When we visited Washington DC, we had the privilege of seeing the National Gallery of Art. Ever since Lafayette, some connection between America and France, however tenuous, has existed. One of the strongest bonds between the two countries is the American love of French art. When we think of French art today, we instantly imagine the Impressionists. Our National Gallery of Art, in Washington, DC, however, houses one of the finest collections of 15th to 18th century French art in the world, thanks in part to the benefactors who saw something of America in those French artworks. French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century documents the rich and varied collection of artworks and shows how this French connection tells us as much about American history as it does about French history. The painting above, of Diane Poitiers topless, is one of the masterpieces of the collection. A replica hangs in the Château de Chenonceau and is a reminder of the beautiful mistress of Henry II of France, Diane de Poitiers. I would call this portrait the “Mona Lisa” of France.
A series of storms have dumped feet of snow and rain in some parts of Northern California. And Southern California had its wettest December in several years. Southern California’s deserts and hillsides are ablaze with color after a wet winter spurred what scientists say is the biggest wildflower bloom in years. Golden California poppies, the state’s flower, blanket hillsides along busy high-desert roads and freeways around Lake Elsinore in Riverside County. At Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County, the desert blooms with purple Canterbury Bells, red Monkey Flower, white Desert Lily and more poppies. Since we visit California every few weeks to visit my grandson, we have had the privilege to see the “greening” of Southern California in person albeit in Santa Clarita.
The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile is one of the most famous monuments in Paris, standing at the western end of the Champs-Élysées at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle, formerly named Place de l’Étoile, the étoile or “star” of the juncture formed by its twelve radiating avenues. The Arc de Triomphe honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. The Arc is located on the right bank of the Seine at the centre of a dodecagonal configuration of twelve radiating avenues. It was commissioned in 1806 after the victory at Austerlitz by Emperor Napoleon at the peak of his fortunes. Laying the foundations alone took two years and, in 1810, when Napoleon entered Paris from the west with his bride Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria, he had a wooden mock-up of the completed arch constructed. The architect, Jean Chalgrin, died in 1811 and the work was taken over by Jean-Nicolas Huyot. During the Bourbon Restoration, construction was halted and it would not be completed until the reign of King Louis-Philippe, between 1833 and 1836, by the architects Goust, then Huyot, under the direction of Héricart de Thury.
The Mist Trail is one of the most popular short hikes in Yosemite National Park, California, USA. The hike follows the Merced River, starting at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley, past Vernal Fall and Emerald Pool, to Nevada Fall. Along the trail, the Merced River is a tumultuous mountain stream, lying in a U-shaped valley. Enormous boulders, some the size of a house, are dwarfed by the sheer faces of exfoliating granite, which rise 3000 feet (914 m) from the river. Through it all, the Merced River rushes down from its source in the High Sierra, and broadens on the floor of Yosemite Valley. This is Yosemite’s signature hike. While many of Yosemite’s trails are popular due to having a single spectacular destination, the Mist Trail has fabulous views scattered all along it, beginning at the bridge overlook, progressing to two unforgettable waterfalls that fall a combined total of more than 900 feet (270 meters), and ending with perhaps the most striking of all: the view of Nevada Fall, Liberty Cap, and the back of Half Dome from the Muir Trail return segment. We started early in the morning, with the Trail in early daylight.
Göbekli Tepe is the oldest megalithic structure on earth, predating Stonehenge by 6600 years and the Pyramids by 7100 years. Göbekli Tepe, or “Potbelly Hill” in Turkish, is possibly the most important archaeological discovery of this century, atop a mountain ridge in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of modern-day Turkey, approximately 12 km (7 mi) northeast of the city of Şanlıurfa. It was discovered in 1995 by archeologist Klaus Schmidt. What makes this site so special is not the age but the implications regarding the onset of the Neolithic period when humans first settled in permanent communities in a fixed location. I have previously written on the ragged edge between the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers and the more sedentary Neolithic settlements. Specific markers such as pottery, domesticated animals and cultivation of grains were discovered, forgotten and rediscovered over millennia before the lessons took root in the Neolithic package. Göbekli Tepe demonstrates another indistinct marker, special use megalithic buildings, possibly temples, built by Paleolithic hunter-gatherers.
I don’t do a lot of street photography but I often enjoy going out when I encounter a new city at night, just to get a sense of the place. I collected together a few photographs of Jerusalem at night to share in this post. What is usually known as the Umbrella Sky Project began several years ago in Agueda, Portugal, and has since spread to streets in Turkey, Serbia, Germany, Cambodia and other countries during the month of July. It was first implemented in Israel in 2013, when 600 colorful umbrellas were suspended over Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard to celebrate the arrival of free Wi-Fi across the city. Downtown Jerusalem welcomed summer this particular year with a thousand colorful umbrellas suspended by barely visible string over Yoel Moshe Solomon Street in the historic Nachalat Shiva district just off the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall. It never rains in Israel during the summer months, but the sun is strong enough to cook shakshuka on the pavement. So let’s call these decorative umbrellas “parasols.”
During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region, built the town and a ceremonial center around 1440 CE. The “fortress” of Ollantaytambo is actually a religious structure, but it did function as a retreat from the attacks of the conquistadores in the 1500’s. It was last held by Manco Inca, who, leading resistance forces against the Spanish, retreated to Ollantaytambo in January of 1537. The Spanish forces attacked on horseback, but Manco Inca’s band, in a technical tour de force, flooded the entire approach plain with water forcing the Spanish to retreat and regroup. Though Ollantaytambo was a highly effective fortress, it also served as a temple. A finely worked ceremonial center is at the top of the terracing. Some extremely well-built walls were under construction at the time of the conquest and have never been completed.
If you visit Peru you will likely run across decorated ceramic bull figures called Pucará Bulls. When the Spanish brought bulls to Peru during their conquest, these animals quickly became part of indigenous Inca culture. Originally made in the area of Pucará, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Puno, these small figures have now become recognized as a symbol of contemporary Peruvian culture. To show their appreciation and respect for the animal that has supported their growth and development throughout history, artisans created small figurines known as the Torito de Pucará that translates to “small bull of Pucará. These small animals now serve as a visual reminder of the history and power of the bull to the Incan culture. Thus, the tradition of the “Torito de Pucará” was born.
We decided to stay at the Hotel Pakaritampu which is a 3-star hotel conveniently located near Ollantaytambo ruins, with quick access to the train station. Because Ollantaytambo is 1,000m (3281ft) below Cusco (which is 3,400m or 11155ft above sea level), it provides a very good location to begin the acclimatisation process. In fact many visitors to the region travel directly to the Sacred Valley after landing in Cusco to reduce the likelihood of experiencing altitude sickness. We stayed in Ollantaytambo for two days to acclimate and to enjoy the the nearby Inca ruins. In the process we got to know the truly beautiful and historic town of Ollantaytambo.
If you visit Machu Pichu, you will have to pass through Ollantaytambo, if only by train. It is 45 miles by road northwest of the city of Cusco and on the rail line to Machu Pichu. It is located at an altitude of 2,792 metres (9,160 ft) above sea level in the district of Ollantaytambo, province of Urubamba, Cusco region in the Sacred Valley. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region, built the town and a ceremonial center. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru it served as a stronghold for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca resistance. Today, located in what is called the Sacred Valley of the Incas, it is an important tourist attraction because of its Inca ruins and its location, which is close to one of the most common starting points for the four-day, three-night hike known as the Inca Trail.