The Weerribben-Wieden. The Netherlands. June 13-15, 2015

As a birthday present for my sister, we went for a long weekend to National Park Weerribben-Wieden. Our hotel, Huis ten Wolde, was even better than expected. The room was very spacious and had a large patio with a breathtaking view over low, green lands and a huge sky. We had rented e-bikes for the 3 days. Considering the wide, open space we expected lots of wind so an e-bike was not a luxury. Or maybe it was. We didn’t get out of breath trying to bike against the strong wind and we actually moved at a good pace!
Breakfasts at the hotel were buffet-style. We got a packed lunch to take with us on our bike rides, and at dinner time we had 3-course surprise dinners with accompanying wine. The meals were served in beautiful rooms, decorated with very interesting pieces of art.
Our bike rides took us through the Weerribben-Wieden National park and several little towns and villages like Giethoorn, Steenwijk, Ossenzijl and many more. We had selected different routes for each day, covering of an average of 60 km each day. Bicycle routes are very well indicated.
The Weerribben-Wieden National Park is located in the north of the province Overijssel. Regardless of how untouched the area may look, most of it has been man-made. People used to cut the peat our of the water and produced turf. Everywhere in the national park you can find the pattern left behind by the holes dug out in the marsh and the lands strips in the peat bogs. At some places too much peat was removed. Due to the wind and waves large lakes ensued. Nature managed to adapt to the created conditions at every turn. This national park is of great importance as a habitat for animal species (information: Nationaal Park Weerribben-Wieden).
We started out with a bit of drizzle, but that didn’t dampen our mood. We were dressed for the weather! Our first coffee stop was in a restaurant with as decoration (?) a large statue of Mary! Continuing our trip my sister noticed she had a flat tire. Where to find a repair shop. In the restaurant they directed us to a gas station, a couple of km’s down the road. Would there be something else? We asked a mailman. He knew someone, very close by, but didn’t know if he was home. He wasn’t. What next. We phoned the “ANWB-wegenwacht” the equivalent of BC Canada’s BCAA. Normally a car service but they do help other vehicles, regardless of the number of wheels. In an hour the service car appeared and the very kind gentleman fixed the tire and we were on our way again. The weather improved and we had a great day. We filled the next 2 days with riding our bikes through the beautiful country side, enjoyed the weather, the sun, each other’s company. We had picnics , except one day when there was an invasion of mosquitoes and we had our lunch while riding our bikes. Next day the mosquitoes were all gone….
We saw plenty of storks, nests with young, a deer that could not find a way out of the field, heard the song of mating frogs, spotted all kinds of birds (but don’t know the names or species), crossed a water on a small bicycle ferry, saw windmills and tjaskers. Could not get to see an “eendenkooi” as it is only open under the guidance of a guide and it was breeding season, but the area was lovely and peaceful. The farmhouses in this area are beautiful. They are very well maintained, have almost all thatched roofs.
The Netherlands is a small country and even though I have traveled there extensively, growing up in The Netherlands, there are still places that are a total surprise!

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The Netherlands, June 2015. Cycling the art route along the river Meuse.

Once again we hopped on our bikes (yes, an e-bike for me!) and like last year we followed the route of the art along the river Meuse (Maas). Somehow we found this year’s art not quite as impressive as last year, maybe because most of the works seemed smaller, but it gave us a wonderful excuse for a bike trip. My brother and I made it our personal challenge to take worthwhile photographs of each and every artwork. Unfortunately we could not get close to the “Black Widow” as the meadow had been closed off due to wandering steers and cows.  And “Meandering” apparently had been taken down by the artist due to high winds. So, 8 pieces remained.
One of them, and my first photograph listed, is of the “Plankers“. Strangely enough this has been google translated on the site as “Plan Cherry” which doesn’t make any sense to me.
The Planking fad (or the Lying Down Game) is an activity consisting of lying face down—sometimes in an unusual or incongruous location. Both hands must touch the sides of the body. Some players compete to find the most unusual and original location in which to play.  The term planking refers to mimicking a wooden plank. Planking can include lying flat on a flat surface, or holding the body flat while it is supported in only some regions, with other parts of the body suspended. Many participants in planking have photographed the activity in unusual locations and have shared such pictures through social media (information: Wikipedia).
No translation is given for “Struiners“. This means “walkers”.
All the other images speak more or less for themselves. Information can be find on this link by clicking on the tab “artworks”.

In Neerlangel we visited the tiny church of St. Jan de Doper (St. John the Baptist).
Originally a Romanesque church hall built in the eleventh century. The Romanesque tuffstone tower is probably the oldest Romanesque building in North Brabant. In the fifteenth century the church was expanded with a Gothic choir. In 1869 the church was demolished because of its dilapidated condition and changing insights. On the old foundations, the current Neo-Gothic church has risen. The Romanesque tower was spared.

Some of the other photos show Nature’s art. Judge for yourself. Who is the winner here?
We also saw thatching roofers. To build a thatched roof is quite an art.
Another trip saw unexpected animals at a seemingly very Dutch farm: cows, goats, sheep and…camels!
My sister also showed me a gorgeous house, with rust coloured slate siding, built on stilts. It stands on the floodplain between river and dike and had to be demolished. The owners fought this order and won. No doubt tons of disclaimers had to be signed. But as only the garage is on floor level, it doesn’t look like the water will ever get high enough to reach the living areas.

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India, February 2015 Bangalore

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On February 4 we flew from Vancouver, BC Canada to Delhi, via Amsterdam (Feb. 5)

We had about 5 hours in Delhi, in the very early morning hours, before we could board our flight to Bangalore (Feb. 6) in the state Karnataka. The name “Bangalore” represents an anglicised version of the Kannada language name, Bengalūru.

We arrived around 9:30 am at Bengaluru Airport where we were greeted by a representative of indiaonline.nl (this is a Dutch site. A google translation is not recommended. Rather, check this site to get an English version) where we had booked our South India week. After a smooth ride we were dropped off at our accommodation: Casa Piccola C ottage, a charming family hotel, where we were welcomed by the French owner, Mrs. Benjamine Oberoi.

In the evening we ventured out on foot to a recommended restaurant. Well…….in the dark, on non-existing sidewalks, potholes and obstructions galore…..this was not a success. We did find the restaurant eventually, had a fairly decent meal and went back to the hotel by auto rickshaw!

Next day we decided to rent a tuk-tuk (auto-rickshaw) for the day. We were very lucky to get Ranga, an enthusiastic rickshaw driver, who loved to show us his city. He took us to the amazing Bangalore flower market.
K R Market (Krishna Rajendra Market), also known as City Market, is the largest wholesale market dealing with commodities in Bangalore. It is named after Krishnarajendra Wodevar, a former ruler of the princely state of Mysore. The market is located in the Kalasipalya area, adjacent to the Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace, on Mysore Road at its junction with Krishnarajendra Road. It is the first locality in the whole of Asia to get electricity. It is also considered to be the largest flower market in Asia.
K R Market was established in 1928. The red and white building of the market has three floors, a basement and an underground parking. The location of the market is said to have been a battlefield in the 18th century.

Ranga also took us to the Bull Temple, Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace, Lal Bagh botanical gardens, Bangalore palace (where, to the chagrin of Ranga, they tried to charge me a lot of rupees for taking pictures of the outside of the palace from outside the gates!), the very fancy and extremely expensive UB City Mall and of course, some silk shops.

Dinner we ordered in that evening, like most of the guests did, and we enjoyed it on the patio of our cozy hotel.

Next: Mysore

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India, February 2015 Mysore

February 8.

We are chauffeured by Vinod, the driver arranged for us by indiaonline’s agent here in India, from Bengaluru to Mysore. On the way we stop at a sugar-sweet painted temple with a golden statue of Ganesh.
Our hotel in Mysore is “The Green Hotel” (Chittaranjan Palace). It is one of the (apparently) 52 palaces  in Mysore, which once belonged to the Maharaja of Mysore. It is a small but beautiful palace with gorgeous gardens with outdoor seating for breakfast and dinner. The Green Hotel has been set up as a model of sustainable tourism

  • To preserve a historic building
  • To incorporate, as practicable, energy saving and environmentally aware practices
  • To use Indian craft made items in furnishing, equipment and restoration
  • To be a good employer, offering equal and fair opportunities
  • To train and develop staff potential
  • To provide visitors with the opportunity to enjoy traditional hospitality rather than modern day uniformity

All profits from the Green Hotel will be distributed to charitable and environmental projects in India

Vinod drove us to the magnificent Mysore Palace. Outside photography was permitted but inside it was strictly prohibited. Sometimes it is nice to give the camera a rest and let the eyes and brain absorb the beauty. The long line of visitors is directed one-way through the immense palace. Items that are within touching distance are protected by plexiglass, like the exquisitely carved teakwood doors. Stained glass domes, beautiful painted ceilings and enormous chandeliers made us wish for giraffe necks in order to see all that beauty a bit closer. A sedan chair of pure gold, silver chairs; what an opulence. We were both so impressed. For Hari visiting the palace had even more meaning as the Maharaja of Mysore (Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV. 1884-1940) once visited his father, Rajwar Bikram Bahadur Pal, in Askote.
Maharaja of Mysore with Raja of Askote and others_wp

After the death of the latest Maharaja, who died intestate, there was a lot of fighting going on within the family as who was to inherit the title. Last month Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wadiyar was chosen as the late Maharaja’s successor by his widow, Maharani Pramoda Devi Wadiyar.

As for all those palaces: most of them have been nationalized. Some are banks, some schools, hotels, etc.

After our visit to the Mysore Palace we drove to the Mysore market. Mostly fruit and vegetables. Lots of fun to walk through.
Mysore’s traffic is not as chaotic as in most other Indian cities. The roads are wider, and there are trees, shrubs and flowers in abundance.
As we were in Mysore on a Sunday we were lucky as at 7:00 pm Sunday evenings the whole palace is lit up. Very, very crowded of course but definitely worthwhile another visit.

We had dinner in the garden of our hotel. A candle on the table and a sky full of stars above it. Could we wish for anything more?

Tomorrow morning we are going to visit a silk factory before driving to Wayanad.

 

 

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India February 2015 Wayanad

February 9
Mysore to Wayanad

We started the day with a visit to a government silk factory in Mysore. That surely was an educative eye opener. If we were to buy silk now I wouldn’t dare to bargain anymore. Thank goodness we made our purchases before we found out how much is involved before a silk item finds its way into a store.
They use machines for most of the work, but imagine: they used to do all this incredible work manually before the age of machinery and computers. Unbelievable.
The noise of the machines was deafening but hardly any of the workers wore ear protection! Photography was not permitted but I found a YouTube video that shows the exact place we visited as well as the whole process from cocoon to sari.

Outside the factory we spotted a sandalwood tree.  The trees are protected and cutting them is strictly forbidden. We were told that most cheap carvings sold by street vendors as sandalwood carvings are definitely not sandalwood!

Off to Wayanad. First a 4-lane highway, later 2 lanes where cars overtook each other between cars in opposite directions. Sounds weird but that’s how it was! Vinod was a very conscientious driver who didn’t take crazy chances.

After a coffee break we turned onto a narrow country road. I compared it with a narrow Dutch dike road. After a while we came upon the check post of the National Park (Rajiv Gandhi National Park/Nagarahole). We drove through it at the Karnataka side, then crossed the state border into Kerala (Tholpetty Range in the Wayanad wildlife sanctuary). And that is where we had our jeep safari. Somewhere we also crossed into Tamil Nadu. The wildlife sanctuary is endlessly large.
We also passed some areas where coffee was grown and we saw coffee cherries being dried in the sun.
To get back to the jeep safari: after more than an hour of being jolted around on a hard seat on an extremely bumpy track  my tailbone was so sore and I am sure that none of my organs were still located where nature meant them to be, but it was fun. We shared the jeep with a nice young Dutch couple (he was Dutch, she Italian, living in Holland). We saw lots of deer, monkeys, mainly langurs, a sambar dear, peacocks, wild boar, but no elephants.

It was a hot day, definitely above 30 and we were very, very dusty.

When driving towards our Jungle Retreat after our safari adventure Vinod all of a sudden slammed on the brakes. An elephant!! No one in his right mind drives by an elephant so close to the road. They are aggressive, fast and very strong! All cars took a wait and see approach. After a while the elephant decided to meander back into the bush and the first car ventured through at high speed. Others followed. We met the car with the Dutch couple and high-five’d to share our unexpected wild elephant viewing.

About 20 minutes later we arrived at our Jungle Retreat.
What a paradise. 10 Acres of wilderness. Some cabins, protected from elephants and tigers by electric fences.
Paths were made towards the unspoiled, uninhabited portion of the property. A viewing tower had been constructed to watch wildlife. We could see where elephants ventured at night. Huge footprints! They only come out at night, when they don’t hear humans anymore. That night there was also a tiger who most likely killed a deer. Next morning there was not a deer in sight, very unusual, as we were told, and probably due to the kill.

I sat on our patio early in the morning. Saw the morning mist lift slowly. I was surrounded by nature sounds, from frogs to birds to monkeys. Nothing can be left on the patio as the langurs will be fast upon it and take it with them. They are cavorting in the trees surrounding our room but also keeping a watchful eye on us.

Too bad we are leaving already. It so so gorgeous, so peaceful, so beautiful here.

Next stop Ooty (Udhagamandalam) and Coonoor

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India February 2015 Ooty (Udhagamandalam) and Coonoor

February 10 and 11

Back in the car and off to Ooty. This is the name given by the British. I guess Udhagamandalam was a bit too long and complicated.
In order to navigate the steap climb up to Ooty , the road has 36 hairpin bends! Every bend has a sign so you know how many more to swing through. We were dropped off at Ooty’s train station for our ride to Coonoor on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway’s little blue heritage toy train, a train, using a rack and pinion track.

We had nice company in our first class cabin. Difference between first and second class? A more peaceful journey away from the crowds.
We rambled through beautiful country side, dotted with tea plantations. After approximately 1 hour we arrived in Coonoor where Vinod was waiting for us, having done that same trip by car, with our luggage.

We were driven to the Swamy & Swamy Plantations PVT, Ltd, High Field Tea Factory.
A guide explained about the tea growing process while my eyes kept wandering towards the gorgeous tea plant covered slopes. We walked through the factory and learned about the tea processing operation.
And then we went back outside and a let my camera loose on all that beauty. Just wandering between all those tea plants, watch the light filter through all the green. And it was so peaceful, so quiet.
Later on, when the women started coming back with their tea picks of the day, we drove to our hotel, the Tea Nest, located right in the middle of the tea plantations.
Walking around late in the afternoon Vinod pointed out bison (gaur) meandering through the tea fields. When they got a little too close for comfort the advised me to stay put, borrowed my camera and took some very good pictures.

Early breakfast next morning and off we were again, direction Coimbatore for our train ride to Ernakulam. The first part of the trip we negotiated snake-like mountain roads followed by busy highways for the rest of the trip.
The train journey took about 4 hours and at Ernakulam we were met by a representative of the Indian Agency for indiaonline.nl, Travel XS.

And that is another story.

 

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India February 2015 Fort Kochi

February 11 and 12

The train ride from Coimbature to Ernakulam was uneventful. A bit noisy because of the food vendors trying to sell tea, water, food at the top of their voice, throughout the journey.

Arriving at Ernakulam train station we were met by a representative of the travel agency who walked us to a taxi who was to drive us to Fort Kochi.
This turned out to be kind of an adventure. Over an hour’s drive, busy roads, no seat belts and a driver who didn’t know where our hotel was.
At one point we ended up in extremely narrow streets and were literally stuck between a store front and a truck. By folding in the car’s mirrors and with the help of bystanders, the driver inched his way out of his precarious situation. The truck driver could not care less. He refused to move. We got out without a scratch. Amazing. All part of the adventure and good for a laugh afterwards.
Eventually the driver found our hotel and we made our way up a couple of stairs. This used to be an old Jewish house. Built around a courtyard it explained the name: The Old Courtyard. Lots of old wood, appropriately old furniture. I loved it. We went for a short walk along the shores of the Lakshadweep Sea. Saw the Chinese fishing nets and were shown how they worked. It is an extremely labour intensive process and a balancing act with rocks, rope and net, which goes on day and night.
It got quite dark so we set out to find a place to eat. We found a very nice fish restaurant with live music. Good food and good atmosphere.

Kochi has quite a history.
The rise of Kochi in the 15th century was due to the combination of geographical and political factors. After the flood in the Periyar river in 1351 A.D importance of Kodungallur port declined and Kochi became one of the prominent ports in Kerala. The ruler of Kochi facilitated construction of factories for the trade activities of the Portuguese and in return sought military assistance against Zamorin of Kozhikode. The rulers of Kochi practically became the vassals of the Portuguese. Subsequently, the Dutch established their supremacy over the Portuguese and took over Mattancherry in 1662 A.D. In 1752 A.D. the rulers of Travancore overran Kochi. In 1776 A.D. Mysore forces invaded Malabar and reduced Kochi Raja as his tributary. The English took control of Kochi in 1795 A.D and held it till Kochi State merged with the Union of India on July 1, 1949.

After a good night’s sleep we had breakfast in the courtyard and made plans for the day. Fort Kochi was hot and humid so we took it fairly easy. We walked via the Chinese fishing nets to the Dutch cemetery, St. Francis Church (Vasco da Gama was originally buried here, but his remains were later moved to Lisbon), back to Vasco da Gama square. There we negotiated a motor-rickshaw to Mattancherry, where we saw Dutch colonial houses, spice shops, the Jewish Synagogue and the Dutch Palace. The Mattancherry Palace was built and presented by the Portuguese to the Raja of Kochi, Vira Kerala Varma (1537-1565 A.D.) around 1555 A.D. Subsequently, the Dutch renovated the palace hence it is popularly known as the Dutch Palace. The palace has both European and indigenous architectural features. It is a double storied quadrangular structure built in Nalukettu style with a courtyard in the middle. The Mattancherry Palace Museum was established in 1985 and consists of six galleries.

We stopped at several handicraft/clothing stores on the way because, if we visited these places, whether we purchased something or not, the rickshaw driver received gas coupons!

On the way back to Fort Kochi we purchased tickets for that evening’s Kathakali show.
At 5:00 pm they started the Kathakali make-up session. That takes at least an hour.
After that the show started. These performances can last all night, but they have 1 hour versions for the tourists. It was quite worthwhile. We ate dosas for dinner and took a rickshaw back to the hotel.
We had to get up very early for our flight to Jodhpur.

(We received a phone call from the travel agency to apologize for the “problems” with the ride to Fort Kochi. They were making sure we had a proper ride in the morning, including seat belts, to the airport).

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