(A slightly-delayed post from the summer…be warned it’s a little long!)
Two weeks in Kyrgyzstan, a small, mountainous, partially “democratic” ex-Soviet republic in Central Asia – this land of soaring peaks and stunning green-carpeted vistas was the antidote to our city-hopping in Uzbekistan. Two weeks turned out to be not nearly long enough to explore properly as there are lots of places to go to, and travelling around is quite slow and frustrating. There is almost no public transport – between popular places there are shared taxis and minibuses, but as soon as you leave the most central highways, you’re utterly reliant on hitchhiking. More prepared travellers than us arranged car hire, and on balance this would have been a great idea, though apparently there are very few cars available to hire so you must book far ahead. Plus, the number of crashed-up car wrecks we passed on the side of the road suggests it’s not the safest place to drive… However, once we had managed to get to each place we wanted to visit, we had a fantastic time! (more…)
Earlier this year, I spent five fabulous months living in Paris. This is the one solitary elephant I managed to find during my time there, while on a road trip with some friends to the chateau of Fontainebleau. It’s a great day visit from Paris – we rented a car for the day, and it’s only about an hour’s drive from the capital, and both the palace and grounds are absolutely stunning. I must admit that it was such a beautiful day that we rushed through the palace as quickly as possible in order to get to the gardens and have a picnic, so much so that we had a rather embarrassing interchange with one of the palace monitors who seemed absolutely aghast that we might be looking for the way out from such an architectural masterpiece of French cultural heritage, so we had to pretend that she had misunderstood us and we were really looking for the 3rd ballroom, of course. Be warned, anyone going near Fontainebleau, that visiting the inside is really something of an ordeal it is just so big. It was where Napoleon hung out after all and he never sounded much like a guy that did things by halves.
This elephant fresco comes from the Francois I gallery, built, unsurprisingly, by Francois I in 1528, to link the chapel with his royal apartments. He was a big supporter of the early Renaissance movement in France, so all the work here was carried out by Italian craftsmen. The frescoes are allegorical, and this elephant is supposed to represent the wisdom and royalty of Francois. Nice.
NB: this post was actually written in December 2015 as the last elephant on my South East Asia trip. However it has evaded publication up til this point!
The highlight of our day trip from Bangkok to Ayutthaya was certainly the discovery of this elephant centre. Ayutthaya is the ancient capital of Thailand, and Christine and I visited it on one of our final days in Thailand, just before I flew home. The ruins were also interesting but unfortunately very much still in ruins after having been razed by the Burmese in 1767. In its day it had been one of the foremost cities of the world, but it was quite hard to imagine the place in all its former glory, especially as it was a baking hot day and we were perspiring greatly as we biked around the various temples (before finding an amazing smoothie-juice bar).
We decided not to take a ride on the elephants as I’m never quite sure about the ethics of elephant rides for tourists, but we did buy a basket of food, and had a great time feeding (or having food stolen by) several of the elephants. For an interesting discussion about elephants and tourism, do check out this post. Though the author of that blog decided to give the Ayutthaya elephants a ride, I think it’s an issue that it’s very important to be aware of as a tourist visiting a country that has elephants, so if you do decide to do it, at least you know what you’re doing. I got a bit of a behind-the-scenes insight of the elephant industry in my time in Rajasthan in India in 2011, and after having been appalled by what was going on (exploitation of both elephants and humans by one very selfish man in search of huge profits), I decided not to ride any more elephants unless I could be quite sure of the situation. That’s probably enough elephant-preaching from me for one post…
On our way back to the airport in Corsica we stopped off at Aleria, which had been the biggest Roman settlement in Corsica (also known as Alalia to Herodotus and other Greeks). A quick foray to the archaeological site and museum (neither of which would be high on my list of Corsican recommendations!) yielded this fantastic elephant plate!
The plate dates to the 3rd century BC and is decorated with three colours (white, red, yellow) on a black glaze. Around the edges you can see laurel leaves, and there is also a man on the larger elephant, though very faded. It’s very similar to another elephant plate found in Capena from around the same time which has been better preserved. It’s possible that both plates refer to the victories of Pyrrhus in 280 BC, who defeated the Romans with the help of some elephants, or perhaps to his defeat in 275 BC, where elephants also had an important role. Eight of his elephants were actually captured alive and then displayed in the triumph in Rome following his defeat. A different interpretation of the plate suggests it could be depicting Dionysus returning from India on elephant, or alternatively the elephants could be simply decorative with no link to history or religion. Either way it was a great find!
All crowded round to see the exciting elephant
The other highlights of the small museum included these large Italian vases
I’m currently on a family holiday in the south of France: we spent one week in Montpellier, and now we have one week in the beautiful, mountainous island of Corsica before heading home. Unfortunately the search for elephants has been very unsuccessful and the best specimen so far has been this bright yellow cover decorated with several small red elephants that Clara and I found on a rock. We had to try and snap a picture of it before the family that owned it noticed, but unfortunately I think they must have seen us as they then gave us a very strange look as we went past! Whoops… (more…)