A Whitsuntide Remembered

With the approach of Pentecost this coming weekend I got to reminiscing about previous Whitsuntides spent at the Pfinsenfestspeile in Salzburg. I had been in Salzburg for the summer festival several times in younger days but for Laurent that trip in 2008 was a first. He fell in love with the city, as I had done back on my first visit in 1969. We looked forward to our visits and the music that awaited us over the following years.

Laurent on his way to a concert – May 31st 2009

In those first few years (2008-10) the Festival was pricey but affordable as where the hotels, restaurants, and other delights that Salzburg had to offer. Riccardo Muti was the artistic director and the theme was Neapolitan music and featured some top-notch artists in interesting programmes of seldom heard works.

When Cecilia Bartoli took over in 2012 the focus changed and things became more “star” oriented. Many of the top names in classical music were attracted to perform both in the operas and concerts. Prices roses accordingly as did the tariffs at hotels and on cafe and restaurant menus. Though our first visit to a Bartoli festival (2013) was filled with some memorable moments the following year lacked a certain spark. I am a committed Bartoli fan I feel that over the past few years the Festival has simply become an extension of the glitzy Summer season. Nothing in the past few seasons has had me chomping at keyboard to book tickets and I was surprised to see that there were still tickets available for most events this year. However a return visit to the city of Salzburg is much to be desired.

Here are a few thoughts I had on our second visit back May 29-31, 2009.

Willy Or Won't He

The old town of Salzburg is known for its shop signs not only on the famous Getreidegasse but on the side streets leading off the Domplatz and Residenzplatz. Here are a few of them plus some randoms thoughts about the past few days.

  • It’s rather strange that in Italy, where so many rules are ever so gently skirted, the non-smoking policies are strictly observed in bars and restaurants, while in Austria smoking is allowed everywhere. I had forgotten that there are no smoking restrictions in most places in Austria. And boy do those Austrians love to smoke – the air at the Cafe Bazar on a rainy Friday afternoon was a delicate shade of nicotine gray. The other thing that I’ve noticed in Austria is the number of drunks – particularly near the train stations – you see on the streets. A drunk is something you very rarely see in…

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Armchair Travel: Sa-Pa – Part II

It has taken me a good long time to get to Part II of sharing my pictures of Sa-Pa from our trip to Vietnam in 2006. Perhaps at another time I will go into an explanation of the lethargy and general ennui that has been my lot since the beginning of the new year but for now let’s just revel in the beauty of the foothills of the Himalayas.

I mentioned in the first post that we spent a day hiking in the Muong Hoa valley between the town of Sa-Pa and Fansipan Mountain (Phan Xi Păng). The highest peak in Vietnam (3134 m/10,326ft) Fansipan is part of the Hoang Lien Son mountain range. We only had one fleeting glimpse or two of the summit through the clouds and mist that came and went over the landscape throughout the day.

Phan Xi Păng – at 3134 m/10,326ft the highest peak in Indo-China.
Photo: Vietnam Coracle

Now lest my faithful reader envisage Laurent and myself in climbing gear scaling rock face, though somehow I’m sure you know us to well to make that mistake, let me assure you that a good pair of walking shoes and several layers of clothing were more than adequate. The trekking paths are well worn by years of valley peoples travelling from their villages to market in Sa-Pa and there were very few steep climbs or descents. And we had a guide who was considerate of the two nonathletic gentlemen of a certain age. It was one of those days where layers were removed, redonned, and removed again as the mists rolled in, the clouds delivered a quick shower or the sun broke through over the terraced rice paddies. And yes that is snow on the rice paddies.

The Hoa Stream (Suoi Hoa), which is fed by numerous small mountain springs, flows through the length of the valley. The five main villages, home to the Black Hmong, Day, Red Dao and Tay peoples, are built along its banks. These “ethnic minorities” are only four of the 55 ethnic groups recognized in Vietnam, however they make up 85% of the population in the Sapa region.

Most of the villagers are farmers who tend their rice terraces and also grow corn and cassava, much of which is fed to their livestock, mainly black pigs, chickens and water buffalo. Some also grow hemp and cotton which is used to make fabric for their clothing. In a future post I’ll have photos of the very hospitable people we met and saw along the trek.

I’ve always wondered if papa had dropped by to take that little pup for an (attempted) outing?

I thought I’d end this post with one of my all-time favourite photos. Not a special breed of cattle just a serendipitous photo op!

The word for April 28th is:
Cattle /ˈkadl/: [noun]
1.1 Large ruminant animals with horns and cloven hoofs, domesticated for meat or milk, or as beasts of burden; cows.
1.2 Similar animals of a group related to domestic cattle, including yak, bison, and water buffalo.
Middle English (also denoting personal property or wealth): from Anglo-Norman French catel, variant of Old French chatel (property).

Throwback Thursday

It appears that the world is beginning to open up, said he with a bit of hesitancy in his voice. Perhaps it is time to stop looking at photos of places we’ve been to and start making plans to BE somewhere.

In the meantime here’s a memory from Salzburg Mozartwoche in January 2011.  We normally went to Salzburg in the spring for the Pfingsfestspiele but that year we decided to see what one of our favourite cities looked like in winter.  It was cold and snowy, quite the change from Rome.  As always we stayed at the Hotel Bristol but this time we went for Baroque!

Willy Or Won't He

Yesterday afternoon was spent visiting a palace outfitted by Empress Maria-Thérèse for her family and then by the Archduke Karl Ludwig as a stopover for the Empress Sissi. It was truly spectacular in that Habsburg style of slightly over the top going for baroque. Little did I think that when I checked into the Hotel Bristol in Salzburg that I would be inhabiting their world.

We’ve stayed at the Bristol twice before and have come to think of it as a bit of a home hotel – welcoming – more important remembering – staff, incredible service and beautiful rooms. I had asked for a room on a slightly higher floor than we normal get, as this would probably be our last visit to Salzburg for a while.

This is the view: (a left click will enlarge it for a closer look)

From left to right: the Holensalzburg Castle, the bell…

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Armchair Travel: Sa Pa – Part I

A trip to the foothills of the Himalayas.

One of the reasons I started this blog over on BlogSpot back in 2006 was to share pictures of our vacation in Vietnam. Though Vietnam had expanded its tourism industry in a remarkable way there were still problems with bandwidths and connections in what was, after all, a new technology. This meant that many photos were taken, filed away and, if not forgotten, left on the shelf to gather dust. I began revisiting some of those photos during the past few months and memories of a very special travel experience came flooding back. It introduced us to a people, place and history that were fascinating, welcoming and remarkable in so many ways. Our three week itinerary took us from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the south to Sa Pa almost at the border with China in the North.

On our two day cruise of Halong Bay – December 2006 – another adventure on our three weeks visit to Vietnam.

Sa Pa is nestled in the highest valley (4,921 ft/1500 m) of the Hoàng Liên Son Mountains in the foothills of the Himalayas. The border with China at Lai Cai is about an hour away. During the days of French occupation and the “Tonkin pacification” it became a military and diplomatic refuge from the heat of Hanoi and the lowlands during the summer. In the early 1900s wealthy professions (both French and Vietnamese) also sought the more temperate climate and built summer villas, and hotels sprung up in the little town. That was all to end during the 1950s when the French bombed the area in retaliation against the Việt Minh. Many of the colonial buildings were destroyed during that period and until the country opened to international travel in 1993 Sa Pa was a sleepy rural backwater. It has now become a major tourist destination: between 1996 and 2006 the yearly tourist traffic grew from a total of 4,860 to 259,070 . On average, 69% of the visitors were Vietnamese and 31% were foreigners. It has since increased to a reported 2.5 million in 2018. Projections prior to COVID suggested by 2030 it would be 8 million. I’m glad we went when we did.

The town of Sa Pa is built around the valley basin created by the Ho Sa Pa (Lake Sa Pa) with homes, shops, hotels, churches and temples climbing up the foothills that surround it. It’s the major market town in the district and the ethnic Hmong, Dao (Yao), Tay, and Gláy people from the surrounding area still bring their wares to sell in the market square. A billboard in Sapa states proudly of its weather: “Four seasons in one day.” Chilly winter in the early morning, spring time after sunrise, summer in afternoon and and a return to cold winter at night. During our stay much of our time was spend amongst the clouds by day and in the fog at night.

Our journey to Sa Pa began at the Tran Quy Cap Railway Station in Hanoi. The Vietnam State Railway operates overnight expresses to Lao Cai and various hotels in Sa Pa attach their private cars to the scheduled trains. It leaves Hanoi at 2200 and arrives at Lao Cai at 0630 the next morning. Vans await at the station to take you on the remaining portion of the trip. Our hotel, the Victoria, had both a private train carriage and a dedicated van service. The ride is approximately an hour and I’m told the views as you ascend the 1000m to Sa Pa are stunning. Unfortunately the fog that blankets the region for 140 days a year made it both a mysterious and dangerous ride. The mountainous road has some wild curves and it was probably just as well I couldn’t see if our driver was just following the road or swerving to miss a water buffalo.

The private carriage on the Victoria Express was a rather elegant affair in the style of the Orient Express. The beds were comfortable and the dining car served a very good lunch on the return.

As luxurious as this all was, we had come not for the train, hotel or restaurants but to explore the renowned trekking trails between and around the near-by Dao villages of Ta Van and Ta Phin. Yes you read that right – himself and I spent a day trekking in the foothills of the Himalayas. Stay turned for pictures at eleven!

The word for October 15th is:
Pacification /pasɪfɪˈkeɪʃ(ə)n/: [noun]
Bring peace to (a country or warring factions), especially by the use or threat of military force.
Late 15th century (earlier (late Middle English) as pacification): from Old French pacefier, from Latin pacificare, based on pax, pac– ‘peace’.
As with most colonial overlords around the globe, the French acts of “pacification” was extremely brutal.

Armchair Travel – Venice

San Michele – The Isle of the Dead

When I was working on the Stravinsky post last week I knew that I had at least one photo of his grave site in Venice from a trip back in 1999. The problem was finding it – and a real problem it was. It was stored somewhere on a back-up drive that could only be accessed from my old MAC (2009). In my search I ended up doing something that resulted in having to do a system restore from a backup. (Always have a back up!!!!!!) But find that photo I did as well as some wonderful photos from an incredible three day cruise of the lagoon of Venice in a restored fishing boat. But more about that another time.

Before embarking on the cruise we spent several days strolling through Venice and renewing our love affair with La Serenissima. And that included a visit to Isola di San Michele, the cemetery Island. (Note that the photos were taken with one of the first digital cameras I owned and resolution was nowhere near what is is today. Also I was trying to use some of the more artsy effects that were available for a few of the photos.)

A view across the Lagoon to Isola di San Michele – the cemetery island of Venice.
photo: Wikipedia – Source: Current restricted for “sock puppetry”.

Fortunately back in the late 1990s Venice, in general, wasn’t the madhouse that it was to become and very few tourists made the five minute journey on Vaporetto 41/42 from Fondamente Nuove to Cimitero. Most of the passengers disembarking where carrying flowers to honour family or friends buried on the Island. As I have remarked in the past I am an inveterate “tombstone tourist” but always consider that respect must be paid to the deceased and privacy given to their loved ones.

Isola di San Michele is certainly amongst the most peaceful and beautiful cemeteries I have wandered through. Created at the command of Napoleon in 1804, it was designed by Gian Antonio Selva and opened in 1813. Strangely though there has been a Jewish cemetery at San Nicolò on the Lido since 1386 AD until Napoleon’s decree four centuries later there had been no common Christian place of burial. Prior to the inauguration of San Michele burials had been in church floors for the wealthy or under paving stones for the merchant class – not the most sanitary of practices during Acqua alta. What happened to the poor or plague victims doesn’t even bear thinking about.

“The church at the corner of the island is beautifully cool, austere and pallid, and is tended by soft-footed Franciscans … The cemetery itself is wide and calm, a series of huge gardens, studded with cypress trees and awful monuments.

“Not long ago it consisted of two separate islands, San Michele and San Cristoforo, but now they have been artificially joined, and the whole area is cluttered with hundreds of thousands of tombs–some lavishly monumental, with domes and sculptures and wrought-iron gates, some stacked in high modern terraces, like filing systems.”

The World of Venice – Jan Morris


As Jan Morris, wryly but almost affectionately, says some of the monuments are in glorious bad taste and indeed others have almost the air of filing cabinets. One of the most touching sections is the Children’s Cemetery – row after row of small monuments, often topped with cherubs, and niches in columbaria and vaults.


There are two Accatalico or Non-catholic sections: the Reparto Greci (Greek Orthodox) and the Reparto Evangelico (Protestant). Side by side these two burial grounds are separated from the rest of the cemetery by enclosing walls.

As I mentioned earlier in the week Igor and Vera Stravinsky are buried in the Greek Cemetery. A few feet away is the tomb of Sergei Diaghilev, the great Russian impresario.


The Protestant Cemetery has an air of neglect about it – overgrown shrubs, uncut grass, and toppled grave markers. It could be thought of as being either Gothic romantic or just plain rundown.

When we visited many of the graves were recent and the dead that occupied them in 1999 would no longer be there today. Though certain families have vaults and plots the Isola is only 62,000 m2 (670,000 sq ft) and space is at a premium. Remains are exhumed after 12 years and either cremated and moved to a columbarium or the bones are taken to an ossuary.


Towards the end of the 20th century the need for additional space was recognized and in 1998 a competition was held to design two sections adjacent to the existing Isola. Given the vagaries and machinations of local politics work was not begun until 2004 and finally completed in 2017. Pictures suggest that compared to the old cemetery there is a sterility to the design that is at odds with the picture that Jan Morris paints. Once the world is once more open to travel I have every intention of return after all they gave the city the name Venetia as if to say Veni etiam – Come again!

The word for April 13th is:
Ossuary /ˈäSHəˌwerē/: [noun]
1. A container, room or building in which the bones of dead people are placed.
Mid 17th century: from late Latin ossuarium, formed irregularly from Latin os, oss- ‘bone’.
Though we in North America may find this a strange practice it has been common in Europe since – as witness the Latin ossuarium – early times.

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Jerry and I get around. In 2011, we moved from the USA to Spain. We now live near Málaga. Jerry y yo nos movemos. En 2011, nos mudamos de EEUU a España. Ahora vivimos cerca de Málaga.

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