Burg Eltz, Germany

A friend took me to visit the out-of-the-way Eltz Castle (Burg Eltz) when I was in Frankfurt. The medieval castle sits on the hills above the Moselle River, and is not easily accessible unless you’ve planned your driving route carefully. Interestingly, it is one shared by three families’ joint heirs. So yes, that means the folks who own it still visit and live there.

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There are three branches to the castle, of which two are open for public visit. The treasures of weaponry and accessories are also on display. Tours come in German and English. The tours disallow photo-taking, but I’m sure you will enjoy learning from their knowledgeable guides about how the medieval baths and kitchens were!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt isn’t so much the grandeur of the castle that attracts my attention, and not so much the history of the families; rather, its fortified walls and how it has never been destroyed brings much interest to its existence. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a castle to pass on for generations!

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Cologne Cathedral, Germany

After my trip to Paris some months ago, I took a stop at Cologne and Frankfurt. At Cologne, I stopped by the famous Cologne Cathedral, dated back to the medieval times. It stands across the Rhine and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1996. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Apart from the amazing architecture, you can get to the top of the cathedral via a spiral staircase of 509 steps. But beware, it’s a crazily tight space where those ascending and descending share that limited air and winding route!

As you walk to larger platform, you’ll see a one-way route heading further up the cathedral. Take a break before continuing! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

As you reach the top, you’ll get to see viewing platform that offers wonderful views of part of the Cathedral’s architecture as well as the Rhine.

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After heading all the way up to the viewing platform, I was exhausted and time was running short. I had to take my leave, and regretfully I had not had the time to look at check out the cathedral’s treasures and bells. That shall be reserved for yet another visit to Cologne!

Rothenburg ob der Tauber – Medieval Town at its best

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Down the Romantic Road of Bavaria, one must stop by Rothenburg. Alright, it’s commercialized, and alright it ain’t all cool and bungee-jumping. But for those who’ll love a quiet walk down a medieval town, why not?

It’s worth a shot to head down the Night Watchman Historic Town Walk. In the past, the Night Watchman served as a walking guard for the town’s safety, protecting himself with only a hellebarde & reminding those around him of his presence with an hourly song he chimed. One of the roles of the Night Watchman is really to guard against the enemy, & to warn citizens of fire. Interestingly, this is similar to ancient Chinese practice of a lowly-paid citizen in town who will walk the streets in the wee hours & rings a gong reminding the town of the time as well as to warn them to blow out their candles before bedtime.

Anyway in Rothenburg, the Night Watchman – a scruffy tall figure begins his witty banter about the Town Hall and the Clock Tower that highlighted little wooden figures drinking – this having something to do with a story that occurred during the Thirty Years War. The Protestant town of Rothenburg was at risk of destruction by a Catholic army. The Rothenburg mayor offered some local wine to the General, who challenged the mayor to a drinking contest – finish the wine without stopping and the town will be saved. As the story goes, Rothenburg was saved, and there we have the clock to honour this tale!

Walking down to the Castle Garden, one would encounter the large gate that also had a smaller door, also a “manhole”. After the gates were closed at night, the Night Watchman would consider whether or not to permit entrance after curfew hours. One could get a decent view of Southern Rothenburg – like a typical small town that one could retire to. Of course, unless we knew that Rothenburg once suffered a plague due to a poor sanitary system where all the trash was deposited on “The Filthy Road” – religious wars & poverty hindered the little town for years until tourism commenced.

Notwithstanding the tiresome day I’d had on a bus ride down to Rothenburg, the Night Watchman introduces the Trinkstube zur Höll, translating literally as “To Hell”, standing in the oldest building of Rothenburg dating back to c.900. This little town continues to celebrate its history, oftentimes with relation to witchcraft, mysteries of the Netherworld, & war-time stories.

It really isn’t as creepy as it has been made out to be, and there’s more to Rothenburg than this short note I’m depositing here. Rothenburg boasts an amazing Medieval Crime Museum that I’d spent half a day at. Let’s leave that, however, to the next post…

of travels & regrets

Every wonderful travel deserves a story of its own – this place that encompasses so much of my memories more than deserves a post of its own. I will leave this to another time – kindly allow me to indulge in past memories for awhile, one which brings much regret even today …

I arrived at the historical town late evening of a day in July. Dark clouds were looming, nightfall was coming. And I felt a strangely unsettling emotion tugging at my heart throughout the journey.

I should have known better when I stepped through the arch doorway. Tears fell, but I couldn’t understand why. Maybe this historical town gave a surge of nostalgia that I couldn’t help but succumb to it? Maybe I was simply touched by the sights I’d seen, not an unfamiliar experience just as I had when I was in Russia? I should have known, should I not? I heard the mental note, I will never come back again …

I stepped upon the raised platforms and looked over the 13th century fortress walls. Engulfed by the sights of rolling hills and little cottages, it all felt surreal.

I bring with me an immense regret.
There are times we assumed we were giving the best to our loved ones, but we failed to understand that whatever we’ve deemed “best” might not have been so. Was it all in personal interest that I’d assumed this was a great place to visit? Might I have considered that someone who wasn’t in top-condition of health would’ve found it a struggle to trudge along the cobblestone pathways and up the hills? Was the sight worthwhile?

I travel, I enjoy visiting new places, I love to learn all about these great historical places. But I might have once neglected the emotional & physical burden these brought on someone I cared for. Now all has passed, time doesn’t turn back, and I bring a part of you with me to all my future travels.

I never had the chance to ask or find out if you’d truly enjoyed yourself; you’ll say you did even if it had been a battle…

Somewhere in the heavens, I trust you’ll hear me …

favourite spots around the world

It hasn’t been the most pleasant time these weeks with heavy snow in Europe & Japan, flood crises in Australia & the general gloomy economic outlook…
So as usual I read an article from Boots&All on My Round the World Top 10 Places to Visit, and thought about what my own top 10 places are … I was inspired by the writer and gave it a thought on every aspect that the writer had addressed – I guess it is time to track the wonderful, albeit limited places, I’d been to, maybe for my own memory-sake, hopefully also to motivate all of you out there who are working too hard to get down to planning a trip out…

1. Country with the best food – Hong Kong
Great selection of porridge, noodles & most importantly – desserts! We could expect the typical dim sum (savoury fillings with thin skins that don’t starch up your mouth as you chew…), rich beef porridge (it leaves a wonderful taste lingering after you’ve cleaned out the entire bowl…) etc… But as a dessert-lover, I simply cannot stop thinking of the wonderful Almond Paste / Glutinous Rice Balls and these unique “Steamed Milk in Two Films”, “Steamed Milk with Ginger Juice” & “Steamed Egg Desserts”!! Sounds odd? Give it a try, you won’t regret it!

2. Friendliest People – ???
I can’t seem to think of who the friendliest people are. I could say Germany, Japan, maybe Hong Kong too… I’d been travelling around and meeting relatively nice people around the world, I couldn’t state who might be the friendliest … I guess it’s time to pack and travel again! This time – to identify the friendliest people! 🙂

3. Most beautiful landscapes – New Zealand! Switzerland! 
Peaceful, scenic, out-of-the-world … Was it in Queenstown, Christchurch, Wanaka, Milford Sound, Bay of Islands, Mt. Eden … it was just New Zealand! Once you step in you wouldn’t wish to head back to this daily toil in the city … Some day, I wish to head back there; some day, I wish this beautiful country will be rebuilt to its former magnificence & hopefully relieved of sufferings from the natural disasters we have seen over the past year…
And of course we have Switzerland with its snowy mountainous regions … so breathtaking words could not describe…

4. Easiest country to travel – Singapore
Small city-state that boasts a great variety of food & this sunny all-year-summer – one couldn’t get lost in there. This wonderful country is also well-situated & centrally-located with a great airport, best suited for travel to nearby Southeast Asian states…Travel anywhere you wish to in SEA but do also remember to stop by Singapore for a day or two!

5. Most challenging country to travel – Russia
A vast country with terribly cold winters & scorching-hot summers, I have reluctantly placed my favourite spot under this category. It isn’t easy travelling around Russia despite a well-developed subway system. A road-trip from St Petersburg to Vladivostok is in itself a challenge. Multiply this by total number of cities in Russia – there you go with the difficulty level… Of course we’ll have other difficult spots like Tibet (more of a vertical clearance & fitness challenge … ), but I’ll leave this to my next list when I set foot in it!

6. Country with best natural wonders – Australia / New Zealand
I guess I could concur with the writer that Australia has a great number of natural wonders … But I could also consider New Zealand with its beautiful fjords running through the city. Now I need to pay more attention to this at my next travels…

7. Best place to sleep under the stars – Austria
Couldn’t remember when/where, but I’d this impression that it was Innsbruck, Austria… somewhere close to the Hafelekar mountains…
This doesn’t do any justice to the wonderful city – it deserves its own category such as the “Best skiing location” or “Best place to hide-out from city noise” … Do drop by Austria when you can! A lovely place one should never miss!

8. Best backpacker community – (skip)
I don’t exactly backpack … so I’ll take a pass on this one

9. Best architecture – Much of Europe (Specifically Germany?)
I couldn’t rate this again – I loved the architecture in Russia, influenced by the years of Russian Orthodoxy, then Westernisation, then the Rococo era, Lenin/Stalin eras etc …
I could also say France, with France being the origin of the earliest pioneers in many architectural styles (Roman, Medieval, Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassicism etc) … I simply cannot pinpoint one country that has the most lovely architecture! But my favourite of recent times lies in Germany, along the Romantic Road… we see Schloss Neuschwanstein near Hohenschwangau in Southeast Bavaria, today what has been the inspiration of much fantasy castles, likely even that of Disney’s fairytale castles. An amazing landmark commissioned by the wonderful Ludwig II of Bavaria, I must say this is architecture deserves special mention time and again, alongside this wonderful character that has given the world a view as magnificent as such…

10. Favourite Place – !!!
I doubt I have one favourite place. As inspired by the original article, I gave much thought to what was my favourite place and I really couldn’t pinpoint it. I wanted to say Germany for its rich history (my foremost considerations), food that I enjoyed even if it wasn’t fine dining of the French, but I compared it to Russia where I loved learning about its history, enjoyed the authentic & traditional shashlik, borsch, Blini pancakes etc… and then of course I could not undermine my foremost-mentioned cravings for the great food in Hong Kong, dreams of this wonderful life in New Zealand etc etc…

Tell me really, what is/are your favourite places to travel to?

what happens in the netherworld?

12 of the World’s Most Fascinating Cemeteries12 of the World’s Most Fascinating Cemeteries

Human beings have honored their dead since the dawn of time – even Neanderthals buried the fallen. In fact, burial is the oldest of human rituals. From simple stone dolmens to the glory of the pyramids, humans have spent a lot of time and energy providing the deceased with a decent send-off. Modern cemeteries run the gamut from park-like settings with simple gravestones to elaborate cities of the dead with architecture rivaling buildings designed for the living. Basic or bombastic, cemeteries tell us how people died, but also how they lived..

I wouldn’t say it’s all fascinating; I tend to get a little melancholic when examining burial grounds. Again it isn’t the first site for visiting on a trip, unless of course we’re discussing Lenin’s Mausoleum at the Red Square. I recalled a deep strong emotion overwhelming me as my friends and I entered the tomb. It was dark, eerie, flanked by fierce Russian guards at attention near to Lenin’s body. We almost didn’t dare to breathe any harder than a short gasp enough to get some oxygen to the mind. Respectable indeed. Political inclinations aside, it was an amazing experience to see it first-hand, after reading all about this man, the histories behind him and his country.

I couldn’t help but agree with the article above – “cemeteries tell us how people died, but also how they lived…”. This, I would purport, is the most fascinating of it. I haven’t been to all the 12 sites stated in the article 12 of the World’s Most Fascinating Cemeteries but a little thought on some of them…

La Recoleta – Buenos Aires
On first sight of the picture from the article, I was almost surprised to see this as a burial ground – it almost mirrored a typical street lined with old-styled architecture. Although I was clearly disturbed by the story of Rufina Cambaceres who was buried alive there, this location boasts of great architecture and respect for those who have left – a site of respect and appreciation.

Okuno-in Cemetery – Mt. Koya, Japan
This isn’t so much of awe – more of creepiness. While I love village life and all the simplicity which preserved their cultures, the Okuno-in Cemetery is said to have winding paths lit by stone lanterns – too eerie for a visit in my opinion. A respectable deity Jizo is said to guard women and young in their afterlife.

Cemeteries in Bayeux, France
Be it the British or German cemeteries in Bayeux, this site brings on overwhelming sadness. I recalled someone telling me of how his plane flew over a military burial ground and all he saw was an entire land spotted with white crosses. Those of the Germans were darker, oftentimes black, symbolizing the regime which had rained terror on the innocent. Similarly noted in the article referring to two sad figures in the middle of the graveyard, I quote: The sculpture adds a touch of humanity to the depressing atmosphere.  And the words on a sign at the entrance remind us of who paid the price for Hitler’s ambition: “…it is a graveyard for soldiers not all of whom had chosen either the cause or the fight.”
It really shouldn’t be a matter of pure anger or vengeance anymore. While I do not pretend to say that the world is forgiving and I definitely do not feign magnanimity, I guess this is an important lesson of the past that one might not wish to forget.

Kalavryta – Peloponnese Peninsula, Greece
I couldn’t possibly understand the gravity of the foreboding burial grounds Kalavryta. This cemetery holds a deep history of WWII and as the article mentions, “sadness still pervades the town”, albeit the destination of the scenic Odontotos railway. Things like these don’t just dilute with time – again I am not a believer of the saying, “time will heal”. It is but a blatant lie to even say it.

A random addition: Bukit Brown Cemetery, Singapore
Bukit Brown Cemetery in Singapore is a spot that many not have given much attention to. Within the tiny country of Singapore holds a truly unimaginable vast burial ground known as Bukit Brown. Recent news has it that the cemetery will have to make way for the living, a sad situation that has been questioned, “no space for the dead?”. One might concur – a small and highly populated country would require all the space it could lay its hands on for development. I must say that the pictures found in the above link is truly fascinating – albeit a place that I might not wish to set foot into, this location holds a history unknown to too many.

Having examined the above, I started to wonder what really happens in the netherworld. Many present offerings to those who have passed-on, some believe that when a person leaves he will no longer exist. I would choose to believe in life-after-death, and some respect must be reserved at least for the burial grounds that hold them. I read deeply into the phase of mourning – some mourn by clearing the weeds at tombs, some create fictive kinships, some choose to believe in unseen presence of their loved ones.

Do we have to modernize, progress, and move on in life to the extent that we no longer preserve our memories in the little ways that we can? Must we now give up all that we had in the past in order to accommodate the future?

What a sad, sad fact of the modern world.


life written on a little dot

I’d recently been intrigued by microdots and the magnificent amount of information that can be written on it, without being easily detected. It was initially a technique used by the Germans during WWI and WWII, and the origin has often been disputed. Nonetheless, lets not dive into the historic creations of the microdot.

I was just wondering how anyone would have come up with such a brilliant idea. Something so insignificant like a dot, which punctuates every sentence in this page, can be magnified into a trove of secrets hidden on it. I sometimes wonder if one can hide a life story on these microdots for others to read. Valuing privacy to a large extent, I am amazed by the existence of microdots and how it has been used in espionage/counter-espionage events. I guess it would require more studies for an in-depth discussion, but lets just say … one should not under-estimate this dot. 😉