Old Passau from the Tunnel
It amazes me how European cities manage to preserve the gothic and baroque architecture of their ancestry in the midst of thriving modern metropolises.
My husband was born in Passau, Germany.
Or, so they tell him; he doesn’t actually remember.
It is named as his birthplace on his papers, which always causes some consternation at border-crossings, because he has a Hungarian name and an American passport. His parents escaped from Hungary after the Soviet Red Army invaded in September 1944. Some years later, when my husband was five, they emigrated to the USA with their three children.
So, we were extra curious to visit the Bavarian city of Passau: to find out what kind of place it was, and to see if he recognised anything.
Called die Dreiflüssestadt, the “City of Three Rivers”, Passau sits at the confluence of the Danube, the Inn, and the Ilz Rivers in southern Germany, near the the Czech and Austrian borders. It was first mentioned by the Romans in the 2nd century BC, after they pushed the resident Boii Celtic tribe out of the area and back across the Alps to make way a for a fort.
Some time in the second half of the 5th century, the Italian (Saint) Severinus of Noricum established a Christian monastery in Passau. In 739, the Anglo-Saxon monk (Saint) Boniface founded the Roman Catholic Diocese of Passau – the largest diocese of the Holy Roman Empire for many years. The city is still predominantly Catholic.
Passau was once an important centre for the medieval salt trade, and later became known for its guilds, especially those crafting quality swords and knives. A medieval fortress – the Veste Oberhaus – which was built in 1219 to be a stronghold for the Bishop of Passau, still sits on a hill, overlooking the city from across the Danube.
Much of the original architecture in the old city was destroyed by fire in 1662, and the buildings were subsequently rebuilt in the Baroque-style that was popular during that period. These are some of the ornate and beautiful buildings one sees today.
We arrived by canal boat early one summer morning, and were able to explore much of the old city – as well as the Veste Oberhaus fortress-museum – by foot before cruising away and into Austria at dinner time.
Do join us.
Passau from the Portal
One of the beauties of travelling by canal boat is waking up with a new city outside your window in the morning. (iPhone5)
Andrea, our smiling guide for a walking tour of Passau’s Old City, meets us on the banks of the Danube in her dirndl: the traditional Bavarian women’s costume of bodice, puff sleeved blouse, full skirt and apron.
Boats on the Canal
Passau is the last train-stop in Germany before the Austrian border. It is also a day-stop for the increasingly popular European river-cruising tourism industry.
“Den Opfern der Donau”
“The victims of the Danube: erected by the friends of the rivers and seas.” – Passau 1971
Much of the Altestadt, the Old City, is located on the low-lying peninsula at the confluence of the Danube and Inn Rivers. From the tip of the peninsula, the Paulinerkloster Mariahilf – a pilgrimage church built in the early 1620s – can be seen to the south, across the Inn River.
The Neumarkt – New Market – grew up between the 10th and 13th centuries. In 1209, it was surrounded by a stone wall, separating it from the old town centre.
Schaiblingsturm – Schaibling Guard Tower
The best-preserved portion of Passau’s former city wall fortifications, the Schaibling Guard Tower, was built in 1481.
Cleaning the Schaiblingsturm
Passau’s location on a narrow, low strip of land at the confluence of three rivers makes it subject to regular flooding. A graph on a nearby wall shows the high water marks dating back to 1501. On June 2, 2013 – about a year before our visit – the waters had risen to levels not seen in over five hundred years. The clean up was ongoing.
Artwork adorns the old city walls and doors.
Arch and Clocktower
Walking through the old city brings a new delight at every turn.
Rathaus – Town Hall
The colourfully decorated Venetian-style town hall building dates back to 1405.
Rathausturm – Town Hall Tower
The current 38-meter neo-Gothic Rathaus clock-tower was finished in 1892. It houses Bavaria’s largest carillon (glockenspiel), ringing tunes out over the city three times a day.
Residenzplatz – Residence Plaza
The baroque-style Wittelsbach Fountain (Wittelsbacher Brunnen) was built in Residence Square
(Residenzplatz) in 1903.
Inside the New Bishop’s Residence Museum
The early-18th century Bishop’s Palace is now a museum showcasing some of Passau’s treasures from its days as the capitol of the largest diocese in the Holy Roman Empire.
Saint Stephen’s Cathedral
The beautiful Saint Stephen’s Cathedral was built in 1688, after the 1662 fire destroyed most of its predecessor. (iPhone5)
St. Stephen’s Ceiling
The baroque stucco-work and ceiling frescos inside the cathedral are just stunning. (iPhone5)
St. Stephen’s Cathedral Altar
St. Stephen’s Organ
This the world’s largest cathedral organ. The sound resonating through the cathedral when it is played is magnificent – although I can’t say I enjoyed the choice of pieces we were treated to!
Veste Oberhaus over the Schanzl Bridge
After lunch back on our canal-boat, we crossed the Schanzlbrücke over the Danube and climbed the 200 steps of the Oberhausleiten-Stiege – the Upper House Stairs, …
… stopping occasionally to take in the view (and catch our breath!), …
… before finally reaching the old fortress, built for Passau’s Prince-Bishops in 1219 to control commerce in the rivers below.
Goldhaubenfrauen – Gold Bonnet Women
We were surprised, when we stopped at the coffee shop outside the fortress, to find the courtyard filled with women in period costume.
Woman in a Goldhaube
A Goldhaube is a headdress that women from wealthy or bourgeoise families have worn for 200 years in this region of Eastern Bavaria and Upper Austria. Today, it is more a symbol of regional cultural identity than of wealth. Listed as an item of “Intangible UNESCO Cultural Heritage“ in 2014, the Goldhaube is normally reserved for special occasions. These women were at the fortress for their bimonthly “Goldhaubengruppe” Gold-Hat Group meeting.
Inner Courtyard in the Veste Oberhaus
The fortress is a rambling affair, with buildings in gothic, renaissance and baroque styles.
The fortress museum illustrates Passau’s long history.
Wooden Wax Moulds
The different rooms house exhibits of a particular focus, …
… and we quite enjoyed our time wandering through them.
Goldhauben in a Glass Case
When we returned to our boat, we discovered that “Passau Gold Domes” are not just ladies’ hats!
Making Passauer Goldhauben
They are also a praline sweet, made from apricot and nut truffle with caramelised almond flakes, in light and dark chocolate …
Painting Passauer Goldhauben
… painted with 23-carat gold leaf.
It was a “sweet” ending to an interesting visit.
And at least now my husband can say he remembers Passau!
Until next time –
Old Auntie Smoking
It may be full daylight outside, but it is black and smoky inside a traditional Himba hut.
It is dark inside a wattle and daub Himba wattle and daub hut.
As well as being dark, the huts are likely to be noisy with chatter, packed with bodies, and smoky from the fireplace, pipe tobacco, and incense.
The huts are built from mopane wood – a local termite-resistant hardwood – plastered with a mixture of clay and animal dung. An open fireplace sits on the packed-dirt floor in the centre, and heavy wooden supports rise up to the domed roof. With no windows or chimney, the smoke and heat hang heavy in the air. The only light enters through the odd cracks in the plaster and through the single doorway.
The Himba are a small tribe (about 50,000) of semi-nomadic pastoralists eking a living out of the hot, dry landscape either side of the Kunene River, which runs between Namibia and Angola. Although they are not isolated from urban centres and other tribes in the Kunene Region, the Himba have managed to maintain their unique culture; little has changed since the 16th century.
Himba are immediately recognisable by their distinctive hairstyles (see: Mother and Child; Women of the Himba; Himba Model Shoot), which are determined by their age, gender and marital status. Although men often dress in western clothing, the women and girls are more commonly seen in their age-old costume of soft cow-hide skirts and head-dresses; metal anklets, ornaments and belts; and orange-tinted body butter.
Maintaining their elaborate hair-styles and full body paint takes the women hours every day, so it is no surprise that they might perform their ablutions as part of a social gathering, complete with pipe smoke, gossip, and laughter. Very early one November morning, my cameras and I – and a male colleague – were lucky enough to be invited into a small hut in Otjomazeva Village in the Kunene region of Northern Namibia. Our photo-tour co-ordinator, Photographer Ben McRae had done all the necessary ground-work before our arrival.
The women in the hut seemed to forget our presence: they continued chatting and performing their morning regimen, while we sat on a cowhide mats in the crowded space either side of the front entry.
Inside the Hut
It is dark and crowded inside the hut as the women complete their morning beauty ritual.
This young woman is only recently married – which is one reason she is not wearing an Erembe – the Himba crown crafted from the skin of a sheep or goat’s head.
Himba women don’t use water to wash – there is just too little of it in this arid environment. Instead, they burn aromatic plants and resins and use the smoke created to perfume and clean themselves and their clothing.
Hot Coals for Smoking
Mother and Child
The Himba are a proud and beautiful people.
Married women wear beaded anklets which are reputed to protect them against snake bite.
Butterfat for Otjize Paste
The body-butter Himba use to keep their skin fresh and protected from insects and sunburn, starts with butterfat or vaseline.
Adding Herbs to the Otjize
The women add the resin of the omuzumba shrub and a variety of leaves and herbs to their mixture …
… which results in a beautifully scented paste.
The final and most important ingredient in the otjize, the body-butter mix, is ground ochre which gives the paste – and everything it is rubbed onto – its rich warm colour.
Oiling with Otjize
The colour of blood and the earth, red is considered beautiful and a symbol of life.
Cleaning her Belt
The women’s jewellery, including the heavy belts and necklaces woven with metal wire, are cleaned and re-oiled daily.
Oiling the Erembe Headdress
A lot of time is spent rubbing paste into the leather headdress …
Oiling the Ohumba Necklace
… and the metal jewellery. Married women wear a heavy necklace made of iron and brass beads.
Mother and Child
As the young mother speaks, we can see the gap where her top incisors have been filed. Both men and women have the bottom incisors knocked out and the uppers filed in an upside-down v during a ceremony around puberty. This is supposed to attract the protection of the ancestors.
The older women enjoy a quiet pipe before passing it around.
Old Auntie Smoking
Freshly smoked and oiled, an old Auntie sits quietly under her heavy rug. Nights are cold here in autumn – although I find it quite hot in the hut.
That Toothless Smile!
The Himba habit of dental destruction leads to some interesting gaps in the old women’s smiles.
Oiling the Baby
From the time they are born, females wear the otjize paste.
Mother and Child
After being re-covered in Otjize, this toddler escaped her mother to come and visit me.
This young newlywed – beautiful in her own right – clearly looked up to the young mother in the hut; I think she was in awe of her, and of her motherhood.
It was a privilege sharing time with these extraordinary people –
And it sure made me appreciate the running water back at my rustic camp-site!
Until next time,
Pecca Twin Falls
One of many stunning waterfalls in North Yorkshire, the Pecca Twin Falls on the River Twiss is a feature on the 7 kilometre-long Ingleton Waterfalls Trail.
It all started with articles touting the natural beauty of the woods and waterfalls around the Yorkshire village of Ingleton, published in the local Lancaster Guardian newspaper some time in the late 1800’s.
The articles generated so much interest that an Improvements Company was formed to make the waterfalls more accessible. The resulting 4.3 mile (7 km) circuit path was opened to the public – for a small fee – in April 1885. Today, the popular trail, which is situated on private lands, is still open for a fee everyday except Christmas.
It is well worth the price of admission!
The well-maintained trail follows the Rivers Twiss and Doe through countryside designated as a protected area in the United Kingdom (a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)) for the unique and interesting plants, animals, and geological structures in the area. The rivers run yellow from the rich, peaty soil that the waters travel through before rushing over the ancient rocks that form the Peak District.
Join us for a short walk around some of North Yorkshire’s most beautiful countryside.
Flowers on the Wall
The flowers on an old stone wall welcome us to the entrance of the trail. (iPhone6)
“Welcome to the Waterfalls Walk”
At the trailhead, a sign marks out the route and highlights some of the walk’s features.
The waters of the River Twiss are rich with organic materials they have collected along their trip through the Carboniferous Great Scar limestone. When they race through Swilla Glen, natural surfactants create foam at the base of the waterfalls and over the rocks.
The Money Tree
It is good luck to ‘plant’ a coin in the fallen tree in Swilla Glen.
The Money Tree
Over the years, the tree – and bits of fallen wood around it – has become completely embedded with coin.
Steps in Swilla Glen
The trail, although steep in sections with an overall vertical rise of 169 m (554 feet), is beautifully maintained throughout.
Delicate Purple Flower
First Pecca Falls
Before long, we can see the first of the Pecca Waterfalls on the River Twiss. Grasses, ferns, and a forest of oak, ash, birch and hazel trees cover the top of the gorge.
Sharp Rocks and Delicate Plants
Our climb up to the vantage-point over the falls takes us past exposed slate and sandstone, and the plants that thrive in the moist shadows.
The First Pecca Falls
The five Pecca Falls together drop about 30 metres – although the pools at the bases of the falls are said to be as deep again. The waters are a distinctive yellow from the rich, peaty soils upstream.
Our next waterfall is the 8 metre (30 foot) Hollybush Spout. I couldn’t help but wish I had a tripod with me! (ISO200 16mm f/10 1/15 sec)
Ivy on the Post
There is something very ‘English’ about ivy.
Ingleton Waterfalls Trail is maintained by the Ingleton Scenery Company. The ongoing improvements clearly keep people busy.
The 14-metre high Thornton Force drops over a 330 million-year-old limestone cliff.
River Twiss above Thornton Force
The flat areas above Thornton Force make it a popular picnic area.
Raven Ray Bridge over the River Twiss
A bit further upstream, walkers cross the River Twiss before climbing up the hillside on the other bank …
… to the old Roman road, now known as Twisleton Lane, where an ice-cream truck sits with refreshments for walkers.
The green Yorkshire hills and dales are dotted with off-white, black-faced Swaledale sheep.
This hardy local breed is named for the nearby Yorkshire valley of Swaledale.
The Ingleton Coalfield
As we round the hill, we have views over one of the smallest coalfields in Great Britain: the Ingleton Coalfield, …
… and across to Ingleborough (723m, 2372ft), one of the “Three Peaks” of the Yorkshire Dales, which are, in turn, part of Britain’s Pennines range.
Walking paths criss-cross the Dales, and circuit the mountains.
Into the Woods
Our trail leads into the ancient oak woodlands along the River Doe.
Before long, the River Doe goes over Beezley Falls and then divides into the Triple Spout.
Clouds in a Puddle
Rival Falls on the River Doe
Ingleton and the Viaduct
The trail takes us past more magnificent waterfalls before leading back into the village of Ingleton, where the Grade II listed 80-foot arches of the railway viaduct – remains of the Ingleton Branch Line built between 1858 and 1861 – stand over the village and Swilla Glen.
St Mary the Virgin
We pass the Ingleton parish church – built in 1886 and dedicated to St Mary – before heading back to our car.
It was a beautiful walk – a small taste of the bucolic Yorkshire Dales.
I’m so glad the locals decided to share it!
‘Till next time,
Inside Erdene-Zuu Monastery
Mongolia is a land of boundless grassy plains and endless open skies.
Mongolia seems vast.
That’s probably because it is. Once you are outside the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, the plains and the skies go on forever. The “World Factbook”, published by the CIA, puts it in terms Americans can understand: Mongolia is “more than twice the size of Texas”.
Landlocked between its bigger neighbours China and Russia, Mongolia probably seems even more expansive because it is so sparsely populated. With less than 2 people per square kilometre, it is the least densely populated country in the world.
It is a land of hardy, nomadic people, dotted across a vast, rugged landscape that stretches out under those never-ending skies. Most of the land belongs to the state, and the people – with their herds of cattle, goats, horses, and sheep – wander the steppes in summer, unfettered by fences or property lines. Every Mongolian is entitled to a small plot of land to live on for free for life, so it is not uncommon to see gers (yurts) or modest houses with stone or wooden fences around them, but these plots are dwarfed by the surrounding grasslands that extend – boundless and boundary-less – to the distant mountains.
As immense as it is, the country feels even larger because of the parlous state of the roads. Towns are few and far between, and the roads between them often bear more resemblance to goat tracks or river beds than anything approximating a highway system.
Fortunately, I was travelling with a photographic group organised by Within the Frame, and our local guides G and Segi had fixed us up with Russian UAZ (Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod) four-wheel-drive vehicles. UAZs are not exactly luxurious – or even comfortable – but they (and our drivers) were up to the task of negotiating the bumps and ruts that pass for roadways.
The country’s history and its people are as resilient and rugged as the arid, rocky ground: our last stop after our first day’s driving was the Erdene-Zuu (Hundred Treasures) Monastery, part of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape of Central Mongolia. The monastery was built in 1585, just outside the ruins of Kharkhorin (spelling various): that town established in 1220 by the the infamous Chinggis Khaan, and later made the Empire’s capitol by his son, Ögedei Khaan. The capitol was destroyed by Manchu soldiers in 1338; the Buddhist monastery of Erdene-Zuu was largely demolished during the Communist purges of 1939.
In spite of these waves of destruction, the people, the religion, and some of the old buildings and heritage sites, survive.
The View from the Truck
The Mongolian landscape, as seen from the inside of a Russian UAZ four wheel drive (about the only thing that can reliably navigate the national roads!), consists of miles of grassy plains, extending to a backdrop of mountains. The rugged grasses cling to the arid, rocky ground, which is punctuated everywhere by inordinate amounts of litter. (iPhone6)
Dusty streets takes us through small towns as we bump-and-rattle southwest. (iPhone6)
Bridge over the River Lün
We make frequent short stops along the way – this one beside the River Lün in Töv Province. (iPhone6)
Our next stop was for lunch: the trucks pull onto the hillside just off the road and staff set up our lunch tent while the rest of us wander off in search of rocks to use as toilet shields.
Mongolia is home to more rocks – and more different kinds of rocks – than I have ever seen in my life!
From the rocky slope, I have a birds-eye view down over our lunch spot.
Our next stop is in Övörkhangai province, where Mongolian people lope in on their two-humped bactrian camels to offer us rides.
A Boy and his Camel
A Boy and his Camels
Tourist and the Camels
One of the camel-riders farewells her bactrian. In addition to being much hairier in their winter coats than their dromedary cousins, bactrians are all-together better behaved and more comfortable to ride.
Erdene-Zuu is probably the oldest surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia.
Entry to Erdene Zuu
Lion door-knockers guard the entry to the monastery, …
… which was built in 1585, using materials recovered from the nearby ruins of Chinggis Khaan’s ancient town of Karakorum (Kharakhorin).
The original plan was to surround the monastery with 108 stupas, built to resemble a Tibetan Buddhist rosary.
The Temple of the Dalai Lama
At its peak, the monastery was full of temples and housed up to 1000 monks.
During the 1939 purges, the monastery and many of the other buildings in the compound were destroyed, and the monks were either secularised, interned, or executed.
The Golden Stupa
Built in 1799, the Golden Stupa houses 100,000 different Buddhas. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the stupa or the inner part of the monastery, where some wonderful ancient tapestries – telling the stories of local Buddhas and saints – survive.
A Mahayana Buddhist temple always features prayer wheels. The supplicant circles in a clockwise direction, spinning the wheels and saying prayers.
Buddhist Prayer Ger
Outside the monastery, there is a row of tourist shops. A woman with a photo-booth, complete with well-worn period Mongol clothing and a golden eagle, tries to get our attention. But, it is late, and it has been a long day. The best I can manage is a half-hearted photo of the giant raptor against the monastery wall.
Welcome to my Ger
My first ger experience spoiled me somewhat!
Inside my Ger
It was clean and roomy, with painted wooden furniture (with a horse-hair mattress and a barley pillow) and a rolled-out linoleum floor.
Fixing the Fire
Once the wood-burning furnace was lit, the ger was quite warm and cozy.
I am not as hardy as the average Mongolian; Air China had lost my luggage and I had very little clothing to change into. So, the warmth inside my ger was a most pleasant surprise after an exhausting day.
I fell asleep dreaming of eagles and camels…
… and of a long, bumpy road.
Until next time,
Krathong after Dark
An over-sized krathong (กระทง) – or banana-leaf floating basket – sits in the middle of Phuket’s Laguna Lake, giving off a cheerful pink light as the sun sets over Bang Tao beach.
Some days feel dark.
It is a truism that the best way to combat darkness is to shine a lamp or light a candle.
Loi Krathong (ลอยกระทง) is Thailand’s own festival of lights. On the evening of the twelfth full-moon of the traditional Thai lunar calendar, Thais – and lucky visitors – congregate around a body of water and float (loi; ลอย) krathong (กระทง), or banana-leaf boats.
There are a number of stories about the festival’s origins: the most popular being that it was started by a lady in the court of Sukhothai Kingdom (1238 – 1583) to give thanks to the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha (พระแม่คงคา). The more likely explanation is that it is a Thai Buddhist adaptation of an old Brahman festival.
Traditionally, the floats are home-made using sections of banana stem as a foundation, although modern versions might be built on styrofoam (discouraged because of the environmental effects) or bread. The base is covered with banana leaf, and then decorated elaborately with folded banana leaf and flowers before small candles and sticks of incense are added. Sometimes a small coin is placed on the banana-leaf boat as an offering to the water spirits, or hair and fingernail clippings might be included as a symbol of letting go of past transgressions or negative thoughts. The boats are set out on the waters, where they are carried off on the currents, or eventually sink to the bottom of the pools or ponds they’ve been launched in.
My husband and I made our own krathong one year from materials our Thai teacher had brought into class for us. While we had fun constructing them, they were neither as large nor as elaborate as the one’s Thais make for themselves every year.
Before setting your krathong afloat, you light the incense and the candle – the candle venerates the Buddha – and you make a wish or say a prayer. As the basket drifts away on the currents of the water, you let it carry away any hatred, anger, or negativity that was in your heart.
Please enjoy some photos from Loi Krathongs past.
Marigolds and a Paper Prayer
Marigolds are a popular “good luck” flower in Thailand, and are often used in decorative floral arrangements for Buddhist festivals (Lumpini Park, Bangkok).
Before floating your krathong, you need to make a wish or say a prayer. (Lumpini Park, Bangkok)
A Phone and a Smile
It you can’t share Loi Krathong with your friends, I guess a chat on the phone is the next best thing.
Light a Light
Twilight on the Lagoon
The lake at Phuket’s Laguna Resort was calm and quiet ahead of recent Loi Krathong celebrations.
A corner of the lake is lit up, ready for the evening’s festivities.
Mother and Son Selfie
Once night has completely fallen, people launch their floats.
In a tented pavilion, large krathong have been collected for judging.
The winning floats are quite spectacular.
Around the grounds, smaller krathong are prepared for sale.
While most of the floats are constructed from traditional banana and flowers, there are some colourful alternatives!
Wherever people gather in Thailand, there is bound to be plenty of food.
Sushi is incredibly popular, …
… especially when it is freshly put together.
Seafood is another popular food item; …
… freshly barbecued and served with a spicy dipping sauce.
This year, Loi Krathong is Monday November 14th; I think I might have to build myself a float.
Light a candle, say a payer, and hope for a better tomorrow.
Until next time,
Pictures: 21November2010 and 06November2014
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