Wanderings around London from Embankment to Trafalgar Square

Facing political & economic turbulence, it can be useful to stop and smell the tulips

Fuelled by various political developments, the past few months have been a turbulent time in the global economy. Q4TK suffered a bit of neglect and indeed a bit of uncertainty as your correspondent sought to make sense of the situation. Reason, facts, and the normal analytical tools employed by the economics profession are being challenged. We economists are struggling to face up to the new populism evident in various parts of the globe. At the same time, most of us do recognise that some folks have legitimate grievances that need to be addressed.

Wanderings around London

And, so, today, I’m bringing you a few photos from my Wanderings around London from Embankment to Trafalgar Square. On Saturday, I decided to set aside my charts and tables. I simply walked out into the unfamiliar London spring warmth and sunshine. London was radiant as my spouse and I headed into the great metropolis. The parks and gardens bloomed in full glory. The area around Embankment was filled with folks spilling out to take a look around and soak it all in.

There were drum circles protesting tow path closures. Folks from a brewery gave out free beer samples. Small clumps of people sat on blankets enjoying picnics and glasses of wine. Tourists visited the key sights. Locals stopped to admire the flowers. Your correspondent used the occasion to stop and ponder whatever caught his fancy, except work. The tulips were in full bloom. But, I resisted the impulse to ponder the Dutch tulip mania, a time of price inflation and collapse in the 1600s. Rather, I stopped and enjoyed their fragrance.

A river of tulips in Embankment Gardens

A river of tulips in Embankment Gardens, seen on our wanderings around London

Still, economics can be hard to escape. For example, in the gardens at Embankment there is a fountain dedicated to Henry Fawcett. Henry was a blind economist who campaigned in the mid-19th century on behalf of women’s right to vote. The fountain says it was erected by his fellow countrywomen in his memory. During the struggle, he was moved to propose to a woman who he had met in the campaigns. But, after her polite negative response (she was pursuing her medical studies), he eventually married her sister.

Renewal accomplished

After a great lunch at Barrafina in Adelaide Street (very much a place in pursuit of no-frills excellence and highly recommended), the wandering led us to the National Gallery. This museum is architecturally gorgeous and the collection is world class.

As the day drifted into evening, it was time to head home. Every once in a while, a day like this is required. It has a spiritual value, refreshes the mind, and helps to restore the inner strength needed in the quest for truth and knowledge.

Note: The gallery below is annotated. Click on the up or down arrows under the thumbnail display in order to see the notes and see additional pictures.

London 8 April 2017 - from National Gallery to Embankment

A few photos from our Saturday wanderings around central London from Embankment to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery and back

[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_national-gallery-peekachu-people-and-a-pigeon.jpg]70National Gallery, Peekachu people and a pigeon
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_national-gallery-entrance.jpg]70National Gallery entrance
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_whistlejacket-by-george-stubbs-1762.jpg]70Whistlejacket by George Stubbs, 1762
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_national-gallery-marble-floor.jpg]60National Gallery marble floor
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_national-gallery-wonderful-floor-grates.jpg]70National Gallery - Wonderful floor grates
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_cellphone-art.jpg]90Cellphone art?
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_trafalgar.jpg]60Trafalgar Square looking towards Westminster
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_a-crowd-of-busses-heads-down-whitehall-to-big-ben.jpg]70A crowd of buses heads down Whitehall to Big Ben
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_cleary-gardens-london-loire-valley-grape-vines.jpg]60Cleary Gardens London - Loire Valley Grape Vines
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_a-half-pint-of-badger-bitter-at-the-ship-and-shovell.jpg]60A half pint of Badger Bitter at the Ship and Shovell
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_a-river-of-tulips-in-embankment-gardens.jpg]60A river of tulips in Embankment Gardens
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_embankment-gardens-wildlife.jpg]60Embankment gardens wildlife?
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_robert-raikes-founder-of-sunday-schools.jpg]60Robert Raikes - Founder of Sunday Schools
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_henry-fawcett-a-blind-economist-campaigned-for-womens-suffrage-in-1800s.jpg]60Henry Fawcett - A blind economist campaigned for women's suffrage in 1800s
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_a-cow-in-garden-of-two-temple-place.jpg]60A cow in the garden of Two Temple Place
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_amb-benjamin-franklin-lived-here.jpg]60Amb Benjamin Franklin lived here
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_a-really-big-crane.jpg]60A really big crane
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/london-8-april-2017-from-national-gallery-to-embankment/thumbs/thumbs_looking-out-from-the-roof-of-my-bathroom-greenwich.jpg]60Looking out from the roof of my bathroom - Greenwich

 

Restoring the soul with a wander up to Severndroog Castle

On a beautiful summer day, we headed out on a 12K urban hike across southern London from Greenwich to Severndroog Castle and back through Blackheath. Part of the route followed busy and ugly roadways, but a few long stretches followed the Green Chain trail through some of London’s parkland. The Green Chain provides urban hikers with some welcome shelter from the traffic and noise. While hiking it is not as much fun as a true wilderness wandering, it is nonetheless a great resource that helps urban denizens to restore their souls and hook up with some fine destinations!

Shooters Hill

View from Severndroog Castle

View from Severndroog Castle

Our destination was Shooters Hill, a rise of about 175 meters (500ft) that is south-east of London’s centre. It is covered with an old woodland that is dark and dense in some areas, but opens to afford great views of the surrounding countryside. The woods are filled with birds including some interesting warblers, woodpeckers and a few birds of prey.

Severndroog Castle

On top of Shooters Hill is a tower called Severndroog Castle (not really a castle), which was built in 1784 to honour an old sea captain, William James. He rose to be a director of the East India company and his wife built the tower as a memorial when he passed away. Good that she did, because the tower served as an early warning system manned by lookouts in WWI (watching for incoming German Zeppelins) and WWII (watching for incoming German planes and cruise missiles). It’s 85 steps up to the top of the tower and another dozen or so to get to the observation platform.

The old tower and ancient woodlands were saved by local community fund-raising efforts and reopened two years ago. Well done, folks! http://www.severndroogcastle.org.uk/

PS, the little cafe in the tower makes a great frosted Guinness cake and a nice cup of coffee.

Severndroog Castle

Severndroog Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Map (if you have trouble seeing this map, please go to https://www.q4tk.com)

Rediscovering the vine in Kent – English wine

London is far north, north of Calgary or Quebec City, north of Seattle, north of Bismark, North Dakota. And, being so far north, one might not expect to find viable vineyards within an hour’s drive. But, they are here, and they are producing some interesting English wine.

In search of the vine

Ortega grape vine and a trellis support

Ortega grape vine and a trellis support

Since moving to London from Paris, I’ve felt a sense of loss about my foregone Saturday jaunts down to the Loire River wineries and dairies. And, today, I decided to correct this gap in my current lifestyle. So, off I went to Kent County, which lies south-east of London.

The countryside of Kent is quite lush and the agricultural history is long. The climate is relatively mild and with global warming is expected to heat up, especially in summer (a matter the Kent Council has reported on).

Biddenden Vineyards

A number of wineries have sprung up and among the first was Biddenden Vineyards. Established in 1969, Biddenden has grown to cover 23 acres (9 hectares). Most of the varieties – well adapted to the northern clime – were new to me, including Bacchus, Ortega, Dornfelder, Huxelrebe, Scheurebe and Reichensteiner. Though, there were also some more familiar plantings of Pinot noir, Gewuertztraminer and Gamay to be seen.

Newly leafed out vinesThis far north, the wines are relatively low in alcohol (most were 10% to 12%) and deliver a refreshing taste of fruit.  My favourites included the Gribble Bridge Sparkling White, which has fresh fruit and a bit of complexity, and the Gribble Bridge Dornfelder, which is a light red and well-suited to a summer evening out on a patio. Without oak, the flavour of the grape really seems to come through clearly in the tasting.

The vineyard shop also has a selection of local cheeses, including goat, cow, and sheep. I loaded up on several nice organic cheeses, including a couple that are unpasteurised.

Reconnecting to the vine

Meadow on Gribble Bridge LaneBiddenden has a nice trail through the vineyards and along the Gribble Bridge Lane. Walking along on this mid-spring day, I could feel radiant heat from the sun. The new vine leaves were soaking it in. Birds were singing in the hedgerows and meadows. Wildflowers were blooming along the lane. I could hear a local donkey braying, but no traffic. The lovely, green, rolling Kent countryside extended out as far as I could see. It was glorious. I felt as if I had rediscovered something that I had lost, a connection to the vine.

 

 

 

 

Hiking Along The Loire at Muides

Gallery

This gallery contains 17 photos.

Southbound to the Loire River I awoke to the prospect of a gorgeous day this morning and resolved to get out into nature. It is harvest season and a great time to head off on a day trip to the … Continue reading

Silver Spring, Wine and Peace

A stroll around Silver Spring

In 1984, we moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, settling into an apartment right up against the boundary line with Washington, DC. Recently, I had an occasion to visit again and took the opportunity to set out on a walking tour around our old haunts in the downtown.

Silly springs?

Our home was right around the corner from the site for which the town was named: the Silver Spring. Although the town is often called Silver Springs (and, on rare occasions, even “Silly Springs”), its actual name refers to a singular spring. The spring still exists on the edge of town in a small patch of green called Acorn Park. The poor spring struggles on, forlorn and neglected, producing just a tiny bit of humidity. In the decades since we moved away, developments and paving all around have cut off the replenishment of its aquifer and nowadays the Silver Spring is nearly dry.

The Silver Spring

The Silver Spring

According to the historical marker on the site, the spring was discovered in 1840 by Francis Preston Blair and daughter Elizabeth while touring the woods on horseback. They saw sunlight reflecting on mica sand in what turned out to be the spring and named it accordingly.

Wine and peace?

Silver Spring has been transformed in the years since we lived there. Downtown has been rebuilt with new housing, shops and commercial activity all around. On a recent Sunday part of the downtown was blocked off, vendors were selling food and kids were running around in a fountain that sprays water up from holes in the plaza pavement. Funky music played via a PA system and the atmosphere was festive.

Further on I came to an area where there has been an influx of Ethiopians. Although it is near downtown, parts of it have some resemblance to Addis Ababa with signs in Amharic and passersby conversing fluently in the language. Ethiopian flags, coffee and food are all around. The Addis Ababa Restaurant on Fenton Street has a good reputation. However, on my visit this weekend, I had another destination in mind.

I continued my walking tour of our old neighborhood and, based on a recommendation from local friends, wound up in the Adega Wine Cellar and Cafe. The cafe serves up some interesting sandwiches and I had quite a decent crabcake. As it was a hot and humid day, I parked myself at a table in the air conditioning to sketch and enjoy a glass of Koina Riesling. I received a generous pour and savored the cool, refreshing wine, which had a nice acidity, with a hint of citrus and sweetness on my palate.

The Velvet Devil and a few other selections at the wine shop

The Velvet Devil and a few other selections at the wine shop

While sketching, I was intrigued by the wine selection on the shelves around me, including a bottle labelled The Velvet Devil (which I placed on my agenda to try on a future visit). Although the shop is not particularly large, Adega’s has an interesting range of wines with selections that appear to offer good values from key wine regions around the world.

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, Adega’s turns into a kind of wine bar as folks come in for a glass and conversation. Next to me sat a few young Frenchmen quaffing a bottle of a big red. I enjoyed hearing their banter blend with the Spanish, English and Chinese being spoken by some others around. It seemed that although these folks were quite diverse, they would all agree on at least thing: a cool glass of wine on a hot day was a splendid idea.

Stop Sign - Takoma Park, MD
Stop Sign – Takoma Park, MD

Setting out to continue my walk, I had a feeling that perhaps there was some hope after all for most folks around this world to get along, at least as long as the supply of Koina Riesling and big red wines holds out. As I headed back to my friends’ home in Takoma Park, a stop sign gave me some further advice for helping along the cause of peace: STOP EVIL. Makes sense to me!

 Map of Silver Spring

 

Disruption in Paris; Smooth Sailing in Berlin, Geneva and Lausanne

Traveling through a slice of Central Europe

Despite a French transportation strike, I managed to fly out of Paris this week for meetings in Berlin and Geneva, with a side trip to Lausanne. While some transport workers proclaimed opposition to further European integration, it felt to me as if they were actually promoting European dis-integration. All of my original flights were cancelled, but Lufthansa staff kindly worked with me to find alternatives that got me where I needed to go. In the end, I came away feeling pretty good about the world. I’m pretty sure that the arrival of warm and sunny weather also contributed to my positive disposition.

A dash through Berlin

I get to Berlin every couple of years and with each visit I feel a little more attached to the city. This sentiment is actually helped along by a personal connection. In the 1880s, my great grandfather emigrated to the US from Berlin. He had been an organist in a large church there. So, the city figures somewhere in my family lore.

Berlin is a city with bountiful green space, lakes and flowing water, cultural opportunities (reasonably-priced opera tickets!), history and world class museums, plus quality food and drink. Not to mention shopping for those so inclined. It maintains an excellent public transportation system.

Whenever I visit I am struck by the dynamism of the place. Following reunification of East and West Berlin in 1989, the city set to work transforming and integrating itself. Two decades later much has been accomplished and renewed. Areas that were formerly cut off or disrupted in the communist past have revived as cultural centers (e.g., around Potsdamer Platz), pedestrian zones (e.g., around Nikolai church), or tourist zones (e.g., around Brandenburger gate).

But, parts of the city remain large construction sites as the renewal continues. Cranes dot the skyline. A controversial project to rebuild the Berliner Schloss — a former royal palace in the city center (ruined in WWII) — has just gotten underway after several  years of debate. The metro system is expanding. New commercial construction continues apace. So much to explore, but it was already time for me to move on to Geneva and Lausanne.

  • Recommendation: We had a nice meal outdoors at the Julchen Hoppe restaurant on the edge of the Nikolai Quarter of the city. Our meal included traditional foods and decent wine at a reasonable price. Very nice wild mushroom soup and fresh asparagus, fish and fowl main courses.

Swiss quality in Geneva and Lausanne

I have written about Geneva in an earlier post, but there is more. This time I had business at several international organizations including the World Trade Organization (WTO).

I am always amazed at the wonderful headquarters of the WTO, the William Rappard Center, which was built in the 1920s to house the International Labour Organization (ILO). At a time when communist revolution was in the air, the ILO was developed to address labor concerns and demonstrate that market economies could deliver better quality of life for workers. The original building has some palatial features, without being too extravagant. Nonetheless, the fountains, sculpture and murals reflect a blend of expressionist and classical art that honors the value of labor in fueling economic growth and well-being. During this visit, construction had blocked the main entrance and I wound up being channeled through the Chinese garden that is on the grounds. This was my first visit to the garden and it provided a pleasant and unexpected entry to the facility. That evening Geneva was radiant in the late-day sun and early summer weather. I took advantage of the fine evening to stroll along the Rhone and Lake Leman, before deciding to eat outdoors at a local Chinese restaurant in honor of the WTO garden.

During my stay, I made an afternoon visit for a meeting at IMD, a prestigious business school in the city of Lausanne. After all of the transportation disruption in France, the train ride over to Lausanne on the Swiss rail system provided a welcome contrast. The trains over and back departed in a timely fashion, traveling quickly and sailing along the rails with remarkably smooth suspension and quiet interiors. So nice!

Lausanne is a small city set in gorgeous countryside on Lake Leman. The Alps rise from the water on the opposite shore. Between Geneva and Lausanne, vineyards and farms dot the lake shore amidst various small towns. I took the metro from the Lausanne train station down to the lake. Due to the slope of the hill the metro is built on quite an angle, which was rather surprising to a flat-lander like me. I stopped for a soft drink at a local cafe on Lausanne harbor. Inertia nearly got the better of me and I had to strain against the warm, sunny, lazy afternoon feeling in order to get to my meeting on time.

Paris – Using Charm to Put Things Right

My return to Paris proved mercifully uneventful. The transport strikes had passed and the grey, cool dampness had moved on in favor of sunny weather. It was time to pull out the grill for a BBQ with friends and to take a fresh look at Paris. As usual, after disrupting my life and travel once again, Paris turned on its charm and won back my affection.

Photos from Berlin

(Use the arrows under the photos to scroll up or down and see more! If you have trouble viewing the photos please click here to go to the original page: http://wp.me/p2sfPf-q3)

Berlin

Photo tour from a recent visit to Berlin (06-2013)

[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_berlin-alexanderplatz-from-the-air_0.jpg]40Berlin - Alexanderplatz from the Air
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_berlin-a-great-green-city_0.jpg]40Berlin - A Great Green City
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_berlin-cathedral-and-project-to-rebuild-the-former-palace-destroyed-in-wwii_0.jpg]30Berlin Cathedral and Construction of Former Palace
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_berlin-along-the-spree-river_0.jpg]40Berlin - Along the Spree River
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_berlin-spree-river-locks_0.jpg]30Berlin - Spree River Locks
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_berlin-a-giant-construction-site_0.jpg]20Berlin - A Giant Construction Site
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_an-old-bridge_0.jpg]20An Old Bridge
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_berlin-st-george-slays-the-dragon_0.jpg]50Berlin - St George Slays the Dragon
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_berlin-city-hall-tower-and-the-tv-tower_0.jpg]20Berlin City Hall Tower and the TV Tower
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_alexanderplatz-construction-site_0.jpg]10Alexanderplatz - A Construction Site
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_old-and-new-competing-towers_0.jpg]10Old and New - Competing Towers
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_amazing-detail-in-the-art-city-hall_0.jpg]10Amazing Detail in the Art of City Hall
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_berlin-nikolai-church-square_0.jpg]10Berln - Nikolai Church Square
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_nikolai-church_0.jpg]10Nikolai Church
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_ephriam-palace_0.jpg]10Ephriam Palace - Museum
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_black-sabbath-is-back_0.jpg]10Black Sabbath is Back!
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_marx-long-live-the-social-revolution-and-peoples-peace_0.jpg]00Marx: Long Live the Social Revolution and Peoples' Peace
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_new-metro-line-the-huge-tunnelling-machine_0.jpg]00New Metro Line - The Huge Tunnelling Machine
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_spree-river-locks-berlin_0.jpg]00Spree River Locks
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/berlin/thumbs/thumbs_wonderful-old-doorway_0.jpg]00Wonderful Old Doorway

Photos from Geneva and Lausanne

Geneva - Lausanne

Photo tour from a recent visit to Geneva - Lausanne (06-2013)

[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_the-alps-flying-into-geneva.jpg]10The Alps - Flying into Geneva
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_sunset-along-the-rhone-river.jpg]20Sunset along the Rhone River
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_in-front-of-the-united-nations.jpg]20In Front of the United Nations
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_the-world-intellectual-property-organisation.jpg]20The World Intellectual Property Organisation
Some of my work deals with IP issues.
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_main-entrance-to-the-wto.jpg]80Main Entrance to the World Trade Organisation
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_world-trade-organisation-chinese-garden.jpg]70WTO - Chinese Garden
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_wto-chinese-garden.jpg]60WTO - More of the Chinese Garden
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_fountain-at-wto.jpg]70A Fountain at WTO
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_tile-mosaic-honoring-agricultural-labor.jpg]80WTO: Tile Mosaic Honoring Agricultural Labor
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_newly-uncovered-mural-at-wto.jpg]20Newly Uncovered Mural at WTO (dates from 1940)
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_work-yielding-abundance-1940.jpg]20WTO Mural - Work Yielding Abundance (1940)
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_liesure-yields-benefits-amen.jpg]30Mural - Leisure Yields Benefits (Amen says Doug!)
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_workers-rights-in-the-old-ilo-building.jpg]20Worker Rights in the Former ILO Building (Now WTO Building)
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_wto-mural-honoring-labor.jpg]10WTO Mural: Honoring Labor
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_wto-murals-honoring-labor.jpg]20Another WTO Mural: Honoring Labor
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_amartya-sen-wrote-on-the-wall-of-the-wto.jpg]20Amartya Sen (A Nobel Prize winner) - Wrote on the WTO Wall
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_a-park-in-geneva.jpg]10A Park in Geneva
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_a-monument-to-a-pacifist-elie-ducommun.jpg]20A Monument to a Pacifist - Elie Ducommun - Geneva
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_downtown-geneva.jpg]10Downtown Geneva
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_an-old-tower-in-downtown-geneva.jpg]10An Old Tower in Downtown Geneva
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_in-honor-of-woodrow-wilson-founder-of-the-league-of-nations.jpg]10In Honor of Woodrow Wilsom - Founder of the League of Nations
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_on-the-train-to-lausanne-an-old-farm.jpg]30On the Train to Lausanne - An Old Farm
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_vineyards-near-lausanne.jpg]20Vineyards Near Lausanne
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_a-field-of-crows.jpg]10A Field of Crows
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_swiss-countryside-from-train.jpg]20Swiss Countryside from the Train
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_ouchy-station-in-lausanne.jpg]60Ouchy Metro Station in Lausanne
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_lausanne-harbour-we-counted-52-swanns.jpg]40Lausanne Harbor - We Counted 52 Swanns
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_lausanne-harbor.jpg]00Lausanne Harbor
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/geneva-lausanne/thumbs/thumbs_a-storm-blowing-into-lausanne.jpg]10A Storm Blowing Into Lausanne

 

(Copyright, Doug, 2013)

Champagne – From Troyes to the Marne

Champagne tour

Champagne is a glorious place, even in lousy weather. It has class. Not the pretentious kind, but rather a classiness that comes from attainment of quality and competence in wine-making and cuisine. The region can take on rustic and down-to-earth airs. But, it can also manifest excellence in presentation, for example in serving a fine meal based largely on local supplies. There is a sense of history and tradition, though this contrasts sometimes with the innovation and technological progress that are also in evidence (where appropriate). The scenery is bucolic and lush. And, of course, there is champagne!

The Aube and Points North

When folks think of Champagne they tend to think first of Reims and Epernay, with the splendid mountain between them surrounded by vineyards, with a branch stretching south to Vertus. But, there is another stretch of authentic Champagne vineyards further south, in the Aube region around Troyes. Long producing champagne-style wines and supplying grapes to the big name houses in Reims and Epernay, the Aube region was officially recognized as being part of the Champagne district in the early 1900s (after a series of revolts known as the Champagne Riots).

Troyes is the main town in the Aube region, as well as the historical capital of Champagne. Already settled in Roman times, Troyes has long been surrounded by wine production. While much of the city was destroyed by various fires in the Middle Ages, there are quite a few half-timbered houses and churches remaining from the 1500s. Looking at a map of the old town, one may notice that it is appropriately shaped like a cork.

The town has had a difficult history with various wars and social upheavals leading to troubles. Attila the Hun was stopped outside of town by a combination of force and compensation. The Jewish population, once thriving (e.g., the famous scholar Rashi established a center there for Talmudic studies in 1070AD), was abused and expelled in Medieval times. In later centuries, a Jewish population was reestablished but then fell victim to terrible oppression during WWII (see photo of the memorial below). After WWII a new synagogue was established in some Medieval buildings in the old town.

The vineyards of Montgueux spread across a small enclave to the west of Troyes, producing chardonnay grapes. The area is recognized on official maps showing designated zones for Champagne  production. Montgueux is a small island of production at some distance from the next officially recognized zones.

Heading north from Troyes one comes to the southern area of the Reims-Epernay champagne district. There is a wonderful chateau in the village of Etoges. It is now a bed and breakfast. A fine dinner can be had at the chateau, served with style in the former orangerie.

From Etoges, the Champagne route can be followed through the hills and vineyards to the town of Vertus, which is home to a number of champagne houses. Heavily damaged over the centuries, Vertus still has a number of remarkable old buildings and some nice parks well-suited for picnics, all set in the ambiance of a successful champagne-producing town. Heading north toward Epernay, the road hugs the cote des blancs district with famous wine towns such as Oger, Avize and Cramant.

Onward to Epernay and the Marne

Epernay is a wonderful town, home to some of the finest champagne houses, many of which are located along Champagne Avenue. Smaller and calmer than Reims, Epernay still radiates class. Many of the producers offer tours of their cellars and tastings, which can make for a very pleasant morning or afternoon, especially when paired with a fine meal at a local establishment.

The Marne River flows along the northern reaches of Epernay and its valley is home to some spectacular vineyards including a number of grand cru and premier cru areas (i.e., top-notch). The abbey in Hautvillers was home to the famous cleric Dom Perignon, who is sometimes considered the legendary father of champagne wines. While that has been challenged, he did in reality develop improved techniques for wine production, making a contribution that is still worthy of praise. We paid hommage to him at the former abbey church.

The vineyards skirting the hillsides to the north of the Marne are some of the best. From Cumieres to Ay to Mutigny one sees famous vintner names inscribed on low stone markers on the edges of their acreage along the roadside. In springtime, the countryside is verdant with forest land and crop fields bordering the vineyards. This week the vines were beginning to bud, a bit later than usual.

Really? Heading back to Paris so soon?

Heading west from Mutigny, we drove along the Marne through beautiful countryside. Flowering trees added splashes of color in the forests, as did the various orchard trees in farms and gardens along the river. The various species of early-leafing trees and plants displayed many contrasting shades of green, making the scenery look like an expressionist painting.

Finally, as we passed through Chatillon-sur-Marne, we knew our Champagne meandering time was coming to the end. As we headed toward the highway home, a statue of Pope Urbain II loomed above us pointing the way and perhaps raising the question as to why anyone would be heading back to the metropolis after such a short visit.

Photo Galleries

Use the arrows at the bottom of each gallery to scroll up or down. Double click to expand a picture. If the galleries do not display, then click on this link: http://wp.me/p2sfPf-mO .

1) From Troyes to Etoges

Champagne - From Troyes to Etoges

Photos from a weekend visit to Champagne

[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_medieval-homes-slightly-tilting-in-troyes_0.jpg]250Medieval Homes Slightly Tilting in Troyes
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_medieval-alley-troyes.jpg]230Medieval Alley in Troyes
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_cleaning-the-cathedral-in-troyes-before-and-after_0.jpg]210Cleaning of the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Troyes - Before and After
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_entrance-1500s-ad-to-the-bishops-home-troyes_0.jpg]210Entrance to the Bishop's Home in Troyes - 1500s AD
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_synagogue-in-troyes_0.jpg]260Synagogue in Troyes - Post WWII, but in a Medieval Building
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_the-synagogue-in-troyes-inscription-i-enter-here-to-praise-god.jpg]250Synagogue Inscription:
"I enter here to praise God"
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_in-the-synagogue-troyes-building-of-1500s.jpg]250In the Synagogue - Troyes
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_synagogue-window_0.jpg]220Synagogue window
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_memorial-to-the-jewish-population-of-troyes_0.jpg]220Memorial to the Jewish Population of Troyes
"The French Republic pays hommage to the victims of the racist and anti-Semitic persecutions and crimes against humanity committed under the authority of the 'Government of the French State' (1940-44). Let us never forget."
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_church-sculpture-st-urbain-church-troyes_0.jpg]190Sculpture at St Urbain Church in Troyes
(Does anyone know what this symbolises?)
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_st-odilon-de-cluny-in-the-flames_0.jpg]200St Odilon de Cluny in the flames at St Urbain Church - Troyes
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_troyes-blessed-virgin-of-the-vine_0.jpg]190The Blessed Virgin of the Vine at St Urbain Church - Troyes
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_restored-interior-st-jean-au-marche-troyes.jpg]160Restored Interior at St Jean au Marche Troyes
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_stained-glass-ca-1500s-st-jean-au-marche-church-troyes.jpg]150Stained glass at St Jean au Marche Church - Troyes - ca 1500AD
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_medieval-windows-reassembled-after-wwii-from-broken-glass_0.jpg]160Medieval windows reassembled after WWII from broken glass - St Jean's
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_troyes-daffodils_0.jpg]140Troyes daffodils
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_montgueux_0.jpg]130Montgueux - A small enclave producing chardonnay near Troyes
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_montgueux-vineyards-in-champagne_0.jpg]130Montgueux Vineyards in Champagne
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_colza-fields-forever_0.jpg]130Colza Fields Forever - Outside of Montgueux
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_cote-des-blancs-outside-of-vertus_0.jpg]140Cote des Blancs outside of Vertus (named for the white wines)
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_vertus-church-was-built-on-top-of-an-active-spring_0.jpg]180Vertus Church was built on top of an active spring
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_wine-tractor-in-vertus_0.jpg]130An old vineyard tractor in Vertus
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_house-in-vertus-has-been-repurposed-a-few-times-it-seems_0.jpg]150House in Vertus has been repurposed a few times it seems
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_chateau-etoges_0.jpg]140Chateau Etoges
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_bed-and-breakfast-at-chateau-etoges_0.jpg]140The Orangerie - bed and breakfast at Chateau Etoges
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_dining-under-the-stag-at-chateau-etoges_0.jpg]150Dining under the stag at Chateau Etoges
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_gosset-champagne-at-chateau-etoges_0.jpg]180Gosset Grand Rose Champagne at Chateau Etoges
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_start-of-dinner-at-chateau-etoges_0.jpg]200Start of dinner at Chateau Etoges
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-troyes-to-etoges/thumbs/thumbs_dessert-at-chateau-etoges-choc-homemade-ice-cream-and-a-pastry_0.jpg]160Dessert at Chateau Etoges - Choclate, Ice Cream and a Pastry

..

2) From Epernay along the Marne

Champagne - From Epernay to Mutigny to Chatillon-sur-Marne

Phase II of our Champagne tour... Epernay to Cumieres to Hautvillers to Ay to Mutigny to Chatillon-sur-Marne, with Pope Urbain II sending us on our way back to Paris.

[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_the-mighty-castelline-winery-in-epernay.jpg]70The Mighty Castelline Winery in Epernay
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_st-remi-at-epernay-built-in-1890s.jpg]130Notre Dame at Epernay (ca. 1895 AD)
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_stained-glass-at-st-remi-in-epernay-check-out-the-beehives-in-the-middle-pane-of-glass.jpg]120Stained Glass at Notre Dame Church in Epernay
(Any ideas about why there are beehives in the middle pane of glass?)
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_st-remi-at-epernay.jpg]90Interior of Notre Dame in Epernay
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_pol-roger-2002-champagne.jpg]110An excellent Pol Roger Champagne (millisime 2002)
Part of a fine meal at the restaurant "La Table Kobus", an establishment that calls itself "rustico-chic".
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_synagogue-at-epernay.jpg]100A synagogue at Epernay
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_collard-picard-champagne-so-fine.jpg]80A scene from a tasting at the fine Collard-Picard champagne house
On Champagne Avenue in Epernay
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_pinot-noir-grafted-on-bug-resistant-american-grape-root.jpg]100A pinot noir-grafted vine on a bug resistant American grape root
At the very nice winery of Brigitte and Danielle Etienne in Cumieres, also a very pleasant bed and breakfast.
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_view-from-cumieres.jpg]101Looking out from the Etienne winery across the Marne in Cumieres
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_the-marne-at-cumieres-with-champagne-vinyards-in-the-background.jpg]91Looking down the Marne in Cumieres
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_world-class-champagne-at-ay-all-grand-cru.jpg]60World class grand cru champagne at Ay
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_st-martins-church-in-mutigny-blessing-vineyards-since-1500s-ad.jpg]90St Martin's Church in Mutigny, blessing the vineyards since 1500 AD
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_vineyards-at-mutigny.jpg]70Endless vineyards at Mutigny
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_mutigny-vineyards-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see.jpg]50More vineyards at Mutigny
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_verdant-countryside-along-the-marne-west-of-epernay.jpg]40Verdant countryside along the Marne, West of Epernay
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_moet-et-chandon-vineyards-near-hautvillers.jpg]40Moet et Chandon Vineyards near Hautvillers
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_city-hall-at-hautvillers.jpg]50City Hall at Hautvillers
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_hautvillers-with-dom-perignons-church-in-background.jpg]50Hautvillers with Dom Perignon's Church in background
(Some say this is where it all started... at a minimum, Dom P helped improve the winemaking)
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_chatillon-sur-marne-church.jpg]30Church in Chatillon-sur-Marne
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_dont-ring-the-bell-were-counting-on-your-understanding.jpg]40Please don't ring the bell, we are counting on your understanding
(sign alongside of the two ropes to the bells in the tower)
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_pope-urbain-ii-a-local-watches-over-chatillon-sur-marne.jpg]30Pope Urbain II (a local) watches over Chatillon-sur-Marne
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/champagne-from-epernay-to-mutigny-to-chatillon-sur-marne/thumbs/thumbs_pope-urbain-ii-leads-in-chatillon-sur-marne.jpg]40Pope Urbain II wishes us Godspeed outside of Chatillon-sur-Marne

 

(Copyright: Doug, 2013)

Aachen – A Medieval Gem

20121223-213437.jpg

Aachen, Germany, is a wonderful small city near the border with Belgium and Netherlands. Charlemagne, king of the Franks made Aachen his capital in the 790s, in part because of the warm springs that are to be found there. His empire united the two halves of the Frankish people, both the Latin and Germanic oriented populations. Even today, the French and German peoples count Aachen as part of their heritage (though the French call it Aix-la-Chapelle).

However, even though Aachen is just a few hours drive from Paris, it has much different feel. Coming from Paris, the signs along the highway already shift from French to German a few kilometers before reaching the Belgian-German border. (There are a few German-speaking towns in Belgium.)

Once in Aachen, we are always struck by the restaurants, cafes, pubs and bakeries and the obvious gastronomic contrasts with those in our hometown in France. In Aachen, the food and drink are tuned to central European preferences and sensibilities. The beer offering shifts away from the sour and strong brews of Belgium (or sometimes watery beers of France) and towards the lighter but flavorful Pilsners and Koelsches. Goose and schnitzel turn up on the menus. Savory rolls of rye or whole wheat are to be had, along with kaiser rolls decked out with lox, onions and lettuce.

Aachen’s center has a comfortable feel with an extensive pedestrian zone that meanders among the old stones of the medieval city. It offers a balanced mix of museums and sites of historical interest, eating and drinking establishments, shops and parks.

The chapel from Charlemagne’s palace survives and forms the center of the current cathedral. It may be that one of the towers of city hall incorporates another part of the palace, but in any event the city hall is a splendid old structure in its own right. There are several of the original city gates still standing, as well as other interesting architectural features in some of the houses and shops. Together, these structures give Aachen an old and dark, but warm atmosphere.

Aachen has become a traditional destination for my family just prior to Christmas. Each December (through 23 Dec), there is a sprawling Christmas market along the pedestrian zones. The city is decorated with holiday lights and greenery. There is a festive atmosphere with convivial crowds of happy people patronizing stands selling hot mulled wine, stollen, cookies, bratwurst and potato pancakes, as well as all sorts of holiday gifts. Many stands offer handmade and artisanal products. There are brass bands and piped in Christmas music in the city squares, as well as choral presentations at the cathedral and other churches. The weather is often lousy, but the Christmas decorations brighten everything, regardless. It is wunderbar!

Recommendations:

Nobis: fine bakery; eat in (self-serve) or carry out; great for lunch (nice sandwiches), or coffee & cakes, special cookies, gingerbread, and other baked treats.

Rose am Dom: nice restaurant in an old inn (14th century) serving hearty, quality meals. In season, they serve game such as duck, goose, wild boar and venison as well as wild mushroom soup.

Aachener Dom (cathedral): a wonderful architectural gem built to house relics of the Virgin Mary. The heart of the structure is Charlemagne’s octagonal palace chapel, with an amazing, newly restored interior with elements from various periods. Take the docent tour, which offers interesting history and explanations, as well as a chance to see the throne of the Frankish kings possibly dating back to Charlemagne’s time.

Cathedral treasury museum: this is also worth a visit! It contains many interesting artifacts and relics including a marvelous reliquary with part of Charlemagne’s arm (bones).

City hall: Tourists can visit this medieval structure and see the great hall and several other fine rooms. Be sure to check out the city council chamber, which includes portraits of Napoleon and Josephine (gifts from the Napoleon to the city).

Aquis Grana Hotel This hotel is very centrally located, near the cathedral and Nobis, and offers a fine breakfast. Park your car in the city garage across the street and leave it there during your stay. Aachen is a city to explore on foot.

Impressions and photos from a visit to Korea

Impressions and photos from a visit to Korea

Rounding out my recent series of blog posts, I would like to offer a few further impressions and photos from a visit to Korea (Republic of Korea). During our trip, we toured the periphery of the country and then spent a couple of days in the center (Andong) and a few days in Seoul, as well as taking a tour to the border with North Korea (i.e., the demilitarized zone, DMZ). Based on these travels, I can recommend the Haerang Rail Cruise and Rak Ko Jae traditional B&B stays to anyone seeking an authentic experience in Korea.

We have a few connections to Korea through my work (Korea joined the OECD in 1996), my wife’s family (who lived in Korea for several years), and via friends. This gave us some insights and notions as to what to expect, as well as some contacts. Still, Korea is developing and changing rapidly, so much of what we encountered was new to us and there is — in any event — a tremendous amount for a traveler to explore and discover.

We found the country to be very accessible. Some Koreans have had experience in the United States via their education or work and many others have studied some English. Many signs and menus are in English as well. So, we were able to get by with English and a Korean phrase book. Nonetheless, outside of Seoul, we found it very helpful to have a guide.

Initial impressions

The dynamism of Korea is impressive. Economic growth is modernizing many aspects of life. Construction seems to be booming. Cultural sites and traditions are being renewed. Innovation is valued and is being pushed forward on many fronts ranging from smartphones to K-pop music. Most people we encountered radiated optimism and a healthy confidence, as well as good humor. Other countries in the region have taken note. For example, Korean soap operas and music are popular across Asia and beyond (e.g., this wild K-Pop music video by Psy has had more than 255 millions hits). All of this seems to me in striking contrast with the gloom that in recent years sometimes seems to hang in the air in Western Europe or the United States.

There remain some significant challenges for Korea. Most notably, the terrible situation in North Korea is a clear concern. In addition to the strain on the South from provocations and threats by the North, many people we spoke with were clearly pained by the fate of folks in the North and the separation that has unnaturally split the Korean people.

There are also some economic challenges in the South. For example, productivity growth in agriculture and the retail sector greatly lags that of the industrial sector. Another example is duality in the labor market, whereby workers for large industrial firms benefit from stable and relatively well compensated employment while workers in smaller establishments may face much tougher conditions of employment. However, these are challenges that arise partly because much of the rest of the economy is surging forward.

Our visit to Korea left us with a very positive impression. From the beautiful landscapes, and warm welcomes, to traditional arts, good food and interesting cultural experiences, we found ourselves being pulled in and wanting to see and do more. A main conclusion from our trip is that we need a lot more time in Korea!

Photos

Linked below is a gallery with a sampler of landscapes, cultural sites and food, as well as some glimpses of the economic progress.

(Use the arrows to scroll up or down, click on the photos to see a full edition)

Korea in 2012

A sampler of photos from a visit to Korea in September 2012

[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/koera-in-2012/thumbs/thumbs_a-bay-near-sun-cheon.jpg]170A bay near Sun Cheon in the south
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/koera-in-2012/thumbs/thumbs_water-fun-on-a-hot-day-by-seoul-city-hall.jpg]360Kids play in a fountain at Seoul City Hall on a hot day
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/koera-in-2012/thumbs/thumbs_wire-tangle-over-bukchon.jpg]230Wire tangle over Bukchon neighborhood in Seoul
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/koera-in-2012/thumbs/thumbs_nam-dae-mun-market-seoul.jpg]240Nam Dae Mun Market scene in Seoul
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/koera-in-2012/thumbs/thumbs_seoul-at-night-from-nam-san.jpg]320Seoul at night, looking north from the Nam San tower
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/koera-in-2012/thumbs/thumbs_yay-clams-for-breakfast-in-sun-cheon.jpg]290Clams! A great breakfast treat!
On the coast near Sun Cheon
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/koera-in-2012/thumbs/thumbs_lunch-at-the-national-museum-seoul.jpg]210Lunch at the National Museum in Seoul
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/koera-in-2012/thumbs/thumbs_lunch-at-the-national-museum.jpg]190Lunch at the National Museum in Seoul
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/koera-in-2012/thumbs/thumbs_dinner-5.jpg]240One of 9 dinner courses at a restaurant in Seoul
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/koera-in-2012/thumbs/thumbs_korean-high-speed-train-ktx.jpg]230Korean high speed train
Building on the original French TGV imported to Korea a few years ago, a third generation KTX train beat the TGV speed record while we were in Korea
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/koera-in-2012/thumbs/thumbs_interfaith-meeting-buddhist-catholic-presbyterian-confucian-anamists.jpg]190Interfaith Meeting in Seoul - Promoting Mutual Understanding
Government minister speaking at an interfaith meeting with Animist, Buddhist, Catholic, Confucian and Presbyterian leaders.
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/koera-in-2012/thumbs/thumbs_wishes-painted-on-roof-tiles.jpg]200Wishes Painted on Roof Tiles
For use at a Buddhist temple
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/koera-in-2012/thumbs/thumbs_changing-of-the-guards-at-gyeongbok-palace.jpg]150Changing of the guards at Gyeongbok Palace, Seoul
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/koera-in-2012/thumbs/thumbs_changing-of-the-guards-at-deoksugung-palace.jpg]150Changing of the guards at Deoksugung Palace, Seoul
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/koera-in-2012/thumbs/thumbs_at-the-dmz-un-facilities-and-north-korean-center.jpg]190At the DMZ - UN and North Korean facilities
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/koera-in-2012/thumbs/thumbs_auraji-station-fish-buildings.jpg]200Auraji Train Station restaurant
[img src=http://www.q4tk.com/wp-content/flagallery/koera-in-2012/thumbs/thumbs_hahoe-folk-village-on-the-nakdong-river.jpg]150Hahoe Folk Village on the Nakdong River

Traditional Korean folk village stay

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Hahoe: A traditional Korean folk village

During a traditional Korean folk village stay, one of the first things that one notices in the evening are the crickets. Especially if you come from Paris, the contrast is striking.

With their song as a backdrop, one tends to lower the voice and to speak in warm tones. Here in Andong, Korea, in a traditional village called Hahoe, the pace is calm and the echo of tradition a bit more clear than in the city. Situated at a bend in the Nakdong River, beneigth a high cliff, and surrounded by hills and forests, the village has an idyllic setting.

We are staying at an excellent, small, Korean guest home called Rak Ko Jae, which I would recommend to those seeking a glimpse of rural life here in Korea. The food and hospitality are wonderful. The ambiance is a genuine echo of the past, though updated with a few key modern amenities discretely folded into the simple room design (e.g., wi-fi).

Restorative Properties

There is art in the structures and depth in the approach to life that resonates with people, even many who come from different cultures, like me! One can sit under an ancient tree or at a former Confucian study centre and gaze out at the river while pondering what really matters. I’m thinking the experience might help to restore those bruised urban warrior souls who take the time to visit and soak it all in.