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Monday, 28 April 2008

Morocco to El Aaiuñ (Sub-Sahara).Travel destination. 1

Camels and Cabarets 45 °C


I have lived in the Canary Islands for 25 years, the best time of my life, the happiest time of my life I had in these Fortunate Islands. I went there in 1963 and in 1988 I moved to Malaga. Before that I lived and worked in Gibraltar and went to Morocco often. As we all know, Spain is visited by more than 50 million visitors a year and Canary Islands are visited by more than eight million tourists a year.

In the year 1966 I left my job in Las Palmas and started my own business. But the wanderlust in my veins was very strong and I travelled for some months in Europe, visiting France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Holland and the U.K. I can safely say, without any false vanity, that until now I have not found a refuge in my life.And although I went visiting other countries and even lived in some, I always went back to the Canary Islands, it was my home and I loved it most.

Around 1966 I came to know a business man who had recently settled in Las Palmas. He came from a country neighbouring Spain. He rented a shop in the main business center, paid a hefty premium in cash, thus spreading the rumor that he was loaded.

At that time there was not much business with El Aaiuñ, the Capital city of Sub-Sahara which was under Spanish control. General franco was still alive and Spanish foreign Legion was stationed there. But the trade was growing and it was not infrequent to see men in long robes, heads covered with turbans and indeed Tuaregs with their blue and white gowns, drinking tea in the shops and doing large purchases. At that time if we wanted to visit El Aaiuñ, we needed a special permit from Madrid. There was only one flight a week, going and coming back the very same day.

This business man was the first to increase trade with sub-saharan market and had, without the general knowledge of any body, opened a Cabaret in El Aaiuñ. A very strange and puzzling prospect indeed. One day I was sitting with him in his office (my office was in front on the other side of the street) and he casually asked me if I knew some one who would be interested in making some money, transporting some stuff to the sub-Saharan Capital.

I told him that indeed I knew such a person, and if he could give me some more details about this deal, I will talk to that person. He however, asked me to bring that person along and he will tell us both about the trip. So I spoke with this man, who was a friend, and I thought reasonably that he would be indeed intereted. So one day soon after that we gathered in my office and over whisky & soda, the businessman unravelled his proposal.

He told us that he had charted a boat in Casablanca to transport camels to Al Aaiuñ and he needed some person whom he could trust, to go along with the cargo. That he had persons of confidence who will take delivery. That he will pay good lump sum money for the trip. Now this friend of mine did not know any body in Casablanca and nothing at all about buying camels in Morocco. So we all had a good laugh and had some more whisky and asked him as to who was going to procure the camels and why go to such lengths when camels could be bought somewhere in the Canary Islands and it was just a hop from Las Palmas to El Aaiuñ. He told us that he needed 48 camels and such number was not readily available in the islands, moreover they would come from Morocco anyway. As to who was going to buy the camles, would I be interested to go along and find some one whom I knew well to buy the camels? So we had some more laughs and splashed some more whisky & soda in the glasses. It is not every day that such an offer comes along. Had he asked me to ride a camel caravan laden with salt to sell in Timbuktu, I would have jumped at the very idea. My heart missed a few beats.

Posted by IsleHopper

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

St. Blaise of Switzerland. Travel destinations



From Neuchátel to St. Blaise is as easy as finding your destination in the dark, if you are driving, following the white line on the road. By the time you have your morning fill of the Jura mountains, you go down the slope and turn left to the huge parking space and the lake.

St. Blaise, Biagio or San Blas (as he is known) was the physician Bishop of Sebaste in Armenia who lived in a cave on Mount Argeus. He was the healer of men and animals and according to legend, sick animals would come on their own to his cave, to be cured.

Armenians are Christians and were persecuted even in the Roman times. There is still a huge controversory in Turkey about the Ottomans' genocide of Armenian christians before and after the First World War. Gnaueus Julius agricola, the Roman General and politician, who was the governor of Cappadocia, came to Sebasste to persecute Christians.

Bishop Blaise was arrested and Agricola tried to force him to renouce his faith and accept Roman Gods. On his refusal, Bishop Blaise was thrown into a lake to drown but he survived, standing upon the surface of the water and challanged his Roman persecuters to do the same, to prove that their Gods wereas powerful as his own. Naturally they drowned. So when he returned to the solid ground, he was arrested, tortured and his flesh beaten and torn with wool brushes, then beheaded. For this reason he is worshipped by the Wool Merchants in Italy and Dalmatia (Croatia) and there are churches to his name in many countries. His memorial is celebrated on 3rd of February. The wool trade in Italy was centered in Florence (Fiorenza!the City of Flowers) which was the capital of Tuscany) and employed thousands of workers. Although other industries like making of wine etc developed later, wool trade was the main industry. Merino sheep was imported from scotland and Merino wool even today is world famous for its purity.

St.Blaise in switzerland, named in honour of martyred Bishop, has a special charm.For me it is a Travel Destination of immense charm. We parked our car in the almost empty area, there were three or four caravans standing on their parking lot and when I went to use the toilet, a man standing outside kindly told me that I could drink the water from the tap. Water was cool and refreshing.

Thus refreshed, we turned towards the lake, on our right a small semi-circle of a sandy beach, the beautiful mountains hovering overhead, beautiful houses perched on its slopes. The place had an atmosphere of complete calm and romance, which immediately put an spell on us. The morning was hot and we took off our clothes and dipped in the water with total abandon. Although we stayed on the beach for quite some time, only one solitary woman came to swim. No other bathers.

Straight ahead is the landing for boats and as we were gazing at the lake,a big boat/ferry came to the pier and some passangers got off. It was apparent that you could travel by boat to other destinations around the lake. Go visiting your friends and relatives, do some shopping.

On our left was a small harbour for boats, there were many boats berthed and people on board, some having breakfast. Every body greeted us and we returned their greetings. As if we were not visitors but well known acquintances. Where ever we went in switzerland, people in a friendly manner. Another nice and surprising thing was that we saw no nudity on the beaches, no scanty clad youngsters on any camp sites. In fact we saw no girls with a short short top or a mini skirt.

We were so enchanted with the beach, the lake and the mountains that we stayed there until late in the afternoon, and missed going up to the town center. So later we took to the road again. We would have liked so much to linger in this Travel Destination of cool calm and soothing charm but we wanted to see other enchanting places of Switzerland, so we had to go on.

But even now when I am writing about st. Blaise and remeber the mismerising effect of Bernese mountain range and the perfect soothing calm of St. Blaise, right now, I would rather be there than here in Germany.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Neuchátel and Chaumont. switzerland

Lakes And Mountains
Top Travel destinations
24.04.2006 - 30.04.2006
Neuchátel is barely 15 kms from Biel, driving was easy and we did not lose the view of mountain ranges on one side and the lakes on the other. The population is about 34,000 and the town is sitting comfortably between the mountains and the lakes, which, as is mentioned by people there, promoted Alexander Dumas to describe it as a "Toy Town carved out of butter". I do not know if it was Dumas pere, the great French historian and writer of classics "Count of Monte Cristo" and "Three Musketeers" etc., or it was Dumas fils, who wrote "Lady of Camelias" and "La Traviata", on whose theme the world famous Opera by Giuseppe Verdi was written. I could not find out about this in the town. But to us Neuchátel also reminded us of Sibenik and Split in Dalmatia (Croatia)region which is dotted with islands and a national park with waterfalls, snowy peaks of mountains and esmerald lakes,its main streets full of shops and cafes.It is one of the Top Travel destinations in Switzerland.

The lingua franca in Nauchátel is French, its architecture is French and many of its mid 17-18th century buildings are painted yellow. As are many buildings painted in Andalusia (Spain) and in some Mediterranean towns and sea side villages in Italy. The ambiance is also Gallic, the place was full of street life, crowded pavement cafes and restaurants serving good tasty food and fine French and Swiss wine. The day being hot, we sat down on the terrace of a corner cafe, had toasted sandwiches and a chilled Chateaubriand (Réserve) from Beaujolais. Then we went and had Crépe Suzette (Pan cakes to common folks) with banana and marmalade. As we would eat in Montmartre in Paris. Trés Chic.

In the after- noon I wanted to visit the Museum of Art, which I was told, has a fine collection of Mechanical Figurines. But I do not now remember, how or why, we chose to visit the mountainous town of Chaumont, which is set amongst the high peaks on an elevated area of Bernese Alps. From there we had a fantastic view of the three lakes of Switzerland, Lake Nauchátel, Murten and Lake Biel. The harbor was full of boats coming and going and the snowy edge of Bernese Alps hovering over it. A very enchanting sight it was. No dooubt I consider Neuchátel one of the Top Travel destinations.

Posted by IsleHopper 18.04.2008

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Switzerland - Biel Town Between Rhine and Rhone.





Keywords: Lakes, Mountains and Medieval Town. switzerland
23.04.2006 - 30.04.2006 30 °C
Biel (as Germans call it) and Bienne (as is called by French), is barely 30 kilometers from Berne, the capital city of switzerland,a Popular Travel Destination both summer and winter. It is in fact a district of Berne. Driving to Biel was easy, highways are new and we encountered little traffic. Every body drives at a moderate speed although most of the vehicles were 4-wheel drive. When you near Biel, the highway turns into motorway and then into one lane. When you reach the town, it feels as if you have always been there. You enter the center and are at the water front, you park your car easily, stretch your legs and look at the boats lolling on the water and a sense of well being enters your body. No wonder Switzerland is a Popular Travel Destination not only for europeans but visitors from many Asian Countries.

Biel is a small harbour town with a population of about 53,000 but we were told that there are more than one hundred nationalities living there. It must be the modern industries and world famous watch factories. It can not be that all those people are there for the Chess Tournament or the Wine Festival.

The Tourist brochure told us that originally the town was inhabitated by Celts and later by Romans, which means around l0th- llth Century. Biel is also famous for the Jura mountain range which seperates the Rhine and Rhone river here. The route of river Aare was redirected in Lake Biel as it was flooding the whole area. A stroll around the old city center is a thrilling experience, houses with medieval facades, streets so narrow as if they have been cut and chiseled out in between the buildings and even houses. Small town squares and peaceful atmosphere enveloped us. The day we were there in April 2006 it was a sunny and warm day, the water front cafes and bars were full. We felt as if we were in Cadiz or Huelva in Spain. It was wonderful.

In a Cafe we met two waitresses, one from Philipines and another from South America. They told us that Biel was famous for celebrating Chess Tournament (apart from making Watches). And that it was a wine making region. We had already seen the vineyards on the slopes of mountains when we were travelling but I was not aware that it was an important wine growing region. In May and in september there is wine tasting and in september a Wine Festival. If you are awine afficionado, head towards Biel. I think that summer is the best time to visit switzerland. We saw many bikers who had come on bicycles from Bern and mountain hikes is a popular way of visiting the place. Switzerland is such a Popular Travel destination that film producers from Bollywood come here to film mountain sceneries both in summer and winter, since they no longer film such beautiful scenes in Kashmir (India).

After staying in the town we headed towards the Lake. The first sight which caught our attention was the views of St. Peter's Island. The whole region has wild and dense mountains on both sides and we could see typical country houses perched upon hills in remote and deep valleys. We were wondering how the inhabitants came down to the town from such heights. And how it would be in winter, deep snow covering every gorge and every path. But I would not mind living in such remote places, I am a loner and solitute does not haunt me.

Lake Biel is a beautiful eyefull, boats and ships were coming and going, there are guided tours of the connecting lakes but the prices were not cheap. We also saw boats berthed on the pier with restaurants on open decks. So we took off our clothes and put on swimming costumes and sat down on the rocks to take sun and feast our eyes on the beautiful lake and the mountain range stretching all the way out.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Zurich The Panoramic City for All Seasons. Top Swiss Travel destination

It was our intention to stay in Zurich for two days, I wanted to visit some Museaums and art Galleries, so we crossed the Muenster Bridge and came in to Bahnhof-Strasse as we wanted to take out some money from the automatic money machine. The street was full of people and I saw many sitting on benches in the sun, drinking white wine. So I entered in one bar and saw two slim girls behind the counter, speaking Spanish. So I asked them (in Spanish) where were they from and learnt that they were from Santo Domingo (Dominic Republic). I asked what their customers were drinking and was told that it was white wine mixed with sprite or soda water. It was typical Zurich summer drink. Naturally I also ordered the same. The wine tasted dry. In Spain in summer you drink Tinto de Verano, red wine with aereted water (with fizz) with lot of ice and a peal of lemon. Very refreshing. We paid CHF12.00 for the drinks. Naturally I complained that the wine was expensive and was told that Zurich is expensive. And it is a fact I already knew. But no harm in playing a joke. After all Zurich is one of my Top 5 Travel Destinations and I love Zurich.

It was almost five O'clock in the evening and although we each have had a bread roll at noon, we were hungry so we asked the girls if they could recommend a restaurant where we could have some ethnic food. They told us to go to Aussersihl. Now this area, which in the old times was a working class residential district and now transformed into ethnic restaurants. May be we should have taken a trolly, however after 15 minutes walking, we finally reached the area which also consisted of inter-twining streets. In one street there was a Lebanese restaurant with a menu board sitting outside the door, announcing full buffet for CHF25.OO. We entered inside and on a small table were laid out a platter of humus which was dry, a covered metal dish contained grilled meat which had seen better days, rice and tabouli salad. No pitta bread, no olives and no fresh tomatoes. There were no other customers. We walked out.

Walking around we saw a Brazilian Churrascaria (Grill restaurant) But the place was closed and now we were quite hungry. Then we found Emilio's, an Spanish restaurant,
and sat down weary and hungry. It was nice to speak Spanish and it brought better service too. Spanish food, I have found out, you should eat in Spain. Whether it is Paella Valenciana, Fabada Asturians, Pulpo Gallego (Galician Octopus)
marisco (seafood) it never tastes the same in cold climates. However Paella with shrimps and baby clamps was not bad, fried chicken in gravy was also alright but the house wine was nothing to write about.

The day had gone by and we could not decide whether to stay overnight and take a boat cruise the next morning and explore the city further. So we said to ourselves, we will surely come back to Zurick. It is ionly about 50 kms. from Basel. So we went to the garage, picked up the car and headed back to Basel.
As I said earlier, Zurich is one of my Top Five Travel Destinations and switzerland is a beautiful country. Visit it in summer and you will enjoy it immensly.

SWITZERLAND Zurich The Gateway To Alps.

Key words:  Switzerland, mountains, lakes, landscape, history, seascape





Zurich they say, is the Gateway to Alps. The largest city in switzerland, home to many museaums and Art Galleries, Bauschnzli, the popular Beer Garden and numerous bars and restaurants, it is also a panoramic city. A city with wide spaces, river canals and fantastic views of Lake Zurich, it is A City with a View. In fact many Views.

Zurich was founded in 15BC ( I think) by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (63BC-12BC), a Roman General and later a minister in the reign of Caeser Augustus. He won the famous battle with Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra and brought Gaul, Belgium and Germany under Roman rule. And Turicum in the Swiss Alps, was a garrison town and a Customs Post for merchandise entering Gaul (province of France) and Germany. Zurich was founded on the ruins of Turicum. So the city has Lake Zurich on its northern side and river Limmat flows from it through the old city to the South, with elegant shopping centers, old winding streets full of boutiques, Art & Craft shops, bars and restaurants. You can easily pass the whole day walking, as we did, going from one place to another.

The morning of arrival in Zurich was a sunny day, although it had rained when we left Basel and we were worried that parking may be a problem in the center of Zurich. However, we saw so many parking places that we decided to drive upto the center of the city and easily found a parking garage. When we emerged on the pavement, we saw a large plaza full of people and there was a street market in full swing. So for more than an hour we strolled around, browsing and admiring articles on sale. "One man's junk is another man's treasure" so goes the saying and I also bought a copper jug for CHF 10.OO (a goog buy) and two flower vases for CHF 15.OO. I told the lady that I had no more money and she told me that she could not accept as she was just looking after the stall. So we started chatting and she told me that she was a Dietrician and she very kindly told us about places of interest. I got the vases for CHF15.oo anyway.

The best way to visit the city is by Trolly Bus or by bicycle, which we found out later, were rented free. But we decided to walk and it was a marvalous experience. The Old City is surrounded by river Limmat, from Quai-brueke (Bridge) you have a wonderful view of the city on both sides, the river rolling out in a great arc, excursion boats going to and fro, wide pavements to walk on. If you stand on Quai-Brucke, on the right hand side you can walk to Rathaus (Town Hall) passing Limmatquai. Before you reach the Town Hall, you can see Grossmuenster (The big Church) and on the west bank Fraumuenster and Paradeplatz.

From Rathausbrueke you have the wide open plaza with shops and restaurants and on a sunny day like we were lucky to have, you can sit on the terrace of a Cafe and watch the people go by. At Lindenhof (backyard full of Linden trees) is a beatiful park, from its high ground you can see the panorama of the city with the canals running on both sides of the bridge. Lindenhof is the site of ancient Roman Customs Post.

It was our intention to stay in Zurich for two days, I wanted to visit some Museaums and art Galleries so we crossed the Muenster Bridge and came in to Bahnhof-Strasse as we wanted to take out some money from the automatic money machine. The street was full of people and I saw many sitting on benches in the sun, drinking white wine. So I entered in one bar and saw two slim girls behind the counter, speaking Spanish. So I asked them (in Spanish) where were they from and learnt that they were from Santo Domingo (Dominic Republic). I asked what their customers were drinking and was told that it was white wine mixed with sprite or soda water. It was typical Zurich summer drink. Naturally I also ordered the same. The wine tasted dry. In Spain in summer you drink Tinto de Verano, red wine with aereted water (with fizz) with lot of ice and a peal of lemon. Very refreshing. We paid CHF12.00 for the drinks. Naturally I complained that the wine was expensive and was told that Zurich is expensive. And it is a fact I already knew. But no harm in playing a joke.

It was almost five O'clock in the evening and although we have had a bread roll at noon, we were hungry so we asked the girls if they could recommend a restaurant where we could have some ethnic food. They told us to go to Aussersihl. Now this area, which in the old times was a working class residential district and now transformed into ethnic restaurants, was not an easy place to find. May be we should have taken a trolly, however after more than 30 minutes walking, we reached the area which also was full of inter-twining streets. In one street there was a Lebanese restaurant with a menu board sitting outside the door, announcing full buffet for CHF25.OO. We entered inside and on a small table were laid out a platter of humus which was dry, a covered metal dish contained grilled meat which had seem better days, rice and tabouli salad. Not for us.

Walking around we saw a Brazilian Churrascaria (In brazil you sit on a table around a charcoal or wood grill and big chunks of sizzling grilled meat is brought to you by the waiter, who goes from one table to the other, with skewers in hand). But the place was still closed and now we were quite hungry. Then we found Emilio's, an Spanish restaurant,
and sat down weary and hungry. It was nice to speak Spanish and it brought better service too. Spanish food I have found out, you should eat in Spain. Whether it is Paella Valenciana, Fabada Asturians, Pulpo Gallego (Galician Octopus)
marisco (seafood) it never tastes the same in cold climate. However Paella with shrimps and baby clamps was not bad, fried chicken in gravy was also alright but the house wine was nothing to write about.

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