We visited Guilin in March 2019 and in my blog post about the trip I wrote that it was a first impression with only a few pictures of each day. “Planning to write three reports, but that will take time.“. And indeed it took time, more than two years.
But at last here is a report about one of the highlights of those holidays, the famous Terraced Rice Fields of Longji. They are located about 80 km north of Guilin and consist of three separate regions. We decided to visit the Jinkeng Terraced Fields which “enjoys the largest amount of Rice Terraces in Longji” . In this rather inaccurate diagram it is the rightmost region.
In Jinkeng Aric had booked the Panorama House Hotel, high up in the hills. It could only be reached on foot, so we left our main luggage in our Guilin hotel, and took only small backpacks.
We used public transport to travel from Guilin to Geping, where the ticketing office for Longji is located. After buying an entry ticket the bus brought us to the cable car station in Jinkeng.
There we rented a small van to the Tiantou Village, where the trail to the hotel started. But first we had lunch in the hotel/restaurant hat belonged to the van driver 😉
While he was preparing our lunch, we waited in the restaurant. It was off-season, will be more crowded during peak-season. It was cold, look how the school boys have their private heating.
The lunch was ok, a bit porky. After the lunch the driver/cook and I warmed ourselves a bit.
Near the village there is one of the famous viewpoints of Jinkeng. There was one other guest in the hotel, who knew the way, so we followed him..
It was only about 500 meter to the viewpoint, where a large viewing gallery had been built. The views were fabulous. It is called the Large-scale Thousand-Layers Terraces (千层天梯) .IN the Google Map at the end of this blog it is viewpoint no 2.
Here are a few more pictures.
After taking many more pictures, we walked back to the village and started our walk to our hotel. Here is a picture looking back to the village.
From far away we could see our hotel already. The weather was nice, the path well maintained, it took us about one hour.
When you enlarge the picture, you may be able to see the cable car, far away.
Not far from our hotel we passed another viewpoint , visible in the right picture. It is called West Hill Music (西山韶乐) (Viewpoint no 1 in the Google map)
A short final climb took us to the hotel and its rustic reception, where we checked in for our two night stay.
Here is the view from our balcony. Worth the climb 😉 .
Quite cold. Good that there was some home-brewed liquor in the restaurant to keep me warm.
I think we were the only guests in the hotel. Here we are waiting for our dinner.
We needed warm clothes. For dinner we had pork rice in bamboo, stuffed tofu and veggie. The cuisine is very local.
Next morning, view from our balcony. Very scenic with the clouds, although it did not bode well for the weather that day.
Later it cleared up a bit.
Our plan for the day was to walk to Viewpoint No 3 near the cable car station. Easy walking, a clear trail.
It started to drizzle, good that we had taken our umbrellas. Aric is in two of these pictures, I am in the third one. An advantage of traveling off-season is that we did not meet a single soul on the trail.
Halfway during our 2 hour hike.
Approaching Viewpoint No 3: Golden Buddha Peak (金佛顶)
You can reach this viewpoint by cable car
There are many viewing platforms.
View of Golden Buddha Peak (金佛顶)
Because of the easy access, there were quite a few visitors here. Pity that it rained.
We took the cable car down.
Beautiful views from our cabin, during the descent.
The cable car is mainly used by day-trippers from Guilin or Yangshuo. But to fully appreciate the beauty of Longji, it is better to stay a couple of days..
There were some simple eateries near the cable car station, where we had a basic lunch. We could add the condiments ourselves, not a bad idea 😉
We took again a van to the TIantou village, and from there we walked up to our hotel for the second time.
Boring? Not at all. Not sure if the farmers had started the irrigation or that it was just because of the rain, but many of the rice terraces were now covered with a layer of water. The water reflected the sky. Breathtakingly beautiful. Almost impossible to select pictures, because they are all so impressive.
Of course we took pictures with ourselves in it 😉 Here we are. We have done it!
We had dinner again in our hotel, and breakfast the next morning. They had done their best to prepare local food, it was quite eatable, we had chicken including the head !
Before we left , we enjoyed one last view from our balcony. Isn’t it breathtaking?
A few more pictures of the hotel before we started hiking down.. It must have been a major job to build it so high in the hills without access roads.
We had decided to walk back to the cable car station via a different route, passing small villages. The people here belong to a minority group, the Red Yao. Many ladies still wear the traditional dress.
Approaching Dazhai village.
At a souvenir shop in the village we bought some cushion covers.
From the parking near the cable car station, we took the bus back to Guilin. The map of Jinkeng was not very useful, I marked a few locations on Google Earth to give an impression of the region.
When you zoom in on Google Earth, you can see the intricate pattern of the terraces. This screenshot shows clearly the unique location of the Panaorama Hotel.
Probably everybody knows about the Gang of Four who became (in)famous during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. There are more Gang of Four’s in the world, Wikipedia has a list of them. There are political groups, industrial ones, there is even a rock band with that name.
There is also a Gang of Four in Malaysia 😉 ! Here they are. From left to right: Khong Tuck Koon, Jan Stuivenberg (me), Stephen Boey and George Tan.
When I settled down in Malaysia around the turn of the century, I got interested in waterfalls. That’s how I came into contact with Khong, who had created a waterfall website. Stephen was a friend of him and George his brother-in-law. Soon we became friends, as we shared many interests, waterfalls, birds, and not in the last place food. As we were all retired. we had time to make trips together. Often daytrips, where we first visited a waterfall or watched birds, always ending with a nice lunch.
In August 2005 Khong suggested a longer trip to Southern Thailand and it was during this trip that the name Gang of Four was coined for our fellowship. The picture above is from this trip. .A travelogue and many pictures can be found in this report: South Thailand. We visited a number of nature parks.
Of course we enjoyed the Thai food, we visited waterfalls and George kept track of our expenses meticulously 😉
In those days, my camera was not good enough to take suitable bird pictures, so mostly I took food pictures. Here is an example of a birding trip to the Selangor Coast, a few weeks after our Thailand trip. In between breakfast and lunch there was bird watching, Khong and Stephen being the real birders, George and I the “accidental” birders, as we jokingly called ourselves.
In those days there was a social media site, called Multiply, where you could publish pictures and share them with family and friends.. I had my own account, and we decided to create a shared account “gangoffour” for our trips. Multiply was quite popular, but not profitable enough and after a couple of years they announced that the service. would be discontinued. I managed to download the content of all albums and wrote a script for my own Multiply website .Here is the first Gang of Four album: Trip up North, (13-16)-7-2006 We stayed two nights in Kulim and visited several birding locations in the region. One evening we went owling in Air Hitam Dalam with Dr Neoh and his wife. We also visited the canopy walkway at Sg Sedim and met more Penang birders at Ulu Paip. On our way back we visited Chan Ah Lak in Taiping. More details in the album.
A few weeks later we made a daytrip to Lagong. Joined this time by Gilbert and Yoke Sim, two birder friends. I had just bought a new camera, a Canon Powershot S3 with 12x zoom and image stabilising. Finally I could take bird pictures myself 😉
Our next adventure was a 3D2N trip to Taiping and the Cameron Highlands in August 2006. When I searched in my collection of photo albums for a report about this trip, I discovered that I had never written one, although I had taken almost 200 photos! Of course memories had become a bit vague but with the help of the other GoF members I managed to write a rather belated report: Taiping & CH, August 2006. The album contains 60 photos of birds, flowers, food etc. Our friend Henry Hor joined us on this trip. As I was the photographer, I am not in many photos myself. Here are a few.
With my new compact camera I managed to take this picture of a Black-crowned Night-heron. I was so happy with it that I published it on my Birding in Malaysia website, one of the few bird photos I contributed 😉 .
Sometimes the Gang of Four invited guests for a trip. It also happened that not all four of us were free, like on this day trip to Sekinchan, 22-1- 2007. Khong could not join, but as our “sifu” he provided us with a map of suitable birding locations. A few of the photos were taken by Stephen who also wrote some of the captions.
Several times the Gang of Four attended the Raptor Watch in Tanjung Tuan. Here is a report Raptor Watch 2007, This time we went with Gilbert and Yoke Sim, not sure if George was present. We hardly saw any raptors this time.
In May 2007 we went to Merapoh, where we stayed two nights in the Sg Relau visitor center. I didn’t take many pictures during this trip and forgot details. We were hoping to see the Pitta, but I don’t remember if we did. We had to prepare our own breakfast and lunch, for dinner we probably went to Gua Musang. But I still remember the pictures of two monitor lizards I took. Making love, I thought, until my friends explained that they were actually fighting for supremacy 😉 . .
In September we made a 3D2N trip to Langkawi. We were joined by Gilbert and Yoke Sim and this time also by Aric. We took a flight to Langkawi and rented a car there. Aric and I visited mainly waterfalls while the others went birding. Of course we enjoyed the food and the fellowship. Here is a report Langkawi (11-13)-9-2007.
Two more day trips in 2007. On 25 October we went to the coast, Jeram and Kuala Selangor. George did not join this time. .
On 7 November we went to Fraser’s Hill. this time without Khong. The smelly rubbish dump is a favourite location for bird watching! But even with my 12x zoom, taking bird pictures is not that easy.
Much easier to take pictures of flowers 😉 .
It was an active year for the Gang of Four with six events . Collecting data for this compilation, I noticed that Gilbert and Yoke Sim often joined, and that sometimes only three gang members were present. Stephen was always there, because he had a Pajero with enough space for even six pax!
The first trip in 2008 was to Taman Negara., 3D2N, and this time only Stephen and I represented the GoF . Richard, a hiking friend joined us. The trip is included here , because Stephen contributed quite a few photos to the report Taman Negara (7-9)-4-08. We did the canopy walk, visited a waterfall and had a very pleasant time. Here a few pictures, many more in the album.
A few weeks later a daytrip to Merlimau. I managed to take a few bird pictures.
In May we made an interesting trip to the Cameron Highlands via a new, still partly unfinished road. A detailed report here: New Road to the Cameron Highlands. George did not join, but Gilbert, Yoke Sim and Aric did. The new road was easily passable, and a nice adventure. We stayed overnight in Brinchang, had a traditional steamboat dinner and visited the Mossy Forest the next day before driving back home.
In August a daytrip to Sg Buloh with the complete Gang of Four. It was my lucky day, I took these pictures.
One month later an excursion to the Chiling waterfall, with Stephen, Khong and Robert, a Kiara friend. Stephen and Khong went birding while Robert and I explored the waterfall. Lunch in the WK restaurant in Batang Kali
On 23 November 2008 the Gang of Four attended the wedding of George’s daughter. It was a festive event, where we met many friends. Have a look at the album . Here is the Gang of Four in festive attire.
A few days later we made a trip to Kedah, staying overnight in Kuala Gula. Without George , but with Gilbert and Yoke Sim and this time our friend Zen joined us. I don’t remember if we did any birding, we had a rather dismal lunch in Tanjung Tualang, stayed in a kind of Airbnb and visited the Hua Seng Keng Temple, located in the middle of nowhere near Kuala Gula. Quite interesting, especially the depiction of the Underworld. I got sick on the way back home.
January 2009 we made another trip to Taiping, 3D2N. When I looked for a report, I discovered that I had never written one, same as in 2006. So I wrote a belated report, using a selction of the pictures, without much text, because I forgot details. We visited the Tanjung Tualang tin dredge, Papan, the SBS Buddhist Sanctuary, the Wild Boar temple in Kamunting., the Lake gardens and probably we did some birding. Here is the report, Taiping, January 2009.
In December that year we made a trip to Parit Jawa. Again without George, but with Gilbert and Yoke Sim. I had just bought a new camera, a Nikon D5000. Here is the album: Parit Jawa (2-3)-12-2009. Some of the bird photos taken during the trip, , S= Stephen, K=Khong, J=Jan.
The yearly number of GoF trips was getting less. On 14 March 2010 we made a short trip to Genting. You may wonder what Khong, Stephen and Gilbert are looking at in this photo.
I don’t remember if we have seen birds during this trip. I took only pictures of a crowd of beetles. The main reason to go to Genting was probably that there was a buffet promotion 😉
In December 2011 we had a “real” GoF trip, again to Taiping. Khong did not join. There is no album about this 2D1N trip, I don’t remember where we stayed overnight and where we had our food.
But we went birding. although I forgot the location
The last “official” GoF trip took place in May 2012. Again I discovered that I had never written a report about this trip. But I was able to reconstruct more or less what we did, using my pictures and also emails we exchanged after the trip. Here is the report: Taiping, May 2012. It was a 3D2N trip to Taiping, we stayed one night in the Beringin bungalow on Maxwell Hill.
Of course we met each other after this, but no more trips, as far as I remember. You will have noticed that after our maiden trip Gilbert and Yoke Sim were often taking part, making it more a Gang of Six. They were real birders, compared to the accidental birders George and me. The four real birders may have made more birding trips after 2012.
Around 2018, 6(!) years later, we decided that it would be nice to have lunch meetings every now and then. Khong, always the organiser, created a WhatsApp chat group GoF Classic, with the original Gang of Four as members. As one of our mottos was : Value For Money (VFM), the venues for our meetings were restaurants with attractive promotions.
Our first GoF-VFM lunch meeting was 16 November 2018 in the Skaters Cafe in the Royale Chulan hotel in Damansara. Notice how Stephen looks like a patriarch.
It was nice to meet and talk, so a few weeks later we had a second meeting, this time in the OUG Jade restaurant.
Our next meeting was in my condo in Damansara Perdana. I had promised my friends a lunch with traditional Dutch Pancakes.
In October 2019 we had a buffet lunch in the Kampung Kitchen, a restaurant in the Ibis Hotel, near KLCC.
And that was our latest meeting until now, a couple of months later Malaysia went into lockdown because of Covid-19.
In May 2020 I published a blog post Lockdown!, about our experiences during the first Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia. More than one year has passed since then. THe MCO was extended several times, then replaced by the CMCO (Conditional) and later by the RMCO (Recovery), Confusing? There is also an FMCO (Full) and an EMCO (Enhanced). For a detailed review of all the MCO variations, with timetable, see the Wikipedia article Malaysian movement control order.
In the beginning of the pandemic there were hardly any cases in Malaysia, but from October 2020 onwards the situation deteriorated. We are now in the 5th “wave”.
During the Recovery MCO, starting in May 2020, international borders remained closed, but interstate travel was allowed. We visited the Cameron Highlands in July 2020, and Taiping twice, in August and October. When the situation worsened, we could not travel interstate anymore, but inter-district travel (within a state) was still allowed. I visited the Batang Kali waterfall in March 2021 and the Rawang Bypass in the first week of May, a few days before even inter-district travel was no longer allowed. We could still walk, but only in our own neighbourhood. I was very fortunate because from my doorstep i could explore the many trails in Bukit Lanjan. In May and June I walked with friends a few times a week, here is one of those hikes, A Backyard Hike.
Then, on 1 July, the backdoor government announced an EMCO from 3 to 16 July in the Klang Valley (most of Selangor and parts of Kuala Lumpur). .Enhanced or Extreme? Physical outdoor exercise, considered by experts to be safe and healthy, was banned. Everybody had to stay at home, only one person in a household could go out for essential shopping (food, pharmacy).
During those two weeks we have been staying at home almost permanently, blogging, listening to music, playing games. We decided to spend more time to prepare food ourselves and only occasionally order delivery food. Every day we took a picture of our dinner. The original plan was that Aric and I would share the cooking duties, but it turned out that he did most of the cooking, often very creatively. Here is a report.
On our last day of freedom, I hiked with friends to a viewpoint at Bukit Lanjan. We had a beer and enjoyed the nice weather.
Durian season was starting, we bought online a few containers of Red Prawn and Musang King. Expensive but delicious. We still had Tau Fu Fa in the fridge and for dinner I prepared Spaghetti Carbonara with salad and a glass of wine.
5 & 6 July
The next two days Aric was the cook, the first day Chinese food, the second day Western style.
Tom Yam Stir-fried Chicken with Veggies (Broccoli, Eggplant, Shiitake)
BBQ Cuttlefish with mashed potatoes and veggies.
To get some physical exercise, I decided to go shopping on foot, not to the nearby Jaya grocer but to the TESCO, a roundtrip of about 4 km ;-). I did the same during the first lockdown, carrying a shopping bag to show the police that I was not hiking, haha. The TESCO car park was almost empty, the shops closed. Parts of TESCO also blocked, only a few customers. Eerie.
7 & 8 July
Two more dinners prepared by Aric. One Chinese and one Western cuisine.
Red Snapper with fermented bean paste & Chinese cabbage with fried dried Shrimp and Cuttlefish.
Baked Salmon with Lemon Sauce, Cheese-baked potato and salad.
Dutch food for a change. Pancakes. Two versions, an apple pancake and a spekpannekoek with bacon, traditionally served with syrup. A glass of beer was a good accompaniment.
9 & 10 July
Although dine-in was not allowed, many restaurants still prepared take-away food. We ordered a meal from our favourite restaurant: fried rice, sotong, tofu soup and veggies. The following day I decorated a frozen pizza from the Jaya grocer with extra mushrooms and cheese.
Aric’s birthday. Of course no visitors, but he was spoiled with three birthday cakes!
We had a traditional steamboat dinner, ordered online. It included the cooking pot, the soup and a variety of ingredients.
I got my 2nd Covid-19 dose (AstraZeneca) on 12 July at the PWTC in Kuala Lumpur. That is a different state (Federal Territory), but for vaccination you could cross the state border without a permit. No police check on our way. The organisation was very professional, separate stations for dose 1 and dose 2. No queue at all for dose 2, I was in and out in 35 minutes and that included the compulsory 15 minute wait after being injected.(right picture)
12 & 13 July
The steamboat dinner was so copious that we could not finish everything, there was enough for another meal. The next day Aric prepared Tom Yam chicken with green veggies
14 & 15 July
My turn, two Dutch meals. Pancakes again, but now prepared by me, the dough a bit thinner. I managed to turn the pancakes in the traditional way, by lifting he frying pan upward, so the pancake will turn over in the air. The next day I prepared Hutspot, a traditional winter stew in the Netherlands. Very simple recipe, carrots, onions and potatoes. Could not find the smoked sausage, but the sliced pork (from a can) was a good alternative. The pickled onions and gherkins are essential 😉
16 & 17 July
The last EMCO day, Aric surpassed himself with a fabulous meal of Giant Prawns in a Creamy Tom Yam sauce. The next day we ordered food, a Poké Bowl (Fish Bowl), healthy food, getting more and more popular in the Klang Valley.
End of EMCO
The EMCO was announced from 3 to 16 July, what would happen next? Looking at the daily number of new Covid-19 cases, I expected that it would be extended. On 3 July it was 6658 and on 16 July it had increased to 12541. But the government decided otherwise. EMCO was not extended, probably because it had no effect on the virus, only damaged the economy more.
So we went back to another MCO, actually not that much different. A few more shops could reopen (Aric’s laundry shop for example), two people from a household could go shopping instead of only one. Still no inter-district travel.
But for me a very important difference: Hiking around your house was allowed again. I waited a few days , because this government has a reputation of flip-flopping.
What a pleasure it was to hike again. For the time being I will hike on my own, keeping a safe distance to everybody. It is clear that they virus is endemic now, everybody can be a carrier, I am fully vaccinated now, but even that gives no 100% protection.
I had made myself a thermos with coffee and enjoyed my cuppa at the Hard Rock. I had to use the timer of my phone, that’s why I look so serious 😉
Two weeks of extreme lockdown. Of course we did more than eat, eat, eat. I listened to a lot of music, click on the image to listen to my favourite composer.
I re-discovered the films of Buster Keaton Here is his hilarious movie Our Hospitality (1923). Click on the image to watch the movie.
And I spent much time at my laptop. Here is a blog I published about the French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme and his painting the Naked Truth (1896). Click on the image to read why I wrote a blog about the painting.
I did a lot of gaming too, for my mental health. Here are two of my favourite games, Hay Day and Homescapes.
The Covid-19 situation in Malaysia is still getting worse every day.
Last week one of my friends forwarded me an “old poem” about the Lie and the Truth, taking a bath together. The Lie runs away with the clothes of the Truth, leaving her naked. The poem was supposed to be written by Jean-Léon Gérôme in 1896. A quick Google search showed that Gérôme was actually a French painter who had, in 1896, created a painting Truth coming from the well armed with her whip to chastise mankind. But he didn’t write the poem, as I replied to my friend. Here are the WhatsApp messages.
I decided to write a blog about the painter Jean-Léon Gérôme, the Naked Truth and the Well.
Gérôme lived from 1824 until 1904. In 1840, 16 year old, he moved to Paris where he got his training in what often is called Academic Art, because it was taught in the art academies of Europe, especially the French Académie des Beaux-Arts. In 1846 he painted The Cockfight which won him a prize and launched his career.
He became one of the most officially honored and financially successful French artists of the second half of the 19th century. Subjects from Roman and Greek antiquity, but also from the Middle-East where he traveled extensively. His paintings are pleasing to the eye, no wonder that they were sold easily. As a result they can be found all over the world, often in private collections. Here are a few of his paintings to give an impression.
Even today you can buy copies of his paintings, here is a website that has copies of 234 (!) Gérôme paintings for sale. Click on the screenshot to view the website. Interested in your own copy of Truth coming from the Well? You can order it in 14 different formats, from 18″ x 24″ ($259) to 80″ x 104″ ($898) , frame not included.
At the end of his life he became a very vocal opponent of the upcoming impressionist school of painting. Interest in the “sterile”, “academic” style of painting faded but came back in the second half of the 20th century. The Gare d’Orsay museum in Paris is dedicated to 19th century art and one of my favourites. In 2010 the museum organised a retrospective exhibition The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme which I would have liked to see.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the story about Truth and Lie taking a bath is fake, a fabrication. But why is Truth coming out of her well? Gerome created several paintings about it. In two of the paintings she is also holding a mirror.
In Roman mythology Veritas (Truth) was a goddess, the daughter of Saturn. From the Wikipedia article Veritas : “The elusive goddess is said to have hidden in the bottom of a holy well” and “She is depicted both as a virgin dressed in white and as the “naked truth” (nuda veritas) holding a hand mirror“
The expression :naked truth” can be found in Ode 1.24 by Horatius, the famous Roman poet (65-8 BC). According to the Greek philosopher Demokritos (c. 460 – c. 370 BC), knowledge of truth is difficult, since perception through our senses is subjective. In reality we know nothing, for truth is in the depths. No mention of a (holy) well. I have not been able to find any depiction of Veritas in Roman/Greek antiquity on the Internet.
Fortunately I found this webpage: Painting Truth: When did she emerge from a well? The page is part of a fascinating website , created and maintained by Howard Oakley, a developer of Mac software with a huge interest in paintings. The page is so well written and complete, that I will only summarize the content here.
At the end of the 19th century “Truth climbing from a Well” suddenly became a popular subject for painting. It has been suggested that this was related to the infamous Dreyfus affair, where the army officer Dreyfus was falsely accused (and convicted) of treason. But Oakley shows that the interest started earlier already. In fact , he found that the earliest painting with Truth and a Well dates back to the 16th century, about the same period that the expression “the naked truth” got used in the way we still do nowadays. Here is that painting, An Allegory of Truth and Time, by Carracci (1560-1609).
To summarise this post, Truth and the abyss where she resides had a philosophical background, and nothing to do with a (holy) well, from where she emerges. I have found nothing about a naked truth in antiquity except the reference by Horatius. It is only in Western art that the topic appears in the 16th century, culminating at the end of the 19th century. There is sometimes a mirror, but never a bathing encounter with Falsehood stealing her clothes 😉
When you Google for truth, lie, bath, you get quite a few hits. Often it is a 19th century legend, or a Roman fable. Sometimes Truth and Lie are twin brothers, swimming a river.
Late in 1710 Georg Friedrich Händel arrived in London. A few months later, on 24 February 1711, his opera Rinaldo had its premiere, one day before his 26th birthday. It was a great success, he decided to stay in England, dropped the umlaut in his name and became a naturalised Englishman in 1727,
Here are two portraits of Handel, left circa 1710, right around 1726
I got interested in Handel’s operas, when I was writing a blog about the only opera written by Domenico Scarlatti in 1703, An opera and some history. The history part is about Roman emperor Nero and his mistress Poppaea. History was a popular subject for operas in those days and a few years later Handel wrote his first major opera Agrippina (Nero’s mother). Premiere was in December 1709 in Venice, it was very successful and established the international reputation of 24 year old Handel. Many YouTube recordings exist, here is my favourite (click on the image to watch the recording).
Rinaldo also has a historical background, the First Crusade (1096-1099) The objective of this religious war was the recovery of the Holy Land from Islamic rule. In 1591 the Italian poet Torquato Tasso wrote an epic and romantic poem Gerusalemme liberata about the liberation of Jerusalem. It is epic, containing 1917 stanzas of 8 lines each. And also romantic, the historical background is mixed with several love stories.
The story of Rinaldo and Armida is the most famous one. Rinaldo is a handsome brave crusader knight and Armida a powerful witch, trying to destroy the Christian army. When she meets a sleeping Rinaldo and wants to kill him, she falls in love with the young man and absconds him to her magical island. Rinaldo becomes her willing prisoner and falls in love with her as well. The army sends two friends, Carlo and Ubaldo, to remind him of his duty. Finally they convince Rinaldo to abandon Armida and come back to the war.
Not surprisingly it became a favourite subject for artists. The left painting shows Armida, dagger in her hand, falling in love. The middle one shows a lovesick Rinaldo with Armida on her island and in the right painting the two soldiers have convinced Rinaldo to come back, the boat is waiting already..
If you think that this introduction will make the opera (written in Italian) easier to understand, you are wrong. The story is tweaked completely. Yes, Goffredo is the leader of the Christian army and Rinaldo is the heroic warrior. But the opera gives Goffredo a daughter, Almirena, who will become Rinaldo’s bride after the war is won. And the witch Armida is the queen of Damascus in a love relationship with Argante, the king of Jerusalem. Here is a synopsis of the opera , taken from the very informative website opera-arias.com.
The Christian army, led by Goffredo, is besieging the city of Jerusalem. If the city is taken, then the Christian warrior Rinaldo will be free to marry Goffredo’s daughter Almirena. In an audience with Goffredo, Argante, the king of Jerusalem, is granted a three-day halt to hostilities. The sorceress Armida, queen of Damascus, descends from the skies and tells her lover Argante that their only hope of victory is the destruction of Rinaldo. As Rinaldo and Almirena express their love for each other, Armida snatches Almirena away. Goffredo and his brother Eustazio discover the distraught Rinaldo. Eustazio suggests seeking the help of a Christian sorcerer who lives in a cave at the foot of a mountain.
Goffredo, Eustazio and Rinaldo are wandering the seashore searching for the sorcerer when a spirit lures Rinaldo on board a ship by claiming to be sent by Almirena. In a garden of Armida’s palace garden, Argante reveals his love for Almirena and offers to help her, but she repulses him. When Rinaldo arrives, Armida’s initial triumph over him turns to love, but she is rejected. Armida transforms herself into the guise of Almirena, but Rinaldo again rejects her, fleeing when he discovers her trickery. Armida again disguises herself as Almirena, but this time Argante enters and inadvertently reveals his feeIings for Almirena. Armida is outraged and swears revenge.
Goffredo and Eustazio approach the mountain with Armida’s palace at its summit and the sorcerer’s cave at its foot. The sorcerer tells them that Almirena and Rinaldo are held by Armida, and the two warriors set off with two magic wands as protection. Armida is about to stab Almirena, but Rinaldo rushes to protect her. Goffredo and Eustazio enter and with their wands transform the enchanted garden into a desert. Armida disappears. Argante attempts to rally his generals, and he and Armida are reconciled. Battle commences, the Christians prevail and the two lovers are reunited. Argante and Armida are captured and, realizing the error of their ways, embrace the Christian faith.
You will agree that this “strange” plot has no resemblance to Tasso’s story of Rinaldo and Armida. Actually this plot was written by Aaron Hill, at that time the manager of the Queen’s Theatre in Hay Market, He was of the same age as Handel and wanted a “hit” for his theatre. Italian opera was becoming popular in London, famous Italian singers were available and his theatre could provide spectacular effects. Giacomo Rossi translated the libretto in Italian and Handel wrote the music. Rinaldo was the result. . All this within a couple of months (or even weeks, although that may be anecdotal) !
A copy of the original Rinaldo “booklet” still exists and is fascinating reading. It contains the text of the opera, both in Italian and in English and has a foreword written by Hill. Here is the foreword. Notice how Hill defends the changes in Tasso’s original story and argues that an opera should give equal pleasure to both senses.
Here is the cast of the first performance. The roles of Rinaldo , Eustazio were sung by castrati, while the part of Goffredo was sung by a female contralto (in travesty). All singers were Italian, the two castrati were so famous that they had nicknames, Niccolini and Valentini. The two sopranos were also prima donnas (and bitter rivals).
leader of the First Crusade
contralto (en travesti)
a nobleman of the House of Este
Nicolò Grimaldi (“Nicolini”)
daughter of Goffredo
brother to Goffredo
Valentino Urbani (“Valentini”)
Saracen king of Jerusalem
Queen of Damascus, Argante’s mistress
a Christian magician
It must have been a spectacular performance. The libretto contains very detailed stage instructions. Here are a few from ACT III, where Goffredo and Eustazio arrive at the cave of the Mago.
Notice in how much detail the stage is described. A mountain rising from the front of the stage to the utmost height of the most backward part of the stage. Rocks , caves and waterfalls. A castle on top,” guarded by a great number of spirits“. The audience must have been gasping in awe.
The Mago warns them that they can not attack the castle without his help, but still they try. And fail. Many soldiers are swallowed by the mountain, “with thunder, lightning and amazing noises“.
The Mago gives them magical wands and that helps. When they touch the gate of the castle, the whole mountain disappears and Goffredo and Eustazio find them selves clinging to a rock in the middle of a sea.
No wonder that the opera was a success. In the period until 1711-1717 it was performed 47 times, more than any other opera in the Queen’s theatre, Handel revised the opera in 1731, it was also performed abroad a few times but soon it went into oblivion. Only more than 200 year later, in 1954, there was a performance during a Handel festival in Germany. More about the performance history here.
On YouTube I have found only three complete video recordings of Rinaldo. Here is a short description of them.
The first one is a performance in Prague, directed by Václav Luks in 2009. Here is a screenshot , click on it to watch the opera. For me the least attractive of the three that I have seen. In the first place the cast. Of course there are no more castrati nowadays, but the parts of Rinaldo and Eustazio are sung here by mezzo-sopranos instead of by countertenors. Goffredo too is sung by a mezzo-soprano and not by a contralto. The mise-en-scène is very static, the singers face the audience almost permanently, only move a lot their hands and fingers. Here is a (rather negative) review. The YouTube has French subtitles, which makes it easier to follow the plot.
In 1985 Pier Luigi Pizzi directed the 1731 version of Rinaldo which became quite popular and was repeated several times. Here is a screenshot from the 2012 performance in Ravenna, click on the image to watch the opera. The role of Eustazio has been deleted, Goffredo is sung by a tenor and Rinaldo by a mezzo-soprano. The screenshot shows Goffredo, Almirena and Rinaldo. For reasons unclear to me, Almirena and Rinaldo are dressed almost identically. I found the mise-en-scene weird, the singers don’t walk around themselves but are moved by invisible helpers while seated on a horse, sitting in a boat or standing on a platform. No subtitles. Here is a critical review.
I got interested how the opera was staged and found a video recording of a 2001 performance in Munich, by the Bayerische Staatsoper. It was on YouTube for some time, then it disappeared, probably because of copyright issues. Now it is back again, but for how long?
What an absurd, crazy mise-en-scène, was my first reaction. But I have changed my opinion, after reading the libretto and watching the other recordings. Yes, It is a parody of the original plot. But the plot deserves that. Example: in Act III, after the crusaders have won the battle of Jerusalem, Argante and Armida unexpectedly decide to become Christian. That Goffredo often changes his dress into a clerical robe fits into an implausible plot. There are many slapstick elements in this version, making Rinaldo a pleasure for the ears AND the eyes (as was Aaron Hill’s origina intention)
Here are screenshots from the three YouTube videos, click to watch. Subtitles in English,
Act I From left to right Rinaldo, Goffredo and Eustazio (all three countertenors) and Almirena as a cheerleader (!), encouraging Rinaldo to fight
Act II In her magic castle Armida tries to seduce Rinaldo. She tries twice to take the form of Almirena. The right wall, with a cardboard figure and a gap in the wall is used in a really brilliant way to confuse Rinaldo.
Act III The Christian magician (countertenor, cast as a voodoo priest) has given Goffredo and Eustazio magic wands to enter the enchanted castle.
In Act III the battle takes place between the two armies. In Hill’s stage directions there are soldiers and Handel wrote martial music to be played during the fighting. The solution found in this modern performance is inventive and ingenious, a real pleasure for the eyes.
Not surprisingly this performance received mixed reviews .. You either love or hate this “camp” version. It is clear that I love it 😉 .
Actually I am not a real opera fan. Many of the famous operas (by Verdi, Wagner, Puccini etc) do not appeal to me. But I love Baroque operas (and of course Mozart), Handel was a prolific composer, he wrote 42 operas, I have listened to only a few of them. So there still will be a lot of beautiful music to enjoy!
Twelve years ago I started an ambitious project, a series of webpages to explain that we can be considered to be Star Children, in the sense that all the atoms forming our body (with the exception of hydrogen), have been formed in the interior of stars.
The project was too ambitious, here is a screenshot of he small part I managed to complete. It is still available on my website. Click on the screenshot to have a look.
An adult human body (70 kg) contains roughly 7×1027 atoms. Written out a 7 with 27 zeros: 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. That is a lot, actually much more than the estimated number of stars in the observable universe (1023-1024).
Most of those atoms are hydrogen atoms. The human body consists roughly of 60% water and each water molecule contains 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom. Oxygen comes second and carbon third. Together with nitrogen these four elements form more than 99% of the human body. For the graphs I have used data from the Wikipedia article Composition of the Human Body. Most of the graphs you find on the Internet give mass percentages, in that case oxygen takes first place. I prefer a representation in atomic percentages.
In this graph some of the other elements are shown. About 25 elements are considered to be essential for human life, some in minuscule percentages. For example Cobalt (in vitamin B12) contributes only 3.0×10−7 %
How, where and when were all these elements formed? The scientific name for the formation of the various elements is called nucleosynthesis.
Let’s start with the beginning, the Big Bang.
About 13.77 billion year ago our Universe came into being. That is the present estimate, with an uncertainty of ± 40 million year. It was unbelievably dense and hot, a “soup” of quarks gluons and photons. Immediately it started expanding and cooling and after a few minutes protons and neutrons could form. Some of these protons and neutrons fused into alpha particles ( two protons and two neutrons) until after about 20 minutes the temperature was too low for fusion.
But still way too hot for (neutral) atoms to form, it was a plasma (protons, alpha particles and electrons). If an electron and a nucleus would combine, the photons would immediately break it up again. Only after ~380.000 year, when the temperature had dropped to ~ 3000 K, electrons could recombine with protons and alpha particles to form H and He atoms. Roughly about 92% hydrogen atoms and 8% helium atoms. (usually mass percentages are given, 25% He and 75% H).
From that time onwards the photons did not interact anymore with matter, the universe was still bathing in an orange glow (3000K) but as the universe kept expanding and cooling, this radiation went from visible light to infrared , microwave etc. It is what we now still detect as the cosmic background radiation at a temperature of 2.275 K. About 1 million year after the Big Bang, the universe was COMPLETELY DARK!
These cosmic Dark Ages lasted for many million years. But small fluctuations in matter density caused gravity to form concentrations of matter. Inside these matter concentrations the temperature was rising until a level (many millions of degrees) that fission became possible again. The first stars were born and there was again light in the universe. Later also galaxies developed and after about 1 billion years the universe was basically like it is now.
Here is an impression of the development of the universe.
We will now concentrate on the evolution of these stars. First a few general remarks. Basically everything that happens in the universe is the result of four fundamental forces.
The strong nuclear force between nucleons, only active when the nucleons are very close together,”short-range”
The electromagnetic force, ~100 times weaker, but “long range”, holds atoms together.
The weak nuclear force, ~ 1 million times weaker, “short-range”, responsible for radioactivity.
The gravitational force, extremely weak, ~1039 times weaker, “long-range”.
Back to the new-born star. All four forces are active here. The gravitational force tries to contract the star further. The strong force generates counter pressure, by fusing nucleons together, but those nucleons need to move fast (= high temperature) to overcome the electromagnetic repulsion. The weak nuclear force is needed to transform protons into neutrons. Here is how four protons can produce an alpha particle. Other options are also possible.
Our Sun was born 4.6 billion years ago as a relatively small star, a yellow dwarf. At the moment it is still “burning” hydrogen in its core and will continue to do that for another 5 billion years.
More massive stars will burn a lot faster to counteract gravity. The first stars may have had masses a few hundred times the solar mass, finishing the hydrogen it its core in only a few million years. What next? The core will contract and the temperature will increase. You might expect that fusion would start of two alpha particles into Beryllium (4 protons and 4 neutrons). But there is a problem, that Be isotope is not stable , it has a half live of only 8×10−17 s and decays back into two alpha particles. What will happen occasionally is that during its short lifetime, another alpha particle will collide and form Carbon (6p and 6 n). This is called the triple-alpha process and I will give more details in a separate appendix.
When this helium burning starts in the core, hydrogen burning will still continue in a shell around the core.
In the next phase, when the carbon core has been formed, carbon nuclei will fuse with alpha particles into Oxygen (8p and 8n) surrounded by a helium burning shell. And so on, Neon, Magnesium, Silicon etc. These fusion processes generate less energy than the hydrogen fusion and when iron is reached the fusion stops, fusion to heavier elements would cost energy! The star looks like an onion with its skins.
When there is no more energy to counteract gravity, the star will die in a spectacular fashion, releasing so much energy that for a short time it can be brighter than a whole galaxy. It is called a supernova. A large part of its mass will be ejected into the surrounding space and in the cataclysmic explosion many of the elements heaver than iron are formed. What remains of the star is a neutron star or a black hole.
Recently I have written a blog about the Witch’s Broom nebula, the remnants of a supernova explosion. More details in that blog. The most famous of these supernova remnants is the Crab Nebula. The supernova has been recorded by Chinese astronomers in 1054. The center of the nebula contains a neutron star.
As a result of these supernova explosions the clouds of interstellar gas became more and more “polluted”, no longer consisting of only hydrogen and helium. . It is from these clouds that new stars are born. For example our Sun, 4.9 billion year ago. Still mostly hydrogen and helium but about 0.1 % of the other elements. The big gas planets are also mostly H and He, but the rocky inner planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) consist mainly of this 0,1 % other elements, as the hydrogen and helium have been “blown” away by the Sun.
Here is Earth, our Blue Marble, the iconic picture was taken by the crew of the Apollo 17 in 1972. Basically all its atoms have been forged in the interior of stars.
And the same holds for all living creatures, including us. Life on Earth is carbon-based, and each carbon atom has been fused in the interior of a star through the triple-alpha process.
We are Star Children ———————————————–
The energy that is released when particles are fused is called the binding energy of that particle. For nuclear processes this energy is usually given in MeV (Million electronVolt). 1 MeV = 1.6×10-13 Joule. An alpha particle has a binding energy is 28.3 MeV. It is this (large) energy which generates pressure to counteract gravity in the interior of stars.
To fuse two alpha particles into beryllium is a different story. You have to add energy (it has a negative binding energy). Not much, 0.092 MeV, but as a result it is unstable, it will decay in two alpha particles. When the British astronomer Fred Hoyle in the 1950s studied the process how elements were formed in the interior of stars, he and others discovered this bottleneck.
During its short lifetime beryllium may fuse with another alpha particle into carbon and that will release energy, 7.367 MeV. The fiery furnace in the core of the star where fusion occurs would contribute another 0.3 MeV. Hoyle calculated that in most cases this “excited” carbon nucleus will decay into alpha particles instead of releasing the extra energy as gamma rays and settling down in its ground state. It could not explain the large amount of carbon found iin the universe.
UNLESS the carbon nucleus would have a so called resonance at an energy of ~7.7 MeV, Think about a soprano who can break a glass by letting it resonate with the frequency of her singing! But at that time no such resonance in the carbon nucleus was known.
Hoyle convinced his friend and colleague William Fowler, an experimental nuclear physicist, to search for such a resonance . And they found this excited level exactly at the energy predicted by Hoyle. This resonance level is now called the Hoyle state,
Was this a coincidence? Without this resonance level, carbon would not have been formed and carbon-based life would have been impossible.
Aric and I like traveling and in the past twenty years we have visited many countries. In this blog post I have collected all the trips we have made between 2002 and 2019. Most of these trips I have documented in reports, in which case I give the link with a short description and a few pictures.
———————————————– Europe, May 2002
Aric’s first trip in Europe. I had planned an ambitious itinerary, including Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France 😉 . In those days I didn’t keep a blog, so details have become vague. We traveled by car, stayed mostly in hotels, camping occasionally. We did Venice as a daytrip from Padua and took a train from Florence to Rome, because Aric absolutely wanted to see the Colosseum!
———————————————– Bali, February 2003
We visited Bali only a few months after the Kuta bombings, tourism had come to an almost complete standstill. I kept a diary and published four picture reports about various aspects of the trip: Nature, Culture, Sawah and Personal.
———————————————– Sydney, October 2003
In 2003 I didn’t have a MM2H visa yet, therefore I had to leave Malaysia every three months.. Originally we had planned a trip to Beijing, but finally we decided for a short holidays Down Under. Sydney is a very pleasant town and we could easily have spent a much longer time there. Even with the sometimes winter-like cold weather, so we have hardly visited any of the famous surf beaches!. Here is a pictorial report Sydney 2003. The captions of each picture link to separate sub-reports.
———————————————– Beijing, June 2004
When my three-months visa expired, we decided to visit China this time. Beijing was our destination, but we also visited the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs etc. Here is a report with the Highlights of our trip. Detailed reports can be found in Beijing 2004.
———————————————– Cambodia, January 2005
Of course Angkor Wat was the main destination of our Cambodia trip. But we started in Phnom Penh and visited the Killing Fields. By boat to Siem Reap and after three days of Angkor Wat, we continued to Battambang. I created a kind of travelogue this time: A Pictorial Travel Report of a Trip to Cambodia.
———————————————– Sabah, May 2007
An adventurous trip, well organised by a friend of Aric. First we went snorkeling on Manukan island, next there was wild water rafting on the Padas river and the culmination was climbing Mount Kianabalu. I stopped at Laban Ratah, Aric made it to the top. After a relaxing time at the Poring Hot Springs we went back to KL. Here is the travelogue: Sabah Trip.
———————————————– Vietnam, July 2007
Air Asia had a promotion with free tickets to Hanoi, we could not resist the temptation and went to Vietnam. First we stayed a few days in Hanoi, a very pleasant town, although it was very hot. We made a trip to Halong Bay, very worthwhile. Instead of visiting Hue (too hot), we took the train to Sapa in the mountains. Finally a few more days in Hanoi. Here is the travelogue Vietnam, July 12-21, 2007.
———————————————– Sarawak, December 2007
A short trip to Sarawak to attend the wedding of a Dutch friend with a Bidayu lady. Of course we managed to include a few waterfalls and also an Orang Hutan rehabilitation center. More details in Sarawak, (14-17)-12-2007.
———————————————– Thailand, November 2008
A friend of ours, Dick Sandler, has a resort near the Khao Sok National Park in Thailand and Marcia, another friend, has a house at Railay Beach, near Krabi. We took a flight to Krabi, spent some time there, then took a boat to Railay , where we celebrated Loy Krathong on the beach. In Khao Sok we stayed in a romantic tree house and visited a waterfall. More pictures in Thailand (Krabi & Khao Sok) 2008
———————————————– China, July 2009
In July 2009 we went back to China for a very special reason, to see for the first time in our lives a solar eclipse! Solar eclipses are only visible from narrow regions on Earth, in this case a part of China. We decided to start our trip in Hangzhou and watch the eclipse there. Then to continue our trip to Suzhou and finally Tong Li. All three places famous tourist attractions. Our trip resulted in three albums, Hangzhou, Suzhou and Tong Li.
———————————————– Melbourne, October 2009
A few months later we visited our friends Pat and Roger in Melbourne. I had visited them before, so I could guide Aric around in Melbourne. Our hosts took us on a very nice trip along the Great Ocean Road. We also saw kangaroos and had delicious food. Here is the travelogue Melbourne, October 2009.
———————————————– Sarawak , March 2010
Our friend Keong invited us to join him on a trip to Semban. This village in the Bungo range south of Kuching, is famous for its “ring ladies”. High up in the hills, it is called the “Village above the Clouds”. We stayed a few days in the village, enjoying the hospitality of the Bidayu people and hiking to impressive waterfalls. Here is the report, Village above the clouds, February 2010.
———————————————– China, family visit, May 2010
For our third trip to China we visited the Teochew region, where Aric’s family originally came from. For a long time already it had been Aric’s wish to organise a trip for his parents and his favourite uncle and auntie to their roots. It was a very successful and rewarding trip, resulting in three albums, Shantou, Chaozhou and Chenghai
———————————————– Thailand, August 2011
We were invited to attend the wedding of my former student Raoul with his Thai boyfriend Aunn and decided to combine this event with a visit to some world heritage sites and waterfalls. We took a flight to Bangkok and rented a car there. We visited Ayutthaya, Kamphaeng Phet and the Khlong Lan waterfall. After the wedding party we drove back to Bangkok where we stayed a few more days. Here is the travelogue Thailand (16-24)-8-2011
———————————————– Greece, September 2011
If I had to make a list of our most fascinating holidays, our trip to Greece would probably be number 1. We did a lot during 16 days, starting with Athens, followed by Delphi, Meteora, the Sporadic Islands and Santorini. I compiled four albums, one about Athens, one about Delphi & Meteora, the third one about the islands Skopelos & Skiathos and the last one about Santorini. A magical world.
———————————————– Singapore, November 2011
The reason that we visited Singapore again was to attend a concert of the MozART GROUP, classical music with a humorous twist. The concert took place in the concert hall, nicknamed the Durian, We stayed in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and of course enjoyed the infinity swimming pool. We also visited the Haw Par gardens. Report is here: Singapore, November 2011.
———————————————– Europe, September 2013
Our second Europe holiday, two weeks this time. Again a full program, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein (!), Switzerland and France. Many highlights, the most spectacular one was the Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe. Four albums about this trip, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France.
———————————————– Barcelona, September 2013
Back in Amsterdam we still had some time before Aric went back to Malaysia. So we booked a flight to Barcelona , one of my favourite towns. The town of Gaudi, for me it was the first time to visit the Sagrada Familia cathedral, still unfinished. We liked the tapas, the paella and the sangria. But, like Amsterdam, overcrowded with tourists (like ourselves, I know).
———————————————– Taiwan, March 2014
For quite some time Taiwan has been on our list of countries to visit and this year we finally booked an Air Asia flight to Taipei for a 12-day trip. One reason was to try the Taiwanese food, but of course there was also the culture and the nature. We got addicted to onsen, the hot baths. Below pictures of the iconic 101 tower, the Chang Kai-shek memorial, the Shifen waterfall and the Yehliu Geopark. Many more pictures in the album Taiwan Trip.
———————————————– Norway, June 2014
Several times we have chosen a holiday destination because of a specific tourist attraction. We had never considered Norway until we saw a picture of the Pulpit Rock, rising 600 meter above the water of the Lysefjord. We discovered that it was a doable hike, access from Stavanger. We booked a 10-day trip combining it with Bergen and Oslo. A very nice holiday, more pictures in the album Norway June 2014.
———————————————– Japan, October 2014
For many years we have been thinking about a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. Would there be a language problem? We booked a 9-day trip, booked a flight to Osaka, where we stayed a few days. Then Kyoto and finally Wakayama. Osaka and Kyoto are well known, Wakayama not really, we went there especially because of our addiction to onsen, the Japanes hot baths. Three reports: Osaka, Kyoto and Wakayama. A country to visit again.
———————————————– Melbourne, January 2015
Another visit to our friends Pat and Roger in Melbourne We explored the town and enjoyed their hospitality. They took us on a trip to Bendigo (goldmines) and Echuca (paddle boats). Two albums, one about our stay with them, Melbourne, and a separate album about our trip, Victoria
———————————————– China, September 2015
Our fourth trip to China, this time with our friends Pat and Roger. For them it was their first visit, Aric had organised the trip and was also our guide and translator. We started in Xi’an with its famous terracotta army. Next we went to Suzhou, where Aric and I had been before and after that to the water village of Zhouzhuang. Then they returned to Australia and we stayed a few more days in Shanghai. I created four albums about these holidays, Xi’an, Suzhou, Zhouzhuang and Shanghai.
———————————————– Laos, November 2015
A few months later we made a short trip to Laos. Writing this report I discovered that I had written several albums about details of our trip, but never a comprehensive report. Here is a summary with links to the detailed reports. We took a flight to Vientiane and from there a bus to Luang Prabang, where we stayed a few days. We attended the (touristic) Alms Giving ceremony and visited many temples. We made two trips, one to the Pak Ou caves and one to the impressive Kuang Si waterfalls. On our way back to Vientiane we stayed two nights in Vang Vieng, where we visited another cave, the Tham CHang caves and made an interesting excursion in a Hot Air Balloon. Back in Vientiane we visited the Buddha Park.
———————————————– Portugal, September 2016
When Aric and I visit the Netherlands , we try to include a short trip to another part of Europe. This time we decided to visit Portugal. I had visited Lisbon in the past, now we also visited Porto and a few other towns. A very pleasant and friendly country. Two albums, Part 1 about Lisbon, Sintra , Obidos and Porto. Part 2 about Aveiro, Monsanto and Evora
———————————————– Taiwan, August 2017
Our second visit to Taiwan (for Aric even his third). This time we wanted to explore the whole island, so we rented a car. But first we visited the Penghu islands, off Taiwan’s West Coast,. to see the Twin Hearts. A beautiful country, full of nature, culture, food and onsen. Better read the report for the details Taiwan, August 2017. .
———————————————– Singapore, January 2018
A short trip to Singapore, to visit our friend ST Lee, explore the Gardens by the Bay, visit the Botanical Gardens and the National Museum. Here is a report Singapore 2018. I was so impressed by the museum that I created a separate album about it: National Museum, Singapore.
———————————————– Japan, March 2018
We timed our second Japan visit so that we could attend the famous Hōnensai fertility festival on 15 March. We were hoping to see the Fuji mountain, expecting lots of sakura blossom and planning to visit as many onsen as we could find. We were very fortunate to achieve all these goals. I wrote a report about the highlights, Japan 2018, in which I announced more detailed albums, but that never materialised.
———————————————– Bhutan, April 2018
One reason that I didn’t write detailed reports about our Japan trip was that one month later we visited Bhutan. You can not travel on your own in this isolated country, we booked a tour for the two of us and were very lucky with our guides, who became friends almost immediately. There were many highlights on this 10-day trip, culminating in our climb to the Tiger’s Nest. Here is a travelogue with many more photos: Bhutan 2018.
———————————————– France, August 2018
My former principal is living in Southern France, we are friends and he invited us to visit him. We took a flight to Montpellier and rented a car. There are many historical places in that part of France, we visited quite a few of them. We enjoyed a few days the hospitality of my friend and his wife. Two reports about these holidays. France 2018, part I about Nîmes, Arles, Avignon and Pont du Gard. Part 2 about Robiac, Millau, Albi, Carcassonne and Cap d’Agde.
———————————————– Guilin , March 2019
There is so much to see in China. This time we visited Guilin in Southern China, famous for its limestone karst hills. We explored the town and its surroundings. the weather was not very favourable, cold and grey. We stayed two nights in Longji with its terraced rice fields. Next we visited Yangshuo, the main tourist center of the Guilin region. In my report Guilin, March 2019 I announced three more albums, another promise I never kept.
———————————————– Paris, April 2019
When Aric’s sister visited us in Amsterdam, we still found time to spend a few days in Paris. We managed to see quite a few of the Paris highlights, one of then, the Notre Dame, sadly destroyed by fire just one week before we arrived. More photos in Paris, 2019 .
———————————————– Italy, May 2019
During our stay in the Netherlands, after visiting Paris with Aric’s sister, we made a short trip to the Cinque Terre in Italy. We stayed in La Spezia and made daytrips to the various fishing villages, sometimes walking from one village to another. Here is the travelogue: Cinque Terre, May 2019
———————————————– Singapore, December 2019
A social Singapore visit to meet friends and to see the Christmas decorations. In Orchard Road they were disappointing, but in the Gardens by the Bay quite spectacular. We also visited the new airport at Changi and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. And our friend ST Lee invited us for a ballet performance of the Swan Lake. Here is the report: Singapore 2019
That was our last traveling trip abroad. Of course we had plans for 2020, another China trip with Aric’s family and in summer a visit to Iceland with its waterfalls, glaciers and hot springs. But then came Covid-19, the borders were closed in March 2020 and still are.
We have been very fortunate that we were able to visit so many beautiful places. Those times may never come back..
In April the ESA/NASA project published this stunning image as its Picture of the Week. In this blog I will first show some pictures and then give an explanation and some background information.
The image was taken by the Wide Field Camera 3 of the Hubble Space Telescope.
The image shows a very small part of the Witch’s Broom Nebula, also called the Western Veil Nebula. I have marked the (tiny) location of the detailed image with an x (click to enlarge)
This nebula is in its turn part of the Cygnus Loop. Upper right the Witch’s Broom Nebula, lower left the Eastern Veil Nebula.
Getting confused? Here is the relation between the various images. Left the Cygnus Loop, in the middle the Witch’s Broom and right the detail.
The Cygnus Loop is located in the constellation Cygnus (the Swan). Deneb and Vega are very bright stars. The Cygnus Loop (Veil Nebula) is marked in the lower left
This YouTube video may also help
About the Cygnus loop and the Veil Nebula
The Cygnus loop and the Veil Nebula are the remnants of a supernova. Many thousands year ago a massive star (much more massive than our Sun) had used up all its “fuel” and exploded in a final spasm before dying. In that explosion, much of the star material is ejected, leaving behind a neutron star or even a black hole. For a short period the star can outshine its whole galaxy!
In this NASA infogram, the development of such a massive star is given. It contains lots of information, but you can skip the details for this blog.
Much research has been done about the Cygnus Loop, the Veil nebula and the star that caused it. The Cygnus Loop is huge, its diameter is about six times the diameter of the moon. You need basically a telescope to see it.
It is a so-called emission nebula. The gas and dust in the nebula is ionised by the shockwave of the exploded star and the light we observe is the light emitted by the atoms in the nebula. The color of the emitted light depends on the kind of element. Very simplified: hydrogen emits reddish light, oxygen bluish light etc. When you look at the image of the Witch’s Broom nebula, you see that it mainly consists of (ionised) hydrogen and oxygen.
Determining the distance of the Cygnus Loop is a complicated process and you will find many values on the Internet. A distance of ~ 2400 lightyear is nowadays accepted by most astronomers. This would give the actual size of the Cygnus Loop as 130 lightyear! The loop is still expanding with a speed of ~ 1.5 million km/h
When did the star explode? Many different estimates. In the release of the first picture above a value of ~10000 year is given ( and a distance of 2100 lightyear). Humans living in that time would have observed the sudden appearance of a very bright “new” star, brighter than Venus and probably even visible in broad daylight. That explains the name (super)nova with nova meaning new in Latin. Supernovae are very rare, the last one in our own Milky Way, visible from Earth, was observed and studied by Kepler in 1604.
Scientists are still searching for a neutron star, or a blackhole in the center of the nebula, but until now nothing has been found.
A lot more can be said about supernovae. In the infogram above they are called “Engines of Creation” and that is an apt description. After the Big Bang the Universe consisted of hydrogen and helium, there was no oxygen no sulfur, no calcium, no iron etc. But Earth and all living creatures are built from those elements. How come? The answer is simple, all those elements have been formed inside stars! We are literally Star Children.
About the pictures
The Wide Field Camera of the Hubble Space Telescope takes colorful pictures. Wrong! It takes black and white pictures as do basically all other telescopes. But it uses a filter to select only a specific color (range). And it takes pictures of the same object using other filters, selecting different colors. For the picture above with the stunning details of the Witch’s Broom five filters were used. And those filters are not just simple pieces of red, green or blue glass. A widely used filter is the H-alpha filter, that only lets through the red light of hydrogen (technically: a wavelength of 656 nm, bandwidth a few nm). Here is a picture of the Cygnus loop, using a H-alpha filter.
Compare it with this photo, taken with a color camera without any filters. Dominated by the numerous stars, the Witch’s Broom nebula is (almost) invisible,
Other popular filters in astrophotography are SII and OIII filters They select the colors of ionised Oxygen blueish and Sulfur (reddish) respectively and block all the other colors.
Combining pictures, taken with different filters, you must assign colors to the black and white images. One option is to choose colors that correspond closely to the color of the filter. In that case the result will look more or less “natural”. The red-blue image of the Cygnus loop is a result of combining the H, O and S filters. But of course you can assign different colors to the B&W pictures. Like in the image below, where hydrogen is green(!), oxygen blue and sulfur red.
The Hubble Space Telescope can also use infrared or ultraviolet filters. Here is the Cygnus loop in ultraviolet, blue has been assigned to the B&W image.
The Hubble website has a very informative section The meaning of color in Hubble Images. It shows how the B&W images can be combined in various ways. Very readable, with examples. Here are three.
Left is Mars, where the three filters have been assigned their “real” color. In the middle the famous “Pillars of Creation”, a star forming region. The red hydrogen is depicted in green, the red sulfur light in red and the green oxygen light in blue. The last example shows Saturn in unusual colors, because the B&W pictures were taken with various infrared filters. Near infrared is shown as blue, the middle range as green and the far infrared as red.
Finally here is again April’s Picture of the Week . The text says that It is a combination of five B&W images, Hydrogen in red, oxygen in blue and sulfur in green. No information about the other two.
About two months ago I wrote a blog about Bukit Lanjan. Although these days Bukit Kiara is open again, I still hike regularly in my “backyard”. A group of active hikers living in Damansara Perdana is maintaining the trails and exploring new ones. One of their recent discoveries is a rocky outcrop, from where you have a nice view of the surroundings. It is becoming popular now, a nice place to relax and have a coffee or a beer. Aptly named the Hard Rock Café. The red track in the GE screenshot below is a short and interesting route to the Hard Rock.
Yesterday I went again, with my friend Bee. We started from my condo and met a group of Armanee Condo parents with their kids, also going for a hike. Good initiative, in Dutch we have an expression: Jong geleerd is oud gedaan. (Google for a translation)
We started with the pink trail (see map). Last week I had noticed that parts of it were almost overgrown. I had mentioned it in the chat group and the trailblazers replied that they would take care of it. They did, here is the amazing result. Left the situation one week ago.
I like the pink trail, the few steep parts are provided with ropes.
On the rocky outcrop we met the parents and their kids again. Really nice!
A tarp is under construction for shelter in case of rain. I noticed some nice flowers
When I visited the Hard Rock two weeks ago with my friend Rahim, he constructed a nice rock cairn. They are not meant for eternity, rain or strong wind can make them collapse. One week later, a new smaller one had been created, and this time nothing was left.
Here Bee is creating a new one.
And here is the result. Mother and child. When I visited a waterfall , I always left a cairn. Here is a blog about it: Rock Balancing.
After the Hard Rock Café we did not yet go back, but continued to the maroon traill (see map). A hiker friend had spotted hanging bird nests along the trail at two locations. It was no problem to find them.
These nests have been created by Baya Weaver birds. Fascinating. The nests were not used at the moment.
The maroon trail is longer with many steep parts.. A disadvantage is that part of it runs quite close to the highway, therefore very noisy. Ropes are helpful and we found numerous ginger flowers this time.
We also found a nice jackfruit tree.. Bee spotted more fruits high up in the tree
The second location of weaver nests had only one nest, high up in a tree. To get back home we got lost for a while, finally we found the trail, completely overgrown..
We finished our hike at the Datuk Shrine next to Perdana View condo. For reasons unknown to me, MK Land had blocked the exit with barbed wire, but you can still pass without problems.
Total hiking distance and time 5 km. 3 hours (including many stops)
The Rawang Bypass is a highway opened in 2017 to avoid the frequent traffic congestion in Rawang. It contains the highest roadway viaduct of Malaysia, with pillars up to 58 meter above ground level. It is possible to hike from Rawang to a viewpoint high above the viaduct. Deco Diver, a friend of mine, has written a blog about this hike with a clear description of the route to follow.
We started with breakfast in Rawang. Not easy to find a shop that was open, because of Ramadan, but after some driving around we managed to find a place where we had an acceptable mee goreng.
Looking for the trailhead we overlooked the one suggested by my friend, but found another one nearby. Apparently the location is popular with Rawang hikers, signs indicate the various trails. A nice, easy walk.
The trail passes a few shrines, an Indian Hindu shrine and next to it a Chinese Datok Kong one.
After a little more than 1 km we reached the highway, which is still at ground level here. You can cross to the other side by a drain, but we continued on a maintenance road next to the highway. Easy walking, although not very interesting.
After about about 600 meter, the viaduct starts and you can cross under the highway to the other side. Mind your head 😉 .
The view of the supporting pillars is quite spectacular, we met another group who was coming back from the viewpoint and also stopped here to take pictures.
After crossing a drain on a flimsy bridge, the climb to the viewpoint starts. There are steps and ropes to help you.
Halfway you have already a nice view of the viaduct.
The climb becomes more challenging because you have to follow the drains. and they are constructed to guide the water down, with slanting steps. Care is needed, fortunately there are ropes attached to give you support.
The steep stretch is only a few hundred meter long, you have to climb about 60 meter to reach the viewpoint. A big tree gives shade, it is a perfect place to relax and enjoy the view.
Of course we took pictures to prove that we have been there.
Aric had brought his drone.
In this drone picture you see how the highway has been cut into the rocks. Notice the yellow marker, top right. That’s the viewpoint. It is often called Bukit Matt (Matt hill), although it is not a Bukit at all.
The viaduct. The main reason to build an (expensive!) elevated viaduct was to save more forest.
After a coffee break we climbed down the same way. Going down you must be even more careful! Not suitable after rain. We saw some nice pitcher plants.