Stranger in Indonesia (Java and Bali)

First of all: what a blessing it is to have such a very good, talented, experienced guide, teller of stories, such a great ambassador for his country, mr. Sutjipto Widodo!!! (When you read this, thank you again!!). Beside the beautiful country he certainly had a part in making this trip an unforgettable experience.

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How exciting: the first trip I took that made me cross the equator, to a tropical country. First impressions of Java were in Jakarta, the capital city of indonesie. This city reminded me of Cairo, but than the modern version of it. Here everyone seemed to have a car or a scooter. Maintaining your house does not have priority, washing your car or scooter does.

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In Jakarta, as in Bandung, the best houses are those remaining from the Dutch period (before 1949). You also can find lots of influences from the vernacular architecture. Visit of the tea plantation at Malabar and its kampong only underlined the importance of the Dutch influence since 1602, starting with the Dutch East India Company (VOC).

Traveling from Bandung to Yogjakarta by train gives a wonderful way to explore Java. Java has lots of agriculture. Sawa’s for rice, teaplants, banana’s and other fruits and spices, and production woods. As a result of the vulcanos the earth is very vertile. Yogjakarta is a beautiful green city. The more you get to the east of java, the greener and less crowded it gets.

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From Yogjakarta you can visit Borobodur and, which I found even more impressive, Prambanan. Prambanan is a series of buddhist tempels containing hindu statues in it. The temples are still being rebuilt from several eartquakes, and they are still looking for ca 70% of the stones, which may be used for houses and other buildings in the neigbourhood. The temples make manifest of the tolerance between the different beliefs.

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Exploring Yogjakarta by bike is a beautiful and easy way to meet the nice people of java. Do not forget to visit the head of Becak (Becak is a traditional bike cab). He has an atelier for batik, where he and his students expose and sell their batik art, really beautiful stuff. The man calls himself Picasso, after the master of modern art.

Malang, a city more to the east  of java, has a lovely citycenter with a townhall at a fine round square, surrounded by impressive waringin trees (mystical trees, symbol for tree of life). There also are a large bird- and flower market. Having a bird is one of the things on Java believed to receive hapiness in life. Others are having faith, having a family and having a good kris (ceremonial Indonesian knife).

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From Malang it is easy to visit vulcan mt Bromo. Visiting mt Bromo (2329 m) gave a miraculous view over the different mountains, one of them mt Semaru (3676 m). Both vulcans are active at the moment, what made it even more exciting to climb mt Bromo and look in the vulcanic crater, and of course offer some flowers to the Gods.

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In kalibaru we visited a plantation where we could see planst of coffee, cacao, clovces, cinnamon, ginger, kurukuma, nutmeg, and so on. It was a nice trip and good to see how these spices actually grow. From kalibaru to the coast, where we took a boat to Bali from ketapang.

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How magnificent looks Bali!! what a wonderful isle! it is not that large, but extremely warm and beautiful, it mad me feel like being in paradise!with a lack of words to describe the beauty just some pictures 😉

 

 

 

 

Stranger in Jordan

Jordan, what a beautiful country! I visited Jordan twice until now, and I absolutely want to go another few times! Aqaba, wadi Rum, Petra (this is a must go, very beautiful!), the kings highway, Madaba, Jerash and of course Amman. Jordan has very nice people, and in spite of the wars in neighbor countries it is very safe there. Queen Noor, wife of late king Hussein, had a big influence on the country, making people more open minded than in surrounding countries. If this is only because of her I do not know, but that they are more open and easy going for western people is a fact. (compared to Egypt, Syria and Lebanon)

Aqaba is definitely the perfect location to go snorkeling or diving! We went a few miles offshore to get to the right spot, and it was spot on, wonderful!! In the city lots of nice restaurants, and try the fresh baked baklava from the bakery, delicious!

     Wadi Rum
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Wadi Rum is a beautiful place, desert, full of colors, where you can make a tour with a camel or with a Jeep (or other 4 wheel drive car) and we slept a night in a Bedouin tent, under a starry sky.

Petra is one of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen. buildings in the rocks. First time I went there we did the most touristic walk, and second time we took another trail, which was even more overwhelming. such beautiful colors, impressive buildings or what is left of them. Solely Petra already makes Jordan a must go! One of the visits we encountered a group of Asian tourists (I thought they were from Korea), who did an excursion to Petra running. What a pity for them!!

     Mosaic map in St.George’s church
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From Petra we went to Karak, a place with an impressive ancient crusader castle. I really can recommend going there. From there it is a small distance to the red sea. The story of a man reading the French paper ‘Le Monde’ in sea is true: one does float on the water enough read a paper without sinking.

The next must see town is Madaba. You can see lots of beautiful mosaics there, one I want to mention in particular is a map on the floor of St. George’s church. It is a map from around the year 560 AD showing the biblical sites in the area (from Egypt to Lebanon). Really impressive!!!

From there we went to Amman, but not before visiting mount Nebo, where Moses is said to have seen the promised land and died before entering it. There is a memorial church, a large bronze memorial, a monstrous plaque that the pope visited the site and a very beautiful view over the surrounding area.

    Ruins of Jerash 
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From Amman you can easily travel to Jerash, where are through time well reserved ruins of a roman city. Again a very beautiful must see. I am aware I have used this words very often in this piece, but that’s what you get with such a beautiful country. Final words on this post should not be else than the very strong advice to go there and see and experience it yourself!!

stranger in Syria (before the current war)

On my trip to Syria I decided to make some free sketches besides the photos, which are published in this post for the first time. We moved to Syria from Lebanon (more about Lebanon another time). To  Syria we went, traveling in a cab, an old Russian Volga. Our luggage was on the roof baggage rack on the top of the car, and we were with five people and a driver inside. As soon as we passed the border the trip became really cosy, because our guide, who waited there for us, wanted to drive with us, and seven people in a Volga is pretty crowded.

I visited Syria end of October, start November 2007. With the Volga we drove to the outskirts of Damascus, where we changed to two city cabs to go into the city centre. In Damascus we visited the national museum, the khan and of course the beautiful Omayyad mosque. Damascus is a beautiful and relaxed city. Often you are invited for a cup of tea in a store when you have interest to buy something, very nice people!


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After Damascus we went to Palmyra where we visited the valley of tombs, with the tower-tomb of Elabel, hereafter we went to the classical site (ruins)of the city where we saw the beautiful colonnades, old city entrances, a theater and a wonderful sunset.

By the route of Homs we went to a beautiful little town which is absolutely worth visiting: Hama, well known for its noria’s (watermills). Hama has a lovely town center with narrow streets with lots of children in it!

different impression of tomb of Elabel, pillar of Simeon, noria in Hama and Krak de chevaliers.
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On our way to Aleppo we visited Qalat Semaan,  where the church of St Simeon Stylites is, with a stone from what is left of his pillar (see my sketch above). A very beautifull site! When you are in Syria and have the time: go there! this pillar is surrounded by the beautiful remaining of a church, mainly Byzantine style. It is the earliest Byzantine church I have heard of, dating back to the 5th century BC.

Aleppo I remember as a beautiful city, like Paris, only the eastern way. Bought some stuff for my family over there. enjoyed soukh. khan and the old city and citadel. About citadels: we also visited krak des chevaliers, an old very impressive crusader castle. On the top floor we met some engineering students learning how to draw in perspective.

To finish this post I want to mention a village called Ma’lula. there is a  cloister from st Sergei with a magnificent church, where we heard an ‘our father’ pray in Aramaic.  After a good cup of (Turkish) coffee we walked through a canyon to the tomb/cave of of st. Thecla, where we drunk some water from the holy well.

Syria: when war is over I highly recommend to go there, it is a beautiful country!

 

stranger in Berlin

Berlin, a memorable city which I visited three times till now, once in 1996, once in 2004 and once in 2007. First time with a group friends, second time with a group of architects and the last time with a group of students (lots of fun).

The first time to Berlin we traveled by night train from Utrecht (the Netherlands). Hardly got any sleep, but far more comfortable than going there by bus. we stayed at an hostel at die Osloerstrasse, we saw lots of tourist places. The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche (memorial church for emperor William I) at the end of the Kurfürstendam (and a visit to KaDeWe), Hackesche Höfe and of course what was left from die Mauer (the Berlin wall). visited checkpoint charlie and museum, and the Pergamon museum: very impressive.

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The Berlin wall, the no go area and wall at the opposite side.

The difference between East and West Berlin was still (since the collapse of the wall November 1989) very visible. There were lots of construction sites, lots of empty spaces were the wall has been standing. Alexanderplatz with the Fernsehturm (TV tower) and Weltzeituhr (World Clock) was being refurbished, the Potzdammerplatz was a very large building site around the underground station of the U-bahn (metro) and from the stairs of the Reichstag building you saw lots of emptyness wit a few buildings at the horizon, where is a beautiful park now and new buildings for the government.

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View from the stairs of Reichstag building 1996

Later trips made clear that the empty spaces were filled in, history partly washed away, which changes the spirit of the city, but in a good way I think . Berlin is ready for new history! Looking at the beautiful new buildings, making Berlin a very modern city which only is possible because of the past. New monuments were built.

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Potsdammerplatz before realisation

In later visits, the new Potsdammerplatz, the new roof on the Olympic stadium, buildings from Mies van der Rohe, Renzo Piano, Philip Johnson, Jean Nouvel, and so on. The Jewish museum designed by Daniel Libeskind is a real must see. How he can design a building, wriggling uncomfortably in its place!

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The Dutch embassy designed by Rem Koolhaas. below the interior with art from Andy Warhol showing paintings of former queen of the Netherlands Beatrix.

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Concluding on this: Berlin is a city you really should visit. the ‘genius loci’ changed, the city has grown in its advantage! just enjoy the lot, have a Berliner Weiss (beer), and go to the nice and beautiful places!

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new modern architecture 😉

 

Stranger in a strange land.

What I love about visiting other countries is quite a number of things. Experiencing the difference in culture compared to the one I have grown up is one of them, looking at historical sites with meaning and looking at beautiful architecture another thing. Meeting the people, trying to communicate with them gives me lots of nice moments, lots of laughs. People in other countries are often very kind and forthcoming.

My travels are to be divided in roughly three main types, city trips, tours and holidays with lots of hiking through nature. There are so many places I would mention as being very beautiful, I can only mention some of them:

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The Umayyad Mosque or great Mosque in Damascus, where the head of John the Baptist lays. I liked it for the beautiful building, the sacred atmosphere, well, words are too short to describe the experience. Reminding me the visit it was a very warm and sunny day, the floor of the courtyard was shimmering like a mirror, stones very hot, and the inside was cool and silent. A pity you can not visit Syria now because of the war. before the war it was a beautiful country with lovely nice people, I hope after the war people are not hurt/traumatized too much to recover and I will be able to visit Syria again.

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The souks at Marrakesh were wonderful. An Eastern atmosphere, locals selling food and non-food products, smells, sounds and everything. Nice people, negotiate and drink tea. I bought a lots of spices there, and a lamp of camel leather, got a snake around my neck and we ate there a few times, delicious kebab and mixed grill.

Prague, a beautiful city, beautiful music and impressive sites like the old Jewish cemetery, prague castle and Charles bridge. Pedal on the Vltava river (Moldau) and have a good glass of wine. And also of course looking at the modern architecture like the dancing house (fred and ginger) from architect Frank Gehry.

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Italy, how to summarise Italy. I strongly recommend a visit to Italy, Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, the whole of Tuscany and of course Venice and Rome. In Italy I have not been more south than Rome, but that is to come! Warmth, good food, lovely and beautiful buildings and art.

Well, I can go on for a while, but I’d better write a piece on every country I’ve been, which maybe I will, or not… the future will tell.