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At long last...Cyprus!

Flying towards the Mediterranean island I've yearned to visit for years...

sunny 64 °F


Most people seem to know vaguely that Cyprus is somewhere in the Mediterranean, so I thought I'd include this map. I have been wanting to visit the island for years. History's greatest civilizations washed over its shores, nearly all of them leaving behind relics that can be visited today. As some of you know, the island is divided into a southern Greek half and a northern Turkish one. Technically two separate countries, and even featuring a UN peacekeeping force, war has long since disappeared here. In 2003, the Turkish side opened its border to Greek Cypriots and there was a spontaneous to reconnect with their northern Turkish brethren. The Cypriots on both sides were, by their actions, telling their governments they didn't like being divided. The wealthier Greek Cypriots began to take weekend trips up to northern Cyprus, where they were warmly welcomed. Ever since then, there really hasn't been a need for a UN force. Doubtless, it is the easiest and most sought after posting in the United Nations! Sure, hard liners on both sides of the border can probably be found. Heck, there are anti-government separatists in America!

So, all this really means is I'll be visiting TWO countries on this short, Spring break trip. And for the curious, that will bring my total to 81 nations. For me, though, it means a chance to immerse myself again in Greek, Roman, Crusader, and Turkish history. Jenny and I will spend 5 days on this beautiful, warm island. The posts that follow will hopefully show why this island has been in my dreams for decades, but now will be part of my waking experiences.

Posted by world_wide_mike 07:06 Archived in Cyprus Tagged travel roman greek cyprus Comments (1)

Navigating our way around Cyprus

Sunshine, Roman and Greek ruins, mosaics...all add up to a beautiful first day!

sunny 72 °F

Spring on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, with the wildflowers blooming

Driving on the "wrong" side of the road is one of the few drawbacks of visiting Cyprus. I had my initiation last night, driving our rental car home from the airport in the dark, in an unfamiliar palace, and with a GPS that was speaking Russian to us. Today was Jenny's day, and she did great. We left Limassol on a beautiful, sunny morning and drove West towards Pafos. We navigated just fine, though "Natasha" babbled at us from time to time and provided no enlightenment. Jenny swore she had changed the language to English, and it wasn't until later that afternoon that I figured out that language and "voice" were two separate controls! Goodbye Natasha, and hello "Jason" (yes, Jason M, that was his assigned name!).

Cypriot military helicopter practices sea rescues along the island's gorgeous coastline

Rocks of Aphrodite - a limestone formation just off the coast

Our first stop was the Rocks of Aphrodite, a formation of limestone stacks off the coast. As we swung onto the coastal road, we noticed a military rescue helicopter practicing land and sea rescues. We weren't the only car pulled over to snap photos of it. We pulled off the road at a few spots to take photos of Aphrodite's Rocks, then continued on.

Byzantine church from the 9th century in the town of Paphos

Our next stop was a gorgeous 9th century Byzantine church. It's five domes are in a cross shape and were a beautiful oasis of peace in the town's hectic traffic. Inside, frescoes on the wall depicted Saints' lives and Biblical scenes. It was a lovely church, and I didn't even even resent that I couldn't take photos of the frescoes. Then it was on towards the west coast town of Paphos. This is a favorite retirement spot for Brits, and you could tell the town did a good job of catering to foreigners. Cafes line every street, and everywhere you go, someone is willing to sign you up for a boat cruise, snorkeling, car rental - you name it! It helps that the archeological ruins there are a UNESCO world heritage site. Our first stop was the Crusader castle guarding the harbor. From its rooftop, we got our bearings for our exploration of Paphos.

Paphos' tiny harbor crammed with boats

Paphos' highlight is the archeological park with a half dozen Roman era homes with stunning mosaics preserved. The homes and buildings themselves were often a jumble of toppled walls and columns, but the colorful mosaics with tiny stones depicting various scenes from Graeco-Roman mythology, were in excellent condition and brightly-colored. The best mosaics are under wooden or other rooftop coverings to protect them from the elements. Thankfully, there were no photo Nazis, and you were free to take pictures of them to your heart's content....which I did (big surprise!).

Paphos is know for its ancient ruins from the Roman era, like these columns

Stunning mosaic floor from a Roman domus (house)

Overview of the Paphos archeological area

We spent several hours there, wandering the ruins of the homes, as well as exploring the Roman theater, another Crusader fortress, and simply enjoying the bright flowers adding splashes of red and yellow to the sandy colored stones underneath the vivid blue sky.

Paphos' Ancient, Greek-style theater

After a late lunch, we journeyed on. Our next stop was the Tombs of the Kings. These rocky tombs in various states of disrepair were built during the Hellenistic age. That was when much of the Mediterranean and Asia was ruled by descendants of Alexander the Great. it was cool to wander the rolling, scrub-covered hills, listening to birds and the gentle rush of the ocean surf below us, while exploring the rocky tombs.

A tomb from the time of the Macedonian & Greek successors to Alexander the Great

The exterior of one of Cyprus' many Ancient tombs

Next,, we took in the lovely view from a hilltop village, and then drove up and over the hillsides to the northwest coast of Cyprus. We zipped along what was supposed to be a very scenic stretch, but found restaurants, hotels, and vacation homes squatted on all the best viewpoints. We stopped to hike through a botanical garden to the Baths of Aphrodite. Cyprus is supposed to be the birthplace of the Greek goddess of love, so a number of sites are sacred to her on the island. Frankly, it was a bit of a disappointment. It was nothing more than a tiny, wooded pool underneath a trickle of a waterfall.

View towards the coast from one of Cyprus' lovely, hilltop villages

Our drive back to Limassol and our hotel started out as a bit of an adventure. "Jason" steered us off the main road onto what turned into a dirt road that Jenny swore was someone's driveway. His help was problematic, at best. Add that to the GPS' non-intuitive interface, and the fact that every place in Cyprus has 4-5 English spellings of its name, and you have a navigational aid that often doesn't. We are a bit worried about how it will do in the Troodos Mountains, when we go to check out a bunch medieval monasteries. We'll pray for the best, though, and hope that our "wrong" driving stays limited to the side of the road...!

Even the birds admire Cyprus' amazing ancient ruins

Posted by world_wide_mike 13:38 Archived in Cyprus Tagged ruins tombs roman greek cyprus kings aphrodite mosaics paphos Comments (0)

Trekking through the Troodos

Mountain Monasteries, and man replaces machine

sunny 74 °F

The Trodos mountains hold medieval monasteries that are home to some of the most stunning frescoes existing today

It was a day of winding mountain roads, hairpin turns, and sublime medieval frescoes. Jenny and I pointed our rental car towards the Troodos Mountains with a handful on the dozens and dozens of Troodos monasteries picked out to visit. We put our trust in our GPS "Jason", who had performed with mixed results yesterday. Before the day was out, Jason was fired and sequestered in the glove compartment. Man (me) replaced machine after Jason misdirected us, was horribly confused by every turn, and essentially proved himself worthless as a navigational aid. In all honesty, the signs on the road, combined with the map our hotel had given us that morning, proved sufficient. I'm pretty good at finding my way around, and once I got my bearings right after we locked Jason away, did a flawless job of navigating...if I must say so myself - ha, ha!

Troodos Mountain scenery

Tiny and plain on the outside, but ornate and spectacular inside - the Pedoulas and the Archangel Michael Church

With our first stop, Pedoulas and the Archangel Michael Church, we found that these medieval churches are a lot smaller than you'd expect. Despite its lofty name, this clay tile roofed stone building was smaller than my house. The inside was stunning,,though. Every bit of wall space was covered with frescoes painted on the walls. They depicted not only scenes from Jesus' life, but hosts of saints stared back at us as we slowly paced through the church. Like most churches with medieval frescoes, no photography was allowed. In Armenia a couple years ago, that had been the case except for one enlightened priest who realized no flash equals no damage to them thousand year old paintings. Would fortune smile on me today like it had in Armenia? I could only pray that it did.

Our rental car and the beautiful, Mediterranean hillside scenery

Spring is supposed to be the best time to visit Cyprus, and we were rewarded with the the gossamer blush of cherry trees in bloom near every village. The views from mountain top and valley were stunning. We were blessed with wide spots or places to pull off the road in the best vantage points, too. It seems others appreciated a good a panorama, and there were obvious places others had pulled off the narrow roads, and we followed suit when the urge to snap a photo took us. After our initial, nauseating drive from Limassol to Pedoulas, the other legs from one monastery to another seemed to go quicker. Of course, I'd like to take credit with my navigating, but I realize it was our longest stretch, with the most climbing....!

The most crowded and wealthy of the Troodos monasteries, Kykkos

Lots to see in Kykkos Monastery, including the monk's cells, museum, and treasury

Our second stop was at Kykkos Monastery, which is the largest and wealthiest in the Troodos Mountians. The monks throw open most of the complex -- including the gold-mosaiced hallways outside their rooms (hard to call the "cells" in such a magnificent building!). We wandered its corridors, which were the most crowded we'd see all day. The amount of mosaics on the walls was stunning. Every inch seemed to have a depiction of some saint or scene from the Bible. As crowded as it was, we were one of the few visitors who paid the 5 Euros to see the museum. As I slowly paced through the dimly lit, but treasure-packed rooms, one thing kept coming back to me. I remembered what I tell my 7th graders when I am explaining medieval Christian monasticism. In particular, I dwell in my instruction on a Mona's vows. I even have them recite a monk's vows , then spend a silent day in my classroom scriptorium creating an illuminated manuscript. But as I looked at glass case after glass case full of gold-plated crosses, censers, reliquaries, and elaborate, colorful vestments, the Vow of Poverty kept coming back to me. I acknowledge this is less excessive than the Vatican's treasure rooms, but it is a monastery! Poverty does not exist at Kykkos, and wealth was everywhere you looked. Before any Greek Orthodox challenges me on this, I do understand the difference between church and individual property.

Hill town in the Troodos Mountains of Cyprus

Difficult to find, the Kalopanayiotis Monastery

Our next stop proved difficult to find. We navigated to the village all right, but where inside Kalopanayiotis was it? the guidebook siad the three stone buildings were "clearly visible", but it took us awhile. Once again, no photos were allowed inside the actual church. The frescoes were every bit as gorgeous as those at at Archangel Michael. The church at Kykkos, by the way, was relatively modern...it had burnt down several times in its existence, the most recent in the 1800s. There was quite a bit of construction going on in the village. Many Cypriots come here from the plains and coasts to escape summer's heat. Some renovations were clearly going on at the monastery of Agios Ioannis Lampedistis. I imagine if I came back in 5 years I'd have a hard time recognizing the place.

Though the exterior doesn't look it, the interior of the Agios Panagia Forviotissa monastery was the highlight of the trip

The frescoes on the interior of the Agios Panagia Forviotissa monastery

Our final monastery on our itinerary turned out to be the best. It was the most remote -- out in the countryside, miles away from a farm village. Our guidebooks had said that if you can visit only one to make sure you saw Agios Panagia Forviotissa. It was our favorite, too, though I doubt that is what Forviotissa stands for...! The frescoes and subjects painted were so obviously medieval Byzantine. I recognized the clothing, armor, hair styles, and especially the deep, soulful eyes that appear on Byzantine art. After we had reverently paced our way through the tiny stone church, Jenny and I both remarked we'd seen nothing about photography not being allowed. We asked I the elderly attendant and he waved us onto snap pictures to our hearts content. I doubt he expected us to break out the tripods and camp out for 45 minutes like we did. We weathered the storms of other visitors, holding off on our shots while they visited (though most came in went within a few minutes). The pictures we got were amazing, inspiring, and simply made our day.

Even the ceiling of the Agios Panagia Forviotissa monastery are covered in medieval frescoes

We drove back to Limassol content and with beatific, monk-like smiles on our faces. We also had a much smoother trip...with Jason securely locked away in the glovebox. Earlier in the day, we had burst out laughing when his voice came out from the glovebox recommending a change to my route -- after I had hit the "sleep" button. Our route seemed much smoother under MY navigation. But, after all, "Michael" means "like unto The Lord" in Hebrew. Don't believe me? Look it up!

A fresco of Jesus' crucifixion on the medieval walls of the monastery

Posted by world_wide_mike 22:21 Archived in Cyprus Tagged cyprus monasteries michael troodos archangel kykkos pedoulas Comments (0)

One for the History Books

7th grade Social Studies in a Nutshell

sunny 78 °F

Setting idyllically in the sun, the ancient ruins of Kourion on the coast of Cyprus

One of the reasons I came to Cyprus was the wealth of historical sights from my favorite periods of history. The Egyptians were there, the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, crusaders, and Arabs and Turks. Essentially, Cyprus is my 7th grade Social studies curriculum in a tiny, island nutshell. Today's itinerary would bear that out. We would begin with a Crusader castle, move on to Greek and Roman ruins, drop back 6,000 years to the Stone Age, and then finish with the Middle Ages.

Kolossi Castle - the most intact fortifications built by the crusaders during their stay on Medieval Cyprus

Although it was my turn to drive, we decided to not mess with success and keep the Jenny Driver, Mike Navigator, tandem. It would work to perfection. We were never lost, and even navigated our way through the crowded, one-way streets of Larnaca flawlessly. We started with a couple sights in the area of our base of Limassol. First up was Kolossi, the most intact Crusader fort in Cyprus. When I travel, I usually try to get an early start. I'm not talking crack of dawn, but if I'm not on the road by the 9 o'clock hour, I'm disappointed. My usual payoff - and it held true today - is you avoid the crowds. Most of the tour bus crowd lingers over breakfast and coffee and you can at least beat them to your first destination.

Medieval crusaders once strode beneath the vaulted ceilings of the halls inside Kolossi castle

And so it was. Jenny and I had the castle to ourselves for the first half hour or so. Although there are no furnishings or decorations in the rooms themselves, it was easy to populate them in our mind with torches, tables full of ale and food, and raucous knights. The castle initially was built by the crusaders who accompanied Guy of Lusignan, who took control of the island in 1194 A.D. Later it was passed into the hands of both the Knights of St. John (also known as the Hospitallers), and the famous -- or infamous -- Templars. When that order was suppressed by the Pope, the castle went back into the hands of the Hospitallers. From there, it was seized by the Italians and finally the Turks. The spiral stone staircases, echoing halls, and arrow slits along the walls transported you back mentally to the medieval world. It was cool to pace slowly around the amber-colored stone rooms and soak up the atmosphere.

Ancient columns at the Graeco-Roman ruins of Kourion

From there, we drove to the day's highlight: the Graeco-Roman ruins of Kourion. This site sprawls along the gorgeous deep blue Mediterranean coast, within sight of the famous Rocks of Aphrodite from our first day of sightseeing. They have tumbled down homes, temples, churches, and public buildings from the Greeks, Romans, and early Christians of the Dark Ages. There are several huge villas that have been excavated to uncover not only the bases of the walls, but extensive mosaic floors. A number of these are covered by modern wooden roofs with boardwalks suspended overhead for visitors to view the protected floors and ruins. You can't accuse Kourion of being overly reconstructed (except for maybe the semicircular stone theater). It has been made VERY accessible to the visitor, though. Clearly defined gravel paths direct you and signs inform you of what you are looking at. And though the sun beat down on us making it a hot, hour-long walk through the ruins, we were never left scratching our head or mystified at what we were visiting.

Roman baths at Kourion

The Kourion ruins are fairly spread out, too. It takes awhile to walk their extent, which generally mean the package tours disgorging from their tour buses can't visit all of the site. For Kourion, that meant we had to put up with the 50-strong German tour group only at the theater. So, for most of our wanderings at the site, we encountered only a couple of others here and there. Jenny and are we're amused by the American guy with his svelte, blonde trophy wife who insisted on getting her picture taken posing in front of every scenic view. All in all, though, our visit to Kourion was awesome, and we had much of it to enjoy by ourselves.

It was a beautiful, sunny day to explore this ancient site

After filling up our rental car with gas (Yikes...55 Euros! About $70...), we headed east on the interstate. We pulled off at Choirokoitia, which was definitely off the beaten tourist track. This hilltop Stone Age settlement began in 6500 B.C., and is still being excavated. The dwellings are grouped in clusters of four tiny, round, stone huts. One was used by a family group for sleeping, another for cooking, and yet another for grinding grain, and so on. The scientists have built a cluster of replicas at the beginning of the site, and you see the stone remains of the originals when you climb the steep hill to the community's defensible site. It was definitely not as exciting as Kourion or the castle of Kolossi, but still fascinating for a history buff.

The reconstructed Stone Age village of Choirokoitia

Next, we drove into downtown Larnaca, and much to my amazement, navigated the one-way streets and divided roads to our destination without hitch. We parked the car and walked through Larnaca, as most of its sites are not far apart. First, we visited the church of St. Lazarus...yes, the same one from the Bible miracle, "Lazarus, come forth!" The story goes that Lazarus moved to Cyprus and preached Jesus' teachings there. In the Middle Ages, his tomb, inscribed "Lazarus, dead 4 days and friend of Jesus" was found beneath the church dedicated to his name. The interior is a really cool melding of the gold-encrusted, elaborately decorated Byzantine style and the soaring stone Frankish or Gothic styles. Icons bedeck every open space in the church, many with votive candles glowing beneath them or enclosed within polished silver frames. Candle light gleams from gold and silver everywhere you look. You can duck down into the crypt and view the tomb of Lazarus. You could even look at his bones, partially enclosed in a carved silver box which is taken out and paraded through Larnaca's streets during festivals. And most miraculous of all (okay, and just a t-a-d sarcastically), photography was not prohibited...at least not that I could see!

The Church of St. Lazarus (yes, as in "Lazarus, come forth...!") in Larnaca, Cyprus

Just a short walk away was the Larnaca Medieval Fort and "Museum". I put museum in quotes because that was the weakest attempt at a medieval museum I've seen in 80 countries. More than 3/4's of the displays were grainy black and white photographs -- many of places most tourists would visit during their stay on the island. There was one small glass case of medieval weapons (all from what *I* would term the Renaissance), and a couple cases of pottery cups (wow...how exciting). The fort was okay, though. The best part was its position right on the beach in the center of town. Looking over its walls, you see the waves breaking on the shore. It didn't come near capturing Kolossi's mystique, though.

View of Larnaca beach from Larnaca Fort and Museum

Next, Jenny wanted to kick back and gaze out at the Mediterranean. So, we grabbed a couple Strongbow English ciders and sat on a bench and relaxed. We laughed at a dog and his master romping on the beach, and people watched. As we whiled away the time, it ticked steadily away. By the time we got in motion again, every place we wanted to visit was closed. It had been a long, sun-drenched day, though. So, we were content to make our way back to the car and begin the drive home. We had one more full day of sightseeing left, and there was nothing wrong with being rested up for it! Plus, we found a great pub to sit in, enjoy some beverages, and check out the photos we'd taken. Day 3 in Cyprus was one for the history books, and after all, that was why I was here...!

Here is me posing in front of ancient Cyprus' most famous philosopher, Zenon of Kition, who invented the idea of Stoicism. Do I look stoic enough?

For more photos, check out my Cyprus Photobucket site: http://s721.photobucket.com/user/mikedemana/library/Cyprus%202014?sort=3&page=1

Posted by world_wide_mike 12:00 Archived in Cyprus Tagged ruins church roman greek cyprus limassol larnaca lazarus kolossi kourion choirokoitia Comments (1)

One Day in the North

Nicosia and "Turkish" Cyprus

overcast 70 °F

Springtime flowers bloom around the ruins of the Graeco-Roman city of Salamis in North Cyprus

The plan for today was to drive north and cross the border into Turkish Cyprus. Luckily, we'd found what appeared to be a good map the day before in Larnaca. All the tourist agencies seem to either all but deny the existence of North Cyprus, or claim to have no answers to questions about travel there. We woke early because we knew we had a lot to cram into one day. We were headed first to the Greek half of the capital city of Nicosia. It is a divided city, with both countries having their own slice of it, separated by UN troops. The plethora of one-way streets and divided streets made finding a way in challenging, so we opted for a parking lot just shy of the walls.

Greek pottery in the Cyprus Archeological Museum in Nicosia, a city that straddles North Cyprus and Cyprus

Ancient Greek statues were known for their style and beauty, including this one of Aphrodite (I believe) at the Cyprus Archeological Museum

Our first stop was the Cyprus Archeological Museum. This is supposed to be one of the best in the country, and it did not disappoint. Lots of artifacts are displayed in glass cases, labeled in both Greek and English. Larger statues and other objects stand free on pedestals. The exhibits cover the history of Cyprus from its earliest stages to about the end of the Roman era. With our early start, we had the museum to ourselves. It was nice to be able to freely wander here and there, picking which displays to linger over. There were so many Bronze Age and Stone Age artifacts, if we tried to read every single word, we would eat up half a day! Just as we got ready to leave, a tour bus disgorged its contents into the museum. The bustling crowd chattering excitedly made me thankful once again for our early start.

The Bishop's Palace in Nicosia

Next, we wandered through the Old Town a bit, visiting the Bishop's Palace, the town cathedral, and the Venetian walls. An obligatory stop at the tourist information office provided us with the location of the checkpoint to drive across into Turkish Cyprus. We retuned to the car, got our maps ready, and headed for the border. The crossing was quick and painless - unless you count the 20 Euro car insurance needed to being a rental across the border. We also snagged another map from a tourist info display while waiting for our passports to be stamped. This ended up being very helpful because its town names matched those on the road signs. The larger map we bought in the south had the Greek names. And you can not always tell which Greek name corresponds with which Turkish one. That is a problem, in general, in Cyprus - both halves. Nicosia, for example, is called both Lefkosa and Nicosia by Greeks. Limassol can also be Lemesos. Some are less obvious than others, but you have to be careful when you're reading signs.

The stunning views from the hilltop Castle of St.Hilarion in North Cyprus

It took a lot less time than we'd expected to arrive at our first site, which would prove to be one of the best of trip. The castle of St.Hilarion sprawls across hundreds of yards of rocky, forested mountain top. The drive up there was through a "Prohibited Zone," where no stopping or photography was permitted. The reason for that was the unsmiling soldiers guarding oth the UN military post and the Turkish army base. Not really sure what the UN soldiers had to be grim about, though. Cyprus had got to be the easiest posting in the world! No shooting, the sides at peace, and a sunny Mediterranean climate. Would they rather be posted in war-torn jungles of The Congo?

History and castle lovers will enjoy wandering atmospheric St. Hilarion for hours

St. Hilarion is not for the feeble or asthmatic, though. From the moment you arrive, you are climbing upwards, ever upwards. The castle is built in three sections, going higher up towards the mountain peak. The outer walls and gate and watch towers are on the lowest level. The garrison stayed in the second level, above that. Finally, the royal apartments have a stunning panorama at the very top. The castle was begun by the Byzantines, and added to by the Crusaders, then finally abandoned when the Italians and then Turks took over the island. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore -- a watch tower here, the ruins of a Byzantine church there, the shell of a dining hall or a line of battlements. And all of them have incredible views, many of the seaside town of Girne (also called Kyrenia) far below, its white houses framed by the curve of the deep blue sea. This is the type of romantic ruin to wander and daydream.

Looking up at St. Hilarion Castle, perched on its rocky hill, from below

We spent a couple hours slowly working our way through the rambling castle grounds. The air became cooler as we climbed, and our breathing became deeper. This was definitely our most strenuous workout of the week. The sky clouded over from time to time as mist rolled ip the slopes -- moist sea air condensing as it rose. St. Hilarion is one of the most stunning settings for a castle that I've ever visited. Panoramas of mountain, sea, and crumbling stone walls cry out to be photographed everywhere you turn.

The view of the North Cyprus coastline as seen looking from the walls of St. Hilarion Castle

Our original plan was to check out some other sites in the area, but we decided to change on the fly. We pointed the car east toward the coast and the ruins of the Ancient Greek city of Salamis. No, not the Salamis of the naval battle of the Greek-Persian Wars -- that is in Greece itself. This is a town with the same name that survived through the Roman era into the Dark Ages, before being abandoned. Most of the ruins are from the Roman era, much of it from when the emperor Constantius rebuilt it after an earthquake...and did what all monarchs love to do -- renamed it after himself!

The ruins of the Ancient Greek city of Salamis are much less visited and more unspoiled to wander through

Greek statues lay open under the sun at Salamis, not tucked away in museums

Here at Salamis you see how much less the Turkish side is set up to exploit tourism. Although there are signs and maps set up throughout the site, there are almost no barriers of any kind. You were free to go anywhere, climb on anything, and run your fingers along that marble statue or tile floor. It is like stumbling, all alone, upon a lost city in the wilderness. The feeling of immersing yourself in history is so much stronger than it was pacing along the wooden walkways with the crowds at Kourion or Pafos. You enjoy both, yes, but here you get to not only see, but touch, climb on, and get right next to living history. You can't help wondering about the risks of this approach, though. If the north ever saw the tour bus hordes that the south does, would Salamis survive intact? Or would thoughtless visitors pry off pieces of tile flooring, mosaic stones, or damage fragile relics? Without a doubt, I enjoyed seeing Salamis this way much more than the efficiently-delivered and almost antiseptic sites of Kourion and Pafos. I don't think it is sustainable, though. Eventually, as crowds increased, barriers would have to go up, and valuable or fragile items would disappear into museums, rather than sit out under the Mediterranean sun. It is not that the island of Cyprus is off the beaten tourist track, right now. Far from it. However, few Americans do seem to come here. Hordes of Brits come to retire or vacation, along with plenty of German and other European tourists.

Ancient Greek inscriptions on the floor can be found as you wander through Salamis - which is not the Salamis from the famous sea battle

I had waited many years myself to finally make the visit. Both the southern Greek half and northern Turkish half were great. I would have enjoyed more time, of course. Maybe then I could have slowed down a bit more. I knew all five days would be a cram going on, though -- just as our last day in Nicosia and the north. Still, the sights I saw over the entire trip were every bit as fantastic those last ones on our only day in North Cyprus.

Greek columns line the temples and roadways of Salamis in North Cyprus

Posted by world_wide_mike 16:12 Archived in Cyprus Tagged st. ruins castle roman greek cyprus nicosia lefkosia hilarion crusaders salamis lusignan Comments (0)

Getting ready for an Asian adventure

Taiwan and Vietnam

My new travel hat

A quick, pre-trip post to make sure I remember how to update this blog. I leave Saturday for a 2-part trip, spending one week in Taiwan and a little more than a week in Vietnam. I waited until summer to shop for airfares, so couldn't find any good deals. Then I heard about booking a "multi-city" trip on search engines. If you set your stop over to be a multi day one, you are essentially getting two trips for one airfare price. So, prices that were in the "No way!" range, suddenly became, "Hmmm..."

Speaking of prices, I booked my hotel rooms on Hotels.com, and was really surprised to find out how cheap they were in Vietnam. Taiwan is more expensive, it appears, but both are bargains compared to Europe in summer.

I leave in a few days, so am busy getting all those last-minute things finished before leaving. So, stay tuned for updates...!

Posted by world_wide_mike 09:29 Archived in Taiwan Tagged vietnam taiwan Comments (1)

Taroko Gorge -- don't nap and miss this in Taiwan

Days 1-3 of my Taiwan trip

semi-overcast 84 °F

temple lions rock,and so does Taroko Gorge in Taiwan

It seems odd that after three days in Taiwan, I feel like I've had only one real day of sightseeing. That day, though, made up for it. Through my hotel, I purchased a full-day tour of Taroko Gorge -- a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was amazing, and I'll tell you about it shortly. The other two days really weren't all that bad, involving scenic train rides along the East coast of Taiwan. My base for visiting Taroko Gorge was Hualien, which is the biggest city on the East coast. That isn't saying much, though, as this coast is Taiwan's back country. A better comparison to the United States might be "highway 1" coast of California. It is very scenic, with the deep blue Pacific contrasting with the steep green mountainsides of Taiwan's central backbone. Of course, you have to throw in rice paddies and more green and lush vegetation to get a more accurate picture.

Okay, so enough comparisons, "Worldwide" (as some of my coworkers haven taken to calling me). How about describing what you've seen and done? After more than 24 hours in transit from Columbus, Ohio, I finally arrived in Taipei, Taiwan, more than two hours late. I'd previously decided to bug out of town immediately, and head for a smaller (read: cheaper to stay in) town immediately. Catching the train was a snap, but I didn't get to my hotel until after midnight. The next morning I was up bright and early, catching my first train ride along the East coast. Amazingly, I did not doze off, and drank up the scenery eagerly. The crash -- thankfully NOT of the train type -- was coming, though. Just wait for it. I'd booked all of my hotels ahead of time through hotels.com, and I have to say I recommend it wholeheartedly. I'd picked out one that some of the many positive reviews had mentioned that the hotel will pick you up at the train station. Sure enough, a fluent driver was waiting for me and whisked me to the Cullanin Hotel.

steep canyon walls and a rocky river provide the base for a day of great sightseeing

My room was all that hotels.com promised, and I unpacked, and let out a sigh. Two-plus days of transit were over. Whew! So, what did I do next? Oh, nothing more than violate Rule #1 of transoceanic travel: Don't nap! I collapsed on the bed and did not wake up until after the sun had gone down. The Type A part of me is grousing, "Nice job, jerk-face (Type A's aren't know for being "touchy-feely"), you just wasted a whole day of travel!" I can hear you, my reader, defending me, though. "Hey, cut him some slack! He's been on the go for two days straight...!" I do appreciate you sticking up for me...especially since one thing I could have done was update this blog. And you, my defending readers, are the ones suffering. Anyway, to sum up day one: Gorgeous train ride, nice long nap, and aimless wander about town before finding a really cool barbecue place where you grill your own meat and veggie choices at your table.

A full-day tour of Taroko Gorge made up for the slow start to my Taiwan trip

Ah, but Day 2. My Type A self was sooo pleased with Day 2. I'd been debating whether to hire a cab and design my own tour of Taroko Gorge or to buy in with a tour. The more I read, the more it seemed very few of the many trails you can take in Taroko are circular. And my guidebook said you don't find it which are open until you get to the visitors center. So, I decided to go ahead and buy the full-day tour my hotel recommended, and pray that it wasn't too obnoxious. As it turned out, this was the right call. We had only 7 of us in a van on this tour, and we got to hike 3 different trails. I was the last one back to the van, as usual, every time. No one seemed to mind, and it was a good group who was there for the same reasons as I was. Our driver/guide, Douglas, explained everything in both Mandarin Chinese and English. He took a liking to me because I had lots of questions and obviously had read up on it beforehand. Hey! I can be Type A sometimes, too, so cut me some slack...!

A temple lion enjoys a kingly view in Taroko Gorge

Taroko Gorge was stunning. The river has carved out steep canyons -- much of it marble -- that tower above the river and sometimes the road. Cut its climb higher into the cliff sides, and Douglas dropped us off at each of our half dozen walks and explained where we had to go. He would be waiting for us (ahem, usually me as the last one...) on the other side, so to speak. We stopped at both the entrance and visitors center to get our bearings and take some pictures. The area of Taroko Gorge has been inhabited up until recently by some of the aboriginal tribes of the island of Taiwan. The quick road to the city, though, had led many tribal members to abandon their cliff top villages and move to the city for work. Progress always brings its trade offs, and the loss of colorful traditional lifestyles is definitely one of them, worldwide. Our first mini-hike was to the Eternal Spring Shrine, which was built to honor the 450 workers who lost their lives building the road through the Taroko Gorge I the 1950s. There are lots of scenic overlooks and great places to see the frequent road and foot bridges spanning the river gorge.

Swallow Grotto gives you a good sense of the scale and majesty of Taroko Gorge's scenery

Next up was Swallow Grotto -- an even more impressive eyeful of canyons scenery. Our "trail" is actually a one way road with frequent overlooks far down Into the river canyon. And we saw a number of darting swallows (birdses, as Gollum would say) zipping along the cliff walls. This was when the "wow" factor of Taroko Gorge really kicked in. Previously, it had been at the "cool" stage. It is important that travelers use accurate terms so that their readers can get a true sense of what the destination is really like. Can you imagine how disappointed you'd be if you were expecting "wow!" and actually saw only "meh, that's pretty cool..."? I aim to please here at worldwidemike.com! You can thank me later...but be sure to tip your waiters and bartenders...

The overlooks along Swallow Grotto were great places to snap photos of the gorge

Next up was lunch...easily the only disappointing part of the tour. Douglas took us to the cafeteria of a "Youth Activity Center". It was NOT set up to receive tour groups, though we were not the only ones in attendance. The food wasn't even "cool" (but definitely "meh"). What's worse, they had nothing but tasteless hot tea to drink. They served our group a couple at a time over a 25-minute period, making it pretty awkward eating in front of those who hadn't been served, yet. The staff had the congeniality of a prison cafeteria, plus there was nowhere to buy more water or alternative drinks, if you desired. After the warden let us out, we were off to the Lushui-Heliu trail. This was our first real hike -- or at least what I would call one. It was two kilometers and climbed up a jungle slope, peeking out for time to time at the river and road curving and recurring a hundred yards below us. Cicadas whirred in the treetops, sounding for all the world like a science fiction soundtrack. I expected Klaatu to step out of the jungle foliage at any moment and hold us up at ray gun point. I caught sight of an awesome-looking footbridge spanning the gorge and kept hoping the trial would end with that. Think Indiana Jones on steroids. The drop may jot have been to crocodile-infested waters, but it was easily a football field high. It wasn't to be, though. Douglas later told me you need special permits to reenact that scene with Short Round. Our trail did cross a mini version of it, and I wished I had a machete so I could have one of the other tour group members take a picture while the others called me "cwazy".

the jungle pathway of Lushui-Heliu Trail

Following the Lushui-Heliu trail, we wound our way back out of the park. The weather had been cloudy and overcast most of the morning and early afternoon. This was doubtless a geological thing, as the moist sea air hits the central spine of Taiwan's mountains. I could get technical and explain how one coast of the island may get rain for months on end while the other gets sun, due to the season monsoon pattern, but I'm off duty from teaching right now. Catch me in August when I go back to school and I can explain how a "monsoon" is NOT a rainstorm but refers instead to....hey! Nice try, there...

the Qingshui Cliffs near Hualien, Taiwan

The cliffs at Qingshui were our next stop. The weather obliged and cleared up and the sun shone down on the Pacific (nope, I'm not explaining why...not gonna do it!). Our viewpoint was kind of mediocre, though. I imagine there could have been a couple other places we could have piled out of the van for a quick picture besides the one we spent a half hour at. But hey! I'm not the tour guide, and don't know. Even less thrilling was our final stop at Qixingtan Beach -- just north of Haulien and hated by spellcheck programs across the world. This is a euphemistically called "pebble" beach. I would call it rocks. Or gravel. I can't imagine laying out here, or even going swimming. It would be like putting your plastic pool tub in your grandpa's old gravel driveway. The sun was blazing down, though, and there were a few cute dogs to pay with, so I was happy. Plus, I got to scratch my head at the 17-step process the local workers went through to take some supplies out to a fishing trawler about 50 yards offshore. Suffice to say, it involved an earth mover (technical term for a really big back hoe), pickup truck, two motorized rafts, several bales of rope, and a lot shouting and armchair quarterbacking from loafers like me. You had to be there, I guess.

My family is saying, "You stood us up at Hilton Head to spend time at this beach...?

All that aside, there is no second guessing how awesome Taroko Gorge was as a place to visit. If you are in Taiwan, do not snooze and miss this attraction. It was worth it, and made up for the less thrill-packed days on either side of it.

Posted by world_wide_mike 04:43 Archived in Taiwan Tagged cliffs gorge taiwan taroko hualien qingshui Comments (2)

A True Lotus Does not Wilt in the Heat

A full day of sightseeing in sunny, humid Kaohsiung

sunny 90 °F

Kaohsiung, Taiwan's "second city"

I had decided to base myself for a few days in Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second city, for a number of reasons. There are a handful of nice historical spots in the area that I could visit as day trips. It is a transport hub, and hotel prices are roughly half of what they are in the capital, Taipei -- where I planned to wrap up my trip. I would find using Kaohsiung's metro, trains, and high speed rail a snap. I've always liked these forms of travel because they are clearly labelled and it is easier to gauge where you are and when to disembark.

Lotus Lake and its temples on the shore and surface of the waters

My morning destination illustrated how important that last bit truly is to finding your destination. I was headed for Lotus Lake, on the northern edge of the city. It is a small lake ringed by a number of interesting temples. Some are even built out over the surface of the lake. The metro would deposit me less than a half mile from its shores, by looking at my guidebook's map. However, the lady at the visitor information desk was insistent I needed to take a bus to get from the metro to the lake. I was incredulous, just as she was by my suggestion of walking. Yes, it was another blazing hot, humid day. But seriously? I had half a mind to ignore her suggestion, but dutifully tromped out and found the correctly numbered bus. The problems with buses, in my experience, is you can't always tell when you are supposed to get off. If you don't know the area or recognize your stop, you're likely to drive on past it. Or -- as would be my case -- board the bus on the wrong side of the street and head the wrong direction!

I knew fairly quickly it was taking me back into the city -- not towards where I was supposed to go. I got off, and began to retrace my steps. Asking directions didn't seem to be helping, so eventually I said "forget this!" And waved down a cab. It cost me 100 New Taiwan dollars (a little more than $3) to be taken in air-conditioned comfort to the lakeshore. And yes, had I known the way, it would have been a 15 minute walk!

the facade of the Ciji Temple at Lotus Lake

I began my exploration at the Ciji Temple, at the southern end of the lake. The exterior is richly carved in brightly-painted scenes of dragons, horsemen, and robed men -- the colors shining in the morning sunlight. Four carved gray columns are intertwined with dragons and support a facade telling stories from Buddhist mythology. The roof is a riot of carved dragons and other animals. The sheer amount of decoration continues as you enter, overwhelming your senses in the dusky stillness of the interior.

Bad luck! You are supposed to enter through the dragon's mouth -- not the tiger's!

Outside, the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas seemed simpler and almost cartoon-like in their decoration, by comparison. Two seven-story towers rise up from the lake and are reached by a zig-zag walkway above the surface. The entrance to each tower is in the form of a comical, 40-foot long dragon or tiger, one for each pagoda. You actually walk through the creature's gaping jaws into a passageway of colorful relief figures to reach the pagodas. It is supposed to be lucky to enter through the dragon's mouth and exit from the tiger's. A spiral staircase whirls its way up the center of each pagoda to a nice, breezy panorama of the lake. Below, you can see the water around the pagodas choked with lotus blossoms. Looking across to the opposite pagoda, your eyes are dazzled by the bright oranges and yellows that decorate the two pagodas. Each sports a number of fierce statues of its namesake tigers or dragons.

The zig-zag pier leading out to the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas

Continuing north along a shady brick pathway along the lakeshore, you come next to the Spring and Autumn Pavilions. Both were encased in scaffolding during my visit. It was possible to skirt around the construction, though, and make my way out onto a pier extending almost a hundred yards out onto the lake surface. At the end was the temple to Guandi, the god of war. Yellow paper lanterns lined the bridge every few feet, swaying in the gentle breeze. Although it was the least decorated of the Lotus Lake temples, it's position in the center of the lake made it a great vantage point. Climbing up to the second floor, you can look around and see the other temples spaced out along the shore. Behind them, stores offered drinks, and across the lake, an office building or two edged towards the shore. Further back, green hillsides rose to shelter the lake from the rest of encroaching Kaohsiung.

The pier leading to the temple to the God of War

Returning to the shore, you see rising up the largest and most impressive of the lake temples: the Temple of Enlightenment. This three-story temple gleams with gold, red, and yellow. Like the Ciji Temple, every inch of the walls, pillars, and ceiling seems to be encrusted with a carving, statue, or painting. Various aspects of the Buddha and other divinities gaze down at the worshippers who bow, pray, and light joss sticks (incense), as part of their devotions. I paced slowly around the temple, trying to be discreet as I took it all in, and snapped photos. On the second floor a fountain sported a half dozen dragons playfully squirting water towards each other. Although the lighting should have been dim, it was reflected and redoubled from every gold surface.

The three-story Temple of Enlightenment[/b

[b]Worshippers pray at the Temple of Enlightenment at Lotus Lake

The atmosphere was of stumbling upon a dragon's hoard of gold in a smoky cavern, with the light from your torch being tossed back at you from a thousand surfaces. On the steps out front, two fierce temple dogs gripped massive stone spheres. The demonic look in their eye recalled the demon dogs from the movie, Ghostbusters. I wouldn't want these curs to come to life, though, and want to play a game of tug of war with a random body part!

"If there's something weird, in your neighborhood...who ya gonna call...?" - Ghostbusters-like temple dog

Next came one of my favorites of the day: a more than 70 foot tall statue of Xuantian Shang-di at the end of a 50-yard, statue-lined pier. Xuantian is the Emperor of the Dark Heaven and mythological guardian of the north. He sits enthroned, sword in one hand, and a massive foot resting upon a turtle and dragon. Very colorful, with a stern expression, he looks out over Lotus Lake as if it his own private realm. The guardian's army was what I enjoyed most, though. Every ten feet or so, on both sides of the pier, is a different stone statue of some mythological warrior or demon. They are all mounted, some on horses, others dragons, deer, and even a swan. Some brandish weapons, still others hold squirming men or babes that they appear ready to either devour or rip limb from limb. They'd make an amazing chess set, or line of miniature warriors (David McBride, I thought of Splintered Light Miniatures when I saw them...if anybody could do this army of fierce guardians up right, it'd be you!).

It's good to be the Emperor of the Dark Heaven...

One of dozens of statues spaced along the pier and guarding the Emperor Xuantian Shang-di

The final temple was one to Confucius. I was curious to see what it was like, as I teach my students a bit about Confucius. One of the things we discuss is whether Confucianism is a religion or a philosophy. So, to see a temple built in his honor would give me more information to make my own judgement on the matter. Whereas the Buddhist and Taoist temples I'd seen earlier today had seemed crammed and almost claustrophobic, this one was spacious and open. After passing through a towering, three-portal white stone and tile gate, I entered a courtyard through a set of wooden double doors. I was greeted by two attendants who eagerly had me sign their guest book. They handed me an English pamphlet about the temple. The courtyard had a roofed gallery extending all around it. Most of the decoration was stylized geometric patterns, with the only figures being outlines of dragons. Compared to the others I'd seen, the Confucian temple was sparse and elegant. And consistent with Confucius' role as a teacher, the temple had placards in both Chinese and English explaining the instruments and equipment. It was as much a museum as a temple. Most of my 7th graders will tell you they view Confucianism as a philosophy -- with its emphasis of establishing a harmonious society --rather than a religion. However, after reading about how sacrifices and dances are made in his honor and that of his chief disciples, now I'm not so sure.

The Confucius Temple at Lotus Lake

One thing I was sure of, through, was after several hours in the sun and humidity, I needed a break. I headed back to my hotel, chuckling at the ridiculously short cab ride to the metro station. If only I had known which direction to walk! Once back in my hotel room, I relaxed in the air conditioning, sucking down a cold iced tea. Ahhhhhh! I considered showering before heading out again, but figured that within five minutes I'd be drenched in sweat again. Instead, I planned my afternoon excursion, referencing between my guidebook and the internet.

The Dome of Light artwork in the Kaohsiung metro

My first stop was a brief hop off of the metro to look at the Dome of Light. This colorful glass artwork decorates the Formosa Boulevard metro station. I continued on to my stop, the Sanduo Shopping District. No, I wasn't going shopping in the mall located above the stop. Instead I was headed to the nearby, 85-story Tuntex Sky Tower. The building is the 13th tallest in Asia, and the second in Taiwan. There is an observation deck on the 75th floor, and I was headed up for a Birdseye view of Kaohsiung. I was mildly disappointed that it was all enclosed and that you couldn't go outside, but the windows were tall and faced out in all directions. After about 15 minutes of soaking up the view, I headed back down and returned to the metro.

The view from the 85-story Tuntex Tower

My next stop was the Love River, which winds through the city from its harbor mouth. There is a bike path and parks along it. There is even a fleet of solar-powered boats that run short cruises up and down the river. I took some photos and decided to board one of the "Love Boats," even though I knew the commentary would be in all Chinese. A tour group shared the boat with me, and politely laughed at the guide's jokes. They eyed me nervously when I got up to take a few photos, so doubtless I'd been warned in Chinese to stay seated. One of the men in the tour group got up to take some video, and his wife hissed at him to return to his seat. Another example of Western corruption....sigh.

Solar-powered "Love Boats" cruise the river in Kaohsiung

The river has a number of cafés set up along its length, selling food and drink to passers by. I decided that the occasion called for a beer, as the sun was going down and I could think of no better way to watch it than to sit by the riverside and drink it in, so to speak. The food looked tempting, too, but I had spotted a better place for dinner on my way down to the river. Another Western-looking man was tucking into some food, though, at the next table. As I ordered a second San Miguel (Philippine beer), he went for the ice cream, we fell into conversation, and it turns out he is an airline pilot on a layover. We talked for an hour as the sun set and darkness fell. Turns out he is Colombian and flies for a Japanese carrier. It was good to swap airline stories for awhile. We had a lot in common, and it is always good to have a nice conversation with another Westerner when traveling alone.

Ahhhh, that is how you end at terrific day of sightseeing!

On my way back to dinner, I stopped to take a few nighttime photos of the riverbank and the buildings all lit up colorfully. I always carry a min-tripod in my camera bag for these types of photos. The photos turned out nicely. This, along with a good dinner, put me in a satisfied mood for the day. It had been a long, hot day of sightseeing, but truly a great one. I know my sightseeing schedule would seem like too much work for a vacation to some, but it is simply the price you pay to see what you want. If you want a mountaintop view, you have to climb up it, right? The same goes for a day of sightseeing in the summer's heat in Taiwan. You have to pay the price in sweat to reap the reward of the amazing sights I saw in Kaohsiung that day.

Kaohsiung's Love River lit up at night

Posted by world_wide_mike 04:55 Archived in Taiwan Tagged tower lake river pagodas light love dragon tiger dome taiwan lotus tuntex Comments (0)

A Hot New Number: the Taiwanese Two-Step!

Day trip to Tainan and lots more temples!

sunny 89 °F

The historic city of Tainan, and a perfect place to practice the Taiwanese Two-Step!

One of the reasons I chose to stay in Kaohsiung was that it is a regional transport hub. It would be easier to take day trips to a variety of destinations. When I travel, I don't like to spend just one night in each city. Packing up each morning, finding your next hotel, and then unpacking is such a pain...and a time waster. I feel you get a better experience if you can unpack and spend at least three nights in one spot. It is not as stressful and a place begins to actually feel like "home."

The top day trip I wanted to do out of Kaohsiung was to Tainan -- the island's former capital and a historic city. Trains left from Kaohsiung's main station -- a convenient 5 minute walk away from my hotel -- every half hour or so. The journey takes anywhere from 35-45 minutes, depending on how many stops the train makes. When I got off my train, I found the station's tourist information booth and got a better walking map than I had. They pointed me in the right direction to begin my WALK (no buses today!) to the sights I'd picked out. Actually, my library copy of Lonely Planet's "Taiwan" had a nice, step by step, city walk. So, I followed that, supplementing it with the new map to help with directions.

Early organic version of the Taiwanese scooter

An interesting thing about walking in Taiwan's cities is the sidewalks. You see a lot of people walking on the hot pavement in the streets, holding up an umbrella to ward off the sun beating down on them, instead of the shaded, much cooler sidewalks. The sidewalk floors are often tile, plus you get the occasional blast of air conditioning from doors opening to the fancier shops. So, why don't Taiwanese walk on their sidewalks? Because the danged scooters use them for parking, that's why! Or, shops encroach and set up their business on them! Often, there is just a narrow, one person wide path on the sidewalk because of the row of scooters parked there. And if the shop is a scooter repair one, he disassembles the bike he's working on right there where you need to walk. Also, you may have to dodge a scooter driving down that narrow little row to park! I christened the dance you have to do if you try to walk on the sidewalk the "Taiwan Two-Step." It is mainly because you have to take two steps for every one you want to go forward with all the weaving in and out of obstructions. No wonder the Taiwanese walk in the streets!

Tainan's much more simple Confucian Temple

The Confucius Temple was my first stop. It was the first one built in Taiwan, and is more provincial and less ornate than the one at Lotus Lake. Like that one, though, it wholeheartedly adopted Confucius' role as the great teacher and uses the temple as a museum to teach visitors about its rituals. I met a retired devotee in the Edification Hall who was eager to chat. He sells decorative sheets of Confucian sayings in Chinese calligraphy written on cloth paper. He asked me to pick one out and explained what it said and how that illustrated Confucian ideals. Then he gave it to me as a gift and said I should frame it in my home so I could pass on the teacher's wisdom. I think I'll go him one better and hang it up in my classroom!

The not so Great South Gate of Tainan's old city walls

After that, I walked to the Great South Gate, the remaining bit of the old city's defensive walls. It had a number of cannons (painted red?) on the walls and by the thick, double wooden doors. It would have been more atmospheric if the inside had not been converted into a cafe. They were blaring modern pop music, which for me made it kind of cheesy and ruined the experience. The two bored workers seemed to agree, judging by their expressions. I like old fortifications (I hear your sarcastic, "Really...?"), so was disappointed with this stop.

The pleasant little Wufei Temple belies its grisly back story

The next item up was the Wufei Temple, home to one of the grislier temple histories. When the last claimant to the Ming Dynasty finally surrendered to the conquest of the Manchus, he decided to commit suicide. He urged his concubines to flee and take up new lives. However, they decided the honorable thing to do would be to hang themselves from a beam in the palace. This tugged at the heart strings of the Taiwanese, and a temple was built to honor their example of right behavior. The temple itself is tiny, and is set amidst a well-tended garden.

Keeping an eye out -- all three of them -- for demonic intruders at the Fahua Temple, Tainan, Taiwan

Next stop was -- wait for it -- another temple! If the last one had a grisly story, this one had some disturbing statues. The Fahua Temple was originally built in 1684, but was reconstructed after being bombed in WW II. It was silent -- almost deathly so. For most of my visit, I was the only person there. The creepy statues are of the Four Heavenly Kings in full-on punishment mode, getting ready to slash, stab, or otherwise crush any demonic (thankfully not Demanic) intruders. One neat thing was the use of an occasional, tiny MP3 player to project Buddhist monastic chants. It really added to the atmosphere, and gave the emptiness the feeling that I'd visited while all the monks were out on lunch break or something. I took pictures of some of the decorations that caught my eye, then wandered out. I really need to remember to bring my iPhone for times like this, so I can use its voice memo function to record the sounds of my experiences.

I needed a break for the heat, so ducked into what I hoped would be an air conditioned restaurant for a cold drink. It wasn't, but the fans were blasting at full force, so it was pleasant to sit and look ahead at the rest of the walking tour. One of the workers has a sister who was an exchange student in Ohio. I seem to be running into Ohio connections left and right. On my Taroko Gorge tour, a woman said her husband graduated from OSU and remembered Columbus fondly.

Ming General Koxinga is now worshipped at his very own shrine in Tainan, Taiwan

Have you ever wanted to be worshipped as a god? Well, if you're Chinese, it is a possibility. You have to do something pretty amazing, of course. And there is a small catch: you have to be dead before they build the temple to you. Ming General Koxinga retreated with his army to Taiwan in 1661, planning to regroup and have another go at the Manchus who were taking over the Chinese mainland. While in Taiwan, he worked diligently to improve the lives of the islanders. He built infrastructure and improved the island's economy. He even chased out the Dutch, who had begun colonizing the island amidst 40 years before. The plan to retake China never went into action, though, but Koxinga was remembered as a great man. Two hundred years later, the Chinese emperor passed an edict dedicating a shrine to Koxinga. In front of the temple, an immense white stone statue portrays him heroically mounted on a horse. Inside the shrine, a life size statue shows him calmly seated amidst various Chinese deities. His shrine is located in a pleasant garden, with a meandering pool with a spouting fountain, various humongous goldfish begging for handouts (honestly, the see your shadow and cluster towards the surface), and well-tended shrubbery.

The lady shows some fire...that's the goddess Lady Linshui hurling a fireball and chasing off demons

If you duck out the back gate of the garden, you come to the temple of Lady Linshui, the goddess the locals sacrifice to for their children's protection. This is another elaborate, colorful temple bedecked in gold, statues, and rich in carvings. The lady was getting a makeover when I visited, with workers in one room repainting the ceiling. There are many depictions of her, seated reigning serenely, beckoning worshippers, and my favorite, hurling a fireball at four beast men with the heads of tigers, monkeys, and horses! That's one way to protect the city's children: rout demons with magic that Gandalf would be proud of...!

The God of War poses in front of a lit up row of tiny miniature versions of himself, proving an old god is perfectly willing to learn new tricks

I don't know if you, my reader, are suffering from temple burnout at this point. Much to my surprise, I was actually beginning to lose my enthusiasm. With the afternoon heat wearing on, I kind of breezed through the Dongyue Temple (the murals of Hell were overrated) and the Official God of War temple. I wondered if that temple was an early example of commercial sponsorship. You've heard, say, the Rose Bowl brought to you by Citi. Was this an attempt to copyright the war god's temple so they could sell official logo merchandise? Maybe the sponsors were responsible for the Taiwanese fighter planes whose flight path repeatedly passed right over the temple. Either way, it was very cool to be in the god of war's temple and watch flight after flight of F-16s scream overhead.

And here's a close up of that wall of miniatures behind the God of War

I ended the day with a change of pace -- the Chihkan Towers. This was originally a fort built by those Dutch colonists in the 1653. You have to squint to see the fort in it because it has changed hands and been renovated a number of times. The walls at the base of the two story buildings are brickwork -- a Dutch colonial trademark. Otherwise, it looks like a Chinese noble's house, with the classic flayed roof with dragons on the corners. If you pronounce "Chihkan" like it looks in English, you get "chicken." Or at least I do. So, it seemed appropriate to have a collection of statues to our good old deified friend General Koxinga receiving the surrender of the Dutch Governor-General. This was one of the first colonial outposts that the Ming general bagged from the chicken Dutch, which culminated in the surrender of Fort Zeelander in nearby Anping.

I know...the Chihkan Towers didn't look like a fort to me, either...

After trooping through Tainan's streets all day, I was ready to surrender at this point, too. Maybe the Dutch weren't beaten, after all. Perhaps they just wanted to give up on Taiwan's sticky summer heat and go back to Europe! That is what I did, in effect, hopping the train back to my air-conditioned hotel in Kaohsiung. It had been an interesting day, and I tried to focus on unique aspects of the places I visited rather than simply say, "Look at the cool temple!" I was glad to get back "home" to my hotel room, though, and unwind from a second day of temple gazing and encore performances of the Taiwanese Two-Step!

"Did somebody say 'Two-Step'?" A Chinese door god -- these fierce images were often painted on the doors of temples to guard them

Posted by world_wide_mike 03:41 Archived in Taiwan Tagged towers south great lady scooters gate taiwan confucius ming tainan wufei fahua koxinga linshui chihkan sidewalks Comments (0)

Patience, Grasshopper...

An entertaining account of what happens when Worldwidemike "loses it"....

sunny 90 °F

Looking across Anping Harbor towards Tainan, Taiwan

I wanted to start off this post talking about patience. Not preaching, just discussing. From time to time, I hear, "Oh, you teach middle school? You must have a lot of patience!" Yes and no. I feel I am pretty accepting of other viewpoints -- especially when it comes to travel or understanding other cultures. I also believe everyone has a right to their own views on religion, politics, and right and wrong. My patience wears thin when it confronts inefficiencies, though, and those who aren't putting forth much effort at their job, school, work, life -- you name it. So, what do I do when I lose my patience? How does worldwidemike blow his top? Well, today would be a great illustration!

Anping Fort nowadays -- my main destination for today's travels

Remember what I said in the previous two entries about buses? Well, today, I was headed to the historical enclave of Anping. This is where the Dutch colonized Taiwan, and is not far (I thought) from yesterday's destination of Tainan. In fact, I retraced my footsteps, taking the train to Tainan and ducking into the Tourist Information office. They recommended I take the special tourist shuttle #99 from Tainan to Anping. I decided to make an exception to my bus bias and headed to the stop. I must have just missed it, as the attendant there recommended I get on bus #88 (which was also listed as a tourist shuttle on the map of Anping I'd been given). I hopped on, paid my 20 New Taiwan dollars (67 cents), and sat back to enjoy the ride.

Now, I normally have a good sense of direction. And it became clear to me pretty quick we were heading every point on the compass -- not just west to Anping. It honestly seemed to me we would head down one street, make two right turns, then head back up in the opposite direction. I began to pay attention to street signs and saw many familiar names from yesterday's walk in Tainan. It became clear we were just slowly looping back and forth. Any westwards movement to Anping was on a gradual basis. If we were in a race west with a glacier, we'd be falling behind. A half hour later, I looked at a temple we were passing that seemed familiar. It was Tainan's Confucian temple...where I'd STARTED my sightseeing yesterday. In 30 minutes on this bus, I had gone the distance it had taken me 15 minutes to walk yesterday. Plus, we made a turn and were headed back East towards the train station.

Renaissance era Chinese cannons

It was then I blew my top. Now, I'm sure you're all dying to see what Mr. Patient World Traveler does when he blows his top. This is especially interesting in that a key concept of Chinese culture is "face." You lose face when you lose control of yourself in public. So, ranting and raving would be viewed extremely poorly. Plus, is it really the bus driver's fault his managers designed an idiotic route? If I lose my patience, I tend not to take it out on someone else. I decide on a course of action which punishes ME more than anyone else. Think of it as my monastic self-mortification -- the hidden medieval flagellant in me. Those of you who are one step ahead of me, here, have probably narrowed it down to three possible courses of action. All three involve getting off the bus, of course, which I did immediately. In order of sensible-ness, the choices would be:

(1) Take a taxi to Anping
(2) Say "forget this!" and leave in a pouty rage
(3) Walk to Anping

Banyan trees taking root on the almost 400 year old, crumbling, brick walls

Which did you choose? Well, remember the self-mortification part. Of course, I decided to walk to Anping. In the 90 degree heat. The only problem was I had a map of Tainan which didn't show Anping, and a map of Anping which didn't show Tainan. There was a common street, so I knew I could get there by heading west on Mincyuan Road. I just had no idea what the distance was between the two. I found out, though. One hour. Of course, considering the principle of the Taiwan Two-Step, the actual distance is probably less than my walking pace times one hour.

The brick walls of Fort Zeelander -- today's Anping Fort

Okay, so here we are, five paragraphs later and I haven't described a thing...well, except for how much of an idiot I can be at times...! So, why was I going to Anping? I wanted to see Anping Fort, which when built in the early 1600s, was called Fort Zeelander by the Dutch. Eventually, I arrived there, drenched in sweat. I paid my admission and was given an English pamphlet. I found a shady spot with a nice breeze and took about 10 minutes to read through it, I also knew I needed to recover my calm, and find my patient middle school teacher self, again. Zen achieved, I jumped up and headed to the fort museum. It took only about 10 minutes to go through it. I then began to explore the fort grounds, taking pictures all along. The inner citadel is in fairly good shape, but the outer walls have deteriorated quite a bit. In fact, their ruination is somewhat colorful in parts where banyan trees are literally sprouting out of the walls, their roots crushing the bricks in an "Angkor Wat" type embrace.

Dutch powder horn used to charge their matchlock muskets

A smattering of Renaissance era Chinese cannons that have been mounted here and there in the fort. The three-level, inner citadel is the most scenic part, and is accentuated by a modern watchtower, flowering bushes, topiary, and a statue of our old friend, the deified Ming General Koxinga, who defeated the Dutch in a three month siege here and chased them off of Taiwan. From a military historian's perspective, I wish there were more details on that siege. The fort museum has examples of Chinese and Dutch weaponry (as you can imagine, it was Dutch Renaissance era matchlocks vs. Medieval Chinese melee weapons and bows). Or at least that is how they portray it. They do say when the Dutch Governor-General returned home he was tried and court martialed for losing Taiwan. They don't really say how the Chinese won, though. My guess is that, with a three month siege, the Dutch were simply starved out and had no hope of relief. Koxinga was victorious, Taiwan returned to the Chinese, and the General was eventually made into a god, of sorts.

Chinese tombs in the style of the Ming and Qing Dynasties

Next, I walked through the neighboring Anping Matsu temple, one of the oldest in Taiwan. My heart wasn't really in it, though, as I'd had my fill of temples the last two days. I moved on to the nearby graveyard to check out the hundreds of ornate tombs in the style of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The graveyard itself was overgrown, but the tombs seemed fairly well kept up. Had it not been for modern photo-etching of the occupants on some of the tombs' stonework, I would have guessed they were all centuries old.

After the graveyard, I checked out the one of the ruined coastal artillery batteries, and one of the 18th century European merchant houses. It was getting late in the afternoon, though, so I decided to call it a day. I hailed a taxi and paid about $7 for a quick, 10-15 minute ride back to Tainan's train station. I didn't know whether to chuckle as I retraced this morning's footsteps (but in air conditioning), or feel ashamed of my pig-headedness. Did I learn a lesson, today? I guess I did. I learned that I lean towards a kind of masochistic, self-mortification when I get angry. The one who suffers when I get mad is usually myself. I'm not sure who I am "showing" by treating myself brutally. I guess it is better than taking it out on others, though. I mean...heck! Heaven forbid I lose face! Lose patience, sure, but face...?

Anping Fort -- was it worth the grief? Sure....especially if you're a military history buff like myself!

Posted by world_wide_mike 16:16 Archived in Taiwan Tagged fort tombs taiwan tainan anping zeelander Comments (0)

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