A Family Visit, part 2

From 8 until 25 August 2022 my brother Otto and his family visited us in Malaysia. A report of what we did, can be found here. Part of our program was a 8D7N trip to a few of our favorite “haunts” and here is a report about this trip.

We decided to limit ourselves to the West Coast of (Peninsular) Malaysia. Below is the route we followed. Our first destination was the Suka Suka Lake Retreat, next we stayed two nights in Georgetown. One night in Kuala Kurau and in Taiping, finally two nights in the Cameron Highlands.

It is a three hour drive from our condo to Suka Suka, we travelled in two cars. .Using the highway we stopped only for some snacks at the Tapah R&R. The Suka Suja lake retreat is located on the bords of the Chenderoh reservoir, one of the oldest in Malaysia. Left a drone picture of the reservoir, right Suka Suka, marked with an X.

When you enter the resort, it feels like going back in time. Traditional Malay houses, built on pillars. Here the main building with some pictures of the interior..

The resort is managed by a family, Aziz, his wife Asiah and their son Azam. I have stayed in the resort many times and they have become friends. Very friendly and hospitable. We were welcomed with a drink and some fried chempedak.

Aziz has bought old Malay houses from various locations in the country, taken them apart and rebuilt them in his resort. Original design, he only added modern bathrooms. Here are the two houses where we stayed.

Suka Suka is a place to relax, for example in one of the gazebo’s

But of course you can also explore the resort.

Staying there is not cheap, but meals are included and Asiah is a very good cook, eager to explain the various Malay dishes she prepares. She lent us sarongs and asked us to wear them during dinner. Actually we should have eaten, sitting on the floor, but looking at the seniors among us, she suggested that we could sit on chairs 😉

After the dinner she explained to my nephews how to play congkak, a traditional Malay game. Here are the rules, if you are interested. Of course a photo had to be taken with all of us wearing our sarongs.

The next morning Asiah prepared breakfast for us.

The resort has kayaks which can be used by the guests. Aric and I had done that during an earlier visit and we nearly got lost, orientation is not easy with all those small islands. So we left the exercise to Otto and Nina, and to the twins. They found their way back without problems

Then it was time to say goodbye and continue our trip. Azam used a tripod to take this nice farewell picture.

Our next destination was Georgetown in Penang, in 2008 declared a World Heritage Site, because of its historical past. You could spend weeks to explore everything, but we stayed only two nights.

On our way, we passed Kuala Kangsar, the Royal town of the Perak state. Two landmarks, the impressive Ubudiah mosque, a masterpiece by colonial architect A.B. Hubback, completed in 1917 And the Istana Kenangan, the former Royal Palace.

Aric did some droning, here is an aerial view of the mosque. with the present Royal palace in the background and the Royal mausoleum in the left foreground

We had some snacks in an R&R and arrived in the afternoon at the Airbnb booked by Aric. Located in the historical center of Georgetown, it was a nice house in Peranakan style. Left the façade, right the (very) steep stairs, leading to the bedrooms. Notice the traditional screen shielding the ground floor rooms from the entrance

Left the screen as seen from the entrance, and two pictures of the bedrooms. The house was well furnished and comfortable.

Having some refreshments before going out.

During our last stay in Penang, Aric and I had visited the top floors of the Komtar tower, where you can look down 250 meter, through a glass floor. We liked it so much that we wanted to show it to our guests. Here are Xander and Aswin, sitting relaxed on the (very) transparent glass.

Nina had said that she would scream, but she did not. Bravo ;-). I took a photo of our group.

The top floor has a skywalk. Here Aric took a picture of us. I found this a lot less scary. We stayed until after sunset, to take some night pictures.

Dinner at the New World food court. Aric ordered a selection of dished. Without him we should have been at a loss what to order. From top left clockwise: popiah, lobak, vegetarian spaghetti and dumplings.

The next morning. Two brothers having a relaxed cup of coffee in the front yard of their temporary home.

We did a lot of walking that day. First we had a look at some of the famous Zacharevic murals. If you are interested, I wrote several blogs about Penang Mural Art. A lot of copycatting, I am not sure about the top right one, and the lower right is definitely not Zacharevic.

Then we walked to the clan jetties, another landmark of Penang. We selected the Tan Jetty and were a bit disappointed that we could not proceed until the end, from where you have a fantastic view of the harbor front. I could only take a shot through an opening in the gate.

We had a refreshing coconut there

On our way back we passed the famous Khoo Kongsi, the most impressive clan house of Georgetown. We entered and walked around. I have visited this place so many times, I did not take many photos.

After some rest in our Airbnb, we discussed what to do the rest of the day. We decided to take the cable car up Penang Hill and walk around a bit there, having a drink at the Bellevue hotel. This colonial style hotel is owned by a friend of mine and has a spectacular view of Georgetown and Butterworth on the mainland. We stayed until after sunset before taking the cable car down.

The next morning we first had breakfast in the famous Toh Soon cafe. We had tried the day before but found it was closed. Now it was open with a long queue of people waiting. It is famous for its coffee and its toast. I had my favorite eggs on toast.

A trip to Penang is not complete without a visit to the Kek Lok Si temple in Air Hitam. The Buddhist temple is dominated by the huge statue of Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy.. You can only take a photo of the whole building when you are far away 😉

The construction is not yet complete, you can donate roof tiles. The family bought a tile and wrote NOPAX on it (Nina, Otto, Pascal, Aswin and Xander)

Nina also bought a candle.

There are many temples in the complex. This is the main one.

You can climb the beautiful pagoda, but I had done that already in the past. So I waited at the bottom while the others climbed up.

Before crossing over to the mainland, we visited another temple, the snake temple. Inside(!) the temple and outside in the trees many Wagler’s pit vipers live. When you don’t disturb them, they are harmless (although venomous). During our visit there were only a few snakes inside the temple, sleeping. But many in the trees of the courtyard.

After a simple lunch opposite the snake temple, we crossed the bridge and drove to Kuala Kurau, a fishing village at the mouth (= kuala) of the Kurau river. Years ago we had discovered in this village a nice homestay, located right on the river with a terrace from where we could observe the many activities on the river.

The owner of the homestay, a young man, studied and worked in the UK, but came back to his hometown, missing the rural life. Nicely renovated house.

For dinner the owner suggested a restaurant from where we could enjoy the sunset. In this kind of seafood restaurant you start with looking at the fish tanks to select what you like to eat, Can not be more fresh. The food picture, from top left clockwise: seaweed soup, stingray, mantis shrimps and crab. The bottom right picture shows how people here leave the table after a nice dinner 😉

The restaurant was about1 km from our homestay, as the crow flies, but to reach it by car we had to take a long detour. Crossing the Kurau river we saw the numerous fish farms in the river.

Back in our homestay it was time to relax.

The next morning Aric woke up early to take drone pictures of the river and our homestay (marked with a yellow x). Notice another fish farm in the river.

We had breakfast in the village and walked around. Of course there was a fish market.

On our way to the Hua Seng Kong Temple near Kuala Gula, Aric got a flat tyre, which he changed superfast . The temple is located in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by plantations. We were the only visitors.

This Buddhist temple has strong Mahayana and Taoist influences. It has a rustic atmosphere, no exquisite art here. Left the family at one of the entrances. When you kneel on the metal plate, as Nina does, the statue starts pouring holy(?) water.

Very interesting is the depiction of “Hell”, where people are punished for the sins they have committed in their life. A small scale version of the famous Haw Par villa in Singapore.

Here Xander and Aswin are waiting for their judgment. After the punishment everybody gets a cup with the tea of forgetfulness, so they have no memories after being reborn.

It was not far to Taiping where we had lunch in the Old Railway Station. Finally we had Assam Laksa, Aric’s favorite food. He has a special Assam Laksa website. Try to find his verdict about this assam laksa (hint: there are three assam laksa entries for Taiping)

We had booked rooms in the modern Flemington hotel, next to the Taiping :Lake Gardens. After some rest we walked around, we were lucky, Taiping is named the rain town of Malaysia, it rains often in the afternoon, but we had nice weather,

At sunset we watched the colony of egrets, roosting every night at the Lake Gardens. Thousands of them. We also had a look at the rain trees that in recent years have fallen down on the road. The town council took the smart decision to leave them there and make part of the road pedestrian: the Raintree Walk. Now a tourist attraction.

Dinner in the Double Tap, a modern fusion-style restaurant near the Lake Gardens. I had spaghetti with smoked duck, curry leaves and salted egg! Very eatable.

A special feature of Flemington is the infinity swimming pool on the top floor. I had told my family to bring swimwear, they did, but I was actually the only one using the pool haha. We had a buffet breakfast the next morning.

Here is the Raintree Walk during daytime. During evenings and weekends teher can be a happy crowd.

As the “godfather of Malaysian waterfalls”, of course I had to bring my family to a waterfall North of Taiping there is a nice waterfall, not yet discovered by the general public, although easily accessible on a clear trail

The Air Hitam waterfall is an attractive one, from where I took the photo, you can still continue to the bottom of the falls, but that is more tough going. Aric took a drone picture of us.

We could not stay long, because we had a (late) checkout before 1 pm. We had lunch in the Lighthouse restaurant in Matang. The famous Teochew fish porridge (Aric is Teochew himself).

Our last stay was in the Cameron Highlands, two nights in the Lutheran Mission Bungalow. A lot of the Cameron Highlands has lost its charm because of agricultural (over)development, but this bungalow is still relatively unspoilt. Left a drone picture, the ugly gray plastic roofs are approaching. Right the bungalow, built in the 1950s as a retreat for Lutheran missionaries.

How I discovered this bungalow (12 years ago) is too complicated to tell here. Read my blog What Happened to Jim Thompson. I have been there many times and booked three rooms in the main bungalow this time.

For our dinner we went to the Jin Jin Steamboat restaurant in Brinchang. Steamboat is popular in Malaysia and specially in the Cameron Highlands. You get a bowl with hot broth and plates with meat, fish, veggies, mee etc. You prepare your own food. Although it was a weekday, it was very busy, we had to wait for a table. But it was worth it.

Traditional breakfast the next morning..

The view from the garden is still very nice. and there are lots of flowers.

One of the attractions of the Cameron Highlands are the tea plantations.

We visited the BOH Tea Centre Sungai Palas and we were not the only ones. The tea house has a spectacular location, overlooking the tea fields.

Of course we had BOH tea and cakes. I had scones

Pity that the tea factory, where they process the tea leaves, was closed for renovation. Of course we took many pictures of the tea fields.

Another attraction of the Cameron’s are the strawberries, strawberry farms everywhere (with the ugly gray plastic roofs) When you buy Cameron strawberries in the supermarket, they are very sour, but the ones we bought here, were surprisingly sweet.

In the afternoon we hiked to another waterfall, the Parit fall. On the way back it started to rain a bit. We have been very lucky with the weather during the whole trip.

Back in the bungalow Otto and I enjoyed a glass of whisky on the balcony. You have to book for dinner and breakfast in advance. The food was not bad, colonial style: fish and chips for Nina and chicken chop for the others.

The next day we took another route from the CH back to KL. Passing through Raub, a famous place for durians, we stopped at a stall and Aric bought one. For RM 132 , yes durians can be very expensive. But we just had to let our guests taste the “King of Fruits”

I am addicted to durians, judge for yourself what the others though about it.

Our last stop was at the Chamang waterfall, until recently always open without paying tickets, but now closed. It is called development :-(. But at least we saw a nice group of long-tailed macaques along the road.

We did a lot during our 8 days trip ;-). and came back quite exhausted.

A hike with Gerrit

When I told my friend Gerrit that my agenda was getting full with dinner dates, he suggested that we could go for a daytime walk. That was a splendid idea. He had designed a route that started and ended at my apartment, through parks and greenery, length about ten km. Here is the walk. Markers indicate where one or more photos were taken.

It was beautiful weather. Here is a selection of the photos I took

Spring in full force, flowers everywhere,

Posing for the camera

We had lunch in restaurant De Bosbaan with a state of the art Uitsmijter: bread with ham, cheese and fried egg.

A few more photos on our way back. Left the statue of the Amsterdam Stedemaagd (Amsterdam City Maid), originally located at the entrance of the Vondelpark, now relocated. Right a so-called insect hotel, a man-made construction to provide shelter for insects.

Finally, almost home, a few works of art in the grass. No idea who the artist is..

A very pleasant walk. I had no idea that so much nature could be found on walking distance from my apartment.

Bukit Lanjan

In October 2005 we moved from USJ to Damansara Perdana, where we had bought a condo in Perdana View with a beautiful view of the forested slopes of the 335 high Bukit Lanjan.

In those days I walked often in Bukit Kiara, but I also explored Bukit Lanjan a few times. Here is one of my first hikes, January 2007. The GE imagery is from 2007. I have marked a few locations. MK Land had permission to develop the hill on condition that they would provide housing for the Temuan Orang Asli who were living on the hill. Bottom left you see the Desa Temuan, nice bungalows. The Armanee condo’s were under construction and a beginning had been made with the development of Rafflesia. On the top of the hill Mustapha Kamal had built his own residence.

Although the Temuan had moved to the new village, they still had huts and (durian) plantations on the hill, so the trails were well maintained.

A lot of development was going on, but our view of the hill was still unspoilt. Top left you can see the two Telecom towers.

Here is another hike, September 2009. It was durian season, we met a few friendly orang asli families and had durians.

We climbed up to the top, lost the trail, but managed to reach the Telecom towers, from where we had a nice view of the KL skyline.

Our hike ended in a funny way. We decided to walk back, following the tar road. That road has been declared private after the MK residence was built, with a guard house at the beginning. The guards at the house were shocked to see people approaching from the top of the hill. We explained that we had been jungle hiking. A guard on a motorbike escorted us down until the gate. From there we walked a trail back home

I walked a few more times in Bukit Lanjan in the period 2007-2010, in this GE screenshot I have collected my hikes. Notice de development of Rafflesia

In November 2010 we were shocked to discover that the forested hill slope was being logged. MK Land had sold part of the hill to another developer, Mammoth Empire.

We could watch the subsequent development from our balcony.

I don’t understand how a developer could get permission to build on such steep slopes. At one time even a minor landslide occurred where they had been drilling.

This is the present situation of what is called the Empire Residences, as seen from our balcony. A small part of the project has been completed, the rest has come to a standstill for several years already. The Low Yat forum has 46 pages about the Empire Residences, mostly negative. It’s a failed project, IMHO.

In the period 2010-2020 I still have been walking occasionally in Bukit Lanjan, but it became less interesting, because the Temuan no longer maintained their gardens and trails. Here and there fencing appeared, blocking access. Here is a collection of my walks in that period.

More than one year ago the COVID-19 pandemic started, causing a lockdown in Malaysia and limiting me in my freedom to walk and hike. I wrote a blog about it: Lockdown! .

Parks were closed, but I still could walk from my condo, following the tar road. During one of my walks I noticed a trail to the right, with a red-white marker ribbon. I followed it for some distance, it looked like a regular trail.

When I came back to the road, I met another hiker, Encik Wan, who told me that recently several trails had been developed by a group of active hikers, living in Damansara Perdana. They had erected a signboard about the Bukit Lanjan Community trails near my condo. A nice surprise, I became a member of their chat group.

On 16 January Wan took me to my first Bukit Lanjan trail, just starting from my front door, so to speak 😉 . A nice hike, views of the surroundings, some steep parts, where ropes were provided.

More hikes followed. Unfortunately it became clear very soon that MK Land was unhappy with this community initiative. They started to block trail heads , removed marker ribbons and supporting ropes.

I do not understand their attitude, no harm is done and the trails add value to Damansara Perdana and MK Land’s residential projects.

Most trails are still accessible and during the past three months I have been able to explore many of them. Compared with Bukit Kiara, the trails are more rough, after rain they can be slippery. Ropes are helpful.

Bukit Lanjan is still a green enclave, but surrounded by concrete jungle and highways.

This is my favourite tree on the hill. One friend calls it Jan’s tree because I like to take pictures of the tree with my friends,

The trig marks the highest pint of Bukit Lanjan at an elevation of 335 m above sea-level. Access is not easy. On one of my hikes I met friendly people who were surveying. I hope it is not a sign for more development of the hill.

For me hiking is not just for exercise. Enjoying nature is even more important.

And not to forget: relaxing during a hike with coffee and cake ;-)!

Here is a Google Earth screenshot of the trails I have been hiking in Bukit Lanjan the last few months. I really hope they will remain accessible in the future.

Batang Kali waterfall

Since the beginning of the lockdown in Malaysia (March 2020), I have visited only two waterfalls, Templer Park and Lata Iskandar. When you know about my fascination with Malaysian waterfalls, you will understand how excited I was when my friend Edwin suggested a trip to waterfalls in the Batang Kali-Ulu Yam region. Interstate travel was still prohibited, but these waterfalls are in the state of Selangor.

There were two options, either the Kedondong fall or waterfalls in the Batang Kali river, recently explored by him. As I had visited the Kedondong fall already, I was interested in the Batang Kali waterfalls. Interested but also a bit anxious. I am getting older and have lost my self-confidence in the jungle. I discussed my concern with Edwin and we decided to limit ourself to an “easy” waterfall in the Batang Kali River. Teoh, one of my waterfall “godsons” was eager to join as well.

Edwin picked me up from my condo at 7:30 am and took me for breakfast to the 333 Kopitiam in Ulu Yam Baharu, where Teoh was already waiting for us. We had bitter gourd pork noodles and yam pork noodles, especially the second one was delicious and a reason to come back.

We parked our cars at the Kedondong Recreation Park, for safety, although it meant that we first had to walk along the road about 800 m to the trailhead. We started hiking around 10 am

From the trailhead we hiked down to a tributary of the Batang Kali river, which we had to cross.

Crossing was easy. For the first time in two(!) years I was wearing my kampung Adidas.

There was a clear trail with beautiful bamboo groves. Locals probably come here to harvest bamboo, even a temporary shed was built.

Here and there bamboo had fallen across the trail, but still easy to pass.

It was a real pleasure to be back in the jungle. Only a few leeches.

We had to cross the Batang Kali river once. Easy.

After about 30 minutes we reached the waterfall. Not a tall one, but a lot of water and a huge pool.

Of course we took a refreshing bath.

Edwin is an experienced swimmer and managed to swim behind the water curtain. I took a video, you can hardly see his face behind the water, until he dives through it :-).

Here I am relaxing near the fall. A happy man. I am always a bit worried about bees and wasps as I am allergic to their stings, but there were hardly any in this pristine location.

After frolicking around, we took the same trail back to the main road. Two ways of crossing the river, using the fallen tree (Edwin) or just getting wet feet (Teoh and I).

Around 1 pm we were back at our cars, getting hungry. Teoh had to go back to work (!), Edwin suggested that we could visit an orchid farm in Ulu Yam, where they also had a nice café. This World of Phalaenopsis was a pleasant surprise. Large collection of orchids, friendly atmosphere

Well maintained place with not only orchids.

Although it was a weekday, there were many visitors both in the farm and in the café. I had a waffle with strawberries and ice cream for lunch. A place to visit again.

I wanted to buy an orchid to bring home, the red one I carry in the left picture. A friendly sales guy advised me to choose the one with larger flowers, they would last longer. Three orchids for RM 30 only.

A very rewarding outing. Thanks to Edwin for taking the initiative and to Teoh for his company. Real fellowship, good for boosting my self-confidence.

Here is a Google Earth of the Batang Kali region. The red part is along the road, the green one the trail. I have also marked the locations of the 333 Kopitiam and the orchid farm.

Kuala Selangor trip

Rodney, a UK friend of us has been in Malaysia many times, but never visited Kuala Selangor! A good reason to bring him there on a half-day trip.

On our way, near Bukit Rotan, we passed a Hindu temple that I had never visited myself. The present Sri Shakti Temple was consecrated in 2013 and is a monumental building, unfortunately closed during our visit.

The front of the temple has beautiful statues of elephants.

Because of the time of the day (3 pm) it was almost impossible to take good pictures of the temple. We will have to come back another time to visit the interior.

Our next stop was the Kuala Selangor Nature Park. We were the only visitors, maybe because it was very hot, but also because Malaysians and tourists hardly know about its existence. It is a mixture of secondary forest and wetlands.

After paying an entrance fee of RM 5 at the visitor center, we entered the park.

We climbed the view tower. During my last visit you could see a lake, with many egrets, but trees had grown, obscuring the view.

There was another visitor on the top floor, enjoying its siesta. We didn’t disturb it, but we were sure our presence was noticed.

It was a pleasant walk. We crossed a mangrove forest on a concrete walkway. Sturdy, but less romantic than the wooden plankway we remembered from an earlier visit.

It was low tide, there were only a few places where we could see water. The whole walk was about 3.5 km, we were very thirsty, almost dehydrated, luckily the visitor center was still open ,so we could buy some cool drink.

Our next stop was at Bukit Melawati, the main attraction of Kuala Selangor. From the top of the hill you have a good view of the countryside.

The cannons are a memory of the past, when there was a fort here. Of course Rodney and I had to prove our manhood 🙂 .

The present lighthouse was built in 1907, the original one was built in 1794 when the Dutch were still ruling this part of the peninsula.

The attractive lighthouse is a good background for pictures. We met a friendly Malay couple there. Left Rodney and me, right with Zarina and Rosni.

And there are monkeys, a few macaques, but mainly the silvered leaf langurs. The young ones are beautifully golden/orange, Zarina told us that there were no babies at the moment, but we were lucky to find a single one, down the road. Changing into an adult, its face grey already.

Bananas and beans are for sale, you can feed the langurs, and they are not shy, some even climbing on your shoulder.

A hidden, almost unknown, gem is the nearby Bukit Belanda (Dutch Hill). From the Dutch fort Utrecht, on top of the hill, not much is left, but the small lake at its foot is very scenic.

Before dinner we drove to the fishing village of Kuala Selangor, at the other side of the Selangor river. We watched the sunset from the Chinese temple there.

The Kuala Sungai (Ah Yu) restaurant in Pasir Penambang, chosen by Aric, has a splendid view of the Selangor River.

And the food was high quality too. Rodney and I could not resist the temptation of big bottles of Carlsberg.

Here is the food we ordered. Forgot to take a picture of the fish ball soup.

After our dinner we visited the Fireflies of Kampung Kuantan, before going home. It was almost full moon and the sky was clear, not a favorable time to see the swarms of tiny fireflies, blinking on and off in a synchronous way. But as it was a first visit for Rodney, still a nice experience.

A rewarding outing!

The Marker Wadden

Would you like to go with me to the Marker Wadden, my youngest brother asked me during my recent visit to the Netherlands.  The Marker Wadden? I knew about the Wadden Islands and the Wadden Sea, but had never heard about the Marker Wadden.

He explained to me that it was a project of Natuurmonumenten, the Dutch Nature Society, to create a number of artificial islands in the Markermeer.

Ok, I knew about the Markermeer. Have a look at the left map, taken from the informative Zuiderzee Works entry in Wikipedia. After closing the Zuiderzee with the Afsluitdijk in 1932, it was renamed IJsselmeer, and gradually changed from a salt water lake into a fresh water one. Large parts of the lake were reclaimed to form polders. The original plan was to reclaim also the Markermeer, and a dike, the Houtribdijk, was already built between 1963 and 1975.

But the reclamation plans changed, and in 1986 it was decided that the Markermeer will remain a lake. When you look at the right picture, a Google Earth map of the same region, you will notice the different color of the water in the Markermeer. Because the lake is separated by a dike from the IJsselmeer, there is a lot of siltation, resulting in turbid water. This has a negative impact on the aquatic flora and fauna.

In 2012 Natuurmonumenten,  with other partners, presented an ambitious plan, to create  a couple of artificial islands in the Markermeer, using sand and silt from the bottom. The islands will not be used for human habitation, but will become a bird sanctuary.

The project has been accepted and is now in progress, with support of several sponsors. In the left picture you can see the location of these Marker Wadden relative to the Houtribdijk. The right images shows more details, the north-west island has a harbour and some infrastructure (footpaths and walkways), this island will be accessible to the public (but only if you have your own boat!). The other islands will be strictly nature reserves.

To show these Marker Wadden to the general public, Natuurmonumenten organised a temporary ferry service during the weekend of  8-9 September and my brother bought tickets, for of course I eagerly accepted his invitation…:-)

The ferry left from the Bataviahaven in Lelystad. We arrived early, so we could have a nice seat and a cup of coffee. Many interested people, often  armed with binoculars and cameras.

After about 45 minutes we arrived at the jetty of the Marker Wadden

There were two walking routes on the island, 2.5 km and 6 km. We took the shorter one. At the start it looked like a crowd, but it spread out quite fast.

Work is still going on, but this was a weekend, so no activity.

Here I am posing as a climber of the Marker Wadden mountains…:-)

There is a lookout tower, solidly built.

From the balcony at the top you have a good view of the surroundings.

It was an interesting walk, In many places the work was still in full swing.

A warning sign for dangerous quicksand.

Regarding plant life, the philosophy of Natuurmonumenten is to let nature take Its course.Slowly  plants will start growing, from seeds blown over by the wind from the surrounding polders. I have my doubts about the single patch of sunflowers I saw…:-). Could it be that somebody has bought  a packet of sunflower seed and sowed it here?

We walked over a nice walkway, sat down and had the sandwiches we had taken from home. In a few years time this will be a beautiful region.

It will also become a paradise for bird watchers. During our visit we did not see many birds, because it was  not the migratory season yet.

We spent a few hours on the island and then took the ferry back to Lelystad. A very nice 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 Nßmes. 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 MalĂšne

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 CĂ©cile 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 2018

Regular readers of my blog may remember that during my visit to Taiping in April 2017, I met a gentleman from Singapore, Dr Lee. We are both interested in (Taiping) heritage and kept contact by email. He suggested that we should visit Singapore, not only for its cultural heritage, but also for its nature, he could show us some interesting places.

So we booked a hotel in Singapore’s Chinatown for three nights and took the Aeroline bus to travel. Quite convenient

On my to-do list were a few of the recent modern buildings and one of them we passed already in the bus…:-). The Interlace (2013) , a 1000-unit apartment complex, which looks like numerous bricks irregularly stacked upon each other

From the bus terminal we took the MRT to Chinatown. The Keong Saik hotel was a good choice, the room was not big, but comfortable, and we had a view of another building on my architecture list, the Tanjong Pagar Centre (2016), the tallest skyscraper in Singapore. Although designed by world famous  Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, it did not look very special from our balcony. The Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar temple nextdoor was more interesting, but we had no time to visit it.

After a short rest, we met Dr Lee and walked with him through Chinatown.

Nicely restored houses and shoplots, many consisting of three storeys, unusual in Malaysia. Also here mural art. There are several works by Zacharevic, but we had no time to look for them. Next time…:-)

During our walk passed another modern building on my to-do list, the Pinnacles@Duxton (2009), a residential complex of 50 storeys high, dominating the three storeys shoplots of Chinatown. Initiative for this development came from Prime MInister Lee Kuan Yew, who was concerned about the exodus of residents from Singapore’s center.

We walked back via Keong Saik Road, beautifully restored houses. In the 1960’s this was the red-light district of Singapore! Dr Lee told us that in those days you could not pass the street without being addressed by the ladies of the night..:-)

For our dinner we went to the foodcourt in the Chinatown Complex , where we met a few of Dr Lee’s friends. Nice food, nice company.

The next morning Dr Lee picked us up from our hotel and brought us to the “best nasi lemak shop in town” for breakfast. He was formally dressed this time because he had to work in the hospital that day.

But first he dropped us at the Botanical Gardens, where we spent the next few hours. The gardens are 158 year old and, since 2015,  an Unesco World Heritage Site.

We started with the Rainforest, a small part of the gardens, actually older than the gardens themselves! Of course Malaysia has more rainforest, but Singapore is one of the few cities with a rainforest within its borders.

We walked around, beautiful views everywhere

On many places you can find sculptures, Here are two of them, Change Kuda (2011) by Chong Fah Cheong and Girl on a Bicycle (1987) by Sydney Harpley.

A few more pictures. To the right the Bandstand (1930), no longer used for musical performances, but still an iconic landmark of the gardens.

The bandstand was a good spot to take some rest

After our rest we had again enough energy to continue…:-)

Nice flowers.

Interesting leaves.

The gardens are free and open all day but for the famous National Orchid Garden you have to pay an entrance fee. After some hesitation we bought tickets and entered. Very worthwhile. Never in my life seen so many orchid species!

Here is a collage of orchids we have seen.

First we wanted to take a “wefi”, then a friendly visitor offered to take the picture. Even better..:-)

It would have been no problem to spend the whole day in these gardens, but we had decided to spend the afternoon in another beautiful garden, the Gardens by the Bay, created in 2006 on reclaimed land. The public transport in Singapore is well-organised, we took the MRT to the Bayfront station and walked via an underground corridor to the gardens.

This passage has a few remarkable works of art. Left in the upper picture is a painting by Sol Lewitt, Wall Drawing#915, Arcs, Circle and Irregular bands (1999). Further on both walls are covered with mirrors, which gives multiple reflections. Could not find the name of the artist

Perfect location to take a wefi..:-)  Can you find out who of us has taken this picture?

When you exit from the underground passage and look backwards, you see the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel towering above you. One of the most impressive buildings I have seen in my life. I have stayed once there, expensive but it was worth the money..:-).

Entering the gardens you pass three smaller gardens, Malay, Chinese and Indian, Singapore is proud to be a multi-racial country. Far away the surrealistic Supertree Grove, but first we had a simple lunch at a snack bar.

Also in these gardens you can spend easily a full day. We had only limited time and decided to visit one of the two domes in the Gardens, the Cloud Forest dome. Expensive but 100% worth it.

Inside the dome a “misty mountain” has been created, with a waterfall, and pathways leading up and round the structure. Amazing and fascinating, just look at the pictures.

Of course flowers, mosses, ferns everywhere. These are fuchsia flowers, a favourite of mine.

Look carefully, two pictures show real flowers, the other two are fake!

In between the Lego “artworks”, there are real pitcher plants and other carnivorous plants.

A lot of maintenance is needed, but the result makes it worthwhile.

Interesting artworks, made of tree roots.

There is a Secret Garden too

When we bought tickets for the Cloud Forest, we thought about combining them with tickets for the “canopy walk” at the Supertree Grove, but the friendly lady at the ticket counter advised us to wait, because there might be rain in the afternoon and then the walk is closed. Good advice, there was a downpour while we were inside the dome, when we came out we noticed that the canopy walk around the trees was empty.

We went back to our hotel and had some rest. Later Dr Lee picked us up and with two of his friends we went to the Kent Ridge Park, to have a view of the harbour. Nice surprise, his friends had brought pulut & mango for us. Delicious

Next we went to Labrador Park, where we walked a part of the boardwalk. Nice view of another building on my list: Reflections at Keppel Bay (2011), a luxury residential complex designed by Libeskind, another famous architect. Singapore knows how to choose…:-)

Here is the boardwalk

TIme for dinner. We went to the Alexandra Village Food Centre, where we had a tasty soup and claypot chicken rice from the well known Tai Liok restaurant . It really is an advantage to go out with Singaporeans, they know where to find the good food!

The next day, after breakfast in our hotel, we took a bus to the Southern Ridges for a long hike, from the Alexandra Arch bridge to the Henderson Wave. Surprising that Singapore has so many hiking and walking opportunities. On the map you can see also the location of the Labrador Park.

The bus passed two buildings I had seen before already, the Reflections and the Interlace

It was an interesting walkway. We met many student groups on a Learning Journey, as it is called.

We continued until the Henderson Wave, a pedestrian bridge with a unusual artistic design

From this bridge we had a nice view of the Singapore skyline. Dark clouds again, it was quite rainy during our visit

The Henderson Wave, as seen from below.

After this walk we took a bus to the city center, as we had planned to visit the National Gallery in the afternoon. There were still remnants of the Christmas celebration. Again we had a very simple lunch

We walked around and had a look at Singapore’s landmark, the Merlion.

View of the Theatres on the Bay, colloquially known as the big durians. Memories came back of a “concert” by MozART Madness, attended many years ago…:-)

Boat Quay, dwarfed by the skyscrapers

We walked around in what is called the Civic District. Here many of the heritage buildings are located. Left another “wefi”, right the St Andrews Cathedral (1861)