Versatile Perak

In my opinion Perak is the most interesting state of Malaysia, regarding nature, culture and history. A rich history, many historical towns , numerous waterfalls. Nice food too..:-)

Recently I visited Perak with my friends Paul and Fahmi. We stayed two nights in the Cititel hotel in Ipoh.

On our way to Ipoh we first visited a waterfall near Sungkai, the Enggang waterfall. At the end of the road leading to the well-known Sungkai Hot springs, a clear trail starts, leading in about one hour to the waterfall.

The waterfall is not visible from the trail, but of course you can hear it.  We first arrived halfway the fall  (left picture). After some scrambling down the slope we managed to reach the bottom. (right picture)

We had visited this waterfall a couple of years ago. Not many people come here, the fall is still pristine! And the flow of water was very impressive this time.

After lunch in Sungkai, we continued to Ipoh, checked in into our hote, took some rest and went out for dinner. Many times I have eaten in one of the famous chicken taugeh kwai teow places, but this time we were looking for halal food and an Ipoh friend had suggested a few suitable restaurants. The Ipoh Hainan Chicken Rice turned out to be a good choice.

On our way back to our hotel, we passed a few interesting buildings. Left the Chua Cheng Bok building (1930s) in Art Deco style, recently painted in bright blue colors. Would you guess that the beautiful building in the right picture originally has been a Fire Station? It was built here in 1913 and upgraded in 1936. Served as Fire and Rescue Department until 1992.

For our breakfast next morning we went to the Halal Dimsum Cafe in Greentown another suggestion from my Ipoh friend. Very good dimsum!

On our program for the morning was another waterfall, the Lata Ulu Chepor, on the outskirts of Ipoh. It was a bit of  failure, I had forgotten to mark the locations of the two (minor) falls in my GPS, and we passed them without noticing them. The trail continued, might lead to a taller waterfall upstream, but we returned, found a nice place to have a bath. Crystal clear water.

I

I had in mind to visit another waterfall in the same region, but this hike had taken quite a lot of time, so we decided to skip it and go for lunch. Nasi Ganja! Using Google we had found the address. When we arrived there, we noticed a big crowd queuing, but no sign of Nasi Ganja. It turned out that this was the shop, all Ipoh people know it as nasi ganja, but the shop can not advertise with the name as ganja is an illegal drug. . Nice nasi kandar, apparently addictive…:-)

In the afternoon Paul and I explored Ipoh Old Town. Paul had published an album about Ipoh Heritage, so he could show me around. We started from our strategically located hotel.

Around the corner St Michael’s Institution, one of the famous  Ipoh schools, founded by the La Salle Brothers in 1912. The impressive building is from 1922.

Next to it the India Muslim Mosque. Construction started in 1909

Below left the entrance of the Royal Ipoh Club, records go back to 1895, but it may be even older. Right the High Court buildings, designed by Arthur Benison Hubback and built 1926-28.

Two other impressive buildings in Ipoh have also been designed by Hubback. Construction of the Town Hall started in 1914 and was completed two years later. Is is really a monumental building.

Opposite the Town Hall, the Railway Station, nicknamed the Taj Mahal of Ipoh by locals. Officially opened in 1917. The first floor used to be a hotel, the Majestic Station Hotel, and many years ago I have been staying there several times. It was already rundown at that time, dirty sheets, cockroaches. Now it is closed, although there still exists a website , promoting its  “superbly-comfortable accommodation”  !

Coming from the Railway Station, the Birch memorial is located behind the Town Hall. J.W.W. Birch was the first British resident of Perak, assassinated in 1875 at Pasir Salak by Malay noblemen, Dato Maharaja Lela and Dato Sagor.

The monument, also a clock tower, was erected in 1909 by his son, E.W. Birch, at that time the (much more popular) resident of Perak. Nice detail: the roads left and right of the monument were originally named Station Road and Post Office Road. After independence they have been renamed. The new names? Jalan Dato Maharajalela and Jalan Dato Sagor !

Another interesting detail. On  four civilisation panels around the tower, 44 famous figures in the world history are portrayed, for example Buddha, Newton, Confucius, Galilei etc. One of the figures  has been painted over. Guess who…:-)

Two bank buildings. Left the impressive building of the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank (1931), right the Chartered Bank (1924)

There are more historical bank buildings in the same district, for example the Mercantile Bank (1931) , designed in Art Deco style by Iversen.Now it is housing the Elken company, note the ugly banner on the facade. The OCBC bank is now occupying the building of the Straits Trading Company (1907).

The Perak Hydro building (1930s) belonged to the Perak River Hydro-Electric Company who built the Chenderoh dam in the Perak river, the oldest reservoir in Malaysia

Chung Thye Phin was born in Taiping and became a wealthy tin miner and (the last) Kapitan Cina. The building below carried his name and was built in 1907. In its early days it used to be a medical hall. Beautiful facade.

Walking around in Ipoh Old Town, I was surprised about the numerous interesting heritage buildings. Generally well preserved.

At first I thought that this could be the exception: overgrown decaying shoplots. But I was mistaken…:-)

Actually it is part of Kong Heng square. Not overgrown, but modern vertical gardens..:-), The first floor houses  Sekeping Kong Heng , will try to stay there during my next visit

 

Three more buildings. Left the Han Chin Pet Soo building, now housing the Hakka tin mining museum. Originally the home of the Hakka Tin Miners Club, founded in 1893 and rebuilt in 1929. In the middle a nameless house, under renovation. And right the building of the FMS Bar and Restaurant, an icon from Ipoh’s glorious past. A couple of years ago it was hoped that the glory would come back after a ambitious restoration. But during my visit it was closed without a sign of life. A failed project?

And here are two more buildings from a different era. Left the Labrooy House, modernist design, completed between 1960 and 1961. Right from the same period, the first parking garage of Malaysia!

Finally here are two street views of Leech Street (now Jalan Bandar Timah). Beautiful. Followers of my blog know that I love Taiping as my 2nd hometown. Pity you can not find similar street views in Taiping 🙁

To be honest, I was very impressed by the heritage of Ipoh Old Town. Taiping’s history starts earlier, it boasts on its many “Firsts” and is promoted as Bandar Warisan (Heritage Town), but when you compare the two towns, Ipoh deserves this title more.

Of course I had to walk through Concubine Lane. After reading negative reports about how tourism had destroyed the character of this street,  I was prepared for the worst. Actually it was not too bad, not worse than Petaling Street in KL…:-)

Two year ago I visited Ipoh to see the Zacharevic murals, see my blog Ipoh Murals. Mural Art has been mushrooming all over Malaysia the last few years and also in Ipoh there has been copycatting. Not  really a positive development.

We had dinner our last night in another Chinese Muslim restaurant, this time Fahmi’s discovery. Roast duck, Mongolian chicken, bitter gourd with salted egg. A nice, filling meal!

The next morning, before checking out,  a view from my room in Cititel.

We had breakfast in the Medan Selera near the BIrch memorial with soft-boiled eggs on toast, an Ipoh specialty. Yummie!

Our plan was to visit the Hakka Tin mining museum in the Han Chin Pet Soo building, but they have only guided tours and the timing was not suitable for us. So we started our trip back to KL.

Our first stop was at the Tanjung Tualang Tin Dredge. I have visited this gargantuan relic from the tin mining era several times in the past, was able to explore the dredge freely, climbing up to the upper level, sometimes  bit scary, but fascinating. Since a few years the situation has changed, there were plans to make it a No 1 tourist attraction and it was closed, you could only see it from the outside.

Friends had told me that it was now open to the public, and I wanted to have a look. I was a bit shocked by the ticket price, RM 10 for Mykad holders, RM 20 (!) for foreigners. Senior citizens get a 50 % discount, but still too expensive, as at the moment only the (less interesting) lower level is accessible. Although the guided tour was informative, better wait until the whole dredge can be visited.

Left the ambitious development plan for the Tanjung Tualang dredge. Rather unrealistic and completely over the top, in my opinion. Right a simpler version. I got the impression from our guide that the project has been put on hold after the recent change in government. Good, the dredge itself can become a tourist attraction, like Kellie’s castle, no need  to surround it with all kind of nonsense.

During my earlier visits the dredge pontoon was tilting because of leakage, that has been stabilised now. Right a small canteen, closed when we visited the dredge, but probably more busy during weekends. There is also  small museum.

Our next target was the Salu waterfall, 6 km north of Kampar. Easy access, two waterfalls. Suitable for senior citizens..:-)

From the carpark a cemented path leads in a few minutes to the lower Salu fall. 

The upper fall can be reached in about 15 minutes via a clear trail. There are more waterfalls upstream, but these require jungle  trekking.

Our last destination was the Tin Mining museum in Kampar. Until a few weeks ago I had never heard about this museum, but apparently it exists already for seven years! It was a pleasant surprise.

As the signboard says, it is mainly dedicated to open tin mining, using gravel pumps.Here is an interesting pdf file about Gravel Pump Tin Mining. Impressive machinery, I understand there are guided tours, which would really have been useful here.

Besides the machinery, there is a big hall with lots of information. A few scale models of tin mines give  a good impression of the process.

Both inside and outside the halls dioramas have been created of the various activities related to tin mining. Also here a guide would be useful, or leaflets with information.

After our museum visit we had lunch in the mamak next to it, and then it was time to go home.

Versatile Perak!

Leiden 2018

Most of my life I have been living in Amsterdam, but I was born in Alphen aan den Rijn, a small town 15 km from Leiden. Of course I have been in Leiden many times in my youth, but I have never really explored the town.

Therefore, on the first Sunday in September, I  took the train to Leiden Central Station and visited the town. Leiden has a long history. It  received city rights in 1266 and flourished in the 16th and 17th century, because of the cloth industry. Here is a map of Leiden in 1690

And here is a Google Earth view from 2008. It is remarkable how the historic town center is still easily recognisable. The blue markers indicate some of the locations where I have taken pictures.

The 1690 map is full of interesting details, Click here for a large size image. Count the windmills on the city walls! And notice that numerous canals have nowadays been filled in to become roads.

These days only two windmills are left. The Valk mill will draw your attention when you walk from the station to the old town. The water in the foreground is one of the singels (moats) surrounding the 17th century town.

De Valk is a tower mill, built in 1743, replacing an older mill. In the past the miller was living in the mill with his family, nowadays it is an interesting museum. The mill is built so high to catch the wind. In the right picture you see the wheel to rotate the top of the mill in the direction of the wind. This is a cornmill and still operational

The lower floors show how in the past people were living here.

You have to climb many steep ladders to reach the top of the mill. The complicated machinery (wooden gears!) always fascinates me.

The second windmill on the ramparts is the mill de Put. Although there has been a mill here since 1619, several times rebuilt, it was destroyed in 1817. Only in 1983 the mill has been reconstructed and is now a museum. It is a so-called post mill, the whole mill structure can be rotated around a central axis.

The mill was under renovation when I visited Leiden. The bridge in the foreground is also a recent reconstruction of an old bridge. It is called the Rembrandt bridge, because not far from here Rembrandt, the famous Dutch painter, was born in 1606.

In a small park nearby there is information about him, with his statue, painting of course. All tourists want to have their picture taken here, and so did I…:-)

Both tourists and locals were enjoying the beautiful sunny weather. The cafe terraces, which in Leiden are often placed on floating pontoons, were crowded.

In the morning, the sky was incredibly blue. Left the monumental facade of the Stadstimmerwerf (town carpenter’s yard) built in 1612. Next to it the Doelenpoort (1645), in earlier days the entrance gate to the exercise grounds of the Schutterij , a typical Dutch institution in those days. Many houses had characteristic stepped gables..

Leiden has the oldest university of the Netherlands, founded in 1575. It is still one of the  important ones, the royal family has been studying here.

This is the Academiegebouw, the oldest building in Leiden, in 1516 built as the chapel of a Dominican monastery. SInce 1581 it has been used by the university, nowadays mainly for ceremonial functions.

The Pieterskerk is the oldest church of Leiden, building started in 1121 and lasted hundreds of years.  It is within walking distance from the Academiegebouw and  a cortege of professors walks twice yearly from the university to the church, for the dies natalis (anniversary) and  for the opening of the Academic Year. An old tradition, this year the 443th time! When I visited Leiden, they were very busy in the church with preparations for the ceremony the following day.

I would really have loved to watch the procession. Here is a video taken during the dies natalis ceremony of 2016. Fascinating.

The church had a 110 m tall tower,which collapsed in 1512 and was never rebuilt. Not so easy to take an overall picture of this church, also because houses have been built against the church walls.

The interior of the late-gothic building is very impressive. Of course it was originally a Roman-Catholic church, but after the Reformation and the infamous Beeldenstorm in 1566 it became a Protestant church in 1572.

Many famous people were buried here (Jan Steen, Boerhaave), but I had no time to find their tombs. Just a few more pictures. The magnificent Van Hagerbeer organ is from 1643.

The Hortus Botanicus (botanical garden) of the Leiden University is the oldest in the Netherlands and one of the oldest in the world. I had never before visited the Hortus, and spent quite some time there.

There are many greenhouses with tropical plants. Probably the most famous one is the Victoria amazonica, with leaves that supposedly can carry a  baby.

The park is  very attractive.  Left  a view of the singel, right the Japanese garden

Also in the garden is the Leiden Observatory. It is one of the oldest in the world, originally housed in the Academiegebouw. In 1860 it was moved to the Hortus and in 1974 to the science campus, outside the town center.

After my visit I had lunch in the Hortus cafe

Leiden has numerous “hofjes” and I visited three of them. A “hofje” is a courtyard with almshouses. Rich people in the 17th century founded such hofjes as a charity. The almshouses were meant for various groups, poor people, or spinsters, or foreigners without family, etc.

Nowadays they still have rules and regulations for the tenants. They are oases of tranquillity, many of them have free access , but you are expected to be quiet and not disturb the people living there.

Jean Pesijnhof (1683)

This hofje, near the Pieterskerk, was founded by the widow of Jean Pesijn. They came from France, had no children and the almshouses were meant for members of the Walloon Church. A beautiful, idyllic courtyard.

Eva van Hoogeveenhof (1652)

Eva came from a wealthy family and never married. As the inscription above the entrance gate says, she was a “virgo castissima et laudatissima” (Google for translation). In her will she had stated that the almshouses were meant for honest women, above 40 year old and unmarried..

Van der Speckhofje (1645)

Also know as St Pietershofje. A secluded one, you can easily miss the entrance gate.Founded by Pieter Gerritsz. Van der Speck. In his will he stated that four of the eight almshouses were meant for widows, the other four for elderly couples. Nowadays younger people are housed in this little gem.

The town hall of Leiden stood in the Breestraat as early as the Middle Ages. In 1596 it was given a new facade in Renaissance style to show the importance of the town. It still looks impressive, although it is “new”! In 1929 a devastating fire destroyed the town hall, leaving only a skeleton of the facade.  In 1932 it was rebuilt , the facade in the original style, the tower in a different location and the rest in modern style ( a design by Dudok was rejected, understandable, but still a pity!)

Some details of the facade

The Burcht of Leiden is a fortress built on an artificial hill, constructed in the 11th century, located where two tributaries of the Rhine come together.

Here is the south gate (1651). access is free, it is a pleasant park.

From the ramparts, you have a view of Leiden. Here two churched I had no time to visit, left the Hooglandse Kerk, a gothic church from the 15th century, right the Marekerk, built in classicist style and opened in 1649. The Hooglandse Kerk was of course built as a Catholic church and only after the Reformation transformed into a Protestant one. The Marekerk was designed as a Protestant church.

I could not resits the temptation to have Poffertjes, a traditional Dutch mini-pancake. Served with butter and sugar, not healthy, but so delicious.

With my interest in architecture, I could have spent many days in Leiden. The Lakenhal was built as a guild hall for cloth merchants and is now an important museum, but closed for renovation during my visit. The Hartebrugkerk is the first Catholic church in Leiden built after the Reformation.

The Koornbrug is from 1642. It was so named, because for many centuries corn was traded on this bridge

With its many singels and canals, Leiden looks a bit similar to Amsterdam. Here  is a collection of photos taken during my visit.

After a long day it was time to go back to Amsterdam. The central station is an attractive modern building from 1996.

Walking to the entrance of the station,  I came across a pavement decoration, which did not make much sense to me (left picture) . Until I walked past and watched it from the other side (right picture). A spectacular anamorphic work of art!

It was a very enjoyable day!

 

Groningen 2018

When I am in the Netherlands, I always try to stay a few days in Groningen with my brother Ruud.  We usually spend a day in the countryside and this time we decided to visit the Menkemaborg. A “borg” is a manor house, typical for the province of Groningen. In the past there were many, now only less than twenty  survive, here is a list of the existing borgs

On our way to the borg, we passed the small hamlet of Eppenhuizen with an attractive church. The church is not old, built in 1882 and no longer in use as church. Surrounded by a graveyard with a “baarhuisje”, a mortuary.

The Menkemaborg was originally built in  the 14th century, but altered to its present form around 1700. Owned privately by the Alberda family until 1902, it was donated in 1921 to the Groninger Museum. It is surrounded by a moat and extensive gardens.

The interior of the borg has been furnished in the style of the 17-18th century. The result is beautiful, it gives the impression that the residents are away for a moment and can come back any time.

Only the ground floor and the basement are accessible to the public. The basement contains the kitchens and the servants quarters

There were two toilets, located outside the main building, flushing into the moat…:-). The lion is carrying the coat of arms of the family and the pedestal shows the year  that the Alberda family acquired the property and altered it.

The Schathoes was originally the farm belonging to the Menkemaborg. Now it is a restaurant where we had our lunch.

After our lunch we walked in the well-maintained gardens. There is a maze in this garden where we almost got lost…:-)

In Google Earth the Menkemaborg is clearly visible. When you enlarge tie image, you will notice the maze in the garden with an old plane tree in its center

My brother suggested to drive to the coast of the Waddenzee after our visit. On our way we passed another beautiful church, in Uithuizermeeden. The church is old, but in 1896 the church tower was destroyed by lightning and rebuilt the next year in this interesting neoclassical form. A real gem.

The Waddenzee is a Unesco World Heritage site and also a Ramsar site.

Dykes protect the low-lying lands against the seawater  At several places roads have to cross these dykes,  in these pictures you see the old wooden doors that can be closed

And of course you will find windmills in many places to pump the rainwater back to the sea. The windmill here is the Goliath , built in 1897. In the background many modern windmills which generate electricity.

When we stopped at the mill to take pictures, the miller told us that we could enter the mill and climb up, using steep ladders. After our visit she would have coffee and cake ready! Of course we accepted her invitation…:-)

This  type of windmill is called a bovenkruier, the top part of the mill can be rotated when the direction of the wind is changing.

The miller had lots of interesting stories to tell about the Goliath and her efforts to preserve the mill and keep it in mint condition. We asked if the name Goliath was a pun, but no it was the original name.  It was a pun that one of the huge new windmills nearby had been named the David…:-)

Personally I think the modern windmills are a form of horizon pollution, although in the picture below they fit quite naturally in the landscape.

The northern part of Groningen has a special charm. Look at this Google Earth View

It was a very rewarding outing!

France 2018, part II

Status

See France 2018, part I , for the first part of our trip to France. Here is again a map of the places we visited.

In 1976(!), after my graduation, I applied for a position as a physics teacher at a school in Amstelveen. The rector (headmaster) in those days was Dr B.C. Poeder, he interviewed me and decided to give me the job. He retired long ago, but we had become friends and kept in touch. Therefore I knew that he was now living in France, in the region that Aric and I were going to visit.

I wrote to him, and he invited us to stay a few days in his house, in the small village of Robiac, about 50 km north of Nîmes. Take the road via Vézénobres, he suggested.

I had never heard about that village, but we followed his advice and decided to have lunch there . A romantic, medieval village, no cars allowed, we had to park quite far outside the walls

Walking around we were wondering if there was a place to have some food. We were lucky, found a nice shop where they prepared crepes and galettes. I had a glass of cider. Very nice people too.

When we arrived in Robiac, Carel was already waiting for us at the roadside, otherwise we might have missed the small road leading to his house. The nameplate on the letterbox still refers to his past as headmaster :-).

We were warmly welcomed by Carel and Joanne, his wife. The house is part of what before has been a school. The basement, formerly a goat stable, has been transformed in a guest room.

A big garden with many flowers.

Our hosts invited us for a nice dinner in Barjac, a nearby village.

The next day we enjoyed the swimming pool and the hospitality of Carel and Joanne, but also made a trip to a cave, the Grotte de la Salamandre. This cave was discovered in the 60s, access was possible only by abseiling through a hole above the cave! Five years ago the cave was opened to the public after an access tunnel had been excavated from the side of the hill.

You can still rappel down in the original way ( for an extra fee), we chose the tunnel..:-). A guided tour, clear explanations, the stalagmites and stalactites were illuminated with varying colors, some really very bright, but also with normal white light.

A very rewarding experience.

When you click on the left picture below to enlarge it, you can see at the top people who are abseiling from the hole in the roof!

The next day we said goodbye to our hosts and continued our trip. We had decided to follow the Gorges du Tarn, a long but very  scenic route. It is a canyon, 400 to 600 meter deep, eroded by the river Tarn. Spectacular views, like here of the village of Castelbouc, deep down.

The river is a favourite playground for kayakers.

We had lunch in La Malène

We stayed overnight in Millau, our Airbnb was a nice apartment, located in the historic center of the town.

Millau is nowadays known for its viaduct, but it turned out to be a surprisingly attractive town itself. The next morning we climbed the Beffroi, a bell tower consisting of a 12th-century square tower topped by an octagonal 17th-century tower.

It was a steep climb, but the view was worth the effort. The Millau viaduct was of course clearly visible and deep down the Halles, built in 1899.

In the Middle Ages Millau was an important town, especially because of a bridge across the Tarn river, consisting of 17 spans. Nowadays only one span remains with a house built on it, formerly a watermill. Very scenic.  In a nearby cafe we had coffee with a piece of fouace, a cake specialty of Millau.

The Millau viaduct is (at the time of writing) the tallest bridge in the world, with a height of 340 meter above the river Tarn. It is considered one of the great engineering achievements of all time.

The viaduct has become a major tourist attraction. We drove over it and also under it, when you look up at the supporting pylons from the river valley, they look so fragile!

Our next destination was Albi. Here a view of the town with the Sainte Cécile cathedral and the Vieux Pont (Old Bridge) in the foreground. This bridge was originally built in 1035.

We stayed two nights in Albi in a very nice Airbnb , a complete house, a bit outside the historic center, easy parking, with a very friendly hostess, who advised us where to eat where to shop and where to park when we wanted to visit the town center. Airbnb at its best…:-)

The cathedral is an amazing building, constructed between the 13th and 15th century. Those were the days of the Cathar Heresy, and the Roman Catholic church wanted to make a clear statement of strength. What a contrast with for example the Notre Dame in Paris! It looks like a fortress and is claimed to be the largest brick building in the world.

The monumental doorway was added at the end of the 14th century

The austere outside forms a strong contrast with the flamboyant interior.

Next to the cathedral the fortress of the Palais de la Berbie, the Bishops’ Palace, dating to the end of the 13th century

Nowadays it is the Toulouse-Lautrec museum. We had a quick look , I am not really a fan of him..:-)

But the gardens of the Palace are beautiful.

For dinner, our hostess had advised us  restaurant Lautrec in Albi and that was a good choice!

Albi has of course many interesting old houses. The left picture also shows the belltower of the cathedral

Another useful advice of our hostess was to visit the small village of Puycelsi, one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France . There are more than 150 of them…:-)

The weather was a bit grey during our visit, here is a view of the village

We parked our car outside the walls and explored the narrow streets, visited the church and had lunch.

During our trip we had already passed  many sunflower fields, but on our way to Carcassonne we found such a beautiful field that we really had to stop to take pictures..:-)

We visited Lautrec, another of the Most Beautiful Villages of France. The view of Lautrec might look similar to the view of Puyselci, but careful inspection of the two pictures will show you they are not the same…:-)

The weather was beautiful again, that could be the reason that we liked this village better. The walls are still there and the 14th century market square is attractive

We had lunch in a nice restaurant , Le Clos d’Adele. Good food, pleasant service, value for money.

After lunch we visited one of the other attractions of Lautrec, a 17th century windmill. A steep climb, but worth the effort, we could enter the mill and had a nice view of the surroundings. When there is enough wind the mill is still operating.

With Airbnb the host often doesn’t live in  the same building, so you have to contact him/her about your arrival time. That works well in general, but in Carcassonne it took us some time, the apartment also looked more like a hotel room. But it was ok, from our window we could see the medieval fortress in the evening light. But what were those strange yellow surfaces on the walls and towers?

The next day we explored the old town. It  the largest walled city in Europe and really impressive.

Not surprisingly it is a major tourist attraction with crowds of visitors in the narrow streets. We were lucky to find a restaurant with a secluded garden, where we had a nice lunch, again value for money

The name of the restaurant is Le Jardin du Carcasses, it has good reviews

The Church of Saints Nazarius and Celsus was built in its Gothic form at the end of the 13th century on the site of an earlier church. It was the cathedral of Carcassonne until 1803. Beautiful interior. But keep in mind that this church and also the citadel itself have been “renovated” in the 19th century by the French architect Viollet-le-Duc!

Access to the medieval city is free, but to access the fortress and the walls you have to pay an entrance fee.

Carcassonne is  a Unesco World Heritage site already for 20 years and of course that had to be celebrated. The Swiss artist Felice Varini was asked to create a project.

Quoting Wikipedia:

Felice paints on architectural and urban spaces, such as buildings, walls and streets. The paintings are characterized by one vantage point from which the viewer can see the complete painting (usually a simple geometric shape such as circle, square, line), while from other view points the viewer will see ‘broken’ fragmented shapes.”

In this case he projected concentric circles on the walls and towers of the citadel. They look broken, only from one vantage point they are circles. Quite spectacular, of course many specatators, not easy to take a picture without people.

In the evening we came back especially to admire Varini’s work

Our trip was coming to an end, our last destination was the naturist village of Cap d’Agde. On our way we passed this strange landscape, the Étang de Montady, a wetland, drained in the 13th century.

What to say about Cap d’Agde? Here is a picture of the beach, when you enlarge it, you will see that the sunbathers are naked…:-)

Nudist beaches are common in Europe, but Cap d’Agde is a nudist village, where you walk around, have a drink/ food on a terrace, go to the supermarket etc, all in your birthday suit..:-)

We had booked a room (Airbnb) with Bernard and that was a lucky choice, because he had been living there for many years and could tell us the do’s and don’ts. One don’t is that you can not take pictures of other naked people. Another one is that at night, during dinner, you are supposed to be a bit dressed at least…:-)

Bernard had two other guests, Christiane and Alain, a nice couple who had been regular visitors of Cap d’ Agde for many years. We became friends almost immediately…:-) The village itself is a nondescript conglomerate of concrete apartment complexes, but the company made our visit very enjoyable.

The second (also last) night of our stay we were invited to join our new friends to a dinner in a nearby restaurant. There was music, there was drag, and both Aric and I have been dancing! A fun evening and a worthy ending of our trip

It is amazing how much you can do in twelve days. After our return ot Amsterdam we needed several days to recover…:-)

Singapore, July 2018

In January I visited Singapore, see my blog post Singapore 2018 . We met my friend Dr Lee and had a wonderful time. It was only a short visit and there was no time to visit his penthouse in the iconic  Pearl Bank apartments, the tallest and densest residential building in Singapore when it was completed in 1976.

In February the building has been sold to a developer and it will likely not be conserved despite the wishes of heritage lovers 🙁

The building was designed by architect Tan Cheng Siong, here is an interesting interview with him about the Pearl Bank apartments. 

Dr Lee invited me to stay a couple of nights in his penthouse. The C-shape of the design is very impressive, both looking up from the central courtyard, as looking down from the 37th floor where he has been living since the completion of the building!

From his penthouse you have an unobstructed view of Singapore. It was slightly hazy during my visit, but Dr Lee told me that you can even see the sea and Indonesia when the sky is clear.

The apartments are built in split-level style and as a penthouse occupies two floors, there are many levels. Fascinating, how I would love to live in an apartment like this!

But as the building probably will demolished in the near future, my friend is already preparing to leave. Very sad. There have been proposals for conservation, read more details here, but at the end of the day it came to nothing.

Two more pictures, a night view looking up, and a proposal for conservation/renovation, prepared in 2014 by Tan Cheng Siong’s firm, Archurban Architects Planners. Pity that this beautiful design will not be realised.

After I had arrived in Singapore (by First Coach bus) and met Dr Lee in his apartment, we went out in the afternoon to visit an exhibition of textile art, Nüshu: An Inspiration , just opened the day before I arrived. The artist, Benny Ong, was present to explain to us the meaning of the artworks.  Even without any explanation his work is quite fascinating. Ong became famous as a fashion designer, but switched in the 2000’s to textile art

The exhibition was held in the Goo Loo Club, more than 100 year old, and a couple of years ago revitalised. It used to be the club for the Peranakan millionaires of Singapore The building next to it (right picture) is even grander and was the club for the Chinese millionaires…:-). It dates back to 1891 and was more modestly named the Chinese Weekly Entertainment Club

We had dinner with friends  in another prestigious club, the Singapore Cricket Club , the second oldest club of Singapore, established in 1852, the present clubhouse is from 1884. Very good cuisine, I had a delicious lamb shank

After dinner we had a walk through town. Every time I visit Singapore, I enjoy it more. Traditionally in Malaysia the opinion about Singapore is rather negative, concrete jungle, over organised etc. But when you see everybody enjoying the evening temperatures on the Esplanade, with everywhere activities, it is a pleasant, peaceful town.

The next morning, after breakfast we visited the Flower Dome in the Gardens by the Bay. Special exhibition during our visit was an orchid display, nice, but I prefer the Orchid Garden in the Singapore Botanical Gardens

There are many different gardens in the Flower Dome, each dedicated to a specific continent or plant species. I liked the cactuses..:-)

Nice flowers, old olive trees, a baobab tree, you wonder how they transported those trees from their original locations.

Decorated by Peranakan facades and other decorative items, it was a pleasure to walk around, although the other dome, the Cloud Forest, visited during my January visit, is more spectacular.

Walking back to town from the Gardens by the Bay, you pass Marina Bay Sands hotel, the iconic landmark of Singapore. Not cheap but worth to stay there at least once, see my 2013 report Singapore.  The ArtScience museum nearby is by the same architect

My next destination was an exhibition in the ArtScience Museum by a Dutch(!) artist, Theo Jansen, who has been designing and building “beach animals”, constructions of PVC tube that are able to move along the beach when there is enough wind.

It was a fascinating exhibition, I have written a separate post about it: Strandbeesten, (the Dutch translation of beach animals). Here one of his creations

My trips are not complete without food..:-)   For lunch we went back to the Singapore Cricket Club, where I had a tasty laksa. That evening we had dinner at a friend’s place, he had prepared a delicious meal with many different dishes. And the next morning we went to the Tiong Bahru Food market, where I had nasi lemak. I think it is a misconception that the Singaporean food culture is inferior to the Malaysian one.

This day I spent on my own. After breakfast Lee dropped me at the Peranakan museum, near the Fort Canning Hill. I had never visited this part of Singapore, it was a pleasant walk. The hill has a rich history, read the Wikipedia link.

In the 19th century there was a Christian cemetery on the hill, the Gothic gate (1846) is a remnant and probably the two attractive cupolas as well. Several tomb stones have been placed in the surrounding wall.

I was interested to visit the Battle Box, the Military Command Center during the Japanese invasion in 1941/42. It is now a museum with a guided tour. After I bought my ticket there was just enough time for a cup of coffee in the National Museum of Singapore, located nearby.

The guided tour was very informative. You are not allowed to take pictures inside the maze of corridors and rooms, pity but understandable.   I found a picture on the Internet with the most impressive room, where on 15 February 1942 Lieutenant-General Percival decided to surrender, in spite of Churchill’s order to keep fighting until the last man.

I am very interested in the Japanese invasion of Malaysia, see my report Japan invades Malaya 1941/42 which describes the first part of the invasion, until KL.

Some pictures outside the Battle Box. A sally port is a hidden door to enter and exit the Battle Box undetected. In case of emergency or fire you could escape via a ladder. What is now the Fort Canning Arts Center, were originally British Army Barracks, constructed in 1926. And Hotel Fort Canning was the British Far East Command Headquarters during World War II.  Everything looks so peaceful and serene now..:-)

After the Battle Box I walked down the hill to the Peranakan Museum, a beautiful building in Classical style, originally built in 1910-12 for the Tao Nan Chinese School.

You can explore the museum on your own, but I decided to follow a (free) guided tour, which was again very informative. The Peranakan are are the descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to the Malay archipelago between the 15th and 17th centuries. Another term for them is Nyonya (for the women) and Baba (for the men). I didn’t know that Yap Ah Loy, Capitan Cina of KL and Lee Kuan Yew, first president of Singapore, were Peranakan…:-)

Dinner that night was in the Tanglin Club, one of Singapore’s most prestigious and prominent social clubs, founded in 1865. Even more upmarket than the SSC, I would say.

Western food this time. Walking around in the lobby I noticed a board with the past presidents of the club. Surprised to find J.W.W. Birch in the list, the first British resident of Perak, murdered in 1875 in Pasir Salak. In 1876 the club had no president, just a coincidence?

After breakfast the next morning,  I took the bus back to KL. Already looking forward to my next visit of Singapore…:-)

Bhutan 2018

Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom in the Eastern Himalayas, landlocked between India and China. The country is slightly smaller than the Netherlands, with  a population in 2016 of about 800.000, roughly the same as the city of Amsterdam!

It was only in 1974 that the isolated country opened its borders to foreigners. In that year 287 tourists visited Bhutan, a number that increased to almost 180.000 in 2016. Compare that with the 15.5 million tourists visiting the Netherlands in 2016!

The Bhutanese government wants to preserve the traditional culture and has decided to limit the tourism, by making it expensive. Tourists have to spend 200-250 USD daily, depending on the season.

Friends who have visited Bhutan, told us not to wait too long with a visit, so we decided to go and started looking for a suitable travel agency, because you can not travel on your own in Bhutan, you need to book a guide and a driver. For us that would be a new experience. Finally we chose Book Bhutan Tour ,and booked a 10D9N tour with them.  With only the two of us as passengers, it made the trip even more expensive  🙂

But it was worth it! Before I start my travelogue, here is a Google Map of Bhutan in which I have indicated the places where we have stayed overnight (A – H) and some of the highlights of the trip (red markers). When you click on a marker, you will see a picture. The map can be enlarged and you can zoom in and out.

There are no direct flights from Kuala Lumpur  to Bhutan, first we took a MAS flight to Bangkok, stayed overnight near the airport and early the next morning we departed with Druk Air for Paro, the international airport of Bhutan.

The descent to the airport was quite spectacular. Because the terrain is so mountainous, the plane can not approach in a straight line. Aric took pictures during the descent and nowadays smartphones can record GPS data, even inside the plane! The GE screenshot shows the altitude of the plane and the surrounding mountains.

 Here are the corresponding pictures

At the airport we were welcomed by Ram, the owner of Book Bhutan Tour, and Tenzin, our guide. We received as welcome gift a khata, a silk shawl, decorated  with the  Ashtamangala , the Eight Auspicious Signs. Tenzin, our guide, is wearing the traditional Bhutanese dress for men, the gho.

After a cup of coffee we drove to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, where we had our first Bhutanese food.

On the way to our hotel we passed a sports meet, where students were competing in various activities. Fascinating to see how the spectators  were all dressed in traditional garb, the boys in their gho with black knee stockings and the girls in their kira.

Our room in the Jumolhari Hotel   was comfortable. As we had got up at 4am, we took a short rest.

But not for long, we were going to visit our first Dzong! A Dzong is a fortress, often built on a hill top, dominating a town. Half of a dzong houses administrative offices, the other half is occupied by the monastic body, monks quarters, chapels etc. Many of them have their origins in the 17th century, when Zhabdrung Rinpoche  unified Bhutan as a nation-state. These spectacular fortresses are  one of the main reasons to visit Bhutan.

Here is the Tashichho Dzong in Thimphu. Built in 1641, it has been the seat of Bhutan’s government since 1968.

Because government offices are housed in the dzong, access is only allowed after working hours and there is a dress code. Bhutanese men have to wear a ceremonial white scarf, and tourists should not wear t-shirts, shorts or sandals.

When we arrived, it was raining, they were just lowering the flag.

After a while the rain stopped and we could enter the courtyard. It was our first dzong, so we took numerous pictures. Bhutanese architecture is beautiful, very traditional and decorative.

Here are a few more pictures

Because it had been raining, there were some pools on the pavement. Aric knows how to make spectacular pictures, using the reflection in the water. Tenzin was interested and Aric was eager to explain how to do it…:-)

Before calling it a day, we drove to a spot where we had a good view of the illuminated dzong. A nice first day in Bhutan


DAY 2

We spent this day in Thimphu. First we visited the Memorial Chorten  , built in 1974  in memory of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the 3rd Dragon King, who died in 1972.

There is a lot of respect and love for the royal family in Bhutan, which may explain that daily hundreds of locals visit the memorial for praying. They walk many times around the chorten (stupa), always in clockwise direction. Or they go to the prayer wheels and turn them around and around. Old ladies sit down near those wheels and keep turning them. Fascinating.

Next we went to the Great Buddha  statue, one of the largest Buddha statues in the world, 52 m high. Construction started in 2006 and was completed in 2015, only a few years ago. It is quite impressive, although there has been criticism that it is megalomaniac and doesn’t fit in the Bhutanese culture.

The Buddha is overlooking Thimphu and can be seen from far away. Inside the statue are temples and halls, containing ten thousands of small bronze Buddha statues.

After our lunch we visited a vocational education center, where young (and older) Bhutanese were trained in traditional arts and crafts. We were allowed to just walk around and take pictures. I was impressed by the concentration of the students, even without the presence of their teachers .. 🙂

Wood carving, painting, embroidery, drawing. Notice how concentrated everybody is

It was my birthday and I had decided not to tell Ram and Tenzin. When Ram suggested that we could have a cup of tea at his house, I was not suspicious and accepted his invitation. Only when his wife came in with a cake, and everybody started singing Happy Birthday,  it became clear that there had been a complot between Aric and Ram. Really a surprise, I even became a bit emotional…:-)

Back in our hotel, we had dinner. We had several nice meals, but in general Bhutanese cuisine is not a reason to visit the country. The red rice is tasty, many dishes are prepared with local cheese and can be very spicy. Not much variety.


DAY 3

Our destination this day was Trongsa, less than 90 km from Thimphu, as the crow flies. But the connecting “highway” is winding, resulting in a driving distance of almost 200 km, traversing mountain passes up to 3400 m high. We left Thimphu at 8 am and reached Trongsa around 4 pm, just in time to visit the dzong. But the landscape is beautiful. Ram had prepared a picnic basket with coffee and cookies and we had lunch in a restaurant halfway. I could not resist the temptation to have my picture taken as a big boss…:-)

After lunch we continued and visited an interesting stupa with eyes (Nepali style) . The “highway” is the only east-west connection,  being widened, some parts were in bad condition. We passed a waterfall and finally saw the imposing Trongsa Dzong, but it still took almost an hour to reach it. Have a look at the map above to find out why…:-)

The Trongsa Dzong is the largest dzong of Bhutan, built in 1647. For centuries it was the seat of the Wangchuck dynasty who ruled over much of eastern and central Bhutan, and from 1907 have been Kings of Bhutan

Also here a division in a governmental and a monastic half. A very impressive fortress.

The dzong is a paradise for photographers. Here a small selection from the many pictures we took during our visit.

We stayed overnight in the nice Yangkhil resort,  celebrating a long, tiring day with a bottle of Bhutanese wine.


DAY 4

Our room had a balcony with a view of the Trongsa Dzong.

After breakfast we continued our trip . Also here they were working on the  “highway”, widening it. We stopped for a while at the Yutong La pass, marked by a chorten and a sea of prayer flags. At an altitude of 3425 m, you feel out of breath easily!

After the pass we descended into the Bumthang Valley , the  religious heartland of Bhutan. First we visited the Jakar Dzong, founded as a monastery by the great-grandfather of the Zhabdrung and in 1667 extended as a dzong. Impressive, large building.

Interesting were the many monks in this dzong. Notice that one of them is carrying a smartphone…:-)

Walking back to our car we met a group of young schoolboys going home, dressed in their gho uniform. They were friendly and could speak English quite well. It is educational policy in Bhutan to teach English already in primary school.

After lunch we visited two holy places, each with an interesting history.

The first one is  the Jambay Lhakhang. According to legend, it is one of the 108 temples, built by a Tibetan King in 659 on a single day, to pin down a female demon. The temples were constructed on her body parts that spread across Tibet and Bhutan. In Bhutan two of the temples still exist, the other one is in Paro (see later). Of course they have been repaired and rebuilt  several times. Looking at the many devotees visiting the temple, it is still a very holy place.

The second holy place is the Kurjey Lhakhang , a complex of three temples. The oldest one was built in 1652, it was locked when we were there, inside there should be a meditation cave where the Guru Rimpoche left his body print. The Guru Rimpoche lived in the 8th century and is one of the most venerated Buddhist masters in Bhutan. The second temple was built by the first king of Bhutan in 1900. The third one is very recent, built in 1984 by the grandmother of the present king. Interesting is that the architectural style of all temples is very similar

On the temple grounds we noticed this large collection of miniature stupas. They are placed here by devotees who hope that it will add to their karma. And near the temples there was a hanging bridge decorated with numerous prayer flags. Bhutan is a deeply religious country.

We were getting tired, it was time to go to our guesthouse. The Swiss Guesthouse to be precise and indeed, it felt a bit like Switzerland..:-) . With an apple orchard, a wood stove in our (spacious) room and a more or less Western style dinner.


DAY 5

Another picture of the Swiss Guesthouse. Left in the background the Jakar Dzong. Lots of apple blossom

This day no dzongs, monasteries or temples, we started our trip back to Thimphu, using the same so-called Lateral Road. Here one more stretch (to be fair to Bhutan, large parts of the road were already finished and in good condition)

At  high altitudes, there are no longer cows but yaks. And of course there were  rhododendrons.

Destination for the day was the Dewachen  hotel in the Gangteng Valley, a vast U-shaped glacial valley at an altitude of ~ 3000 m. During the winter months the globally threatened Black-necked Cranes roost here. It is a beautiful valley and our guide Tenzin suggested that we should hike a 4 km nature trail to the hotel. It was a pleasant walk.

The last few days we had been often the only guests in the restaurants and guesthouses. Here in the Dewachen Hotel there was quite a crowd.

We had a beautiful room with a view of the valley. After our dinner Ram and Tenzing joined us for a while, dressed this time in “western” outfit…:-). Both are nice guys and became our friends easily.

 


DAY 6

From our hotel it was an easy walk to the Black Necked Crane Visitor center. We knew that the cranes had already left to their breeding places in Tibet, crossing the Himalaysa at 6 km altitude! One juvenile bird got injured and broken-winged in 2016 and is now kept in the center. Read here more about Karma

We walked through the valley, as the car had a problem. Quite a long walk, but a good exercise. The landscape is dotted with farms, the region is fertile, potatoes and other vegetables are grown. The farmhouses look attractive in their traditional Bhutanese style. Look carefully at the house in the top row, second from right, next to the stairs. It is a penis! Later more about this interesting Bhutanese tradition. We bought  a drink in a local grocery shop

We passed a school and of course I had to take a look. There was a sports meet going on, so we could have a look inside.

The Gangtey Monastery is one of the most important centers of Bhutanese Buddhism.  Established in 1613, but of course several times rebuilt and restored, last in 2002-2008.

This is a monastery, not a dzong. There are prayer halls, the monks have their rooms, no government offices here.

The car had been repaired and from the monastery we continued to Punakha, our destination for the day. One of the famous views in Bhutan are the snow-capped giant Himalaya mountains. But you need clear skies to see them The best view we had was today, at least there was snow. Our altitude 3330 m

In the late afternoon we reached the Punakha Dzong. Altitude 1230 m, 2100 m lower! Constructed by the Zhabdrung Rinpoche in 1637–38, it is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of its most majestic structures. Quite accessible, compared with Trongsa and Bumthang, not surprisingly there were relatively many tourists here.

Punakha was the capital of Bhutan and the seat of government until 1955 and in 2011 the wedding of the present king took place in the dzong


The dzong closes at 5pm, we could not really visit in detail. Before going to our hotel we visited the longest suspension bridge of Bhutan. Modern design, traditionally decorated with prayer flags.

Another interesting day.


DAY 7

After breakfast we visited Chimi Lhakhang, a monastery near Punakha, with an interesting history. Built in 1499, it was the monastery where the “Divine Madman” lived. From the Wikipedia link:  “Some of his most famous performances include urinating on sacred, thankhas, stripping down naked or offering his testicles to a famous Lama.” It is a nice walk through the padi fields to the modest monastery.

The tradition to decorate houses with paintings of erect penises originates from the Divine Madman. Nowadays the government discourages this tradition, but in the countryside we had still seen several (see picture above). They are not fertility symbols but serve to protect against evil spirits and demons.

In the nearby village of Sopsokha it has become the main tourist attraction. Shops, restaurants, they are all decorated with modernised phallus images. A bit too much…:-)

But of course I joined the crowd in taking pictures. Here is a collage.

Leaving the village we had a nice view of the beautiful landscape. If you look carefully, you can just see the monastery on the hill top, left from the village

Next stop was at the Royal Botanical Park, where that day the yearly Rhododendron festival took place. Quite a few visitors, mostly locals.

The rhododendron season was almost over, we had to search for nice specimens.

Our last stop was at the Dochula mountain pass at 3100m.  With clear skies you can see from here the big Himalaya mountains, but, although the weather was nice, the view was not clear.

The 108 memorial chortens have been constructed in 2004, in honour of the Bhutanese soldiers who were killed in the December 2003 battle against Assamese insurgents from India.

We stayed overnight in Thimphu, in the same hotel as the first two nights.

 


DAY 8

Before we left Thimphu for Paro, we went to the Main Post Office. Why? Because you can buy regular stamps there with your own picture on it.

At the Dochula pass we had already taken a picture , especially for these stamps.

Here is the result. We have used them to send postcards to family and friends.

In Paro we first visited the National Museum, high above the Paro Dzong. A watchtower (left) protects the dzong, which you can see downhill (right).

Seen from above it looks rather small, but actually it is a large fortress. Notice the watchtower in the top right of the picture

This was the fifth and last Dzong we visited during our trip. Fed up with dzongs? Not at all. Although the basic architecture is the same, all of them have their own character. And they are live monuments. Here too the dzong houses both government offices and the monastic body.

Everything so colorful. A delight for photographers

During our stay in Bumthang we had visited Jambay Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples, supposedly built on one day in 659 AD to pin down a demoness. The other one in Bhutan is located in Paro, the Kyichu Lhakhang .

It is believed that the two orange trees in the courtyard of the monastery bear fruit throughout the year.


DAY 9

Probably the most famous landmark in Bhutan is the Paro Taktsang, better known as the Tiger’s Nest, a monastery located in the cliffside of the mountains near Paro, at an altitude of 3100 m. The shrine was first built in 1692 around a cave where according to legend the Guru Rimpoche had meditated in the 8th century.

It is considered the cultural icon of Bhutan , so of course we wanted to visit it. It is a strenuous hike, starting at an altitude of 2600 m, and we were not sure if we could make it…:-)

Of course we were not the only visitors. The first part of the hike you can rent a donkey, I just bought a walking stick. We started early before 8am. In both pictures the Tiger’s Nest is visible, try to spot it ..:-)

Even though we were reasonably fit, it was a tough hike, we were often out of breath because of the altitude. The pictures give the altitude and the time. Notice that we had to climb higher than the monastery, then go down steps about 100 meter and finally steep up again to the entrance.