Photo Escape: Mont-Chiran

Where should we escape to today? I’m in the mood for clean air and open spaces — it happens a lot — so let’s take off for the mountains and the observatory of Mont-Chiran in the Alpes de Haute Provence.

Come along …. you’re dawdling.

Mind the traffic; sheep are notorious road hogs. And stop to pick flowers on the drive, it’s a good way to get your mountain legs — same as sea legs only less wet.

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Don’t forget to double-check signposts along the way. They almost certainly (fingers crossed) haven’t been turned around by the wind.

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You didn’t think you could drive the entire way, did you?

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We’ve finally arrived! Let’s ask the resident astronomer to show us the telescope. During the day the sun puts on a solar flare light show, but it’s at night that the skies really show off.

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Looking at stars is exhausting, so it’s a good thing the gîte tucked to the side of the observatory serves refreshments and keeps restorative games on hand. You can unroll your sleeping bag and spend the night if you’re too tired to wander back down the mountain.

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Bathroom break! X (or cloud) marks the spot.

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It was worth the drive, wasn’t it?

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Where should we go next week?

Discoveries: Buddhist Temples In Laos

There are many well-known and frequented Buddhist Wats — monasteries and temples — in Laos, but countless more that nobody visits. The wealth and reach of a wat is dependent on the wealth and generosity of its patrons. Some are so small they have a single monk in residence, others are like small villages.

The country sees its share of visitors and the government is beginning to put money not only towards much-needed infrastructure, but also the conservation of heritage sites as it recognizes the value to national pride and in the influx of tourist dollars.

When I visited Laos last January I couldn’t walk past a monastery without taking a detour through its grounds. They’re beautiful without being ostentatious, with the exception of Wat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang, which is the showpiece of the ancient royal city and although grand and glittery, still beautiful and a living, breathing monastery.

It’s mostly the images of daily life that appealed to me: the living quarters, laundry drying in the sun, the temple dogs — they all have at least one and they’re well cared for — monks going about the daily chores of cooking, studying, discussing, praying, helping, and always ready for a good talk with a passing tourist, the evening call to prayer on the drums that made my heart beat faster. I grew up in a family of mixed traditions and it was interesting to discover some of our traditions’ origins.

With so many monasteries to choose from it is possible to get away from the crowds, walk through a wat, stop for a chat with one of the monks, or just sit quietly on a bench until dinner calls. I recommend trying a bit of all these experiences.

Monastery grounds. 1024x680 Discoveries: Buddhist Temples In Laos

One of the many monasteries in Luang Prabang. 1024x680 Discoveries: Buddhist Temples In Laos

Living quarters at the monastery. 1024x679 Discoveries: Buddhist Temples In Laos

So many alleys to explore in Luang Prabang. 1024x680 Discoveries: Buddhist Temples In Laos

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Bang a gong… 1024x680 Discoveries: Buddhist Temples In Laos

Wat Xieng Thong Luang Prabang. 1024x680 Discoveries: Buddhist Temples In Laos

Germany celebrates 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell

Do you remember where you were when the Berlin Wall came down?

It’s a moment seared in my memory. I was between classes and sitting with fellow students; we were discussing politics in a way that only earnest young adults just out of adolescence can. We’d grown up in an era when the Cold War was a living thing, when it was not a stretch to think that a government might push the red button of nuclear doom. That climate formed us as surely as the music of the times and our families’ beliefs.

I get goose bumps when I remember those days. None of us believed it would happen in our lifetime. The hard regime of the former German Democratic Republic seemed entrenched and had a stranglehold on the lives of the people east of the Wall. And when the Wall fell many of us cried in support, and with relief and happiness because it meant that people with hope could win.

The celebration of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall makes me as emotional as the days when I sat discussing politics with fellow university students who wanted to change the world. Don’t we all want that kind of celebration for other parts of the world fractured by violence and repression?

As a young girl, years before we immigrated to Canada, I visited the GDR with my parents and brother to vacation with a cousin of my father’s, whom he hadn’t seen since the Wall’s construction. I have vague memories of our vehicle being stopped going in and coming out of the country, and having to leave the car while the border police searched for hidden cavities where we might be hiding dissidents. I also remember being attacked by swans when I snuck too close, but it’s unlikely they were working for the Stasi.

My mother has since filled in the details: months of paperwork leading up to the visit, making sure my parents drove a car with French plates and not West German ones to avoid undue attention, strict instructions as to where we were allowed to go, the trickiness involved because my father was West German, a security presence assigned to watch us and ensure we didn’t stray from our timetable, whispered conversations between adults so that the children wouldn’t overhear and inadvertently reveal their parent’s political leanings on the school playground.

This was life in the GDR and maybe I felt so invested in the Wall coming down because I had a connection to it. Or maybe I’d listened to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” too many times and was too serious for my own good. Either way, change came to Germany and it came as the Peaceful Revolution, which began in Leipzig.

Leipzig two Germany celebrates 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell

This is a celebratory story because the victory wasn’t fleeting, and though Germany has stumbled along the road to reunification, it seems to be coming out stronger and more vibrant now that its population is no longer separated.

October 9, 2014 marked twenty-five years since 70,000+ East Germans peacefully demonstrated for their freedom. The Berlin Wall fell exactly one month after the Peaceful Revolution, and November 9, 2014 marks its anniversary. The Lichtgrenze Project in Berlin, which runs for 15 kilometres through the city, tracing the line of the former division, is made up of thousands of illuminated balloons. These will be lit throughout the weekend and then released on the anniversary of the fall, symbolizing the end of division. There are many other events planned throughout the country and I can only imagine the atmosphere in Berlin and elsewhere will be electric as Germany celebrates 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell.

Germany Tourism invited travel writers to an event in Toronto commemorating these moments in German history, and the urge to grab my passport and hop on a plane is strong. It’s been fourteen years since my last visit and I was repeatedly told that Germany is different. I want to see it. I want you to see it. It means that positive change can happen and that it’s possible to combine the desire to discover the world with celebrations of hope.


Image: BPB


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