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A Museum A Day in Paris

10 December 2021 at 13:34
Main Hall of the Musée d’Orsay

My first morning in Paris, I made a beeline for the Musée d’Orsay — a stunning Beaux-Arts rail station in the late 19th century — that now houses an incredible collection of Impressionist formerly at the Jeu de Paume. The M’O also features special exhibits which are worth seeking out and I particularly enjoyed Marlene Dumas “La Spleen de Paris, an homage to Baudelaire on the 200th anniversary of his birth. [For all museums and other public places, be sure to buy your tickets in advance and have your Pass Sanitaire or other proof of vaccination to show at the entrance.] As the Musée d’Orsay is enormously popular, I recommend visiting either early on Sunday, or on Thursday evenings when it stays open until 9:45 p.m.

Napoléon’s Tomb in the Dôme at Les Invalides

At the other end of the spectrum, the sparsely populated Musée de l’Armée at Les Invalides has a wonderful exhibit commemorating the 200th anniversary of Napoléon’s death. Napoléon? Enclore! features the works of contemporary artists from Marina Abramovich to Yan Pei-MIng spread throughout the complex interacting with the museum’s collection focused on military history across the centuries including the iconic portrait of Napoleon on His Imperial Throne by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. My personal favorite shown above is a work by Pascal Convert: Memento Marengo, a 3D-printed copy of the skeleton of Napoléon’s legendary steed captured by the British at Waterloo. [NB: the exhibit closes on February 22, 2022. However, if you can’t get to Paris before then, the website is excellent.]

The Exquisite Double Helix Stairway at the Bourse de Commerce

A relative newcomer as a museum, the 18th century circular building that now houses La Bourse de Commerce – Pinault Collection was constructed between 1763 and 1767 by the City of Paris for the storage and sale of wheat. François Pinault commissioned Tadao Ando to repurpose the building, which reopened to the public in February 2020. The juxtaposition of contemporary art (the entire collection includes 10,000 pieces by 400 artists) with the historic structure makes for an enhanced viewing experience.

Young Visitors at the Centre Pompidou

Just around the literal corner from La Bourse de Commerce, the Centre Pompidou aka Beaubourg is now an astonishing (to me, at least) 35 years old. The museum was wildly unpopular when it first opened due to its now signature “inside out” style, and the fact that it displaced the historical food markets of Les Halles.

These days visitors flock to its exhibits of modern art mostly unaware of the controversy. I was fortunate enough to catch the Georgia O’Keefe Exhibit which has now closed. (NB: If you are in Basel, it will be at the Fondation Beyeler January 23 – May 22, 2022).

Georgia O’Keefe The Barns Lake George

Although she may be best known for her flowers and images of the Sonoran desert, my two favorites from this show are from her time in Lake George, New York. Worth noting that there are a variety of ticket options for this museum, so be sure to purchase one that includes the permanent collection, as well as any special exhibits.

Georgia O’Keefe Lake George 1922

On the opposite side of town, the Fondation Louis Vuitton opened in 2014 next to the Botanical Gardens in Paris’s Bois de Boulogne (regular shuttles run from the Arc de Triomphe or you can take a taxi). Frank Gehry designed the building and drew inspiration from glass buildings including the Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées.

Fondation Louis Vuitton

The Morozov Collection: Icons of Modern Art is currently on view and a must see, as this is the first time it has traveled outside Russia. I had seen some of these works when I was in Moscow, but the depth and breadth on display is breathtaking.

Three of the works by Henri Matisse at the Fondation Louis Vuitton

The Musée de l’Orangerie may be best known for Monet’s Les Nymphées (Water Lilies) – eight murals displayed in their own gallery, which was donated to the museum in 1922. It also houses the Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume collections of Impressionist and Post Impressionist art including masterpieces by Renoir, Degas, Cézanne and Picasso, among others.

A selection of Pierre Auguste Renoir paintings at l’Orangerie

As a contemporary counterpoint: David Hockney’s A Year in Normandy, inspired by a visit he made to the famous Bayeux Tapestry (a 70-meter work of embroidery relating the exploits of William Conqueror that dates to the 11th century).

A companion piece to A Year in Normandy by David Hockney

Hockney’s work is 80 meters long and comprises 100 works made on his iPad over the period of a few weeks at the beginning of the lockdown in 2020. It is a remarkable testimony to the 84 year-old artist’s vision and versatility. I felt it was a fitting end to my art-centric week.

Paris is home to around 130 museums — so I need at least twenty more trips to visit all of them (although I have been to many of them in previous years)! Let the planning begin! In the meantime, I look forward to your comments, suggestions and/or questions. Vive La France!

Fondation Louis Vuitton

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An Eight-Day Week in Paris

18 November 2021 at 11:15

Bonjour! Did you know that the French say huit jours when referring to a week’s time? There are various explanations but I like the one that mentions Sunday to Sunday “inclusive,” as opposed to “exclusive” weeks (interestingly the more common quinzaine used for two weeks only has one bonus day). I just had the great good fortune to spend a French week in Paris and relished every moment . I rented an apartment in the 7th arrondissement which had many advantages, including the ability to use the Eiffel Tower as a landmark to guide me home from my daily peregrinations.

Fashion Forward and Timeless Scenes on the Seine

No, that’s not me in the photo but I loved her outfit and the contrast with the background. Moreover, bikes are omnipresent these days, since the Mayor of Paris greatly expanded bike lanes throughout the city. It can be quite confusing since many one-way streets have bike lanes in the opposite direction. Just be sure to look both ways more than once before crossing.

A Bouquiniste or Book Stall on the Seine

This photo could have been taken anytime during the past century. Today, bouquinistes are far fewer in number, but still an iconic presence along the Seine. The Conciergerie or Palais de la Cite in the background dates to the early 13th century. The complex includes Sainte-Chappelle – one of my favorite places to hear classical music. I rely on L’Officiel des Spectacles — issued every Wednesday — for the latest information on all cultural events. Their website is great, or you can pick up a physical copy (which I love to mark up and tear out pages) at newstands and tabacs.

La Tour Saint-Jacques

Since I hadn’t been to Paris in far too long, I spent hours wandering the streets when I wasn’t in museums (more on the latter in my next post). I have no sense of direction, even in places that are easy to navigate. In the rabbit-warren like 2nd arrondissement, I used the Tour Saint-Jacques as my point of reference. The tower was constructed in the early 16th century and was a meeting point for pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela.

Paris is for Lovers (and others)

No – I did not ask this couple to pose – they were just carried away by the beautiful day and the iconic Hôtel de Ville – the headquarters of the Paris adminsitration since 1354 (although there have been many renovations along the way). In the winter, the city of Paris installs an ice rink on this plaza — I hope to try it out next winter.

It seems only fitting to bookend this post with the Eiffel Tower erected for the the 1889 World’s Fair and commemorating the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. The result of a competition with 107 entries, it was built in two years, two months and five days and was meant to last twenty years.

Sometimes, when I have trouble falling asleep, instead of counting sheep I count the number of times I have visited the City of Lights since the first time when I was just 17: more than two dozen. I can’t wait to get back. In the meantime, I will be polishing up my French following the advice in this post Six Ways to Keep Foreign Language Alive.

À Très Bientôt!

Paris Featured Photo

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Hello Again! It’s Been a Minute…

2 November 2021 at 15:13

Actually, so long I couldn’t remember where to start or how to proceed. I stopped posting about two years ago due to conflicting emotions about the impact of social media on the places I loved. Jackson Hole — where I live — and the National Parks it abuts could be exhibit A for the downsides of tourists run amok. That being said, travel and widening people’s perspective has many more benefits than drawbacks.

Temples of the Sun and the Moon – Capitol Reef National Park

So, I shook out some cobwebs, refreshed my browser and here I am: back in the proverbial saddle. I look forward to sharing my travels with photographs, reflections, suggestions and connections. I hope you will add your advice and questions in the comment section. Next up: Eight Days in Paris. Stay tuned!

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Crazy for Córdoba

9 April 2019 at 17:18

Visigoths, Romans and Moors – Oh My! That was what I wanted to call this post, but for those unfamiliar with The Wizard of Oz, it might have fallen flat – and that would be terrible, for I am on a mission to convince everyone to visit Córdoba and its amazing Mezquita Catédral – just not all at once.

Triumphal Arch Better
14th Century Gate of the Bridge

Córdoba is the only city in the world with four UNESCO World Heritage Sites and it is an easy day-trip from Seville by car or regularly scheduled trains.

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Roman Bridge Originally built in the First Century CE — present form from Medieval Period

Located alongside the Guadalquivir, Córdoba was most likely founded by the Carthaginians before being occupied by the Romans in 152 BCE.  Although it is no longer the case, during Roman times, the Guadalquivir river was navigable from the sea to Córdoba.  

6th century mosaics Visigoth Basilica St. Vicente
A View into the Past: 6th Century Mosaic Floor

Sometime in the 6th Century CE, the Visigoths invaded and built the Basilica of San Vicente.  It is quite remarkable to gaze below the present Mosque’s floor and see the first-known religious structure on this site. Roughly two centuries later, Abd al-Rahman I purchased the basilica and razed it to begin construction of a mosque on the site.  Córdoba Mosque with Natural LightThe Great Mosque continued to expand over the next 200 years, extensions were added to accommodate the growing population.

Great Hall Mosque of Córdoba
The Great Hall has 856 columns of Jasper, Onyx, Marble, Granite and Porphyry

The mosque reached its current size in 987 with the addition of the courtyard and naves. To appreciate the architectural evolution, click here.

Córdoba Mosque Doorway
The Mihrab

Córdoba Mosque Dome
Exquisite Gold Leaf Dome

In 1236, Córdoba was conquered by  Ferdinand III and became part of Christian Spain.  In 1523, the Bishop received permission to construct a Cathedral of Cordoba inside the Mosque – the preserving its remarkable heritage. The cathedral continues to function as the seat of the Catholic Church and services are held daily.One of the Many Amazing Juxtapositions

Moorish, Baroque and RenaissanceThis is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  We had a fantastic guide who I cannot recommend highly enough: Maria Font. There is more to Córdoba than the Mosque-Cathedral, so plan to spend the day.

La Puerta de San José Mosque-Cathedral Cordoba

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Triumphal Arch Better

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6th century mosaics Visigoth Basilica St. Vicente

Córdoba Mosque with Natural Light

Great Hall Mosque of Córdoba

Córdoba Mosque Doorway

Córdoba Mosque Dome

One of the Many Amazing Juxtapositions

Moorish, Baroque and Renaissance

Sublime Seville

4 April 2019 at 13:37
Real Alcázar Seville Entrance
Entrance to the Alcázar Palace

I can’t wait to go back to Seville and spend another week – or even longer! Seville’s compact nature, strategic position on the Guadalqivir river and history dating to the 10th century CE is reflected in the Moorish influences juxtaposed with Castillian, ancient  architecture with contemporary throughout this lovely city.

Pedestrians Only Seville
No Cars Here!

There is so much to explore from the charming narrow backstreets, where even the locals lose their way, to the amazing architecture of the Real Alcázar (dating to the Middle Ages) , the 15th century Cathedral of St. Mary of the See and the ultra-contemporary 21st century Metropol Parasol, just to start. Seville is pedestrian and cyclist friendly – with Sevici bike share system kiosks throughout the city.

Real Alcázar Seville Courtyard
Patio de las Doncellas or Courtyard of the Maidens

The Real Alcázar  compound is amazing – a more intimately scaled version of Granada’s Alhambra. (It gets equally crowded, so plan accordingly. Buy your tickets online and arrive when it opens.)  It is a preeminent example of Mudéjar architecture in the Iberian Peninsula, and is renowned as one of the most beautiful. 

Architectural Detail Alcázar Seville
The entire complex is filled with exquisite tile and plaster decor

Fun Fact to Know:  Alcázar comes from the Arabic al-qaṣr, (castle or palace, اَلْقَصْر), which is derived from the Latin castrum (“castle”). How great is that?

Seville Cathedral
The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See

Immediately adjacent to the complex stands Seville’s Cathedral, an enormous structure  whose construction lasted over a century (1401-1506 CE). Isabella and Ferdinand, and Christopher Columbus are some of the notables entombed here. The cathedral is only open to the public at certain times, so be sure to check the schedule.

The Giralda is one of the few remaining parts of the great 12th century CE mosque that originally occupied the Cathedral’s site. Once a minaret, it is now a belltower and a landmark visible from most of the central city — quite useful since, as I alluded to above, Seville is a virtual rabbit warren of small streets

Hospital de la Caridad Chapel
Chapel at the Hospital de la Caridad

Be sure to visit the  Hospital de la Caridad, again a short walk away, and its magnificent chapel. Founded in the 17th century, it features artworks by Murillo, Valdés Leal and Roldán. Proceeds from ticket sales support a home for the elderly poor on the site.

Metropol Parasol
The Metropol Parasol aka Las Setas

 My favorite neighborhood is around the architectural marvel Metropol Parasol at La Encarnación Square. It is better known locally as “Las Setas” — Seta is Spanish for mushroom – get it?. The area is a mix of old and new, with many cafés, tapas bars and boutiques along the tree-lined streets and alleys. (More on that in Foodie Friday | Seville – up next.)

Plaza de España
Evening at the Plaza de España

Save time to wander around the Plaza de España in Maria Luisa Park. The pavilion was built for the  Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. Plaza de España with bridges

I have barely scratched the surface of Seville’s many charms.  I hope you will have the chance to experience them yourself. You won’t be disappointed!

 

 

 

Plaza de España

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Real Alcázar Seville Entrance

Pedestrians Only Seville

Real Alcázar Seville Courtyard

Architectural Detail Alcázar Seville

Seville Cathedral

Hospital de la Caridad Chapel

Metropol Parasol

Plaza de España

Plaza de España with bridges

Foodie Friday|Granada, Spain

29 March 2019 at 16:36

While the Alhambra may be its best known feature, Granada has a lively atmosphere (likely due to the large student population) and excellent food. I hadn’t realized until this trip that Granada is the Spanish word for pomegranate which explains why its representation is ubiquitous in this charming city.

We saw more pomegranates than we ate…but we didn’t go hungry!

Coffee, Churros and Chocolate In the United States, doughnuts tend to be a morning treat, here they are a favorite all day long.  Café Fútbol (open from six in the morning until midnight daily) is a locals’ favorite for churros and hot chocolate. I tried them several places and I think this is the best.  (This was the first time I ate churros since the age of 15 when I gorged myself on at least six in one sitting at a patinada (skating party) in Caracas – I couldn’t bear the sight or smell for literally decades!)

Up at the Alhambra, the Parador de Granada serves lunch and has tables in a lovely courtyard – weather depending. Housed in a 15th century convent within the fortress complex, there are hotel rooms available as well, for those who plan ahead!

Alacena de las Monjas
Pulpo de Motril at Alacena de las Monjas

In the city center, I highly recommend Alacena de las Monjas for lunch or dinner. The restaurant is situated in a peaceful residential courtyard, so sit outside if you can. One of Granada’s many charms is its “walkability” – we spent several days exploring its tree-lined streets and beautiful neighborhoods.Granada Old and New from AlbaycinIt is well worth walking up to the top of the Albaicín  for a spectacular view of the Alhambra at sunset (especially if you are lucky enough to have snow-capped mountains in the distance).  We had a delicious dinner at Restaurante La Borraja-San Nicolás.  The Albaicín neighborhood is a great place to wander, as well.

La Botilleria
Vermouth Cocktail at La Botillería

Granada is famous for its tapas bars and we spent an entire evening on foot exploring a half dozen.  I am not sure if the copious amounts of concoctions consumed were to blame, but somehow I didn’t get one decent photograph to document the enormous variety of delicacies we sampled including croquetas, jamón, salmorejo and bacalao.   You will have to see for yourself and here is one resource to help you plan: A Toast to More Tapas.  

¡Buen Provecho!

El Fuente de la Granada_

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Coffee, Churros and Chocolate

Alacena de las Monjas

Granada Old and New from Albaycin

La Botilleria

Granada |Postcard from the Alhambra

24 March 2019 at 14:22

Patio de Comares
Patio de los Arrayanes – Court of the Myrtles

“There is no greater tragedy than that of a blind man in Granada”

This saying is variously attributed to Anonymous and to Francisco Asís de Icaza, a Mexican poet who lived in Spain in the early 20th century. It is as true today as it was when I first visited 20 years ago.  I advise starting your time there with a full day at the Alhambra – the UNESCO World Heritage site that for over 1100 years has reigned over the city. 

Beautiful Courtyard Garden Alhambra 2
El Generalife Gardens

In 1998, I had no idea that tickets were mandatory for entrance and even then – pre Instagram and social media – people made reservations months in advance.  I was able to see El Generalife gardens, which are as magnificent today as they were then.

Santa Maria Alhambra Granada
17th Century Church of St. Mary

However, it would be another two decades before I was able to explore the incredible art and architecture of the 35-acre palace and fortress complex, first established in the late 9th century CE on the site of Roman ruins.

Patio de los Liones Alhambra
14th century Court of the Lions

For seven centuries, the Masjid ruled over Andalusia, or el Andalus as it was then known. Their influence is felt throughout the region and especially here.

Spectacular Starry Ceiling
One of Many Spectacular Ceilings featuring Stalactite Work

The Alhambra replete with examples of astonishing artisan mastery (and I am not exaggerating). If you have the luxury of visiting on multiple occasions, I highly recommend it. The sheer magnitude and diversity of artistic expression can be overwhelming.

Nasrid Plasterwork Alhambra Granada-2
Arabesque Decorations Adorn Every Building

Finally, be sure to visit the Mirador of St. Nicholas in the adjacent Albaycin neighborhood for a spectacular view of the Alhambra – below at sunset. The Alhambra at Sunset

I could go on, but this post is meant to inspire, not inform –  there are plenty of excellent resources online. Learn from my mistake and as soon as you decide to visit Granada, book your tickets for the Alhambra.  You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

 

The Alhambra

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Patio de Comares

Beautiful Courtyard Garden Alhambra 2

Santa Maria Alhambra Granada

Patio de los Liones Alhambra

Spectacular Starry Ceiling

Nasrid Plasterwork Alhambra Granada-2

The Alhambra at Sunset

Bhutan |The Tiger’s Nest

13 September 2018 at 12:21

I wouldn’t say we saved the best for last; every day of our trip was full of wonders. However, Paro Taktsang, or Tiger’s Nest, is certainly iconic.  World-renowned for its breathtaking beauty and its perilous perch, the temple complex sits 3120 meters above the valley floor. We were able to see it from afar and  our final day in the kingdom, we rose extra early to begin our trek to see it up close and personal.Paro_Water Powered Prayer WheelsThe trail wends its way through a beautiful forest with water-powered prayer wheels and

ParoTaktsang_Dog and Prayer Wheel.jpgfriendly dogs along the way.  The pervasive mist enhanced the otherworldly atmosphere.

Paro_Tiger's Nest from Tea HouseThere is a teahouse about a third of the way up where we stopped for refreshments and shot way too many photos (the old days of film cameras required more discipline and less editing)!

Tiger's Nest in the MistAlthough the nest is perched on an extremely steep mountainside, the approach is not as arduous as it appears: no pitons or ropes required! Legend has it Guru Rinpoche was transported here on the back of a tigress – hence the name. The original buildings were constructed in 1692. Last Photo.jpg

Our crack of dawn start meant we had the temples mostly to ourselves. However, you will have to make the trip to see the interiors, as  no photos are allowed and we had to leave our phones and cameras at the base of these stairs.  It is absolutely worth the journey!

 

Tiger's Nest Close Up

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Paro_Water Powered Prayer Wheels

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Paro_Tiger's Nest from Tea House

Tiger's Nest in the Mist

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Bhutan | Expect the Unexpected

8 September 2018 at 19:07

“Let the trip take us where it will” was the unofficial motto of our time in Bhutan and the advice our guides gave us on our first day.  Our travel from Gangtey to Bumthang was a case in point.  Not every visitor to Bhutan makes the trek to Bumthang and for good reason: the highway is not for the faint of heart.  Early and heavy rains meant that we encountered two major landslides and the five-hour drive from Gangtey to Bumthang (under 200 km) took almost 12. 

Trongsa

Trongsa Dzong_
Trongsa Dzong

The detour caused by the first landslide caused a significant delay (although it did allow us to see new dam construction up close). Not wanting to miss a highly-anticipated picnic and hike, we opted to skip the town of Trongsa with its museum and dzong. However, it appears we were meant to stop there after all, since about one hour from our destination a second landslide caused us to back track. In the end, we were happy we had time to visit Tower of Trongsa Museum housed in a former watchtower and the Trongsa Dzong.

Trongsa Dzong Courtyard
One of Trongsa Dzong’s Many Courtyards

The largest and arguably the most scenic dzong in Bhutan, it was constructed in 1647 with a strategic location in the middle of the kingdom, overlooking the Mangde River.

Trongksa_Dzong Interior Courtyard
Beautifully Decorated Walkways and Windows

The first two Kings of Bhutan ruled from Trongsa and over 200 monks continue to live in the fortress.

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Freshly repainted doorway and interior of sleeping quarters.

The Bhutanese assiduously maintain their temples and shrines, with fresh coats of paint applied on a regular basis.  Most of the buildings we saw were either undergoing paint and repair jobs, being refreshed or had recently undergone maintenance.

Bumthang

After a few hours, the road reopened and we proceeded to the easternmost part of our trip and the “boomtown” of Bumthang (the dipthong “th” is pronounced “t “- hence the nickname – along with the fact that business there is booming).

Bumthang_Pema Choling NunneryA highlight of our visit was a morning at  Pema Choling Nunnery, where the nuns graciously allowed us to observe a blessing ceremony. The rhythmic chanting and drums provided a perfect setting in which to our good fortune.

Bumthang_Choed Ceremonial Objects
Drum, Vessel, Scepters and Bells used in Religious Ceremonies

The nunnery  houses about 100 nuns between 12 and 70 year of age, who follow the Nyingma Peling tradition and have a nine year course of study. Bumthang_ApiaryBumthang is known for its honey which we enjoyed morning, noon and night. Apiaries such as the one above are a common sight.

Bumthang_Archery CompetitionArchery is the national sport and we had the good fortune to several rounds of competition. The field is 145 meters (476 ft) long and the targets are not even one meter (three feet) high!  The compound bows bear no relation to the ones I tried to master back at summer camp. Competitions feature two teams of 13, and last at least a day. In addition to incredible athletic prowess, contestants pride themselves on their ability to taunt their opponents and consume massive quantities of alcohol.

Bumthang_Horse and Kurjey Temple Complex-2
Kurjey Temple Complex

Kurjey Lhakhang is a mrjor pilgrimage site that comprises three separate temples in a compound surrounded by 108 stupas.  Guru Lhakhang was built in 1652 by Mingyur Tenpa on the site of a cave where Guru Rinpoche, is believed to have meditated when he brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the Eighth Century CE.  The second temple was constructed in 1900 by Ugyen Wangchuck, the first king of Bhutan, and the third by Ashi Kesang Wangchuck, queen to the third king, in 1984.

Jakar Temple
7th century Jambay Lhakhang

One of the oldest temples in Bhutan is close by and well-worth visiting. Jambay Lhakhang, is said to be one of the 108 temples built by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in 659 CE.  According to legend, the temple was in one day, to subdue an ogress who was preventing the spread of Buddhism.

By the time you read this, the highway renovations will be complete and travel should go more smoothly. I highly recommend making the trip to Bumthang – and stopping in Trongsa. You will have greater insights into Bhutan’s history, culture and traditions.

 

 

 

 

Trongksa_Dzong Mandala

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Trongsa Dzong_

Trongsa Dzong Courtyard

Trongksa_Dzong Interior Courtyard

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Bumthang_Pema Choling Nunnery

Bumthang_Choed Ceremonial Objects

Bumthang_Apiary

Bumthang_Archery Competition

Bumthang_Horse and Kurjey Temple Complex-2

Jakar Temple

Bhutan | The Road to Phobjika Valley

29 June 2018 at 11:08

Phobjika_Road2Gangtey
Driving over Pelela Pass

Maybe the Beatles had Bhutan in mind when they composed “The Long and Winding Road.” Certainly, the East West highway (and I use that term advisedly) lives up to that description.  We spent many hours on serpentine roads with steep inclines and precipitous drop-offs as we traveled up and over the Pelela Pass (11,200 feet) on our way from Punakha to the Phobjika Valley.

Capped Langurs
Capped Langurs

The views were spectacular and we even caught a glimpse of these elegant Cappe dLangurs.  They didn’t seemed as pleased to see us, though. We stopped for a delicious lunch at the Tushita Cafe in Rukubji before beginning a truly otherworldly hike from Longtey to Gangtey.

Phobjika_RhododendronForest2
Into the Woods!

Imagine an endless forest of rhododendron trees – or you can see them for yourself if you are as lucky as we were.  We spent several hours hiking through this magical place. Over 70% of Bhutan is under forest cover and it is the only carbon negative country (produces more oxygen than it consumes)!

Phobjika_RhododendronForest
Hiker for Scale

I will confess that I left my heavy Nikon in the van, so these photos are from my iPhone X – good but if I ever go back I will not make the same mistake.

Phobjika_YaksMaySafelyGraze
Nomad Yak Herders’ Hut with Yaks!

These yaks were not at all perturbed by our presence and we delighted in theirs!

Phobjika_PrayerFlags_Kumbu la Pass
Prayer Flags at Kumbu La Pass

The Longtey Longmey hike  peaks at Kumbu la pass (11,850 feet) where we stopped to add our prayer flags and catch our breath! These colorful rectangular prayer flags are known as Lungdar and come in sets of five colors blue, white, red, green, and yellow representing the five elements.   While attaching the flags (and spinning prayer wheels and at many other times), believers repeat the mantra “May all sentient beings everywhere receive benefit and find happiness.” Prayer flags are positioned so the winds will carry the prayers and spread good will and compassion to all.

PhobjikaValley
Manidhar Prayer Flags

This is the view looking back at where we came from! If you look closely, you may be able to see the small religious retreats up high.  These vertical white prayer flags are known as Manidhar. These are raised to honor a deceased person and it is believed that there are benefits from hoisting batches of 108 — an auspicious number as we saw elsewhere including the Dochula Pass stupas (see Bhutan | Picture Perfect Punakha).

Phobjika_View of Gangtey Goenpa
Village of Gangtey

The absolutely stunning view from our room at the Gangtey Gonpa lodge.  The tallest building in the rear is the Gangtey Gonpa (monastery), built in 1613.

Phobjika_GangteyGoempa_MainEntrance
Gangtey Monastery

The monastery is  of Nyingmapa school of Buddhism, the main seat of the Pema Lingpa tradition. There is a tremendous amount of history and the complex is home to many important artifacts and religious relics. (I cannot begin to do justice in a post, so please click the links for more information.)

Gangtey_Goemba Incense Burner
Traditional Incense Burner

Large incense burners in the courtyard are fed with pine boughs from the local forests. Incense plays an integral role in Bhutanese culture. Our guide is wearing the Bhutanese national dress for men, known as Goh. Although you cannot see it, there is a kangaroo-type pouch in the front which over the course of travels with Tsewang produced all sorts of useful information, tools and treats!

Black Necked Crane with Leg Up
Black-Necked Cranes

The Phobjika valley is the winter home for over 500 black-necked cranes. They arrive in late October from Tibet and I can only imagine what it would be to see the full contingent. The lone representative above has a broken wing and is convalescing at the Crane Information Center. There is an annual festival celebrating these magnificent birds who are said to circle the Gangtey monastery three times when returning to the valley and on departure. (This year’s festival is on November 11, 2018.)

Phobjika_Three Young Monks-2
Monastery Complex Gate

The young monks above are heading back to their college, as we depart for another hike! Next up: Bumthang!

 

 

 

 

Phobjika_Chorten in the Road

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Phobjika_Road2Gangtey

Capped Langurs

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Phobjika_RhododendronForest

Phobjika_YaksMaySafelyGraze

Phobjika_PrayerFlags_Kumbu la Pass

PhobjikaValley

Phobjika_View of Gangtey Goenpa

Phobjika_GangteyGoempa_MainEntrance

Gangtey_Goemba Incense Burner

Black Necked Crane with Leg Up

Phobjika_Three Young Monks-2

Bhutan | Picture Perfect Punakha

18 June 2018 at 15:45

108 Stupas Dochula Pass BhutanThe three-hour drive from Paro to Punakha crosses over Dochula Pass at 3100 meters – site of the Druk Wangyal Chortens. The 108 chortens (stupas) commemorate Bhutanese soldiers who died in the 2003 war against insurgents from India. Punakha Valley and Mo ChhuThe vast majority of photos I had seen prior to visiting Bhutan were of monasteries and mountains. The incredibly fertile valleys and lush landscapes were a total surprise. Punakha is located at 1200 meters which makes it an ideal first stop for flat landers (those who reside near or at sea level). There are two major rivers: the Mo (mother) and Pho (father) that provide ample water for irrigation. 

Punakha_TerraceFarmerThe climate is temperate in winter and fairly hot in the summer. The women wear their hair short to make it easier to farm. Rice is one of the main crops, but we hiked through fields of beans, peppers, corn, eggplant and so many others – a cornucopia of edibles. Punakha FarmhouseThe exquisite decor on every building amazed us. This farmhouse was quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Punakha_Women at MarketWe were lucky to be in Punakha on market day and enjoyed seeing the vast array of produce.Punakha Stupa with Devotee + TsewangPrayer wheels and chortens (stupas) are omnipresent. Here a local woman is making a pilgrimage, circling the stupa in a clockwise direction and turning each prayer wheel on her way.

Khamsum Yuelay Namgyal Stupa_
Khamsum Yuelay Namgyal Chorten

We hiked up to the Khamsum Yuelay Namgyal Chorten [NB photos are not allowed inside these structures but this link gives a vivid description of the treasures within] built in 2004 at the behest of the Queen Mother. Her intent was to bring peace to the world in general and clear obstacles in particular for the people of Bhutan.

Punakha_Mo Chhu and Po Chuu
Punakha Dzong sits at the Confluence of the Mo and Pho Rivers

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1651) known as Blue Beard (easily identified in paintings and statues by that trait) unified Bhutan in the 17th century. Sixteen Dzongs were built as religious, administrative and military fortresses throughout the kingdom. Punakha Dzong is widely considered to be the most beautiful. Certainly, the blooming jacarandas only enhanced this reputation.Monk at Punakha Dzong BhutanPunakha was the capital of Bhutan until 1955.  The chief abbot still spends the winters there because of the milder climate.Punakha DzongThe dzong’s official name is Pungtang Dewa chhenbi Phodrang which translates as The Palace of Great Happiness or Bliss.

Spinning Wheel
Prayer Wheel in Motion in front of Guardian King of the East

Proper attire is required when visiting Dzongs and Bhutanese men add a white shawl to their Gho (traditional male dress). Colorful paintings cover the exterior and entrance walls and are used as teaching tools in addition to their decorative value. The painting above shows one of the Four Guardian Kings: Dhritarashtra also known as the god of music.

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First Courtyard with Watchtower – Monk for Scale!

Punakha Dzong contains  three courtyards or Dorcheys. The first includes the Utse, or watchtower, which is six stories high. Monk in Courtyard Punakha Dzong Bhutan

The second courtyard includes the monks’ residences. Note the spectacular carvings and decorations.

Punakha_Dzong Interior Courtyard
Punakha Dzong Main Temple Hall

The third and final courtyard houses the main temple. The magnificent paintings present important scenes from Buddhist history and are just a hint of the glorious interior. This temple has enormous cultural and historical significance and contains many sacred relics including the remains of Ngawang Namgyal. Many important ceremonies occur here including coronations and royal marriages.

From the everyday to the sublime, I hope you have enjoyed this post on Punakha. Please let me know in the comments section if you would prefer more photos, or more information. I would love to hear from you!

 

Punakha Dzong Bhutan

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108 Stupas Dochula Pass Bhutan

Punakha Valley and Mo Chhu

Punakha_TerraceFarmer

Punakha Farmhouse

Punakha_Women at Market

Punakha Stupa with Devotee + Tsewang

Khamsum Yuelay Namgyal Stupa_

Punakha_Mo Chhu and Po Chuu

Monk at Punakha Dzong Bhutan

Punakha Dzong

Spinning Wheel

Punakha_Utse Dzong

Monk in Courtyard Punakha Dzong Bhutan

Punakha_Dzong Interior Courtyard

Bhutan | Preview of Coming Attractions

16 June 2018 at 13:15

The Kingdom of Bhutan has been on my must see list for 25 years.  When I first heard about this jewel of a country nestled in the Himalayas between India and China, it had only recently opened to tourism.  While it took me much longer than expected to finally  make the trip, it was well worth the wait! Gangtey_Phobjika Valley OverviewI couldn’t begin to capture the magic of Bhutan in a single post, so consider this a preview of coming attractions. Subsequent posts will delve into the kingdom and its wonders in greater detail.Paro Dzong with MountainsParo and our first Dzong in the background with some of the so-called Lesser Himalayas in the background.  These mountains are not even named, since they are only 16000 feet high!Gangtey_Phobjika Valley Water Powered Prayer WheelPrayer wheels and prayer flags abound. The structure above is a water-powered prayer wheel continuously dispensing good fortune to those who pass!Nun Gathering Pine NeedlesThis nun is gathering pine needles which are used in incense burners, to protect newly planted crops, for cattle beds and, eventually mixed with manure for fertilizer.Trongksa_Dzong Tswewang Explains the KingdomsThe exquisite devotional paintings were a highlight. Here one of our guides – Tsewang Rinchen – explains the Buddhist kingdoms. Yak Yak Yak

Yaks are only found at altitudes above 3000 meters.  We never tired of seeing them.

 

Yak with Prayer Flags-2This yak even posed with the ubiquitous prayer flags.

Tiger's Nest in the Mist from the Tea HouseOf course, I had to include at least a glimpse of perhaps the most famous Bhutanese site: Paro Taktsang aka the Tiger’s Nest!

I hope you have enjoyed this introduction. Stay tuned for in-depth pieces!

Trongksa_Dzong Featured

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Gangtey_Phobjika Valley Overview

Paro Dzong with Mountains

Gangtey_Phobjika Valley Water Powered Prayer Wheel

Nun Gathering Pine Needles

Trongksa_Dzong Tswewang Explains the Kingdoms

Yak Yak Yak

Yak with Prayer Flags-2

Tiger's Nest in the Mist from the Tea House

Rapa Nui Wrap Up

4 April 2018 at 14:39

Orongo Petroglyphs 2

Another fascinating part of Rapa Nui culture is the Tangata Manu ritual. An annual competition was based at the village of Orongo, adjacent to Rano Kau. Hieroglyphics at the site illustrate the patron god Make Make and other mythological creatures.

Rano Kau Cliffside
The Start and Finish Point of the Race

Every September, contestants vied to collect the first sooty tern (manu tara) egg of the season from the islet of Motu Nui, swim back to Rapa Nui and climb the sea cliff of Rano Kau to the clifftop village of Orongo.

Orongo Stone Houses Birdman Cult_
Patrons, Contestants and Others Spent up to a Month in Orongo

The contest was exceedingly dangerous, with many eaten by sharks, drowning, or falling from cliff faces. The winning contestant’s patron became the Tangata Manu and ruled the island until the next year with his tribe gaining access to and control over resources during that time. After approximately 90 years (there are 86 documented Tangata Manus), missionaries abolished the contest in the 1860s.

Diuca Finch Easter Island
Common Diuca Finch on Rano Kau’s edge

We did not see any sooty terns, and there are very few birds on Rapa Nui due to deforestation and, perhaps, its isolation. We did see numerous finches, though, and enjoyed their song.

These posts have barely scratched the proverbial surface of Rapa Nui’s wonders. Recently, there have been numerous articles about the risks the island faces from rising sea levels.

https://nyti.ms/2Gu9oa9

I encourage everyone to watch this interactive presentation (be sure to click through to maximize the experience). The footage is amazing and the facts are as sobering as they are astonishing.

Rana Kau Featured

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Orongo Petroglyphs 2

Rano Kau Cliffside

Orongo Stone Houses Birdman Cult_

Diuca Finch Easter Island

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