Friday, April 30, 2010

Lest We Forget (Canberra, Australia) - Part Three

Continuing from parts one and two of the highlights of the Australian War Memorial...

I approached the information desk to enquire about a relative lost in the second World War. Within a few minutes I had an extract of his service record – he died in an accident while seconded to the British Airforce at just 26 years of age. With a red poppy and a cross reference as to his location on the Roll of Honour, I proceeded to the Roll of Honour area. Separated by

Two huge bronze boards flank the length of the building detailing the names of around 102,000 Australians – sorted by war and battalion, but not by rank – one of the most complete lists of those killed at war of any nation on Earth. Whether a private or a general, all have made the ultimate sacrifice. It was with mixed feelings with only the vaguest understanding of what being in a war must be like, I squeezed the delicate red poppy next to the name of my relative, lost in the prime of his life like so many others. Other visitors scan for their past relatives in quiet contemplation, painting a carpet of red down the walls.

Dividing the walls, the eternal flame burns and the Pool of Reflection highlights the immense dome of the Hall of Memory in the waters disturbed ever so slightly by the gentle breeze. Looking outwards, the War Memorial stands proudly at the end of a long boulevard of trees, Anzac Avenue, leading over Canberra’s lake to the Houses of Parliament.

Walking into the Hall of Memory, a poignant and solemn space, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, sprinkled in poppies sits painted in the afternoon light from tall stained glass windows. Four massive glass tile mosaics represent the army, navy, airforce and servicewomen lead to a vast vibrant golden dome representing the glowing sun, embedded with the Southern Cross.

The tomb was interred in 1993 under the passionate and heartfelt speech by the Prime Minister of the Day, Paul Keating. To me, his words capture the feelings entrenched in Anzac Day and this wonderful memorial.

He is all of them. And he is one of us.

This Australia and the Australia he knew are like foreign countries. The tide of events since he died has been so dramatic, so vast and all – consuming, a world has been created beyond the reach of his imagination.
This Unknown Australian is not interred here to glorify war over peace; or to assert a soldier's character above a civilian's; or one race or one nation or one religion above another; or men above women; or the war in which he fought and died above any other war; or one generation above any that has been or will come later.

The Unknown Soldier honours the memory of all those men and women who laid down their lives for Australia. His tomb is a reminder of what we have lost in war and what we have gained.

We have lost more than 100,000 lives, and with them all their love of this country and all their hope and energy.

We have gained a legend: a story of bravery and sacrifice and, with it, a deeper faith in ourselves and our democracy, and a deeper understanding of what it means to be Australian.
(full speech here)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lest We Forget (Canberra, Australia) - Part Two

Continuing from part one of the highlights of the Australian War Memorial...

In the same hall is G for George, a World War 2 Lancaster bomber that saw and survived 90 combat missions over Europe – most did not manage ten. With a creative use of light, sound and film, G for George is the centrepiece of a short multimedia presentation that gives an impression of the experiences and discomfort that townsfolk on both sides must have felt during bombing missions. There has been some controversy over the use of such modern means to capture the feelings and mood of the time but I personally enjoyed the display believing that it adds to the reality of the time. Photos of the airmen, most barely out of school forever captures the horrors of war and the demands that the world do a better job in avoiding this approach to national conflict.

Using a similar multimedia approach, an Iriquois helicopter packed with troops enact an assault and a medical evacuation in Vietnam, one of 100s of missions flown by this actual helicopter. Strong fans rustle the thick grass and emulate the rotor blades as troops dive out before the chopper has even landed.

Off on another wing of the memorial, the largest display has visitors walking the bridge of the HMAS Brisbane. Serving in Vietnam and the first Iraqi conflict, the excellent display captures radio transmissions as orders are issued and obeyed. Somewhat eerily, the reflections of the young naval personnel are reflected in the ship’s windows, the reddish and green lights of the metres and radars providing the only lighting on deck.

Uplifting spirits is the central room exhibiting a gallery of around 60 of the 97 Victoria Crosses (the largest public display of such medals) won by Australians, the highest individual award available to a British or Commonwealth member of the armed forces for exceptional individual valour and conspicuous bravery “in the face of the enemy”. Most striking are the ordinary lives associated with such men, most barely in their twenties who have won these medals with a plain crimson ribbon and dark bronze cross – among them boilermakers, railway workers, carpenters, farmhands and blacksmiths. While many were awarded posthumously, others returned to normal civilian life, most around them unaware of their most prestigious award.

Next to the Hall of Valour is what I consider the memorial’s the most moving single display. In a darkened room to the faint music of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, is the haunting Menin Gate at Midnight. Reputedly painted in one sitting by a mournful Will Longfellow, the painting captures the famed gates that tens of thousands of soldiers passed heading to the Western Front. Today, the walls of the gate list 54,000 Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave, only a small percentage of the quarter of a million lives lost in this area of battle during World War One. The painting eerily captures the artist’s vision of thousands of spirits of the dead rising and marching towards the battlefields.

The highlights of the Australian War Memorial continues to its final chapter.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lest We Forget (Canberra, Australia) - Part One

On ANZAC Day (April 25) every year, Australians and New Zealanders commemorate and acknowledge the bravery, dedication and sacrifice that young men and women made in military actions for our countries. It is based on a specific day in 1915 when young men landed on the shores of a far flung peninsula in Turkey, suffering huge losses over several months of fruitless fighting.

At dawn on Anzac Day every year, numerous people gather at memorials across the country and around the world to pay their respect to those fallen souls who did so much to offer the way of life that we have today.

Bullet holes in the hull of a small lifeboat in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra bears witness to the unthinkably grim circumstances these young men at Gallipoli peninsula must have felt rowing ashore towards the blood stained beaches.

Today the war memorial in Canberra is one of the world’s finest museums, memorials and exhibitions on Australia’s war history. In the shape of a cross, the memorial is split into two major zones – World War 1 and World War 2 with two large rooms of aircraft and a downstairs area with displays on more recent conflicts involving Australia. Above the museum is the commemorative area including the moving Hall of Memory, the Roll of Honour, the Pool of Reflection and the Eternal Flame.

Though with no real interest in military museums, it is impossible not to be moved and swept into the stories and background to so many of the displays. In one area, dioramas (constructed in the 1920s) of some of the worst of the World War 1 battles on the western front capture the squalor, mud and deprivation of these awful arenas of battle as two armies fought for months to gain or lose a few metres of ground. The detail of the trenches, the battle ground and the individual soldiers goes a small way into offering an understanding the emotions that the soldiers must have endured over a battle 12,000 kilometres from their homeland.

The aircraft hall highlights the small flimsy planes of wood, canvas and wires only a few metres in length used in the first World War. An extraordinary 14-minute film by Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings and King Kong fame) shot onto a 120 degree screen in the aircraft hall captures the dogfights in the earliest aerial war battles. On the first shot that rang out within inches of a young pilot, the woman sitting next to me leapt out of her seat. The Red Baron’s fur-lined left boot sits in a glass case highlighting the severe cold these young airmen must have experienced fighting in open cockpits.

The highlights of the Australian War Memorial continues in part two.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A German Tradition (Frutillar, Chile)

My friendly “buenos días” was greeted with a guttural but joyous “guten morgen”. Despite being in the heart of Chile, Frutillar was as German as leather shorts, sauerkraut and Oktoberfest. While well assimilated now, German immigrants settled around 150 years ago on good volcanic farming soils, building and developing a new area from deep forests. The heavy influence of the early settlers on the architecture of the buildings, the techniques of farming and the functioning of the town remains apparent today.

Highlight of the small town is the impressive German Colonial Museum. With a grain house, blacksmith workshop and country family home, the museum offers an insight into the struggles and challenges that the early European settlers confronted in developing this new area. The wooden buildings are richly showcased with original furniture revealing the immense success of the settlement and showing the beautiful tile work used in constructing the interiors. The elegant wooden water mill shows how grain was ground into flour, extending the value of the farm beyond the production of raw crops and diary. Century old trees and resplendent colourful gardens with oversized flowers complete a relaxing verdant setting.

Idyllically located on the black sandy shores of sparkling and serene Lake Llanquihue (pronounced yan-kee-way), the view is dominantly by the shimmering pyramid of snow-capped Osorno Volcano, some 70 kilometres away. Though slightly shrouded in cloud, Osorno is a mesmerising figure appearing to climb straight from the lake, its perfect pyramid shape cutting an imposing figure over the Frutillar landscape.

An original settler, Bernhard Philippi describes Frutillar in 1842:

"The water of this lake is as clear as that of Geneva in Switzerland, its surface is about seven leagues long and one league wide, so I could not distinguish the opposite bank. On one hand, it has the snowy Alps, the Andes mountain that rises from its eastern banks of a volcano covered with snow up to half of its height and goes into its waters."

Small cafes announcing “kuchen” sit near the lake. On a sunny day, it is truly relaxing enjoying the Fuji-like Osorno and the aquamarine lake while munching down a fine German pastry and digesting Philippi’s fine words.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Photo of the Week: The Rickety Bridge (Nepal)

Trekking in Nepal, is takes some time to become accustomed to crossing the rickety wooden bridges that cross the raging streams and rivers below. Yet, the sure-footed porters wearing worn gym boots and lugging heavy loads spring across them like as if it were a flat pavement. The bridge in the photo was my favourite of them all, looking like a failed boy scout project, yet providing a crossing for this glacial stream.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ice Magic (Werfen, Austria)

The Eisriesenwelt (World of the Ice Giant) is a wintry wonderland of naturally produced dazzling ice formations. Hidden in the Austrian Alps south of Salzburg, thawing ice drips into a labyrinthine cave and re-freezes into beautiful formations. Evocative names like the Ice Organ, Odin’s Hall and the Frozen Falls offers a glimpse of the remarkable ice patterns nature sculpts through the cave’s corridors.

The journey to the Werfen ice caves provides part of the experience. A fifteen minute walk from the bus stop leads through alpine forests and glorious mountain panoramas, past the imposing Hohenwerfen Castle and to a small hut. From here, a short cable car ride climbs a vertical rock wall of 500 metres. From the top of the cable car, a steadily ascending fifteen minute walk along Pincer Path leads ominously to a small rounded dark archway punched into the mountain side.

The guide greets the small party handing out instructions and small Davy Lamps to help find your path through the chambers. Ice already paints the walls and crunches underfoot. Through the first room and the group is met by a huge 20 metre high sheet of ice extends across the cave. The guide lights small strips of magnesium which shoots a sharp shot of bright light illuminating the magic of the cave for a few seconds before the light expires and the dull glow of the lamps and guide’s torch offer a more chilly feeling.

A narrow passage called Hymir’s Hall is named after the ice giant in the Norse sagas with the main formation being a huge overhanging presence called Hymir’s Castle. Carefully stepping between the castle and the Ice Chapel, the remarkable ice trees appear through the gloom. Sparkling on lighting of the magnesium strips, the trunks have tiny horizontal ice branches caused by the ever present cave winds that blow the water droplets into these patterns.

With more Norse inspiration, Odin’s Hall has a ceiling sprinkled in ice crystals like the starriest of dark nights while the deep bluish-green Castle of the Gods glistens against the rust-red cave walls. Through further immense caverns, the gleaming Ice Palace is the point to return having travelled 800 metres into the cave. On the path out, the staggering Mork Glacier has a polished eight metre wall smoothed by the wind and with elegant blue and white stripes sprinkled with brown cave dust. Occasional releases of magnesium strips illuminate the wonderful caverns into a fairy wonderland.

Accessible ice caves are relatively rare requiring elevations between 1400 and 2000 metres above sea level and suitable winters and summers. Eisriesenwelt, at Werfen, is the world’s largest ice cave and is a dream-like travel wonder in the Austrian Alps, making for a rewarding half-day visit among the majestic alpine vistas.

Note: Photography is not permitted in the caves but I found some secretive shots taken by Tania Ho, PsychoScheiko and Johan Lindgren.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Serenity and Savagery (New Delhi, India)

In a quiet suburb of India's capital, New Delhi, lies a modest bungalow. It was the home of India first woman prime minister, Indira Gandhi and documents her life through photos, personal possessions and the furnishings of the various rooms. Starkly among the exhibits are the blood-stained sari where Gandhi was slain by her Sikh bodyguards in her own yard, walking to an interview with Peter Ustinov. Tragically, in another display are the shredded clothing of her son, Rajiv Gandhi who became Prime Minister on his mother's death before also being assassinated some seven years later.

I couldn't help but be struck by the balanced appreciation of their lives, the modesty of the house and the limited political commentary on the killings. The surrounding gardens are truly serene with an elegant lotus pond emanating peace and tranquility.

A pathway in the garden marks the spot where Indira Gandhi lost her life - the path lined with a colonnade of trees. There is always something tragic in such events, but I think that Indira Gandhi could be proud of the peaceful memorial and the numbers of people, both Indian and foreign, there to try to learn a little more of someone who helped shape India's history.

Note: Photography in the house was not permitted.

Other India Posts
Mahatma Gandhi's Memorial (New Delhi)
It's All in the Stars (Jantar Mantar, Jaipur)
A Royal Facade (Palace of the Winds, Jaipur)
A Monument to Love (Taj Mahal)
From Dead Duck to Bird Heaven (Bharatpur)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Photo of the Week: Children Playing Statue (Chicago, USA)

This expressive statue sits in a park just outide Chicago's popular Navy Pier. To me with its subtle colours, the statue has a timeless feeling, representing the thousands of kids that have played in the park over the decades.

When travelling, I love to see the various local statues that dress the parks, city centres and gathering places. The variety of these sculptures in any town represent an aspect of the culture and spirit of that place. Do you have a favourite statue or sculpture in your home city?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cote D’Azur - Life of Luxury

guest post

For decades Cote D'Azur in the French Riviera has been synonymous with luxury, beauty, decadence and fame. Everyone from oil sheiks to Hollywood's latest starlets have graced its coasts. Pristine blue water and glimmering white sand has enchanted holiday makers from around the world who want to experience one of the most truly beautiful places on earth.

The South of France is a beautiful spot rich with history and perfect panoramas. If you are a photographer be sure to bring your camera, for there will be endless possibilities for the perfect shot. Stroll its streets to see a Japanese garden, the International Museum of Perfume or the lovely Cathedrale de Monaco. Take a long lunch at one of the famed restaurants like La Jarreriere or Le Relais de Coches where chefs tantalize your palate with every bite. Bringing children with you? They are sure to love Antibesland, Marineland and Parc Phoenix.

Although a popular tourist destination, Cote D'Azur has maintained its standard of elegance from carefully manicured lawns to clean streets. For those to whom it's available, villa life is the best way to enjoy a holiday here. Luxury villas provide a comfortable seclusion from other visitors while still being easily accessible to the beaches and small towns that surround them.

After a long day swimming and lounging on the beach, these villas can either become the prelude to or a party within themselves. Their cool tiled floors and open balconies are the perfect place to entertain family and friends. For those who want to mingle with the local folk and other holiday makers there is a lively nightlife scene where everyone is dressed to impress. Whether you are honeymooning, visiting with friends or looking for romance there is a villa to match the occasion and mood of your party.

Perhaps you want to escape from the world and stay primarily at your villa; lounging on its sunlit balcony, ordering exquisite meals to your door or receiving a massage, you can be assured that no one will disturb your peace and privacy. There is an entire staff waiting on hand to assist you with all of your vacationing needs. If you are staying for a week or a month, in the South of France, your every desire will be met and exceeded in the secluded world that is Cote D'Azur.

Further information for visitors to the region can be found at the Office du Tourisme et des Congrès de Nice Côte d'Azur.

Photo Credits: Sunset, Menton, Port Cros, wine

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Drinks Around the World: Mojito (North America)

At the start of every month, Travel Wonders describes a drink of the month discovered on his travels. Popular in Cuba and parts of Central America, the mojito had become a standard drink of the USA and Mexico.

It is simply made by softly mushing a handful of spearmint leaves (maybe those left over from your Moroccan mint tea?) with sugar cane juice (or sugar) and lime juice. Tip this into a glass, add ice and a measure of white rum (the Mexicans use tequila instead). Top up with soda water and your mojito is ready to enjoy. Garnishes seem to vary from a stick of sugar cane to more mint leaves and a wedge of lime.

The mix of mint and lime makes the mojito an extremely refreshing drink on a hot day while the sweetness offsets the potency of the rum.

As the northern hemisphere moves into spring, make an effort to enjoy a tangy and refreshing mojito.

Previous Drinks Around the World include Mint Tea from Morocco, Coca Tea from Peru, Austria's herby Almdudler, a French Vin Chaud, Bloody Caesar from Canada, a Pisco Sour from South America, Singapore Sling, Belgium's Chimay Beer, Scotland's smoky Talisker Scotch Whisky and the Czech Republic's Becherovka.

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