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Pondicherry

Taken over by the French in 1674, and briefly occupied by both the Dutch and the British, Pondy was not formally reunited with India until 1962. We stayed in the old French quarter near the sea, which has many old houses, a number of which have been renovated, but with the rest in various states of disrepair. Nonetheless the whole area has a certain charm, and a vaguely French air about it. There were even several French restaurants as well as Italian and Vietnamese, but we opted to stay with Indian food.

Our street sign in Tamil, English, and French
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Our Street, partially renovated
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Another street, this one in even better shape
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The restaurant scene
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In the evening, Nanette and I walked on the promenade facing the sea, and stopped for mushroom dosas in a very local place. In addition to the promenade, the adjoining road was closed to traffic on Saturday night, and there was an endless parade of Indians of all ages, strolling along the wide boulevard. In the middle was a large statue of Gandhi, which kids were using as a kind of slide. It seemed to us that Gandhi, looking very much like Ben Kingsley, was smiling down on the scene below. It was a great place to rollerblade, and no sooner had I said this, then two kids showed up who were doing exactly that. We walked back to our guesthouse accompanied by the sounds of a police band sitting opposite Gandhi, and dressed to look like French gendarmes.

Promenade in the morning
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In the morning we had breakfast at our guesthouse, Les Hibiscus,

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and got started talking to Monia, a French traveler in her 30's, who has been teaching in India for the last four years. She was actually born and raised in Belgium, and didn't move to Paris until she was about 18. Her parents, if you can call them that, more or less abdicated all responsibility for both her and her younger, autistic brother. As a result she was in charge at a very early age. Her parents hardly worked, content to reap the benefits of the Belgium social services system. Luckily that system provided well for her brother, and he is now living in a program for adult,severely autistic persons. Monia was an excellent student, and for a while was training to be a neurosurgeon and paying for it herself. In the end, she was forced to drop out because of having to earn money to take care of her brother. She did manage to finish her undergraduate degree in psychology. Unable to get a job in that field, she found an IT position in a bank ,where she worked for several years. She didn't like it, and eventually moved to Kerala to take a job as a French teacher. She has also managed to travel extensively in South America and other places. In a few months she is moving back to Mumbai, where she has a much better job.

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She came with us on a visit to Auroville, the communalistic community based on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo, and the Mother, a French woman who helped to start the place in 1968. The only place they really let us see, and that only from the outside, was a large gold dome, that is their meditation hall.

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The residents houses, gardens, and schools, which we were more interested in, were more or less off limits to visitors. To some degree this is understandable, though I can't think of any reason why they should tell you this in advance.

Returning in the heat of mid-day, we showered and then went off to a veg meal in what, thankfully, turned out to be an air conditioned restaurant. Afterwords we went to sample the pastry and coffee at Baker Street, Indian owned and run, but French trained despite the British name. By far the best pastry, well really the only pastry since the start of our trip, but it really was excellent, and there was ac to boot. We spent most of the afternoon talking to our new travel bud, before returning once again for one of our many daily showers. Later we went out to LeClub with Monia for beer and pizza. The day passed by too quickly, and we said our goodbyes the next morning before heading out to our next destination.

Posted by jonshapiro 06:57 Archived in India Tagged people buildings_postcards cities_postcards Comments (0)

Malacca

Arrived in Kualu Lumpur, or KL as everyone calls it, and then on to Malacca the next day to meet our good friends from home, Bill and Debbie. Malacca was hot and touristy, though mostly with non-western tourists. There were Interesting shop houses among the many narrow streets, and a mixture of Dutch, Portuguese, and British architectural influences, in this once thriving port and city state. The city was more or less founded by Parameswara, a Hindu prince from Sumatra in the late 1300's. Now it is a mix of Indians, Straits Chinese, and ethnic Malays. The Chinese have been here some 500 years or so, whereas the majority of Indians did not come until after the British in the early 1800's. The ethnic malays are Austronesian peoples from disparate backgrounds, including south coastal Thailand, Burma, Borneo, and parts of what is now Indonesia.



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In the middle of the day, we went for a boat ride on the Malacca River to cool off. Marginally effective, it was good way to see this former trade route.

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In the evening we took a stroll along the river walk.

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Another view of the river from a bridge downtown
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Though I cut my toe on one of the very uneven sidewalks, we all managed to avoid this place.

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The best part of the experience was eating at Amy's Nyonya Restaurant.




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A very friendly Amy, who spent three weeks cooking at the UN in New York, helped select the dishes, which were a mixture of all the various cultural influences in this polyglot city.




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It was a fabulous meal, though I can't remember the names of what we ate, nor can I adequately describe it. Her cousin, Florence Tan, has a cookbook which which I intend to purchase. It was so good we went back for lunch the next day. We also had a melt in your mouth tandoori chicken and naan in a more modest place, while sitting outside.

Yes, we saw the sites, but the food is what I will remember.


On the other hand, I couldn't resist a shot of this guy.

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Posted by jonshapiro 12:07 Archived in Malaysia Tagged food tourist_sites buildings_postcards Comments (2)

Book Five: Return to Southeast Asia and China

Guangzhou

TO ALL MY NEW TRAVEL AND OLD FRIENDS: HERE STARTS THE BLOG OF MY LAST TRAVEL ADVENTURE THIS PAST FEB TO APRIL 2013. WE ARE NOW HOME.

After the long flight, Hong Kong still felt vaguely familiar after a five year absence. Our hotel, the Panda, was comfortable enough, though kitchy in the Chinese way. When we had breakfast in a local place around the corner, ham and eggs and toast with the crust cut off in the British manner, we truely felt we had arrived. Shortly thereafter we made our way to the subway station, and managed to get lost several times, though we did make it to the mainland Chinese train station. It was not entirely uneventful, as I left my small day pack next to the information both in the subway. As we were purchasing tickets from a machine, the attendant came up to me and asked if I had left a bag. Initially I said no, only to realize a few minutes later that in fact I had done so. Luckily she still had it in the booth. A close call with a lot of imprtant papers.

In the main train station we found ourselves next to Peter from Montreal, who we chatted with about travel adventures and found we had been to many of the same places. In his late 40's, he had a business and a girlfriend which brought him to Guangzhou on a monthly basis. He kindly offered to let us call Sunny, our former English student, on his phone when we arrived, which turned out to be unnecessary. Sunny, who was only 15 when we last saw her was right there to meet us, and we recognized each other immediately. It was, after five long years, wonderful to see her again, as she was by far our favorite student in Xiamen.






Sunny in her apartment and next to revolutionary statue in sculpture garden
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Guangzhou is a big,rather futuristic looking city with many new skyscapers, and a nice walkway along the Pearl River. On the day we arrived Sunny took us to the top of the Canton tower, some 600M high with a commanding view of the city. The tower was erected for the 2010 Asian games. Unfortunately the smog obscured much of the sunset. However, when the lights of the city came on after dark, the display of multicolored neon was incredible.




Taken through the glass at the top of the tower
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The tower itself was alternately lit up like a rainbo, then red, purple, green etc. which was best seen once we descended.




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As Sunny pointed out, the Chinese are very good at puttng on a show for others to see. Later in the evening we took a cruise on the Pearl River, and the lights on the bridges and tall buildings were like a well organized light show, also multicolored, as well as moving and pulsating. I snapped away wthout a tripod, eager to try out my new superlight camera.





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For the first couple of days Sunny kept us incredible busy seeing all of the sights, and insisted on paying for many things. We ate up a storm, from local soups, to dongbei, hotpot, and dim sum.




Old monastery amidst the constant new construction
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Finally we had to tell her that we didn't need to see EVERYTHING, and just wanted to spend time with her. This gave us time to just relax and enjoy each other's company. We spent one evening making jouza, dumplings, in her apartment, where we met her roommates, and an Italian man who Sunny had corresponded with, who was interested in studying Chinese in exchange for teaching her Italian. Another night we met her boss, David , a low key Brit who seems to appreciate her talents and is almost paternal with her. She works for him as an administrator, in a language institute which provides training to multinational corporations. Though much more mature than when we last saw her, Sunny is still the same free thinking, independent person she was five years ago. Despite the gaps in her formal education she has a very good and inquizative mind, and has blossomned into a responsible and attractive woman. Her English, complete with American accent, has improved to the point where it is possible to have a conversation with her about practically anything. We discussed many things including some heavy family issues, friendships, work, goals for the future etc. When and if she decides to create her own business, we can be the first, and as she put it, likely the only shareholders. I think we all realized that our connection to each other remains as strong as ever, despite the time and the distance. She has become, for all intents and purposes, like our third daughter, and we feel very protective of her.

Posted by jonshapiro 07:58 Archived in China Tagged skylines people photography buildings_postcards cities_postcards Comments (0)

Pamukkale

Melrose Guesthouse. We arrived here on a day when the travertines were free for the Turks, and there was an air show as well. The small town was packed,
and when we got to our hotel they had overbooked and did not have a room. They did put us up for free in a relative's guest house next door, not nearly as nice, but the price was right. Our current room is probably the best one we have had in Turkey thus far, with a big round bed covered with bright red pillows and spread. Hugh Heffner, roll over. There is also a terrace overlooking snow capped mountains. I wasn't expecting such an impressive landscape as none of the guidebooks mentioned it.



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Incredibly, the proprietress, Leyla, who is Turkish, was actually born and raised in Wangen. As my ongoing readers know, Wangen is a small place in southern Germany that is home to our friends, Antonette and Joachim, whom we visited just prior to Istanbul. She didn't know them, but still...

Leyla returned to Turkey when she was 10, and we had an interesting discussion with her about feeling caught between two cultures, similar to the talk with Alex in Ayvalik. It was hard for her when she first attended school because her turkish was not very good, and they put her in a younger grade. At that time, all the girls had to dress in black and she wasn't used to that. Things are much easier now, but she still doesn't feel completely Turkish. For example, she always has to be on time, and follow through with what she says she will do, which is not the same for many Turks. She can imagine how she wants the guesthouse to look, and she thinks this too would be difficult for most of her countrymen/women. In the beginning, these things created problems with her husband, but now she says, he is just like her.

Rather than going up to the travertines on a very crowded day, we arranged a side trip to Aphrodisias It was a bit of a haul as the ruins are about a 100K drive, but on the way there we took the longer scenic route through the mountains. We shared our mini bus ride with three young foreign exchange students, an American studying in Ankara, as well as a couple of Aussies.

The ruins only had a scattering of people, and the setting rivaled Pergamum with snow peaks in the distance and green fields all around. The city, is dedicated to Aphrodite, goddess of love, desire, and beauty, and the place lives up to her name.





Temple, and on right, Torso of Achilles
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On the grounds there is also a museum which has statues and busts of local prominent figures, (from 2500 years ago), as well as various Gods including Aphrodite.




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Today was our day to ascend the travertines, and it was a blast. You can see it below, but it is essentially a mountain of snow white chalk and mineral deposits, that was created by thermal springs that bubble up in several places, putting out a constant stream of warm, mineral laden water that washes over the rocks.





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To prevent destruction of the site, everyone is asked to take off their shoes, and so barefoot, we continued up the ramp, which is like a white staircase. It is interspersed with a dozen or so small pools, each one a different temperature, but all relatively warm.




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We didn't know about the pools, and so didn't wear bathing suits, but no matter, we went into every one of them, clothes and all. We smeared ourselves with the loose chalk at the bottom of each of them so we didn't get too sunburned, and it wasn't crowded so we had many of them to ourselves. Unfortunately, it was difficult to capture the full effects our pool romps with pictures. My hands and clothes were too dirty to handle the camera, and I was, frankly, a bit embarrassed to ask a stranger to do it.

As we soaked up the mildly radioactive (we hope) waters, we gazed out at the green valley below and the snow peaks on the opposite side. Hard to beat it.


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Slowly we made our way to the plateau above, where we put our shoes back on and walked to Hieropolis, a Roman city that was later home to Jews, Christians, and finally Muslims. Further on, we came to an ancient, steeply banked theater, that probably seated 30,000 or more back in the day. Complete with subterranean passages, near perfect acoustics and sightlines to the stage, it is an architectural marvel. I imagined the cheers and shouting of a gladitorial contest, as I sat on the uppermost seats, looking out toward the travertines and the high mountains in the distance. Those Romans obviously had a highly developed sense of style and aesthetics.





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After taking all of this in, we continued past more deserted ruins of the ancient city, and then back down the white staircase in what was then (2,000 + years ago), the center of town.



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A late lunch of spinach and feta crepes completed a near perfect day, certainly one of the highlights of our time in this fascinating country.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:05 Archived in Turkey Tagged landscapes buildings_postcards Comments (2)

Efes (Ephesus)

We took the bus from Bergama to Efes, as it is called here, and stayed in nearby Selcuk, a medium sized city, not without it's charms. Now that we were getting to southern Turkey, it had a much more tropical feel.



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There was a beautiful old mosque.





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And a round stone castle not far from a pedestrian mall that was closed to traffic, with shops and restaurants. The weekly market took place right in front of our hotel, hours after our arrival, and we stocked up on different types of feta, delicious tomatoes, olives of all kinds, and strawberries. It was more than enough for lunch and dinner. The non food section of the market was less interesting. Mostly it was bargain clothes, probably made in China. Wandering around the back streets of Selcuk, these ladies were kind enough to let me take their picture.





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Efes itself was a bit of a disappointment after Pergamum. Although larger and more extensive, the setting is not so lovely, and the place was packed with tourists from all over, even in the hot sun of mid-afternoon. Where you are allowed to walk is also quite restricted because of the numbers. Nonetheless, it is worth a visit, in part because some of the buildings have been tastefully reconstructed and you get a sense a just how large a city it was.





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Posted by jonshapiro 06:42 Archived in Turkey Tagged photography tourist_sites buildings_postcards Comments (1)

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