Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Day 1, the tour in New Delhi, India



While I had to write my ‘basic’ understanding of India’s History in the previous blog, the tour itself gave further insight into why New Delhi was such a focal point for the invading Afghans. To understand it better you need to know that ‘New Delhi’ really is an assortment of 8 cities, all built at various times, under various circumstances and ‘Empires’.

The “Old” Delhi was really the first city and was a bunch of temples, 27 temples dated from the 800s, huddled together to be exact, each one with its separate supporting infrastructure of buildings according to the Hindu way of life. Not just housing for the masses but buildings according to their caste. The 4 main castes, Priests, Warriors, Merchants and Laborers were all attached to each temple; each one of them having so many sub-casts that boggle the mind. Just know Old Delhi, the first city, was a large temple city with unimaginable riches. How rich you ask? Before the Afghans plundered it and destroyed it?

Google PADMANABHASWAMY Temple. This temple, fairly recently, opened one of its vaults to the government of India to evaluate their treasure of gold and jewels for tax purposes. The results were mind blowing; Values in the trillions of US Dollars in just one of their hiding places in just a few of their vaults in just one temple. Old Delhi was known for her riches, remember old Delhi had 27 temples, each one with their own structure and support group. Yes, the Afghan looting was stupendous. What is left today of old Delhi is one replica, one skeleton, one attempt to show how it might have been. It is still impressive; it still bears mysteries that cannot truly be explained. The Iron Pillar for example, a pillar that does not rust despite being 1700 years old.

Nobody really knows what is below ground level in this ancient place. A minaret was erected in the 1100s after the big Afghan plunder, made out of stone, layers stacked on top of each other without mortar. This minaret (Qutab Minar) has been standing for centuries now, even earthquakes did no damage it. Look a little deeper into India and talk to the people and they will tell you the myriads of stories, secrets and knowledge amassed over centuries. I found the people helpful, easy to talk to, smiling and accepting of their place in life.

After old Delhi we visited the peculiar cemetery of Humayun’stomb. It is not at all an ordinary tomb. This “cemetery” was, at the time it was established, way outside the city and was laid out like a Persian garden, representing Paradise. Humayun’s widow took it upon herself to build a memorial, a tomb for her late husband. Humayun was addicted to opium and most likely OD’d, dying youngish. His wife, Bega Begum, was grieved stricken and with the help of a Persian (Iran) architect erected this memorial; a first ever display of grandeur and love from the royals. This tomb is a precursor for the later built, now world famous Taj Mahal. The whole cemetery Paradise Garden is supplanted with other tomb buildings, too. Some of those buildings were built to prolong relationships even in the afterlife. Bega Begum’ gold smith has a tomb built near her burial place. Humayun’s opium supplier was honored with a tomb near his mausoleum. The whole layout, the whole gardens and all the buildings within it are immense. We saw the sarcophagus of Humayun and his favorite wife Bega Begum, but their real grave was below ground. According to Islamic tradition the actual graves should not be disturbed by noisy and nosy “tourists”.  I kind of liked the idea of letting them ‘Rest in Peace’.   Amen.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Day 1 in New Delhi, India

Day 1 in New Delhi, India

I woke up @ 6AM, I just could not sleep any longer, and the time change had hold of my body. Breakfast was huge and almost too much to choose from and I had that at 8 AM. Our first tour started at 12.30 PM, so what do I do?

Not much could be seen from our hotel compound, the walls, the greenery, and the gardens all blocked off the daily life. I felt like a nightingale in the golden cage. I tried to explore the beautiful looking garden that surrounded the hotel structure, I even saw a herb garden, all prim and properly labeled, but the smell when the gardeners used human manure drove me back to the lobby.

I met some people in our group there and Fiona, our permanent guide, along with her husband Gary, introduced themselves and then at 1.00 PM we started our first bus tour. The local guide, a female by
Prithy Our Local Guide
the name of Prithy (the name means “Love”) met us wearing a beautiful sari. Her English was excellent, her demeanor and looks were even better. She wore a large ‘bindi’ (red dot on forehead, indicating a married woman) even though, she told us, she is not married. Prithy feels the bindi protects her from unwanted advances from certain males. Her first tour showed us the old British layout of New Delhi, the important old British buildings, now used as Government offices made a very impressive view. Everything about New Delhi in the previous British area, is done on a very grand, almost pompous scale. Fountains, parks, treed avenues, lanes and streets all are splendid. Even the private living quarters of the common, British subjects were stunning. Naturally all those installations are dated today, the British Empire Style not being in vogue any longer; still it’s an impressive display of wealth.

To lay the ground work for our understanding of India, Prithy gave us a general overview of India’s history. Here is some general, basic Indian history that puts things in perspective:

India first became significant to the Western world when Alexander the Great in about 326 BC won the Battle of Hydaspes. Trade and communication were opened, ideas were swapped. Not much happened after that until about the 8th Century when Northern India was overrun by Islam coming from Afghanistan. India was an assortment of tribes, clans, families or kingdoms: thousands of them. Some were large, most rather small. Nepal is one of those left over old Kingdoms. So is Bhutan, so was Tibet, etc. All practicing a religion we today call Hinduism. Hinduism has many facets. Just like Christianity has many “sects” (Catholic, Protestant, Baptists, Greek Orthodox, Latter Day Saints –Mormon (LDS), Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc., etc., so does Hinduism have various sects or spin offs. Some even believe that Buddhism is a form of Hinduism.

There was a constant tension among those early Kingdoms all vying for a top spot. There used to be a lot of infighting, too. Each Kingdom had a warrior class and they had to be kept busy. In fact it was very similar to early European history, when I look back to Germany or any other European country around the year 700.

All of this this ended when Islam started to spread. After Islam spread into what is today Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, the newly united Afghan tribes, united under Islam, overran the smallish Indian kingdoms. The Afghans, in the name of Allah, conquered and plundered. Plundered Northern India first, and then moved steadily southward. The smallish kingdoms of India had no chance against the marauding advances of Afghans. The invaders were ruthless, brutal and cruel. The Khanate of Timor the Terrible, also known as Tamerlane and his descendants were of importance during that time. The Afghan period of invasion of India (700 to 1500) brought forth total conquest. The whole social structure of India was affected and even though Hinduism survived, it was mostly supplanted by Islam. Indian life after those damaging, looting years was changed forever. Many ideas that flourished before were now over-ruled and guided by underlying Islamic principles. Arranged marriages are just one example. No education for women. The whole view of women in society was reshaped. While before there were female priests, now only men could rule. The Afghan, Islamic conquest of India was disastrous. The Afghans destroyed, they did not rebuild. They raped and pillaged. They only took without regard for the misery they left behind.
Islamic Cultural Centre

The rebuilding, the ripping down and then replacing with new or better structures was left to the Persians (Iran) who replaced, even drove out the Afghans after the year 1500. The invention of gun powder, cannons and rifles helped here tremendously.  When I say Persians I really mean the Mongols. Ah, yes, history tells you a lot of things. Remember Attila the Hun? Remember Genghis Khan, the Golden Hordes? The real rulers of Persia around 1500 were the Mongols (Mogul, Mughal) who conquered Persia during the times of the Golden Hordes (1220 AD). The ruling classes in Persia were the Khans. The word khanate means a Khan is in charge, a Khan is a Mongol chief, a Mongol King, an Emperor. In translation the word has changed from Mongol to Mogul. Yes, all the Indian Moguls were pure Mongols. They were proud to be Non-Indian, Asiatic looking with slanted eyes. Are you surprised? I was! I never thought the Mongols ruled India, but they sure did. And those Mongols were Islamic, too, in a more “refined” sort of Islamic way. Smarter it seems, more artistic. These Moguls built palaces, showed splendor and introduced changes but were more benefactors, rather than thieves.
Modern Former British Area

India had many Empires rule over her. Europeans tried to conquer, the Portuguese, the French, the Dutch and lastly the British. India was called the crown jewel in the crown of Queen Victoria. “Great” Britain made most of her money with the products she took from India. Sure they built roads, installed forts, brought law to the masses, dictated the way to do business, built a railroad, etc., etc. but only in their own self-interest. Roads made it easier to transport items out of India. Trains could do it in greater quantity. The British tried to re-educate the masses here, tried to install a Christian outlook into things but India is India. Just go ahead, try to tell an Indian person not to walk barefooted. Just try to tell them to not eat such spicy food. They will smile at you, say yes and go on doing their own thing. All the conquerors have learned that lesson.
Often Saw 3 People on a Motorcycle

India has her own traffic rules, too. Do I understand them? No, but somehow, it all works.

Our first day in New Delhi was an introduction to this country. Thank you Prithy for your comments, I learned a lot.







Again 3 People on a Motorcycle
















Flight from Toronto to New Delhi, India

Flight from YYZ to New Delhi, India

A big name on my bucket list was always India. I listened to many people who have visited and heard mixed reviews of likes or dislikes. It seems there is no middle ground, you either love India or you don't. Since 2017 is a year that adds a 0 to my birthday, and I don't seem to get younger, I thought now is the time to visit and find out where I stand regarding a love for India.
Ready to Take Off

It is a long direct flight from Toronto, ON to New Delhi. Even though we had premium economy seats, after 14 hours my butt ached. We flew over Greenland, the northern parts of Norway, Russia, Uzbekistan and then Afghanistan to reach India. The time change is somewhat of a killer. We left at 9.30 PM and arrived at 9.30 PM, but we arrived the next day.

Route Over Russia & Afghanistan






Entry into India, especially the immigration service is VERY tedious and slow and was made especially difficult by dedicated, yet seemingly incompetent officers or bureaucrats. Even before entering India I had to apply for 2 visas as we were leaving and then returning to India. The process online is arcane and cumbersome. But even having done all the preliminaries, once in front of the immigration officer, having a valid visa in hand, the process to enter India is frustrating. My visa had a picture on it, yet I was photographed again. The fingerprint machine did not work; it took 6 trials to finally get my fingerprints recorded. The whole procedure for me took about 20 minutes, with hundreds of people behind me waiting in line to pass through the same immigration. What further puzzled me is that some officers were much more efficient, I must have drawn the especially inefficient, working by the letter of the book, older gentleman, who sure took his sweet time.

Once past immigration and having collected our luggage, things improved immensely. The New Delhi tour representative, Harry, met us once we stepped out of the confined Airport gate and took over. With the help of the guide, India became a wonderland of how things work. Porters move your luggage, the guide phones the pick-up car to meet you in the predetermined spot and off you go to the hotel. We opted, when we booked our tour, to prepay all tipping. Looking back it was a good policy and made my life a lot easier. We did not tip the porters, he was not allowed to take tips by airport policy and the pickup car driver was tipped by the travel agency. Still, not following the rules, as I am prone to do often, I slipped the porter a tip anyhow. He helped us a lot during the ordeal at immigration. But, I had to be sly about the tipping, video cameras record all transactions and the fellow would have lost his job if the recordings showed that I tipped him. Those rules are strict. Nobody though, watches what the guides do to each other, so our tour guide tipped him outside in my name and I gave the money to the tour guide later, in the bus.
Traffic!

On the way from the airport to the hotel, sitting in the bus, looking out the window I received my first impression of how traffic moves in India. Wow ! It is hard to describe. If there is logic behind it, but I did not get the logic. Driving law specifies driving on the left side on the road, like in Great Britain. But India for sure is nothing, not even close to as organized as that. Mopeds, motorcycles, pushcarts, walking people, animals, objects, road conditions, etc. etc. all add to, what seems to me chaos. Yet traffic flows. I will write more about traffic in some later reports, but my first impression was a question starting to form in my head, “ how does this work “, it seemed impossible that it could work, but please remember, traffic does flow, in fact flows quite rapidly, given the obstacles one has to avoid. After some time I just let the driver do his thing, I forced myself no not look at the traffic and watched the scenery flow by. The way from the airport to the hotel was mostly highway driving and once we got off the modern highways we passed through the embassy section were traffic was light and we made quick progress.
Hotel Lobby From Our Hallway Balcony

Arriving at the hotel we had to pass strict security. The car was thoroughly inspected, even the trunk had to be opened, and the engine compartment had to be popped open for a visual inspection. Upon leaving the car all luggage was x-rayed and I had to walk past a full body scanner. The whole hotel compound was walled and guarded.

By the time I reached my nice room and was ready for some sleep it was midnight.

Well, I am in India now, ready for whatever comes my way.



Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Iceland

Iceland
Who in their right mind would go to Iceland in December? That is the reaction I received when I told folks Carol and I are going to Iceland. The name Iceland, itself spells out lots of cold, snow, ice and inhospitable weather, (actually Iceland was warmer than Toronto for the week we were there) and Iceland is so far away from the norm of most people. Sure Iceland has beaches and lagoons but those places are not for the faint hearted I heard. People talk a lot and tell you all kinds of stories but I found that most of the time, those places that are ‘shunned’ are the most interesting, the most different, and the best places to visit. We did not go by motorcycle this time, however.

Carol wanted to see the Northern lights and winter is the best time of year to do that. We booked a 6 day, 5 night trip to make sure we got to see that light show when they advertised a sale on Travel Zoo and all in all it worked out fine for us. Carol even found an app to see the daily predictions for when and where the light show is most likely at its best.  

It is a bit of a cookie cutter trip and I am not used to being herded since most times I travel independently and like it my way best, but for this short duration, having a booked tour was just fine.
We flew from Toronto to Reykjavik non-stop and the airline the travel company used was WOW Airlines. I never heard of them before but yes, there is a WOW airline. 

We each had a Bag This Size But we Stuffed Our Pockets
I call this airline a bus that flies. You get a seat and that is it. We had a severe limit on luggage unless we wanted to pay extra, which I refused to do. The airline checked the carry-on bags for each passenger before boarding and strictly enforced their size and weight limits. During the 5 hour flight there was food service, but one had to buy the food. Even water was not given out free of charge. Everything extra, besides the basic seat, was an up-charge. I seem to have been spoiled while flying. It truly was a glorified bus fare we paid for. The plane was almost totally full and we were lucky to have had good seats.

On the return flight we had to ask for better seats (we were first assigned seats several rows apart) and then were given the emergency exit row. Carol was stuck in the middle but that was really the best we could get. Would I fly WOW again?  Only if there was no other way to get there.

We landed at 4 AM local time in Reykjavik due to the 5 hour time change between Toronto and Iceland. Something we did not pay attention to when we first booked. After we arrived at the hotel we were told our room would not be ready until 3 PM the same day. That was a wait of 11 hours! We were sitting in the lobby, nodding off to sleep from exhaustion.  That was bad planning from us and from the Travel Agent. I guess nobody thought of it, since the booking agent was in London and for London there is no time difference after the flight, same time zone for British folks. And British folks do not land at 4 AM. Carol and I did not like this predicament a bit, and yet? What is there to do?
Trying to Stay Awake Until Our Room is Ready



At noon, the management of the hotel found a room for us and we crashed and slept for a few hours. We had our first Northern Lights tour booked for the day of arrival but luckily this tour was cancelled because it rained heavily. There were so many clouds. There was no chance to see the light show. We slept soundly that first night.

What I found profoundly different was the way a day is structured in an Icelandic winter. Dawn does not happen until about 11 AM. And then dusk starts again at around 3 or 4 PM. The rest of the day is dark! So you wake up at let’s say 8 am and it’s pitch dark outside. Do you get up? Or do you sleep in a bit?  Until what time do you sleep?  10 AM? Icelanders start work at 9 am like the rest of the world but I found it difficult to adjust to the loss of daylight; both ways, in the am and pm.
Our Hotel

For the first full day we were on our own and we elected to visit Reykjavik proper taking the local bus that stopped next to the hotel. We are getting really good at taking local buses in strange towns. Our hotel was near the harbor and was called Hafnarfjordur and Icelandic names are a tongue breaker. Even for me, who speaks German, Old Icelandic is difficult on the ears. But when I break ii down, Hafnar = Hafen and Fjordur = Fjord then it makes more sense to me.  Instinctively I try immediately to learn the language. This happens to me at any place we stay for a while. We managed well since most people in Iceland speak English. You would think that English was their main language that’s how good most are speaking it. So getting around, asking questions, and finding your way was no problem at all.

On the second day, we visited the National Museum.   This was an excellent stop because it showed us when people
Very Heavy Chain Mail
immigrated to Iceland, how things started and developed. Iceland’s heritage is well known, documented and researched. It was a perfect beginning to get this starting version of the Island Nation. Not to be preaching but it is worthwhile to learn more about Iceland and its spot in the world by reading this.
Actual Size of Their Ships



At 7.30 pm on the same day we had a bus come to the Hotel to pick us up for the trip to see the Northern lights. It’s the typical tourist thing where the bus collects people from various hotels and then takes them to the ‘spot’ where it is perfectly dark and the visibility is good to watch the ‘light’ show. So we arrived at the shore of a bay, with a darkened lighthouse and waited for the clouds to disappear. About another 10 buses full of people collected in the same spot. People were gawking about, the one small bathroom was over crowed (one stall was broken) and people stood and waited. And waited! The clouds did not move on, they just sat there, teasing everybody. At about 9.30 pm, we left this spot to move via bus to another spot near another bay. Naturally, so did all the other buses too. The new spot was near an old church with a largish cemetery around the building. Some graves were
Graveyard Lights
decorated with lit crosses or ornaments in honor of Christmas, I believe. I had never seen this before; it must be a Nordic way of adding the deceased to the Christmas cheer.

Again, we waited for the clouds to move on, to give us a clear view of the sky, of the stars, of the lights that swirl around the heavens. We waited………until about midnight and even a little later……nothing!
Everybody was a bit gloomy, this was not supposed to be like that, we live in a push button society and we could not push a button to make the clouds go away……. Shucks, all
this effort for nothing? Yep, nature did not co-operate, no Northern Lights……we have to do this again some other time. Maybe we will go again tomorrow?
An Old Church

No, we could not do it then, because we had also booked the "Golden Circle Tour”, where a bus picks you up at the hotel in the morning and takes you into some of the interior of the island. We were ready and the camera battery was loaded. Our bus guide spoke English perfectly and was also very proud of his Icelandic heritage. Only about 330,000 people make up the population of all of Iceland and half of these live in Reykjavik. Not a lot of people, really, yet they are very organized and very entrepreneurial. The Golden Circle
Walking Through the Rift on a Rainy Day
 Tour was well thought out and is definitely worth taking. We learned about and were shown where the American and European Tectonic plates meet. These plates are moving in opposite directions causing a monumental rift that is still very active and is the heart of Iceland. It still pulses and is a center of Icelandic pride. The rift opens up into a valley - Thingvellir National Park. The area is covered with fissures, cracks, gorges, rifts. It felt primeval looking, wild and raw. The people walking among the lava, rocks and boulders looked ant-like, small and disproportionate to the force nature displays.
The President's Summer Home
This Valley was where the first government of Iceland was formed in 930. The current President of Iceland has a summer ‘’cottage” built smack in the middle of the valley, but that is the only house visible. Visiting dignitaries stay here and have a special view of the land that is Iceland.
When sitting in the bus, the landscape looks barren and desolate and lonely. On foot it would be a huge chore to cross the lava fields, the hills, the meadows, the rivers and rivulets.

One of our stops was the GullfossWaterfall. In the early 20th Century, an English company
Gullfoss Waterfall
wanted to dam a river to create electricity but was stopped by the farmer’s daughter, who would rather kill herself than see this beauty spot defiled by something as mundane as a dam. This story today is part of Icelandic folklore.

On the circle tour is a Valley called Haukadalur, home of the geysir (sic). It is an eerie landscape full of sulfur smells and bubbling pots of mud and hissing hot water spots, overshadowed by heavy steam. A pathway wide enough for the hordes of tourists winds itself through the area. Still, the very hot temperatures of the water, the proximity of all
Bubbling Mud and Water
these strange sounds and sights make for an unusual experience. We traipsed through and over hot water rivulets to stand close to the geyser that erupts about every 10 minutes. Even knowing what is coming, when the hot water shot up into the air, instinctively I jumped back to protect myself. I was a safe distance away, yet……. Mother Nature shows us that we are very, very small and totally superfluous in her mind. Watch out for your footing when you are near or around the geysers.
Strokkur Geysir (sic)
The tour, including a lunch break, took all day. There was not enough time left to go on the Northern Light tour again. And………it rained, of course. Iceland receives about 8 times more rain in a year than Great Britain. Rain is almost constant and continues off and on in the winter. Icelanders say, if you do not like the weather in Iceland, wait a few minutes, it will change immediately. We had rain every day while we were in Iceland.

With all this water falling out of the sky, with all the snow melting, the ground is saturated with water. Bogs, mud puddles abound. The geysers never run out of ground water, it is constantly replenished by all the rains coming down. I believe that in the summer months it might be less rainy, but I cannot say for sure.  Iceland is a country where soil is still being made by erosion due to wind, water and decay. Iceland is like most of Earth was millions of years ago; Primeval to the point where man has no real influence on how the land behaves. All we can do is visit and stare at it in awe.

Icelanders have found a good balance, they do not fight nature; they just use it. Geothermal stations harness the power of the many underground volcanoes. Electricity and heating are produced via the geothermal activity. Iceland is independent of oil. Sure cars run on gasoline, but it is just a matter of time, already there are plenty of electric cars that find plenty of charging stations. Everybody has a cell phone, everybody has work, and everybody lives well and eats daily. Iceland is part of Europe, even if it is far removed from the mainland. Their housing and lifestyle seem to be modern and their clothing seems to be fashionable from what we could see in the two major cities that we visited. Public transport is being used; all stops are called out or displayed on signs, etc. Iceland works!

Icelandic Horse

On the way back from the Golden Circle Tour we stopped at a horse farm but it was dark already by the time we got there and all we could do was visit the horses in the barn. The Icelandic horse is pony sized and is a special breed left over from when the Norwegian or Danish Immigrants came to settle the area.
   It is not really related to the Shetland pony, but is a separate old breed from years ago. This particular stable we visited breeds horses for sale throughout the world and also lets you ride horses through their neighborhood, if you like, but….. It was too late to do that.

Icelandic Horse
We could not ride the horses but, what we could do, though; take another tour to find the Northern Lights. It was said that the next day would be cloudless so we booked ourselves on the bus again. But when we came to the lobby the following night, there was a swarm of people waiting for the bus. I am not a crowd lover, I always feel like cattle when I see all those people lined up to do something. Carol knows it by now and we decided to forgo joining the hordes, no matter the cloudless sky.
As it turned out, there were clouds that night also so this outing was a bummer, too.

It’s not that easy finding the Northern Lights, no matter the web pages, the ready cameras and the time of year. Carol however is determined; she has this stick-to-itiveness that sometimes awes me. She made sure we got another attempt on the last
Aurora Borealis - Awesome
night of our time in Iceland and sure enough, this time the sky is clear and the stars sparkle, but where are the Northern Lights?  Even though we have clear sky it is a waiting game. After hours of patiently biding our time there it is. A slow building of an arc-like light source that, when photographed shows up in green. I had to laugh, though, my cheap camera, in the total dark, did not capture any lights whatsoever. I looked through the screen finder and all I saw was pitch black. All this waiting and I had no pictures. Leave it to Carol, though, she has a better camera and her shots were a lot better. We were at the same light house location when we saw the light show, even with the same slew of buses and all the people but that is part of the norm, I guess. To find an isolated, dark beach with a clear spot to show the Northern Lights one has to probably rent a car and head out into the unknown on your own. I am glad we finally got the shot Carol so wanted and to see this phenomenon in real time. It is one of the Earth’s wonders to see, I guess we’re lucky, because 5 minutes after the first sighting of the lights, the weather changed again, clouds moved in, and it even started to rain in buckets. But by that time we were back on the bus, returning to our hotel.

The Blue Lagoon

On our last day our schedule called for a visit to the famous ‘’ Blue Lagoon “. We packed our bathing suits and headed out, again by bus, after being picked up at the hotel. Now I know there are crowds at the Lagoon and I was not disappointed. A snake of people wound around the entrance dividers but on the whole the masses moved along. Finding a changing room or a locker was a bit of a challenge. I waited a bit, and then found a spot. Everything is modern and electronic. You wear an armband that unlocks, and locks your locker and opens the doors throughout the spa. You can even order a drink or lunch using this fob that you wear on your wrist,
Carol With The Mud Pack On
like a watch. Iceland is modern. Remember, Iceland is well advanced in electronics. The Blue Lagoon is a well-choreographed place in every detail. TV monitors tell you to wash thoroughly, even your hair and to leave the conditioner on in the Lagoon. The minerals in the 100 F water are so strong they will make your hair unmanageable without the conditioner. The transition from the showers to the actual lagoon happens quickly, the air is so cool (cold) that you rush to get into the hot water. The water in the lagoon is milky with a blue tint to it. Four million gallons of thermally heated mineral ground water is mixed with colder sea water. The result is what you bathe
Hans With The Mud Pack On
in. All of the water in the lagoon is exchanged every 40 hours. The place is large; it does not seem crowded once we were in the water. We even added a scouring agent to our faces (mud pack) to take full advantage of this therapeutic treatment. Yes, we looked beautiful! But so did everybody else. Smart as the Icelanders are, there is a pool side bar. You can have your drinks while being in the water. We had a health drink but most drank beer or stronger stuff. You pay with your armband fob, which is linked to your credit card. We noticed that the lifeguards throughout the installations wore winter gear. They wore full overcoats, hats, gloves and heavy boots. It is only warm and
Lifeguard Dressed Warmly and with a Reflective Vest
cozy within the water, if you have to walk or stand around away from it, it’s cold and windy and wintry. We were aglow when we came out of the lagoon’s waters after about 40 minutes. We showered again, got dressed but moved slower, relaxed actually. The minerals in the water sure did their thing. Once back at the hotel we even needed a nap. We felt wonderful, at ease and one with the world. I wish they had this kind of spa in our neighborhood in Toronto.



Red Faces After our Swim and Mud Pack Treatment
Iceland, a great spot to visit! Yes, I would go to Iceland again, but this time not on a tour, finding a hotel when we could, travelling via bike if possible. I would go in the summer, travel all around the total Island and crawl into every crevice, glacier, volcano where they allow a visit. Sure it can be touristy but then, we are a crowded planet now, even Iceland is not the end of the world but it comes close to being the beginning. At least one can see how it all started when our planet developed a land mass. Iceland gives you a clue how it was then………because in Iceland land is still being made daily, with volcanoes spitting out lava that turn the sea into land.

Most of the Landscape is Lava Rock and Barren
One particular thought lingered in my mind, though. Iceland has no animals. No deer, no wild life. A fox here and there is the only predator, living exclusively off birds or small vermin. The horses the immigrants brought are there, sure. And there are, it is said to be, a few reindeer in or around the center of the island, but no wildlife. No, I was told, we don’t want to import wild life, we want to keep Iceland the way it was when we found it. I admire that. There are no front lawns, there are just a few largish trees near the coast, and the Island looks different because it has been left unchanged. Good or bad, Iceland is a wild county, a living example of living on the edge; on the edge of the European/American Tectonic plates. I like Iceland. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Mini Rallies

Just for the record, here are some of the stops made in 2016 and the rides we took.
Besides plays, operas and visits from friends and family we kept busy.

Every Month we have a Breakfast meeting at the Niagara BMW Motorcycle Club and another meeting of the Ontario BMW Motorcycle Club. Naturally, when we are not around we miss those meetings.

May 2016: Wellsboro, PA
Wynken, Blynken and Nod
It is becoming an annual affair to meet the Ontario Club members in this small PA town for wine, cheese and a few days of just getting together. The club rides as a group, but I am not a group rider, so we just ride ourselves and meet them there. In town is a statue of Wynken, Blynken and Nod, make of bronze. I did not know this poem so I looked it up. The poem was written by a former Wellsboro Resident, Eugene Field in 1889. It seems I had a ‘hole’ in my knowledge, so here is the poem if you never heard of it.

https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Wynken,_Blynken,_and_Nod    a very cute story I never heard of before.

June 2016: Bracebridge, ON
Horizons Unlimited had their annual Travel Adventurers Rally in this nice location. We spent a long weekend there with food included, slept in bunk beds like the old camping days from school. We enjoyed meeting new people that love riding motorcycles too. Seminars dealt with tricks and advice for travelers; what visa to get, what website or app to download, what farkle to add to the bike, etc.



July 2016: Hamburg, NY (MOA Rally)
About 6000 folks showed up for this annual event of the Motorcycle Owners of America which this year was held in Hamburg, NY, just a bit south of Buffalo, NY. This was so close to Toronto that many Canadians visited for this rally. In fact the chair people who organized the rally and had the most say was John (Dutch) Lammers and his wife and co-chair, Kate Lammers.  They did an outstanding job; this was one of the best rallies I have attended. We arrived early and left late and spent the whole week learning about new things that have been developed for motorcycle riders. The seminars dealt with how to: fix flat tires, fix modern bikes with Can-bus electrical systems, pack soft luggage, camp better, etc. etc.  There is almost too much offered, but we had fun. I bought a Moto Softback (a stuff sack for my camping gear), which I found too irresistible not to buy it. Smiles! Carol won the oldest female rider award.


August 2016: Heath, MA
The Damn Yankee Beemer Rally was a meeting I had heard and read about but never visited. The site was deep in the woods, no store was near, and the closest town was 30 minutes via moto. A wonderful location and the rally folks did their darnedest to keep everybody ‘busy’ and occupied, but for me, it was a bit of a downer. I was spoiled from the experience I had at the MOA, I guess. Still, I am glad I went because now I can say I attended at least once. We camped, of course and the weather held out wonderfully. The area is a fantastic area to ride one’s motorcycle. Heath is very close to the Southern Vermont border.


Trenton, ON
Loon Award
On the way back from Heath we just had to attend the ‘last’ Return to Trenton Motorcycle Rally. Unfortunately there are not enough attendees to keep this rally going. Trenton was the site of the only MOA rally that was not on U.S. soil but it was a wonderful rally 10 years ago. Ever since, the Canadians celebrated their success with the ‘Return to Trenton Rally’ which is now defunct. This year’s rally was the last. Carol won oldest female rider and received a loon statue, the last of its kind, a collector’s item now. Jean Copas auctioned off whatever she could at a flea market kind of setting, so I bought a soft helmet case for travelling. Could not resist the price of CAN $


September 2016:  Watkins Glen, NY
We also attended the annual Finger Lakes BMW Rally, a get together that at one time was talked about being ended but is still going. I like this rally because you can bring the ‘stuff’ you have accumulated during your lifetime and try to sell it at the flea market that they hold for this purpose. It is difficult to pack additional stuff on your bike that you ‘might’ sell, but I do try to bring something every year. And ….   I usually sell stuff.  I keep the prices ridiculously low, for fear of having to schlep all this stuff back home. It’s a smile on your face sale, and everybody has fun and finds a ‘bargain’. The Ontario BMW Club holds their monthly meeting at the Finger Lakes Rally and even installs a meeting tent. Most of the club members slept in a large bunk house with bunk beds galore. Carol and I camped. I am not a friend of large groups anything.


Goshen, VT
Another rally I have never attended was the Vermont Green Mountain Rally. Following the weekend of the Finger Lakes we hung around and made it eventually to Goshen the following weekend. We met Muriel Farrington, who camped too, and Ted and Irene Warren. We just sat and talked to folks. The food was plentiful, the location an old Summer Camp and it was apparent that the people of Vermont knew each other and that it was ‘their’ rally. We were visitors, but we were made welcome. It rained one night and I thought our tent would break but it did not. Others were not so lucky, there were blown away tents and ripped canvases. When we left the sun shone. Our way back home led us through really stunning riding locations. Vermont is a motorcycle riding paradise, they even have rough, gravel roads if you so choose.


October / November 2016:  San Antonio, TX
Carol’s family had a celebration in Texas. Sure we could have flown out or even driven, like most people did, but we are motorcycle riders, so we made plans to ride down. Taking our time, we decided to not take any super highways but use local roads instead. Terry Church told us about US road # 62 that was installed before the Interstate Highway system. It runs from Buffalo, NY to El Paso, TX. It’s a local road kind of like the famous Route 66. I did not know about this so we looked it up on maps and the internet and decided, yes, this is for us. The end of October was cold in Ontario already and we had to wear lots of clothing, especially since it also rained a little. It was not as cold as earlier this year when we rode to Florida but cold enough. This trip down Rt. 62 was like a treasure hunt. We had to find it south of Buffalo and then followed it wherever it leads. A GPS is helpful but one cannot plug in ‘follow # 62’, it does not work like that on a GPS. All of this searching and looking for road signs is part of the fun however, and we did have a wonderful time riding down Rt. 62. Once we were out of NY State and entered PA the roads were stunningly perfect for motorcycling. The way winds itself through the Algonquin National Park and PA has some hidden treasures along the way. We had to find hotels whenever we came near a larger town and we did great. We found a hotel each night. No problem, well almost none. Yes, sometimes the hotels were old and historic and expensive but that is part of the trip, right?

After PA the road heads through Ohio and I never saw OH like that before. Ohio was very business-like, very commercial, and very ‘not’ likable. There were just too many shopping malls, traffic lights, cars, people, and industry.  But once we entered KY, oh wow, just GREAT!  Twisty roads, horse country, different looking properties, it looked like tons of money lives in KY. We wound our way through towns, through several more states and eventually entered TX. What a big State. You can ride forever and still be in TX. We had hotel reservations and had a great time celebrating the reunion of the Taub Clan and then had to head back. Again we ‘tried’ to keep to local roads but after a while it became too cold to diddle around. The farther North we went, the colder it became. So we changed our tune, took the Interstate and headed for the barn as fast we could. We made it in time to be in Buffalo on Nov. 15 for my semiannual physical which turned out to be a good thing. I am still ‘healthy’ said the Doc.



December 2016:   Iceland         See separate report 

Pirate Rally Aftermath:

     see:     Pirate's Website

During the year I was told to keep more to the facts, rather than become a professor and ‘teach’ stuff. So I will just record where we were in 2016 and not elaborate too much on the details. Naturally, if I find some ‘good’ stuff, I will add it for my own curiosity. I thought about some of life’s challenges and have to report that we all make plans but then stuff happens and the outcome is a bit different than what we thought would happen.

Here it goes: 

Tampa, FL
On the way back from the Pirates’ Rally, we noticed I could use a new rear tire and we stopped at the BMW dealer in Tampa, FL to have one installed, we even told them to change the Rear Drive oil on the bike since it is easy once the tire is off.
While waiting for the bike to be serviced we visited, the Dali Museum. While this museum is not as large as the one we saw in Figueres, Spain, it still is a wonderful place to visit. I just love Dali and his quirky art and outlook. See previous report.

Mobile, AL
I felt better having a good, new tire mounted and our next stop on the way north was Mobile Alabama. I listened to people and some told me this would be a good ‘retirement’ place, living is cheaper in Alabama. I decided to take a look at Mobile. We visited the WW2 Battleship ‘Alabama’ now a permanent exhibition at the harbor. 2500 people manned this behemoth during the War and I find it amazing this much steel can float in the water. If you are a WW2 buff, it’s a must see.
The A1
Beside the Alabama, you can enter the Submarine Drum and see how crammed the interior is. At the aviation part of the exhibition you can see the A1, the first plane to hit Mach3 (3 times the speed of sound). 

Another exhibition in Mobile was a presentation of the genius of Leonardo da Vinci. Models of his ideas and inventions were on display and I was amazed at how his thinking
Military Tank Designed by da Vinci

was all over the lot.
His Military Tank with its protective cover and canons facing in all directions, could not be used as he purposely incorporated a design flaw in the gearing mechanism. We know him as the painter of the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper but as I found out, Leo was a lot more versatile than that.

Shack Up Inn
After Mobile, AL we continued north. Ken O’Malley had previously told me about a unique place to experience and to stay overnight. We visited the Shack-Up Inn and
The Chikin (sic) Coop
spent a night in their Chikin (sic) Coop Cabin (Shack). This place is a must visit should you be near Clarksdale, MS. The Inn is a former cotton
Rusted Farm Machinery
plantation converted into a hotel, but all the old style farm implements and way of life are still around. The silos were even turned into hotel rooms. Everything was very old but…….everything was in working order and clean. Our bed had a head board made from the grill of a GMC truck, including decorations with Christmas lights. Very chic. Southern Style. Parking areas were designated by digging Tires half way into the ground and then painting them in baby colors. Empty beer or Whisky bottles served as
Chair Seat Made of Womens Belts
decorations stuck up on a clothing tree. Real Nice! Purdy! (This place is a farce on Redneck Country). You kind of have to search for the Shack-Up Inn; we tooka wrong turn and got lost for a while. We ended up riding along a dirt path through still existing cotton fields to get to the ‘hotel’. It was worth it.

Memorial to Coon Dogs
 Coon Dog Cemetery
Ah, before I forget, Carol had to show me another oddity of the South. We visited a Coon Hound Cemetery. Yup!  Had to ride through lots of woods to get there but found it OK. Now for all you folks out there who don’t know what a coon hound is, click on the link to read about it.
Men and their dogs are inseparable sometimes. There are quite a few of those men. And when their dogs die? Well at least in Alabama they have a place to put their buddies to rest.  it’s a crying shame those dogs don’t live as long as humans.
Flowers on All the Coon Dog Graves
Ask anybody that had one of them Coon Dogs. Click on the picture to the right and notice the door-less outhouse in background.      >>>>>


Memphis, TN.  (Click the link to hear the music.)
I always wanted to stop there; glad I did, but once is enough. Still I like the Delta Blues. Naturally, we visited the famous Ground Zero Blues Club as well as the Delta Blues Museum.   We spent a day and night downtown hopping from one Blues Bar to another and listened to the young folks trying to break into the business. There is a lot of talent here but unfortunately, only a few will become known worldwide. Every street corner on the main strip had groups or individuals making music to get your attention and had their hands out or their hat laying on the ground in front of them, asking for ‘donations’.

Nashville, TN    (Click to hear the music) 
This is another, different blues. This time it’s the Blue Grass or better known as
Country Music at the Ryman Auditorium
Country Music
  Music, similar to what is played in KY. This town is another layover for us, we visited the Ryman Auditorium (Grand Olé’ Opry cousin) and saw, listened and now understand a bit better how the Hillbilly Music is played, promoted and shown. It’s a business, a huge business and since I am not a fan of this kind of music I cannot comment. It’s a matter of taste.
Downtown Nashville


Mechanicsburg, PA
About 200 Miles south of Harrisburg, PA I noticed oil on my new rear tire. When the mechanic in Tampa changed the rear drive oil he must have pressed the seal too much while working on it, end result……a few days in Mechanicsburg, PA for repairs at the BMW dealer. Luckily, the final drive was OK, and luckily we were semi close to a dealership. We needed a tow. I wrote to the Tampa dealer and explained our situation, he was nice enough to cover our hotel expenses and the new repair costs of the dealership in PA. Hey, we all make mistakes, right?

Home
We made it back to Canada by April 8th but the temps north of KY had not warmed up much from when we left; it was till brutally cold. When we rode in to the monthly breakfast meeting at the Niagara BMW Motorcycle Club in Welland, ON, we found we were the only riders who rode in. People were so shocked seeing motorcycle riders in full gear that we even received a standing ovation for braving the cold. It shows you; even hard core riders thought it was way too cold to ride.

It was a month long trip filled with new impressions. Glad we made it home OK, though. Winter riding on 2 wheels is not fun. I am looking out of the window and it is snowing hard while I write this line; Whiteout conditions. Brrrr!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Salvador Dali in St. Pete

Salvador Dali  <<< click on the name to watch some movies !
Painter

Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Marqués de Dalí de Pubol, known as Salvador Dalí, was a prominent Spanish surrealist painter born in Figueres, Catalonia, Spain.
·        

·         Lived: May 11, 1904 - Jan 23, 1989 (age 84)
·         Height: 5' 8" (1.72 m)
·         Spouse: GalaDalí (m. 1934 - 1982)
·         Periods: Surrealism · Dada · Cubism · Modern art
·         Founded: Dalí Theatre and Museum · Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation
·         Education: Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando (1922 - 1926)


What can one possibly add to above? The few lines above are the barest synopsis of a life lived so far removed from my life that I have come to realize how unimportant I have been and will be. Dali was just a man, yet he showed us in visual ways how mentally puny most of us are. His mind was different. His artistic abilities were way above the norm and he was unique. Do I admire him? In a way, yes! I am not sure I would want a life that seems so ‘tortured’. I feel sure his life, as strange is it looks to me, was not an easy life. In a way he was very lonely. How could he not be, living above the rest, on the pinnacle of mental existence? Years back I went to visit his museum in Figueres, Spain. I liked what I saw then.
So when I had to have my bike serviced (new rear tire, oil change, incl. final drive) I chose the BMW dealership in Tampa, FL to do the work.
Camera's Everywhere 
Stairs full of People 
St. Petersburg is close by and is also a town that loved Dali. St. Pete’s is where the Americans (Morse Family, made their money in early plastic) built a Museum just to show Dali’s works. It is a very modern building, and has the latest of the latest gizmo’s to watch Dali’s paintings, sketches, busts, films, and whatever else he dabbled with. The lines to get in to the museum are long. Only a limited number of people are allowed in. Go early to be admitted quickly, I am not kidding, this is a sold out show, almost every day.
Dali was a true artist. He was extraordinarily flamboyant, self-assured and just plain weird. He knew it, played it up, too. Yet, he was good, a genius.

I have no idea how high is IQ was, but I am sure it was up there. His wife, Gala, was a perfect match for him. Having looked at photographs, listened to how he was enamored with her, I believe it was a good marriage.

I am not sure if Dali made fun of the viewer of his paintings by using his far out descriptions that are hideous and sound insane. The picture named “Anthropomorphic Echo“, for example.
Anthropomorphic Echo 

Full Definition of anthropomorphic
1. 1:  described or thought of as having a human form or human attributes <anthropomorphic deities>
2. 2:  ascribing human characteristics to nonhuman things <anthropomorphic supernaturalism

The Ghost of Vermeer Van Delft - Dali Salvador
is this a Vermeer ?  Hardly !
I don’t use the word Anthropomorphic in my daily use. I had to look up the meaning of the word. I am still having trouble thinking in terms of words like that. I wonder why he named pictures “Portrait of my Dead Brother” or the name “Ghost of Vermeer of Delft”. Was Dali’s thinking into the                               supernatural?








Dali painted in 1969/70 a painting called “HallucinogenicToreador” reminds me of the Hippy Drug Culture. Some of it anyway. 
Was Dali under the influence?

He read Sigmund Freud’s “The Interpretations of Dreams” in 1925 and as we can see, that reading produced some far out ‘dream scrapes’ and ideas.

After he was introduced in 1929 to Joan Miro and the idea of Surrealism, Dali’s thinking sure took a very different turn.

Because when I look at the painting of his sister (1923) I can still see ‘reality’ in her face. 
Dali's Sister
One can clearly see what his sister looked like. Yet already, on the upside down image, things start to change.
Dali’s subject matter to me was:  The Irrational    -    the world of dreams.
Dali loved Vermeer, I read that someplace. Yet when I look at the picture titled GHOST OF VERMEER (1934)   I do not see any comparable ideas.  I don’t even see any ‘Vermeer’ in the picture at all. Was Dali sane? Did he just ramble when he chose titles for his works?
The Ghost of Vermeer which can be Used as a Table 
Then the idea of the picture: “THE GHOST OF VERMEER OF DELFT WHICH CAN BE USED AS A TABLE”?   Strange!
I am not sure how you would see his exhibitions, his artwork if you were to go. I cannot tell what would impress you, what would get to you, but for me I am impressed with a lot of his works.

I know how difficult it is to draw a bicycle 


Mmmm, so much to see 

I can see much better on my iPhone 


yes, some is hard to understand 


Many things Dali worked on or showed are way above my head. The Lobster Telephone, as an example, I do not understand at all. I find it ugly and useless.
And yet, I see Dali as an artist with mostly great ideas. He shows me a reality that is not like mine. His pictures make me curious, I want to see and explore them. I am amazed how another human being sees the world and looking at the pictures depicted leaves me puzzled, sometime even a bit upset.  Mainly, however I see strangeness, unexplained lands, motifs, partial visions that I have never had.
Sodomized Piano ?
I never used any kind of drugs, so maybe that is why I cannot identify with the subjects. That is how I explain it to myself right now, but I really don’t know. Can you explain to me what the 1934 painting “ATMOSPHERIC SKULL SODOMIZING A GRAND PIANO” means, or what Dali meant by painting it ?






Melting Clocks ? 

Chain Reaction Shooting 




I never Dream like This 

Dali Titles this 'Woman', Do you get it ?

Ghostly 

What is it ?

Crawling Ants looking for Bread ?

Time Runs Away Like Water and we get Old ?



Deserted Desert 

While sitting in the Gallery I watched some of the people and took some photographs.
Ordinary Shoes
I wanted to just watch them, see how they responded to the visual impacts Dali created.  As you can see by the shoes, they were ordinary people.
The Baby is Excused
And I excuse the fat baby, because he/she has not yet developed an eye for the fine arts; but all the other people?
Look at That !  
What do you think of my comments below the pictures?
Dali left Spain in 1940, after only one year of him deciding he was no longer a Surrealist. Yes, he just decided that in 1939.
Dali lived in the U.S. between 1940 and 1947. I would have thought that Spain had little to offer him after having lived in the States. But…….no, Dali went back to his Catalan roots.  His work, his paintings changed in his older years.
Columbus Discovers America 
One day, in 1939 he woke up and no longer painted his dream world but now painted visions like “THE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA BY CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS” 1958/59. He became a very Catholic believer and painted Modern looking pictures.Dali called this period of his painting Nuclear Mysticism. 
Made in America 
Dali is a mystery to me, but I respect him as a great artist. He was one of the few who truly was different from society and who could translate his world into a visual presentation. He had visions, had a different brain and St. Pete’s Museum is a great place to get to know him.

After the museum, with a new tire on the bike and the oils changed, the world was, at least for a little while, a different place to ride in. A bit Dali like!