Sunday, October 30, 2011

0076: Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria - Germany

The most visited castle in Germany with 1.3 m visitors per year.
It's a gloomy, rainy day in Florida today... This kind of weather leads me to daydream the day away - and it is Sunday so that makes it ok... So, today I head into a fairy tale direction, and as with all fairy tales there is drama, sadness, a touch of madness and a ton of beauty. Although fairy tales allow us to define beauty through our own imagination, it is nice when these places actually exist. Such places that exceed our imagination and allow us to understand that beauty often comes from tough situations (read more about what was happening to Ludwig II before he started this castle, so sad...). But today's topic is the castle, this castle is one of the most beautiful castles I've ever seen (only in pictures but soon in real life). I've been to Germany once and I loved it. It's a country with such rich history and one that I would like to revisit - I'm moving this one to my 2-3 year target list!

The Neuschwanstein Castle is a 19-century Gothic revival palace near Fussen in the Alps in Bavaria, Germany. The palace was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria (also known as the "Fairytale King", the "Swan King" and even the "Mad King") as a retreat and as a homage to Richard Wagner. (Wagner's characters inspired most of the rooms.) Neuschwanstein literally means "New Swan Castle" referencing the "Swan Knight" one of Wagner's characters. The castle was intended as a personal refuge for the reclusive king, but it was opened to the paying public immediately after his death in 1886. The palace has appeared in several movies and is said to have been the inspiration for Walt Disney to create the Magic Kingdom. 

Photo: Wikipedia
The castle was built in a time when castles no longer had strategic or defensive purposes. While it looks like a medieval castle, it was equipped with the latest state of the art technology at that time (e.g. indoor plumbing and an air/heating system throughout the castle). Construction began in 1869, and was originally projected to take three years to complete. But Ludwig II wanted it to be perfect so it wasn't even finished by his death in 1886. 

I think it's sad that this enormous and beautiful place was built for one person, Ludwig II, a person that just wanted to be left alone. Contrary to popular belief, Ludwig paid for the palace out of his personal fortune and extensive borrowing, not with Bavarian public funds. The designer was Christian Jank. He was not even an architect but a theatrical designer.

In 1883, Wagner died without ever setting foot inside the castle that had been built in his honor. A year later, Ludwig decided to move in but the King actually only stayed in the castle 11 nights. After Ludwig died, at age 41, construction continued for another eight years. When builders finally stopped, only a third of the rooms had been finished and decorated. 

So, was Ludwig mad? or was he genius? This story reminds me of an Oscar Wilde quote, "The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius." I'd like to think Ludwig was a genius with a broken heart - almost a tragedy instead of a fairy tale - he never got to live happily every after. So let's put a face to the man responsible for this beautiful place.... 
Ludwig II's coronation portrait, 1865
Photo: wikipedia
Ludwig II is sometimes also called "Mad King Ludwig", though the accuracy of that label has been disputed. Because Ludwig was deposed on grounds of mental illness without any medical examination and died a day later under mysterious circumstances, questions about the medical "diagnosis" remain controversial. One of his most quoted sayings was "I wish to remain an eternal enigma to myself and to others." His cousin Empress Elisabeth held that "The King was not mad; he was just an eccentric living in a world of dreams. They might have treated him more gently, and thus perhaps spared him so terrible an end."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

0075: Zaragoza, Spain

Basilica del Pilar
Photo: Wikipedia
Zaragoza was one of the most beautiful places I went to in Spain. It was a town I had never heard of - and of course there are millions of beautiful places I haven't heard of but that is why I am on a mission to search them out - one of my brothers had read about it and recommended we go, I was like "sure" but had no idea what I was about to experience... I am so thankful he took us there!!

Zaragoza is the capital city of the Zaragoza Province and of the autonomous community of Aragon, Spain (there are 50 provinces in Spain, maybe we can equate them to states?). The river you see in the picture above is the Ebro River, this city covers a variety of landscape from desert (Los Monegros) to thick forest, meadows and mountains. It's just gorgeous...

So, the city was amazing!!! It is famous for its folklore, its food and landmarks such as the Basilica del Pilar, La Seo Cathedral and The Aljaferia Palace.

La Seo Cathedral
Photo: Wikipedia
Aljaferia Palace at night, built in the 11th century
Photo: Wikipedia
As destiny would have it we arrived during the Fiestas del Pilar - only among the most celebrated festivals in Spain. So, a bit more background...

Basilica del Pilar - (In English the Basilica-Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar) is a Roman Catholic Church that venerates the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Lady of the Pillar was praised as the Mother of the Hispanic People by Pope John Paul II. It is the first church dedicated to Mary in history so it is a pretty big deal.

According to tradition St James was preaching in Spain shortly after Jesus was crucified and was disheartened because of the failure of his mission. But on January 2, 40 AD, while deep in prayer Mary appeared to him and gave him a small wooded statue of herself and a column of jasper and instructed him to build a church in her honor. "This place is to be my house, and this image and column shall be the title and altar of the temple that you shall build". The rest as they say is history...  The current building was built from 1681 - 1872 and is incredibly beautiful. If you have some time, read more about this basilica, the history is very interesting, including the fact that during the Spanish Civil War (1936 - 1939) three bombs were dropped on the church and none of them exploded. Two are still on display at the basilica.

Fiestas del Pilar - (The feast of Our Lady of the Pillar) celebrates the first apparition to Mary to Hispanic people. This coincides with the date of Columbus' discovery of the New World. We ventured out at 11pm, which is about when people head out for dinner in Spain. Once we neared the Basilica we saw thousands of people, it was like Mardi Gras in New Orleans - my hometown - so I was excited at the energy and the crowds. But this was very different than Mardi Gras; here every age was out in celebration until early in the morning. Then people were out again at 7:30am to start the more traditional and religious part of the festival - well not everyone was up that early but the majority of people... this festival is taken very seriously and it was amazing.

The festival was one of the highlights of my trip - by far!!
Thanks to my brother :-)
It was incredible the vast number of people that dressed in traditional clothing
for the festivities, from infants to the elderly. It was beautiful to see. With
all the globalization going on we sometimes forget where we are,
in this town, on these days I had no doubt that I was in the heart of SPAIN !! 
The one thing we missed was the Rosario de Cristal (Rosary of Glass), a parade celebrating the rosary and made of glass - next time!!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

0074: New Moon - Make a Wish!!

A new moon, literally speaking... sorry to all the Twilight movie fans but I'm not referring to the New Moon movie, not today anyway...

So today we have a new moon. In astronomical terms, the new moon is when the Moon lies between the Earth and the Sun and is therefore not visible to the naked eye. (When this happens, the dark - unilluminated - part of the Moon faces directly toward Earth.)

So for all my life new moons have come and gone and I really never noticed... but as my curiosity wanders I realize that the new moon is very important to many people. And this morning I looked at my calendar which happens to say New Moon and I really had no idea what the significance is or why it is being noted - its not a holiday after all or is it?? Here are some interesting tidbits primarily from our friends at Wikipedia:

  • The Islamic calendar has an observational definition of the new moon - it is only recognized when the first crescent is actually seen making it impossible to be certain in advance when a specific month will begin - wow!! (This also means that the exact date on which Ramadan will begin is not known in advance.) 
  • In Saudi Arabia, if the weather is cloudy when the new moon is expected, observers are sent up in airplanes. 
  • In Pakistan, there is a committee of religious scholars that uses 150 observatories all over the country in order to announce the sighting of the new moon. 
  • In Iran, there is also a special committee that uses one hundred groups of observers to determine the new moon. 
  • The Hindu people generally wait for a new moon to start new works. The new moon is quite significant for them.
  • For the Jewish people, the new moon signifies the start of every Jewish month. According to Jewish tradition, the Jewish calendar is calculated based on mathematical rules handed down from God to Moses to make sure that Passover always falls in the springtime. This calculation makes use of a formula used by Ptolemy and handed down from Babylonians which is still very accurate: 29.530594 days vs the present value of 29.530589. The difference of only 5 millionths of a day adds up to about only 4 hours since Babylonian times (that would be almost 4,000 years ago!). Crazy interesting....
  • And lastly the new moon is very important in astrology, as is the full moon. The new moon is considered a 'power period', a time of new beginnings, a window each month to plant seeds of intention. Some astrologers liken these days to 'wishing' days - in which your wishes have the power to come true. 
So, pretty interesting how may people really pay attention to new moons. I will probably forget most of these tidbits but the one thing I will know is that a lot of people do not take it lightly. And I will probably remember the last point, when I do notice the new moon, I will plant some intentions/wishes - like wishing upon a star but dealing with the moon? :-) 

Photo: NASA
So tonight, wish upon the moon and may all your wishes come true...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

0073: Easy Recipes: Blueberry-Limoncello Tini

Limoncello is an Italian liqueur mainly found in Southern Italy although nowadays it's even popular here in Florida. Traditionally it is made from Sorrento lemon peel but for those of us that don't have these yummy lemons handy any lemons will do.

Limoncello is served chilled as an after-dinner digestive. Along the Amalfi coast, it is usually served in small ceramic glasses themselves often chilled... In my opinion, another good use for Limoncello is to make martinis. A favorite of mine is the Blueberry-Limoncello Martini - very delicious and easy to make.

1 part Limoncello
1 part Blueberry vodka
1 part Vanilla Vodka
Blueberries to decorate - just drop a few in (frozen ones work great)

If you are up to it - and have the patience - there is this Limoncello recipe from Giada De Laurentiis that I have been meaning to try. 

10 lemons
1 (750 ml) bottle of vodka
3 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar 

Using a peeler, remove the peel from the lemons in long strips (reserve the lemons for another use). Using a small sharp knife, trim away the white pith from the lemon peels; discard the pith. Place the lemon peels in a 2-quart pitcher. Pour the vodka over the peels and cover with plastic wrap. Steep the lemon peels in the vodka for 4 days at room temperature.

Stir the water and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Cool completely. Pour the sugar syrup over the vodka mixture. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight. Strain the limoncello through a mesh strainer. Discard the peels. Transfer the limoncello to bottles. Seal the bottles and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours and up to 1 month.

So, a la salute!!!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

0072: Cimetière du Père Lachaise - Paris, France

In honor of our "dark" Halloween season, today I am highlighting one of the most beautiful cemeteries I have ever been to. I know, who goes to cemeteries?? Maybe it was my New Orleans upbringing... whatever the draw, I am so glad I went - it is a spectacular place. These are some of my shots:

I saw this angel towards the end of my walk and thought it was so peaceful.
She was huge and almost protective of those nearby. 
This sculpture - as so many in this cemetery - captures such sadness and grief, it captured me.
It also reminded me that the pain left behind with those that love you is unimaginable.
A mother's grief...
A lover's grief...
A sibling's grief...
A child's grief...
The artists that create these sculptures are amazing. 
Sometimes there was so much for the eye to absorb it was easy to miss a lot
but the life sized pieces almost reached out and touched you.  
I thought this one was a person at first...
I'll never let you go...
And of course a place like this must have its celebrities...
Oscar Wilde had SO many kisses, a rock star!
I could imagine this one saying, "C'est la vie..."
These art sculptures made me forget I was in a cemetery...
Then there were the pensive ones...
This one might be thinking he didn't do enough - the tortured soul of an artist...
Forever lost in thought... 
It was fun while it lasted...
It's not so bad here...
The walkways were narrow and beautiful...
it was almost of scavenger hunt.

I will caution you that if you ever go, don't lose track of closing time. I not only lost track but I literally got lost. The sun was setting and the shadows growing, the temperature dropping and my goose bumps screaming... I saw some cool Goth kids sneaking in for the night while I was trying to race my way out before my heart stopped. Now of course I find it funny but at the time I was freaked! It was one of the scariest - but coolest - moments and yes, I had ventured on my cemetery tour alone so I am officially nuts!!! I spent hours here despite thinking I would be in and out quick...
But next time I will know better - it was so worth it. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

0071: Urdax Lore - Navarro, Spain

These Urdax caves are located in northern Spain, very close to the French border, and lie on the slopes of the Otsondo mountain pass. The entire area is steeped in witch folklore that led to an inquisition resulting in many deaths in the early 1700s.  (Tidbit: The Salem witch trials were in 1692 and 1693.)

"They" say these caves were once the home of lamia, mythological monsters which had the head and torso of a woman and a fish tail. All sorts of legends exist from hundreds of years ago to a few decades ago when soldiers and smugglers used to occupy the caves. Witches, inquisitors, smugglers, pilgrims and monks all forged an identity in Urdax/Urdazubi - also known as "asla embrujada" (bewitched place).

We happened upon the caves as we were driving north of Pamplona on a sightseeing route from our tour book. I was the driver of the moment and the hairpin turns were terrifying, my hands were sweating and one of my brothers was teasing but also concerned I was about to freak so trying to calm me down. It is now funny - in hindsight!! So these mountains had steep slopes and were very green, some parts were carpeted with moss and ferns while ancient trees grew throughout. It was gorgeous!!! I almost felt like I was in Hansel and Gretel's neighborhood about to come across the beautiful witch cottage...

We were in the Navarra region, in the western Pyrenees; it was obviously a region of amazing and scenic landscapes showing the power and wealth of medieval times. Among the green meadows were medieval bridges, beautiful country houses and ancient ruins - as well as cows, sheep, goats and donkeys... The area has been and continues to be enriched by a constant procession of pilgrims following the Road to Santiago (I definitely have to tell you about this on another blog!!).

Here are some of my pictures of the area:

All these guys were laying down but once they heard the first shutter they stood up and posed for us.
Or maybe they were just getting ready to pounce if we got too close?
Either way, how cute is the baby!!
This one just cracked me up. These goats were already privileged with a great view,
then they all perched on these pedestals!  
That Hansel and Gretel feel.... 
These pictures hardly do justice to the gorgeous landscapes we saw...
One of my favorite spots, I loved the natural carpet.
Ahhh, I can still feel the fresh air!