pierreo.com – Join me on my journey

A chinese lion statue

Welcome to my blog. I have been lucky to travel the world and I will share my future and past trips here. I also discuss local events and sporting competitions that I do. Your comments, thoughts and suggestions are welcome and very much appreciated.

I will occasionally include retrospectives of what I did many years ago, even before I started this blog. As you can see, I invite you to come back often to see what I have added.

I am also on Facebook in the group "Still Traveling with Pierreo" where I will also provide links to my travel photos and other resources as I find them. If you join this page, you will get regular notifications when I add content to my blog.

New York

Brussels

Singapore

If you like this theme, please visit the designer or the developer for more information.

A Carpet of Flowers in the Hallerbos

May 25th, 2015

A strange coincidence of unrelated events led us to one of the most unbelievable walks I have done near Brussels!

On Friday evening, I finally checked my hiking shoes to make sure that they were up to our upcoming trip to Peru and the Inca Trail.  They are 10 years old and so due for replacement.  One still looks perfect, but the sole on the other is starting to come unglued.  So I decided that is was probably better to buy a new pair of hiking shoes.  It will hurt to get rid of a pair that served me so well for so many years!

On Saturday, I went to one of the top Hiking and Adventure Stores near Brussels and started discussing about new shoes.  I settled on Meindl Shoes – they fit and felt great.  As a parting thought, the salesman, who had been really helpful suggested that I should at least try them out once before going on my trip.  I indicated that I was planning to go to the Forêt de Soigne, a large forest just outside Brussels.  He suggested I should go to the Hallerbos, a smaller place, but with spectacular wild flowers.  I thought that might be a good idea, since I had never been there before.

On Sunday morning, one cousin of mine posted on Facebook the following link:

http://epanews.fr/profiles/blogs/le-mystique-bois-de-hal-en-belgique?s=1#.VTFgLncXj8h.facebook

I was stunned as this was the same woods that I was planning to go to.  The best thing about it is that further links got me to a map of the place, with a recommended walk to see the best of the wild flowers.

So we went!

And – as they say – the rest could be history!

Blog001

 

The photos really do not do justice to what it really looks like.

Blog002

As I saw horses in the distance, I tried to duplicate a painting by Magritte, but reality got int he way.

Blog003

Everywhere you turn, there was a carpet of purple flowers.  I can understand why this is famous – even though before that day, I had no idea it existed.

Blog004

Here is a close-up of the flowers – little bells. Continue Reading » (371 Page Views)

A wet week in Provence

April 12th, 2015

In November 2014, Bee and I took advantage of the 11 November holiday to spend a week in Provence.

Part of the reason was to spend some time with my parents who spend a lot of time there; part of the reason was also to get away from the bad weather in Belgium and discover a region of France that we did not know well.

Unfortunately, we hit the worst weather week in Provence for a long time.  The weather had been generally bad all over Europe for most of the summer (see also my recent blog entry on the Dolomite in August 2014) but we were particularly unfortunate.

Our first “Road Trip” was to Moustier-Sainte-Marie, the Gorges du Verdon and finally Grasses.  We skipped the Lac de Sainte-Croix as the weather just did not allow us to enjoy it.

Moustier is renown for fine pottery and ceramic.  There are many workshops, some mostly with ‘tourist’ good, others with very nice ceramic.  The town has also maintained its medieval atmosphere and is built on such a steep slope that a lot of streets are still impractical with a car.  We walked around town until it started to rain a lot harder and ducked into a local restaurant to escape from getting really wet.

We ate at “Les Santons” (www.lessantons.com) and had a very nice lunch.

After lunch we drove through the top of the Gorges du Verdon, France’s Grand Canyon.  There were very nice views, unfortunately not very photogenic, so I decided to experiment.  I did not have my big camera, so I took my first panorama using my Samsung Phone.  Here is the result.

VerBlog002It is not bad, and quick and easy, but not quite the same as the results I am used to when I use my big camera and I then assemble the photos using Photoshop.  It is clear that the one shot facing the sun was more exposed than the others and the camera was not able to correct entirely for that.

I also took three photos of the mountain facing us and assembled those in Photoshop and here are the results.

VerBlog001

Much better from a blending point of view.  So I will have to be careful in the future if I want to use the ‘panorama’ feature of my phone.

From Les Gorges du Verdon, we went on to Grasse, the World Odor Capital.  We stopped at the Fragonard Factory where we did a very nice tour of the facilities.  Fragonard sells their own perfumes and Eau de Cologne in totally plain containers, as opposed to some of the other companies who sometimes spend more on the bottle than the perfume!  Fragonard is also one of the few remaining “Nose Schools” in France.  Students are trained to recognize some 300 different odors and the “Experienced” nose can tutor up to 12 students at a time.  We saw the ‘school’ room, but class was not in session.

We had spotted a few potentially good restaurants on Trip Advisor, but all of them were closed when we were there.  We stopped at La Voute for dinner and had a good meal there.

The next Road Trip took us to Les Baux-de-Provence, a small town in the Alpilles that has become an artist community.  Just outside of town there are abandoned stone quarries which are now used for sound and light shows called “Carrières de Lumières” (www.carrieres-lumieres.com).  Every year, they have a different show that runs roughly from March to December.  The show last show in 2014 was on Klimt and Vienna.  Images are projected around the whole quarries while beautiful music plays and it is definitely worth the visit.

We had lunch in Baux and then went to visit the Castle, which as per custom sits at the very top of the village.

The view is quite spectacular, but again, the weather was not really good enough for good photos.  I likes better the view of the ancient town from the castle

VerBlog003 Continue Reading » (415 Page Views)

A Week-End in Murano

March 5th, 2015

Bee and I go away each year for her birthday.  In 2014, I surprised her by signing us up for a walking (trekking) tour in the Dolomite mountains of northern Italy, something she had said repeatedly we should do.  That trip was already published on my blog last month.

Our trip started on Sunday from Venice and since there is a late flight from Brussels to Venice, we decided to leave after work on Friday.  We would arrive very late, in August, at the airport and I did not want to have to fight the crowds in Venice itself.  Looking at the Vaporetto Line from the airport into Venice, we noticed that the first stop was in Murano, and thus decided to stay there instead.  It would give us one full day and one half day to wander around before we had to meet the rest of the group.  We did not go to Venice itself at all on this visit.

Early Saturday, we started to explore Murano, which I knew a little from my previous trips to Venice and always enjoyed.  However, the previous visits were fleeting since I was staying on the ‘main’ island and I was looking forward to spending more time, and especially the evening in Murano as well.

Throughout the island there are glass statues, or monuments from local artists.  I particularly like the contrast between the very modern Glass Comet (the sculpture is called La Cometa di Vetro by Simone Cenedese) and the 19th century clock tower built on the foundations of a much older 12th century church steeple, long gone along with the church.

DolBlog001

Around the corner, we ran into a lovely old house – what I like most about Murano is that it still has a human scale and feels suburban compared to Venice.  This old house is surrounded by a garden and a majestic garden gate – you would not see something like this in Venice any more.

DolBlog002

The back of the Chiesa dei Santi Maria e Donato (Church of the Saints Mary and Donato) – this is one of the oldest churches in the Venice lagoon, originally built in the 7th century with known restorations in 9th and 10th centuries, possibly some even later.  Known for its 12th century mosaic floor.  It houses small bones from St. Donatus of Arezzo and larger bones from a ‘dragon’ that the saint is reported to have killed.

The back of the church has a definite Moorish look, and so do the decorations inside.

DolBlog003

The garden in the back of the Glass Museum gives a good view of the Campanile of Santo Donato (short name for the church above!)

DolBlog004

A typical canal in Murano – this is suburbia – there is a three boat porch in front of every house – sorry, no cars. Continue Reading » (449 Page Views)

Hiking in the Dolomite

February 22nd, 2015

Bee and I had been talking about a trip like this for several years.  I had thought about it ever since I had seen a picture taken by a friend of a refuge with mountains in the background.  I took essentially the same picture on the trip I will be describing here.

This was my 5th trip with Wilderness Travel and was another fantastic experience.  We had a group of eight people with three guides, including Giuseppe whom I had already met on my first trip with Wilderness in Slovenia.  Giuseppe was joined by Leila and Sean so we had three experienced guides (with two vans) to help us on this trip.  It was great to have that flexibility given the weather that we encountered on some of the walks.

We met the group at the airport in Venice and quickly got into our two vans for the drive to the first stop of the day – for lunch half way to our first real destination. We stopped in the small town of Vittorio Veneto, at the edge of the Alps in an old water mill converted into a restaurant and had a great meal outside even though it was somewhat cold for the season.  We then continued to Passo Giau where we would spend the first three nights of our trip at the Rifugio Pass Giau.

As soon as we arrived, I recognized where we were.  The mountain with a flat top in the background is quite unique – this is a similar view to the picture who had made me want to be here – thanks Bill.

DolBlog011

The was also the view from our bedroom at the Rifugio.  Sean and Leila have stayed here many times and therefore know the owners quite well – it is like being welcomed into somebody’s house!

DolBlog012

Cannot have a view of the Alps without a cow here and there!  The weather was not great, and was not going to be great for the whole week so we had to contend with a very heavy sky, not making the pictures as spectacular as they could have been.  But when the sun did shine, we were rewarded with spectacular scenery.

DolBlog013

The contrast between light and shade can also enhance the view at times.

DolBlog014

Near the Rifugio, there was a small chapel, as always called Santa Maria (or something) delle Neve to indicate that it is often covered in snow.  They are usually dedicated to the memory of mountain guides who lost their lives doing what they loved to do.

DolBlog015

We went on a ‘warm-up’ hike from the hotel in order to open our appetite for dinner.  The Rifugio where we stayed is the first structure on the right and is quite a popular place at lunch and towards the end of the day, when people have finished their hike and are ready to go home.  The crowd was thinning significantly as we were walking around. Continue Reading » (537 Page Views)

Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast – Part 2

February 9th, 2015

After 5 days in Naples, Bee and I moved to the relative tranquility of Sorrento, on the Bay of Naples, on the Amalfi Peninsula, and the gateway to the Amalfi Coast and Capri.  We had ten more days to explore this part of Italy, rich in History, Art and Nature.

We went to Capri on our first day there – the weather forecast was not ideal for the week to come and we thought we wanted to take advantage of a reasonable day to explore the island.

Unfortunately, two cruise ships had arrived overnight, and all passengers from the ships were also going to Capri.  Our ferry into the island was full and we could not get the return trip we wanted, so had a return earlier than we wanted initially.

Still, the day started positive – we booked a boat trip around the island, which included a visit to the Blue Grotto and wandered around the harbor while waiting for the departure.  It was very interesting to see that even though this is a very touristy island, there are still people here doing traditional work, such as fishing out of small boats.

SorBlog051

Here is a general view of the main harbour.  On the side of the mountain in the background, you can see the first few houses of the second town in Capri called Anacapri.

SorBlog052

Taxis on the island have been somewhat modified to cater to the expectations of local tourists.  It is obvious that the maximum expected speed on the island is very low, or this type of roof on a car would not survive very long.

SorBlog053

On the trip around the island, we first passed by the Blue Grotto.  We were told that unfortunately the tide and the wave were too high to be able to visit the grotto that day.  The entrance is very tight and it is often impossible to go through.  However, it looks like some people are making it, so I am not sure if the boat captain was telling us the truth or not.

SorBlog054

At the Western tip of the island, on Punta Carena, stands a very tall light house.  It is critical to mark the entrance to the Bay of Naples where there has been a busy port for many centuries.

SorBlog055

Again, we can see that normal life continues around tourism – this gentleman was fishing probably in the same way they were doing it 100 and 500 years ago!

SorBlog056

Continue Reading » (488 Page Views)

Napoli and Amalfi – Part 1

September 15th, 2014

If it is not obvious already from the amount of time that I spend there, I love Italy.  I have been there many times and every time I do, I come back more enchanted and convinced that I should come again.

In all my previous trips, I had spent a grand total of 3 or 4 days in the area around Naples, and all of that when I was 11 and 13 years old.  I had memories of Paestum, Monte Cassino, Heculaneum and Castel del’Ovo.  But these were very vague, and I was not sure what was what any more.

Bee and I decided to spend the time between Easter and May Day in and around Naples so that we could take advantage of two holidays.  We arrived in Naples on 19 April, rented a car and drove to our hotel right in the center of the city.  The hotel was situated on a pedestrian street and so had left good instructions of where to park.  We found the parking and walked to the Hotel Il Convento. We had booked a room with balcony, at the very top of the hotel and it was very nice.

We went for a walk in order to discover the neighborhood.  On Piazza Plebiscito (Suffrage Square), we saw this sight of a cruise ship leaving harbor.  Naples and, as we will see later, Sorrento are major stops on the cruising Italy scene.

NapBlog001

There was not much going on in the low town around the square, so we decided to go up with one of the old cable cars (Funicolare Centrale) up to the Vomero Hill.  The car runs underground all the way up to the top of the hill.

NapBlog002

We first went to visit the Castel Sant’Elmo, located right at the top of the hill and built by the Spanish in 1538, with spectacular views of the city and Mount Vesuvius just behind it.  At first, I was not sure that it was Mount Vesuvius, as I did not remember the second “hump” on the side of the mountain, and all the photos and paintings of the volcano showed it more with the typical conical shape.  However, comparing with the location of Vesuvius on the map, and when we went there, I can confirm that the big mountain just outside the city is indeed Mount Vesuvius.

NapBlog003

Here is a wider panorama of the Bay of Naples.  Vesuvius is on the left and then you can see the low hills of the Amalfi Peninsula.  The last two dark spots on the right of the photo are the two hills of Capri – we had excellent visibility that day as the sun started to come down.

NapBlog004

After the castle, we went to the Certosa di San Martino, located only 100 m from the castle.  It used to be a Monastery, build in the 14th century and rebuilt in the 17th.  A constructed view (180 degrees) of the cloisters inside the monastery – this is Chiostro Grande.

NapBlog005

There are ancient carriages used by the former occupants of the Certosa – I guess the chief abbot was used to travel in style!

NapBlog006 Continue Reading » (642 Page Views)

WWI – In Flanders Fields

May 4th, 2014

In November, Bee and I decided to go visit the Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres and a few of the monuments around that area where battles were fought during WWI.

The museum is great, with a very good history of the many battles around Ypres.  The area around Ypres was the only part of Bergium that was not conquered by the German Army during the whole duration of the War.  The invasion was stoppped by flodding the fields around the Yser River and then everything was bogged down in four years of trench warfare.

www.inflandersfields.be/en is a very good site about the museum if you want to know more about it.

After lunch in Ypres, we started driving around and came about this WWI cemetery as we were driving by.  This is the Menin Road South Cemetery with mostly British and Commonwealth soldiers.  The whole area is dotted with small cemeteries.  At the time, armies tended to burry the dead as they fell, into small fields. These were then reorganised and preserved after the war.

WWIBlog001

These are very peaceful places, even in the middle of the city, they seem to have an aura of themselves.  We discovered that there are hundreds of these small cemeteries all over the area.

WWIBlog002

The Menin Gate in Ypres is a memorial to soldiers killed in the Ypres Salient and whose grave is unknown.  54896 names are listed on the walls and alcoves of the monument.  The Memorial was dedicated in 1927 and is still the site of an annual ceremony on ANZAC day, on the anniversary of the battle of Gallipoli when Australia and New Zealand honour the memory of those fallen in foreign wars.

WWIBlog003

Below is a monument to the many Indian soldiers who participated and died in the many battles for Ypres.  We were surprised to see an Indian flag in the middle of the city, up on the ramparts, so we explored a little bit closer.  What a shock it must have been for these soldiers to leave India and end up in a muddy trench in rainy, cold Belgium.

WWIBlog004

Further along the old city ramparts, we saw the Ramparts Cemetery, near Lille Gate.  It started as a French cemetery but in 1915 and 1916, welcomed mostly Commonwealth victims.  At the end of the war, the French soldiers were removed.

WWIBlog005

Here is an example of graves from the Ramparts cemetery.

WWIBlog006

Just outside Ypres was an extensive set of trenches and caves dug up by the Yorkshire Regiment over many years of war. Some of it has been preserved in this secluded lot in the middle of a light industry zone.

WWIBlog007

Here is the entrance to underground caves.  The old sandbags have been replaced with concrete imitations.

WWIBlog008

Bee is looking at the trenches, and just imagining what it must have been like after 10 days of continuous rain in only 5 DegC weather…

WWIBlog009

It was a good day of remembrance.  We ended up in Nieuwpoort, having an excellent dinner before going home. (1699 Page Views)

Carnaval of Malmedy 2014

April 13th, 2014

I do not make it every years, but whenever I can I always enjoy spending the Sunday of Carnaval in Malmédy, in the South of Belgium, in the Ardennes.  There is a very special celebration there each year, with some formal and traditional events, but especially a carnival parade with free participation from anybody who wants.  This year was the 556 year that this tradition has existed.  There are records dating back to 1458 – however, nobody can be quite sure how many parades there have been in total.  It probably changed a little bit over the years too.

The Sunday celebration opens with the “Dance de la Haguète” – last time we came, we missed that as we were still having lunch, so I wanted to make sure that we saw it this time.  We setup at the front of the crowd early and waited.

As I said, there is a lot of free participation to all events.  Three teen girls, dressed as Pandas entertained us for a few minutes – they were obviously having fun.

CarBlor001

The Haguète is a very colourful traditional costume.  They must have been treated very poorly in the past, or in traditional lore, or legend … some time any way as their carnival “trick” is to capture the ankle of an innocent bystander with their wooden tool (not sure what it is called) and force them to apologise on their knees, before they are released.  Traditionally also, a different society each year gets to open the parade with a dance.  As you can see on this picture, some of them start very young…

CarBlor003

There were a lot of people watching from every point of view.  There was also a duo between the band accompanying the Haguète and the brass band on the balcony here.

CarBlor004

As the parade was getting ready, we actually met the three clowns who get to open the parade.  It is obviously a great honour to be selected for that job; as soon as she saw my camera, I got the best smile in the world!  And we chatted a while after that.

CarBlor005

Continue Reading » (1138 Page Views)

Morocco and Lanzarote

April 5th, 2014

After a few days in Andalusia, a few more than initially planned, we were finally on our way.  Having left Spain late the previous night, we woke up approaching Casablanca, in Morocco, with wonderful sunrise views of the Hassan II Mosque, reputedly the largest in the world outside of Mecca.

MorBlog001

As we approached, the views improved and we could clearly see that this was no ordinary place.  However, we are here looking at the back of the mosque and the better views are from the front.

MorBlog002

There is a large square in front of the building, but still not large enough to be able to take the whole view in one shot, even with my widest angle lens; this is a composite of several photos, which is why this is slightly distorted.  The minaret is 200 m high! I am told that the muezzin who goes to the top to call worshippers to prayers five times a day has an elevator to facilitate the task!

MorBlog004

This is the only mosque in Morocco which is open to non-muslim visitors and I was really looking forward to the planned visit.  However, since we arrived on a Friday, and relatively late on the Friday, we were unfortunately not able to go inside – a real shame.  We were therefore limited to taking pictures of the very decorated facade and doors from the outside.

MorBlog005

Everything seems gigantic, especially when compared to the human scale – notice the man dressed in white to the right of the gate in the shadows.  However, it is very harmonious and quite peaceful and inspiring.

MorBlog006

This is all we got to see of Casablanca – we were then bussed about one hour away to Rabat where we whizzed around the Royal compound for a short glimpse at the Royal Palace.  We were supposed to stop and get out – we were told we could stop and get out – but at the last moment, it seems that again we were at the wrong place at the wrong time and since a lot of people were going to mid-day prayers, the security officers prevented us from stopping.  All I got was this shot of the Royal mosque from the moving bus…

MorBlog007 Continue Reading » (878 Page Views)

Andalusia 2013

February 1st, 2014

Our trip to Andalusia continued in Cordoba, another city that was heavily influenced by the Moors who occupied it until late in the 15th century.

Cordoba was ‘freed’ earlier than Granada and Ferdinand and Isabella established their royal seat here while they were fighting for Granada.  They lived in a former Muslim palace which is now known as the “Alcazar de los Reyes Catolicos” or Palace of the Catholic Kings.  It is clear, however, that the origin of the buildings and gardens has nothing to do with catholic kings.

One look at these gardens and you know immediately who designed them.

The palace itself is not very interesting, and there has not been a significant effort to make the interior look like it must have either during the Moors’ occupation, or the later royal affectation, which was not very long as the royal court eventually moved to Granada instead.

However, the gardens are the real attraction of this palace.

There are fountains everywhere and several different levels which are all just slightly different from each other.

This group was added later, I am sure.  It is the representation of Christopher Columbus requesting funds from Ferdinand and Isabella for his trip to India via the Atlantic Ocean.  We all know how that ended.

However, there were conflicts in what we heard from different guides.  Granada was freed from the Moors in January 1492 and the court moved there soon thereafter.  So in Granada, they claim that this discussion took place in the Alhambra.  In Cordoba, they claim that this occurred before the court moved and therefore it happened in Cordoba.  Looking at several sources of information (Encyclopaedia Britannica, Wikipedia and Royal Greenwich Museum) there is consensus that the decision to go West was made in January 1492 but only Wikipedia mentions that this occurred in Cordoba while Britannica does not say where the final agreement took place.  It could be that it is not documented and therefore both cities have a legitimate claim!

The other major attraction of Cordoba is the Mezquita, the most confused building in the world.  It started life as a Mosque and is now the Cathedral of Cordoba.  There are contrasting views throughout the building, with clearly Muslim architecture surrounding obviously catholic details.

When they established (and built) the cathedral inside the old mosque, a lot of the building was left unchanged.  There are thousands of columns supporting the roof around the core which is now the cathedral.  This is an “illegal” photo!  I took it with the camera sitting on the floor so that I could have a longer exposure.  Immediately after I took this photo while sitting on the floor, I was told to stand up as sitting is not allowed!

Continue Reading » (1076 Page Views)

« Prev - Next »