Nine years ago, I was sipping a cup of deliciously decadent, silky-smooth, hot chocolate for a minimal price at the Rathaus Cafe in Offenbach, Germany.
I remember glancing at the temperature gauge, noting it was zero degrees celsius outside, before watching a squirrel, as he scurried around the branches of the weeping tree nearby. It was the first time we had seen a squirrel, more familiar as we were with marsupial creatures with young in pouches. We were fascinated.
The large, deciduous tree was fast losing the remainder of its pugnacious, golden-brown, Autumnal leaves and stood like a slowly wilting sentinel, witnessing the imminent passing of its foliage’s use-by-date.
To some, it might be just a tree, in a not so unique village in Germany. To me, this tree was like a wrinkled, weathered face: elegant, wise and experienced in its maturity and so very different from anything back home.
It wasn’t just magnificent, this tree had history. Not only did it provide shade and shelter, it emanated clean air as large trees do and contrasted ever so softly with the harsh lines of the historically significant structures around it.
This majestic beast framed the entrance of a park adjacent to the white neo-baroque manor house that, to me, resembled what I imagined to be a ‘Von Trap,’ style mansion. Having just arrived from the subtropical heat of a humid Australian city, I thought I had stepped into heaven!
Busing Palais in Offenbach
The Busing Palais in Offenbach was home to 18th-century entrepreneurs Peter Bernard and Johann Georg d’Orville, and the likes of Goethe would spend summers there. All but destroyed in 1943, this manor house was rebuilt to become a Museum, Library and of late, a conference centre.
Not only that but a Scloss, or Castle and Chapel completed a heritage square nearby.
As much as I enjoyed the architecture, the Festival of Leaves around me was the real jewel in the crown.
Overlooking Stockholm, Skansen Open Air Museum is a walk back in history that every visitor should make when visiting Sweden.
Skansen is the first open-air museum and zoo in Sweden and is located on the island Djurgården in Stockholm, Sweden. It was opened on 11 October 1891 by Artur Hazelius to show the way of life in the different parts of Sweden before the industrial era.
In a few hours, oner can stroll back through time to pre-industrial Sweden and imagine life in the beautifully preserved collection of traditional buildings.
All levels of society are featured here from the humble bonded farmer to the wealthy Corn Chandler, a dealer in grains, whose quaint summerhouse is a postcard-worthy.
If you are visiting at Christmas and through early January, there are extra activities organized with attendants in period costume singing Christmas songs and dancing around the tree as well as reindeer sled rides for the children.
The Old Church in Skansen is reminiscent of a turbulent period in religious history. The Church in Sweden was heavily influenced by the traditions of Martin Luther whose idea was not to start a new religion, but rather to reform Christianity. He extolled the virtues of finding, “Salvation through Faith.” Although there are very old Swedish Churches dating back to the end of the Viking era with heavily decorated ceilings, later buildings were more austere in decoration.
Photography is encouraged throughout the museum, but the interiors of many buildings are quite dark and in order to preserve any painted objects, such as a splendid Swedish Mora clock, the use of a camera flash is prohibited. The clock at Skansen was painted in Swedish folk art style similar to the one below and dated back to 1799.
In years gone by, it was customary for art students to travel to Stockholm in order to learn to paint and later, return to the countryside to decorate household items and furniture for wealthy farmers, in typical folk art style.
Accompanying the collection of historic buildings is a small zoo, which would delight the younger members of the family, and features arctic animals such as reindeer, moose, lynx, bear and grey wolves.
Don’t forget to snap your panoramic shot, as the view from Skansen gives you an opportunity to capture the Stockholm skyline and city centre.
I recommend the various lunch options nearby. You could easily spend the afternoon here visiting other attractions such as Grona Lund Amusement Park, Vasa or the ABBA museums and the Art Gallery.
Lunch options in the area range from cafes to a la carte restaurants. One of which claimed to serve the best salmon in the world so I just had to try it. Served with potato and dill it was definitely a ‘melt-in-the-mouth,’ flavour and the freshest salmon I have eaten. In archetypal Swedish style, a simple dessert of fresh raspberries with ice cream and raspberry sauce was a fitting complement to the meal.
Traditional Tuesday – [A look at traditional Art Forms]
Poland is a country of deeply rooted culture and pursuits, not the least of which, is iconic Polish Folk Art forms, such as a specialist kind of stitching, called Kashuby embroidery. Initially used as a decoration for clothing, particularly folk costumes and women’s caps, these distinctive motifs have been transformed and used to decorate items as diverse as pottery, furniture, tableware and a range of merchandise from lanyards to mouse pads.
Kashubians are a proud people with a separate language, craft and folklore to other Polish areas. Their motto is “There is no Kashubia without Poles and Poland without Kaszubians.”
Previously considered an activity for Grandmothers, girls of all ages and even men, in Kashubia, enjoy decorating clothing with Kashuby Embroidery.
Kashubia, [a province in coastal Pomerania], is famous for its distinctive embroidery that consistently features seven main colours.
The palette used in Kashuby embroidery utilises seven main thread colours and believe or not, this tends to be strictly observed, i.e. 3 shades of blue, yellow, red, green and brown/black, for it to be called Kashuby Style.
Each of the colors used symbolized something from nature and the people.
Dark Blue – represents the profound depth of the Baltic Sea
Medium or Royal Blue – the colour of the Kashubian Lakes
Light Blue – for the sky of Kashubia
Light Yellow – representing the sand on the beaches and the sun.
Medium Yellow for the grains ripening in the fields
Dark Yellow symbolizing amber, commonly found washed up on the beaches, in these coastal areas.
Symbolizes the meadows and plant life
Indicates the forests teeming with animal life
The use of the colour red indicated the heart and love
also indicative of the blood of every Kashubian. They are a fiercely patriotic people, and would die to defend their homeland.
Red also represents poppies in girl’s hairs
BLACK or BROWN :-
representing sorrow and adversity
symbolizing the earth in the fields awaiting to be sown seeds.
Because of the poverty of the surrounding soil, the Kashubian landscape produces flowers that are stringy, but still colourful. Nature is an important inspiration for floral motifs, especially bell-flowers, lilies, daisies, roses, cornflowers, pomegranates and clovers. Tulips and Acanthus motifs, derived from Christian religious traditions were incorporated as oak or thistle leaves and restricted to embroidery executed by Nuns in the convents.
Adding Beetles and bee motifs to the embroidery stemmed from connections to the ancient pagan traditions of honouring nature.
A lovely element used in Kashuby embroidery is the ‘tree of life.’ Ideally, the branches mustn’t cross or intertwine because it symbolises that life ought to be simple and clear.
In the nineteenth century, fashions changed and traditional folk art patterned outfits began to slowly disappear but some crafts hung on and were printed on to modern merchandise to appeal to tourists.
Formerly, the different style of embroidered costume was related to the particular job the person was doing. Farmers had different motifs and outfits to that seen on fisherman.
In modern times, these outfits are rarely seen outside of special occasions, events or musical performances yet the popularity of the embroidery style, lives on.
In the 1800’s in Victorian England, scores of children under the age of 20, roamed the streets in a Dickensian world, eeking out an existence made famous in the 1968 movie, Oliver.
In the day, Britain feared a French revolution might erupt within the lower classes and so wished to contain this potential political menace by executing or shipping any trouble-makers off to North America, or Australia. In those times, to commit a crime of any sort was seen as a character flaw which could not be altered through rehabilitation.
Why did Victorian Children Live on the Streets
Street children were often the progeny of delinquent parents, or who had parents who’d abandoned them or were sitting in a Debtor’s prison. A child could take its chances living on the streets, working in a dangerous textile factory or remain in squalid conditions in a poorhouse, if they were lucky.
Child Workers and Conditions in Textile Factories
In 1851, more than 500,000 of Britain’s children sometimes as young as six, were working in the textile mills.
Being small, children were used to crawl inside textile machinery to clear blockages in the spinning frames. It was extremely dangerous and many were killed or injured, as the machinery was slow to stop if a worker got caught.
The machines were very loud and they thundered relentlessly all day long. Workers could be fined. beaten or sacked for falling behind. In cotton mills, dust from the yarn covered the workers and got in their throats. To make the cotton strong, factory owners kept their mills warm and damp. This meant that the workers suffered from lung and chest infections.
With these options, it was no surprise that many children took their chances living on the streets.
Penalties for Child Criminals in England
In Victorian England, a child caught stealing would be sent to reform school or sentenced to hard labour. Once they had amassed a record of over 200 crimes, the child would hang from the gallows. If the magistrate was kind, a death sentence may be commuted from hanging to transportation, for life, to a convict colony, in Australia.
Sometimes, these children were the lucky ones, and other times, not.
Steve Harris’ book called,”The Lost Boys of Mr Dickens,” recounts the real-life story of two young boys, in the 19th century, sent by the British Government, as impoverished and unwanted juveniles to exile to Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania, in the world’s first prison built exclusively for children.
Prejudice, moral panic, harsh justice and expedience saw unwanted boys condemned to severe isolation, solitary confinement, hard labour in chains and thrashings in a juvenile version of notorious Port Arthur, a ground-breaking chapter in the history of juvenile crime and punishment. Some quietly endured in the hope of salvation through rudimentary trade and Biblical instruction, but others became relentlessly defiant and mutinous in a brotherhood of resistance and bullying, inexorably slipping from hope to hell.
A Convict in the Family
Ironically, having a convict ancestor in one’s family history is now seen as an asset to a Genealogist. Not only is there widespread documents and history related to convicts, but many times, there are details of their physical description and life story, sometimes even their words, letters or deeds they performed.
John Martin, although not a child convict, was convicted of stealing a sheep’s carcass, at 24 years of age. His sentence of life imprisonment aboard the convict hulks moored in British harbours was commuted to transportation, for life, to Australia. Therein starts our Australian family adventure as John was my 3 x Great Grandfather.
John Thomas Martin was indeed one of the lucky ones to escape the gallows or a potential life in the textile factories. John went on to become a convict overseer, gain his ticket of leave and later marry into one of the first free settler families in Australia, having a large brood of 11 children, one of which was Eve Martin, his daughter, my 2nd Great Grandmother.
I wonder why Eve wore her heart brooch upside down?
Their farm near Paterson in country New South Wales was called ‘Forest Wood,” and the small town of Martin’s Creek now bears the family’s name. From the inscription his free settler wife, Jemima had inscribed into his tombstone, one might think she was determined that history would know of his true character, more than his criminal past.
“He was an affectionate husband and a kind father.”
‘The Big Scrub’, Northern New South Wales, Australia
The Big Scrub is located in Northern New South Wales, Australia. This vast area of subtropical rainforest was cleared by European settlers from the 1840s, firstly for its valuable cabinet timber species, in particular red cedar, and later for agricultural selection, primarily dairying and agriculture.
This region is of special significance to me, as my Great-grandparents were some of the first pioneers to select and clear this land along the Coopers Creek, a perennial stream of the Richmond River Big Scrub, later to be called the township of Eureka.
Early Exploration of The Big Scrub and ‘Red Gold’
In 1842, the original cedar cutters were attracted to the area by the the enormous stands of ‘Red Gold,’ or Red Cedar trees that stood dense and tall on the river banks.
Red cedar was one of the first export products for the fledgling settlements of convict NSW. Cedar exports continued to rise, coming third in significance to wheat and wool, during the 19th Century. Being a slow-growing tree, the Red Cedar produces beautiful soft timber that was used for furniture and, (wastefully), flooring, in Australian housing. The abundance was greater than anyone had experienced before and the quality of the timber was exceptional so more and more settlers and cedar cutters flocked to the district. Before long, all the cedar had been logged out.
Selection of the Big Scrub and Land Clearing
As a condition of receiving land grants, the selectors had to clear all the vegetation. Not the 15 per cent along the streams or anything like that, “clear it all,” they were told.
Settlement of the Big Scrub had commenced in the areas around Alstonville, by 1865 under the Conditional Purchase provisions of the Robertson Land Act of 1862. The Act meant clearing was compulsory in order to maintain your ownership of the land.
Great Grandfather, Samuel Russell, would have had to clear-fell several acres of land each year or forfeit his claim to the land. In addition, each selector had to build a house and make other “improvements” to maintain his title. This was how the Government would encourage settlement of particular areas, and by so doing, displace Aboriginal people and many animal and plant species.
The demand for good grazing land fed a steady flow of settlers into the region. Even as late as 1908 at Jiggi Creek, just north of Lismore, clearing a site for a hut was still a major undertaking; clearing an entire selection would involve months of back-breaking effort for the settler and any of his children able to help.
The Forest Disappears
This Government clearing and settlement initiative was responsible for 99 per cent of the Big Scrub being cleared. 99 % of the original forest has gone. Remnants of, ‘The Big Scrub,’ remain in National park and State Conservation areas, but most of it was burnt by early pioneers as they considered it useless to farming. The botanical diversity was not seen as valuable as it was, “just scrub”.
It is hard to be critical of early cedar cutters and settlers who contributed to this destruction; the evidence of their hardiness and enterprise, their spirit and their willingness to endure harsh conditions and to pull together is too great not to feel some admiration, notwithstanding various incidents of cruelty and worse towards the Bundjalung and other Aboriginal peoples of the region.
Now only small scattered remnants of the original rainforest remain, many of them less than five hectares in area and covering less than 700 hectares in total – less than 1 per cent of the original area.
One man and his brother were able to shoot 102 wompoo pigeons now extremely rare and potentially extinct, from one white cedar in one morning and, on another day, filled two chaff bags with topknot pigeons and four brush turkeys; brown pigeons were too small to waste the powder on but, on the way home, one casually thrown stick killed six of them. These birds were destined for salting down as the family’s food. At the same time, previously uncommon cockatoos, parrots and lorikeets descended on the pioneer settlers’ crops “in clouds”. Pademelons, [a type of small kangaroo], proliferated and became a scourge to crops and pastures; bandicoots were more numerous than ever before and the brush possum appeared in numbers, driven out from the cleared forest areas. The abundance was short-lived and the forest habitat was replaced by dairy cows. Today, there are few remaining native mammals and dairy farms have largely been replaced by macadamia nut and tropical fruit plantations.
Inroads into the wildlife were heavy but in the long term may have had less drastic permanent effects on animal populations, had suitable reserves been created and maintained. But as axes rang through the forest, trees crashed and the smoke drifted through the canopy, wildlife had no hope; its habitat was almost totally erased.
Despite the loss of such rich sub-tropical rainforest, the remnant areas remain important for migratory birds and bats, who disperse seeds of a number of species on their movement northwards. The remnant forest provides important stepping stones for birds and bats which seasonally migrate between the forests of the coast to the south. As the birds and bats are the major vehicle for dispersing seeds far and wide, the remnants are important genetic pools for seed diversity in north-eastern New South Wales.
Some early property owners preserved small parcels of their less accessible ‘upper country,’ out of appreciation of the forest’s natural values. Other patches were deliberately retained as firebreaks, (although rainforest is susceptible to fire and does not regrow from it as does eucalypt forest).
The main remnants of the Big Scrub today include Uralba Nature Reserve, Booyong Recreation Reserve, Andrew Johnston Big Scrub, Victoria Park, Davis Scrub, Hayters Hill, Boatharbour, Minyon Falls Nature Reserve, Big Scrub Flora Reserve and Wilson Nature Reserve. The only sizeable areas left are in the northeast of the state, in the Border Ranges.
Pioneer Families in the Richmond River District
Great grandfather, Samuel Russell and his wife, Sarah, were Pioneers selectors of the Eureka and Coopers Creek area, a tributary of the Richmond River. My Grandfather was born at the family farm along with about nine other sisters and brothers.
Samuel Russell, my Great Grandfather, died prematurely, of heart disease, and one could imagine the physical toll of heavy work such as clearing the thick rainforest may have contributed to his early demise. Sarah remarried and left the district. The children were spread out amongst older family members. My Grandfather moving to Wondai, to live with his sister, Annie Sheather.
It is difficult to locate the original Russell selection now, as boundaries and access roads have altered over time, but the area remains primarily agricultural grazing land.
It makes for a wonderful place for a day trip from Lismore or further north and makes one ponder about what it was like in the early days.
Margaret uses a Box iron – that is heated on the fire to iron her clothes. She cooks all her meals and bakes her own bread in a pot oven, over the open fire. She lives in a house without electricity and modern conveniences. This is not a reality show where we are taken back in time for a short period. This is the life of someone living in modern times, but just as people did 100 years ago in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland.
The fire, Margaret says, is essential not just for life, but for the house itself to survive, as the timbers, need the fire to preserve them. Without the fire, you could not live this way.
In addition, this county has interesting natural and social history features. As well as rare plants, there is the pagan stone – where the firstborn of stock and family were sacrificed in pagan times! A Holy Spring is located there – the waters of which are supposed to cure nervous and paralytic disorders.
It is thought some of my family may have come from this county, around 130 years ago, so this is a snapshot into the way of life they may have led. Margaret doesn’t see this house as a time capsule, the way we might.
She sees it as home just as her father and Grandfather did.
Could you live a life without modern conveniences. the way Margaret does?
If you had to give them up, which one would you miss the most?
They went with songs to the battle, they were young. Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted, They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.
Lest We Forget
What is an ANZAC?
“ANZACS,” is an acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Core, a group of troops renowned as courageous fighters who fought agains the Turks in the battlefields of WW I, far away from their own shores. Members on both sides of my family were injured and died at this gory battlefield.
Each year on April 25, Australia and New Zealand remember the Anzacs and broadly all the casualties of war. With ceremonies and services, the Anzac day traditions continue to grow in popularity, even though the last “digger” or Anzac soldier has passed away. Ceremonies are attended in every town, large and small, and attended by young people who proudly wear Grandfather’s medals and older ex-servicemen alike.
This year, Australians will honour them by standing on our driveway in a line of honour at 5.55am.
The sacrifice and valour of the original soldiers created the ANZAC legend and constituted a turning point in Australian history and the formulation of Australia’s identity. After this battle and war, Australians seemed no longer satisfied to be part of a British outpost in the Pacific. As a nation, we had grown up. We wanted to be a country and identity, in our own right, not a mere vassal. The Anzac legend fortified this belief.
The Anzac story of the Gallipoli battle has now become legendary. The Gallipoli battalions were sent into battle, under-resourced, and ordered to positions impossible to defend; vertical cliffs with enemy positioned at the top.
They were headed for a level of bloodshed on all sides, previously unknown in the annals of modern history. Actor Mel Gibson immortalized the Anzac soldier’s spirit in the 1981 film “Gallipoli”. It makes me cry every single time I watch it, for the men, their families and the loss of Australia’s best young men.
So every April 25, we will always remember them.
Lest We Forget
A snippet from 1981 of a surpringly nervous Mel Gibson as he talks about the film.
Fellow blogger Pooja from Stories from Europe grew up in Nepal, so we’ve joined forces to write about a city located close to Kathmandu, called Bhaktapur. The individual accounts are about the same city, Bhaktapur, but written from a perspective of 34 years apart.
What things had changed?
What comparisons can we draw? Let’s find out.
It is March in the year 1986.
It’s been two months since the doomed Space Shuttle Mission exploded and before another month is over, the reactor in Chernobyl, Russia will fail triggering a catastrophic nuclear accident that will change the world.
Meanwhile, in Australia, I am young, newly married and embarking on my first overseas trip. I am optimistic and filled with a mixture of excitement and nervous energy about my upcoming visit to Nepal. It would be my first time travelling overseas.
The First Overseas Trip
Why choose Nepal for my first overseas trip when every second Australian, at that time, was going to London or Bali?
24-year-old me was eager to experience a culture entirely different from the semi-pasteurized life I had in Australia, yet I still had many reservations about what ‘Overseas’ would be like.
My Arrival in Nepal – Kathmandu
When I arrived in Kathmandu, the capital of the Himalayan Kingdom, the wave of initial shock I felt at seeing the level of underdevelopment that existed in the Third-world, quickly gave way to a respect and appreciation for the Nepalese country, its eye-popping scenery, history and peace-loving people.
In 1986, I wrote in my travel diary, “the poverty of many Nepalese citizens contrasts sharply with a grand, ancient architecture, which is set against the backdrop of the staggering beauty of the Himalayas, mountains that could easily be mistaken for clouds.”
The contrast of our well appointed accommodation, the Yak ‘n Yeti Hotel, a former Palace in itself, with the scene a few steps away on the main street of the capital was stark.
In 1986, there was very few modern conveniences, (there was great bemusement and amazement when someone brought a small vacuum cleaner into the hotel lobby). The swimming pool was cleaned with a mop that consisted of a rag wrapped around the end of a wooden broom.
Thus, it was a day or so before ‘Westernized’ me could relax and enjoy the Nepalese culture, without feeling a sense of inequity on behalf of the people, and guilt for living my life in what would Nepalis would consider to be an extravagant and materialistic Western lifestyle, in comparison. (Even though my lifestyle was merely average by Australian standards.)
One street vendor summed it up.
“Where are you from? he asked, polishing the prayer wheel we were about to buy.
“Australia? Then you are rich!” he put forward.
I shook my head.
“No, not rich, definitely not rich,” I maintained.
“No?” he said, raising his eyebrow quizzically.
“How long did it take you to save the money to come here, then?’ he asked, “Six months, a year?”
I said, “Almost two years,” but he had made his point well. I was rich in comparison.
Bhaktapur – 1986
After a day or so in Kathmandu, my new husband and I were eager to explore further by driving around 10 kilometres east, passing through largely agricultural farms and the turnoff to China before arriving at Bhaktapur.
In 1986, 80% of the population of Bhaktapur were farming and the city was not yet on the main tourist trail. That was a shame as it was the original epicentre of Nepalese government from the 12th century until Kathmandu became the capital city under the Rana Kings.
The name Bhaktapur, means, “city of devotees,” my yellowing travel notes tell me, and if you enjoy traditional art, architecture and lifestyle, Bhaktapur gives you this in bucketloads. To visit Bhaktapur in 1986, it felt like a time warp back to the 14th centuries, Nepal’s Golden Age, when the Dynasty of Malla Kings ruled the region.
As well as seeing traditional Newari homes, Bhaktapur’s main square, ‘Durbar Square’, is filled with UNESCO heritage-listed Palaces and Pagoda-styled temples, adorned with highly crafted, intricate woodcarvings and statues that I felt were a privilege to see, given that Nepal was, for many years, closed to the outside world.
It isn’t widely known that the tiered Pagoda-style architecture, typically associated with the Orient, was first developed in Nepal, by a Nepalese architect who exported the concept very successfully to Asia.
Our Guide, Madhav, explained the history behind the architectural legacy left from the Malla Dynasty and their lengthy rule which preceded the more inward-looking Rana Kings, who closed off Nepal to foreigners.
Walking across Durbar Square we saw the masterpiece that is the Golden Gate, which comprises the main entrance to the old Royal Palace. Said to be, ‘the most richly moulded specimen of its kind in the world,’ the Golden Gate is intricately embellished with Garuda, the mythical griffin, Goddesses and other Hindu creatures. The gate leads to an inner courtyard containing a Royal Pool, or Water tank where a Hindu goddess, was believed to have her daily bath.
The Royal Palace itself, a structure adorned with fifty-five carved wooden windows, was built during the reign of the Malla King Bhupendra Malla, and finally completed in 1754.
Despite the Royal Palace remaining closed to the public as a result of the damage it sustained, during the 1934 earthquake, we feel now quite lucky to see it when we did, as the damage to these heritage structures from the 1934 earthquake had been repaired and the devastating 1990 earthquake was yet to happen. This is the palace as it appeared in 2013, (not my photo).
The Statue of King Bhupatindra Malla stands atop a pillar overlooking the square. The King is depicted in an act of worship and can be seen facing the Palace and away from the main square, as a mark of respect. Such a contrast to other statues in the West.
A few more steps away, Taumadhi square features a five-tiered pagoda built in the 1700s, with stepped plinths, said to have taken three generations to construct. The animal statues on the steps, guard both the temple and the resident Goddess. My photo is old and cloudy, but I am there standing on the right side at the top of the steps, talking to some young girls.
The girls in the photo gathered around me, holding my hands tightly and pleading, “one rupee.” Their fingers were so cold, and I worried that one little girl might actually be ill. One rupee is a pitiful amount of money and my heart went out to them, but our guide had warned us away from giving any of the children money. “If you give them money, it encourages begging,” he said. I did not want to offend.
From here we strolled along the quieter back alleys, where several Newari ladies dressed in traditional Sari, sat on mats on the ground, selling their crafts.
They sold silver filigree jewellery and trinkets, some inlaid with semi-precious stones as well as carved wooden boxes. There didn’t seem to be a lot of customers about that day. I purchased a small carved box and was given another small silver box in place of change, as the seller had no coins or notes to give me any change for the transaction. A kindly gesture and one that I hope did not leave her out of pocket.
Buddhist Art -Thangkas
We were privileged to witness the Buddhist monks painting scrolls in the traditional Buddhist art form, known as Thangkas. The monks paint versions with authentic gold leaf highlights, or a lesser alternative using gold paint, which was reflected in the price of each alternative.
I selected the following Thangka, brought it home from our trip, had it framed and it has been such a delight to me. All my family love it and I still have on the wall in my new home, 34 years later. It is a timeless piece that still fascinates me. There is always something new to see in the painting, even after 34 years.
Some of the figures depicted in the painting might, on closer inspection, be considered pornographic to an unknowing Western eye. We are grateful that our guide explained the true purpose of this traditional depiction. The erotic positions of the figures were intended to excite men and the male spirit, in the hopes of increasing their fertility, something vital to the population, where children are seen as a way of securing your financial future.
Perhaps it worked, as I never had problems conceiving children?
Our final stop in Bhaktapur, was a surprise invitation from our guide to drink coffee with him in a small Lounge, located atop one of the tiered Pagoda-like buildings, overlooking Taumadhi Square.
It was a unique experience to sit and contemplate the history of the centuries-old square where Kings had walked, where battles were fought, where ancient monuments were crafted and stone sculptures stood on guard, as a timeless testament to a creative and artistically rich culture.
Our Guide told us he met a girlfriend who lived in our home town and also how it was common for many Tour Guides to marry foreign tourists and live overseas. He insisted that he would prefer to stay in Nepal and hoped his girl would move over there. He asked us to go visit her when we went back home. I imagine he would have been disappointed to hear that she had no plans to return to Nepal.
Visiting Bhaktapur was a unique and highly satisfying experience I shall never forget and I thank Pooja from the blog: Stories from Europe for the opportunity to share these beautiful memories of my first overseas travel experience with you.
Bhaktapur – 2020
What things had changed since 1986?
To find out what has changed in Bhaktapur over the intervening years, visit Pooja’s blog post, and find out what life in present-day Bhaktapur is like.
What was your first Overseas travel experience like?
Where did you go? Was it to someone familiar or completely different?
I would be happy if you link back to #firsttripoverseas in the comments below.
We all know the slogan, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” The exact opposite is true of Gdansk.
Their slogan is: ‘What happens here moves the world.’
The selfie is mine, but this iconic location belongs to the people of Gdansk, (until 1939, known as Danzig, Poland). This particular spot holds a significant place in history as the birthplace of a movement that changed the world.
Known to many people the world over, via their television sets, the gates to the Gdansk shipyards was where a group of disgruntled shipyard workers formed an illegal, freedom-oriented, trade union, named Solidarity.
Not so significant in itself, you might think.
The Rise of Solidarity
Back in the 70’s and 80’s, this site was a hotbed of protest. The illegal Solidarity Union, led by the charismatic electrician, Lech Walesa, demanded the immediate adoption of (21) reforms to working conditions, including the right to strike and better wages, in total defiance of the Soviet regime and puppet Polish Government. Not only that – they went further demanding the abolition of censorship and the release of political prisoners. From there, Solidarity developed rapidly into a populist, political movement that gained support the world over, but never more so, than in Poland, itself.
It had been a sacking of a female crane operator, just months before her retirement, that initially galvanised Walesa and the workers to strike. Risking imprisonment and perhaps execution by the hardline authorities, these protests are considered to be a pivotal moment in history.
One that eventually triggered a reverse domino effect – the eventual collapse of the old Soviet political order in Eastern Europe and an end to Cold War hostilities.
Rumour-mongers later discredited the motives behind Walesa’s actions, suggesting he had, at one time, co-operated with the Soviets when threatened with the loss of his job. However, the authenticity of these documents is disputed and may have been politically motivated, for, in 1989, Lech Walesa became the first President of the newly independent Poland and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
He later retired from politics to lead a quieter life, living in a house that overlooks the same shipyards where he was began his activist journey.
Despite the negative claims, as a high school student in the 70’s whose head was filled with Marxist ideals, seeing Walesa and Solidarity protesting on the TV, was inspirational. Standing up for the powerless, Walesa became an instant hero of mine. Here was an underdog fighting against injustice, and moreover, against the biggest power in Eastern Europe. What guts!
Walesa’s words maintain potency even today:
“We showed that the biggest problems should be solved at the negotiating table. They should be solved in an intelligent way… using argument rather than force. “
Right there – Lech had me on his side.
A Tribute to Workers
An imposing monument to the fallen workers stands at the shipyard gates. It was a poignant moment reading thepoetic words I found engraved on one of the plaques. It carried a solemn warning:
You who have wronged a simple man…
Burst into laughter over his suffering…
DO NOT FEEL SAFE
Gdansk Shipyard Plaque
The Price of Freedom
For the Polish people, the new political order was both an incredibly exciting and an exceedingly difficult time. I learnt of a Grandmother, who had worked extremely hard for many years under Polish Soviet rule, saving to buy a house. When she had finally saved enough money and was close to her financial goal, independence from the old communist order arrived in Poland.
Unfortunately, along with economic independence came a massive devaluation of Polish currency and a huge financial shock. After independence, I was told the only thing the Polish Grandmother’s savings could buy was a pair of shoes!!
Poland has duly honoured the contribution of Lech Walesa by naming the city’s Airport after him.
Lying 12 km Northwest of the city, Lech Walesa airport is well served by both budget and major airlines such as Ryanair, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines and Polish LOT and is the gateway to beach resorts, such as Sopot and Gydnia on the Baltic Coast.
You can also arrive in Gdansk by Train and Bus from mainland Europe, or Ferries from Sweden.
A pilgrimage to the shipyards can be combined with a delightful day visiting the Old Town of Gdansk – where the 18th Century comes alives and more UNESCO sites await you.
But more of that next time, at Something to Ponder About.
Since medieval times, one of the main routes Traders and Pilgrims used to traverse Norway between Oslo and Bergen, was via the Numedal Valley, which stretches from Kongsberg in the south, to Geilo and the Hardangervidda Plateau, in the North west.
Due to this long history, Numedal has one of Norway’s most concentrated collections of medieval buildings and artefacts, comprising over 40 heritage timber buildings dating from the Middle Ages. www.visitmiddelalderdalen.no
The Norwegian Stabbur
By necessity, Norwegians had to find an effective way to store food over a long harsh winter and designed a uniquely shaped log ‘Stabbur’, or food storage house, that would prevent food from spoiling, or being eaten by mice and rats.
In latter times however, the visitor to the Numedal Valley will find that most of these historic Log buildings have been converted into authentic and traditional guest lodgings.
You can sleep the night in one of these beautiful Stabburs, some which contain walls and everyday objects that have been decorated with the traditional Norwegian Art known as Rosemaling, in a style peculiar to the Numedal Valley.
The highest number of Stabburs of any Norwegian valley are located in Numedal. And if that is not enough medieval history for you, the Valley also is home to no less than four Stave churches.
Rollag Stave Church
The Rollag Stave church is one of the better known Stave Churches in Numedal, but as all are off the main highways, they are a little hard to find. ‘Rollag Stavkirken‘ is located a few kilometres north of the village Rollag, in the Numedal Valley. It was probably originally built in the second half of the 12th century, though not all of it is original.
Initially, the church has been a simple church with a rectangular nave. First mentioned in 1425, it was rebuilt around 1660 into a cruciform church. Around 1760, the church was extended to the west.
Early Rosemaling and Hanseatic Art
The walls of Rollag Stave Church are adorned with fruit and biblical motives, which were painted in 1683, and the forerunner to the more traditional forms of Rosemaling. This was following on from the reformation. The close ties with the Hanseatic countries is exemplified in the religious figures of Mary with child, which originated in the German city of Lubeck, around the 1500’s.
The baptismal font dates from the middle ages whilst the altar dates from 1670. The blue lattice like structure in the left of the above photo is known by the archaic term which translates as: Wife’s or Widow’s ‘cage.’
Shocking as it may seem, women were seen as property in medieval times and as such, if a married Priest passed away, the next Priest assigned to that Parish, would inherit not only the Church and its land, but the Widow and any children as well! Times have changed!
This was a logo I painted and tweaked in a photo editor for my artwork. One of the reasons for visiting Norway in such depth was to study the Norwegian Rosemaling first hand, as inspiration for further artwork and fabric designs.
Forestwood is the name of my website and online shops.
Interested in seeing breathtaking views, experiencing a relaxing atmosphere, walking mountain trails through a UNESCO heritage valley and staying somewhere where an Emperor has stayed and with, shall we say, a chequered history? If so, then Stalheim hotel, in the mountains of Norway, between Gudvangen and Voss, on the West Coast, is the place for you. It certainly was a favourite spot for Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany.
I arrived here on the famous Norway in the Nutshell Tour, which takes you from Oslo, by train, across the eternal snows of the Hardangervidda plateau.
The train then takes you as far as the mountain station of Myrdal, and from there you are required to change trains to traverse down the mountain range to the fjord below, on a spectacularly steep cog railway, (or Flambåna).
The trip doesn’t end at Flam either, for it is there that you move on to a boat for a cruise through the fjords, before finally reaching the town of small port of Gudvangen on the way to Stalheim. The cruise passes through Aurlandsfjord, Sognfjord, and into the narrowest parts of Nærøydal fjord, listed as UNESCO World Heritage areas and spectacular and unearthly scenic vistas such as this:
From the port of Gudvangen, you then take the public bus to the high peaks of the ‘fjeller’ – that’s Norwegian for mountains, to Stalheim where the hotel is located.
Stalheim hotel is only open in the summer months, as the mountain road leading to the hotel consists of 13 hair-raising bends, and is considered too dangerous for public transport, in winter. If your heart doesn’t falter going up, this is the reward.
Unrivalled views can be had down the UNESCO protected Nærøydalen Valley where mountains look so like ‘trolls’ and people tinier than ants.
If you are into exploring, you can even find a Machine gun bunker underneath the terrace which dates back to the days of the Second World War.
You will want to have dinner and breakfast at Stalheim, for there is little alternative options close by, and the meals are usually included in the tariff. That leaves you with more time to savour that wonderful view. There is also a small folk museum behind the hotel to wander through.
A Chequered History
The original hotel was built in 1750 as a postal inn, and during the late nineteenth century was modelled into a guesthouse on the road between Oslo and Bergen. It has burnt to the ground several times and been re-built each time.
In 1939, during Nazi German’s occupation of Norway, Stalheim hotel was taken over by the German Army as a site for Soldiers on R and R leave. The notorious Heinrich Himmler then concocted a plan to address the low birth rate of German citizens and produce more of his so-called Master Race, by setting up Stalheim and other places as a ‘Lebensborn’ home. This was to be a place where Norwegian woman who were already pregnant, or were willing to become pregnant, to German soldiers, could stay and give birth. There were eight Lebensborn homes in Norway – the former Stalheim hotel was one of them.
The hotel was again cursed by a fire in 1959, and sadly, 34 lives were lost. However, it was rebuilt into the current structure we see today.
Here is a video of the road down to the fjord and village of Gudvangen.
My daughter voted for the first time ever yesterday. It was a proud and important milestone for both of us. Time for her to exercise her democratic right as an Australian female citizen.
For centuries, women were disregarded as not being able to understand the complexities of the parliamentary system and relegated to the parlour where embroidering was a more suited pursuit.
If my daughter had been born over 100 years ago, she would not have qualified to vote. Thank goodness times have changed.
It is unsurprising to see which countries offered universal suffrage first:
“New Zealand was the first country to allow women to vote -1893 – [ well done, sister kiwis], while the King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia granted women the right to vote in 2011. “
1893 New Zealand
1918 Austria, Germany, Poland, Russia
1920 United States
1928 Britain, Ireland
“Compulsory voting for national elections was introduced in Australia in 1924, following a pronounced fall in turnout at the 1922 federal election.”
Furthermore, I have grown up knowing voting was once a privilege of the landed gentry, or a domain of men, and thus, take my democratic right very seriously. I am Australian and we expect to vote. It is compulsory here. Yet for many people, voting is a painful process, they avoid it, cast an informal protest vote, or don’t vote at all.
When you think of how many generations did not have a say in how their government was run, it is sobering to think that some would take this right to determine our parliamentary makeup frivolously.
American Thomas Jefferson noted,
” We do not have government by the majority.
We have Government by the majority who participate.”
Whilst many other countries don’t make it compulsory to vote, be it bad or good, our compulsory system, means we do get a more comprehensive view of the public’s wishes in our federal elections. Notwithstanding the preferential voting systems, of course.
“Bad Officials are elected by good citizens who don’t vote.”
~ George Jean Nathan
Do you agree with Preferential system of voting? Or, ‘first past the post’? [ie. those with the most votes in first place].
Should voting be compulsory?
As Ab Lincoln said, “the ballot is better than the bullet.”
One attraction that everyone comes to see in Trondheim, Norway, is Nidaros Cathedral and yet it is the nearby Værnes church in Storjdal that, for me, holds more fascination, at least in a historical sense.
Not only does the Værnes Church have a purpose-built ‘Weapons House,’ that dates back to Viking times, but you get to see Viking age architecture in regular daily use and see some of Scandinavia’s earliest church frescoes.
In the 11th Century, any self respecting, newly Christianized, Viking carried with them a range of knives, axes and other paraphernalia used in defence, and weapons such as these were banned from Church. When the Priest really wanted the new Christians to attend Church, he had to provide a purpose built structure to safely lock up any instruments of death. And so the Weapons House was built. Ten centuries on, I believe the ‘House,’ now accommodates nothing more deadly than a garden hoe or lawn cutter. [Watch out for your toes].
The interior of the church takes the visitor straight back to the 11th Century and is every bit as unique as the Weapon House. The roof trusses, pictured below, span 11 metres and are completely original. This is Viking carpentry at its finest and it is the only original roof of its type, still in existence. Notably, the trusses were used as a design template in reconstructing the roof of Nidaros cathedral and Håkonshall in Bergen.
What you see above you, at Værnes, is what a Viking saw ten centuries ago.
A raised and carved chair (c 1685), see above, was constructed as the private pew of General Von Schultz, the local Squire. It makes me slightly recoil to tell you this but, the wooden lattice ‘cage’ below was for the wives to sit, ( either Von Schultz or the Pastor’s wife. It is embarrassingly even referred to as a ‘wife’s cage.’ Awful, I know, but that is history.
Faces carved into the interior of this elevated chair are thought to depict the face of Von Schultz, but no one is quite sure of that. To me, some of them more resembled a gargoyle or the “north wind.”
The wall mural pre-dates the carved pulpit and is also original. Echoes of a world now past.
A fresco on the wall that looks like a hood from a pulpit remains a mystery to historians. The meaning and significance of this symbol has been lost.
Threatened by the Nazis during the war years, with their intensive infrastructure plans for a military base and airport, at Trondheim, Værnes Church survived and is still used for church services today. In fact, the church is so popular for baptisms and weddings, it is booked out many months and sometimes, years in advance.
Make a small detour from Værnes Lufthavn, (Trondheim airport), to Stjørdal, in Norway and you can walk the path of history.
Værnes Kirke is an important link to the past and something to ponder about. Linking to Jo’s Monday Walks – a tad earlier