Holiday Tales 1- Chester

*Warning : Long post ahead*

Even best laid plans could get unraveled, so the not to well laid going awry is not really surprising.

We had not made any proper plans for the Easter weekend. We couldn’t come to a decision on where to go. I wanted to go to Dorset to see this and this, and of course for the beaches. Then my friend mentioned that they were off there as well, so we decided to pile on. We used some of the points that husband has been hoarding up on his hotel stays in Glasgow, and booked a free(almost) holiday.

We were to set off on Friday – early morning. It is a 5 and a half hour drive from where we live, and we wanted to get there nice and early. I was in record form. Bags packed, everything sorted by the time husband returned from Glasgow. The weather was not the greatest, but at the very least, it wasn’t raining(or snowing), so we were all excited!  All we needed to do was have dinner and go to bed early. Daughter chose that exact moment to throw up everything she ate. And was also running a temperature. By the time, I got her sorted and went to bed, I was dead tired.

Woke up at 5:00 – as per schedule, only to realise that I had a terrible, throat pain, and I could barely open my eyes. Between daughter’s temperature and my feeling terribly ill, we decided to not travel. Much to all our disappointment, but it did not make any sense to travel to a coastal area and not even be in a position to get into the water, given that both of us were feeling so ill. So having informed our friends, we went back to sleep.

That extra sleep did seem to work wonders. We were feeling better, I was still not completely well. but daughter was back to normal. By mid day, we started wishing that we could go somewhere. It was too late to go to our original destination – we would not reach before night-time, and we would have to start back on Sunday, leaving us just one day there. So we started hunting around for places to go to. It did not help that the weather where we live was dismal. Cold, wet and miserable, and all places nearby seemed the same as well. It was funny how when you are desperate to go somewhere, you just can’t find one place worth visiting!

Finally, we decided on Chester. Chester Zoo is supposed to be one of the best zoos in the UK. We had been planning to go there since ages. Places close by, get pushed away, because we can go there anytime. Chester seemed perfect for this weekend. We could stay overnight, visit the zoo and be back by the next evening. We did not want to plan a longer holiday, just in case we felt ill again. The weather in Chester was not great, but it seemed manageable. Light rain was forecast, and we thought we could handle light rain. Since we had packed bags waiting, all we needed to do was have lunch(which was more of a brunch), and book a hotel and be off.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we set off.

This should give you an idea of the weather around here in the last week. The snow had melted in most places, but this was taken on one of England’s highest motorways.

First stop, Chester City. It was a cute, quaint town. Chester is supposed to be one of the best preserved walled cities in Europe. We have been on similar walls in other places like York, but the walls in Chester certainly seemed to be in much better condition. We did not do the full round, we did about three-fourths of it, and then got off to walk by the River Dee.

The iconic black and white buildings that seem to define Chester City Centre. Check out the building below, the black and white one in the middle, it seemed as if it were wider on the top than the bottom..

Check out these columns and column bases, apparently from Roman times.

The Roman walls overlooking the city centre..

And the clock on the wall..

View of the street from the wall.

Chester Cathedral – view from the walls..

and a little closer..

Walls circling the city..

By the river..

The Roman Amphitheater

We get all excited at Easter window displays..

Every single time, when I upload pictures, I realize that the best pictures have us in it 😦

After all that walking around, all we had energy for, was dinner. Dinner and sleep, were the only things we were capable of. The weather had not been too bad. It did rain a bit, but most of the heavier rain happened when we were having dinner, so we escaped most of it. So we concentrated on food, after all, we needed all the energy to walk around Chester Zoo.

…(to be continued – Holiday Tales 2 – Chester Zoo)

The Lost Empire of Atlantis by Gavin Menzies

I don’t recall where I got to know about this book, but I had it in my wish list. When I got my hands on it finally, it was amazing how the book took hold of me.

Gavin Menzies takes us on his journey to rediscover the Lost Empire of Atlantis. He builds up on his theory that the Minoan empire was more accomplished that it is assumed. He tries to bring together facts and goes on to try to prove that the Minoan civilization had extensive sea faring abilities and that they might have discovered America way before Christopher Columbus. He challenges some of the accepted notions of the lost civilizations.

I have no real knowledge of history, so I would not be in a position to say whether all that he says, could actually be true or not, but he sure does paint a very convincing picture.

The manner in which he relates it, makes it a fascinating read. It left me wanting more, at the end of the book. To me, the added interest was that I had visited Thera(Santorini), which has an important role to play, and it helped me visualize things a bit better. I had also read about how it is assumed that Atlantis might have been there, before the mighty volcanic eruption ended it all.

I think it would make interesting reading for anybody who likes historical research of this sort. I had not known that I enjoyed it before I read this book. And maybe if someone with a better grasp of history read it, they could tell me how much of it is fiction and how much could be reality?

For me, it was a fantastic read. I will be reading it again, to absorb it better, and maybe do some other related reading as well, to understand it better. And yes, I will try to get hold of his other books. I really enjoyed his style of writing and his obvious enthusiasm for his subject.

Holiday Tales – Acropolis Part 3

Thought I would let the pictures do the talking..

Our first view of Athens from our hotel balcony. Tell me, couldn’t this be just about anywhere in India? I loved some of the balconies I saw there – full of greenery. Full of pots overflowing with plants! How I love those!

Then we set off to see the sights. First stop – Acropolis. Do refer to the link for more information. I love the history behind the ruins, but do no want to bore all of you by going into it 🙂

Our first view of the Acropolis

The first monument we saw was the Theatre of Herodes Atticus. It used to be an amphitheatre, with a roof. 

The view from the top. Doesn’t it look majestic? It has been renovated, is even used as an auditorium now. I think the only historical monument that is in use in Greece.

This is the Propylea. The link shows what it might have looked when intact. We had a guide who explained all this to us. It would have been ‘Greek and Latin’ to us otherwise 😉

The temple of Athena Nike – it has been reconstructed to give a fair idea of what it looked like.

The Erechtheum. This was a temple dedicated to the Greek hero Ericthonius. Check out the Porch of the Caryatids. The supports in the form of women. We got to see the originals at the New Acropolis Museum, and they were exquisite. The figures here are apparently replicas. We could not take the pics of the originals, because cameras are not allowed inside the museum. If you happen to go there, do not miss the museum – it is totally, totally worth it!

And Finally, the Parthenon. The Parthenon was a Temple dedicated to the Goddess Athena, who was the patron goddess of Athens. The Parthenon has a amazing history. Originally, a temple, it was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and then was mosque during the Ottoman period.

The Theatre of Dionysus.

And among things so old, we found something so incredibly young 🙂

And another young one tryng to catch the view of Athens from the Acropolis..

I am exhausted with all the uploading, so I guess you must be bored with the pics, but I wanted to make a quick mention of the New Acropolis Museum. It is built on top of the ruins of an old Christian settlement. The ground floor of the museum has glass floors which allows us to see the ruins. It was fascinating, to say the last. A few pictures that we managed to click from outside.

The view of the Acropolis from the top of the New Acropolis Museum..

And that covers the main part of Ancient Athens. I was surprised to see how much Daughter enjoyed the whole day. She loved hearing about the legends, tried her best to understand what these ruins stood for. At the end of the day, she told me that she wanted to show her friends what she saw. She put away her map in her backpack, and yesterday, she took it to school and told her class all about the story of the Athena and how Athens came to be named after her 🙂 To think that I was worried if she would get bored during this part of the trip.

Nine Lives – In Search of the Sacred in Modern India by William Dalrymple

I haven’t done a book review in a while, but as I read this book, I felt I had to write about it.

I had heard of William Dalrymple, but had never managed to get hold of it. For some reason, my library’s online search never yielded any results. One day, at the library, I managed to browse through the ‘History and Culture’ section and came across this book. I had no idea whether this was aclaimed or not, but liked what I could glean from the back cover. This is what it says

‘ In this title, a Buddhist monk takes up arms to resist the Chinese invasion of Tibet – then spends the rest of his life trying to atone for the violence by hand printing the best prayer flags in India. A Jain nun tests her powers of detachment as she watches her best friend ritually starve to death. A woman leaves her middle-class family in Calcutta, and her job in a jute factory, only to find unexpected love and fulfilment living as a Tantric skull feeder in a remote cremation ground. A prison warden from Kerala becomes, for two months of the year, a temple dancer and is worshipped as a deity; then, at the end of February each year, he returns to prison. An illiterate goat herd from Rajasthan keeps alive an ancient 4,000-line sacred epic that he, virtually alone, still knows by heart. A devadasi – or temple prostitute – initially resists her own initiation into sex work, yet pushes both her daughters into a trade she now regards as a sacred calling. Nine people, nine lives. Each one taking a different religious path, each one an unforgettable story.’

After reading the book, I have to say, I was not disappointed in any way. Dalrymple, covers nine lives, nine people, who have given up materialistic lives and turned towards the spiritual. Spiritual ways that are as diverse as possible from each other. From a Jain nun who pulls out her hair one by one, as part of her vocation, to tantriks who live on cremation grounds. Each just as spiritual, just as believing in their path to divine happiness.

The best part of the book, for me was the way it is written. The author chronicles each story with such compassion, honesty, and being totally non-judgemental. It takes you right to where the story unfolds and gives you an insight to what might be propelling people to give up their lives for what they consider their faith.  He lets their words say their story.

A fascinating account of how diverse India really is, and how beautifully all these diverse faiths and beliefs have lived together, in peace. How Hindus go to Sufi saints for blessings, and how Brahmins get blessings from a Dalit temple dancer. When trouble comes calling, people are ready to try anything that might work. This book is all about how faith intermingled with modernity, of how the old traditions are still revered and followed, even if some of the people who actually keep these traditions alive find it difficult to lead lives without taking on other jobs in order to make ends meet.

It also indicates how these practises might soon come to an end. In case of the illiterate story-teller in Rajasthan, the book talks about how education seems to threaten this ancient at of storytelling. For some reason, when people get educated, their ability to read seems to reduce their ability to remember the epics word by word. Interesting, isn’t it?

I would give it a 5/5, for being the most fascinating book I have read in recent times. I would recommend it to anybody who is interested in historical and cultural books.

A bridge with a life of its own..

The Tower Bridge of London is one of the most well known images associated with London. One which a lot of people mistakenly assume to be the London Bridge.  The first time I saw the London Bridge, I was quite disappointed, but as I read more about London,  the history behind the bridge enthralled me. The simple, normal looking bridge is one of the most well known bridges in the world, and has a fascinating history, right from the time when London was a Roman Settlement. It is the latest of in a series of Bridges to be called the London Bridge.

Tower_Bridge

The iconic Tower Bridge (Courtesy: Google Image Search)

london_bridge

The unspectacular London Bridge.(Courtesy: Google Image Search)

Funnily, when I was searching for images of the London Bridge, I got loads of the Tower Bridge, mislabeled as London Bridge.

For such a nondescript bridge, it does have an amazing history. A bridge has existed at this place right from the time of Roman settlement, over 2000 years ago. One of the first bridges to be built over the River Thames.

As per the Wikipedia,’ The bridge fell into disrepair after the Romans left. As Londinium was also abandoned, there was little need for a bridge at this point, and in the Saxon period the river was a political boundary between the hostile kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex. With the impact of the Viking invasions, the reconquest of the Roman city by the kings of Wessex and its re-occupation by Alfred the Great, the political conditions arose for a Saxon bridge crossing to be placed here. However, there is no archaeological evidence for a bridge before Aethelred‘s reign and his attempts to stem the Sweinian invasions of the 990s. In 1014, according to a much later skaldic tradition, the bridge was pulled down by the Norwegian prince Olaf, as he was aiding King Aethelred in what, if true, was a successful bid to divide the defending forces of the Danes who held the walled City of London plus Southwark, thereby regaining London for the Anglo-Saxon king. This episode has been thought to have inspired the well-known nursery rhymeLondon Bridge is Falling Down

After the 1136 destruction of the bridge, a new replacement was commissioned – an inhabited bridge. It took 33 years to complete. The bridge itself was about 26 feet (8 m) wide, the buildings on the bridge took up about 7 feet (2 m) on each side of the street. Some of these buildings projected another seven feet out over the river. The road for traffic was thereby reduced to just 12 feet (4 m) wide. This meant that horses, carts, wagons, and pedestrians all shared a passageway just six feet wide, one lane going north and one south. There were a few places where houses and shops were not built, which allowed people to get out of the traffic and enjoy a glimpse of the river and the shorelines of London. It was completed in 1209 and was also the first stone bridge in the world. Most of the shop owners lived in the houses above the shops. Apparently, it had 20 arches, and none of them similar. It would last for 600 years and was demolished because it had become very congested and because of the detrimental effect the bridge was having on the river, thanks to its narrow arches.

old london bridge

An artist’s impression of how the medieval London Bridge must have looked like. (Courtesy: Google Image Search)

In 1831, a new bridge, Rennie’s Bridge was opened a few yards upstream and that became known as the new London Bridge. This bridge, however, had a flawed design and could not take the load, so was soon replaced by the current London Bridge.  The Rennie’s London Bridge was dismantled and re-constructed in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

londonbridge- Lake Havasu CityThe Old London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona((Courtesy: Google Image Search)

The most fascinating avatar, if I may call it so, for me, of the Bridge that I found myself captivated by, was the inhabited bridge. I found it fascinating that people actually lived on the bridge.  I read loads about it and was lucky enough to be able to see an existing inhabited bridge in Florence. It is the oldest Bridge in Florence, and is still inhabited and was spared damage in the World War II – apparently by Hitler himself. Here are a couple of photographs that we took when we were there. It was a smaller scale(and much less grand – at least in my imagination) version of what the medieval London Bridge must have been like..

view of brgd

side view of brgd

There were lots of shops inside the bridge and most of them – jewellery shops!

inside the bridge

I just wanted to add, that one of the books that totally captured my fascination was Edward Rutherfurd’s London. It has the London Bridge as a main protagonist, while he sketches the history of London through 2 millenia.The first time I read it, we were living in London, I used to work at Southwark and used to pass the London Bridge station everyday. One of our favourite walks by the River Thames used to be from the Tower Bridge to Waterloo and we used to cross most of the historical places mentioned in the book. I used to feel the history behind those places.. Yes, I am a hopeless romantic!  I am now re-reading it and it now makes me all nostalgic and thankful that so much of the history is preserved, with plaques commemorating important events and through these wonderful books which give you a flavour of the time…

Most of the information is from Wikipedia and from some random reading that I had done earlier. There are so many more interesting pieces of information in connection to the Bridges, that I had a tough time deciding what to include and what to leave out.