Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best of 2011

For this final post of 2011 I have chosen the best 12 photographs from the year with a few words about each image.

The year got off to a great start when we hosted a "Red & Green" theme party. These are my two friends Loz and Huw dressed appropriately. Huw donned a Mexican sombrero and complete with red painted mustache was in charge making the  the "Red & Green" colored marguerites.

I made a first time visit to Sri Lanka in late January and took the opportunity of grabbing some images from the wonderful city of Colombo. It's always good to visit somewhere new and Colombo certainly delivered some great pictures with colorful painted houses and the brightly decorated auto rickshaws.

In February I made a visit to the Kuala Lumpur railway station which is a great example of moorish architecture adopting a mixture of Eastern and Western designs. It's funny that when things are right on your doorstep you tend to ignore them so I need to make more of an effort to try and capture some "local" scenes like this. 

An early morning visit to Putrajaya to see the annual balloon festival was in vain as I had the wrong date! But at least I had the opportunity to capture the stylish Seri Wawasan Bridge and Putra Mosque in the early morning light.

In March I re-visited the atmospheric Birch Road Christian Cemetery in Kuala Lumpur. I love the old, decayed headstones and the way the tropical undergrowth and jungle slowly envelopes everything in the graveyard.

My Dad sadly passed away in March and a month later we made a pilgrimage to his favorite part of north west Scotland to lay his ashes in a very personal spot in Wester Ross. The weather was wonderful offering some great photo opportunities. At last I managed to capture a clear shot of the famous Eilean Donan Castle on Loch Duich near Dornie.

In April I finally managed a visit to New York City which I have been wanting to do for many years. I was very impressed with the art deco style architecture and the Empire State building seen here still looks very grand.

On the return trip from New York and Scotland in April we stopped in Amsterdam which is a lovely, laid back city with beautiful canals like this one pictured here, Prinsengracht which is one of the main canals.

In September we visited Penang in Malaysia, a place we had not been to for 10 years or more. The main town Georgetown has a wonderful array of heritage buildings which have been renovated and one of the more interesting ones is the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, or Blue Mansion.

Langkawi is another island in Malaysia we had not been to for many years so a return visit in November was arranged. This is a view over the Andaman Sea taken from the Westin Langkawi Resort & Spa.

I once again attended the One Asia Photo Festival in Singapore in early December and this time had the opportunity to meet with Steve McCurry who was one of the key speakers along with Michael Yamashita and Michael Freeman.

A visit to Phuket in late December to attend a friend's birthday party closed out the travels for the year. We visited the Blue Elephant Restaurant in Phuket town which is located in a wonderful old heritage building with this surprising modern blue bar which somehow fits well with the older decor.

This is the last post for 2011 and brings to a close a personal project of mine to post a daily photograph with some brief text on the blog. Sometimes this was tough to do with time constraints and other priorities but I achieved this and certainly think it gave my blog some exposure. It is now time to reflect on 2011 and start to make plans for 2012. I think next year I will be taking a different approach to my photographic work as well as my blog with tentative plans to redesign the site as well as focusing on more detailed photo projects. So quality rather than quantity going forward. So bear with me as I make this transition during the first part of 2012 and I hope that a redesigned and more focused site will raise the bar a little in terms of professionalism and quality. I have a large number of projects I would like to do during 2012 as long as other work does not get in the way so hopefully will be able to bring a number of these to fruition next year.

I will take this opportunity to thank everyone who follows this blog or even those who stumbled upon it by accident. It has been reassuring to see the hit rate statistics on the site improving during the year and it has been great to receieve all the comments from people all over the planet.

Happy New Year To All.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Angkor Thom South gate

Angkor Thom (literally: "Great City"), located in present day Cambodia, was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late twelfth century by king Jayavarman VII. It covers an area of 9 km², within which are located several monuments from earlier eras as well as those established by Jayavarman and his successors. At the centre of the city is Jayavarman's state temple, the Bayon, with the other major sites clustered around the Victory Square immediately to the north.
Angkor Thom was established as the capital of Jayavarman VII's empire, and was the centre of his massive building programme. One inscription found in the city refers to Jayavarman as the groom and the city as his bride.
Angkor Thom seems not to be the first Khmer capital on the site, however. Yasodharapura, dating from three centuries earlier, was centred slightly further northwest, and Angkor Thom overlapped parts of it. The most notable earlier temples within the city are the former state temple of Baphuon, and Phimeanakas, which was incorporated into the Royal Palace. The Khmers did not draw any clear distinctions between Angkor Thom and Yashodharapura: even in the fourteenth century an inscription used the earlier name. The name of Angkor Thom — great city — was in use from the 16th century.
The last temple known to have been constructed in Angkor Thom was Mangalartha, which was dedicated in 1295. Thereafter the existing structures continued to be modified from time to time, but any new creations were in perishable materials and have not survived. In the following centuries Angkor Thom remained the capital of a kingdom in decline until it was abandoned some time prior to 1609, when an early western visitor wrote of an uninhabited city, "as fantastic as the Atlantis of Plato" which some thought to have been built by the Roman emperor Trajan. It is believed to have sustained a population of 80,000-150,000 people.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Singapore Botanical Gardens

The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a 74-hectare (183-acre) botanical garden in Singapore. It is half the size of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew or around one-fifth the size of Central Park in New York. It is the only botanic garden in the world that opens from 5 a.m. to 12 midnight every single day of the year, and does not charge an admission fee, except for the National Orchid Garden. The garden is bordered by Holland Road and Napier Road to the south, Cluny Road to the east, Tyersall Avenue and Cluny Park Road to the west and Bukit Timah Road to the North. The linear distance between the northern and southern ends is around 2.5 km (1.6 mi).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle is a hilltop Japanese castle complex located in Himeji in Hyōgo Prefecture. The castle is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, comprising a network of 83 buildings with advanced defensive systems from thefeudal period. The castle is frequently known as Hakuro-jō ("White Egret Castle") or Shirasagi-jō ("White Heron Castle") because of its brilliant white exterior and supposed resemblance to a bird taking flight.
Himeji Castle dates to 1333, when Akamatsu Norimura built a fort on top of Himeyama hill. The fort was dismantled and rebuilt as Himeyama Castle in 1346, and then remodeled into Himeji Castle two centuries later. Himeji Castle was then significantly remodeled in 1581 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who added a three-story castle keep. In 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu awarded the castle to Ikeda Terumasa for his help in the Battle of Sekigahara, and Ikeda completely rebuilt the castle from 1601 to 1609, expanding it into a large castle complex. Several buildings were later added to the castle complex by Honda Tadamasa from 1617 to 1618. For over 400 years, Himeji Castle has remained intact, even throughout the extensive bombing of Himeji in World War II, and natural disasters such as the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake.
Himeji Castle is the largest and most visited castle in Japan, and it was registered in 1993 as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country. The area within the middle moat of the castle complex is a designated Special Historic Site and five structures of the castle are also designated National Treasures. Along with Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto Castle, Himeji Castle is considered one of Japan's three premier castles. In order to preserve the castle buildings, it is currently undergoing restoration work that is expected to continue for several years.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Island in The Sun

Langkawi, officially known as Langkawi, the Jewel of Kedah (Malay: Langkawi Permata Kedah) is an archipelago of 104 islands in theAndaman Sea, some 30 km off the mainland coast of northwestern Malaysia. The islands are a part of the state of Kedah, which is adjacent to the Thai border. On July 15, 2008, Sultan Abdul Halim of Kedah had consented to the change of name to Langkawi Permata Kedah in conjunction with his Golden Jubilee Celebration. By far the largest of the islands is the eponymous Pulau Langkawi with a population of some 64,792, the only other inhabited island being nearby Pulau Tuba. Langkawi is also an administrative district with the town of Kuah as largest town. Langkawi is a duty-free island.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Day

Boxing Day is the day after Xmas on 26th December. The exact etymology of the term "boxing" is unclear and there are several competing theories, none of which is definitive. The tradition has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions. The European tradition has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown and there are some claims that it goes back to the late Roman/early Christian era; metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen. 

In the UK, it was a custom for tradesmen to collect "Christmas boxes" of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This is mentioned in Samuel Pepys' diary entry for 19 December 1663; This custom is linked to an older English tradition: in exchange for ensuring that wealthy landowners' Christmases ran smoothly, their servants were allowed to take the 26th off to visit their families. The employers gave each servant a box containing gifts and bonuses (and sometimes leftover food). 

This year we are spending Xmas at home having been away the last 2 years. Last year we were in Shanghai, China visiting friends and this photo was taken at the beautiful Waldorf Astoria Hotel on The Bund. The hotel is located in an old heritage building which has been wonderfully restored as you can see in this image.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Xmas

Wishing all my readers and followers a very Merry Xmas.

I thought this photo would provide a little feeling of Xmas with the snow. The photo was taken some years ago at the top between the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers in New Zealand with Mount Cook in the background. My wife and I didn't climb up here but took the easy way by helicopter. However I will say that we did trek up the glacier the day before for many hours in the rain. This day however was magnificent allowing us to land the helicopter in the snow field and take a brief walk.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Eve of Christmas

'Tis Christmas Eve and as we can see here Santa's Elves are frantically working to prepare all the presents for delivery.

Christmas Eve refers to the evening or entire day preceding Christmas Day, a widely celebrated festival commemorating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth that takes place on December 25. It is a culturally significant celebration for most of the Western world and is widely observed as a full or partial holiday in anticipation of Christmas Day.
One reason celebrations occur on Christmas Eve is because the traditional Christian liturgical day starts at sunset, an inheritance from Jewish tradition, which in turn is based in the story of creation in Genesis: "And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day." This liturgical day is followed for all days in the Eastern rite and the custom of beginning Christmas celebration (as well as Sunday and the other major festivals) in the preceding evening is preserved in western Churches that have altered the liturgical day to start at midnight, for example the Roman Catholic Church. Many churches still ring their church bells and hold prayers in the evening before holidays; for example the Nordic Lutheran churches. In some languages, such as the Scandinavian, Christmas Eve is simply referred to as "Christmas Evening".
Since Christian tradition holds that Jesus was born at night (based in Luke 2:6-8), Midnight Mass is celebrated on Christmas Eve, traditionally at midnight, in commemoration of his birth. The idea of Jesus being born at night is reflected in the fact that Christmas Eve is referred to as "Heilige Nacht" ("Holy Night") in German, "Nochebuena" ("the Good Night") in Spanish and similarly in other expressions of Christmas spirituality, such as the song "Silent Night, Holy Night".
Nominally religious people, or people who are not formal with definitions, may see the whole day as a day of celebration or as just the day before Christmas. Millions of people around the world with no Christian or religious affiliation or background also celebrate Christmas and Christmas Eve. The emphasis of celebration on Christmas Eve varies from country to country and region to region.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Heart of Christmas

Our tree this year is looking especially good as we managed to get a real pine which not only looks great but smells good too. Hopefully by Christmas morning the tree will be brimming with gifts and parcels, assuming of course I have been a good boy and Santa has included me in his rounds.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cafe Marktbar Innsbruck

Innsbruck is nestled between two sets of mountains on the Sill river and is the capital city of the federal state of Tyrol in western Austria. It is located in the Inn Valley at the junction with the Wipptal (Sill River), which provides access to the Brenner Pass, some 30 km (18.6 mi) south of Innsbruck. Located in the broad valley between high mountains, the Nordkette (Hafelekar, 2,334 metres or 7,657 feet in the north, Patscherkofel (2,246 m or 7,369 ft) and Serles (2,718 m or 8,917 ft) in the south. It is an internationally renowned winter sports centre, and hosted the1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics as well as the 1984 and 1988 Winter Paralympics. It is to host the 1st Winter Youth Olympics in 2012. The word bruck comes from the German word Brücke meaning "bridge" which leads to "the bridge over the Inn".

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tehran Treats

This is a traditional old restaurant in the middle of Tehran in Iran. As you can see there is a group of local musicians set up to entertain the packed restaurant. I found the people of Iran to be very warm and friendly and unlike the pre-conceived perception many people have of this country.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

San Vicente de la Sonsierra

San Vicente de la Sonsierra is a small medieval town in the heart of La Rioja province in Spain. The old bridge pictured here crosses the River Ebro with the castle of San Vicente de la Sonsierra overlooking the river on the hill.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sacred Sites

The mysterious and enigmatic temples of Cambodia are from a lost civilization which prospered in this region many centuries ago. Like other civilizations which rose to great heights the Khmer empire disappeared leaving these faded and overgrown reminders of what must have been an enormous city complex. The grandeur, scale and areal extent of these temple complexes hints at the advanced lifestyle of this lost city and walking through the remains of these temples certainly leaves you with an intense and atmospheric feeling.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Santa María la Real de La Almudena

Santa María la Real de La Almudena is a Catholic cathedral in Madrid.
When the capital of Spain was transferred from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, the seat of the Church in Spain remained in Toledo; so the new capital – unusually for a Catholic country – had no cathedral. Plans were discussed as early as the 16th century to build a cathedral in Madrid dedicated to the Virgin of Almudena, but construction did not begin until 1879.
The cathedral seems to have been built on the site of a medieval mosque that was destroyed in 1085 when Alfonso VI reconquered Madrid.
Francisco de Cubas, the Marquis of Cubas, designed and directed the construction in a Gothic revival style. Construction ceased completely during the Spanish Civil War, and the project was abandoned until 1950, when Fernando Chueca Goitia adapted the plans of de Cubas to a baroque exterior to match the grey and white façade of the Palacio Real, which stands directly opposite. The cathedral was not completed until 1993, when it was consecrated by Pope John Paul II. On May 22, 2004, the marriage of Felipe, Prince of Asturias to Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano (known thereafter as Letizia, Princess of Asturias) took place at the cathedral.
The Neo-Gothic interior is uniquely modern, with chapels and statues of contemporary artists, in heretogeneous styles, from historical revivals to "pop-art" decor.
The Neo-Romanesque crypt houses a 16th century image of the Virgen de la Almudena. Nearby along the Calle Mayor excavations have unearthed remains of Moorish and medieval city walls.
On the 28th of April 2004, Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, Archbishop of Madrid blessed the new paintings in the apse, painted by Kiko Arguello, founder of the Neocatechumenal Way. The cathedral is the seat of the Patriarch of the Indies and the Ocean Sea, an honorific patriarchate created in the sixteenth century, and subsequently an honorific title for the Spanish court's chaplain.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fried Green Chillies

This was one of my favorite tapas dish during a trip to Spain .... fried green chillies. Wonderfully pungent with a slight spicy taste was a great way to start a meal washed down of course with some sangria or wine. This shot was taken in a small restaurant just off the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain.

Friday, December 16, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Xmas

Bangsar Shopping Centre in Kuala Lumpur, one of my favorite haunts, has made a great job this year of their Xmas decorations as you can see. Shot with my i-phone using the 360 app which stitches a number of individual images together to create a large panorama.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Steamed Up Dogs

This amusing sign was seen at the small train station at Boat of Garten in Scotland. The station master must have a sense of humor as well as a love for dogs.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Siem Reap Procession

Siem Reap Celebration by HighlanderImages

This procession appeared on the main street in Siem Reap opposite the Old Market blaring out music and with a lorry full of people dressed up. There were also two masked figures in the lorry and looked like they may be depicting a couple to be married .... but who knows what this ceremony actually was.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Kokoen Garden

Kokoen Garden lies next to Himeji Castle, Himeji, Japan and is a recently constructed Japanese style garden, which was opened in 1992 on the former site of of the feudal lords' west residence (Nishi-Oyashiki). It consists of nine separate gardens designed in various garden styles of the Edo period.  

Among the gardens are the garden of the lord's residence which features a pond with a waterfall, a tea garden where visitors can enjoy green tea in a tea ceremony house, a pine tree garden, a bamboo garden and a flower garden. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Scottish Lichen

This statue of a boy was in the gardens at Ballindalloch Castle in Scotland and has been overgrown with lichens giving it an ancient, eroded look. 

Lichens can survive quite happily in outer space, have been about for millions of years and are sensitive indicators of air pollution. They add amazing colour and texture to our surroundings from the limbs of ancient oaks and high mountain rocks to the mortar in our walls and churchyard gravestones. They provide a home to insects and nesting material for birds. Some lichens smell like fish while others are used to help make perfume! The characteristic orange of Harris Tweed was traditionally produced by a dye extracted from rock dwelling lichens.
Scotland has an amazing diversity of lichens, with just over 1500 species. Clean air, diverse habitats, relatively cool summers and mild winters all contribute to this diversity and abundance. Scotland is important for lichens on a European and even global scale.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Franziskanerkirche Vienna

The Church of St. Jerome, commonly known as Vienna's Franciscan Church (German: Franziskanerkirche) is a Roman Catholic parish church dedicated to St. Jerome and located in the historic city center of Vienna, Vienna's 1st district (Innere Stadt). It is the church of the Franciscan Order in Vienna. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Balinese Cacao

In the hills of Bali you can find many farms growing cocoa, vanilla and coffee plants. Cocoa bean (also cacao bean, often simply cocoa and cacao) is the dried and fully fermented fatty seed of Theobroma cacao, from which cocoa solids and cocoa butter are extracted. They are the basis of chocolate, as well as many Mesoamerican foods such as mole sauce and tejate.

A cocoa pod (fruit) has a rough leathery rind about 3 cm thick (this varies with the origin and variety of pod). It is filled with sweet, mucilaginous pulp (called 'baba de cacao' in South America) enclosing 30 to 50 large seeds that are fairly soft and white to pale lavender in color. While seeds are usually white, they become violet or reddish brown during the drying process. The exception is rare varieties of white cacao, in which the seeds remain white.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Vintage Red

In New Zealand you get the opportunity to see many old vehicles still being used and many of them are kept in tip-top condition. This school bus, named Vintage Red, is used in the small town of Picton at the north end of the South Island.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Bag Boys

A common sight in Siem Reap, Cambodia are orphan children roaming the streets begging or scavenging for food and other basic necessities to scratch out a living. These two boys were walking the streets with their large bags collecting useful items to use or to sell. Amazingly many of these poor children still have a happy smiling face as we can see here as this boy looks round and spots me lining up my photograph.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Ailein Duinn

Capercaillie-2 by HighlanderImages

Karen Matheson OBE (born 11 February 1963) is a Scottish folk singer, who frequently sings in Scottish Gaelic. She is lead singer of the group Capercaillie and was a member of Dan Ar Braz's group L'Heritage des Celtes, with whom she often sang lead vocals, either alone or jointly with Elaine Morgan. She and Morgan received much acclaim for their joint lead vocal on the Breton language song "Diwanit Bugale", the French entry to the Eurovision Song Contest 1996. She made a cameo appearance in the 1995 movie Rob Roy singing the song "Ailein Duinn" (Dark Alan) which reached #65 in the UK Singles Chart.
She grew up in the small village of Taynuilt in Argyll. She was awarded an OBE in the 2006 New Year's honours list. Matheson also appeared as a guest musician on Spirit of the West's 1997 album Weights and Measures.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Tirtha Empul Temple

Tirtha Empul Temple was built in 926 A.D. during the Warmadewa dynasty (from the 10th to 14th centuries), at a site where there was a large water spring.
On the left side of the temple is a modern villa on the hill. built for President Sukarno's visit in 1954, which is now used as a rest house for important guests.
More than a thousand years ago a powerful King named Mayadenawa ruled over a vast area which included Bali. Mayadenawa possessed the spiritual power to transform himself into anything he desired. Unfortunately he misused his powers and became a cruel, black magician.
A priest named Sang Kulputih appealed to Indra to come to earth to kill Mayadenawa.Because he had many spies, Mayadenawa learned about the upcoming attack in time and managed to organize his defenses. However Lord Indra's forces were superior and therefore victorious. Most of King Mayadenawa troops fled, leaving him almost without defense.
Then the war was interrupted by nightfall. When Indra's forces slept, Mayadenawa stole into Indra's camp, walking on the sides of his feet as to leave no foot prints, and created a pool of poisoned water. This way of walking gave Tampaksiring its name, for tampak siring is Balinese for 'without imprints'. He left as he came and when Indra's forces woke up the next morning and discovered the water pool, they drank from it and became violently sick.
When Indra found out what happened, he created a large spring of fresh water by stabbing his flag pole to the ground.The clear water was able to cure the sickness of his army. The spring was called Tirtha Empul, which means bubbling spring.
Mayadenawa fled, chased by the forces of Indra. During his flight he transformed himself a number of times, but he couldn't trick Indra with his disguises. When he had transformed himself into a stone, he was shot by Indra with an arrow. A stream of blood flowed from the stone, forming the river Petanu. And for a thousand years this river would be cursed. Rice fields irrigated with its water would make the rice grow fast, but once harvested, blood would come out of it and it would smell bad.
The death of King Mayadenawa is symbolic for the victory of good (dharma) over evil (adharma). The day of Mayadenawa's death is still celebrated, every 210 days according to the Balinese Pawukon calendar, and this day is generally known as Galungan Day.

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Rubbish Man

The streets of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam are always a great place for street photography given the diversity of activities that happen on the busy streets. This is a rubbish collector immaculately dressed in bright orange and wearing a face mask, gloves and hard hat - prepared for anything.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

St Giles' Cathedral is the historic City Church of Edinburgh. With its famed crown spire it stands on the Royal Mile between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, it is the Mother Church of Presbyterianism and contains the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle (Scotland's chivalric company of knights headed by the Queen).

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Preah Khan

Preah Khan is a temple at Angkor, built in the 12th century for King Jayavarman VII. It is located northeast of Angkor Thom and just west of the Jayatataka Baray, with which it was associated. It was the centre of a substantial organisation, with almost 100,000 officials and servants. 

The temple is flat in design, with a basic plan of successive rectangular galleries around a Buddhist sanctuary complicated by Hindu satellite temples and numerous later additions. Like the nearby Ta Prohm, Preah Khan has been left largely unrestored, with numerous trees and other vegetation growing among the ruins.

Preah Khan was built on the site of Jayavarman VII's victory over the invading Chams in 1191. Preah Khan is one of the few monuments to have kept its original name. The name Preah Khan means "sacred sword" and is derived from the meaning of the original — Nagara Jayasri (holy city of victory). The site may previously have been occupied by the royal palaces of Yasovarman II and Tribhuvanadityavarman.

The temple's foundation stela has provided considerable information about the history and administration of the site

More than a single temple , the monument was in its time a real city with a whole population divided according to their functions. The temple was also a site of Buddhist studies with its retinue of spiritual masters and their disciples.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Azure Andaman

iPhone Friday this week comes from the beautiful island of Langkawi in Malaysia and an image shot from the Westin Resort & Spa at the south side of the island overlooking the Andaman Sea. This 5 star resort has a beautiful setting with its own private beach, spa, swimming pools and a range of restaurants in a quiet location close to the main town of Kuah.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Spiral Joss Sticks

Joss sticks are a type of incense used in many East Asian and Southeast Asian countries, traditionally burned before a Chinese religious image, idol or shrine. They can also be burned in front of a door, or open window as an offering to heaven, or devas. In modern days, joss sticks can be used for any purpose, such as to enhance the smell of a room, or to light fire crackers.
Joss sticks are religious materials in China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, Myanmar, Cambodia, Philippines, Korea, and Japan.
The word "joss" is derived from the Latin deus (god) via Portuguese.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Full Flight of The Fiddle

Capercaillie by HighlanderImages

This is Charlie McKerron, the fiddle player of Capercaillie, in full flight playing "Inexile" at a concert played in Kuala Lumpur in May 2008. Capercaillie is a folk band from Scotland formed by Donald Shaw and Karen Matheson and who play a contemporary mix of celtic, gaelic and folk music.

The group originates from Argyll, a region of western Scotland and is named after the Western Capercaillie, Tetrao urogallus, a bird native to Scotland. Their 1992 EP, A Prince Among Islands, was the first Scottish Gaelic-language record to reach the Top 40 of the UK Singles Chart, peaking at #39. Another of their singles, "Dark Alan (Ailein duinn)" reached #65 in the same listing in June 1995. The band recorded its first album, Cascade, in 1984. The albums Secret People (1993) reached #40, and To the Moon (1995) peaked at #41 in the UK Albums Chart.

They have adapted traditional Gaelic songs and music using modern production techniques, and often mix musical forms, such as "Cosich A' Ruin", which combined traditional lyrics with drum and bass.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Royal Scotsman

The Royal Scotsman is a Scottish luxury charter train run by Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. The train is composed of nine cars; two dining cars, five state cars, one crew car, and one observation car. The two dining cars are named 'Victory' and 'Raven' with seating for sixteen and twenty people respectively.
Originally launched in May 1985, the train, in its current form, dates from May 1990. The owners put together a set of carriages (all rather different), which were rented in and called The Royal Scotsman, launching in the Spring of 1985. The carriage leases ran for five years and it was a success – the train won the Queen's Award for Export. 

After the initial five-year period elapsed, the decision was taken to purchase outright a different set of carriages, designed to the owners specifications. Working with designer James Park, ten Pullman carriages were subsequently bought and transformed with all the interior woodwork made to specification by a specialist woodworking company in Bournemouth and shipped to the construction site and installed. This second rake of carriages replaced the first in May 1990. The new rake incorporated many improvements – each cabin now had its own private facilities, steam heating was replaced by electric heating, seating for all at the same time in the Observation and Dining Cars and capacity moved from twenty-eight to thirty-two. In 1997, the capacity was further increased from thirty-two to thirty-six.  

The running order of The Royal Scotsman carriages is: Observation Car with verandah viewing platform; Dining Car Number One (Raven); Dining Car Number Two (Victory); State Car number one, two, three, four and five; and a Service Car. The sequence is in running order from the rear so guests can best enjoy the passing countryside.

At one end of the train is perhaps the most distinctive vehicle, the open-ended Observation Car, converted from the Pullman kitchen car, Snipe. Originally built in 1960 by the Metropolitan-Cammell Carriage and Wagon Company, it entered service in 1961 as a First Class kitchen car. In 1989, the car was bought from its private owner, Michael Bailiss, and converted it to its current luxury configuration, able to comfortably hold all thirty-six guests at any time.

Adjacent to this is Dining Car Number One, which is still referred to by its former Pullman car name, Raven. Colin Angell, a firm of cabinet makers from Evesham, Worcestershire, won the contract to transform a 1962 second-class Pullman carriage into Raven, with a capacity for twenty guests.

Next in the formation is Dining Car Number Two, known as Victory and so called since it was built in 1945. Victory was built as a London & North Eastern Railway Director's Saloon and acquired from Sir Bill McAlpine. The transformation was completed in a number of weeks - from its bright orange curtains and brushed aluminium fittings to wood panelling, inlaid with intricate marquetry, mahogany veneer cupboards and specially made dining chairs and tables – not to mention a state of the art modern kitchen. Eight marquetry panels with intricate designs of thistles, flowing ribbons and butterflies line the walls and an inlaid frieze of several different woods runs on into the corridors. Victory can accommodate up to sixteen guests, ensuring all guests can dine at the same sitting, across the two dining cars.

The five State Sleeping Cars follow. These cars, like the Verandah car, were originally built as Pullman Cars in 1960 by the Metropolitan-Cammell Carriage and Wagon Company.

The sleeping cars provide fourteen twin, two double and four single State Cabins, beautifully fitted out in rich marquetry. All cabins have fixed, lower beds, dressing table, full-length wardrobe, individually controlled heating, cooling ceiling fans, opening windows and cabin service call button. Each cabin has its own private facilities with shower, wash-basin and toilet and a constant supply of hot water.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Volcanic Vegetables

The rich volcanic soil on the banks of Lake Batur in Bali beneath the active volcano, Gunung Batur, provides a rich and fertile base for the growth of local vegetables. As you drive round the lake you can see many local farmers in the vegetable fields tending to their crops.

One of the best and most simple meals I had was right here in the middle of the vegetable fields where a small restaurant served up local rice along with fresh vegetables from the fields and fish caught from the lake .... washed down with the local Bintang beer of course!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

St. Heinrich Church, Beckenried

This is the St. Heinrich Church in Beckenried on the banks of  Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. Beckenried is a municipality in the canton of Nidwalden in Switzerland. The first settlers in what would become Beckried were from Alamanni tribes that moved into the area over 2000 years ago. During the Middle Ages the region was part of extensive estates that were shared between Engelberg Abbey, Murbach-Lucerne and Steinen, Switzerland. The two tower houses in the village (named: Retschrieden and Isenringen) were built in the 13th century for two local, influential families. In 1262 the village is mentioned in an agreement over a nearby pasture. In 1314 it is mentioned as Beggenriet.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


The Chapel Bridge (German: Kapellbrücke) is a covered wooden footbridge spanning diagonally across the Reuss River in the city of Lucerne in central Switzerland. Named after the nearby St. Peter's Chapel, the bridge is unique since it contains a number of interior paintings dating back to the 17th century, although many of them were destroyed along with most of the centuries old bridge in a 1993 fire. Subsequently restored, the Kapellbrücke is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe, as well as the world's oldest surviving truss bridge. It serves as the city's symbol and as one of Switzerland's main tourist attractions.

Lucerne is a city in north-central Switzerland, in the German-speaking portion of that country. Lucerne is the capital of the Canton of Lucerne and the capital of the district of the same name. With a population of about 76,200 people, Lucerne is the most populous city in Central Switzerland, and a nexus of transportation, telecommunications, and government of this region. The city's metropolitan area consists of 17 cities and towns located in three different cantons with an overall population of about 250,000 people.
Due to its location on the shore of Lake Lucerne (der Vierwaldstättersee), within sight of Mount Pilatus and Rigi in the Swiss Alps, Lucerne has long been a destination for tourists. One of the city's famous landmarks is the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke), a wooden bridge first erected in the 14th century. Lucerne was voted the fifth most popular tourism destination in the world in 2010 by Tripadvisor.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Tavern

The Tavern Bar in the Aryaduta Hotel, Jakarta used to be a real hot-spot but as you can see from this i-phone panoramic shot the place is now very quiet. It was famous for it's pub food, particularly the hot-stone steaks and the resident band who were invariably from Philippines. With all the new hot-spots in Jakarta it looks like the crowd has moved on leaving The Tavern more spacious but with little atmosphere now.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Bridge Over The Inn

Innsbruck is the capital city of the federal state of Tyrol in western Austria. It is located in the Inn Valley at the junction with the Wipptal (Sill River), which provides access to the Brenner Pass, some 30 km (18.6 mi) south of Innsbruck. Located in the broad valley between high mountains, the Nordkette (Hafelekar, 2,334 metres or 7,657 feet in the north, Patscherkofel (2,246 m or 7,369 ft) and Serles (2,718 m or 8,917 ft) in the south. It is an internationally renowned winter sports centre, and hosted the 1964 and1976 Winter Olympics as well as the 1984 and 1988 Winter Paralympics. It is to host the 1st Winter Youth Olympics in 2012. The word bruck comes from the German word Brücke meaning "bridge" which leads to "the bridge over the Inn".

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

When The Jungle Takes Over

Jungle Sounds Cambodia by HighlanderImages

Ta Prohm  is the modern name of a temple at Angkor, built in the Bayon style largely in the late 12th and early 13th centuries and originally called Rajavihara (in Khmer). Located approximately one kilometre east of Angkor Thom and on the southern edge of the East Baray near Tonle Bati, it was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor's most popular temples with visitors.

The design of Ta Prohm is that of a typical "flat" Khmer temple (as opposed to a temple-pyramid or temple-mountain, the inner levels of which are higher than the outer). Five rectangular enclosing walls surround a central sanctuary. Like most Khmer temples, Ta Prohm is oriented to the east, so the temple proper is set back to the west along an elongated east-west axis.

The outer wall of 1000 by 650 metres encloses an area of 650,000 square metres that at one time would have been the site of a substantial town, but that is now largely forested. An inscription at Ta Phrom indicates that that 12,460 people serviced this temple.

There are entrance gopuras at each of the cardinal points, although access today is now only possible from the east and west.