Friday 31 January 2014

Around the Portugese island of Madeira

Madeira is an island off the coast of Casablanca in North Africa but was claimed by the Portuguese since the beginning of 15th century.  It was the first "discovery" of the Portuguese as they later sailed on to the rest of the world.  It is now a beautiful holiday destination with stunning natural scenery, good food, and of course its most famous drink, the Madeira wine.

The whole island of Madeira is like a large village.  There are town centers, of course, but since it's a hilly island most of everything is quite scattered.  Getting around with a car is a must, and it's particularly enjoyable negotiating narrow mountain roads.  I find that some of the places I wanted to go are not on my GPS so I brought along an old-fashioned map as well.  Here are some shots during a short drive around the southern part of the island.

Thursday 30 January 2014

St. Désir de Lisieux - German Military Cemetery

"The soldiers' graves are the greatest preachers of peace."

This famous saying of Albert Schweitzer opens the gate to a German Military Cemetery in northern France, 50km east of Caen in the village of Lisieux.  Inaugurated in 1961, this cemetery was part of the Franco-German War Graves Agreement, where 3,735 German soldiers killed in action or died in Normandy between June to August 1944 were given their final resting place.  Many died in the hospital in nearby Lisieux, while some were killed on the battle field in the Normandy campaign.

War cemeteries deeply touches me, as they are evidences of the ultimate evil and also the ultimate sacrifice.  How painfully laborious it is to bring a life into the world, and how swiftly this life is taken away.

Nothing can replace a life, especially to the family and loved ones.

Immediately next to the German Cemetery is the British Cemetery. Here I quote some of the touching words inscribed on the headstones:

"Your parting wish,
'Keep smiling, mum'
With aching heart I try."

"Greater love 
hath no man than this
That a man lay down 
his life for his friends."

"A voice we loved is still
A chair is vacant
In our home
Which never can be filled." 

When can we stop fighting?

Brief details from Commonwealth War Graves Commissions:

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Winter morning drive around Lake Wörthersee, Austria

Woke up early one winter morning while staying at a local Austria inn around Wörthersee and decided to take a morning drive, to leave the first pair of footprints, so to speak.  The stillness of an Alpine morning is deeply spiritual.

Wörthersee lies in the southern Austrian state of Carinthia, sharing a border with Slovenia to the south, about 330km southwest of Vienna, 150km from Graz.  It's a long, horizontal lake on the map, with Klagenfurt on the eastern end and Villach on the west.  Its colour has a wonderful blue-green hue that is almost crystal clear. I imagine the lake will be full of bathers and vacationers during the summer; but now, in the early morning fog, the ducks were the only ones enjoying the water.  

Historically, Viennese nobility loved the Wörthersee as their vacation spot.  One can still spot grand old villas dotted around the lake.

On the western end is the city of Villach, which had been inhabited since Roman times.  Several severe earthquakes destroyed much of the town during the last millennium, but that was nothing compared to the bombing by the allied forces during World War II. Much of the old buildings were bombed flat.  Now, Villach is as cosmopolitan as one can imagine, with a thriving market place and a touristic center for vacationers.  Let's hope it stays this way for a long time to come.

Official website:

The East Frisian island of Juist, north Germany

The islands north of continental Europe have some of the best kept 'secret' resort villages.  Juist, a stick-shape island lying almost horizontally above Germany, is sometimes livelier than the mainland. 

Accordingly there are several ways of reaching the island, by land during low tide, by ferry at high tide (90 minutes) and by air (~10 minutes, or less).  There is a small airport in the outskirt of Norden that is equipped with a 4-seater Cessna, which is simply too exciting to pass up - and that's exactly how I got to Juist.

Once on the island no automobiles are allowed, and so every breath fills the lungs with fresh, unpolluted air.  The mode of transports are either horse-drawn carriages or bicycle.  From the airport, it was perhaps 10 minutes on carriage before reaching the main town and bicycle-rental places.  

As this is hugely popular with Germans, almost every building and shop are geared towards the needs of tourists and vacationers.  Before reaching town there were a lot of houses that looked a lot like holiday properties and the carriage stopped a few times to let off passengers.  Once inside the town I passed by several hotels.  This was the hotel I stayed at.  
Most of the buildings are red-brick structures, rather simple but still quite pleasing.  It has the feel of walking on the streets in the '50s.  The main beach is just steps away from the town.  

The main draw of the island is its unadulterated natural habitat for its flora and fauna.  While all the human activities take place in the middle of the island, the two ends of the "stick" are barely inhabited.  So I decided to bike to the western end.  The scenery I saw was simply breath-taking, and aside from the occasionally riders and birdwatchers I knew there was nothing that separates me with mother nature.

Compared to Texel, another Frisian island on the Dutch side, Juist is much smaller and more deserted.  Most of the island is now a nature reserve, so while I can reach (on foot) to the western tip of the island there is a large chunk of green that is fenced, so birds and animals can inhabit the island undisturbed.  
My only regret was not having better lens for my camera.  Whales and seals are popular visitors to the island and there are frequent sightings of them - if you have a powerful telescopic lens, that is!

I look forward to visiting the Frisian Islands again, perhaps next time I will try Norderney, the smaller island east of Juist.
Schedule for FLN flights to Juist: