Thursday, May 23, 2019

Chasing Tulips and Windmills in Holland

Black swans we saw in Holland. Not too many of these in Montpellier...

What have we been up to lately? Well, among other things, we we went to Holland. We went expecting to see field after field of tulips, stretching to the horizon with colorful flowers. What we found wasn’t quite that extreme, but was still quite spectacular. Tulips, and windmills. We learned more than I expected about both of them.

First, the flowers. It turns out those flowers aren’t grown merely as a tourist attraction. They’re actually grown to make money for the farmers. Imagine that! And most of the money is not made selling the blooms, but rather the bulbs, so that someone else can have the joy of growing these extraordinary flowers. But healthy blooms detract from healthy bulbs, so the flowers are cut to allow the bulbs to grow. Each plant will have maybe three or four bulbs, which are harvested in the fall. This year, the year we visited, there was some very fine warm weather early in the spring, causing the flowers to pop out, resulting in an early cutting. What we saw were vast fields of flower stems. Awesome, but not quite what we were hoping for!

Some of the many, many varieties we saw at the farm we visited.

A VW bus cutout down on the farm. (They also had fabulous apple pie and coffee!)

We chose not to go to Keukenhof, The large garden park that IS just for tourists. The photos look fabulous, but crowds numbered in the 10,000s deterred us. Instead, we drove along the very narrow roads giving access to the fields, and we visited one farm with a demonstration garden. I never would have imagined there were so many types of tulips! And many with delightfully imaginative names.

Ice Cream Tulips! How cool is that?! (yuck yuck)

We stayed at an Airbnb apartment in a rather nondescript building on the outskirts of Leiden. (The Netherlands* is small enough that it doesn’t really matter where it is, it’s close to everything). We found Leiden a totally charming town. We were in Amsterdam last summer, and while it too is charming, it’s also crowded, expensive, and, during our visit, hot (ok, so that doesn’t happen much!). Overall, a mixed experience.

 * To clear up a misunderstanding I had: the name of the country is The Netherlands, which means, essentially, the Low Countries. Holland is in the western part of the country: the provinces of North Holland and South Holland can properly be called Holland; since we spent our time in these provinces I feel OK about using Holland as a designator for where we were. Glad I got THAT cleaned up…

There were a few fields left!

Us, near the flower fields (the farmers really don't like it when you walk into their fields to take selfies...)

The canals in Leiden were every bit as charming as those in Amsterdam (although there are fewer of them!), the cafes just as refreshing, the people no less friendly, and the bicycle culture also amazing. But perhaps having less of everything helped us appreciate it more (particularly when trying to avoid getting run over by the bicycles!).

Scenes from Leiden, a very pretty city (well, the old town is; the new part, not so much...)

Another place we didn’t go was Kinderdijk, the windmill museum. Apparently it has a collection of windmills with extensive demonstrations and explanations. Instead we drove around and found three mills in a field, very picturesque! It’s what we came for, why look further? Actually, to get a better understanding of how the mills were constructed and used, we walked across Leiden to the Museum De Valk, a re-built windmill open to the public for a modest fee (5€, I think). There we saw a brief video on windmills in the Netherlands, where I learned that these mills were essentially Holland’s entry into the Industrial Revolution. Originally used to pump water to drain fields (polder mills), they were also used to grind grain and eventually became prime movers for a number of industrial processes. The rapid development of the steam engine, though, quickly replaced windmills for many applications.

The Museum De Valk, in Leiden. Once up on that platform, those turning arms look very dangerous...

The ground floor of the multi-story Museum De Valk mill consisted of a house for the miller, also restored and available to visit. The life of a miller was not an easy one. In addition to lugging the heavy bags of grain and flour, and overseeing the grinding operation (which included removing and dressing the heavy stone grinding wheels every couple of weeks), the miller had to watch the wind and constantly orient and adjust the sails. (Electric motors are SO much easier…). I must admit, being on the top floor of that very high mill and watching the sails turning and those big wooden gears spinning made me glad I could just leave at any time! Being up there in a storm would have been no fun at all…

Molendriegang, three ploder mills near the village of Leidschendam built in the 1600s

A closeup of one of the polder mills, and wooden gear from the Museum De Valk mill. The finely-turned wooden machinery fascinated me! (That big wheel on the polder mill? It pulls on a chain so the mill can be turned into the wind.)

Me, with one of the stone mill wheels in the Museum De Valk.Imagine pulling this out every couple of weeks to "dress" it!

What else has been happening? We've been living in our classic apartment in Montpellier, visiting with the people we’ve met here; viewing apartments in town as potential rentals when we return; and certainly enjoying what the city of Montpellier has to offer. Oh, and preparing for our canal boat trip, long in the planning, that’s coming up next week.

Our time here in Montpellier draws to a close, and we are very sorry to go. Although admittedly, we've been too busy getting ready for our canal trip, and the arrival of Paula's brother and sister-in-law, to be feel sad. We've still got a month in France, and we will make the most of it!

Friday, May 10, 2019

We Went to Paris

It was a bit of a stretch, squeezing four more days into our already crowded Schengen stay. As we come and go we’ve been counting our days in and out, because we don’t want to overstay our time. Stories vary as to what happens if we do, but we’d rather not find out!

Now, how did we end up in Paris? It all started six months earlier, in November. We were in our “bird’s nest” apartment in Alicante, Spain, at the top of a 13-story building, when we stumbled on a Netflix video of Loreena Mckennitt playing at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. (It's available on YouTube here.) We checked, and found that Loreena McKennitt would be playing in Paris in April. So, we bought tickets not knowing where we would be by then.

The Arc de Triomphe also impressive from a side street

We continued with our travel plans, with all our ins and outs—Spain, Malta, Croatia, Spain (again!), Morocco… Then in April we flew in from Turkey and had four lovely days in Paris, staying at an Airbnb in a classic building in the 8th arrondissement,not far from the Arc de Triomphe. Here’s some things we did, in no particular order:

Met up with Bernard and Claude, two fellows we met three years ago in Montpellier. Claude has an apartment in Paris, where his aging father lives. It was fun to see them in the big city!
A lock on the Canal Saint Martin in Paris, and a boat in a lock (not the same lock,though; there's more than one!)

Strolled along the Canal St. Martin, near where we stayed for five weeks in 2015. Re-visited the former lock-keepers house that’s now a delightful café (where they serve fabulous hot chocolate—particularly good with a shot of espresso!)

The lock keeper's cottage along the Bassin de la Villette, part of the Canal Saint Martin

Inside the whimsical cafe, the former lock keeper's residence, each room has a different theme

Had a fine lunch in a classic Parisian café on the Left Bank, near the Boulevard Saint Germain.

The Arc de Triomphe seen as we were heading home one night
Strolled down the Champs Elysees (one of the most prestigious addresses in Paris) and were astonished at the broken windows and smashed storefronts, a result of on-going demonstrations by the Gilets jaunes, protesting French tax policies. Since last October every Saturday they have taken to the streets, with oftentimes violent results. (Here in Montpellier there are also cracked and boarded up windows from local Gilets jaunes protests.)

Smashed store fronts along the Champs Elysees in Paris

Visited with some Americans we’d met here at an event in 2015. They’ve been living in Paris for 25 years. Lots of interesting stories!
Ran into an impromptu auto show on the street in front of the impressive golden dome of Les Invalides. There were huge American cars, older European models, even a Maserati or two. What was interesting is that it all seemed ad hoc; there were no placards extolling the value of the vehicles; no fawning owners eager to tell all about their restoration experiences; no organization taking credit. Just a bunch of guys hanging around on a Sunday morning.

A Boss Mustang in the streets of Paris...

And then, of course, the concert. We really enjoyed it. We’ve been listening to McKennitt’s music for decades. Sitting in the theater as it slowly filled prior to the concert, though, I thought about how we came to be here. Six months earlier we had only a limited idea of where we would be or what we’d be doing. Our lives have been anything but consistent in the last year. But we had the confidence in our planning and travel abilities to know that we’d be able to handle whatever came up, and we’d be sitting in these seats on the appointed night. Yes, the music was great, but the real thrill came from the fact that we were there.

At the concert, Salle Pleyel in Paris

Obligatory photo of Gustave Eiffel's famous tower

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Back in France!

Yes, we’re back in France, and in fact back in Montpellier, the town where we started our European travels three years ago. We’ve settled into a large pleasant apartment in the old town, just a block from a park. It’s quiet on this street, since our neighbors are a monastery, a church, and a museum (the Musée Fabre, to be precise). We are thrilled to be here, and looking forward to upcoming adventures.
Place de la Comedie, the main square of Montpellier, with the opera building at the far lift.
But first, the Big News. We will be coming back to our home on the Central Coast at the end of June, June 25. Then, we’ll be returning to Europe in early October. After months—years?—of discussion and hesitation we have decided to get a long-stay (one-year) visa in France. So during our three months home in California we will go through the application process. (While there are countries were the paperwork is worse than in France, don’t forget that bureaucracy is a French word!) Part of our time here will be spent laying the groundwork for the application that must be made from the States.

The Three Graces, centerpiece of the Place de la Comedie, with the opera in the background.

Montpellier's Arc du Triomphe, a 17th Century landmark
So what happens between now and June, besides improving our knowledge of French language, culture, and cuisine? Well, Paula’s brother Mark and his wife, Brenda, will be joining us early in June for a week on a canal boat on the Canal du Midi. We’ve got our boat reserved, and will finally scratch (or further irritate) an itch we got 15 or 20 years ago. Then the four of us will spend six days touring the villages of Languedoc and Provence. After Mark and Brenda leave we will continue our car tour for two more weeks to travel to some of our favorite parts of France, including the Dordogne. Along the way we plan on visiting with other American expats from SLO to get their view of life in France.

Our large and comfortable living room, overlooking the neighbor's garden. Sweet!

We haven’t yet talked about our four days in Paris and the Loreena McKennett concert, nor the two weeks we spent in Rovinj, Croatia. We will be catching up, though! Watch this space….

The Water Temple, termination of the aqueduct bringing water to Montpellier in the 18th Century, in the city park at Peyrou.

Gotta go now, we're planning a trip to the tulip fields and windmills of Holland next week! (One of the reasons we're keen on living here: lots of interesting places near by...)

By the way, while you're here check out this blog by our good blogging friends Frank and Lissette (aka Barbeque Boy and Spankie). This one's got an interesting interview, and you just might recognize some of the responders!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Ancient Sites: Termessos

View from the upper level of Termessos

Unlike most of the ancient sites we’ve visited, Termessos has not been excavated. Apart from having brush cleared away, it’s been left untouched for the thousand or more years since it was abandoned. It makes for an exciting outdoor adventure, especially since the area is on the side of a mountain at an elevation of 1000 meters (3000 feet).

At the lower level, near the car park: a stark reminder of what once was an elegant city.
And, it’s not easy to get to. The site is about an hour outside Antalya, with no convenient public transportation. We were extremely fortunate in that our host, Fuat, was very familiar with the site and asked us to join him and his friend Nilgün on an expedition. He was an excellent guide because, well, he wrote the book on Termessos! Well, almost. He contributed ideas and many of the photos of the book that is the primary tourist reference to the site, written in 1980s. (So Fuat’s been coming there for a long time!)

The Gymnasium, the best-preserved building at Termessos.

Fuat points out a detail to Nilgün and Paula 
In front of the Gymnasium
Termessos is very different in character from Perge (and Aspendos, which we have yet to visit). Those cities were built on the flat coastal plain; Termessos is spread over the side of a mountain. Perge was a rich, advanced city populated by sophisticated nobles (and their slaves, of course!). Fuat likened it to the Berlin or Munich of its day (he’s a Germanophile and an excellent German speaker.) Termessos, on the other hand, was a mountain town home to rugged warriors. More like the wilds of Afghanistan. It has the distinction of being one of the very few cities that never succumbed to Alexander the Great when he came through the area. Perge and Antalya (and Aspendos, too, I think) came to terms with Alexander, paying the required tribute and allowing his governors to oversee the cities.

We come upon a vast array of tumbled and ruined tombs.

Nilgün examines a particularly impressive tomb.
Tumbled sarcophagi.

The Tomb with the Lions; what must have been a truly impressive tomb.

Termessos thumbed their collective nose at Alexander, who eventually found the steep terrain, and the city’s warriors, too much for him. He took his rage out by destroying the town’s olive trees, as well as the next city he came across. (Note, though, that Alexander is well remembered and highly honored in this part of the world, where he is known as Iskandar, a name seen frequently throughout Antalya.)

Not one to stand around and complain, Fuat restores a tomb (not really!)

Fuat was an excellent guide to the site. It is preserved as a National Park, and so parts of it are well marked and some trails are nicely laid out. However, large parts of the site are hidden and overgrown, and there were some very special areas we would never have found without Fuat’s assistance.

Fuat strikes a heroic pose by the mysterious foot sculpture. How big were these people?!

Incredibly impressive was the tomb of Agatemeros, one of Termessos’ most important generals. The tomb was sufficiently important to be featured on the cover of the book on Termessos. Which is a good thing, because, sadly, it no longer exists. It was blown up sometime in the 1990s by villagers looking for treasure.

Cover of the guide to Termessos featuring the tomb of Agatemeros

Fuat holding the book in front of what is now left of the tomb of Agatemeros

Now this is something I just can’t get my head around. We saw many, many tombs— sarcophagi, actually—carved from solid blocks of stone. All of them have been opened, broken into, tumbled and thrown aside by foragers looking for treasure, or something to sell. But those were ancient times, with ignorant savages roaming the hills whose only thought was survival. Or so I like to think. Now we are more sophisticated—we have an appreciation for historic sites that was lacking in the ignoble peasants who populated these places in times past. Today, though, we respect the past… No, I guess not. Anyway, I find it sad that this work, honoring what must have been a great man, representing many hours of human labor (I mean, carving out that hard stone!) and surviving for so many centuries, should be destroyed by a few individuals on a whim.

The amazing theater at Termessos, seemingly hanging in mid air. (And us, having lunch!)

Moving on, we came to the (mostly) undestroyed tomb/ memorial to Alcetas. He was one of Alexander’s generals, very popular with the young warriors of Termessos when he returned after Alexander’s death in 323 BCE. His rival, Antigonos, another of Alexander’s former generals, wanted the city to give him up. Much to the dismay of the young men, the city fathers surrendered Alcetas to satisfy the attacking forces. Alcetas killed himself to avoid the dishonor of surrender, and his body was “violated” for three days by the soldiers of Antigonos. The young men recovered what was left and built a magnificent memorial carved into the side of a rock face. (That still survives, mostly. At least it hasn’t been blown up yet!)

The (mostly intact tomb of Alcetas, former general of Alexander.

We returned to the lower level where we left the car by a different, steep and more rugged route, rather than along the manicured paths of the National Park. And Fuat showed us yet another surprise: incredible tombs carved directly into the vertical rock faces. I am unclear when these were done, but apparently it was long after the city’s prime, perhaps in the 3rd or 4th Century CE. (The Antalya area is known for its many rock tombs, including the simpler ones we saw in our earlier trip to Kaş.)

Amazing rock tombs seen on the long descent back.

We finally--tired, stumbling, and amazed--made it to the car park. But there was yet more to see. Following Fuat along narrow paths through the underbrush we came to another large burial ground, with many more stone sarcophagi, most of them with incredible carvings. While all of these had also been opened and damaged, most were still upright. We wandered through this forest of brush and stone, once more with the sense of wonder that dominated our growing fatigue.

Carvings seen on many of the sarcophagi. The circle represents a shield and indicates a warrier was buried here. Some of these look suspiciously Celtic!

Many of the sarcophagi had intricate carvings on the sides and ends.

Finally we made it to the end, and gratefully piled into the car. At last, some rest! Fuat stopped the car just a short way down the road at the newly-opened natural history museum on the site. Only the first of several rooms were open, and they dealt exclusively with the flora and fauna of the area, nothing to do with the marvels we had been seeing. The museum was very well done and no doubt will be extended, but it did nothing to aid our investigation of ancient times. We left and continued back to the city.

We were tired and sore after that adventure! Four days later I was finally able to walk down stairs without wincing.

Photo on the left is of a small watercolor decorating our apartment (done by a Dr. Phil Otto Baur); on the right is the actual tomb we saw at Termessos. The painting, hanging on our wall, was a nice reminder of our adventure in these amazing ruins.

This will be the last blog on our adventures in Turkey. We’ve just spent two weeks in Rovinj, Croatia, and are about to leave for Montpellier, France. So we’re still behind, blogwise!
Once in France we’ll keep working on catching up. And, we’ll have some big news about our future travels… so stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Ancient Sites

While we are currently in Rovinj, Croatia (just around the corner from—and east of—Venice, Italy), we’ve got some catching up to do. So in this blog we are still back in Turkey…

A modern country with all the conveniences, Turkey is home to some of the earliest sites of human habitation found. While the oldest are in Eastern Turkey near the Syrian border, there are any number of interesting archeological places to explore in Antalya.

Three pop to mind immediately (from all the signs advertising tours of them, I suppose): Aspendos with a magnificent theater; Perge and its rows of columns; and Termessos, extensive but completely undeveloped. They are all ancient: Aspendos was first settled around 1000 BCE, and Perge about 600 BCE. Termessos has the distinction of being one of the very few cities that successfully resisted defeat by Alexander the Great, so it was thriving in the 4th Century BCE.

We didn’t go to Aspendos, as it is a bit outside Antalya and we never worked out the logistics. Perge is an easy 40-minute tram ride (on the new tram!), then a short hop by taxi. Termessos is far outside the city. We were quite fortunate in that our host in Antalya, Fuat, offered to take us there. It’s up in the mountains, a good hour by car, so a tour or a taxi are about the only ways for the car-less traveler to get there.


 Ah, but there is a fourth site well worth mentioning: the archeological museum in Antalya, right at the end of the old tram line. We went there on one of the few rainy days we had, and were astonished at the collection of Roman statuary. Most of the statues come from Perge. There is also a great collection of stone sarcophagi from the Anatolian region, plus some pottery and carvings from very ancient sites. The hours we spent there flew by. Apart from the wonder of the impressive displays and astonishing artifacts, our visit also gave us a good context for our later visits to Perge and Termessos.

Tiny figurines. Upper and left are from around 6000 BCE.
Some of the extraordinary work of the artists of Perge; probably 2nd C. CE (Roman).
Floor mosaics recovered from Pergre.

The Anatolya museum houses an extensive and amazing collection of statuary from Perge.

There's also a rich collection of carved stone tombs from the Antalya area.

Some of the sarcophagi have incredible carvings.


The easiest site to access: 40 minutes or so on the new tram (as distinct from the old, or nostalgia, tram), then a 10-minute taxi ride. We arrived in the late morning, and there was exactly one other couple there (by the time we left several other people had showed up—the advantage of off-season travel!). While Perge has been around for a long time, founded sometime in the 6th Century BCE—and one of the very many cities that swore allegiance to Alexander the Great in the 2nd Century BCE—the on-going restoration is from the later Roman era, around the 2nd Century CE. (While in Antalya, the Emperor Hadrian paid a visit to Perge, so he’s got a gate named for him there, as well as in the city of Antalya).

Perge, a very extensive Roman site.
How did they do that? 1800 years old and still standing! But I'm not walkin' under that...

The reconstructed agora (marketplace) of Perge.

The site is quite large (in fact, I found after we left that I’d missed about half of it!. Thankfully Paula was more aware. It would have helped if we'd seen the scale model set up at the entrance.) It is in the process of being excavated and restored; the many columns we saw have been set up in a way that makes sense to the archeologists (and so are likely in their original spots—but who knows for sure?). Many statues, whole and in parts, have been found, and are now in the museum in the city of Antalya. Apparently, though, the original location of most are not known. Many of the walls that have been uncovered have niches, but no one knows what was placed where.

Niche: "a shallow recess in a wall to display a statue." But what statue went where??

A decorative aqueduct serving the city (similar to one in the modern town of Antalya today!).

Like every site we’ve visited—and there have been many!—Perge leaves strong impressions. People have been here for a long, long time. Those Romans, such builders! And explorers. And conquers. And administrators! Perge, like many Roman cities, had (has?) a large market place (covered, in the original plan), impressive waterworks and aqueducts, neat rows of stone houses, huge public works (temples, gates, towers).  All this had to be planned, built, maintained, and paid for. Each of which is a feat unto itself! So yeah, Perge is an indication of a pretty advanced civilization.

Arches! The Romans were big on arches. Top right: above the theater. Lower right: arched chambers supporting seats in the stadium (the spaces were used for shops... just like today!)
Paula looking for her seat in the theater.

In the top view of the theater, note the light-colored band of carved marble along the back of the stage. Below, a detail of these intricate decorative carvings. Theaters were always important in Roman cities!

Perge is still under excavation. I watched as diggers lifted shovelfuls of dirt onto a slow-moving conveyor belt that was picked over by a couple of women with hand trowels, pulling out any shards or artifacts. And large areas of the grounds near the entry are covered with bits and pieces—some quite large—of columns and lintels and arches and who-knows-what, all decorated with intricate carvings.

Incredible stone carvings are everywhere!

I find this level of detail and symmetry--carved into solid stone--mind boggling. (Background: arched chambers under the stadium, where shops probably sold the Roman equivalent of hot dogs and beer.)

Odds and ends waiting to be identified and assembled.

While our outing to Perge was fun and rewarding, it was not the most intense, nor the most satisfying, of the ancient sites we visited. For that, we'll have to wait for the next blog!