Entries tagged with “travel notes”.



I am bringing in this episode of my travel notes a few pictures taken on the spectacular alpine highway Transalpina which we crossed in the last day of our motor trip. The road crosses the  Parang mountains and allowing for a scenic drive from the city of Sebes in the North to the resort of Ranca south of the mountains. The map is available at


The road competes with the Transfagarasan alpine road which is located about 100 km East for the title of the most beautiful alpine road in Romania. Its origins are said be traced back to the 4th century BC, this being one of the roads used by the Roman legions to reach the defense posts in the Northern area of the Empire.  Used for the many centuries to come only by shepherds crossing the mountains with their sheep. It was only during the First World War that the German army built a stone road, then when both sides of the Carpathians became part of Romania it was modernized during the 1930s (the reign of king Carol the 2nd). During the last few years it was asphalted and is in very good shape, yet it is not yet officially open as the sides of the road are not all in place. It is safe to look on the Internet Web site for the state of the road and for the weather forecast before planing a trip





We crossed it from North (the lake at Obarsia Lotrului) to South (the resort of Ranca). After climbing on the alpine plateau the landscape becomes spectacular, endless rows of mountains, and the road that at some points seems to climb to the sky. We have visited alpine roads in Austria and Switzerland and we can witness that the Transalpina proudly competes with them. The Internet side quotes 2145 as the highest point on the road, although the GPS on our car claimed that we reached 2170m at some point.




Here is an odd and sad story – the story of a place of worship, the story of a place that witnessed the history of a Jewish community and was the symbol, the place of gathering and the center of life of this community. A place which was sold as a piece of real estate and its purpose changed. Instead of becoming a place of remembering it will soon forget all.



This was the second day of our trip in Western Romania. After having spent the night in Baile Herculane and then traveled for a few hours in the wild and picturesque valley of the river Cerna we descended to Turnu Severin.We stopped first at the walls of the medieval city which are also the head of the bridge built by Apolodor of Damascus in the years 103-105 when the Roman army entered Dacia to win the second and final war and conquer this territory. Then we went to the center of the city which looks quite nice and was quite and empty in that summer Sunday afternoon. There we noticed the building, a red bricks structure with a silhouette that looked familiar.



Without any doubt the building was a synagogue. Or better said it was once a synagogue, because now the firm outside indicated the present destination of the building – a notary office. What we were seeing was the former synagogue built in the center of the city in the second half of the 19th century by the Jewish community of Turnu Severin. The community was not too big in numbers, a mix of about 140 Ashkenazi and Sephardic families, but probably a wealthy and flourishing community as they could afford buying in this location and building the Jewish place of prayer in the heart of the city. I could find no information about the building on the Internet, not the exact year of its building, not about the architect and builder, not about the benefactors who contributed. I do not know if there are any archives of the community, there are certainly Jews who were born here, or descendants of the Jews born here living all over the world, they could have contributed with information, photographs, memorabilia, they could have helped to make this place a museum if there is no longer a viable community for praying, but the fate of the place was to be different.



I could actually find more information on the Internet about the transaction that settled the fate of the synagogue building. The case made some waves a few years ago. If the information I found is accurate, the building was sold by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania (FCER) in 2006 for the amount of 57,000 Euros (the price of an average apartment in Bucharest) to a family of notaries who opened here their office. Here are two articles (in Romanian) describing the story and the history.





We could not enter the building, the offices were closed on Sunday. Near the synagogue a big Christian Orthodox cathedral is being built, actually it looks close to completion, and it dwarfs the much modest (in size) synagogue. The building looks like it’s being maintained in good conditions, but soon the external architectonic details still existing that keep trace of the original purpose of the building may disappear, and with them the last memories of another Jewish community in Eastern Europe which is gone forever.



Located on the southeastern shore of Sicily, Syracuse is one of the most famous locations on the island. It offers a variety of objectives, some of them extremely interesting, some other a little bit over-rated, but all together they make of the city a mandatory stop even in a rather short stay. The older and the more interesting part of the city lays on the Ortigia island and the way it is accessed reminded me a little bit the entrance and the access to Venice, although most of the parallels stop here.



The first objective after crossing the long road and one of the two access bridges to the island is the Temple of Apollo. The ruins may not look extremely impressive today compared to other similar objectives that I have seen in Greece, Rome and even Sicily, but one must take into account that this is the oldest Doric temple in Sicily and some say in the whole world, built in the 6th century BC.



Our next stop was in Piazza Archimede which bears the name of the most famous character of the Greek antiquity whose death is located by history and legend on the beaches around. In the center of the square we could see the beautiful Fountain of Diana created in 1906 by Giulio Moschetti. The Greek goddess turned the nymph Arethusa into a spring to save her from a malevolent pursuer. More later.



The Duomo ws for me by far the most impressive monument in the city. The strong impression starts with the baroque facade created in the 18th century by Andrea Palma.



It is only when you enter inside the Duomo that you feel the power and the uniqueness of the place. The current structure remained largely the same since the 7th century, when it recycled a Temple of Athens. Six columns on one side and fourteen columns on the other side from the previous Doric buildings are incorporated in the walls of the current church.



There is more beauty inside this church – for example the spiral-shaped decorated columns.



The patron saint of the city is Santa Lucia, patron of the blinds and many churches and works of art are dedicated to her. Another church in the town hosts a masterpiece of Caravaggio representing her burial, which unfortunately I did not get to see. In the Duomo we can find however several statues of Santa Lucia, some of them are taken out in processions on her day, December 13.



A series of beautiful (and beautifully conseved) stastues belong to the Gagini brothers, contemporary of Michelangelo. The Madonna of the Snow above, dated 1512 is by Antonello Gagini.



We exited the Duomo and wondered through the narrow streets typical to Italian cities that kept something close to the historical design to the Jewish Quarter, in search of memories of Jewish life. There has been a Jewish presence in the city since the fall of the Second Temple in AD 70 until the expulsion of Jews in 1492. Rabbi Akiva, “Rosh la-Chachamim” (Head of all the Sages) visited here. As in Spain after the catastrophe of 1492 some Jews chose to stay, convert, and leave a clandestine Jewish life. It is even said that pizza was invented by Jews, it was probably not a peperoni one though :-)   The most famous objective is the Miqveh dating from the Byzantine period but its state and the way it is exposed and presented (fixed and spare hours, unfriendly personal, unprofessional guide, an amateurish museum and no photos allowed) make me not to recommend the place.



We walked along the shore, it was quite windy, and we could only imagine that one of the beaches around was the one where Archimedes defended his circles. The Maniace Castle built in the 13th during the Byzantine rule is another objective that we did not get to visit, and we did not even get closer to the lighthouse!



A Pascal banner in Romanian and Italian on one of the buildings signalize that some of the estimated one million of Romanian living today in Italy settled and work here. As it was October we could not decide if this was for the previous Easter six months before or for the upcoming Easter six months later :-)



At the end of the visit that day we reached the spring and Fountain of Arthusa, the very place where Diana exercised the goddess power.



That day we did not get to see the archeological park which is located on the main island, as we arrived a few minutes after the ticket office closed although the park staid open for almost another hour. So we returned in the last full day of our stay in Sicily on purpose to see this place three-stared by the Michelin guide. Two of the places in the park are remarkable. The Greek Theater started to be carved in the rock of the hill in the 5th century BC and is the largest in Sicily and one of the largest in the Ancient Greek world.



The Ear of Dyonisios is a fascinating cave part created by stone excavations made in the ancient times. Its shape creates acoustics that are said to have helped the tyrant Denys to spy upon his people. The name of the place was given by no other than Caravaggio.

There are a few more places that we did not get to see. I already mentioned the Santa Lucia church with the painting by Caravaggio and the castle. Add to this the art museum which was closed on the first day we were there (a Monday) and the impressive modern sanctuary of Madonna delle Lacrime (Our Lady of Tears). The Michelin guide was right again recommending two-three days to know and appreciate Syracuse.






The permanent rush and lack of time obliged me to abandon in the middle the writing of the travel notes cycles. I did not have time to continue the notes about my trip as Tourist in Romania made in October 2010, and I also left aside a lot of photos and memories from our trips to Sicily and Taiwan last fall. I will try to pick them one by one, time allowing, and I hope to do it before I forget everything.


source http://www.progettopalermo.com/2010/09/duomo-di-monreale.html


Mount Etna put aside there are two places which make by themselves worth a journey to Sicily. I already wrote about the Valley of the Temples, time has come to write about the Duomo in Monreale. Located on a hill near Palermo, this is one of the most impressive and original monuments of religious art and architecture in the Mediterranean area. Beware about the ten minutes walk from the cars parking to the top of the hill, via a tourist market.



The actual church started to be raised in the second half of the 12th century, during the rule of the Norman king William II. The construction lasted only eleven years, but the internal decoration continued for tens of years and the style of the building and the decoration are witness to the crossword location of Sicily during that period, a place where Western Christianity met and fought the political, military and cultural influences of the Arab and Eastern Christianity (byzantine) civilizations. The result is a wonder of fusion between the Normand, Arab and Byzantine styles of a richness and beauty that equals the most significant monuments from the same period in Spain for example.




The huge mosaic portrait of Christ Pantocrator (“Ruler of All”) dominates the apse, and this kind of huge portraits is typical for the Sicilian churches from that period (we were to see it later in the day at the church in Cefalu). Golden yellow is the dominant color, with an amazing brightness, freshness and monumental expressiveness.



The fine lines of the pillars combine the Greek structure which was probably inspired by the artisans of the time by the remains of the Greek temples on the island and the mosaics on the arches which have a visible imprint of the Islamic art.



To me however the most striking impression was the one of the mosaics in the whole church, and especially in the nave, where are depicted scenes from the Old Testament. Above are Adam and Eve for example. The mosaics were created by artists from Venice, and their size is second only to the Hagia Sophia.



Another episode from the Bible above – Sodom and Gomorrah. The composition in registries and the iconography closer to the Eastern Ortodox style remind painted walls of the the monasteries in Bucovina, in Northern Romania.



The combination of arches and mosaics bring together elements of Western church architecture, Eastern church iconography, and Arab style ornamentation.



Here is what looks like Magen David (Star of David) motif on the decoration of the walls, not necessarily a Jewish element, as the geometric form is widely used also as an Arabic decoration pattern.



Here is a photo of the remarkable decoration of the marble floors.


source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Monreale_Cloitre1.jpg


Unfortunately the time we spent in the cathedral was quite short, and the guide did not allow for time to visit the cloisters or admire the view from the terraces which is said to be magnificent. This is certainly a place that a few hours for visiting, but we were under the constraints of a guided tour. As the tour also skipped the most important monument in Palermo itself – the Palatine Chapel, we have a good reason to be back there sometime.

Al doilea episod din amintirile de calatorie ale lui Gica Manescu in Italia este dedicat Venetiei. Intamplator tocmai am vazut un film al carui actiune se petrece aproape in intregime in orasul gondolelor si al carnavalului (si al festivalului de film), voi posta cronica lui probabil maine.


Am  gasit zilele trecute la ARTE un documentar scurt despre Piata San Marco si persoanele intalnite acolo. Cum fusesem in  decursul anilor trecuti de trei ori in orasul din Laguna  Adriaticei am scos amintirile din minte si vi le redau.

Nu mi-am propus decat sa descriu unele aspecte si impresii care m-au miscat si mi-au atins  mintea si sufletul. Istorie si geografie fac altii mai bine decat mine.

Noutatea a fost ca n-am mai avut bataia de cap sa schimb, in minte bine inteles, preturile din lire, in shekeli sau $.Totul era in Euro, dar in unele locuri se mai afisau preturile vechi in lire.

Apa lagunei tot tulbure, vaporetti si barci cu motor – taxiuri strabat canalele in toate sensurile, iar gondolele legate de debarcader, leganandu-se, asteapta clientii sau lento, lento, strabat  canalele.


source http://www.carnivalofvenice.com/?page_id=1551


E  singurul oras din lume unde exista profesiunea de gondolier, chiar si prin mostenire.

De turisti n-­am ce spune. Intr-o localitate cu ceva mai mult de 400.000 locuitori, intra si se perinda in fiecare luna, cam doua milioane de turisti. Din toata lumea si e o incalceala de limbi  ca la Turnul Babel.


source http://www.nalon-weddingsitaly.com/wedding_ceremonies_in_venice.htm


Calugarite si elevi italieni cu ghizi, nemti, japonezi marunti, dar de o mobilitate desebita, cu aparatele foto in actiune permanenta si  rapida. N-au lipsit, ca pretutindeni, isralienii. I-am  intalnit grupati, in fostul ghetou si la sinagoga veche, cladire de muzeu. Alaturi este un  camin al Comunitatii evreesti venetiene, pentru cei  batrani.

Curios mi s-a parut si nu am stiut, ca e  un  oras cu multe biserici renumite si un cult pentru sfinti. Am gasit strazi si statii de vaporetti, cu numele lui San…

Locul de “adunare” e Piazza San Marco. E  singura cu aceasta denumire, altele sunt “Campo“. Acolo se nasc si cresc mii de porumbei. Am  vazut un  fotograf, care de 40 ani isi face meseria si are un porumbel  de care nu se desparte si pasarea il  recunoaste.

Oboseala turistilor e potolita, prin pauzele sezande pe podetele stivuite, folosite la inundatiile dupa ploi.

Vanzatoarea de seminte pentru pasari, nu pridideste cu ambalarea si vanzarea lor.


source http://www.toms-travels.net/?p=8117


Aceasta Piata lunga de 170 m si larga intre 56  – 82 m. este locul cafenelelor cu sau fara formatii muzicale – Florian in frunte – a magazinelor deosebite si a fost in  trecut locul activitatilor politice sau religioase, fiind flancata de Bazilica San Marco din 1094  si Palatul Dogilor.


source http://www.narratives.co.uk/Details.aspx?ID=5737&TypeID=1&searchtype=&contributor=0&licenses=1,2&sort=REL&cdonly=False&mronly=False&images=True&video=True&documents=True


In Bazilica, cu o taxa mica, se poate admira “Altarul de aur“ o capodopera artistico-religioasa din sec. 14.


source http://www.chinaoilpaintinggallery.com/g-giovanni-bellini-c-58_73_804/san-zaccaria-altarpiece-p-21215


Mi s-a recomandat sa vizitez biserica San Zaccaria, unde o pictura din 1505 a  necunoscutului mie, Giovanni Bellini,  reprezinta pe “Maica Domnului cu pruncul in brate”. Mama cu o privire deosebita spre prunc si admiratoarele din jur.


source http://www.lapalazzinaveneziana.it/english/venezia.asp


Peste drum  de statia fluviala, pe  bratul opus al Canalului Grande este  mareata Bazilica Santa Maria della Salute ‚ a sanatatii. Cu constructia octogonala, din marmora alba, cu sute de simboluri ale Mariei, e o perla arhitectonica, de admirat.

Un pod e la dispozitia pietonilor.

Palatul dogilor, maiestuos, estre vizitat de sute de oameni pe zi.

Adoptand tehnica moderna, are un lift care ne urca pana la etajul 4, coborarea pe scari, e mai usoara.

Patrunderea in salile uriase, impresionante prin picturile si tavanele aurite te aduc parca in alte locuri. De-a lungul peretilor banci din lemn  lustruit te invita sa te asezi  pentru odihna si meditare.




Sunt in deosebi de admirat cele doua picturi, semnate de Tintoretto in sec.16 – „Judecata de apoi”. Pacat ca lumina zilei patrunde greu si sursele de lumina artificiala sunt insuficiente.

Daca este un motiv  sa fie asa, nu stiu.

Piese de mobilier nu exista, lasandu-i–se fiecaruia libertatea de imaginatie.


source http://www.forumlive.net/proposte/muri%20e%20ponti/pontifamosi/index.htm


Prin culoare si coridoare inguste, se ajunge la usa “Puntii suspinelor” prin care comdamnatii intrau in drumul  fara intoarcere.


source http://www.hotelbepielciosoto-venezia.com/venice-hotel-en/hotel-marghera-da-non-perdere.asp


Podul  Rialto, construit intre 1588 – 1591, la o parte ingusta a Canalului Grande,  facea o legatura intre partile componente ale orasului si e loc de activitati diverse.

Nu ma interesau si alta data nu am dat atentie, magazinelor cu papusi, masti si tot felul de accesorii de Carnaval,  care are loc in februarie. Preturile sunt piperate,  lucrari de arta si probabil, clientii sunt turistii straini.

In urma cu ani nu tineam seama unde urc sau cobor si peste cate podete ale canalelor, paseam.   Data asta, s–au mai adaugat niste ani in carca  si am numarat. O  idee anormala. Au fost 400 de poduri, totalizand 150 de trepte. Sunt  sigur ca am mai  gresit.

Acum, prin usoarea febra musculara a gambelor, le-am simtit existenta,  dar nu ne-am dat batuti.

A venit si ziua plecarii. Vremea ne-a favorizat . Programul comod, si nu am repetat ce stiam si vizitasem anterior, cum sunt insulele Murano, cu productia de obiecte din sticla,  de o varietate incomensurabila si  Burano, cea cu dantelariile si ale carei case multi colorate  sunt asemeni cuburilor de joaca.

Am ajuns in  25  minute la aeroport, convinsi ca soferul taxiului acvatic,  impertinent dar cotcar, ne-a ridicat pretul. Am inghitit galusca, in tacere.

Cu o aterizare de o ora la Viena, austriecii ne-au adus la Ben Gurion.  Eram  acasa.


Doctorul Gica Manescu mi-a permis preluarea unui articol recent al sau care impartaseste amintiri dintr-o calatorie in Italia. Unele locuri le-am vazut si eu, altele nu. Ii multumesc pentru aceasta noua impartasire.


Acum  cativa ani, mica mea familie de 3 persoane m-a asteptat la aeroportul italian “Fiumicino“ pentru o vacanta  acolo. Cu o masina  inchiriata, spre Roma, am strabatut soseaua pe marginile careia sunt pini inalti care isi unesc  varfurile coroanelor si parca s-ar deschide un tunel.

Roma, oras frumos, cu istorie veche si cu urme ale trecutului. Circulatia vehiculelor e inebunitoare,  oamenii vorbesc repede si tare, gesticuIatia vie si ne lasa in urma. Curatenia e destul de buna in centru, la periferie, ca la noi,  Nu erau olim hadasim (imigranti).


source http://www.roadlesstravelled.com.au/rome-forum-palatine-hill-colosseum-vatican-museum-and-st-peters-basilica-review/


Intr-un autobuz,  cum vorbeam romaneste, cel din fata, adresandu-se cu “ scuzi “, a  vrut sa stie ce dialect vorbim ca el intelegea foarte multe. Ginta latina.

Pastele, pizza si cafeaua “espresso“ le-am savurat la “mama lor“ si parca aveau alt gust si aroma. Per pedes, am inceput sa vizitam monumente, cladiri, sa vedem istoria invatata sau cunoscuta. In Piazza Venezia, am urcat treptele largi  ale  “Capitoliului“ , proiectat de Michelangelo, (azi e Primaria si un muzeu), in fata fiind statuia ecvestra a lui Marc Aureliu, din secolul II.

In Forumul Roman, am  privit Arcul de Triumf al lui Titus, ridicat in anul 81, dupa ce cucerise Ierusalimul si in anul 70, a distrus Templul. Se vad in basoreliefuri, evreii dusi ca sclavi. Nu departe, e Forumul Traian. Tot in  basoreliefuri, erau scene dupa cucerirea Daciei de catre romani.


source http://www.lessing-photo.com/dispimg.asp?i=08050648+&cr=48&cl=1


Mi-au revenit in minte, cum la liceu, in orele de “Istorie  a evreilor“ facute cu domnul Derbarimdigher – of  ce nume greu – invatam despre “faptele de eroism si suferinte ale poporului nostru“ si la liceu, in  orele de “Istorie antica“ invatam cu domnul  Arbore, despre “strabunii nostri, dacii si romanii”.

Colosseum, acea oarecum ruina  partiala a circului  roman, in reparatii si curatire, Pe pietre a aparaut culoarea alba, cea originala.


source http://robertnyman.com/rome/saturday.htm


Nu poti fi la Roma fara sa treci pe langa Fontana  di Trevi  si sa  n-o admiri. Si ca toti de acolo,  sa arunci o moneda peste spate,  aducatoare de noroc. O cunoastem  si din  filmul “ Dolce vita “.

Mai departe,  in  Piata Navona , de admirat fantana monumentala a celor 4 fluvii, opera lui Bernini.Sunt din  4 continente : Nil, Gange, Rio del Plata si Dunarea.

Dar tarabele, casutele neglijate si zgomotul, iti taie pofta de frumos.


source http://www.tripwolf.com/en/guide/show/266757/Italy/Rome/San-Pietro-in-Vincoli


La biserica neinsemnata, San  Pietro in Vincoli ( Sf. Petru in lanturi ) ,intr-un semi- intuneric, troneaza in  jiltul lui,  Moise, sculptat de  Michelangelo.

Alt punct  turistic important este Basilica San  Pietro. Piata  enorma  cu obeliscul in  centru si biserica,  parca te cutremura. Vaticanul cu Garda  elvetiana  e  alaturi.


source http://www.bb360.it/


Daca la Luvru din Paris, e inghesuiala la portretul  “ Giocondei “- Mona Lisaa, a lui Leonardo da Vinci, aici e la“Pieta” a lui Michelangelo.

Pentruca sute de ani, milioane de vizitatori mangaiau sau sarutau un  picior al lui Christos,  s-a subtiat. Sculptura are in  fata, un perete din  sticla. Doar priviri, fara atingeri.

Un loc pe care putini turisti stiu sa-l viziteze seara,  este terasa de la Observator. Iti sta la picioare, Roma luminata. Priveliste rara.

Drumul  cu masina  spre sud cu soarele pe cerul mediteranian, este o incantare a ochilor.

Trecem intai prin   Napoli, metropola cu aspect variat, cuprinzand renumitul cartier –Santa Lucia ( de aici si cantoneta) si cu golful lui, de care se spune ca e unul din  cele mai  frumoase din  lume, impreuna cu cele din Haifa si Sydney .

In urma cu ani, italienii spuneau : “ Vedi Napoli, poi more “. Mucalitii au parafrazat, spunand: “  De  ce sa mori ? Vezi mai intai Napoli si apoi Mori.


source http://www.menstennisforums.com/showthread.php?t=190169


Pompei,  orasul acoperit de lava vulcanului Vezuviu, de apoape 2000 de ani, in 67 e.n. si adus la lumina abia in  1860. A fost cu cei 25 mii de locuitori ai sai, unul din orasele importante ale Imperiului Roman.

Nu-ti vine sa crezi,  ce locuinte , ce bai si bucatarii au avut.

Pe coasta amalfitana, se insira pitorestile Positano, Salerno, Amalfi. De  pe soseaua in  serpentine stranse , in  sus si in  jos, se deschide o perspective, rar intalnita.


source http://www.italianbestweddings.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=29&Itemid=1


Sorrento, cu case elegante, magazine cu tot ce doresti, hoteluri de lux, dar si modeste, este unul din  punctele de plecare spre insula Capri. Dupa 45 minute, vaporul acosteaza in portul insulei. Un autobuz duce  calatorii sus, in localitatea  Ana- Capri.

O strada principala,  hoteluri, buticuri, magazine de dulciuri si Casa – muzeu a scriitorului suedez -  Axel Munthe.


source http://www.art.com/products/p13036603-sa-i2280954/roy-rainford-house-of-axel-munthe-villa-san-michele-anacapri-capri-campania-italy.htm


Cand in  urma cu foarte multi ani  am  citit  “ Cartea de la  San – Michele  “ am  sperat ca intr-o zi ma voi plimba prin  gradina si voi admira statuia mica a unui leu .

Cu vizitarea, intr-o barca a  “ Grotei albastre “,  am  incheiat excursia.

Iar la  Fumicino, pentru zborul de  intoarcere. Am locuit in  hoteluri si pensiuni, serviciul bun  si gazdele ospitaliere.

Am intrat la mine in casa, pe malul aceleiasi mari, dar viata zilnica , cu greutatile si avantajele ei a fost reluata.

Adaug ca  in Italia am mai fost si la nord de Roma : Florenta, Siena, Pavia,  Venezia dar si pe coasta Adriaticei. Poate ne vom  mai intalni.


Dr.  G. Manescu.

Decembrie 2011.


On one of the Internet discussion lists in Romanian that I am subscribed to, the subject of the identity of the Quebecois popped-up this week. This brought to my memory an evening spent this summer in the ‘Musee de la Civilisation’ in Quebec-City.


source http://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotos-g155033-d155603-w2-Musee_de_la_Civilisation-Quebec_City_Quebec.html


The occasion was the social event of the IETF-81 meeting that was hosted by the city.  Unfortunately, it was one of these trips which are more business than pleasure, so I skipped taking my camera. Yet, memories are still fresh for a few instant flashes backed-up by pictures and clips. Starting of course with the building which is designed to integrate well in the urban landscape of a city that cherishes its heritage but also expresses the ideas and motives of one of its architects, the Haifa-born Moshe Safdie (among other works of him I admired in the last few years – Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the international terminal at the Ben Gurion airport, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa).


source http://www.mcq.org/fr/mcq/expositions.php?idEx=w250


The connection in memory was caused by the permanent exhibition Le Temps des Quebecois which allows for a historical journey through the history of North America viewed from the perspective of the French community. It was fascinating and I recommend the exhibition (as well as the whole museum) for history fanz like myself who happen to travel to Quebec. Many facts will be unknown for the majority of the visitors,  and the perspective on events we know and think we fully understand may be very different.


(video source AndreCaronCaron)


The museum also hosted another two temporary exhibitions. With Rome – De ses origines a la capitale de l’Italie which was organized in cooperation with some of the big museums in the Italian capital was much more familiar grounds for me from an historical point of view, and yet had a few very interesting pieces of information – for example about the period after the fall of the Roman empire and before the late Middle Ages when popes made of the Eternal City the non-contested capital of Catholicism when the city was reduced to the proportions of a small city or big village as many other around. Sic transit gloria mundi - the saying that has its origins in Rome had a special meaning in those times.


(video source bwhotelquebec)


Last I would mention is DIEU(X) – Mode d’emplois which brought together the mosaic of the principal religious faiths, their principles, their symbols and key practices. Certainly some superficiality cannot be avoided in one exhibition that gets together what is expressed in full museums and thousand of books, but the fact itself of bringing these under one roof, of having them co-exist one near the other and allow the visitors to meet and understand the basics of all is a beautiful idea. I wish this exhibition or a similar one be brought to the young people in Israel, so many of them ignoring almost anything about other faiths than Judaism. 

There are two historical and cultural objectives in Sicily that are an absolute must, places for which one must travel to Sicily, and if he is already on the island must not leave it without visiting them. I will write and post some pictures now about the first of them which is Valle dei Templi (Temples Valley), an archeological site located near the city of Agrigento in the South part of the island. The name of ‘valley’ is quite misleading, as we are talking actually about a thread of seven Greek temples located most of them on the top of a hill long of about two kilometers. This may be the most outstanding monument of the Greek antiquity after the Acropolis in Athens, and in any case the most fascinating of all I have had the luck to ever visit.



We entered through the Western gate, so the first temple that appeared to us was the Temple of Hera Lacinia (goddess protecting marriage and birth-giving). It was built in the 5th century BC and set to fire by the Carthaginians in 406BC. What is left today is the structure of columns (13 in length, 6 on width) which profiles an elegant silhouette visible from far away.


Tempio di Hera Lacinia


The big prize for anybody who visited Valle dei Templi during most of 2011 was the fact that the archeological site hosted an open air exhibition of the Polish monumental sculptor  Igor Mitoraj. His style and themes combine the classical techniques of sculpture with surrealistic influences, and the abrupt cuts and edges of his works suggest the work of time. They were a perfect complement of the ancient Greek ruins in the valley and as you will see in some of the following photos, the terrain looked in that sunny afternoon as a playground of the gods.




If you are to pick a time of the day for the visit late afternoon is probably the best bet. During summer it will spare you of some of the heat that must be scorching the whole area, especially as there is no place to hide from the Sun on the top of the hills. Later in the year (like in October when we visited) the sweetness of the sun in the final hours of the day envelops the area and the ruins seem to radiate warmness from within.


paleo-christian necropole


Another combination of art and antiquities that seem to belong to the imaginary spaces created by Dali or de Chirico. Entries to tombs in the necropolis dating from the late Roman and early-medieval era, identified as paleo-christian are flanked by two of the works of Mitoraj.




Tempio della Concordia


The Temple of Concordia is the best kept structure of the whole complex. The reason is that when Christianity became the official religion in the Roman empire (in the 4th century CE) it was transformed into a church. This led to works of maintenance and stegthening of the building to be conducted, but also for some of the characteristics of the original design (like the ‘pagan’ altar) to be removed or changed.




Another two of the Fascinating works of Mitoraj. The works are complex and there are are many details hidden by the larger structures (do you remember Dali’s drawers?) that become visible when you get near and walk around the works, but it is the game of forms and dimensions, of human and human-made forms that stays in memory.


villa Aurea


Villa Aurea is the place built by sir Alexander Hardcastle, one of the two personalities whose contributions were key in bringing out of the earth the monuments in the Temples Valley and pushing them into the cultural patrimony and later into the touristic circuits. Hardcastle, barely remembered today (the English version of wikipedia does not even have an entry for him) settled here in 1921 and between this time and 1933 brought an important contribution to the archeological discoveries and the recovery of the monuments which were still part covered under the hills. He followed in the tracks of Domenico Lo Faso Piertrasanta, who started the excavation and archeological works in the valley during the Napoleonic era.


Tempio di Zeus Olimpico


The end of the itinerary on descends at the Eastern edge of the hill towards the remains of the Temple of Zeus Olimpico. Built in 480BC to celebrate the victory over the Carthaginians and the taking back of Sicily by the Greeks, it was the largest of all in the complex. Little remains today of the original structure, but some of the huge pieces of statues or columns give a hit on the dimensions of the monument. Just a few pieces are left here of the toys of the Giant Gods.


(video source SicilyTravelNet)


I found on youTube a short film made at the installation of the exhibits of Igor Mitoraj – it will give you an idea about the dimensions and the immense skill of the sculptor whose works danced with the forms and shades of the ancient Greek Temples for almost the whole duration of the last year.



One way to look at Taiwan is to think about it as a small scale version of what China could have become if history had taken a different turn. While mainland China went after 1949 through the radical changes brought up by the Communist take over, the island of Taiwan became host not only of the defeated nationalist government but also of some of the treasures of imperial China (like much of the Forbidden City thesaurus today at the National Palace Museum in Taipei) and continued cultural or religious traditions which were forbidden or at least much diminished in the rest of China. However this view risks to be somehow simplistic, as Taiwan itself has a history of its own which is to a large extent different and sometimes even antagonistic to the one of the Middle Empire, a history that mixes the seek getting rid of the successive foreign occupations while integrating their influences and the attraction of the great empire across the straights. There is no better way of understanding the culture of Taiwan than visiting its temples, marvels or architecture and art by themselves but also a mix of influences where the dominant Buddhism coexists with Confucianisms, Taoism and local beliefs in a way only religions of the Far East can do one near the other rather than one against the other as religions clash in the rest of the world.


Longshan Temple in Taipei


All the temples I could visit during my stay in Taiwan are located in Taipei, and I have seen them all in one day. Liliana had the chance to see a few more out of the capital city of the island. The first we got to is probably the largest, the most beautiful and the most crowded temple in Taiwan – the Longshan Temple. It is located in the Wanhua district which is the Old Taipei whose buildings date mostly from the first half of the 20th century when the island was under Japanese rule. The neighborhood is by no means impressive, think like south Tel Aviv or Athens around the old airport, but as in the two Mediterranean cities districts this is where real life is. The first characteristics of the Taiwanese temples is visible from the first one – the dimensions are not meant to impose, and although the style and the decorations are exceptional, the buildings are organically integrated in the day to day life, they do not tend to impose or dominate.


column at the Longshan Temple


It is when entering inside that you get the feeling of the complexity of the gathering of art and faith you are living through. The Longshan temple of Taipei was built the first time in 1738 by colons from the mainland province of Fujian, and was many times destroyed and rebuilt since then, the last major destruction taking place at the end of the second world war. It is said that much of the temple was then destroyed but the wooden statue of the goddess Guanyin, goddess of goodness stayed intact.


roof at Longshan Temple


The visitor meets here some of the best examples of the splendors that are characteristic to the Taiwanese temples – the columns sculpted in stone, bronze or wood, the golden altars, the roofs with the arched shapes and the decorations that profile arabesques on the skies, the statues of the deities which sometimes smile, sometimes are angry, never indifferent, more human than representations of deities in other religions.


Crouching Tiger at the Longshan Temple


One of the motives met in the Taiwanese art is the crouching tiger which lent its identity to the country and the fellow Asian fast developing economies in the last decades of the 20th century. If the economic push-up may have cooled down the art in the temples remained.


fountain at the Longshan Temple


Integration with nature is another theme which can be found in or around the temples, including the Longshan, maybe also an effect of the Japanese influence in the period of half a century they ruled over Taiwan between 1895 and 1945. Even if it is located in the middle of the city Longshan has a masterly man-made natural oasis with a fountain decorated with golden statues of sirens and dragons.


praying at the Longshan Temple


The most striking aspect for me was however the fact that all the temples that we visited in Taiwan were active temples, full of active practicing believers. I had visited several temples in Beijing, the sensation was that they were museums, and the ratio between visitors and believers was 99 to 1 and more. Here the situation is quite the inverse, an active and effervescent religious life dominates the atmosphere, and the visitors are the exception. Young and old people, women and men and mothers and fathers with children, people of all social conditions come and pray, and you feel that praying is part of their life and they are part of the permanent living soul of the temples.


flowers for the gods


The way people pray and relate to their gods may seem sometimes strange to the Western visitor. They bring flowers and food, they burn incense and knee and talk. Food offers may range from bags of potato chips to elaborated trays with roasted duck. What happens with all this food? it is used to feed the monks and nuns in the monasteries and if there is more left it will be distributed to the poor in charities.


asking for the advice of the gods


One distinct tradition is consulting the opinion of gods on day to day issues, small or big, by throwing pieces of painted wood with crescent shapes. The position of the fallen pieces is read by the believers in ways known only to them and used as advice.


entrance of the Quingshan Temple


We continued our itinerary in the Wanhua district with the Quingshan Temple. The name of the temple comes from a  king whose statue was brought to Taiwan and at the very place the temple was built became that heavy that the porters could not further move it, which lead them to the conclusion that it is the wish of the king to have a temple raised here in his honor. This is what happened and the year was 1854.


one of the fierce guardians - Qingshan Temple


The statues of two fierce generals of the king not only keep guard of the temple, but also of the law and morals of the whole neighborhood, which it is said they patrol sometimes at night. There are many such stories in Taipei, which seems to be a city haunted at least as Edinburgh in Scotland is. Even the modern hotel we stayed in was said to be haunted by ghosts. Take a look at the statues and observe the striking difference to statues in the Western iconographic not only in the relation between divinity and the person who looks at the statue, but also in style, colors, closing. If there is a similarity it is more to carnivals and rites in the Spanish and Latino-American versions of Catholicism. The gods of the Far East are mostly exuberant and colorful, and not cold and cast in stone.


Quingshan Temple - the ceiling


One of the beautiful elements of the Quingshan temple is the octagonal  ceiling of the first hall, with delicate carvings. The number eight is considered in Chinese numerology as auspicious and lucky.


Qingshan Temple - the altar


There are three levels in the Quingshan temple, each of them with praying halls, columns and altars. The rich decoration and the collection of objects – ceramics, wood carvings, golden statues – can be admired for hours.


Quingshui Temple - the entrance


The third temple in the neighborhood is the Quingshui Temple. It is built at the end of the 18th century and well preserved. The access is through an alley boarded by small restaurants. The god the temple is dedicated to is a protector of the Anxi province (where the tea of oolong originates from) but his protection extended to the city of Taipei since the temple was built.


Quingshui Temple - decoration in the interior courtyard


In the courtyard we could admire the combination of the sculpted columns with traversal ornamentation of stone, wood, ivory, bronze – the mix of colors and materials providing an effect of richness and joy which is almost Baroque in its consistency and elegance.


Buddha statues near Keelung


Liliana had more time during the week that followed and visited a few more places out of Taipei, and the itineraries of the trips included more temples. Above are the statues of the Buddha in the temple near Keelung. Observe the huge ‘happy Buddha’ in the first plane and also the swastika symbol, which has of course nothing to do with the Nazis. In Chinese writing the symbol means eternity and Buddhism.


temple in Bitou


The temple at Cape Bitou is located in a natural environment that includes a lot of natural formations, one of them visible in the background of the picture taken by Liliana.


Zushi Temple in Sanxia


The place that probably I should be mostly sorry to have missed is the Zushi Temple in Sanxia. Most of its elaborated sculptures in stone and wood were created by or under the supervision of the local master Li Mei-shu (1902-1983).


column at Zushi Temple


Li Mei-shu was a painter, a professor of fine arts and a renovator and decorator of temples. The temple in Sanxia built initially in 1769 was destroyed during the war and it was Li Mei-shu who took over the renovation and decoration, achieving a masterpiece of the traditional art on a traditional structure brought back to life.


wooden decoration at Zushi Temple


He was an artist of many media – wood, stone, sculptures and carvings. The delicacy of the line, the realism of the expressions and the elegance of the details are striking in all.


roof at Zushi Temple


The combination of art – new and old – and of a vibrant and active religious life is the strongest characteristic that remains in memory from visits in the temples of Taiwan. When you visit churches in the Western world one has the feeling that the period of great artistic achievements of the religious art is well past, and the newer forms of expression are seldom equal to the ones created many centuries ago by the masters. It is not the case of the Buddhist religious expression the way we experienced it in Taiwan. I actually am pretty sure that creating art continues as we speak and new forms and objects will be added in the future to the treasures that we could admire during our visit.


Too many trips accumulated and too little time was available to me to write about them, or at least post some commented pictures on the blog. I will try to catch up but I will probably mix and alternate information from different trips – in Romania last fall, in Sicily earlier this fall and now from my most recent business trip to Taipei in Taiwan.


Let me thus start with information and pictures about Taipei 101. No, it’s not a basics training course, although the name may be fit from some points of view. It is about the tallest building in Taiwan, and the third in height world-wide, a building which kept the title of highest in the world for five years after it was inaugurated in 2004, and is 180 meters higher than the Eiffel Tour. It was the first building which crossed the 500 meters height threshold. 101 is the number of levels over the ground, and there are five more underground. It is also a symbol of exceeded perfection in a culture that has a cult of the numbers close to the Jewish obsession with numerology – one more than 100, one of the ‘perfect numbers’ for the Chinese.


The mayor of Taipei made a present for all those who registered for the social event of the IETF conference a free access ticket to the 89th floor, where the indoor observatory is located. We did not use them for many days, as rain and fog hit the city the day after we came in and lasted for most of our stay. The silhouette of many superposed pagoda shapes is however visible from distance in any weather conditions and dominates this part of the city same as the Eiffel tower seems to dwarf everything around in Paris.


Each evening of the week the tower is lit with another of the seven primary colors. On this shot the color seems to be violet so it must have been Sunday.


Here are the flags around and a more unusual perspective of the tower.



Most of the floors are occupied by offices. On the list there are many banks and the stock exchange, but also various global or foreign corporate brand names as Google Taiwan, L’Oreal or Starbucks. The lower five floors are ocupied by commercial spaces, the highest ones by the indoor and outdoor (which we did not caught open) observatories and by restaurants. Here is one of the two quite exclusive restaurants where we ate one of the evenings our traditional (during the IETF week) gourmet dinner. Unfortunately it was a rainy night, and the top of the tower was in the clouds (no, not networking clouds, but real ones!)


Here is a different perspective of the tower in a picture taken in between two of the 14 columns sustaining the Sun Yat-Sen memorial located at less then one kilometer from the tower.


And then Saturday came, my first (and only) free day after a very busy week of meetings. We woke up with the sun shining and with blue skies the first time during the week. We hurried through the breakfast and were wise to do it, we crossed the street from our hotel to the tower, we stood in the lines and eventually we were up there. In this picture you can see the Grand Hyatt hotel where we stayed on the right, the fairs building near it and the convention center where the IETF meeting was hold across the street, near the ‘small’ tower building.


By the time we were up there and started to take pictures the sunshine and blue skies had disappeared and clouds started to take control. We could see however most of the city and the suburbs from all directions.



The city of Taipei is surrounded by mountains to which the rather fierce character of the inhabitants is due, the character of people in a city that never fell to a foreign occupier (and they were a few during the history).



Modern construction in Taipei seems to have been designed with bird of if you prefer skyscraper view in mind. Clear contours, elaborated gardens and grounds for every sport you can imagine.


We descended one level from the 89th to the 88th store, were we admired one of the keys of the secret of the stability of this architectural wonder. A huge pendulum named by engineers ‘tuned mass dumper’ ensures that the silhouette of the tower stands to the threats of hurricanes and earthquakes which are not that rare in the region.



By the time we reached the line to descend back with the fastest elevator in the world (according to the promotion materials), fog gathered again around the highest levels and rained soon started. Friends told us that the observatories closed in the afternoon because of the bad weather. As that was also our last day in Taipei, it had really been ‘then or never’.