Blog

06-30-13  Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile

One of the most famous landmarks in Paris is the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile or the Triumphal Arch, designed in 1806 and constructed over a number of years to honor those who fought and died in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.  The names of all victories and generals are inscribed on its inner and outer walls.  It is among these inscriptions that the name of Victor (author of Les Miserables and Notre Dame de Paris (Hunchback of Notre Dame)) father was omitted due to his failure in Spain.  I will blog more about Victor Hugo next.  Beneath the arch’s vault lies the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The arch forms the center hub where 12 avenues radiate out like spokes of a wheel.  One of these avenues is Paris’ most famous Champs Elysees filled with high end shops, restaurants and sidewalk cafes.  The arch is the linchpin of the Axe Historique (historic axis) marking a sequence of monuments and grand thoroughfares starting at the courtyard of the Louvre Museum continuing to the La Grande Arche de la Defense or the Grand Arch of Defense.

The Arc de Triomphe has 280 steps to the top tightly wound in a small spiral, which I am proud to have climbed!  The views of Paris from the top are stunning.  The structure is so colossal, a bi-plane once flew under it!

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe d'Etoille

Cafe on Champs Elysees

Cafe on Champs Elyseees

Sacre Coeur Basilica

Sacre Coeur Basilica

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Grande Arche de la Defense

Grande Arche de la Defense

 

 

 

 

 

 

Champs Elysees

Champs Elysees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

06-19-13  Musee D’Orsay and Sacre Coeur, Paris

I haven’t posted lately because I was first in Bali for 3 weeks taking people on tour there, then came home for 2.5 weeks and then off to Paris for 10 days, so I have been busy!  However I am back now and although my trip to Paris was personal and not a Pacific Island Adventure tour, I thought I would blog about Paris for any interested in Europe.

The Musee d’Orsay lies right along the Seine and was originally a railway station built in 1898 with lines running from Paris to Orleans. It houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings by artists such as Monet, Renior, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Sisley and Gauguin. There are two huge clocks on the front of the building with glass faces and I got a great pic of the Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) Basilica through the glass face of the clock from inside the museum. One of the highlights of the museum for me was to see Starry Night by Van Gogh, but of course, can’t take pictures of the paintings! The main gallery had a glass arched ceiling, an exquisite clock and two levels of sculptures. Absolutely stunning. I peeked into an elegant dining room they had but we opted for a cheaper place for lunch along the Seine.

Sacre Coeur is located in the Montmartre area at the highest point in Paris with great views of the city. We toured the Basilica, although no cameras allowed.  It was awesome inside.  It was a cloudy day so we didn’t get the best pictures of the city on that day.

Musee d'Orsay

Clock on Musee d'Orsay

Clock on Musee d'Orsay

Interior Gallery

Sacre Coeur Basilica in clock

Restaurant at Musee d'Orsay

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacre Coeur Basilica

Sacre Coeur Basilica

Four Americans in Paris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

04-05-13  Jimbaran Bay Seafood

Of course one of the great advantages of being on a small island is its accessibility to the ocean and by default, accessibility to plenty of seafood as well.  For anyone who loves fish, lobster, crab, scallops, shrimp or calamari this is an exciting prospect!  The Balinese people have been fishermen since early population of the islands.  Fossils and remains of tools indicate that homo-sapiens first populated the islands about 45,000 years ago.  Evidence has been uncovered that as early as 42,000 years ago, the island people possessed sophisticated maritime skills and were catching and consuming large amounts of big, deep sea fish such as tuna.

Today, seafood comprises a good deal of their daily culinary fare.  The seafood in Bali is deliciously enjoyable no matter where you have it but, one of my favorite places to eat seafood on the island is Jimbaran Bay.  This little community is well known for its seafood restaurants and is set on the west side in the southern part of the island.  It is a perfect place to have dinner and watch the sunset!

There are a number of restaurants on the beach who all specialize in a grilled seafood feast.  Each restaurant has a variety of live and fresh caught seafood to be hand picked in advance of your dinner.  Then you proceed out to the sandy beach at the water’s edge where candle lit tables have been set, facing the western sunset overlooking the beach.  Weather permitting, you will enjoy a lovely sunset while waiting for your grilled seafood feast.  Depending on the strength and direction of the wind, the surf may pound the sand or gently lap it in front of you.  Either way, it’s quite romantic!  If you linger into the evening, you may encounter some entertainment of gamelan and Balinese dancing.  This is one of the unique experiences we will have on the Bali Adventure Tour in May!

 

03-20-13  Wayang

Wayang is one of the most popular forms of entertainment in Indonesia.  It is a type of theater for family entertainment.  I can remember as a child seeing a whole village come out to see wayang shows which start quite late and continue the entire night.  Frequently they go from dusk to dawn.

There are many different types of wayang but two of the more common ones are Wayang Golek and Wayang KulitWayang Golek utilizes wooden puppets with elaborately carved heads mounted on a spindle that goes through the body to be manipulated by the dalang or puppeteer and played on a small stage.  Each arm is also connected to a spindle stick to handle movements of the arms.   Wayang Kulit is a flat, two-dimensional figure made from cut out leather, hence the name kulit meaning skin.  This is conducted as a shadow play by placing a bright light behind a sheer screen on the stage.  The puppeteer sits behind the screen and moves the figures between the light and the screen creating a shadow on the screen.  Thus the audience sitting on the other side of the screen only sees the shadows moving across the screen.   All of the leather puppets for Wayang Kulit are brightly painted and when the play is not in progress, all the puppets are lined up in front of the stage screen.  Kids absolutely love these shows and are held spellbound once the play begins.

The dalang or puppeteer tells the story accompanied by gamelan a traditional Indonesian orchestra with occasional chanting or singing.  Although some wayang are purely for entertainment, others are purely for religious purposes.  Outside the theater, the dalang commands a high respect in the community for he performs the job of an actor, a teacher, a historian and often a priest.  The dalang is one mechanism that passes culture and tradition from one generation to the next.

UNESCO designated wayang kulit, a shadow puppet theatre and the best known of the Indonesian wayang, as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity on 7 November 2003.  In return for the acknowledgment, UNESCO required Indonesians to preserve their heritage.

Wayang Kulit is scheduled every Sunday and Wednesday in the town of Ubud where we will be staying for 5 days on the Bali Adventure Tour!

      

03-04-13  Art of Making Batik

Batik is a process of applying pattern and color to cloth using a wax resist dyeing technique.  In recent decades it has become popular in American art, spawning unique variations of this beautiful art form.  It is however, an ancient tradition which has been practiced in many regions for many centuries, dating as far back as Egypt from the 4th century BCE.

Batik is thought of as the quintessential Indonesian textile and the art pre-dates written history.  Central Java is where the art reached its greatest peak of accomplishment.  The process takes on two forms, batik tulis meaning hand drawn or batik cap meaning stamped.  Initially, only the first method was employed in manual labor using a drawing tool called a canting using hot wax in a tiny copper bowl with a spout to create the design.  This is time consuming and as the population increased and demand grew, industrialization evolved the process to use a copper stamp of the batik design, about 8 by 8 inches using it to transfer the waxed pattern on the cloth.  This is more economical and faster.  Today, women generally create the batik tulis and men create the batik cap, but tulis is a higher quality and generally preferred.

After the wax design is drawn or stamped, both types are put through a process of waxing and dyeing until all colors have been applied to the fabric.  A mixture of beeswax and paraffin are used.  The beeswax holds to the fabric and the paraffin allows cracking, characteristic of batik.  Then the fabric is washed in a solution dissolving the wax and you have a stunning batik!  Central Java batiks traditionally use indigo, dark browns, black and rich creams as these colors are most readily available in natural dyes.  Among the Chinese Indonesian population, in Singapore and Malaysia you will see many floral prints with bright colors.

Our president, Barack Obama’s late mother, Ann Dunham was an avid collector of batiks during her 25 years living in Indonesia.  She and her children Barack and Maya wore batiks everyday.  Sometimes she created her own.  She took a great interest in this primarily female, entrepreneurial textile industry.  Barack and Maya became the keepers of her collection and in 2009 her collection (A Lady Found a Culture in its Cloth: Barak Obama’s Mother and Indonesian Batiks) toured 6 US museums currently residing at the TextileMuseum in Washington DC.  Watching the art of batik making is on our list of adventures for the Bali Adventure Tour in May 2013!

       

 

02-16-13  Cascading Rice Terraces

Wherever you travel in Indonesia, you will find rice fields called paddies or in Indonesian sawah.  On flat land, you will find flat paddies with a small foot path bordering each field and up the hillsides and mountains, steps are cut into the terrain to provide flat, cascading terraces.  They are incredibly beautiful, marking the countryside with a most abundant farming product of Indonesia and feeding the world’s fourth largest population rice three meals a day.

On Bali growing rice is both an art and a science.  The island’s superb drainage pattern, the high volcanic ash content, and Bali’s climate provide ideal conditions for rice cultivation.  However, rainfall in the lowlands is insufficient for growing rice.  The Balinese have devised ingenious catchments to collect rainwater and channel it.  Thousands of tiny waterfalls spill a precious allotment of water onto tiers of paddies from high mountain lakes to coastal rice fields.  This complex irrigation system, continuously maintained and groomed, has been developed over many centuries, with a remarkable system of hand-built aqueducts, small dams, and underground canals.  The island’s terracing and irrigation practices are elaborate and sophisticated.

You may see rice paddies side by side growing at different stages, starting with wet fields to very dry and color ranging from spring green to dark green then golden.  Fields are first prepared by plowing, generally with water buffalo hitched to a hand maneuvered plow.  The turned up soil mixed with fertilizer is flooded creating a mud base to receive the transplanted rice seedlings which have been nurtured for a few weeks in a nursery.  Seedlings are planted manually one at a time one hand-width apart in the standing water.  Although seedlings are planted in standing water, fields are allowed to gradually dry as the plants mature and by the time the rice is ready for harvest, the fields have dried completely.

During harvest you see men and women in the field wearing woven, straw ‘coolie’ hats protecting them from the sun, cutting the stalks of grain with a cycle or a knife.  After harvesting, the rice is threshed by beating handfuls of stalks on wooden boards, removing the grain from the stalk.  Hulling or loosening the husk from the grain is accomplished by pounding the rice grains in a wooden trough with a bamboo pole.  Last, the chaff is discarded from the grain by winnowing, a process of tossing the grain in the air repeatedly on a round, flat woven basket allowing the chaff to be carried away by the wind.

There is so much more to tell about rice, the fertility rituals and offerings, also how the Balinese migrated from eating natural brown rice to processing and eating white polished rice, but I must keep that for another blog!

    Rice Terraces Bali no74061     

01-27-13  Indonesian National Emblem

Garuda is a large mythical bird or winged creature with eagle-like features that emerges in both Hindu and Buddhist legendry.  No doubt this is how it worked its way into Indonesian culture; pre-Islamic dominance, Indonesia has an early history in both of these religions.  Garuda is now a national symbol in Indonesia finding its way onto paper and coin currency and becoming the national emblem.  Garuda is pictured as a golden bird with outstretched wings and a shield on its chest.  The shield depicts 5 emblems representing Pancasila, the principals of Indonesian national ideology.

In Hindu mythology, Garuda is a divinity, usually portrayed as the mount of the God Vishnu (Hindu trinity).  The ancient divinity is said to be massive enough to block out the sun.   Garuda is the sworn and eternal enemy of Naga, an intelligent race of serpents and is known for feeding on these serpents and dragons.  The image of Garuda is often used in an amulet or charm to protect the bearer from snake attack and its poison.  Garuda is the Hindu name for the constellation Aquila in the northern sky.  Aquila is the Latin name for eagle, representing the bird that carried Zeus’/Jupiter’s thunderbolts in Greco-Roman mythology.

In Buddhist mythology, Garuda embodies giant predatory birds with wing spans equivalent to 330 yojanas (one yojana being 40 miles).  With a flap of its wings it creates hurricane-like winds, darkens the skies, blows down houses and dries up the seas to gobble up all exposed serpents and dragons.   Likewise, it can uproot entire banyan trees by the roots and carry them off.  There are four Garuda kings, Great Power Virtue, Great Body, Great Fulfillment and Free at Will.  Some of these kings have magical powers of changing into human form when dealing with humans or becoming invisible altogether.

Brahminy Kite and Phoenix are considered contemporary representations of Garuda, however Indonesia adopts a more stylistic depiction of a Javanese eagle for Garuda in its national symbol.  In the depiction of Garuda Pancasila, Indonesia has incorporated her day of independence, August 17, 1945 by creating 8 feathers on its lower tail, 17 feathers on each wing, 19 feathers on its upper tail and 45 feathers around its neck.  For history buffs, this is the day WWII ended when Indonesia claimed her independence from Japanese occupation and became a republic.  This is the same depiction of Garuda that won the President’s Trophy in the 2012 Rose Parade in Pasadena.

 

 

   

01-09-13  Gamelan Music

One of the most unique forms of music you will hear in Indonesia is the gamelan, a traditional music ensemble typically used on the islands of Bali and Java.  The entire group of instruments are built and tuned as a unit and cannot be interchanged with other units.  It features a variety of instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, drums called kendang, gongs, bamboo flutes as well as bowed and plucked strings.  Vocalists are sometimes included.

The gamelan predates the Hindu-Buddhist culture that dominated Indonesia in its earliest records and instead represents a native art form.  It evolved into its current form since the Majapahit Empire which was based on Java but dominated most of Southeast Asia from the 13th through 15th centuries.  The only obvious Indian influence is in the vocals.

The earliest depiction of a musical ensemble is on the 8th century Buddhist temple of Borobudur in central Java.  An image is carved in stone relief on the walls of the temple.  Some of the musical instruments identified are bamboo flute, bells, drums, lute, bowed and plucked string instruments.  It does lack metallophones and xylophones, however it is suggested to be the ancient form of gamelan.

Gamelan music tends to differ from Western World music in its minor rather than major scale.  There is a significant difference in the sound of Balinese versus Javanese gamelan.  Balinese tends to be fast and frequently staccato while Javanese tends to be slow and courtly.  These differences enhance the uniqueness of Balinese and Javanese dance which is complimented by the music.

In the United States, Gamelan music has gained popularity even being fused into some Western music.  Currently there are more than 100 gamelans actively performing in about two thirds of the states.  The instruments were made in Bali and Java.  The earliest appearance of gamelan in United States was at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893.  These instruments still reside at Chicago Field Museum.

   File:Musician Borobudur.jpg   

12-16-12   Coffee Production in Indonesia

Ever heard the term ‘have a cup of Java’?  One would think this means coffee has always been produced on Java (Indonesia), however coffee production in Indonesia only dates back to its colonial history in 1699.  Indonesia is currently the 4th largest coffee producing nation in the world and many coffee distributors have roasts and blends named Mocca Java or Sumatra, some coffee producing islands in Indonesia.  The higher elevations of these volcanically formed islands make it an ideal geographical region for growing coffee.

Coffee seedlings first came to Indonesia as a gift from a Dutch governor in India who sent Yemeni seedlings of Arabica coffee to a Dutch governor in Batavia (now Jakarta, the capitol city of Indonesia).  Within a few years, coffee plantations flourished and by 1711, the first coffee exports were shipped to Europe by the Dutch East India Company (VOC).  Indonesia was the first place outside of Arabia and Ethiopia to produce coffee.

All coffee beans are picked by hand in Indonesia whether from small farms or large estates.  Then it is processed in a variety of ways.   Some farmers use the traditional dry method of sunning the cherries and hulling them in a dry state, but most farmers use ‘giling basah’ or wet hulling method in which the outer skin of the cherries is removed through a pulping machine.  The cherries are stored for a day before the hull is completely washed away and the beans dried.  This process reduces acidity and increases body resulting in the classic cup of Indonesian coffee.

One of the most unusual processes for coffee in Indonesia is called ‘Kopi Luwak’.  A Luwak is an Asian Palm Civet who likes to eat the ripe coffee cherries.  Its digestive system only removes the fruit, leaving the bean intact.  The beans are collected from the feces of the animal, washed and roasted.  Kopi Luwak is mainly produced on Java, Sumatra, Bali and Sulawesi (formerly Celebes).  Kopi Luwak  is considered gourmet coffee and highly sought after both in Indonesia and around the world with prices ranging from $300 to $600 per pound and fetching $30 to $80 per brewed cup.  In New York and Chicago you can find it in upscale coffee shops by names like Cat Poo Coffee or Crappy Coffee!

 

11-24-12 Indonesian Cuisine

Indonesian cuisine is regionally quite diverse largely due to the country’s composition of some 6,000 inhabited islands, spanning a geographical area larger than the United States. The islands developed their own unique cookery although some dishes are ubiquitous.

There is one thing in common between all the islands and that is how they start a dish. Spices! In Indonesian it is commonly called bumbu, the spice paste created from grinding the raw spices together with mortar and pestle.

Late in the 16th century, Dutch explorers sailed through the Indonesian islands carrying loads of spices back to the Netherlands. Soon after, the Dutch government set up a trading post, formed the Dutch East India Co. and monopolized the spice trade and eventually colonizing the islands. Indonesia became known as the Dutch East Indies and the Spice Islands.

Some of the very popular dishes you will see on almost any menu are, nasi goring (fried rice), sate (grilled shishkabobs with peanut sauce), gado gado (boiled vegetables served with peanut sauce) and soto (traditional Indonesian soup). These are considered national dishes which you can find on any island. Indonesian food has also been influenced by many other cultures. Large populations of Indian and Chinese in Indonesia have added their influence with curry (kari or gulai), bakmi (noodles), bakso (fish balls) and lumpia (spring rolls). Also popular throughout all the islands are tahu (tofu) and tempe (a cake of split soy beans). A unique difference in Indonesian curries from Indian curries is the use of coconut cream instead of yoghurt. Mmmmm! Delicious! And in fact santan (coconut cream) is widely used in many dishes ranging from savory to sweet desserts.

Since Indonesia is a nation of islands, seafood is abundant and you will find it on every menu cooked in countless ways. No Indonesian meal is complete without sambal which is a relish for your meal, frequently made with hot peppers, sometimes fresh and other times cooked. I could go on for days about Indonesian food; this is only the tip of the iceberg. I will have to save fruits, street food vendors and regional foods for another time. I will mention one other dish called Nasi Campur or mixed rice. Of course rice is the main staple food as you will see by the rice field terracing everywhere. Basically Nasi Campur is a variety of meat and vegetable dishes served on a bed of rice. It’s a great way to get tastes of many culinary delights in one meal and I highly recommend it!

      File:Plate of nasi campur (Mandarin Oriental Hotel Mahapahit, Surabaya, Indonesia).png 

 

11-12-12   Monkey Forest

One of my favorite places in Bali is the Monkey Forest in Ubud.  It reminds me of my childhood in Indonesia raising pet monkeys!  They were my favorite pets!  So much fun, so human-like.  I pretended they were my babies, dressed them up in doll clothes and took them for rides in my doll buggy.  They are so cuddly and love to be held, clinging to you with their arms and legs.

The Monkey Forest is a nature sanctuary and temple complex,  home to some 600 wild monkeys that roam freely looking for tourists bearing bananas and peanuts or anything they can grab.  It is a popular tourist destination often having some 10,000 visitors per month.  The monkeys are commonly called Long Tailed Macaques, and they seem quite tame from years of visiting tourists but make no mistake, they are wild and you must take care when feeding them.

The Monkey Forest represents a sacred Balinese Hindu site that has several temples including a holy spring bathing temple and one used for cremations.  Balinese Hinduism is unlike Hinduism practiced in other parts of the world today.  It combines aspects of Animism, Ancestor Worship, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

The Balinese believe that monkeys possess intrinsic good and evil qualities.  One the one hand, they believe the monkeys protect their temples and sacred sites, but alternately, the monkeys sometimes raid their agricultural fields and destroy crops.  The Monkey Forest is a destination on the Bali Adventure Tour in May 2013!

    

 

11-01-12 Handmade Wood Carving

One of the many art forms you will experience in Bali, is wood carving. This art has been around for centuries and historically was handed down generation to generation from father to son. I remember visiting Bali as a child and seeing fathers teach their sons by the age of 7 or 8 to follow the family tradition. A variety of woods are used including teak, mahogany, ebony and jackfruit.

When carving, the Balinese sit on the floor, frequently holding the piece of wood between their feet while they carve. Typically men did the carving while women sanded the pieces. Historically, the pieces were kept natural colored using a light stain made of shoe polish and oil which was rubbed to a high gloss finish. Today you see many pieces that are brightly colored with paint. You will find realistic and surrealistic sculptures of people, architecture, masks, furniture and reliefs depicting Balinese life. This art form has evolved over the centuries. During the early part of the 20th century, many European artists came to Bali and with them came influences of art deco which you still see in sculptures today.

Within the last 40 years, tourism has grown into an industry and many of the youth are enticed to the city to work in hotels and resorts. As a result, the carving tradition is no longer handed down from generation to generation, however you still find a few galleries that boast of several generations of artists in the same family. To continue the tradition of this art form, many of the artisans teach classes in wood carving to students who want to learn, and in fact you can also take a class on how to carve wood while you are in Bali.

 

10-23-12 Kecak Dance Drama

The Kecak Dance, also known as the Monkey Dance is a musical drama depicting the Hindu legend of Ramayana. Although the dance play is performed in many places around the island, my favorite place is at Pura (temple) Uluwatu on the southernmost tip of Bali on a cliff overlooking the ocean at dusk, facing the western sunset. As you arrive at Pura Uluwatu, you must either purchase a sarong to wear on the holy grounds or bring your own. You will walk through a forest where monkeys roam freely and will snatch whatever they can from you! You’d best secure your camera, sunglasses, backpack or anything else they can grab. You may wander around the temple grounds set atop a cliff with breathtaking views of the ocean in all directions.

As sunset aproaches, it is time to move to the amphitheater high above the sea to watch the Kecak performance, a fragment of the epic Hindu Ramayana legend. The story is about Prince Rama accompanied by his wife Sinta in the forest with his brother Laksmana. Sinta spots a golden stag and asks Rama to catch it for her. He goes in persuit of the golden stag, meanwhile Sinta alone in the forest, is abducted by the evil king Rahwana who is in love with her. Rama returns to discover Sinta gone and seeks aid from Hanuman, the white ape to help him rescue Sinta. A battle ensues but of course, Hanuman is victorious and Sinta is rescued.

One of the unique features of this musical drama are the performance and voices of the 30-50 men, dressed only in black and white checkered loin cloth sarongs, red sash and a red hibiscus flower behind their ears acting as apes. You will hear a constant chorus from them singing and chanting ‘chak-a-chak-a-chak’ hence the name Kecak (pronounced kechak). Following are photos of the drama and Uluwatu temple at sunset, and a link to a YouTube video of the musical drama.

Hanoman Kecak Dance Uluwatu sunset.jpg

 

10-11-12 Tanah Lot

Tanah Lot is a 15th century Balinese temple built on a rock formation just 200 meters off the coast of Bali. The name Tanah Lot means ‘land (in the) sea’ in the Balinese language. This temple is one of the most photographed temples on the island. It is commonly known as the sunset temple because it faces west and has some of the most spectacular sunsets on earth!

A priest named Nirartha came upon the rock outcropping during his travels on the south coast of Bali. He thought it was a beautiful setting and stopped to rest there. Some fishermen came and brought him gifts. He spent the night there and felt it was a holy place to worship the Balinese sea gods. He told the fishermen to build a shrine there and this is how the temple came to be. It is one of seven seaside temples along the coast. Poisonous sea snakes are fabled to live at the base of the rocky islet to protect the temple from evil spirits and intruders. Among the snakes, a giant sea snake is said to live there created from Nirartha’s scarf.

This is one of many adventures we will experience on the Bali Adventure Tour.