Friday, April 22, 2005

Day Six – Goa, India, 15o31’ N, 73o 56’ E

...coming soon...

La Parque de Maria Luisa, Seville

A horse-drawn buggy in the beautiful Parque de Maria Luisa, Seville.

Photo reproduced with kind permission of Jeff. Please visit his wonderful site for a personal guide to Seville.

Velazquez Birthplace, Seville

The house in which the painter Diego Velazquez was born, in 1599.

Photo reproduced with kind permission of Jeff. Please visit his wonderful site for a personal guide to Seville.

View from La Giralda, Seville

The view from the top of La Giralda, looking south.

Seville Cathedral - Interior

The cavernous interior of Seville Cathedral.

Seville Cathedral


Seville Cathedral
Originally uploaded by Digital_Daytripper.
The magnificent Seville Cathedral, with the orange trees in bloom.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Day Five – Seville, Spain - 37o 24’ N, 05o 59’ W

....and clears.....and tilts alarmingly.

When I manage to re-orient myself I find I'm lying on my side on a bench! Groggily I haul myself upright and only then do I truly appreciate the fabulous building before me, the Seville Cathedral. It's a cool, crisp, early morning here in Spain, so I don't need much encouragement and briskly walk across the plaza and enter the Cathedral.

-oOo-


The history of the Cathedral reads like a history of Southern Spain in general, and Seville in particular. Construction began in 1402 on the site of what was once Seville’s Grand Mosque (a 12th century Moorish building) and continued well into the 16th century.

A truly enormous building, its central nave is rises 42 metres high, whilst its total area covers 11,520 square metres – in fact, recent measurements based on cubic volume have led it to be crowned the largest church in the world, narrowly edging in front of St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London.

I have to confess to being rather disappointed with the interior, regardless of any photographic evidence. Size simply isn’t enough here. For me, it is just a touch too gloomy and ill-lit, the interplay of various architectural styles clashing rather than blending in a harmonius whole.

Having said that, however, there are some singular works of art in here. Take, for example, the altarpiece, the Retablo Mayor. The lifetime’s work of a single artist, Pierre Dancart, it comprises 45 distinct wood-carved scenes from the life of Christ and is the largest altarpiece in the world.

Also within the church is the tomb of that terrible navigator, but great explorer, Christopher Columbus .

Reflecting Seville’s Moorish heritage is the exquisite minaret, La Giralda, part of the mosque which originally occupied this site, reaching up to meet the glorious blue sky.

Dominating the Sevilla skyline, the minaret of La Giralda served as a model for the minarets in the Moorish imperial capitals of Rabat and Marrakesh. It was used by the Moors for calling the faithful to prayer and also as an observatory and was so beloved that they wanted to destroy it rather than see it fall into the hands of the Christians. The original top of the minaret, a copper sphere, was destroyed by an earthquake in the 16th century.

I’ve heard the view from the top is breathtaking. I wonder if I’ll have any breath left to take by the time I reach the top of the 35 gently-inclining ramps that take the foot-sore traveller to the bell-tower?

-oOo-


Emerging from the bottom of the tower, I am whisked from a mediaeval setting and plunged into the hustle and bustle of a truly modern city. Walking down a narrow street, crammed full of serious-looking Spaniards intermixed with slow-moving tourists, I sometimes hear the cry of (what sounds like to me) “weeeeeen stone….weeeeeeen stone”. Following this strange cry to its source I find an old man sitting cross-legged at the bottom of a flight of stairs, surrounded by boxes and boxes of cigarettes and cigars.

Chatting with him for a few minutes in my halting Spanish I learn that he frequently makes the trip by boat to Morocco where he buys his stock (“Moroccan tobacco is better than Spanish”, he confides) before returning to Spain to sell his goods. All very shady and exciting! The cry of “weeeeenstone” is, of course, “Winston” (the American brand of cigarettes) and gives these cigarette-vendors their local name – Winstoneros.

-oOo-


Walking along s little alley between Plaza Alfalfa and Plaza de San Pedro I come upon a burnt-orange house, bearing a small bronze plaque. The plaque informs me that in this house, in the year 1599, the baroque-era painter Diego Velazquez was born. I'm too tired and hungry now to take much in, other than to notice that the building now seems to house a business of some sort so I move off in seach of somewhere to rest and refuel.

Continuing to walk the streets, I decide to enter one of the many bars that are seemingly infinite in number in some areas of Seville. Upon the bar-top I find, as expected, lots of different varieties of tapas. The word tapas comes from the Spanish word for 'cover' and refers to the card that used to be put on top of a drink to protect it from flies. Nowadays that usage is almost forgotten and the word refers more commonly to those tasty snacks that in many parts of Spain are included in the price of a drink. Tapas are usually strongly-flavoured and examples of these include olives, cheeses, mackerel or anchovies, often in a garlic, olive oil and pepper sauce.

I have to admit that I simply adore tapas - especially when accompanied by a nice cold Spanish beer such as Estrella Damm - and could quite happily sit here all day. Does anyone know if there is a football match on tonight?

-oOo-


Very reluctantly I drag myself out of the tapas bar and into the street. Time is passing and there are still a couple of things I want to see.

The first of these lies close to the University and the Plaza de Espana(you may recognise this latter location as the location for the planet 'Naboo' in the Star Wars films). The place to which I'm going, however, is the Parque de Maria Luisa.

The park itself is a half-mile paradise of palms and orange trees, elms and Mediterranean pines, covered with flower beds and dotted with hidden glades, ponds and pavilions. It was designed in the 1920's by the architect Anibal Gonzalez in the Art Deco style for the Iberoamericana fair of 1929. I could, and would love to, spend all afternoon here exploring the many paths of the park, either on foot or in one of the horse-drawn carriages that are for hire, but alas, time is now desperately short... I can feel a shimmer approach... so I press on.

-oOo-


Up ahead is my final destination for the day, the Museo Arqueológico but it's too late! Even as I approach it, it begins to shimmer before my eyes.....it will have to wait.....the world shimmers.......

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

St. Paul's Cathedral, Macau

The facade, crypt, steps and mosaic floor are all that remains.

Lou Lim Ioc Gardens, Macau

A true haven of peace and tranquility.

The Temple of A-Ma, Macau

Over 500 years old, the temple is situated at the base of cliffs.

Largo do Senado, Macau


Largo do Senado, Macau
Originally uploaded by Digital_Daytripper.
Another view of Senate Square, Macau.

Largo do Senado, Macau


Largo do Senado, Macau
Originally uploaded by Digital_Daytripper.
Senate Square is one of the main meeting-places in the city.

Hotel View


Hotel View
Originally uploaded by Digital_Daytripper.
Upon opening the curtains....

Map of Eastern China


Map of Eastern China
Originally uploaded by Digital_Daytripper.
You'll find Macau underlined in yellow.

Day Four – 22o 12' 20" N , 113o 32' 43" E, Macau, China

Hmmm, strange bedroom. Which means I've shifted again while I slept. Looks like standard-issue hotel fare. I could be anywhere.

I get up and cross the room, completely unprepared for the urban jungle that greets me as I pull back the curtains. Ugly, post-modern cubes brush against ornately-carved mediterranean style townhouses, the whole a strange blend of old West meets new East, the huge jutting spire of a large tower reaching for the heavens in the distance. Pulling open a drawer in my bedside cupboard I find what I'm looking for - a hotel information booklet. You find these things in almost every hotelroom bedside drawer in the world. This one is emblazoned with the words Grandeur Hotel, Macau. South-eastern China, then, it seems.

30 minutes later I'm washed, dressed and in the lobby and it is simply a matter of handing over my American Express card and I'm all done and ready to go - $597.24 HKD (Hong Kong Dollars) or £40GBP poorer, it has to be admitted. Before I leave however, I spend a few minutes perusing the various brightly-postered notice boards in the foyer, each one vying for my attention (and money-spending power!). Nothing really catches my eye - organised trips aren't my thing really - although some of the trip destinations look tempting. I think I'll take a walk and see where I end up.

-oOo-


The large open area I find myself in a short while later is quite unlike anything I've yet seen on my travels. I'm in Largo Do Senado (Senate Square), an intricately-tiled space from which I can see several impressive buildings, including the Leal Senado, the Santa Casa da Misericordia and also Sao Domingos Church. Any one of these three buildings would be impressive on it's own, but to have all three in such close proximity is simply a joy. The square itself is full of people, from animated tourists festooned with all kinds of visual gadgetry to local people, chatting and enjoying the morning sunshine. Looking down the many side-streets leading off the square I can see markets, shops and row upon row of dusty mopeds.

Crossing the square I enter the Tourist Information offices and am given directions to the nearest bus stop. After a 20-minute bus ride which offered some stunning coastal views, the air-conditioned minibus pulls up outside the grounds of the A-Ma Temple, set at the base of some imposing cliffs.

I lift a small booklet from a heavily-decorated table set in an alcove just inside the main gates and as I make my way up one of the many winding paths set around the cliffs I begin to read.

Over 500 years old, the A-Ma temple is dedicated to the Goddess A-Ma. According to legend, A-Ma, a poor girl looking for passage to Canton, was refused by the wealthy junk owners but a lowly fisherman took her on board. A storm blew up and wrecked all but the boat carrying the girl. On arrival in Macau she vanished, to reappear as a goddess, on the spot where the fishermen built her temple to pay homage. Many disciples gather here on 23 March every year (the birthday of A-Ma) to pay homage and pray for good fortune. At this point in my reading I have to break off - I'm too absorbed by the many engravings and sculptures that adorn the cliff-side.

The day is getting warm now as the sun approaches midday - on the bus on the way back into town I see the outside-temperature thermometer reads 25oC (77oF). The bus pulls up at a stop on Estrado Adolfo Loureiro and, seeing a sign for Lou Lim Iok Gardens, think that this might be a relaxing place to sit in the shade for a while and cool off.

I find myself suddenly transported to a landscaped wonderland of European and Chinese plants surrounding an ornately columned and arched mansion. The plants are a riot of colour and profusion all thriving in many different settings - lotus ponds, pavilions, groves, grottoes, twisting pathways, ornamental fountains and curiously-shaped doorways to nowhere. A wonderful atmosphere of stillness and serenity permeates this place. If, as I did, you can find a corner without too many tourists you'll find yourself not wanting to leave and before you know it 2 hours will have passed. But, alas, all good things must come to an end, and finding my appetite growing I decide to hone it to sharpeness with the 30-minute walk required to take me back to Largo do Senado.

-oOo-


Walking down the substantially-titled Avenida do Conselheiro Ferraira de Almeida, I see lots of street vendors selling such things as egg rolls and bean flour cookies with lots of different fillings/toppings (e.g. seaweed, pork floss, almonds, peanuts) and it's a real struggle not to give in to temptation. I succeed, however and soon I'm sitting in a cafe on Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro (short street-names are hard to come by in this part of the world, it seems!) where the princely feast of Water Crab Porridge, Steamed Eel with Black Bean Paste and Deep Fried Fish Balls costs me $200HKD (Hong Kong Dollars), which is about £13.40GBP (British pounds). Yum yum!

-oOo-


Struggling to my feet I set off once more, deciding that after this I'd better think about finding a hotel for the night. Unsure where to head, I set off along the Rue de Sao Domingos, my feet seeming to find their way of their own accord to the magnificent ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral.

These ruins with their superb statues and engravings are considered by some to be Christianity's greatest monument in Asia. Originally completed early in the 17th century by exiled Japanese Christians all that remains today is the facade of the church, along with it's mosaic floor and approaching steps. The rest of the church was destroyed by fire during a monsoon in 1835.

It seems I've been here but minutes when around me the world shimmers......

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw

This imposing building contains 3288 rooms on 43 floors with cinemas, theatres, museums, bookshops and a large conference hall for 3000 guests.

Royal Castle, Warsaw, 2005

Rebuilt in the 1970's, it is now a branch of the National Museum.

Royal Castle, Warsaw, 1944

The remains of the Royal Castle, after the Nazis fled before the advancing Russian army.

Powazki Cemetary, Warsaw

Graves of Polish soldiers who fell during the Warsaw Uprising.

Day Three – Warsaw, Poland 52o 13’ N 21o02’ E

...and clears.

I find mysely surrounded by gravestones, some relatively recent, some obviously much more ancient. This really is a hauntingly beautiful place, the leafy trees rustling softly in the gentle afternoon breeze. Softly, as befitting a place of such imposing solemnity, I approach an old gentleman who is tending a grave. The simple black marble gravestone bears the name of the influential film director Krzysztof Kieslowski. This means I can be in only one place - the Powazki Cemetery, Warsaw, Poland.

Warsaw’s most remarkable feature is, it seems to me, its durability. No matter how many times the city is invaded, it rises again, surviving all the tragedy that history can throw at it. Only one of many such events occurred near the end of WWII when it became clear that the Nazis would soon be forced to abandon the city under the gunfire of the approaching Russians. Anticipating help from the Russians, the Poles rose up against their Nazi occupiers, however no such help was forthcoming and the uprising was crushed, the survivors being either transported to POW camps (in the case of the fighters) or expelled from the city in the case of the civilian population. This period in Warsaw's history became known as the Warsaw Uprising.Modern historians now disagree on whether the Russians could have reached the city in time to make a contribution.

-oOo-


Leaving the cemetery I board one of the city's many and frequent bus services and after a short journey find myself outside the Royal Castle, which, by the time the Russians entered the city near the end of World War II, was reduced (along with 85% of the city's pre-war building) to a pile of rubble. The Castle as I see it before me now, was re-built in the 1970's and is now a branch of the National Museum. Unfortunately, the museum is now closed for the day (opening hours 10:00am - 4:00pm), so I continue on foot in search of a something to eat and a bed for the night.

One of the buildings which so dominates the skyline of present-day Warsaw is the huge (230m) concrete sky-scraper, The Museum of Science and Culture, a starkly beautiful structure, even if understandably not quite to everyone's taste. This building was a controversial gift to the Varsovian people from the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin. Construction began in 1952 and completed in 1955 and for some time during construction there was dispute over what the completed structure would actually be used for. The Soviet authorities were planning a university modelled on Moscow State University but the will of the Poles carried the day and so it still serves as a museum.

-oOo-


Not far from the museum I find a charming little restaurant, the Adler where I avail myself of their varied menu. I opt for a starter of wild mushrooms in creamy sauce with bavarian dumpling (34.00 Polish Zloty or £5.51) and a main course of roasted pork knuckle served with dumplings and rhein cabbage (39.00 Polish Zloty or £6.33), all washed down with a pint of Okicim Polish beer (8.50 Polish Zloty or £1.37). Fantastic!!

By this point, it's getting on for 9pm - I check out the local cinema, the Atlantic, but there doesn't seem to be anything on that catches my eye. Time to find somewhere to spend the night, I think. I enquire at the cinema ticket booth if they can recommend somewhere near at hand that isn't too expensive and am given directions to a nearby hostel.

Walking alone at night in a strange city, there is none of the sense of unease in Warsaw that you might find in many cities closer to home. The streets are clean and relatively litter-free and the steady rush of traffic is comforting, in a urbanized sort-of way and before long I find myself standing outside the charmingly-named Okidoki hostel.

This is a fascinating place which was specifically created as an alternative to mainstream accomodation. Each room is a separate artistic project with names such as 'The House of Angels' and 'The House of the Maiden'. I book a 1-person bedroom for the night(110.00 Polish Zloty or £17.87, including breakfast) and am soon quietly snoring my head off.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Hard Rock Cafe, Montreal


Hard Rock Cafe
Originally uploaded by Digital_Daytripper.
Try their "pig sandwich". Swine-licious.

Street Art 02


Montreal-Street-Art-02
Originally uploaded by Digital_Daytripper.
Urban art, Montreal style.

Street Art 01


Montreal Street Art 01
Originally uploaded by Digital_Daytripper.
Urban art, Montreal style

Day Two - 45o 28’ 0” N 73o 45’ 0” W - Montreal, Quebec, Canada

It comes as a pleasant suprise to wake next morning and find I'm still in the same bed as I went to sleep in. What comes as a bit more of a shock is that I have slept for 12 full hours and it's now getting on for lunchtime.

Since I'm unsure how much time I have left in Montreal, I decide I'd better make the best of it and throw my clothes on rapidly before heading out in search of some sustenance.
-oOo-

The Lucien-L'Allier Metro Station is only a few minutes walk from the hostel, and after a wait of only a few more minutes I'm rolling along in the direction of the city centre. On a whim, I get off the metro at Guy Station and within a short while I spot the Hard Rock Cafe. That'll do nicely.

An hour or so later, suitably sated on a Potato Skins starter and the amusingly-named "Pig Sandwich", I roll out onto the street and roll into the nearest tourist information office.

The wonderfully friendly and helpful staff make do the best they can to tempt me with the various attractions that are on offer, but I am rather early in the season they explain apologetically. In the end I think I'm needing a lift so I jump in a taxi and ask for 2111 Saint-Laurent Blvd, wherein resides the Just For Laughs Museum and soon I'm tee-heeing and laughing with the rest of the visitors at the antics of the likes of Steve Martin and Woody Allen in the International Comedy Hall of Fame show.

As the afternoon draws to a close and the crowds begin to thin out as busy commuters make their way home, I find myself walking along an almost-deserted urban thoroughfare. There really are some stunning examples of street art to be found in this neighbourhood, and as I stand admiring the technicolor masonry canvases, they begin to shimmer in front of my eyes...........

Parc Mont Royal


Purple Cross
Originally uploaded by Digital_Daytripper.
The Cross on Mount Royal.

Satellite Imagery

A satellite image of the Montreal Youth Hostel and surrounding area.

Day One - Later – 45o 28’ 0” N 73o 45’ 0” W - Montreal, Québec, Canada

...and clears.

My trusty GPRS tells informs me that I'm the city of Montreal, in the province of Quebec, Canada. My trusty senses tell me that it's a cool, clear mid-evening, and the stars are out. Looking around me I see a sign that reads "Parc Mont Royal" which even my basic, un-augmented, French-language skills manage to translate as Mount Royal Park.

Raising my eyes to follow the sloping path I can see a purplish glow through the trees and set off to investigate. Before long I find the source of the glow. I stop for a few minutes to catch my breath after the climb and question a passer-by about the significance of the cross.

"It's a symbol of Catholicism in Quebec," he tells me, "it turns purple after every Pope's death. It returns to it's normal white color after the Cardinals elect the new Pope."

Returning down the path I hail myself a taxi and ask the driver to find me somewhere to sleep for the night, not too expensive, and in short order he deposits me at the doors of the Montreal Youth Hostel. For my $25.78CAD for the night I get a bed in a clean, well-furnished dormitory, where I settle down for the night to read a copy of The Montreal Gazette which was in a newsstand in the Hostel reception area. Today's headlines include:

  • Finola Hackett wins the CanWest CanSpell National Spelling Championship
  • Cardinals begin conclave to elect next pope.
  • Jean Charest, prime minister of Quebec, makes his first official trip to Washington.

It's been a long day, though, and I can't take much more in. My eyes close of their own accord.

-oOo-

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Day One - 29o 17' 56" N 94o 47' 38" W - Galveston, Tx, U.S.A.

The world shimmers........

.....and clears. Looking at my GPRS, I find I'm in Galveston, Texas. To be more precise, I soon find out that I'm in the Hotel Galvez. And very nice it is too. $139 per night for the room I'm in, but the sea views are stunning.

I decide to head down to the lobby and see if I can find out some more about this city. Luckily some kind soul has left a copy of Galveston - A History of the Island and I need no invitation. Finding a comfortable armchair, I settle down and begin to read...(click the "lobby" link for a webcam view of the lobby - you might just see me over there *points*, in the corner)

  • Galveston, named after the 18th Century governor of Spanish Louisiana Bernardo de Galvez, has (according to a census taken in the year 2000) a population of 57,247. In the year 1839 it adopted a charter and was incorporated by the Congress of the Republic of Texas.

And it looks like I'm too early for the Schlitterbahn Waterpark that's opening next month. Bummer.

By the time I've had a quick scan through the Galveston County Daily News my stomach's growling. Let's go check out the local cuisine.

-oOo-


The Tremont House Hotel. I like the look of this place - gorgeous Victorian architecture - so I decide to give it a go. The menu is a classy affair, even if the effect is somewhat spoiled by the "Starbucks" logo at the bottom of the last page. For starters, I opt for the Crab Cakes served with Remoulade sauce and fresh lemon ($8.00). My main course is the mouthwatering Filet Mignon served with blue cheese pistachio hollandaise and accompanied by Au Gratin potatoes and fresh seasonal vegetables ($25.00). Thoroughly stuffed, I am reluctantly forced to send away the waiters who are trying to persuade me that I can indeed manage a dessert. I call for the bill and wander off into the night.

Wandering back towards the hotel, in the failing light of evening, the world shimmers..........