your thoughts.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Ruins at Polonnaruwa
sr.part1.m
Cave Buddha at Dambulla
The concrete Buddha surveys the landscape
srfone.5
Polonnaruwa

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

makeread2

Adventure Abu Dhabi

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was wooed by those classy commercials on CNN.  Stunning desert landscapes.  Futuristic, fantastic architecture. Glamorous hotels.

Abu Dhabi.  We had to change planes there en route to  Sri Lanka.  Let’s break up the long journey and check out the capital, the largest and wealthiest of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.

It is indeed intriguing, interesting.  Bob and I had visited Dubai many years ago, long before most people had even heard of it. Like Dubai back then, and now, construction and progress are everywhere in Abu Dhabi.

“For a time, both emirates seemed locked in a battle to build the most glittering skyline,” notes an article in Global Traveler.  “But lately, Abu Dhabi has deliberately repositioned itself as New York to Dubai’s Los Angeles.  Abu Dhabi serves as the commercial and cultural heart of the U.A.E., while Dubai remains more populist, with an economy centered on tourism and real estate.”ad,4

Nonetheless Abu Dhabi has its share of tourist attractions. The Emirates Palace, billed as a “7* luxury hotel,” is high on the  list. We wandered through the cavernous public areas of the $3 billion hotel, looking up and around at an abundance of  gold leaf and marble.  We had an expensive coffee amidst the posh surroundings. I asked where the gold bar vending machine ad.3was (mentioned in an NYT article), only to be told it had been removed.  Pity – that was my souvenir choice!

Fortunately taxis are reasonable in Abu Dhabi. There was nothing of interest within walking distance of our hotel, supposedly in a central location, and distances are vast.   Taxi driver Mohammed, an Indian from Kerala, took us to the sights.

He is one of 65 percent of Abu Dhabi residents who are foreigners, he told us. Fifty percent of the foreigners are Indians, and most, like Mohammed, are from Kerala in the southern part of the country.

Markets are my passion.  I asked him to show us the fish market. This was not the collection of stalls with fishermen selling their catches as I had envisioned, but  a huge warehouse with aisle after aisle of all sizes, shapes and varieties of sea creatures.  Mohammed knew many of the workers, all from Kerala.  We continued to the date market – another vast structure with nothing but dates – numerous different kinds. There too he had chums from Kerala.  One gave us a sample of chocolate covered dates – exquisite.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We continued to Heritage Village, an old fortress where the Abu Dhabi of bygone days with Bedouin tents and old stone houses has been recreated.  Artisans are at work in many enclosures.  I zeroed in on a purse in the leather workshop and tried to bargain with the shopkeeper, attired in the long traditional Muslim robe. I assumed he was a native.  No, he too was from India.

ad.7
Admiring glass creativity at Heritage Village

Foreign workers come to Abu Dhabi where earnings are good, work for several years, save and then return home, a Nigerian taxi driver explained.  He has a degree, but no jobs in Nigeria.

ad.6
Foreign workers on break at the fish market.

Abu Dhabi’s piece de resistance is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a dazzling edifice of domes, minarets, reflecting pools, crystal, marble…. materials from all corners of the globe. Elements of Moroccan, Persian and Arab styles blend in this monumental beauty.  Non-Muslim visitors are welcome. Like all female visitors, I was given a blue abaya to wear.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We wandered around with numerous other visitors all taking photos while Mohammed took time out to pray.ad.8

Other Abu Dhabi attractions include the Galleira, a luxury shopping mall, and Yas Waterworld, an amusement park with watery rides. We passed on both, but did ask to see the Yas Marina Circuit that hosts the Abu Dhabi Formula I Grand Prix. I had read that when races were not taking place you could experience the circuit at high speed as a race car passenger.  Yes, but arrangements must be made far in advance. I failed.

ad.15Instead Mohammed took us to nearby Ferrari World. We were content to amble around the mall and admire cars, although had we paid the expensive entrance fee we could have experienced high speed simulation drives.

Future Abu Dhabi visitors will enjoy major attractions on Saadiyat Island,  a $27 billion project that will include the first outpost of the Louvre outside of France, scheduled to open at the end of this year, a Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim museum, and much more.

ad.10
Family visit to Grand Mosque

The fall in the price of oil has delayed completion of these showpieces. Abu Dhabi has about a tenth of the world’s oil reserves which accounts for its wealth.   But, the reserves will decline and the emirate is preparing for life without oil.   Masdar City, a $22 billion project currently under construction, aims to create the world’s first carbon-neutral city powered almost entirely by solar and other renewable energy sources.ad.9

Abu Dhabi is worth a short visit, especially if you want to break up a long flight to Asia.  We found the people, namely foreign workers, all very friendly and helpful. Most speak English.  Because it is a Muslim country, alcoholic beverages are only served in international hotels.  All manner of ethnic restaurants abound.  We tried Thai, Italian, French , a British pub, but the favorite was Café Arabia with Lebanese, Syrian, Moroccan specialties and more.  I relished Palestinian Shakshuka, a spicy tomato, egg and feta combo.  See Today’s Taste, column upper right, for a recipe.

Please feel free to comment – just scroll down and add your thoughts.   Don’t miss future posts. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared.  makeread2

Summer Gone-by

Reillanne, our village
Reillanne, our village

It’s time to start thinking summer 2017…but first, a look back at summer 2016. I should have posted this long ago… better late than never.  After eight summers of renting our guest apartment to tourists, we officially closed last August – no more paying guests, but time and room for friends and relatives.

It was a rewarding experience. We met interesting folks from many countries.  Some have become friends.  We learned about their lands.

summer2-16-124
Klaus and Eva

Austrians Klaus and Eva were our first renters of the season, as they have been every summer for the past six years.  We have become friends and are delighted they will come back this year, not as renters, but house sitters when we travel to Germany.

sblog-18
Jean Christophe and Isabelle

They always arrive with bounteous gifts of Austrian delicacies. A roof rack on their car holds Klaus’ ample supplies for their stay, including Austrian beer and wine.  Of course they appreciate Provence wine too, especially summer rose.

Isabelle, who works in a bank, and Jean Christophe, who is in the insurance business, arrived from the Paris region in a spiffy Mercedes convertible.  They had been to our region many times and were happy to be back.  After a day’s outing, they often played boule in our driveway, although it is definitely not the best terrain for this Provence favorite.sblog-23

sblog-16
Jeroen, Anika and Stans

We enjoyed Belgians Jeroen and Anika, both teachers, and daughter Stans.  They came  loaded down with two bicycles, plus baby supplies:  baby stroller, baby bed, a plastic pool, pool toys.  They had fun introducing Stans to the big pool. They biked, too.

Jeroen is one of those super cyclists who have conquered Mt. Ventoux many times.  “Any serious Belgian cyclist must climb Mt. Ventoux,” he said.  He did, as well as the Mountain of Lure which he says is beautiful.  “It’s only 100 meters less than Ventoux, but no one knows about it.”

Anika’s passion is markets. They visited six in the region. Her favorite:  Apt.

?
Steve and Yoshie at Pont du Gard

Friends and family also visited in summer 2016. With my brother Steve and sister-in-law Yoshie we enjoyed a mini-trip to visit the fascinating Chauvet- Pont d’Arc Cavern with replicas of prehistoric cave art dating back 36,000 years.  The original art was discovered in a nearby cave, but it is closed to visitors to protect the treasures.  The replica cave and art are mind boggling.

A non-birthday party with grandsons Lang, and Sam.
An un-birthday party with grandsons Lang and Sam.

Step-children Kellie and Rob with grandsons Lang and Sam joined us in June. Good times in the pool were enjoyed by all.   Bob even joined in – a mini miracle.  He is not a water person, and almost never goes in the pool.  I make up for him.

Kellie and Bob who prefers bicycles to the pool.
Kellie and Bob who prefers bicycles to the pool.

Summer ended with a visit from Colorado friends Kathy and Bob, whom we know from our days n Germany long ago.

Karthy and Bob, with another Bob in the background.
Kathy and Bob, with another Bob in the background.

Now that I have finally put summer 2016 to bed, time to move on to new adventure and travel.  Abu Dhabi, Sri Lanka and the Maldives – here we come!  Watch this blog.

Please feel free to comment – just scroll down and add your thoughts.   Don’t miss future posts. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared.  More photos follow.

sblog-5
Rob, Sam and Lang
At Table de Bonheur , our favorite, with super chef Hans
At Table de Bonheur, our favorite, with super chef Hans
Kellie relaxing
Kellie relaxing
It was a good summer for geraniums.
It was a good summer for geraniums.

makeread2

China II: The Fall

?

Huanggang was not like the China we had seen with sleek skyscrapers, luxurious hotels, Starbucks, 711s – and crowds everywhere.   This tiny rural village of simple wooden houses where farmers live and toil as they have for ages was the China I had been eager to see and photograph.  Unfortunately it was my downfall, literally.blog2-5

Our guide had given us free time to wander around, take photos, explore.   Voila — a wooden footbridge over a canal of raging water with a pagoda downstream. The perfect shot awaited from the middle of the bridge, or so I thought. In eager anticipation of  getting that super shot, camera ready, I stepped on the first plank. Crack! It split, broke in two. Into the canal I went.  I seized the canal wall, hoping someone would extricate me before I  plunged into the nasty, brown, turbulent water. No such luck. The pain in my arms became unbearable. I could hang on no longer, let go and dropped into the churning canal.   Fortunately  the water was only about waist deep and I was not swept downstream over the Yellow Fruit Tree Waterfall. But, my precious Canon was history.

Huanggang
Huanggang

Husband Bob and a few others rushed to the scene.  The rescue effort was challenging.  My arms were shot.  I could not use them to hoist myself, even with their help.  They pulled me by the arms.  Ouch!

Bridge similar to the one that crashed
Bridge similar to the one that crashed

Once safe on the ground, I was in disbelief.  How could this have happened? It was so unreal, like a scene from a slapstick comedy.  Except —  it was really me and it was not funny.  I had been so  excited and thrilled with this trip – finally a chance to visit China, a destination that had beckoned me for years.  Now what?

Guide Xiaoxaio rapidly arranged for a driver to take us to a hospital.  He insisted on accompanying us, leaving the group behind. The hour long ride over twisty, primitive roads was scenic, but hard for me to appreciate.  The lower half of my body was soaked.  I was in denial, depressed, devastated.  My arms, my shoulder, hurt.

The hospital – not the Mayo clinic, but thanks to Xiaoxiao there was no emergency room wait.   I was quickly sent to X-ray.  The equipment seemed on the antique side.  Each X-ray, and they took many, seemed to take ages.  I feared a Chernobyl dose of radiation.   While waiting for the results, I asked Xiaixiao if he could find a shop and make a purchase for me.  My clothes were slowly drying out, but my shoes were like overloaded sponges.  I have very large feet, bigger than most Chinese feet I feared.  Not to worry.  Within record time, our trusty guide reappeared with a very comfortable pair of shoes, perfect fit.

shoes-002
My only Chinese souvenir:  my Xiaoxiao shoes.

None of the doctors spoke English.   Xiaoxiao, who speaks perfect English, relayed the diagnosis: broken collar bone. The doctor said surgery might be required.   Continuing the trip with our group was out of the question. Our compassionate guide arranged for us to  return to Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, where we had started our tour.

Chinese efficiency in action.  We were whisked to a larger town, met by a guide and interpreter who accompanied us in first class splendor on the bullet train.  The train was spiffy – roomy and comfortable with a stewardess who served meals.  We were too shattered to eat, but were impressed with the smooth, quiet ride. It was impossible to believe we were traveling at up to 246 mph.

Stirring the pot in Huanggang
Stirring the pot in Huanggang

The arrival station was so futuristic it was almost scary:  minimalistic, spacious, spotless, quiet.  Passengers paraded swiftly, silently down long, wide corridors (no shops or advertising signs en route) to exits. Here our train guide turned us over to Miss Koo, the local rep of Spring Travel, the travel agency which had arranged the trip, and  Tingting, a bubbly young translator.  Both were delightful and showered us  with TLC, treating  us like dignitaries. They felt I should see another doctor at the big city hospital.  They had purchased fast-food burgers for nourishment en route. “Since you are Americans, we figured you would like burgers,” Tingting said.  We did indeed.blog2-14

This hospital was more up to date, but still no English speakers. Waiting rooms were packed, but we were ushered in ahead of all.  Here the emergency room doctor confirmed the break, but said no surgery would be required.  Maybe we could continue the trip after all?

Drying rice hangs from many houses in Huanggang.
Drying rice hangs from many houses in Huanggang.

Since there had been collar bone confusion –  surgery or no surgery, I asked if I could see an orthopedic specialist the next day with hopes that he might reconfirm the no-surgery assessment and we could salvage our trip.   Thanks to Spring Travel, we spent the night at the five-star Kempinski hotel.  Our guardian angels arrived the next morning to escort us to the orthopedic specialist.  No English, but lots of back forth conversation and phone calls.  I had told Tingting to tell the doctor that even though I am an old lady, I am still active and wanted to continue to enjoy some sports.  She said in that case he advised I return to France and see a doctor there.

Miss Koo, Tingting and Bob
Miss Koo, Tingting and Bob

That did it.  End of trip.  More whirlwind action and mind boggling efficiency.  We could take a flight that night back to France.  No time to think.  No time for tears.  Just pack and get moving.

Before departing for the airport, Tingting and Miss Koo arranged a  mini b’day celebration.  In all the stress, we had forgotten —  it was Bob’s birthday.  We sat in the elegant lobby and enjoyed a delicious birthday cake.

Bob's b'day cake
Bob’s b’day cake

Once home, the reality sunk in.  The 18-day trip to China had been  slashed to 3 ½ days.  We saw very little of this intriguing country.  We never made it to the Society of American Travel Writers Convention, which had been the main purpose of the trip.    And, I had a very painful shoulder.

A broken collar bone is much like broken ribs –not much to do except suffer and reduce movement when possible.  After six weeks, I thought the

Copious lunch spread in Huanggang before the fall.
Copious lunch spread in Huanggang before the fall.

worst was over, but the black Chinese cloud resurfaced with  more bad luck.  Somehow nerves had become compressed.  My left hand is only partially functional.  I cannot type with two hands – which is driving me crazy. I have shoulder pain when I walk.   Doctors tell me it is not “grave” (French for serious) and the nerves will come back.  When?  No one knows, but it could take a long, long time, up to a year, I am told.

My lust for travel has not been squashed. I still crave adventure.  It could have been far worse. Spring Travel, Xiaoxiao, Miss Koo and Tingting are to be commended.  Thanks to their care, consideration and kindness,  we even managed to smile during these traumatic times. Chinese hospitals and the bullet train count as interesting experiences.  Spring tried to get a refund for me – faulty bridge.  But, they learned the government had not built the bridge.   Nonetheless they provided a small sum.

Huanggang villager
Huanggang villager


Please feel free to comment – just scroll down and add your thoughts.  We are not down yet.  Soon we will be off to Abu Dhabi, Sri Lanka and the Maldives — where  I will avoid wooden bridges.   Don’t miss future posts. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared

makeread2

Yes We Can

march-plus-203

Friday, Jan. 20:  doom and gloom from President Trump in what one writer  called  “the darkest inaugural address Americans have ever heard.”   Ugly rhetoric.  Misleading exaggerations.  Lies.…Afterwards he even lied about the weather.

No, we cannot call this disgusting, ignorant egomaniac  our president.  Yesterday we took to the streets, women’s marches against Trump in 370 cities around the globe.  The statistics are staggering:  half a million in D.C.; 750,000 in L.A.;  150,000 in Chicago; 100, 000 in London.  Men joined the women. Pink  pussy hats were popular.march-2

Friend Lynne,  Bob and I joined thousands in Paris. The mood was upbeat .  The vibes positive.  Energetic, enthusiastic crowds sang, cheered and chanted:  “Ho Ho, Donald Trump has got t go.”  “Nazis, KKK, Facists… Not in the USA.”    “When they go low, we go high.”

It was thrilling to be part of this world wide movement to preserve democracy.  But we cannot let this be a one-time good deal. A New York Times article quoted  Marian B. Mollin,  a professor at Virginia Tech who studies the history of social movements.

march-16
Lynne made our signs.

To be effective, she said, a march must energize participants long after they’ve gone home, sustaining them through the less exciting aspects of change.

“Are they continuing to be fired up when they get back? Because there is a lot of unfun, unglamorous work to do,” she said.

Let’s get to work.  Trump is not our president.

Following are photos from Paris, many courtesy of fabulous Lynne Crytser.

march-4

march-20

march11

march-13march-7

march-12

march-10

Please feel free to comment.  See  below.  Back to China in next post with a report on my fall into a canal from a bridge that broke.  Don’t miss it. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared.

Finally, a new recipe, endives, a French favorite and especially  for my brother David who will teach a course, The Edible French Garden.  Must have endives.  See recipe at top right.

makeread2