Thursday, 28 December 2017

10 Photos of One Day in Bruges

Bruges, Brugges, Brugge? I saw the town spelt many ways, as many as the languages spoke here. As always when travelling, never enough time - but here are some suggestions of 10 things to see and do, which will at least hopefully inspire a visit.

10 photos of one day in Bruges
Explore the canals

i) Explore Her Canals

To walk along her canals is to discover the medieval heart of Bruges. The town grew on trade, and her waterways gave her access to trading ports.

Now the canals are lines with gracious houses and picturesque bridges; white swans drifts by, and the sun plays upon the water. Boat tours (with a commentary in multiple languages, naturally) offer an ideal way to see this town from the water.

10 photos of one day in Bruges
A side entrance to the hospital

ii) Visit Sint-Janshospitaal

Dating from the 12th century, Sint-Janshospitaal is Europe’s oldest preserved hospital, and was still being used up until 1978. Now it is a museum of the world of medieval medicine, with even the apothecary and herb garden remaining.

And not to be missed: 6 masterpieces from the most famous of the Flemmish Primitives, Hans Memling (1430-1493) painted specifically for the hospital.

Michelangelo in Bruges

iii) Michelangelo in Bruges.

Not the best photo, for which I apologise. I just wasn't expecting to find a work by Michelangelo in Bruges.
Dating from 1501-4, his Madonna and Child sits in the Church of Our Lady, and is the only statue of Michelangelo's to leave Italy during his lifetime.

10 Photos of One Day in Bruges
The 15th C Kruispoort

iv) Bruges' Town Gates

Fortifications once surrounded this town, and four of Bruges' town gates remain, marking the limit of the old city. This includes the Kruispoort, which was begun in 1401 on the site of an older gate.

10 Photos of One Day in Bruges
So many museums to visit

v) Visit the Museums and Galleries of Bruges

Bruges boasts a plethora of museums, from the Groeninge Museum with its impressive collection of Flemish works (an exhibition of the Flemish Primitives was on display during my visit), the Memling Museum, to modern art galleries. There is even a diamond museum. No matter how short a stay, there is enough time to see at least one.

10 Photos of One Day in Bruges
The Bonne Cherie Windmill

vi) See the windmills

Bruges was once a town of windmills, producing the flour needed to feed a growing population. Now only four  remain, standing beside a canal along the line on the original fortifications. They have all been lovingly restored.

10 Photos of One Day in Bruges
The stepped roofline of Bruges

vii) Simply look around you.

Bruges is truly a town for sight seeing. So much is all around - take time to sit and enjoy, watch the world go by. Wander and foot and see what can be discovered down hidden laneways and cobbled streets. And don't forget to look up and see the classic stepped roof line of the houses, designed as an escape route in the event of a fire.

10 photos of One Day in Bruges
Carvings of Chocolate

viii) A chocolate museum, of course.

Chocolate shops abound in Bruges - I defy you to visit the city and not leave with some. Then there is Choco Story, a chocolate museum dedicated to the history and production of chocolate (the earliest evidence dates to 600 BC) complete with chocolate carvings on display. Plus, the price of admission comes with some free samples!
10 photos of One Day in Bruges
Outside the Basilica

ix) The Basilica of The Holy Blood

Such a great name, I had to visit. It consists of two chapels, with the lower one being Bruges' oldest building, dating from the 12th C. In the Upper Chapel is a crystal phial said to contain a relic of Christ's blood. It was brought back from the Second Crusade by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders.

10 photos of One Day in Bruges
Simply wander

x) Explore
Because of the canals, none of the streets in the Old town run in a straight line - making it perfect for simply wandering and getting lost. At every turn lies a moss-covered bridge, a centuries-old restaurant, or a carpet of fallen leaves.
Aiming for the other side of town, I somehow emerged at the Bus Depot. Plunging back into the maze of streets, I found a restaurant in a 17th C wooden building. I began with a kir royale, followed by pheasant with braised witlof and figs. Another day I dined on golden fish soup brimming with shrimp and a variety of cold-water fish, followed by salmon with a shrimp sauce.
So, explore!

The Literary Traveller First published in 1892, Bruges-la-Morte is often described as the archetypicalSymbolistic novel. Written by the Belgian author Georges Rodenbach, it is also the first novel illustrated with photographs. The evocative, almost poetic style evokes a dying city, reflecting the emotions of a man, grieving for his wife, obsessed with death.

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Saturday, 23 December 2017

Umbrellas in Pietrasanta

 I knew I would love Pietrasanta as soon as the train pulled into the station. My train was crowded with holiday makers journeying to the Cinque Terra; my daughter and I were the only ones to alight.
One platform, two tracks. The land of Tuscany spreading around us.


I've always equated trains with holidays. I rarely catch trains (or any public transport) when I'm at home, for the service is simply shocking. Much easier to drive. Trains are for finding Assisi, being stranded somewhere unknown in Japan, or speeding away from Paris to find delights such as Bruges or ponder the paradox of time in Mont St. Michel.

Umbrellas, too, seem to be part of my recent travels. I never take one with me, yet I found them in a revolution in Hong Kong, and now hundreds of them hung above the streets of Pietrasanta, giving some welcome shade from the scorching summer sun.

Pietrasanta is a small Tuscan town, hidden from most tourists as the best places usually are. The old town is pedestrian only. Nearby are the marble hills of Carrara. Artists have been here since ancient times sourcing the marble.

Yet despite the weight of history, Pietrasanta is very much alive. Her artistic endeavours did not stop with Michelangelo, but instead still thrive. Not only do artisan shops abound, but locals live here, outnumbering the tourists. All promenading of an evening and fill the restaurants, the tables spilling over into the streets. Even the way shops and house are decorated is an artwork.

And then there were the umbrellas. Hundreds of them, hanging between the buildings. Each summer the town is filled with artistic displays (in an old cathedral I listened to La Boheme as I pondered paintings) but this exuberance of umbrellas was perhaps the most colourful of all. I shall have to return next year to see if they are outdone.

If planning a visit to Tuscany, may I suggest the blog My Travel in Tuscany

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Saturday, 23 September 2017

Six Reasons To Visit Kyoto - A Photo Essay
A nice way to pass the afternoon

I found this pair fishing by a canal in Kyoto. The Philosopher's Walk is a beautiful walk lined with cherry blossoms in the Higashiyama district. It begins at the Silver Pavilion and follows a walk taken most days by one of Japan's most famous philosophers, Nishida Kitaro - and also teddy bears.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Marble Quarries of Carrara

The marble quarries of Carrara

Today I discovered the marble quarries of Carrara, in Tuscany. I'm not too far from Florence, yet feel a world away.

The marble quarries of Carrara

All week I have been sweltering in +30 C temperatures, but the up here in the mountains the air is cool. A mist has rolled in over the mountain tops, and droplets of water sweep by in the breeze.

I stand in awe at the sheer size of these blocks. The entire mountains are made from marble, and have been mined since antiquity. Think Roman Forum, then Michelangelo's David. Both made from marble from this quarry.

The marble quarries of Carrara

The morning passes, and it is time for coffee in Carrara. Later I will visit the Arts Academy, and wander past the Duomo where art students are busy with hammer and chisel. The whole town, it seems, is made of marble.

Like my photos? - if you feel like contributing to my coffers, please click the link to buy either my photos from the micro-stock site 123RF, or products from my store, EnsoCreations. Cheers! 
Otherwise, please click the link if you are inspired to travel, or simply looking for ideas or advice.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

The Dog of Bruges

One of my favourite memories of Bruges was the Dog of Bruges. He has since passed away, but I will always remember him watching the tourists barges as they drifted past his window.


Like Venice, the canals of Bruges make it impossible to walk in a straight line; I found it simplest to follow a canal. The Groenerei (or Green Canal) is one of the old town’s major waterways, and was only two bridges away from my hotel. As I walked along I was surprised to see a golden retriever pawing at a window of the Côté Canal Hotel.

The delightful canals of Bruges

Unseen hands opened the window and spread out a quilt, and the dog made himself quite comfortable lying across the windowsill, soaking up the sun as he watched the world go by.

How could you not fall in love with this town?

I hadn’t yet heard of the famous Dog of Bruges. Every morning he settled into place as the tourist boats started up for the day. Apart from appearing in the photos of every tourist who passed, he even starred in both TV commercials and movies (including a two second cameo for In Bruges). 

May I start now?

I know I'll return to Bruges, such a delightful discovery, but I'm glad to have seen this lovely dog, who took such delight in all who passed by.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Watching the Dawn at Angkor Wat

Just before dawn

          The strangest part was walking in the dark, using the torches on our phone to light the way. All I could hear were our footsteps, and the noises of the jungle – plus the occasional swearing as someone tripped in the dark
          I’d woken before dawn, and left my hotel in Siam Reap before the sun rose. Most tourists reach Angkor Wat via the front entrance, where a grand causeway stretches over a wide moat. Instead, my guide led me in from the east, where thick tree roots stretched across our path. Suddenly the jungle cleared and the temple rose before me: a black shadow against a dark blue sky, the grandeur of a world long gone.

A temple hidden in the jungle

          As Homer once wrote about another vanished world, Dawn comes early, with rosy fingers. As she does so Angkor Wat rose from the darkness. Hundreds of people stood around me, yet in the darkness I stood alone, watching the temple emerge along with the past. My guide had me to the edge of an ancient library pool, where the reflection of the temple floated amongst the lotus flowers. A light rain fell, and Angkor Wat rippled across the water.
          As dawn comes, so does the heat. I took my time exploring the temple complex. Ankor Wat means temple city, and it really cannot be explored in a day. Built at the height of the Angkor Empire, Angkor Wat reflects the artistic splendour and achievements of the time. Despite the hoards of tourists, I easily found places to sit by myself, or wander along empty stone corridors and try to imagine how the place must have been in its heyday, with the moats full of water and the temples overflowing with locals, monks and royalty.

An empty corridor

          As the sun rose ever higher and the humidity bordered on overwhelming, I took a ride in a hot-air balloon. The size of the temple complex is quite staggering, larger than can be appreciated when wandering it by foot in the heat of the day. The vastness of the jungle stretched in all directions below me and in the distance, other temples peeped from amongst the trees.
What lingers most in my memory is the atmosphere. Despite all the hype, despite the tourists jostling for the best view, Angkor Wat remains a place beyond my imagination. The mere sight at dawn brought the sense of the distant past, so that it stood beside me in the darkness of that jungle.

View from on high

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Exploring the Mekong - My Own Heart of Darkness

Exploring the Mekong

The river washed away the humidity of the wet-season. A soft breeze drifted over the water, granting some relief from the heat. Our little wooden boat putted further and further upstream as a wall of green closed around us. Civilisation seemed far away.
In Heart of Darkness, Conrad described the Congo as a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land.” The same can be said of the Mekong. Rising in China, it flows through six countries before blossoming into the Mekong Delta, a web of waterways in southern Vietnam covering some 60,000 square kilometres.

Exploring the Mekong

    Our boat soon left the main waterway behind, and we entered that mesh of intersecting waterways. Yesterday I had been in Hoi An; now I had lost all sense of direction, and wondered how our driver would ever find where we were headed, let alone the way back. Each little ‘water road’ looked the same. Local houses opened straight onto the water, kids splashed amongst the mangroves, and women did their washing on the banks, piles of bright clothes beside them or stretched on poles to dry. Wooden boats lay drawn up amongst the mangroves or tied to a hidden jetty. Not a car was to be heard. Fishing nets were strung through the water, or hung on trees, drying.
The waterways became ever more narrow. Aside from the occasional glimpse of a house or a mooring, the known world seemed forgotten. A maze of tiny water-alleys opened off on either side of the river, and the heat of the day closed down around us. The only sounds were of the river lapping lazily against the boat, the buzz of dragon-flies or the splash of a walking fish. Masses of hyacinths adorned the riverbanks, and the vegetation smothered old houses and forgotten boat sheds. Kingfishers darted amongst the greenery. At times the water was so shallow the river bed was easily visible hence the long, narrow boats with their shallow draft.

Exploring the Mekong

In the middle of nowhere our boat pulled into the bank to some forgotten stairs. At their top stood a house built of the most beautiful dark wood, with the front room, full of intricate carvings, dedicated to the family ancestors. The family had prepared lunch for us. (Some places offer overnight stays; apparently the fireflies are spectacular once darkness falls.)
Sitting on a large open verandah to catch the breezes, our meal began with deep fried elephant fish, served upright and held in place with chopsticks. Despite the forbidding appearance, the flesh had a very delicate flavour. Our host quickly shredded the fish with chopsticks, and used it to make rice paper rolls. Next came prawns, pork with rice, then a platter of fresh fruit.
As the others snoozed in some hammocks I went for a short stroll. Following a winding dirt path a stones throw from the river, I often couldnt see the water through the deep undergrowth. A turn in the path, and I was lost to view; its easy to understand how people wander into the jungle never to be seen again.

Exploring the Mekong

Later we headed further upstream, only this time in a tiny boat rowed by a lady who, much like a gondolier, stood at the back wielding two oars. As we drifted along the heavens opened, and a tropical shower left us drenched within a few minutes. It just as quickly passed, and soon we sat steaming in the heat.

We returned to our main boat and so cruised onto Can Tho. Later that evening we caught a boat from the hotel into town (a five minute ride in darkness). Bobbing lights marked where other boats lay on the expanse of black water. A tropical storm rolled in as we dined on a balcony overlooking the Mekong, and I watched the black clouds billowing over the horizon. Soon sheets of lightening filled the sky. I never found Kurtz, but even as we sipped on cocktails part of me remained in the wilderness, deep in a Vietnamese heart of darkness.

Exploring the Mekong

The Literary Traveller: In Heart of Darkness, Conrad described the Congo as “a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land.” The same can be said of the Mekong. Reading Heart of Darkness while cruising this network of waterways, it is easy to understand how the rules and decorums of the 'civilised' world become increasing irrelevant the further you travel along the river. To stay on the river overnight and listen to the sounds of the jungle, is to hear the primeval world which so intrigued Marlow, and captured the mind and soul of Kurtz.

Like my photos? - if you feel like contributing to my coffers, please click the link to buy either my photos from the micro-stock site 123RF, or products from my store, EnsoCreationsCheers! 
Otherwise, please click the link if you are inspired to travel, or simply looking for ideas or advice.

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