Thứ Ba, 20 tháng 12, 2011

Dingle the Owl

              Ashford Castle , which dates back to 1228, is set on 350 acres of County Mayo , on the shores of Lough Corrib and the River Cong, with a spectacular backdrop of woodlands, lake, river and mountains...and the presence of a very special owl.  
          Recent awards and recognitions include being ranked Best Resort in Ireland in Condé Nast Traveler's 2011 Gold List, winning the 2010 Gold Medal from the Green Hospitality Awards and being among Trip Advisor's 2010 top ten picks for European castle hotels.
          The castle is Ireland 's most historic five-star castle hotel and arguably the Emerald Isle's most romantic destination...but sometimes an ideal setting just isn't enough to say those four magic words. Not to worry, Ashford Castle 's resident owl, Dingle, is here to help. A new Proposal Package available now through December 22, 2012, highlights Dingle offering the engagement ring on a string around his neck to the bride- or groom-to-be. And who could possibly say no to Dingle?
The package includes:
•Three nights' bed & breakfast
•Bottle of Champagne in-room upon arrival with strawberries and chocolates
•Couples massage
•Candlelit dinner in the George V Dining Room on one evening of choice
•Rose petal turndown service
•Champagne breakfast in-bed on one morning
•One-hour romantic boat ride
•Falconry lesson, finished off with a special visit from Dingle the owl
          Valid through December 22, 2012 and based on two people sharing, the package is priced from €1,450 (approximately US$1,940).
          For more information, visit:

Posted by Anne Gordon on Tuesday, 20th December, 2011.

Thứ Hai, 19 tháng 12, 2011

The book - enter the Underworld

          Exploring Buried Karst published by Edgehill Press is as much about Ontario’s caves as it is the experience of exploring them, the culture of cavers and the people that involve themselves in this activity.  
          "Caving in Ontario" is large, colorful and full of fascinating sidebars – experiences of first time explorations in places where no human has ever gone, unusual anecdotes and snippets of geological, geographical and caving information. 
           There are the better known caves such as Dewdneys Cave, Spanky’s Paradise, Moira Cave and others, then there are also the newly discovered caves- some of which still remain only partially explored. If you are into exploring caves, this book will tell you how to find them.
The author and explorer
          If you are in any way interested in Ontario’s geography, geology or cutting edge exploration, or you’re just simply interested in caves and would like to see some interesting pictures, "Caving in Ontario" definitely is for you. Michael Gordon has been caving for over 25 years, primarily in Ontario, where many believe that caves do not exist. "Caving in Ontario" will show you otherwise.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday, 19th December, 2011

Photos copyright Michael Gordon and Anne Gordon

Thứ Tư, 7 tháng 12, 2011

Hindu marriage announcement
displayed outside the couple's
       In Jaisalmer as well as in other places in Rajasthan, I noticed painted signs that occupied a prominent place at the entrance to homes.
       Featured on each of the signs, Ganesh the elephant god, one of the most popular of the Hindu gods, was depicted seated on a low stool or occasionally perched on a lotus blossom.
       Endowed with an elephant head and four arms, his first hand held a flower, the second a trident, the third a basket of what appeared to be plump round bread rolls and with his fourth hand he administered a blessing. With one foot resting in his lap – toenails painted scarlet – he was an unusual sight.
       Each of these signs we discovered, was an announcement of marriage. Each contained Hindu script and a date – the names of the wedded pair and the day of their marriage.
Photo copyright Anne Gordon

Posted on Thursday, 8th December, 2011
Brahmin mother with her children
in Jaisalmer Fort, India
       Here in Jaisalmer most of the fort’s inhabitants are of the Brahmin caste. Their homes are tucked away in the curves and hollows of the 99 bastions forming the walls of the fort.
       Invited into one of the dwellings, we stepped across the threshold into a cool dark and immaculately clean room. The ceiling was low with a burnished surface of cow dung and red clay. The stone floor gleamed. Hand-crafted shelves made from sturdy branches dipped in whitewash, cradled the family’s treasured brass vessels. Stacked almost to the ceiling in one corner of the main room was the night bedding, folded into squares, each corner matching exactly the one below.

A solid gold choker, a Brahmin woman's dowry upon marriage
       Upon leaving we were invited to linger awhile with grandma and her beautiful daughter attired in a green sari emblazoned with gold stitched symbols.  Sitting companionably together on the entrance steps we sipped black coffee from small china cups.
       On the walkway in front of us, piglets, striped, spotted and plain, screeched and squealed as they wallowed delightedly in puddles coated with an oily black effluent and children ran alongside anyone with a camera, hands outstretched pleading for "Rupee for a good boy" or "Pen please".
Photos copyright Anne Gordon
Posted by Anne Gordon on Wednesday, 7th December, 2011

Thứ Hai, 5 tháng 12, 2011

       Today, where the rich gold of shifting desert sands provides a backdrop of drama for sylph-like women clad in saris of saffron, carmine, emerald green, fuschia, blue and gold, little has changed over the centuries. 
Shopping in Jaisalmer Fort
        One can wander along narrow cobbled alleyways for hours. Traders sit cross-legged on the floor at the entrance to Lilliputian shops. Chewing betel-nut, they spit streams of “paan” with remarkable accuracy on walls long stained with splashes of crimson. Their merchandise ranges from Kashmiri shawls and silk carpets to hand-painted miniatures, silver chapatti boxes and opium canisters.
       Seeking respite from the heat at midday, we stood in the shadows beside a fruit and vegetable stall where the sweet aroma of peeled mangos mingled with the pungent smell of ripening vegetable.
       Like the locals, we ate naan (unleavened bread) and biryani (vegetables and rice) with our fingers. Risking a dose of India’s notorious “Delhi Belly” we quenched our thirst with lassi, a delicious iced drink of yoghurt blended with sweetened mango pulp and ice cream and topped off with ground pistachio nuts.
Jaisalmer beauty parlour
       Refreshed and ready for further exploration we moved on, attracted by the resonant boom of a gong that rushed from the doorway of a Jain Temple.      Directly opposite, across a narrow alleyway, an ill-hung and battered door gave entrance to a disreputable looking building. Red paint lettering inscribed on the wall announced the presence of an Indian ‘beauty parlour’ with the words “Henna, body massage, head massage, waxing, manicure, pedicure and shampoo”.
       Next, we came upon a familial confrontation. From an exquisitely carved balcony festooned with drying bed sheets snapping in the wind, a Hindu mother leaned out, chastising her teenage son on the street below. He, unaffected by her scolding, tossed his hat in the air and sauntered around the nearest corner. 
Photos copyright Anne Gordon
Posted by Anne Gordon on Tuesday, 6th December, 2011
Burial tombs of the Maharajas near Jaisalmer

       In Jaisalmer, a city in the very heart of the Great Indian Desert, my husband and I climbed to the top of a flight of steps where we discovered a poignant memorial; a collection of tiny handprints on stone.
Sati was once customary for widows, who, dosed with opium, were burned alive on the funeral pyres with the bodies of their dead husbands.

Sati Stones in Jaisalmer Fort
       Here in Jaisalmer, before mounting the pyre, the wives of the deceased Maharajah would dip their hands in henna and pressed them on the wall of the fort and to this day those same Sati Stones are considered sacred, and the women who died are venerated.

       Sati has been banned in India for more than 100 years, but there are hints that the practice is not dead. Occasionally widows are still urged onto cremation pyres in some rural villages.

       Many were the sacrifices of the past in this desert city. When conquering invaders stormed the fort and death for the defending warriors was imminent, the fighting men, dressed in orange robes, courageously left the fort to face their enemies and horrific mutilation. Then, rather than be ravished and carried off by the enemy, their women, in full bridal attire accompanied by their children, jumped from the towering fort walls.
Photos copyright Anne Gordon
Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday, 5th December, 1011.

Thứ Sáu, 2 tháng 12, 2011

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London

Centuries ago when audiences were a mixture of rich and poor, it cost but a penny to watch a play in Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on the banks of the Thames River. The poor, known as the 'groundlings', were expected to sit in the yard, an open space between the stage and the raised covered seating reserved for the affluent.

A replica of that Globe Theatre now stands on the precise spot where Shakespeare once produced his plays, and I, like a traditional groundling, sat in the yard and enjoyed my lunch - a pork pie and a bottle of pop - during a performance, just as the old-time groundlings would have done.

Modern day Groundling enjoying her
lunch at the Globe Theatre
Way back in the Middle Ages a visit to the theatre was an informal affair. The groundlings were at liberty to sit or stand, eat, talk, and heckle the actors, and we were allowed to do the same. I paid about $10 to see “The Maid's Tragedy' (not a Shakespeare play) performed much as it would have been in Elizabethan times.

During the performance, the dramatic sight of the Queen of Shadows rising out of a star-spangled sea of cloth, drew a small child in the audience to the front of the stage where she jumped and danced with excitement as the play progressed. Her screams of laughter drowned out the actors' words as a comical caricature of Neptune with bulging cheeks popped through a hole in the heaving cloth (representing the sea) and blew a spray of water over her.

Next, the sound of wind moaning as if in torment filled the theatre and from well disguised holes in the 'cloth sea', fish, trumpeters blowing a hasty fanfare, and monsters writhing and grimacing rose, then disappeared. Then slowly from above the stage, a woman with a hairdo resembling two triangular shaped horns descended through an overhead trap door and played her part whilst dangling from the dark blue ceiling with its painted moons, trumpeting angels, fish and curly-horned rams. It was extraordinary.
Photos copyright Anne Gordon
Posted by Anne Gordon on Friday, 2nd December, 2011.

Thứ Năm, 1 tháng 12, 2011

The world was shocked as news spread that the most famous ship ever built had struck an iceberg that tragic April day in 1912 when over 1,500 lives were lost onboard the Titanic. No one felt it deeper than the city of Belfast where she was designed, built and launched, and where its citizens mourned loved ones, friends and colleagues aboard the famed liner. Starting in April 2012, the city of Belfast will celebrate the lives lost and its own maritime heritage on the 100th anniversary of her tragic sinking.

Titanic Belfast Building in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter is the new £97-million (C$160 million) visitor attraction that was built to recognize Titanic’s extraordinary legacy, Belfast’s massive contribution to the ship, and the importance of the city’s unique industrial and maritime heritage. The building resembles the bows of three luxury liners – the Titanic and her sister ships the Olympic and Britannic – all built in Belfast’s famous Harland & Wolff Shipyard, and will be home to the world’s largest Titanic visitor experience.

Photo copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 1 December 2011