Other trips

Iceland, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Mongolia, China, Thailand, Cambodia and South Korea

Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Copenhagen

Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Ethiopia, Kenya, S. Africa, Zimbabwe, UAE and Denmark

Panama. Colombia, Ecuador (including Galapagos), Peru, Bolivia, Chile (including Easter Island), Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Mexic0.

France (Paris and Lourdes), Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Spain, Andorra, Morocco (Tangier), Portugal and the Netherlands (Amsterdam).

New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Great Britain, Antarctica, Patagonia and Paraguay.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

12/17: My LAST Post: Roaming London Town!

December 17th in Delhi, India - a day closer to finally being home after being on the road for three and a half months or 112 days but who's counting! This wasn't a day we had looked forward to for a variety of reasons, one of them being the nine and a half hour flight ahead of us to London, our halfway point on our journey home. 

Plus, as I wrote in my last post, I, particularly, had misgivings with coming to the end of our wonderful trip, aka adventure, around the world. Steven was quite happy and possibly relieved the trip was over but I would have been quite happy indeed to have popped back to our home in suburban Denver and said hello to everyone we love and care for and then jumped on another plane right away, ready for the next adventure anywhere in the world!  

Luckily, to assuage my awakened wanderlust and Steven's love of travel, we had been talking the last month or so on the trip about where we might want to go on our next 'Big Trip' as we like to call these long, fall overseas trips. Our 6 or so weeks in the US southeast in the late spring and early summer are 'merely' jaunts in comparison.
My last photo from India and who better to take it of?! Steven and I had been staying at the Aura Hotel while visiting the fascinating city of Delhi. Right after I took this picture, we grabbed one last tuk tuk ride to take us to the Metro where we got the subway to the airport. A good 12 hours later, we landed in balmy London where we were spending the night to break up the long trip home.

As many of you already probably know, my mother was English and emigrated to Canada, my home country, as a war bride shortly after WW11. Growing up in Ottawa, my 4 brothers and I had visited our grandparents several times but I had not been back to London since 1977 when a childhood friend and I toured much of Britain. Steven has also seen toured Britain but we had never been there together. 

Spending just a couple hours walking around some of the most famous London landmarks once we made our way via the 'tube' to our hotel and dumped our stuff was just enough to whet our appetites for a repeat and much longer visit to the British Isles down the road, God willing. The evening was just perfect for taking a gander at some of the sights so near our hotel - we barely needed our warm jackets and certainly had no need for gloves and hats when we began our walk.

Photos from our own 'walking tour' of London:
The Sheriff Hotel, our hotel right dab in the center of London.

Wonderful being back in London and seeing a 'real' doubledecker bus and not just one stateside that takes tourists around a city's sights.
The fabled Westminster Abbey, above and below. Did you, like I, watch Princess Diana's wedding to Prince Charles take place there in July, 1981?

Parliament House.
In front of Big Ben, the iconic clock tower at Parliament House.

Fun seeing another famous English sight, the ubiquitous bright red 'phone box' as we walked the streets of London. The ones we saw all looked like they were up and running and not just for sightseers like us to photograph.

Photos of Buckingham Palace:
Too bad we didn't get to see Queen Elizabeth 11 this time. I have seen her many times while growing up back in Ottawa when my mother would pop by the Governor General's House just a 5 minute drive away whenever the queen was entering or leaving the premises when she and Prince Philip were on a state visit to the 'colony,' i.e. Canada!

Seeing the Union Jack fly over Buckingham Palace reminded me of the songs 'Rule Britannia' and 'God Save the Queen.' I grew up singing the latter.
Steven and I just laughed when we roamed down the street called Buckingham Gate and came across the Taj Hotel and saw the elephant sculpture, above, right by the entrance as we had just left India that morning of course.

A much better photo of Britain's flag even if it wasn't flying over the palace!
I have long been a big fan of the English restaurateur/celebrity chef and media personality Jamie Oliver so I loved looking at the menu of his restaurant located in the Victoria section of London.
Westminster Cathedral, the mother church of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. We had hoped to enter but there was a Christmas concert going on.
Seeing both the Taj Hotel and then the Laos Cafe in the space of a couple of hours brought our trip and ramble through London full circle as both reminded us of the fantastic trip we had just had/
When I saw this sign as we walked back to get the 'tube' at Victoria Station the next morning, the 18th, all I could think of all those people we love and care for and had missed so much these last few months. It was another long flight to Chicago where we had enough time for Steven to fill up on some Chicago-style hot dogs before catching the last leg of our flight home. 

It would be an understatement to say we were rather tired having flown around the world since leaving Delhi the previous morning. But knowing we would soon have our entire family home for the holidays and that I had enough time to still buy some gifts, bake some Christmas goodies and for us to decorate the house was enough to keep us both going in the busy days that lay ahead.

We've been home for just over a month now and hardly a day goes by when we don't reminisce or marvel about something we did or saw on our big adventure. There were so many highlights that we're both hard pressed to come up with just a single 'best' place but, with that said, we both just loved so much about our few weeks in Myanmar - the almost countless number of temples we toured in Bagan, the fantastic evening we had at the festival in Taungyyi, our magical day in a boat we hired visiting the markets and floating villages on Inle Lake - and so much else.

Thanks to each one of you for taking so much time reading my posts. I can't thank you enough for being interested in our travels that you wanted to look at the many (!) photos and read the text accompanying them. I only hope that you enjoyed being armchair travelers and had fun discovering more parts of the world with us. A special nod to 'Lil Red' for posting so many comments and also encouraging me since we've been home to finish the blog instead of just conveniently forgetting about it - I am indeed grateful to you as you kept me going.

A very heartfelt 'thank you' to my sweetheart aka my 'travel buddy' without whom all these adventures wouldn't be likely possible or anywhere near as much fun. After almost 35 years together, I still look forward to spending every day with you wherever we are in this wonderful world.

It's only January but we've already come up with a tentative itinerary for our next adventure beginning, we hope, in mid August. We're anticipating starting our trip by exploring more of the former Eastern Europe and then touring parts of Greece, Egypt, likely several nations in the Middle East and then Ethiopia and South Africa. I'll be sure to keep you posted though when the trip comes together in six months' time! Til then, we wish you your own happy travels.

Posted on 1/21/16 from our home in Littleton, Colorado.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

12/16: Delhi: The Final Day of Our Adventure!

Wow - I can hardly believe that this was our last day of our three and a half long adventure! We had an unexpected and delightful tour of New Delhi, i.e. the National Capital Region, with a tuk tuk driver whom we had asked to take us to the Crafts Museum for 150 rupees (~$2). Instead he drove past Parliament House, the President’s House and some other notable places before dropping us at the memorial at India Gate where we chose to walk on to the Crafts Museum.

Photos from our tuk tuk 'tour':
It was amusing seeing a sign in the gardens by Parliament House reminding people not to ‘pluck the flowers.’
Above and below: the very imposing North and South Blocks, i.e. major federal government departments.

The President's Estate. Below, a view of India Gate from Parliament House.
Photos from India Gate:

The 42 m high India Gate, an ‘Arc de Triomphe’ like archway in the middle of a crossroads very similar to its French counterpart, commemorates the 70,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British Army during World War I. The memorial also bears the names of more than 13,516 British and Indian soldiers killed in the Northwestern Frontier in the Afghan war of 1919. The India Gate Canopy, just visible through the gate itself above, was designed to house the statue of King George V, the British monarch who also enjoyed the title of Emperor of India. Built after his death in 1936, the canopy was inaugurated in 1939.
The arch said ‘To the dead of Indian armies who fell and are honored in France and Flanders, Mesopotamia and Persia…’

We saw men at the India Gate intersection assembling these layered snacks on the spot and putting them in cone shaped newspaper holders/cups to sell to hungry passersby.
A somewhat better view of the India Gate Canopy.
Gotta love the signs!
We walked a good half hour or more before we reached the Crafts Museum and thought while we trudged along the busy streets we should not have given up the tuk tuk at the India Gate quite so readily! 

We were intrigued going to the Crafts Museum as it was billed as the most enjoyable museum in Delhi and showcased India’s incredible variety of local artistic and cultural traditions. There were crafts from every part of the Indian subcontinent and in every type of medium, from tribal costumes to ivory carvings.
These jaalis or screens help to cut and reduce light in warm climates and are an integral part of the architecture of the forts and palaces in the Indian state of Rajasthan.
A number of exhibits were dotted around the museum grounds such as stone carvings from the state of Rajasthan. This striking group of Chinese looking stone statues depicted Aiyana – a village guardian said to ride on a ghostly horse chasing away evil spirits.

I was immediately struck by the magnificent paintings on the exterior walls, above and below, upon entering the large walled complex.

According to the description, this painting from Rajasthan depicted a battle scene with 2 nobles on elephants, a warrior on a horse and a lady in Rajasthani costume with an attendant on the other side.
The elephant sculpture was made from the wood from the jack fruit tree.
The wood and metal Pigeon House was a refuge or feeding place for birds. Many faiths, including the Jain, believe that the souls of those who have died inhabit birds and animals. That is why the feeding of birds is also the care of departed souls.

There was a complete miniature village of traditional buildings from across India on the grounds.
Above and below, the stone Kulu Hut which had a slate tile roof.

Above and below, the Banni Hut from the Gujarat region was constructed with sun dried bricks and thatched with local weeds. Its circular design protects inhabitants from hot desert winds.

The rustic, ochre museum building was encircled by shady verandas and set within a tree-filled compound and was constructed to feel like a rural village in the heart of urban New Delhi.

At the back of the museum was a courtyard, home to a number of stalls where I saw musicians and artisans working on a wide variety of crafts, including painting, stone carving, metalworking and weaving.

Steven was tired so he chose to sit outside while I wandered through several of the museum’s galleries.
Beautifully embroidered items from the Textile Gallery. There was a vast collection in the gallery of fabrics of every kind of style including brocade, block printing, tie dye and appliqué.

My sleepyhead!
I don’t think I would concur that the Crafts Museum could be the most enjoyable one in the capital city but it was certainly a pleasant interlude for 90 minutes or so. We walked over to Purana Qila from the museum arriving there close to noon.

Photos of Purana Qila: 
Perched on a small hill that has been converted to a park, Puran Qila or ‘Old Fort,’ containing 4 monumental gates, is a favorite place for Delhites to take a Sunday outing for a picnic or a paddle boat ride on the lake at the base of the walls. The hill was the site of the legendary city of Indraprastha of the Mahabharata, in other words the first Delhi
Objects unearthed in archeological excavations date back to the era of Humayun, the second Mughul emperor, who founded the fort at the beginning of his reign earning it the name of Dinpanah, ‘refuge of the faith.’ In 1540 the usurper Sher Shah took over the site as well as much of the rest of the empire but Humayun succeeded in reclaiming what was rightfully his in 1555. 
The Bada Darwaza or western entrance to the fortress, where we entered, was probably built under Humayun as it is part of the main fortifications. On either side of the triple storied structure were bastions with gun slits. The gate's surface ornamentation consisted of sandstone and marble inlay patterns and stone carvings and tile work. 

Steven decided to read on the grass while I again wandered around the 3 buildings that comprised the fort. The first one I came across was the Qila-e-Kuhna Masjid or Sher Shah Mosque. 

Photos of Sher Shah Mosque:
The name of the mosque literally means 'the mosque of the old fort.' The fort's congregational mosque was built in 1541 and marked the Mughul building era with its Persian influences. This was demonstrated by the importance given the central arch of the façade which is higher than the others and had a monumental gateway.

I then walked over to the neighboring tower of Sher Mandal, the double sided octagonal pavilion of red sandstone relieved by marble stripes.
Photos of Sher Mandal:
On the second story was a cruciform chamber that had recesses on both sides. The interior was decorated with glazed tiles and geometric patterned stucco work. It is believed to have been used initially as a pleasure resort before becoming Humayun’s library. It was there that the emperor fell while descending the steps as he was responding to the Muslim call to prayer.
Note the marble inlaid six pointed star pattern decoration on the red sandstone. That shaped star is a cosmic symbol.
The Kalash or Hindu ritual vessel was carved in the corner of the base.
Behind the pavilion were the ruined brick remains of the Hamman or Bath House. Bath houses with provisions for hot and cold water and even steam rooms were an important part of the Mughul culture. In the years after the abandonment of the fort as a capital of the empire, this structure was forgotten and built over. It was revealed when the clearance of the village of Indarpat and conservation of the site was undertaken by the Archeological Survey of India in 1913-14.
A view of the Hamman and Sher Mandal.
After I walked back to the entrance to collect Steven, we walked to the other gate that we could see from a distance below.

Though called the Humayun Darwaza, this gate, above and below, is attributed partly to Sher Shah on the basis of a fading inscription in ink found in one of the rooms on the upper story. The lower one opened at the level of the moat while the upper one would have been approached by a drawbridge across the moat.

We decided not to enter the Archeological Museum above even though the entrance fee was a paltry 5 rupees, just 7 cents!
Lotus rosette on the 6 pointed star.

We left Purana Qila at 1 wanting to go to take a tuk tuk to Humayun’s Tomb next. Normally getting a tuk tuk in New Delhi or anywhere else in India or Asia is simple enough but outside Purana Qila, we had to negotiate with a tuk tuk broker who was responsible for the 10 drivers there. We finally hired one for 50 rupees (.75) after the initial bid of 100 rupees to drive us the 10 minutes to the tomb.

Listed in 1993 by UNESCO as a perfect example of a Mughul garden tomb, the complex was situated in a large park-like area that also contained the tombs of several other important people.
Just beyond the entrance to thew massive complex, a door in the wall provided access to Isa Khan's Tomb, above, the last resting place of a coutier from the era of the usurping Sher Shah.

Photos of Isa Khan's Tomb:
The Isa Khan Enclosure included his tomb and a mosque and was built in 1547 behind fortress-like walls.

The jalli or single screen could take a team of 4 craftsmen almost 2 months to carve.

The octagonal tomb, which predated Humayun's Tomb by only 20 years, had canopies, glazed tiles and lattice screens. On the western side of the enclosure, the 3 bay-wide mosque, above, had grand red sandstone central bays. Until the early twentieth century, an entire village had settled in the enclosure.
Leaving the Isa Khan Enclosure, we continued walking toward Humayun's Tomb until we reached the beautiful white entrance way, below, which provided access to the Bu Halima Garden. The entrance predated Humayun's Tomb itself although the mausoleum and garden were designed in alignment to it.

Beyond that entrance was another long thoroughfare that led us to the Western Gate, below, which was the entrance to more gardens surrounding Humayun's Tomb. 
The 16 m high Western Gate serves as an 'architectural curtain designed to conceal the garden and tomb from view until the last minute when Humayun's mausoleum appears in all its glory'. Rooms on either side of the gate flanked the central passage and the upper floor which had small courtyards. Six sided stars so often used by the Mughuls  as an ornamental cosmic symbol adorned the structure.

Finally, a view of Humayun's Tomb built in 1565 after entering the walled Mughal gardens! Right away we noticed the contrast between the red sandstone and the white marble. The inconsolable widow of Emperor Humayun entrusted the design of the monument to a Persian architect. He created a work that was virtually perfect and served as a prototype for all the Indo-Islamic mausoleums that followed, the pinnacle of which was the construction of the Taj Mahal in Agra.
Yeah - more steps to climb to access the actual tomb itself!

The tomb stood on an elevated base; a large iwan or vaulted space broke up the solid wall on each of the 4 sides and created a sense of lightness. 
Humayun's mausoleum was the first ever use of sandstone in such vast quantities. Reminiscent of the red royal Mughal tents, it was to become Emperor Akbar's favorite building material.
The flattened interior dome was not the same size as the exterior dome which was slightly wider and taller. As a result, a giant empty space was left between the 2 domes. This was the first result of a double-dome in India.

A single door on the southern side of the magnificent mausoleum opened into the interior of the tomb where Humayun lay in solitary splendor in a small and ostentatiously plain marble tomb, above and below.

These tombs belonged to Humayun's sons and were located in a separate chamber of the mausoleum.

We found the tombs of Humayun's 3 daughters in yet another chamber of the mausoleum.
Beautiful black and white marble adorned the 8 arches and 4 doorways.
 We saw this floor design used throughout much of the mausoleum.
After spending time admiring the interior,  we walked clockwise around the exterior of the tomb and got a sense of the scale of the mausoleum. We both admired the exquisite tile work on the cupola, below.

The beautiful gardens that surrounded the tomb followed the Persian-style charbagh pattern in which the garden is divided into 4 quarters by water channels: a representation of the Islamic gardens of paradise.
What a pretty little fountain near the exit.

As we left the stunning Humayaun’s Tomb, Steven and I remarked how amazed we were that in an Indian culture of such religiosity and non violent thought, that there was little to no sense of what we would call politeness. We had barely hear a single ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ in our entire time in India thus far which was a noticeable difference from our experiences in our travels to other nations.
When we left Humayun’s Tomb, we hired a tuk tuk driver for the rest of the day for 300 rupees to take us first to the Nizamuddin Temple, then on to Lodhi Gardens, Qutb Minar and finally the Cottage Emporium, the Indian government store selling traditional crafts. We were happy to have just one driver for the rest of the day.
As we walked toward the temple, we got the impression we ‘had to pay’ to place our shoes under the flower seller’s table. We realized later, of course, that the flower seller had hoodwinked us as we could have taken then with us – how gullible we were not to have realized his money-making ploy!

Photo of Nizamuddin Temple:

Nizamuddin was a mainly Muslim district named after Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, a mystic Sufi saint of the Chisti order who died in 1325. 

The saint's dargah or tomb was decorated by pilgrims with rose petals and jasmine which, combined with the brilliant green of the chaddars or elaborately decorated lengths of cloth above and below, added cheerfulness to the area surrounding the tomb. 

It was quite disconcerting to see so many beggars in the narrow alley leading from the temple.

After only spending a short while at the Temple, our driver took us next to Lodhi Garden, a haven of peace and greenery located nearby. The large park featured tombs from the fifteenth century.

Photos of Lodhi Garden:
Photos of Sultan Mohamed Shah Sayyid’s Tomb:

Muhammed Shah belonged to the Sayyid dynasty which reigned from 1414-51. Since the Sayyids only ruled for a short period of time, they had neither the time nor money to build grand cities or palaces. Of the few architectural remains of the period was this tomb of the third Sayyid ruler who ruled from 1433-44. The octagonal plan, corner butresses, decorative plaster finishes and rooftop pavilions were distinctive features of its time. 
The tomb, once surrounded by walls, was now guarded by royal palm trees which reminded me of concrete pillars!

It was the first example in Delhi of an octagonal tomb: a central chamber with 8 sides topped by a spherical dome and surrounded by a gallery supporting 8 rooftop pavilions.
The central 15m chamber contained several graves; the central one is believed to be that of Muhammed Shah and the others belonged to his family.

Photos of the Bada Gumbal Mosque:
At the center of the park 2 imposing buildings housed the tombs of unidentified but undoubtedly important people of the sultanate. The Bara Gumbad or Big Dome, built in 1494, appeared to have 2 stories from the outside. The main material used was a gray quartsite with some other stones used for decorative touches such as red sandstone on the doorways and a combination of red, gray and black stone on the facade.
The large Bada Gumbad Mosque beside the tomb measured 25 meters by 6.5 meters and had decorative incised and painted limestone plaster. 
An inscription over the southern mihrab (the arch on the western wall which indicates the direction of prayer) dated the mosque to 1494.

A photo from the mosque looking out at Shish Gumbad. 
The tomb also looked like it was double storied. Its western wall had a mihrab which served as a mosque while the other walls had a central entrance. Inside, the high ceiling was decorated with stucco and painted ornamentation with a floral pattern and inscriptions from the Koran. There were several graves inside but the names of the people buried are unknown.

Shish Gumbad's exterior was originally covered with blue earthenware tiles which gave it its name meaning 'Dome of Glass'. I could only imagine how beautiful the entire tomb would have been with the stunning blue shaded tiles.
It was so nice having the driver wait for us as we left Lodi Garden and then take us for the long drive to Qutb Minar located a fair distance away in the southern part of Delhi.
Unfortunately, we only saw Safdarjung's Tomb, above, as we were whizzing by in the tuk tuk en route to Qutb Minar. The building, constructed in 1754 and often cited as the last masterpiece of Mughul art, had the typical features of the Indo-Islamic tombs dating back to 1560. 

 We arrived at Qutb Minar at 4:30 after experiencing some heavy traffic en route.

Photos of Qutb Minar:
This beautiful park featured a mosque, tombs (of course, you say!) and buildings generally dating from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The most famous building was the Qutb Minar, the monument that symbolizes Delhi. The minaret tower, now a UNESCO Heritage Site, commemorates the victory of Muhammed Ghori (and Islam) over the Hindu king Prithviraj 111 at the battle of Tarain in 1192. Its name honors General Qutubuddin Aibak who commanded Muhammed's troops and became first governor and then sultan of Delhi from 1206-10.
The construction of the first story at Qutb Minar was interrupted by Aibak's death; the remaining stories were completed in matching material and style by his successor in 1230. The tower, which  years ago could be ascended by 379 steps, is the highest stone tower in India.
The 73m high slightly conical outline of the minaret comprises 5 successive sections decorated with bands of Kufic script that resembled armbands.
Above and below, Quwwat-ul-Islam or the Power of Islam, the ruins of the oldest mosque in India. Begun in 1193 and extended twice over the course of 100 years, it was built with materials recovered from about 20 Hindu and Jain temples that had been destroyed in the name of the Muslim faith. All that remained of the mosque's prayer hall were the majestic pointed arcades of the entrance, covered in vine branches and Koranic inscriptions.

Photos of Quwwat-ul-Islam:

Just behind the minaret was a cube-shaped building with an arch, the Alai Darwaza above. As we passed through it, we could see the faithful entering the mosque. This gate was added in 1310. The local Hindu artists carved interlacing, swooping Koranic inscriptions that covered every square inch of the monument with a horror vacui (literally 'fear of empty space')  that is characteristic of Indian art.

We enjoyed watching the last sunset of our over three month long trip at Qutb Minar. As I write this belatedly a month later, I wonder where the first sunset will be on our next 'Big Trip.'

Walking toward the Alai Minar.

The Alai Minar or the Unfinished Tower was supposed to have been twice the height of Qutb Minar but it had hardly reached its first story when Alauddin Khalij, its creator who was also responsible for doubling the size of the nearby mosque, died.

We left the beautiful area around 5:30 and told the tuk tuk driver we had changed our minds and no longer wanted to go to the Cottage Emporium or any other stores as we were tired. The driver, who had been so pleasant and friendly til then, insisted on taking us shopping as he wanted a commission on anything we might buy. We stuck to our guns however saying it was late and we had a long flight to London the next day and did not want to shop anywhere at that point. He then stopped the tuk tuk and ‘dumped’ us on the side of the road leaving us to find another driver to take us back to our hotel! We were so fortunate that we quickly found anotherr tuk tuk driver who said would drive us back for 200 rupees.
The drive back took about 90 minutes because of nightmarish traffic – luckily we made a 2 minute pitstop at Mickey D’s so we could grab a bite to eat on the go – but our driver never once lost his cool. He was thrilled when we paid him an extra 200 rupees when we finally got back to our hotel after 7; we were only too happy to ‘reward’ him for his patience and great attitude especially after our experience with the preceding driver!

It was with mixed feelings that we spent our last night in Delhi - thrilled of course that we were heading at least part way home the next day and would soon see family and friends whom we had missed so much after being away for so long, but also more than a hint of sadness too that our exciting adventure that had taken us around the world was almost at an end.

Posted at long last on 1/19/16 from our home in Littleton, Colorado!