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Dinosaur footprint

boardDinosaur Footprints Reservation

Remember as a child, when you probably loved dinosaurs and were fascinated by those ancient creatures? Well, in Massachusetts there’s a special place where you can see their footsteps and imagine herds of dinosaurs roaming along the swampy river.

The fertile Connecticut River Valley in USA was once the haunt of dinosaurs and is the best place to find dinosaur footprints. Scientists believe it was a sub-tropical swamp around 200-190 million years ago. Today the area is especially known for its concentration of educational facilities.

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Dinosaur print

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Short trail leading down to the “Dinosaur rock”

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The large rock where visitors can see many dinosaur tracks

Of great geological interest are the fine-grained sedimentary rocks containing the tracks of dinosaurs that roamed the Connecticut River Valley approximately 200 million years ago. These footprints, pressed into the mud on the valley floor and baked by the sun, were later covered and preserved by additional layers of mud. Eventually they became layers of sedimentary rocks, primarily shale and sandstone. Today, these rocks reveal the fascinating story of the region’s prehistoric past. The creatures that once roamed this area were two-legged carnivorous dinosaurs, of different sizes, up to 15 feet long. Dinosaur tracks can be seen in their original formation in various locations.

We found the Dinosaur Footprints Reservation, an 8-acre wilderness reservation purchased for the public in 1935 by the Trustees of Reservations. The Reservation is just off Route-5 near Holyoke, Mass, and is open sunrise to sunset April 1-November 30. A short wood chip trail leads down, to a very large sandstone rock, from the small parking area, more a pull-off actually. It’s a very special place as it has more than 130 tracks in sandstone, apparently made by 3 different types of 2-legged dinosaur.

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Another dinosaur print

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Fossilized ripples

There are information boards about the history of the area and of the fossils in both English and Spanish and one of the boards tells us, “In the early 1970s, Yale University professor John Ostrom identified these tracks as being from three distinct, though related, dinosaurs. The largest prints (11-13 inches long) were from Eubronte giganteus, which stood 15 feet tall and had a 6-foot stride. The intermediate prints (6-8 inches) are from Anchisauripus sillimani, and the smallest (3-5 inches) from Grallator cuneatus. He also determined that almost all of the footprints were part of 28 distinct trackways, leading in very nearly the same direction. The tracks thus documented for the first time that dinosaurs were not always solitary but tended to travel as a ‘herd, pack, or flock’.”

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Dinosaur prints, and ripples

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Vera G, Heather D and Viv  by the Connecticut River

We try to imagine small herds of dinosaurs on the shore of a shallow tropical lake as we get a close-up look at their fossilized prints. Some tracks are more distinguishable than others at the small site that visitors can walk to here—a huge slab of sandstone. These tracks were unearthed when Route 5 was being constructed in the 1920s.

In the area are also many other fossils, of stromatolites, fish and plants, and of ripples in the sand.

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The Connecticut River has many sandstone ledges at this point

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Rod M and Heather D on the edge of the Connecticut River

The wide Connecticut River flows by very close to the reservation. It has many sandstone ledges that jut out into the water, also full of fossils that tell the long-ago story of this area.

If you want information about dinosaurs in this area, this seems to be a reasonable site, http://www.nashdinosaurtracks.com/first-dinosaur-tracks.php

 

 

 

 

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Harrisville library overlooks the mill pond

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A typical narrow lane

One of the pleasures in traveling is discovering places with local flavor and Harrisville has that in abundance, as we discovered in May.

Nestled in the Monadnock Highlands of southwestern New Hampshire is the tiny brick mill village of Harrisville, where yarn has been spun since 1794. It is about 15 minutes from the town of Keene, and about an hour from Manchester. Some houses cluster in the actual village, but many are strung out along narrow winding lanes through the woods, or around the edges of the many lakes and ponds.

 

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Houses on a lake

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View of Mt Monadnock

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Another view of Mt Monadnock

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Rod M and Veronita G at Silver Lake, a short walk from our hosts’ house

Mount Monadnock (3,165ft) looms above pastoral farmland and tiny villages, such as Harrisville. Hiking to the top of it for the spectacular views became popular in the 19th century and today it still is one of the most frequently-climbed mountains in the world. A monadnok is an isolated mountain, the remnants of ancient crystalline rock more resistant to erosion than the surrounding rock strata. Geographers used the name of Mount Monadnok to describe similar formations elsewhere.

The village of Harrisville was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977. It is recognized as the only 19th century textile village in America that survives in its original form, and some say it’s the most photographed village in the state.

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From the library we look across the mill pond to an old mill building, now Harrisville Designs

 

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Veronita G, Phil G and Claire G (Phil works in the Harrisville General Store)

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Harrisville General Store

Harrisville is a lovely little place and we were lucky to visit with extended family living there (the Gargan family), who were very happy to show us around and tell us about their special place.

For example, Harrisville General Store one of the oldest general stores in continuous use, is perched on a hill overlooking the mill complex. It opened in 1838, but in recent years was facing an uncertain future, due to competition from big-box stores. About 10 years ago, the preservation organization Historic Harrisville Inc. took over ownership and leased it out to new management and M’Lue Zahner and Laura Carden took over. The managers are

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Inside the store

Phil Gargan and Samantha Rule who are committed to selling and preparing fresh local produce. They make pies, soups, sandwiches and salads fresh daily (try their signature kale salad with feta and dried cranberries), have a great pastry selection and also prepare dinner menus to take home. I’m told we shouldn’t miss cider doughnuts and grass-fed burger too. Besides being a popular place for the local community, it’s become a tourist destination in its own right and people are willing to make the detour to visit it, www.harrisvillegeneralstore.com .

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Harrisville library

The library is in a gorgeous old building overlooking the mill pond. It too has become a place to socialize.

Bit of History:

Water power attracted settlers to various remote locations in NH beginning in the late 18th century. In 1794 the first of several mills was built across the Nubanusit River to harness the water-power necessary for carding fleece brought down from local hilltop farms to the village. The Harris family built many of the original mill buildings and houses for their family and workers. Hence the name of the village.

In the mid-1800s the Colony family bought out the Harris holdings and created Cheshire Mills. When that business closed in 1970, a group of citizens and preservationists joined together and formed a non-profit organization called Historic Harrisville Inc. (the same group that saved the General Store). It soon bought several of the main buildings to renovate and lease out to businesses.

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Harrisville Designs

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Some of the yarns for sale

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One of the looms made by Harrisville Designs

John J. Colony III was very much involved in this venture. He realized that, as the mill buildings were being cleared and machinery was being broken down and sold for scrap metal, textiles would disappear from the village. So he started Harrisville Designs in 1971 to keep the textile tradition alive and to create jobs in Harrisville to help the village economy. Harrisville Designs still makes high quality 100% natural yarns for knitting and weaving, plus they make wooden floor looms in several sizes and styles. We enjoyed looking around at all the goods for sale. They also offer many different workshops and classes, and it’s become a place for locals to socialize too.

Harrisville Lake, which has loons as well as other water birds, has a small beach with imported sand and a nice kids’ playground. Our family there assures us that the water does get quite warm enough to swim. In fact, one family member swims regularly in a small lake near their home on a side road.

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The lake where Claire G swims—she goes across to that rock on the far side

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Harrisville Congregational Church

All around New Hampshire we saw churches with a very typical style of architecture and Harrisville is no exception. Many New England churches gained their familiar front towers and steeples between 1720 and the American Revolution. They were often adapted from the published designs of Christopher Wren and James Gibbs. The Harrisville Congregational Church, the Harrisville Designs building and the old library, all around the mill pond, create a very attractive picture of an early rural mill town—and it’s especially lovely when all are reflected in the mill pond.

Nearby, is Aldworth Manor, an old Italian-style Manor house being renovated as a wedding venue.

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Aldworth Manor

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Blueberry bushes early in the season

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Fiddlehead fern fronds for sale

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Phil G looks for fiddlehead fern fronds in the woods near his home

New Hampshire is well known for maple syrup and for blueberries, and we saw plenty of maple sugar trees and blueberry bushes, although it was early in the season so the bushes had nothing on them yet. It was also the season for fiddlehead fern fronds, which are delicious just lightly sautéed in butter. We saw some for sale in grocery stores, but our host also went foraging out in the woods next to his home.

 

 

 

 

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Harrisville Inn

Where to stay:

Harrisville Inn, 797 Chesham Road, run by Maria Coviello a charming lady originally from the British Virgin Islands, www.HarrisvilleInn.com

Where to eat:

The Harrisville General Store (mentioned above) makes great food, fresh every day. Or drive to the nearby village of Jaffrey to the Kimball Farm Restaurant, which has soups, salads, all kinds of fish dishes and an amazing selection of icecreams. Open mid-April to Columbus Day, Kimballsignhttp://kimballfarm.com/jaffrey/ .

 

 

 

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The new mountain

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General information board

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The whole area is also called a GeoPark

One of Japan’s Youngest Mountains

Most people know that Japan is a country that has many earthquakes and volcanoes—after all, it’s on the Pacific Ring of fire—and is a geologically very active, and unstable, part of the world. The whole country is on the Pacific Rim, including the northern island of Hokkaido. So, on our last visit to Hokkaido it was fascinating to visit a new mountain, to see these forces of Nature at work. We had a chance to see how that activity has worked—a new mountain that pushed up, and for all we know is still growing.

Hokkaido has had a lot of volcanic activity, and you see many conical mountains that are supposedly dormant, and not extinct. One day, our hosts Satoshi and Max took us on a day trip south from Sapporo to visit the evidence of new volcanic activity.

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Special National Monument SHOWA SHIN-ZAN

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We can walk up fairly close to the base of the new mountain

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View from one of the shopping areas and where the ropeway begins

In the south part of Hokkaido is Shikotsu-Toya National Park, which includes Showa Shinzan Special National Monument and Mount Usu, among other sights.

We went to the Showa Shinzan Special National Monument, just off Lake Toya. Lake Toya is a caldera lake created by a major volcanic eruption tens of thousands of years ago. Around the lake today is a hot spring region, with many spa facilities, and fertile soul for agriculture. There is also Showa Shinzan, sometimes called the “natural volcanic museum”. It’s a volcanic lava dome, next to Mount Usu. The story of this mountain shows that volcanic activity around here continues and it’s a hot spot for volcanic activity. And it’s a pretty amazing story.

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The mountain is still smoking

The name Showa Shinzan means Showa new (shin) mountain (zan), as it formed during the reign of Emperor Hirohito, in the Showa period. The mountain was created between December 28, 1943 and September 1945. Initially a series of strong earthquakes shook the area from December 1943-June 1944 and wheat fields were uplifted. Next came the eruption phase, which lasted between the end of June 1944 and the end of October 1944, when lava broke through the surface. Lava reached the banks of Lake Toya, burning houses and forests in its path. Volcanic ash was deposited kilometers away, and the protuberance in the ground continued to grow. In the post-eruption phase (November 1944-September 1945) eruption activity stopped and the lava dome began to take shape and the current peak was created. It is now 1,306 ft (398m) tall and still actively smoking and gently steaming, so who knows what’s coming next!

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No doubt that this is still active!

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The board is rather damaged and not clear, but you can still see one of the postmaster’s diagrams

Showa-shinzan first appeared during WW2 so the Japanese authorities were worried that it might be interpreted as an unlucky wartime omen, and therefore its existence was kept secret. Much of the information about the peak’s formation during these years comes from local postmaster, Masao Mimatsu, who kept detailed measurements of its progress. Those records are very important, with lots of geological information.

It was really interesting to see the new peak, smoking, and giving off a faint sulphur smell. The top of the new mountain is still barren: vegetation only starts growing slowly from the base. It’s a very pretty park, as there are woods below the mountain with many silver birch trees and plenty of bright green bushes. The day we were there the new mountain, reddish-orange in color, was glowing in the sunshine, so the view was like a landscape painting. Interestingly, the colors of the mountain changed a bit, depending on the vantage point and on the light, so sometimes it seemed more reddish and at others more yellowish.

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Very pretty woods

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Max shows us an Ezo deer at the Visitors’ Center

There is a small Visitors Center to one side, with information on the development of this whole area. We were also fascinated to learn about certain animals that are unique to Hokkaido. Ezo is the old word for Hokkaido so these animals are known as Ezo higuma (bear), Ezo lisu (squirrel) and Ezo shika (deer), for example.

Lining the carpark are many small shops selling curios, souvenirs etc.

A ropeway takes you from near the foot of Showa Shinzan to the top of Mount Usu, with great views out over the area and the lake, but we didn’t do that.

Thanks again to Satoshi and Max for being such wonderful hosts!

 

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We saw many pelicans

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Merida has many interesting street signs

waterBEACH, BIRDS, AND BYGONE CITY

If you don’t fancy the crowds along the Maya Riviera, on the Caribbean coast south of Cancun, Mexico, a great alternative is to use Merida as a base. This pretty Colonial city on the northwest of the Yucatan Peninsula is within easy distance of many famous Mayan sites (Chichen Itza and the Puuc Route, with Uxmal), the northern biosphere, and good sand beaches.

On this daytrip, we went to Progresso for the beach, the sea, and the sun; to Uaymintun

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Progresso beach

for the lagoon and flamingo viewing; to Xtambo for a Mayan ruin and more flamingoes. We returned to Merida on side roads, passing through typical small Yucatecan villages.

We decided on this as an alternative to flamingo viewing at the Celestun Park to the west. On a previous visit to Celestun we felt concerned at how the tourist boats on the estuary are disturbing the birds, especially the flamingoes. Another plus—this way is free.

We drove north out of Merida on Paseo Montejo, noting the richer colonial side of the city, with wide streets, mansions and shopping complexes, and even a Sams Club!

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Part of the lagoon—if you look closely there are a few flamingoes there

Progresso, Merida’s port, is about a 30-minute drive, past a huge abandonned henequin factory (which produced ropes, mats etc), evidence of the previous wealth from this crop; and Dzibilchaltun, another ruined Mayan city with an excellent museum of Mayan history. It’s a worthwhile stop if you’re interested in the Maya. The site also has the famous House of the Seven Dolls, and an interesting cenote (steep-sided natural well.)

Progresso has progressed, compared to our visit four years before. Parking is plentiful along the esplanade, rebuilt after the hurricane a few years ago. All the usual tourist facilities line the esplanade, in a scaled-down version compared to the Caribbean coast, and we found it much more pleasant. A wide sand beach, with beach chairs, palapa huts, and beach restaurants, looks out over the calm blue water, tiny waves lapping.

After a swim, and lunch at one of the beach restaurants, we headed out east along the

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Beautiful birds

coastal road, palm trees on one side, stubby salt-flats bush on the other. There’s a string of development in the narrow strip between the sea and the biosphere, mostly brightly-painted houses, some holiday flats and hotels.

We followed the coastal road to Uaymintun, a small village with a tall wooden lookout tower over the lagoon; a great way to see part of the lagoon and biosphere preserve and do bird-watching, especially with binoculars. (The lookout tower is free, but you can rent binoculars there). The biosphere extends for hundreds of kilometers: lagoons, shallow lakes and waterways with small islands and mud flats. Scores of flamingoes were walking in the shallow water, many still bright pink even though this wasn’t nesting season. We saw many other birds too, including pelicans.

A few miles further on, the sign for Xtambo ruins is on the right. The drive is along a miles-long causeway over the lagoon with views of an amazing number of birds, especially flamingoes. The road is not busy, so stopping is easy. What a marvelous place for viewing and photographing birds in their natural environment: pelicans, oyster catchers, sandpipers, cormorants, white herons, blue herons, turkey buzzards.

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Xtambo

Xtambo ruins are just off to the right after the lagoon, along a narrow dirt road between tall grasses and stubby trees, swampy areas just to the side. The name means “place of the crocodile”, and we could easily imagine there might be a crocodile in there somewhere!

These Maya ruins are bigger than we expected, and much still remains to be excavated. It was a salt distribution center, reaching its peak around 600AD. The bases of two large structures are in a clearing before the main ruins: the low Pyramid of the Cross, and other buildings around a courtyard. All are grey stone, with little visible ornamentation now other than some stone masks. Xtambo was important as the port for Izamal, a bigger town inland, which was far away for people in those days. We’d known that the Maya traded, but did they travel by sea?

There were no other visitors, so we rambled happily around at will. The structures are not

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A mix of Mayan and Catholic beliefs

remarkable, compared to Chichen Itza, for example, but it’s an interesting little site. Of note is the small Catholic Chapel of the Virgin at the base of the temple, built 50-plus years ago after the Virgin of X’Cambo appeared here, showing us that old and new beliefs can co-exist. The view out is to scrubby palm trees and swamp, rather than jungle, but it’s completely isolated, giving us a real feel for what it must have been like thirteen centuries ago.

On smaller roads south back to Merida, prolific vines are creeping over almost everything, and the jungle encroaches on both sides of the road. It’s not hard to see how they could ‘eat up’ the area again. We passed through a number of villages, all arranged around a central square. This can be hazardous driving. Topes (speed bumps) slowed us down, but people walk along the road, or ride bikes, or pull carts loaded with firewood. Children play in the unpaved streets lined with banana trees, and animals wander at will. Huts with thatched roofs, or low houses with tin roofs and faded, chipped paint, are in dusty yards, with washing draped on fences, pigs tethered to small papaya trees, mangy dogs prowling under acacia trees, and a group of kids playing in the dirt, their noses running.

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Scrubby jungle around Xtambo

This is local life, as it really is, not a sanitized version for tourist viewing. We felt privileged to see this natural version of life in rural Yucatan.

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Merida’s cathedral—one of the oldest in the Americas

PRACTICAL INFORMATION—MERIDA:

Given the sometimes-poor state of the roads, this is more than enough in one day. Start early, especially if you want lots of swimming time. There are gas stations in Progresso, but not on the smaller roads.

Picking up a rental car at Merida airport is very easy. The airport has a Tourist Information desk and an ATM for cash. The best Tourist Information Office is on Calle 60 in town, on the edge of Parque de la Maternidad, two blocks north of the main square (see below). General information at www.travelyucatan.com/merida_mexico.php

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Balloon sellers are popular on the main square

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Traditional Yucatecan dancing

DSCF0045.JPGPlaza de la Independencia, the center of downtown Merida, is a green oasis. On Sundays, the streets around it are closed, so everyone can enjoy the bustling Sunday market, and free music concerts and traditional Yucatecan dancing. Don’t miss the huge cathedral, and the Governor’s Palace, with a series of enormous, strikingly colorful, abstract murals by Fernando Castro Pacheco of Merida, depicting the history of the Yucatan.

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Part of the colorful Merida market

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Many tasty tropical fruits

The Anthropological and Historical Museum on Paseo Montejo has an excellent, although small, collection of ancient Mayan artifacts.

Around the main plaza, and Park Hidalgo—another square one block north—are many restaurants, food stalls, bars, and coffee shops (most with internet connections).

Merida has many hotels in all price ranges. Two of our favorites (with swimming pools, and parking facilities offered) are Hotel Dolores Alba, with rooms arranged around the courtyard of a restored colonial house

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Imagine a hotel in a lovely old Colonial building

(www.doloresalba.com); and Gran Hotel, a grand 100-year-old Italianate building on Park Hidalgo. Tel: +52 999-924-7730, fax +52 999-924-7622, www.granhoteldemerida.com.mx

Friends stayed at Hotel Colonial and were very satisfied, www.hotelcolonial.com.mx (in Spanish)

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Variety of chile peppers

 

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chickens

chickencrowingWe found Ybor City, Florida, really interesting for 4 main things: the old cigar stores and stories; the Columbia Restaurant; the World Trade Center Memorial; and a fairly large population of feral chickens (which is what Rod was looking for there as part of some research).

Ybor City is a historic neighborhood in Tampa, Florida, just northeast of down town. It was founded in the 1880s by cigar manufacturers, and is named after Vicente Martinez Ybor. Ybor was a Spanish-born cigar manufacturer, who moved his operation from Cuba, to Key West, to near Tampa. Thousands of immigrants, mainly from Cuba, Spain and Italy, came to live in this area, many as cigar workers. For the next 50 or so years, workers in Ybor City’s cigar factories rolled millions of cigars each year. It was an unusual immigrant community in southern US at that time because of its multi-ethnic and multi-racial population.

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cigar2Another historical tidbit: A plaque tells us that the Rough Riders rode by here in 1898. “The intersection of Seventh Avenue and Twenty-second Street was a sandy cross-road connecting three army encampments in the Ybor City area during the Spanish-American War. At this cross-road was a water-trough where the Rough Riders watered their mounts. Col. “Teddy” Roosevelt frequently rode by here on his horse “Texas” followed by his little dog “Cuba”.”

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Lions Club

A plaque at Columbia Restaurant explains the involvement of the Lions Club

During the Great Depression a slow exodus out of the area began and became worse after WW2, leading to a time of abandonment and decay. From the early 2000s, part of the original neighborhood has been redeveloped into a nightclub and entertainment district, with movies, restaurants and shopping opportunities.

The neighborhood has been designated a National Historic Landmark District and a number of structures in the area are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2008, 7th Avenue (the main commercial street in Ybor City) was recognized as one of the “10 Great Streets in America” by the American Planning Association.

In 2010, Columbia Restaurant was named a “Top 50 All-American icon” by Nation’s Restaurant News magazine. Besides serving food, this restaurant has played a large role in the history of Ybor City. For example, it’s the headquarters of the Krewe of the Knights of Sant’ Yago, and the Lions Club of Ybor City was organized and met here.chickensbycar

See next posts for Columbia Restaurant and the World Trade Center Memorial.

How the chickens came about, who knows? But they are very pretty birds.

 

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A woman in Quito making wonderful crafts for sale

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Mongolian singer at a conference we attended

International Women’s Day (IWD)

This day is celebrated on March 8th each year, in varying ways in different parts of the world, supported by many different organizations and institutions. In some countries it is a national holiday but not in others, in which case they celebrate in other ways: a fun run, a dinner gala, conferences, breakfasts, festivals, tech talks etc.

Each year, the UN picks a different theme for IWD. In 2015 it was “Empowering Women. Empowering Humanity.”

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Ronel in Australia is co-captain of this boat

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Graduate students of Beijing Agriculture University visit the Forbidden City

The 2016 theme is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”, or “Closing the Gender Gap, or Gender Parity.”

These goals are all good, but I think it’s also a time to just celebrate women and honor them all, whether famous, powerful or not; to acknowledge what they do, however menial, as it contributes to the good of their society in some way.

To that aim, here are some pictures we’ve taken over the years of various women in different countries, involved in a number of differing activities, or just smiling for us.

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Marching in the Gay Pride parade, St Louis

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Handicrafts seller at the Equator, Equador

But first, a bit of history.

On March 19, 1911 the first official International Women’s Day was celebrated in Europe. At that time, in many European nations, as well as in the USA, women’s rights and women’s

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Curio vendor on Grenada Island

suffrage were hot topics.

It was honored in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, to vote, to be trained, to hold public office and to end discrimination.

However, many people believe that there were earlier events that were a build-up to this first official IWD. Some say the first International Women’s meeting was on March 8, 1907 in the US. This was to commemorate the garment workers’ strike 50 years earlier, an event that many think was the initial trigger for a deeper consciousness about women’s issues.

 

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Guide at the Secret Garden in Seoul, Korea

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Kirsty from Norway

What happened 50 years before? On March 8, 1857, garment workers in New York City marched and picketed, demanding improved working conditions, a ten-hour day, and equal rights for women. Police broke their ranks, quite violently.

One year after the women’s gathering in 1907 there was another march. On March 8, 1908, the garment workers’ sisters in the needle trades in New York marched again, honoring the 1857 march, demanding the vote, and an end to sweatshops and child labor. The police were present on this occasion too.

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Old meets new in Kyoto

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Traditional Mayan-style dances in Merida, Mexico

The first official meeting in 1911 came about because earlier in 1910 at a meeting in Copenhagen, German socialist Clara Zetkin proposed an International Women’s Day, to commemorate the US demonstrations and honor working women the world over.

After 1911, because of WW1, the Depression, and WW2, interest in a women’s day was low, but in the 1960s the women’s movement began a new revival, mainly because there was a growing sense that “history” as taught in school was incomplete and had a male bias.

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A street vendor on Insadong, Seoul, Korea

In 1975, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8

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Mayuko from Japan enjoys a bridal shower in USA

March during International Women’s Year 1975. And in 1987, a group of women in the US campaigned with representatives from museums, schools and libraries to expand the celebration, and Congress responded by declaring the entire month of March as National Women’s History Month.

On the 100th anniversary of IWD, March 8, 2011, the IWD Organization collaborated with women’s organizations around the world to present gatherings and celebrations in 152 countries. In the United States, President Barack Obama honored the day and the then-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, launched the “100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges“. In the UK, celebrity activist Annie Lennox lead an amazing march across one of London’s iconic bridges, to raise awareness in support of the global charity, Women for Women International.

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Nora helps sell flowers in KZN, South Africa

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A worker at the Gouyave Nutmeg Station on Grenada explains the spice to us

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A new employee at Uva Mira Wine Estate in South Africa explains a wine to Rod M

So, since those early years, International Women’s Day has taken on a global dimension for women in both developed and developing countries. Other well-known charities such as Oxfam have actively supported IWD, as have many celebrities and business leaders. Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate small acts of courage and determination by ordinary women, who have tried to help their countries and communities.

See the official website:

http://www.internationalwomensday.com

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Last but not least, my mother Joy Vermaak (left) with a friend. Mothers make all things possible!

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Last, but not least, my mother-in-law Peggy Mackie

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Colonial times in southern Africa

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April gets married in a semi-traditional Shona wedding in Zimbabwe

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The enormous Vrijthof Square

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One side of the square is lined with very nice cafes

Maastricht is the charming capital of the province of Limburg, right in the south of Netherlands. It has many narrow picturesque streets and small squares, and lovely old houses, many from the 16th and 17th centuries. You also see remains of the old fortifications and old city walls, testament to the town’s strategic importance at a European crossroads and that it withstood 21 sieges over the centuries.

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St Jans Kerk, St Servaas Basilica, and the Hoofwacht on the far side of the square

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The churches lit up at night

Most of its squares are small and enclosed, which is why the Vrijthof comes as a bit of a surprise. In the heart of the city, it is very large, a huge open space lined on three sides with trees, and on one side by lovely café terraces. Many pedestrianized shopping streets radiate out from it. It’s dominated by the vast and ancient Romanesque St Servaas Cathedral, and behind that the St Jans Kerk from the 12-15th centuries.

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Spanish Government House

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Emblem on Hoofwacht

On the south side is the old Spanish Government House (was the residence of the Dukes of Brabant and the Spanish kings), now the Museum of the Vrijthof and painted bright red/pink. On the west is the Hoofdwacht (1700s), once a guard house and now a military headquarters.

On Vrijthof, you can almost forget you’re in the Netherlands. When you stand in the middle and look around, it doesn’t look or feel like other Dutch squares, as it’s enormous and is the cultural heart of the city. It’s usually wide and open, but also hosts jam-packed events: from Carnival; to becoming the beautiful backdrop for the concerts by local favorite Andre Rieu; to the Preuvenemint, the Netherlands largest food festival.

squaretocafes2

The cafes in early evening  light

What’s in a name? According to one tradition, the name means “free place” or “sanctuary”, but it more likely derives from the German for cemetery, two of which were known to have occupied this site.

The square was built on the marshes of the River Jeker. The area was

squareday

Note statues far left, and the fountain front

originally unsuitable for building but by medieval times was used as a military parade ground, an execution site and a pilgrims’ meeting place. Every 7 years, the Fair of the Holy Relics attracted pilgrims, craftsmen and traders to the lively square. Something of this spirit is recaptured in Vrijthof at Carnival time these days.

churchwstatues

St Servaas as backdrop to 2 of the Carnival statues

The square’s connection to Carnival is strong. Besides being one of the main venues for carnival activities in the city, it boasts several permanent carnival reminders. On the SW corner is a group of 5 colorful and oddly-shaped sculpted figures of different sizes. They depict players from a carnival marching band (see details in an upcoming post).

Close by is a small fountain, whose 5 bronze figures depict masked carnival figures dancing hand-in-hand. Called “Hawt Uuch Vas!” by Frans Gast, 1976.

fountaincloser

One side of the square is lined with lovely old buildings, now cafes, bars and brasseries. One, roughly in the middle, is a bit more ornate than the others. It’s the Grand Café Momus and it used to be the carnival hall. Their logo is still a carnival mask, which features on the chairs and menu.

We ate there one evening—see an upcoming post.

 

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