Monday, October 26, 2015

ON THE ROAD IN INDIA: Village Life, from the Memoir of Carolyn T. Arnold

Roadside scene, India
The following is an excerpt from the memoir of Carolyn T. Arnold, my husband’s aunt, who traveled to India in the 1960s.

On my first tour of India the itinerary called for a drive in cars as we toured northern India. The idea was a good one except in July the usual range of heat is from 100 to 117 degrees, and the humidity goes up to 75%. We saw much of village life, more than was intended, as the old cars broke down repeatedly. Daniel, our driver, was the only mechanic, so we all had to stop while he went back to fix the car.

On the road in India
Before we left, I had asked if the roads were paved and was assured they were. True enough, one strip down the middle of the road was covered with asphalt. When meeting another vehicle, both had to swing out to the wide shoulders, stirring up clouds of choking yellow dust
Man with laden donkeys
On the roads of India, one can see almost any kind of transportation from man-drawn rickshaws, to camels, to trucks, and worn out buses, and always cows. They are allowed to go anywhere without harm, wandering in and out of traffic, which is hectic even without the cows. At one point on our journey, several carts, with two large wheels, creaked along as the oxen lumbered by. 

Gypsy woman
Then a band of gypsies and their camels came along. The women carried jugs of water on their heads while their long, red skirts were swinging and their bracelets and necklaces were jingling. Small babies rode in pouches on either side of the camels. 
Women at the village well
We saw elephants, water buffaloes, and women at the village water well. The women seemed to be engaged in local gossip. Leaning against the outer wall of a building was a charpoy, which is a bed made of a wooden frame with web straps woven alternately in and out and fastened to the frame. It didn’t have a pad or mattress. We could easily understand why it was cooler to eat, sleep, and work outside then inside a building. We saw a barber at work, his customer sitting on a piece of cloth spread on the grass in the shade. I learned later that families of a higher class also sleep on the flat roofs of their homes during the extremely hot weather.

Perhaps the original intrepid tourist was Carolyn T. Arnold, my husband’s aunt.  A single school teacher in Des Moines, Iowa, she began traveling abroad when she was in her forties, beginning with a bicycling trip through Ireland in 1950.  She went on from there to spend a year as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher in Wales, to more trips to Europe and beyond, and eventually became a tour leader, taking all her nieces and nephews (including Art) on her travels.  When she retired from teaching, she wrote of her experiences in a memoir called Up and Down and Around the World with Carrie.  Today, as I read of her travels, I marvel at her spirit of adventure at a time when women did not have the independence they do today.  You can read of some of her other adventures in these posts on this blog:  October 21, 2013; October 7, 2013; July 29, 2013.March 10, 2014, January 12, 2015.

Monday, October 19, 2015


Chinese garden, Gardens of the World, Berlin, Germany
On our recent trip to Europe we spent a few days in Berlin where we visited friends and Art attended a conference. We stayed in the Melia Hotel on Friedrichstrasse in the former East Berlin, not far from the Brandenburg Gate and Museum Island.
Brandenburg Gate
Visits to Berlin always bring back memories for Art, who was an exchange student there in 1961, the year the Wall went up and this part of the city was off limits. What was a divided city then, isolated from what was then West Germany, is now a bustling metropolis, filled with arts and culture, and a spectacular mix of old and new.
Enjoying a currywurst, a typical Berlin fast food
On our trips to Berlin we always look forward to our favorite German foods–apple strudel, currywurst, fresh bread in the morning–and returning to favorite places. But we also like to have new experiences. One afternoon while Art was at his meetings a friend took me to the Gardens of the World (Die Garten der Welt), a large park (21 acres) on the outskirts of the city with gardens built in various international styles.
Oriental garden
We went first to the Oriental garden with its fruit trees, fountains, and colorful ceramic tiles reminiscent of the Alhambra in southern Spain. From there we walked to the Chinese Garden, constructed around a large pond filled with lily pads and reached by a zigzag bridge. We watched swans dipping their heads to feed underwater while we drank tea and ate Chinese snacks in the lovely outdoor tea garden.
Afternoon tea in Chinese garden (lids keep the tea hot)
As we followed the path through the park we stopped at the English maze--where we were unsuccessful at finding the center–and then visited the Korean garden, Japanese Zen garden, and the Christian garden, a peaceful enclave surrounded by a metal arbor created from passages of scripture.

Enclosed Christian garden has a flowing water feature in the center
The afternoon of our visit to the Gardens of the World was cool, but not rainy despite the forecast, and, as it was midweek, few other people were there. Many of them appeared to be gardening enthusiasts, inspecting the plants and reading their meticulously written labels. The park also has a nice gift shop.
Address: Eisenacher Strasse 99, 12685 Berlin, Germany
Phone Number: +49 (0) 30 700 906 699
We paid an entrance fee of 5 euros and a parking fee of 2 euros.
Parts of the garden are under construction as it continues to expand.
For current information and more about the garden click HERE.
Fall flowers near the entrance to the garden

Monday, October 12, 2015

September in UMBRIA, ITALY, Part 3: Assisi

Assisi, approach to the lower church of the Basilica of St. Francis
It was our fourth day in Umbria, and we headed for Assisi, about a forty minute drive from Perugia across a flat, agricultural plain. This famous medieval hill town is perched at the edge of Mont Sebasio National Park, which can be seen just beyond the walls of the city. We followed signs to a car park near the Basilica di San Francesco (Basilica of Saint Francis), and walked through the gate and up narrow streets to the broad ramp that led to the entrance of the lower church.

No talking or photographs are allowed inside the Basilica so we rented audio guides–an excellent way to make sense of the abundance of art inside. Every square inch in both the upper and lower church is covered with decoration, either in carved stone or as wall paintings, the most famous being the fresco cycle in the upper church that depict scenes from the life of Saint Francis.

Poster of Giotto fresco in the Basilica
Traditionally, the frescoes are attributed to Giotto and his workshop, but today there is some question by art historians as to whether Giotto was the artist. In any case, the paintings are superb examples of Renaissance art and the use of realism and perspective. The Basilica was built on orders from the Pope just after the death of St. Francis in 1226. St. Francis is the patron saint of Italy so the church and town of Assisi draw thousands of tourists every day. But the requirement for silence inside the Basilica makes a visit there feel calm and peaceful despite all the visitors.
Streets of Assisi
Assisi's history goes back to before Roman times and historic buildings line the steep, narrow streets. Visiting Assisi is like spending the day doing stairmaster–except for a few piazzas, almost every street is slanted or stepped. My legs ached by the end of the day, especially after climbing to the top of the hill to visit the castle (Rocco Maggiore) with its 360 degree view of the town and verdant Umbrian countryside. Inside the castle we climbed the towers and visited a museum of medieval tools, weapons, and costumes. After we made a small donation we were given a small poster of the fresco in the Basilica showing St. Francis giving his cloak to a poor man. (see above)
Inside the castle walls of the Rocco Maggiore. The fortress was first built in the 12th century, then rebuilt in 1367.
On our way back down the hill we stopped at a shop selling Umbrian food specialties and bought two roast pork sandwiches, which we ate later as a picnic supper back at the hotel. Shops in Assisi are filled with saintly souvenirs and local specialties such as salami, truffles, pasta, beans and olive oil. There are also a surprising number of art galleries.
Local Umbrian specialties include pork and wild boar (chingiale)
During the day, as we toured the town, we also went into the small Baroque church of Santa Maria delle Rose, as well as the Duomo (San Rufino), an imposing Romanesque cathedral built on top of Roman ruins. Some of the ruins are visible under thick glass beneath the church aisle and in the plaza in front. It is a little disconcerting to walk across these glass "windows"--as if one is floating on air--but fascinating to see the ancient ruins below.
Carved stone figures appear to hold up the wall on the Romanesque facade of San Rufino, completed in 1253
We thoroughly enjoyed our day in Assisi. It was a warm, sunny day and although there were plenty of tourists, it didn’t seem crowded, perhaps because we visited on a weekday.
View of Assisi and Mont Subasio from the path to the Rocco Maggiore

Monday, October 5, 2015

September in UMBRIA, ITALY, Part 2: Lake Trasimeno and Isola Polvese

View from Isola Polvese across Lake Trasimeno
Lake Trasimeno, located in the northwest corner of Umbria, is the fourth largest lake in Italy and about an hour’s drive from Perugia. It was the site of Hannibal’s defeat of the Romans on 21 June 217 B.C. and has long been an important place in Italy’s history. The lake is surrounded by low hills dotted with medieval fortified towns and castles. In the middle are three islands: Isola Maggiore and Isola Polvese (both accessible by ferry), and Isola Minore (privately owned). We decided to spend a day exploring Isola Polvese, the largest of the islands.
Ferry to Isola Polvese
We drove from Perugia to the town of Magione and from there followed signs to the small lakeside village of San Feliciano where we caught the ferry to Isola Polvese. It was midweek and we were among just a few passengers for the ten minute ride to the island. Most of the island is a nature preserve. There are no cars on the island, although one can rent bikes. Near the ferry landing is a cluster of buildings with a restaurant and small souvenir shop and a few meeting rooms, but except for a youth hostel in the middle of the island, the island has few other buildings except for some ancient ruins in various states of disrepair.
Flowers were abundant along the coastal path
A path at lake level circles the island, while another path goes up and across the center. To begin with, we decided to turn left toward the castle ruins and go clockwise around the island. It was a beautiful, sunny day, perfect for a walk. Lake Trasimeno is extemely shallow and most of the island is surrounded by reed beds, an ideal habitat for waterbirds such as ducks and herons, which we saw stalking prey and flying up from the water. Much of the path was shaded by large oak trees and in many places the ground was carpeted with patches of bright pink flowers. In the sunny spots, lizards scampered among the stones.
It took us an hour or so to circle the island as we stopped to take pictures or admire the view. Then, after a cup of coffee at the snack bar, we followed the sunnier path across the top of the island through olive orchards to the ruins of San Secondo church and monastery, currently in the process of being restored.
Path to the church and monastery of San Secondo
 We returned to the dock in time to catch the 3:45 ferry. (Ferries ran about once an hour.) It had been a peaceful and relaxing day in the out-of-doors.
Ferry landing, Isola Polvese

The following day our plan was to drive to Assisi, home of St. Francis, Italy's patron saint. (To be continued next week.)