Old Passau

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 Dreiflüssestadtthe “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.

Old Passau from a canal boat portal on the Danube River, Germany

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)

Female Bavarian Guide in a dirndl, Passau, Germany

Bavarian Guide
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.

Luxury canal cruiseboats on on the Danube, Passau Germany

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.

Anchor sculpture: monument to the victims of the Danube, Passau

“Den Opfern der Donau”
“The victims of the Danube: erected by the friends of the rivers and seas.” – Passau 1971

Landscape: Paulinerkloster Mariahilf on the hillside south of old Passau, Germany.

Paulinerkloster Mariahilf
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.

Stairs and arched gateway through Passau

Neumarkt Wall
The NeumarktNew 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.

Schaibling Guard Tower, River Inn, Passau Germany

Schaiblingsturm – Schaibling Guard Tower
The best-preserved portion of Passau’s former city wall fortifications, the Schaibling Guard Tower, was built in 1481.

Council workers hosing the old Passau city walls and Schaiblingsturm, Germany

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.

Metal Door illustrated with a man and boy, Old Passau, Germany.

Metal Door
Artwork adorns the old city walls and doors.

Clocktower through a metal archway, Passau Germany

Arch and Clocktower
Walking through the old city brings a new delight at every turn.

Passau Rathaus from the plaza, Germany

Rathaus – Town Hall
The colourfully decorated Venetian-style town hall building dates back to 1405.

Passau Rathaus and Clock Tower , Germany

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.

Wittelsbach fountain and Residenzplatz - Residence Plaza, Passau Germany

Residenzplatz – Residence Plaza
The baroque-style Wittelsbach Fountain (Wittelsbacher Brunnen) was built in Residence Square
(Residenzplatz) in 1903.

View inside the New Bishop

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.

View of Passau

Saint Stephen’s Cathedral
The beautiful Saint Stephen’s Cathedral was built in 1688, after the 1662 fire destroyed most of its predecessor. (iPhone5)

The baroque stucco-work and ceiling frescos inside the St. Stephen

St. Stephen’s Ceiling
The baroque stucco-work and ceiling frescos inside the cathedral are just stunning. (iPhone5)

St. Stephen

St. Stephen’s Cathedral Altar

St. Stephen

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!

View of the Passau Veste Oberhaus across the Schanzlbrücke and Danube, Germany

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, …

View of Old Passau from the Oberhausleiten-Stiege stairway, Germany

Old Passau
… stopping occasionally to take in the view (and catch our breath!), …


Veste Oberhaus
… before finally reaching the old fortress, built for Passau’s Prince-Bishops in 1219 to control commerce in the rivers below.

A group of women in gold bonnets and period dress, Veste Oberhaus, Passau Germany

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 with red hair in a Goldhaube gold bonnet, Veste Oberhaus Passau Germany

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, Passau Germany

Inner Courtyard in the Veste Oberhaus
The fortress is a rambling affair, with buildings in gothic, renaissance and baroque styles.

Mannequin dressed as court guards, Veste Oberhaus, Passau Germany

Castle Attendants
The fortress museum illustrates Passau’s long history.

Wooden Wax Moulds, Veste Oberhaus, Passau Germany

Wooden Wax Moulds
The different rooms house exhibits of a particular focus, …

An intricate metal locking system, Veste Oberhaus, Passau Germany

Locking Mechanism
… and we quite enjoyed our time wandering through them.

Woman in a dirndl with a golden bonnet in a glass case, Viking Cruise Boat, Germany

Goldhauben in a Glass Case
When we returned to our boat, we discovered that “Passau Gold Domes” are not just ladies’ hats!

Chef stirring up Passau gold dome chocolate, Viking Cruis Boat, Passau, Germany

Making Passauer Goldhauben
They are also a praline sweet, made from apricot and nut truffle with caramelised almond flakes, in light and dark chocolate …

Hand painting gold onto chocolate Passau Gold Domes pralines, Germany

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 – 

Happy Travels!

Pictures: 19August2014

Old Himba woman smoking a pipe in a dark hut, Kunene, Namibia

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 HimbaHimba 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.

Himba women and a child inside a dark hut, Kunene Region, Namibia

Inside the Hut
It is dark and crowded inside the hut as the women complete their morning beauty ritual.

Young Himba Woman in a dark hut, Kunene Region Namibia

Young Woman
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.

Old Himba woman smoking herself, Kunene Region Namibia

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.

Red hot coals for Smoking, Himba hut, Kunene Region Namibia

Hot Coals for Smoking

Portrait: Himba Mother and Child, Kunene Region Namibia

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.

Himba woman hands mixing Otjize, Kunene Region Namibia

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.

Himba woman hands mixing Otjize, Kunene Region Namibia

Adding Herbs to the Otjize
The women add the resin of the omuzumba shrub and a variety of leaves and herbs to their mixture …

Himba woman hands mixing Otjize, Kunene Region Namibia

… which results in a beautifully scented paste.

Himba woman pouring ochre powder into her hands, Kunene Region Namibia

Adding Ochre 
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. 

Himba woman oiling herself with ochre powder, Kunene Region Namibia

Oiling with Otjize
The colour of blood and the earth, red is considered beautiful and a symbol of life.

Himba woman

Cleaning her Belt
The women’s jewellery, including the heavy belts and necklaces woven with metal wire, are cleaned and re-oiled daily.

Himba woman oiling a Erembe Headdress, Kunene Region Namibia

Oiling the Erembe Headdress
A lot of time is spent rubbing paste into the leather headdress …

Old Himba woman oiling her Ohumba Necklace, Kunene Region Namibia

Oiling the Ohumba Necklace
… and the metal jewellery. Married women wear a heavy necklace made of iron and brass beads.

Himba woman and child in a dark hut, Kunene Region,

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.

Old Himba woman with a pipe in a dark hut, Kunene Region, Nambia

The Pipe
The older women enjoy a quiet pipe before passing it around.

Old Himba woman smoking a pipe in a dark hut, Kunene, Namibia

Old Auntie Smoking

Old Himba woman in a dark hut, Kunene Region, Namibia

Old Auntie
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.

Old Auntiest

That Toothless Smile!
The Himba habit of dental destruction leads to some interesting gaps in the old women’s smiles.

Himba Mother and Child in a dark hut, Kunene Region Namibia

Oiling the Baby
From the time they are born, females wear the otjize paste.

Himba Mother and Child in a dark hut, Kunene Region Namibia

Mother and Child

Portrait: Female Himba toddler, Kunene Region, Namibia

After being re-covered in Otjize, this toddler escaped her mother to come and visit me.

Portrait of a Newlywedde Himba woman, Kunene Region, Namibia

Those eyes!
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 –
Text: Happy Travels

And it sure made me appreciate the running water back at my rustic camp-site!  

Until next time,

Happy travels!

Photos: 17August2015

  • Gabe - December 1, 2016 - 11:57 am

    Beautiful photosReplyCancel

  • kevin dowie - December 1, 2016 - 12:07 pm

    Another excellent series Ursula. You mention how dark the hut interior was, were you using available light only or did you use some flash as well? It’s not really obvious looking at the images.ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - December 2, 2016 - 1:03 am

      Hi Kevin,
      Thanks for dropping in. 😀 No flash on these – just ISO cranked as far it will go, then a LOT of noise reduction in Lightroom.ReplyCancel

  • Leslie - December 1, 2016 - 1:15 pm

    Beautiful photos, fabulous wandering!ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - December 2, 2016 - 1:03 am

      Thanks, Leslie. So nice to “see” you on line. 😀ReplyCancel

  • Trish - December 2, 2016 - 7:29 am

    Gorgeous photos Ursula.ReplyCancel

Pecca Twin Falls on the River Twiss, Singleton Waterfalls Trail Yorkshire, UK

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.

Yellow flowers on a stone wall, Ingleton North Yorkshire, UK

Flowers on the Wall
The flowers on an old stone wall welcome us to the entrance of the trail. (iPhone6)

Welcome to the Waterfall Walk

“Welcome to the Waterfalls Walk”
At the trailhead, a sign marks out the route and highlights some of the walk’s features.

Foamy Waters on the River Twiss, Swilla Glen, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

Foamy Waters
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 Swilla Glen, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

The Money Tree
It is good luck to ‘plant’ a coin in the fallen tree in Swilla Glen.

Close-up: The Money Tree Swilla Glen, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

The Money Tree
Over the years, the tree – and bits of fallen wood around it – has become completely embedded with coin.

Steps in a dirt path, Swilla Glen, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

Steps in Swilla Glen
The trail, although steep in sections with an overall vertical rise of 169 m (554 feet), is beautifully maintained throughout.

Purple wildflower, Swilla Glen, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

Delicate Purple Flower

First Pecca Falls on the River Twiss, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

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 wet Rocks and Delicate green Plants, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

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.

First Pecca Falls on the River Twiss, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

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.

Wild Roses, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

Wild Roses

Hollybush Spout on the River Twiss, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

Hollybush Spout
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 a fencepost, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

Ivy on the Post
There is something very ‘English’ about ivy.

Road-work equipment in front of Thornton Force, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

Pathway Repairs
Ingleton Waterfalls Trail is maintained by the Ingleton Scenery Company. The ongoing improvements clearly keep people busy.

Thornton Force on the River Twiss, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

Thornton Force
The 14-metre high Thornton Force drops over a 330 million-year-old limestone cliff.

River Twiss above Thornton Force, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

River Twiss above Thornton Force
The flat areas above Thornton Force make it a popular picnic area.

Raven Ray Bridge over the River Twiss, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

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 …

Ice-cream truck, Twisleton Lane, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

Twisleton Lane
… to the old Roman road, now known as Twisleton Lane, where an ice-cream truck sits with refreshments for walkers.

A Swaledale Sheep, hillside, , Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

Swaledale Sheep
The green Yorkshire hills and dales are dotted with off-white, black-faced Swaledale sheep.

Head of a grazing Swaledale Tup, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

Swaledale Tup
This hardy local breed is named for the nearby Yorkshire valley of Swaledale.

Landscape including the Ingleton Coalfield

The Ingleton Coalfield
As we round the hill, we have views over one of the smallest coalfields in Great Britain: the Ingleton Coalfield, …

Landscape view to Ingleborough, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

… 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.

Public footpath signpost, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

Walking paths criss-cross the Dales, and circuit the mountains.

 Ingleton Waterfalls Trail into the woods along the River Doe, North Yorkshire, UK

Into the Woods
Our trail leads into the ancient oak woodlands along the River Doe.

Beezley Falls and the Triple Spout on the River Doe, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

Triple Spout
Before long, the River Doe goes over Beezley Falls and then divides into the Triple Spout.

Clouds reflected in a Puddle, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

Clouds in a Puddle

Rival Falls on the River Doe, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

Rival Falls on the River Doe

Ingleton and the Viaduct, Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, North Yorkshire, UK

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 Ingleton Church, North Yorkshire, UK

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.Text: Happy Rambling
I’m so glad the locals decided to share it!

‘Till next time,

Happy Rambling.

Photos: 14July2015

Landscape: Inside Erdene-Zuu Monastery, Mongolia

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.

A clump of grass in front of a Mongolian plain, Ulaanbaatar

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)

Small-Town Minimarket on a dusty street, Mongolia

Small-Town Mini-Market
Dusty streets takes us through small towns as we bump-and-rattle southwest. (iPhone6)

Long bridge over the River Lun, Mongolia

Bridge over the River Lün
We make frequent short stops along the way – this one beside the River Lün in Töv Province. (iPhone6)

Collection of UAZs on a Mongolian hillside.

Lunch Stop
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.

Rocky Hillside, Töv Province, Mongolia

Rocky Hillside
Mongolia is home to more rocks – and more different kinds of rocks – than I have ever seen in my life!

Collection of UAZs on a Mongolian hillside.

Lunch Stop
From the rocky slope, I have a birds-eye view down over our lunch spot.

Mongolian camels, Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

Bactrian Camels
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, Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

A Boy and his Camel

A Boy and his Camels, Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

A Boy and his Camels

Tourist with the Camels, Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

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.

Door-Knocker, Erdene-Zuu Monastery, Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

Erdene-Zuu is probably the oldest surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia.

Door-Knocker, Erdene-Zuu Monastery, Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

Entry to Erdene Zuu
Lion door-knockers guard the entry to the monastery, …

Temples inside Erdene-Zuu Monastery, Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

Inside Erdene-Zuu
… which was built in 1585, using materials recovered from the nearby ruins of Chinggis Khaan’s ancient town of Karakorum (Kharakhorin).

Stupas along the Erdene-Zuu Monastery wall, , Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

Inside Erdene-Zuu
The original plan was to surround the monastery with 108 stupas, built to resemble a Tibetan Buddhist rosary.

The Temple of the Dalai Lama inside Erdene-Zuu Monastery, Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

The Temple of the Dalai Lama
At its peak, the monastery was full of temples and housed up to 1000 monks.

Temples inside Erdene-Zuu Monastery, Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

Inside Erdene-Zuu
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 at Erdene-Zuu Monastery, Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

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.

Prayer Wheels, Erdene-Zuu Monastery, Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

Prayer Wheels
A Mahayana Buddhist temple always features prayer wheels. The supplicant circles in a clockwise direction, spinning the wheels and saying prayers.

Prayer Ger , Erdene-Zuu Monastery, Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

Buddhist Prayer Ger

 Incense Burner Erdene-Zuu Monastery, Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

Incense Burner

Golden Eagle on a perch, Erdene-Zuu Monastery, Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

Golden Eagle
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.

Gers, Kharkhorin, Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

Welcome to my Ger
My first ger experience spoiled me somewhat!

Inside a Ger, Kharkhorin, Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

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.

A young Mongolian woman lights the furnace inside a gerr, Kharkhorin, Övörkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

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.

Text: Keep smiling

I fell asleep dreaming of eagles and camels…

… and of a long, bumpy road.

Until next time,

Keep Smiling!

Photos: 22Septembery2016

An over-sized pink plastic krathong in the middle of Laguna Lake, Phuket

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.

Very 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 WaterPhra 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 on a Krathong, Lumpini Park

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).

Young Thai woman with her krathong, Lumpini Park

Before floating your krathong, you need to make a wish or say a prayer. (Lumpini Park, Bangkok)

A Young Thai woman on the Phone with her krathong, Lumpini Park

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.

Floating Krathong

Floating Krathong

Young Thai men with their krathong, Lumpini Park, Bangkok


Young Thai man with their krathong, Lumpini Park, Bangkok

Light a Light

Twilight on the Laguna Lake, Phuket Thailand

Twilight on the Lagoon
The lake at Phuket’s Laguna Resort was calm and quiet ahead of recent Loi Krathong celebrations.

Coloured led lights on the Laguna Lake, Phuket Thailand

Night Lights
A corner of the lake is lit up, ready for the evening’s festivities.

A Thai Mother and Son take an after-dark Selfie on a wooden bench, Phuket, Thailand

Mother and Son Selfie

Small banana-leaf krathong, Laguna Lake, Phuket Thailand

The Krathong
Once night has completely fallen, people launch their floats.

Elaborate Krathong in a tent, Laguna Resort, Phuket

Elaborate Krathong
In a tented pavilion, large krathong have been collected for judging.

Elaborate Krathong in a tent, Laguna Resort, Phuket

Golden Krathong
The winning floats are quite spectacular.

Three Thais making krathong, Laguna Resort, Phuket

Making Krathong
Around the grounds, smaller krathong are prepared for sale.

Coloured Ice-cream Cone floats, Laguna Resort, Phuket

Coloured-Cone Krathong
While most of the floats are constructed from traditional banana and flowers, there are some colourful alternatives!

Thai woman in a headscarf selling food, Laguna Resort, Phuket

Food Vendor
Wherever people gather in Thailand, there is bound to be plenty of food.

Colourful Sushi for sale, Laguna Resort, Phuket

Sushi is incredibly popular, …

Thai man putting sushi together, Laguna Resort, Phuket

Making Sushi
… especially when it is freshly put together.

Choosing Sushi from an outdoor selection, Laguna Resort, Phuket

Choosing Sushi

Thai woman grilling seafood, Laguna Resort, Phuket

Food Vendor
Seafood is another popular food item; …

Thai woman grilling seafood, Laguna Resort, Phuket

Grilling Seafood
… freshly barbecued and served with a spicy dipping sauce.

Floating Krathong, Lumpini Park, Bangkok

Krathong Floating

This year, Loi Krathong is Monday November 14th; I think I might have to build myself a float.

Text: Stay Well - Ursula

Light a candle, say a payer, and hope for a better tomorrow.

Until next time,

Stay Well!

Pictures: 21November2010 and 06November2014

  • Gabe - November 10, 2016 - 11:11 am

    Good memories of our time in ThailandReplyCancel

  • Arunwadee Pia - November 10, 2016 - 3:09 pm

    Glad to hear that ^_^ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - November 10, 2016 - 10:34 pm

      Hello, P’Pia!
      Yes, we often think fondly of our days in Thailand. 😀ReplyCancel