St Augustin

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.
Who lives sees much, who travels sees more.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A - Z Challenge - Z is for Zimbabwe. Must be the end of the line, huh?

Well here is my last post for the A - Z Challenge. I hope you've enjoyed the travel posts. Not literary enough for some I feel, but writing can be about travel too. We can therefore broaden our minds as we visit and mix with people from other lands and cultures. For those of you who have followed me on my travel blog, I hope you will continue to visit and read my posts which are usually on a weekly basis...A warm thank you to you all!!!!!!!

Deepest darkest Africa has always called explorers, traders and powerful figures who have raped this country and at times stolen its heart and soul. It has always carried a mystique from the earliest stories related in history class of Doctor Livingstone, the Victoria Falls, the Congo, the Sahara.

The Victoria Falls

One of my favourite books on Africa is Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad which really had an effect on me. When I saw the movie Apocolypse Now all I could think of was - another river, another time, but some things remain the same.


Foggy morning in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe

Size 390,580 sq km , slightly larger than Montana, US. The terrain is mostly high plateau with higher central plateau (high veld) and mountains in the east of the country. The climate is basically tropical but moderated by altitude and there is a rainy season (November to March). The lowest point in Zimbabwe is at the junction of the Runde and Save rivers at 162 m , its highest point is Inyangani at 2,592 m. Zimbabwe is a landlocked country. The Zambezi forms a natural riverine boundary with Zambia; in full flood (February-April) the massive Victoria Falls on the river forms the world's largest curtain of falling water.


African children heading to school in Harare

Just under 13 million people live in Zimbabwe. Life expectancy is around 36 years. Birth rate is on average 3.5 per woman. 25% of the population is believed to have HIV/AIDS. Literacy rate is just over 90%.


English (official), Shona, Sindebele (the language of the Ndebele, sometimes called Ndebele) and numerous but minor tribal dialects.

Ethnic Groups:

African 98% (Shona 82%, Ndebele 14%, other 2%), mixed and Asian 1%, white less than 1%.


Syncretic (part Christian, part indigenous beliefs) 50%, Christian 25%, indigenous beliefs 24%, Muslim and other 1%.

Political History:

The UK annexed Southern Rhodesia from the South Africa Company in 1923. A 1961 constitution was formulated that favoured whites in power. In 1965 the government unilaterally declared its independence, but the UK did not recognize the act and demanded more complete voting rights for the black African majority in the country (then called Rhodesia). UN sanctions and a guerrilla uprising finally led to free elections in 1979 and independence (as Zimbabwe) in 1980.

Tribal healers in Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe, the nation's first prime minister, has been the country's only ruler (as president since 1987) and has dominated the country's political system since independence. His chaotic land redistribution campaign begun in 2000 caused an exodus of white farmers, crippled the economy, and ushered in widespread shortages of basic commodities. Ignoring international condemnation, Mugabe rigged the 2002 presidential election to ensure his reelection. Opposition and labor groups launched general strikes in 2003 to pressure Mugabe to retire early; security forces continued their brutal repression of regime opponents.

Economic Overview:

The government of Zimbabwe faces a wide variety of difficult economic problems as it struggles with an unsustainable fiscal deficit, an overvalued exchange rate, soaring inflation, and bare shelves. Its 1998-2002 involvement in the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, drained hundreds of millions of dollars from the economy. Badly needed support from the IMF has been suspended because of the country's failure to meet budgetary goals. Inflation rose from an annual rate of 32% in 1998 to 133% at the end of 2004, while the exchange rate fell from 24 Zimbabwean dollars per US dollar to 6,200 in the same time period. The government's land reform program, characterized by chaos and violence, has badly damaged the commercial farming sector, the traditional source of exports and foreign exchange and the provider of 400,000 jobs.

Sunset in Zimbabwe

I know I didn't have to convince you this is a beautiful country. I've not visited yet, but anyone who goes comes back with stories of wonder.

Is Africa calling you?

My next trip is to Africa, but to the north, Morocco. I am going to see the Sahara, though.

Information Source: CIA World Factbook

Photos courtesy of WorldAtlasofTravel.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A - Z Challenge - Y is for Ypres, Belgium - the Flanders Fields, and I HAVE been there!

This post is longer than usual, but you will see why. It is a mixture of personal narrative and history. Skip over it and read what interests you...

I'm not one to glorify war (even though we've just celebrated ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand and France and perhaps other countries too - remembering all those who died in the wars), but the Western Front, including places like Ypres, Belgium, have a special place in the hearts of Australians. So many of our young men, along with Canadians, New Zealanders, British, French, Belgae and German, lie forever in the cold earth. (Apologies if I've missed anyone out. The Americans were not yet involved.)

Poems have been written, poppies are planted and worn, memorials have been built, films have been made, books have been written, but none of this puts an end to war, which goes on and on and on so help us God.

I've always wanted to visit the War Memorials in Flanders, part of the Western Front battles. and managed it in 2008. We trained it through Germany, Luxembourg, Bruxelles (Brussels), (where we stocked up on Belgian chocolate) then onto Ypres (leper.) It was a most humbling experience to pass through these fields peppered with white crosses.

This is a view from our train window as we zoomed between Bruxells and Ypres. Get the drift?

By the time we got to Ypres, it was no longer snowing, but the day was nicely dreary as it often is in Belgium, but it was perfectly fitting to remember all the young men who fought under these horrendous conditions. Mud, gas and gunfire their last memory, along with mateship forged on the battle fields. Because the day was so bleak and no one else turned up for a tour, we were taken on a personalised tour by the Belgae guide in his 4WD. He took us to all the places the Aussies fought and lost/won/died.

Ypres — now known by its Flemish name of Ieper — is an ancient city located in the Flemish province of West Flanders.The municipality of Ieper includes the city itself and a number of villages, namely Boezinge, Brielen, Dikkebus, Elverdinge, Hollebeke, Sint-Jan, Vlamerginge, Voormezele, Zillebeke and Zuidschote. The city of Ieper and these villages counts a population of around 35,000 inhabitants.

Since the first century B.C., when the Belgae people were conquered by the Romans, the Flanders region has been invaded by successive armies and has suffered from the ravages of war. In spite of this, Ypres managed to establish itself as a financially and culturally rich city in the 12th century. By the 13th century Ypres had gained the status of an independent city-state.

Postcard of the Cloth Hall in 1914 before the war broke out. The pre-war square-topped spire of the St. Martin's cathedral can be seen on the right of the picture. It was burned during the war.

Centre of the Wool and Cloth Trade

Being only 40 miles inland from the Belgian coast, Ypres was the hub of many important trade routes consisting of roads, rivers and canals leading to the Netherlands, France and to the English Channel. Consequently it grew into an important market place for the region. Easy access to the coast meant that the the people of the city established links with the wool trade in England. The city became a very important centre for the cloth trade. Guilds and master guilds were founded. The Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall) was begun in the centre of Ypres in 1200. It took 100 years to complete. In 1241 there was a fire in the city which destroyed many of the wooden buildings. By 1260 the population of the city had grown to 40,000.

The Lille Gate (Rijselpoort) and ramparts at the southern entrance to Ypres.

Ypres grew into a wealthy and powerful city. It was the third largest city in Flanders after Gent and Bruges. It played a part in drawing up treaties and was fought over in battles. One of these battles was a siege of the city by an English bishop Henry le Despenser in the summer of 1383.

A Fortified City

From the end of the 14th century (1385) the city went into economic decline for the next two hundred years. In March 1678 the French King Louis XIV took the city into French possession, but within twenty years it passed into the control of the Spanish. The Austrian Habsburg dynasty took it over in 1713. The year of 1782 saw changes made to the fortifications by Emperor Joseph II, weakening the city defences. The French attacked the city in 1794 and once more it was under French control.

Originally the settlement had been protected by earthworks. As the town grew more wealthy the fortifications were modified to keep out prospective invaders.

Major work was carried out by Sebastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban (1633-1707), the famous French military engineer, at the end of the 17th century.

By the time of the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 some of the fortifications had been removed. This was mainly on the northern and eastern side of the town.

The ramparts and moat looking to the north from the south-east corner of the old Ypres fortifications. Nowadays the ramparts provide a popular walking route and the moat is a haven for wildlife.


The oldest part of the ramparts still surviving is near the Rijselpoort (Lille Gate) which dates from 1385. After the decommissioning of the fortifications in the 1800s the remaining ramparts on the eastern and southern sides of Ypres were used until the outbreak of war in 1914 by the local people as a recreation area. The ramparts were planted with trees and paths were laid. It became a popular place to walk.

The Moat

The ramparts and moat looking to the north from the south-east corner of the old Ypres fortifications. Nowadays the ramparts provide a popular walking route and the moat is a haven for wildlife.

The moat on the east and south-east boundaries of the town. The moat was an integral part of the earlier fortifications.

When the fortifications were no longer considered necessary to keep out invaders, the new era of recreation for the townspeople in the early 1900s saw the construction of an outdoor swimming pool in the moat called the “Bassin de Natation”. It was formed at the north-eastern corner of the moat, where it was blocked off. Fishing also became a popular pastime.

Town Gates

AA feature of the fortified city was that there were gates in and out of the town. Each of the gates was on a major route from Ypres to one of the nearby four towns of Dixmuide to the north, Menen to the east and Lille to the south. The British maps and soldiers named them the Dixmuide Gate, the Menin Gate and the Lille Gate. At the Menin Gate, every evening at 8 pm, 4 buglers play the Last Post, in honour of the young men who fought in the bloody battles just outside the gate.

Just outside the Menin Gate, Ypres. (courtesty of Hellfire Corner)

 When the Germans left Ypres in 1945, the plaintive notes of the Last Post rang out under the Menin Gate that same evening and have continued every evening since.

The 4 bugles ring out through the ramparts.

Ieper (Ypres) Today

Cafés and restaurants on the market square of Ypres (Ieper).

I was amazed by the way in which the medieval city has been rebuilt. My first visit was to the museum where they show footage and photos of the original Ypres, then the history of war and fire. Ypres (leper) stands almost exactly as it was prior to its destruction and it is almost impossible to believe that there was hardly a building left standing when the Great War war ended in November 1918.

Lest we forget. One of the many Commonwealth War Graves near Ypres.

In the area around Ypres - including Hill 60, Passcendaele, Lys, Sanctuary Wood etc. - over 1,700,000 soldiers on both sides were killed or wounded and an uncounted number of civilians. Read more...

I don't usually include youtube videos as they slow some people's computers down, but I'm including the trailer from the powerful film, Beneath Hill 60, which is based on the true story of the Australian miners who worked below the trenches here in Ypres. My husband and I visited this hill (several of the trenches have been preserved so tourists can see exactly how it was for the troops.) We were very excited when they made a film of it. It shows the age-old rivalry between the Brits and the Aussies with the larrakin Aussies coming out on top as usual...

If you watch it, tell me what you think...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A - Z Challenge - X is for Xi'an China - a beautiful city in a secret land.

Well I guess you thought I might be stumped for a place beginning with X, but straightaway Xi'an China came to mind. I've read about it's history during the terrible Japan/China wars and is a place in China that has fascinated me.

Map of Chinese cities. Xi'an practically in the centre of China.

Most of us are fairly ignorant about China, and that is partly due to its being such a closed country. It wasn't until American Presiden Nixon visited that China began to open up a little to western eyes.

Li River China
Here are the basic facts:

The People's Republic ofChina is the largest country in East Asia and the most populous in the world with over 1.3 billion people, approximately one-fifth of the world's population. It is a socialist republic (specifically a people's democratic dictatorship according to its constitution) ruled by the Communist Party of China under a single-party system, and has jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions:Xinjiang,Inner Mongolia,Tibet,Ningxia, and Guangxi, four municipalities:Beijing,Tianjin,Shanghai,andChongqing,and two highly autonomous Special Administrative Regions:Hong Kong and Macau. The PRC's capital isBeijing.

Tourism Xi'an

The Terracotta Army is the Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses of Qin Shi Huang the First Emperor of China. The terracotta figures, dating from 210 BC, were discovered in 1974 by some local farmers near Xi'an,Shaanxi province, China near theMausouleum of the First Qin Emperor. The figures vary in height (183 to 195 cm 6 ft to 6 ft 5in), according to their role, the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians.

Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits. Many archeologists believe that there are many pits still waiting to be discovered.

Bronze Horses and Cart in Shaanxi History Museum

Shaanxi History Museum, which located to the northwest of the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda in the ancient city Xi'an, in the Shaanxi province of China, is one of the first huge state museums with modern facilities in China. The museum houses over 300,000 items including murals, paintings, pottery, coins, as well as bronze, gold, and silver objects. The modern museum was built between 1983 and 2001 and its appearance recalls the architectural style of the Tang Dynasty.

Xi'an Ancient City Wall

The fortifications of Xi'an, an ancient capital of China, represent one of the oldest and best preserved Chinese city walls. Construction of the first city wall of Chang'an began in 194 BCE and lasted for four years. That wall measured 25.7 km in length, 12 to 16 m in thickness at the base. The area within the wall was ca. 36 km2. The existing wall was started by the Ming Dynasty in 1370. It encircles a much smaller city of 14 km2. The wall measures 13.7 km in circumference, 12 m in height, and 15 to 18 m in thickness at the base.

Xi'an Drum Tower

The Drum Tower of Xi'an, located in the heart of Xi'an in Shaanxi province of China, along with the Bell Tower it is a symbol of the city. Erected in 1380 during the early Ming Dynasty, it stand towering above the city center and offers incredible view of Xi'an.

Xi'an Bell Tower

The Bell Tower of Xi'an, built in 1384 during the early Ming Dynasty, is a symbol of the city of Xi'an and one of the grandest of its kind in China. The Bell Tower also contains several large bronze-cast bells from the Tang Dynasty. The tower base is square and it covers an area of 1,377 square meters. The tower is a brick and timber structure and close to 40 meters high.

I hope you enjoyed your little tour on Xi'an, China.

Have you ever been to China? Do you want to visit one day?

Images found at

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A - Z Challenge. W is for Wellington, New Zealand.

Well I hope you enjoyed V for Venice. This time we'll go from Old Europa to the New World. Compared to many countries, Australia and New Zealand are in their infancy as far as white settlement goes. Just over 200 years since 'civilization' arrived, and in Australia's case, declared the land 'terra nullius' - empty, ignoring the indigenous population. New Zealand's indigenous population, the Maori, have had their fight for self-determination also, but were/are more warrior-like than the Australian Aborigine. That warrior spirit lives on in the way they play their sports, especially Rugby League and Union. Those fearsome All Blacks!

The scarifying All Blacks Rugby team performing the haka before a game.

Anyway, less of the waffle. The posts for the A - Z were supposed to be short, but I figured you are all intelligent enough to flick through and read anything interesting and forget/come back later for the rest.

Why Wellington? Auckland is the capital of New Zealand isn't it? Well, yeah, but I lived in Wellington for two years, had my son there (so he's a dual citizen) and said at the time I would have been happy to live there forever. It has lovely little beaches but really doesn't have a beachy climate. Because it's the Windy City (as I hear is Chicago) the air is some of the purest in the world. I can remember holding onto the bridge rails for fear of being blown away at times. No joke.

Anyway, Wellington, NZ, here we go.

Wellington Harbour

Wellington is New Zealand's centre of government and the world's southernmost capital city. It is also the country's cultural capital and the third most populous urban area in New Zealand.

The city is home to many museums, theatres and arts festivals, including Te Papa Tongarewa (the Museum of New Zealand), the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and the biennial Festival of the Arts.

A modern city centre of the harbour

Wellington is also a leading centre for creative industries, such as film and computer technology, and it is the home of the New Zealand Stock Exchange (NZX).

The city is situated alongside Wellington Harbour and surrounded by natural beauty including Zealandia, an award-winning eco-attraction just minutes from the central business district.

The rich Maori culture is celebrated. The kapa haka is danced.

Wellington Harbour by night.

Wellington city has a steadily growing population which increased by 7,800 between 2006 and 2009 to 195,500 people. The city's population accounts for 4.45% of the New Zealand population and is expected to see steady growth over the next decade. We Aussies joke that there are more New Zealanders living in Australia than New Zealand. Not quite, but Australia certainly has a high NZ populous.

Wellington city has higher proportions of Europeans (76.8%) and Asians (12.7%) than New Zealand as a whole, and lower proportions of Māori (7.4%) and Pacific peoples (6.6%).

A trip to Middle Earth anyone?

Like any city, there are many tourist attractions. One of the most populare is Welcome to Middle Earth. You knew NZ was Lord of the Rings country, didn't you? Well this is where the films were made. You can take a Middle Earth tour, visiting 9 different locations from the films (including 20+ scenes). You explore Mount Victoria Greenbelt, Wellywood suburbs, Hobbits surfing coastline and the gorgeous native forest park of Rivendell. The picnic lunch is world famous and you will go home with fantastic photos of Lord of the Rings scenes.

Your guide will take you into the heart of the Lord of the Rings, with the wealth of their knowledge, this brings the following locations to life: Hobbiton Woods, Isengard, Fords of Isen, Village of Bree, Rivendell, River Anduin, Helms Deep, Minas Tirith and Dunharrow.

The day starts with a journey through the outer shire, spending an hour walking through Wellington's greenbelt tracking the many scenes filmed there (including 'get off the road' and 'race to the ferry'). Take a drive through the South Coast to Wellywood, home to the actors whilst filming and the studios. After morning tea at the legendary Chocolate Fish Cafe (not included), drive north of Wellington to spend time amongst forests, mountains and rivers. The famous picnic lunch will be in Rivendell before you cross the swingbridge for a short native bush walk.

The tour includes a free souvenir map, elf ears for photos and a hobbit like storytelling guide for the day. Come explore Middle Earth for yourself.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A - Z Challenge - U is for Utopia. Have you found yours?

Don't we all dream about our personal Utopia? Oh, you don't? It's just me dreaming about that magical place which provides us with everything we need and want. Some people find it in this lifetime, others will have to wait. I know St Paul says something like 'Whatever state you're in, be content', but I like to be content in a lot of states, but which is my Utopia?

I was first introduced to the concept of Utopia when I read James Hiltons' Shangri-la.

Let's look at - Utopia Theory in History - Shangri-la

A theoretical utopian society Shangri-la, written about by James Hilton, about the social, political, and economic structure.

Name of Utopia: SHANGRI-LA

Who Created: James Hilton (1900-1954).

Described in: Lost Horizon, published in 1933. The novel, generally neglected at the time of its first publication, was awarded the Hawthornden Prize, and soon became a classic. Two films based on the novel have been made, and the first, directed by Frank Capra, is highly regarded.

This is how Hilton's Shangri la looked:

Population: Fifty lamas reside in the lamasery that overlooks the valley where a village of nearly 1,000 Tibetans live.

Physical Layout: Shangri-La is located in a valley, surrounded by mountains, in an unexplored and nearly inaccessible region of Tibet. The utopia of the lamasery has been in existence for nearly 200 years.

Political and Social Structure: A theocracy. The lamasery and village are ruled by the High Lama, a godlike figure to all in Shangri-La. The High Lama, a French priest named Perrault, 1st arrived in Shangri-La in 1734, at the age of 53, to build a Christian monastery. Because of the air, and his development of an unnamed drug, the priest has lived for another 200 years during which time he has converted Shangri-La into a utopia where civilization might be saved from the peril of some future holocaust. Under the direction of the High Lama are 50 lamas who, like the High Lama, were lost European travelers. They spend their time in pursuit of knowledge and the arts. The political and social structure of the community is built around the word moderation, and moderation is practiced in all things--from government to love.

Property and Distribution of Goods: While the distribution of property and goods is never discussed, a rather vivid picture of the lamasery, and the valley that supports it, is provided. The valley contains a rich, fertile area 12 mi. long, and 5 mi. wide, on which a wide variety of crops is grown. There is also a rich gold deposit that provides the currency with which the lamasery buys goods are brought by native bearers who, though they never see the pass through the mountains that leads to Shangri-La, do know of a spot nearby where they are met by the village's inhabitants. Things like automobiles have never found their way to Shangri-La, but modern bathroom fixtures have. The villagers, who believe the High Lama to be a representative of God, provide for his, and the other lamas', welfare.

Production: All work is done by the Tibetan villagers, while the lamas pursue their more aesthetic ends.

Family/Marriage/Sex: Hilton offers no description of family, marriage, or sex in the village except to say that they exist, and that good manners, consideration, and moderation are the key to all 3 institutions. There are no marriages, or families in the lamasery--though love, or at least a highly platonic from of it, exists there. The one woman member of the lamasery that the novel introduces, Lo-Tsen, is described as having had many men love her, though that love has never been physically consummated. At the novel's end, however, she leaves the lamasery because of her love for someone.

Place of Women: There is at least one woman, Lo-Tsen, already at the lamasery studying to be a lama, and another is brought to Shangri-La during the course of the novel. However, their roles are never clearly defined, though it might be surmised they enjoy the same rights and privileges as men.

Education and Culture: The lamasery is dedicated to preserving and providing a home for the cultures of the East and West. To that end, the lamasery boasts a library in excess of 30,000 volumes, including Plato in Greek, Newton in English, and Nietzsche in German. New volumes are delivered periodically. The same attention paid to literature is paid to the other arts in Shangri-La, and as a result there is no sense--be it sight, hearing, or taste--that is not pleased by the environment. A former student of Chopin's, for example, resided at the lamasery and often played not only the well-known pieces of his teacher, but a large number of Chopin's unpublished works as well.

Shangri-La Station by ~Deinha1974 on deviantART

I hope you enjoyed your trip to Shangri-La. Not all wine and roses or beer and skittles, but inspiring just the same.

© 1975 - 1981 by David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace

Reproduced with permission from "The People's Almanac" series of books.
All images - Bing Images

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A - Z Challenge - T is for TROYES, France

Map of France showing the Champagne Region with Troyes in the South-West

When I first hit France in 2004, I was on a mission to get to Italy. Sounds crazy, but Aussie travellers are crazy. After over 20 hours on a plane to reach civilization (((snicker, snicker))), we hit the road running, or speeding, whatever. So after ooing and aahing as the plane hovered over Charles de Gaulle Airport, our schedule meant we had a rugged drive ahead to get to a little hill town north of Rome. Well, why didn't we fly into Rome then? Well, there was a reason but I quite forget now!

Champagne Region. See Troyes in the South West. (We got back to Champagne in 2008 where we visited many of the other Champagne towns and drank lots of, yeah, you got it...)

Anyhoo, tiredness set in as it does when you've been in a plane for a day, so we we managed to find our way out of Paris after only one wrong turn, then found the A-whatever, and headed south. No fun navigating as night set in along with jet lag, so where to lay our weary heads? Oh, there on the map, an interesting little town, Troyes, let's investigate. (Even though our itinerary was micro-managed by our travel agent, she had forgotten to book us in anywhere on our first night!) We brought her flowers when we returned...

After driving round and round looking for the actual city, we finally hit paydirt and stumbled upon the medieval centre. Woo hoo. We like old stuff. I guarded the car while the hubs found us a room at the inn, or the Best Western whatever. Well, what do you know? Oui, oui, tres possible.

Our first night in France was spent in a hotel right in the medieval centre and the badly-maligned French staff couldn't do enough to help travel-weary Aussies - "Have another bottle of Evian, s'il vous plait." I thought they'd be tu-ing us before too long. Desole, our dining room is closed, but there is a good Chinese down the road - (((guffaw))). So our first meal in France was Chinese. Ah, such a global society! It was tres delicious so not complaining.

We staggered to bed (you know you can't get a decent wine in a Chinese restaurant, must have been all that Evian) and slept the sleep of the blissfully happy.

Ah, but next morning we really knew what happiness was! Hitting the cobblestone streets, we were blown away by the picture-postcard perfection (yes, it brings out the poet in me) of a medieval town dusted in icing sugar snow, with happy Christmas music wafting through the chilly air. Yes, Aussies also like to hit Europe at Christmas to escape the oven that is Australia at that happy time. We like to experience a 'white' Christmas once in our lives with not a prawn or a bbq in sight for once!

So, after ordering a petit dejeuner in a delightfully authentic bistro, with all these French people (((ha ha))) and little silver trays with bills, money, whatever - where's the Euros?, I was able to use my recently-revised French language skills on the uber-efficient waiter. It all worked so seamlessly that the hubs (who speaks only Strine) didn't even know I'd ordered until bowls of steaming cafe au lait and croissants came winging out way and were plonked without ceremony on the timbered table. Ah, who has tasted more delicious coffee or croissants? They tasted like nectar to a couple of starving Aussies.

Petit dejeuner over with, let's hit the streets. Bit bumpy these cobblestones and it doesn't help that they've been dusted with snow overnight, but how completely exotic! Instead of donning the bikini and hitting the waves, here we are rugged up in overcoats, boots, scarves, gloves and beanies, walking up streets of half-timbered houses which looked like they could topple any minute, all accompanied by dulcet tones of French music. Oh la la. France stole my heart that magical morning in Troyes.
Finding Troyes was just the beginning of a red-hot love affair that rages on...

Here are some of the delights of Troyes. Every time we have a rave to a French person, telling them about our Troyes' experience, they look blank. Reason? Recently found out they pronounce it Trwah and were too polite to tell us!

Here's the blurb:

Troyes (pronounced trwah), was once a center for stained glass and textiles. It was also the home of the 12th-century poet Chrétien de Troyes, who wrote versions of the Arthurian legends, and of andouillettes, sausages, made in Troyes from tripe and famous throughout France.

The many cobblestone, pedestrians-only streets in the town's historic center give Troyes an intimacy that belies its population of over 60,000. An outline of the city looks like a Champagne cork with the medieval and artisanal vestiges mostly in the St.-Jean quarter at the base, and the administrative and ecclesiastical center at the head.

Go here if you'd like to learn more abou this gorgeous place.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A - Z Challenge - S is for Santiago de Cuba. Happy Easter everyone!

Well, it's Good Friday here in Oz and I shouldn't be blogging, so this is on scheduled post. I won't be able to get around and comment back until Saturday, but I'll return your visit.

I see a couple of visitors chose Santiago in Chile, but no, today it's Cuba, that renegade state south of the US of A.

I'd love to travel to Cuba one day and I was reading a great book The Island that dared - Derula Murphy - on travel in Cuba recently, which contained the following story. I thought I would share it with you. A bit different to my usual posts.

Map of Cuba showing Santiago de Cuba Province

The Story of 'The Trio'

It happened one night in 1957. Soon after their father had joined Fidel Castro's guerrillas in the nearby mountains, three little girls were lifted from their beds by Batista's soldiers. Still wearing pyjamas, they were carried off to a military barracks to be held as hostages.

Graham Green, in Cuba at the time, reported this:

Next morning, I saw the revolution of the children. The news had reached the schools. In the secondary schools the children made their own dcision - they left their schools and went on the streets. The news spread. To the infants' schools the parents came and took away their children. The streets were full of them. The shops began to put up their shutters in expectation of the worst. The army gave way and released the three little girls. They could not turn fire hoses on the children in the streets as they had turned them on their mothers, or hang them from lamp posts as they would have hanged their fathers. What seems strange to me was that no report of the children's revolt ever appeared in Time - yet their correspondent was there in the city with me. But perhaps Henry Luce had not yet made up his mind between Castro and Batista.

A disturbing story. One I hadn't heard and will not forget. At least this time the children survived.

About Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba Province in Cuba is an area of 156.44 km 6 ² and population 1,043,202 people (2004). Administrative center of the province is the city of Santiago de Cuba. The city is the second largest city in Cuba.  The city Santiago de Cuba was established in 1515, first among the seven cities of Cuba, Santiago de Cuba is one of the most picturesque in the country. Due to its exceptional geographical conditions is the first capital of Cuba until 1556, when San Cristobal Announces De La Abano. Santiago de Cuba, capital of the province of the same name, is generally known for two features that make it unique city – its hospitable people with a lively informal temperament and rich historical and cultural achievements.

Situated around a huge bay on the Caribbean Sea and near the Sierra Maestra, Santiago de Cuba coexists with sea and mountain. This determines the climate, as warm and humid at the same time fascinates with its beautiful landscapes, rich combined with urban, marine and natural elements. In Santiago de Cuba are preserved historical values of the first house in America, the first cathedral in Cuba, the first copper mine opened across the American continent and the first museum in the country. Santiago de Cuba is the cradle of all musical genres in the country.

Magnificent carnivals are considered the most remarkable in Cuba. In Santiago de Cuba has an international airport. It is one of the most important and superb tourist hubs in the country with a magnificent hotel infrastructure on a beach, mountain and city. Santiago de Cuba is the only city – a hero in Cuba. So called because of its great contribution to the liberation population exploits. Cuba Travel is always very good, very beautifulo and will turn you back into the retro style of living.

I hope I can get me to Cuba one day just to see all those classic cars, hear the street music, look at all those beautifulo colours and meet those beautifulo people.

Meanwhile, where am I taking you for T? Oh, I can't wait!


Thursday, April 21, 2011

A - Z Challenge - R is for ROMA (ROME)

I love Italy nearly as much as I love France so I got to thinking, woh, you'd better do at least one post on the glorious, chaotic country, so I saved R for Roma.

Rome (hereafter called by its proper name, Roma, to get me in the vibe)  you either love or hate. I'm somewhere in between. It's Italy's madness encapsulated in a central position. When I first visited Italy in 2004 I drove down from Paris through various tunnels. I can still remember driving through Tuscany and just about pinching myself - boy, it was just like in the films and books. What glory! What majesty! I was transported.

The first book (but certainly not the last) I'd ever read on Tuscany was by Feranc Mate, who with his wife Catherine, an artist, travelled the world looking for their Utopia. They found it in Montepulciano, a medieval hill town in Tuscany. Their trip set me off on a wild Tuscan chase, where I inhaled the rich red wines of the region - Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ...oh, but that's another story. Like Hannibal, let's get to Roma!

Being warned of the dire consequences of driving in Roma, we perched the hire car on a little precipice in a gorgeous medieval hill town, Soriano nel Cimino, 70 ks north of Roma. We were staying in a Palazzo once belonging to an ancient king, so we banded together with some friends we'd just met from Fort Lauderdale Florida and took the train to Roma. Now we'd been told to look out for pickpockets on the metro. Sure enough, one of our party got robbed of her wallet.

Chugging into Roma we had our faces out the window rhapsodising over all the old bits and pieces of bricks and aquaducts and ancient tunnels the Italians casually ignore, and stood up ready to hit Roma's soil, well, as soon as we could escape StazioneTermini. What a place!

'Do you wanna buy?' 'Here! Here!' For a quiet Aussie this was a bit of culture shock. How do you get rid of the pesky hawkers shoving cheap tacky Colosseums in your face?

'Buya this elephant and you'll have besta luck for many many year,' cried one. 'Buy or I'll set the Mafia onta you,' was the subtext.

Swatting hawkers like flies, we finally emerged into the ancient city and hit the tourist spots - The Spanish Steps, Victor Emmaneul monument, the Pantheon...All were amazing. (See at the end of post for the tourist trail.) Then we had to try the tucker, which wasn't half bad. Everything was loads of yeasty bread, thick melted cheese and tangy tomato paste/sauce/puree.

Victor Emmanuel Monument

Vatican City, St Peter's, (I never want to leave that St Pieta), buy a few Michaelangelo prints, more tucker. The piazzas, which one is this? Oh, this is where my Pat Conroy favourite novel Beach Music is set - Piazza Farnese - what are all these torched vespas doing here? When did that happen? Let's follow the da Vinci Code trail..,

Piazza Farnese, bathtub fountain (one of two)

The Trevi Fountain - 'Canna I taka your pitcher miss?' the urchin asks trying to snatch my camera from around my throat. 'Urk. Uhk. Lemme go little fella or I'll point the bone at ya,' I hiss. 'Here, I taka you pitcher with my camera. Then you can buy,' he says, trying to distract me while he tugged my trusty camera strap as hard as he could. 'Bugger off,' I say. 'Lemme go throw a coin in the fountain so I can come back one day.'  Give me the peace and quiet of the Australian Outback, I'm thinking...

Stazione Termini

(Rome's main railway station)

This is the center of railway system of Roma, as well as the cross roads of all public transportation in the city. The name ‘termini’ comes from the popular denomination of the word ‘terme’ meaning ‘baths’, from the nearest Baths of Diocletian. The architecture is characterized by the extremely long, modernist facade in travertine stone, and by the gravity-defying double curve of the roof. There is a Non-Stop train Service for the transport from the Fiumicino Airport to the Roma Termini and back. Located in the center of Italian peninsular, the Roman railway station was conceived as the center of all the railway junctions coming from north and south.

Spanish Steps

Designed between 1723-1726, these magnificent double steps combine straight lines, curves and terraces creating one of Rome's most distinctive landmarks. The steps lead up to the 16th-century church of Trinita dei Monti. Spectacular views over the city rooftops opening in front of your eyes more than warrant the steep climb (steep climb? Ever done the Cinque Terre?) The Spanish Steps acquired their name from the neighbouring Spanish Embassy. At the foot of the steps lies the boat-shaped Barcaccia fountain, designed in 1627 by Bernini.

The best-preserved ancient Roman structure in the city, built as a temple to the gods around 125AD and converted to a Christian church in AD608. It is marvelled at its domed interior with the oculus (9 meter hole in the center of the dome) which allows light and rain into the building. Inside you will find the tomb of the world-famous artist Raphael.
Colosseo (Colosseum)

Commissioned in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian the Colosseum is the most impressive and majestic amphitheater of Roman times. It was the scene for the Emperor and wealthy citizens entertainment where gladiatorial conquests between men (specially trained soldiers, slaves and prisoners), lions and wild beasts were held till the fifth century. The stadium has been pillaged over the centuries. Its rich marble facing stripped away to build palaces and churches and finaly it was rocked by an earthquakes. Now a mere skeletal framework of the former grandeur return us in time of ancient civilisations.
Trevi Fountain

Magnificent, mellifluous fountain, designed by Nicola Salvi and Leon Battista Alberti. In the middle of the scene is Neptune flanking by two tritons; one trying to tame an unruly seahorse and the other leads a docile animal, thus depicting the two contrasting moods of the sea. It’s said that if you throw a coin and make a wish, it will be fulfilled. It looks beautiful day or night.
Vatican City - oh my, why is there poverty in the world?

The Vatican is much more than the sum of its parts: It’s an organism that inspires and produces the very art and faith that then enrich it further—like a circular galaxy in a process of continuous expansion. —Gianluigi Colalucci
Well, I repeated the experience in Roma in 2008 and nothing much had changed. This time we travelled by train and organised a hotel behind a massive steel studded door 7 feet high and thick about 5 minutes from the craziness of StazioneTermini.  'Here, miss, buy this. Buy that!' They'd been waiting for me for 3 years! Why oh why did I throw that coin in Trevi Fountain?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A - Z Challenge - Q is for Queensland (of course!)

Before I get started on today's post, thank you to all who have visited my travel blog and left comments and to those who have followed. It has meant a lot to me. Since the A-Z Challenge began, I have upwards of 50 new followers and I thank you all. I hope you will continue to visit after the challenge. I've done my best to make the posts interesting and visual. At the moment I'm holidaying on the Sunshine Coast and it has been more difficult to visit everyone's blogs, but I've done my best to return comments and to visit a new blog or two every day.

So welcome to L'Aussie Travel and I hope you've learnt something new!

I know you'll forgive me for being a little parochial. Sure, there aren't that many places starting with Q, but I did want to do Quito in Equador, but how can I pass up the Sunshine State seeing as I'm Queensland born and bred? As you many have gleaned, I'm never happier than when I'm travelling, reading about travel, watching docos about travel, whatever, but my roots are firmly in Queensland.

This state of Australia occupies a quarter of the Australian continent and is called ‘The Sunshine State’ for good reason, it has pleasant weather the year round.

This is far longer than my usual posts 'coz I just couldn't stop once I started. I've put large text in salient parts so you can do a flick over what you want to read.  

Map of Oz with the States and Territories, with apologies to Tasmania who is often forgotten but Tassie is really a state of Australia!

Firstly, you may be wondering - how did we get that name? Well, unless you've just crawled from under a rock, or your school curriculum was completely skewed, chances are you know white people started life Down Under in a British colony. Where the Brits used to toss their convicts, many Irish. Well when Queensland was named, Queen Victoria was on the throne, so one thing led to another...

Queenslanders are the most laid-back of Australians, being further north we have a touch of the sun, so we don't ponder these finer points of our Empire stage, but when you start thinking about it what is going on here? Brisbane inner-city main streets have names such as Edward, Alice, Margaret, Charlotte, Elizabeth...and the centre of it all is the Queen Street Mall. Hmm. No cars, just lovely wide spaces, lots of entertainment, food havens, shops galore and many examples of Victorian architecture.

A view of the Queen Street Mall, or a small part of it.

Brisbane City Hall

Brisbane is a sophisticated multi-cultural city and capital of the state. Australia’s third largest city,has great restaurants as well as a varied nightlife. There are art galleries, movie and stage theatres, night clubs and cabarets.

Brisbane is a fabulous country-style city but there's a lot more to Queensland. Immediately north and south of Brisbane are our main beaches - Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast respectively. I have a home on the Sunshine Coast and escape there at every opportunity.

The Sunshine Coast

Queensland Coast - North of Brisbane: Just an hour’s drive from the city. Great weather, scenic countryside, idyllic beaches and a beach lifestyle beckons me every holiday (and we do have a LOT of holidays in Oz.)Extending up to Cooloola National Park, the Sunshine Coast has a varied landscape from the coastal areas to the hinterland.

With many areas remaining refreshingly unspoiled, and with beaches that rival the best in the country, the Sunshine Coast is a stunning example of contemporary coastal living.

Hmm, enticing?

Toward the northern end of the Sunshine Coast is Noosa. This aquatic wonderland is a favourite of the rich and famous who come to holiday on the beautiful Laguna Bay, staying directly on the beach. The surrounding Noosa National Park gives the whole area a feeling of peace and tranquillity. Noosa Heads (see my header photo!) is one of my favourite places to walk, eat and play.

The Hinterland areas of the Sunshine Coast are simply superb and in this case the rolling hills of Maleny and Montville are nearly better known than the coastal areas. With their quaint village atmospheres, incredible views of the valleys and amazing collections of art and crafts, they make a perfect day of sightseeing and browsing. Many B & Bs abound for a pampered weekend stay.

Green rolling hills, dairy farms and magnificent views to the Pacific Ocean -  the Sunshine Coast hinterland. I always go for a drive, visit the markets on top of the Range, and just chill.

This photo won a competition to show the iconic image of Queensland. Say no more...

The Eumundi Markets are on every weekend in the small township and are absolutely massive. I lived in my own little rainforest in Eumundi for 23 years, so I know it well. Stretching over what seems like half the town, you can find original local handcrafts, fine art and a bunch of other odd and interesting knickknacks. The street music and performers will keep you entertained while the food stalls, street cafes and traditional Aussie pubs will keep your hunger and thirst at bay.

Oil painting of the Glasshouse Mountains seen from Maleny.

Geographical landmarks include the striking Glasshouse Mountains that jut out of the surrounding landscape and whose heights take on a misty transparency against the sky. Many aboriginal legends abound on the creation of these unusual landforms.

Greater Queensland

Long, deserted golden sand beaches, islands of natural splendour, pristine rainforests, ancient volcanoes and home to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is the gateway to the tropical north of Queensland. Located here are the World Heritage listed areas of the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforests. Whether you're looking for relaxation or adventure. The Whitsunday Coast and Islands - seventy four islands, eight of them have resortsm, some very exclusive where the Hollywood stars come out to play. Cruising the blue azure ocean is a wonderful way to explore this part of the world, the beaches are glorious, diving and snorkelling the Barrier Reef is a life long memorable experience.

Stretching for 2000kms along the Queensland Coast, the Great Barrier Reef is home to more than 2000 species of fish and countless species of corals. Dotted with hundreds of idyllic tropical islands, much of it is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Park.

 Fell like scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef?

The glorious Whitsundays - hire a yacht and sail around. I've yet to gather up the courage. 

Although Queensland abounds in magnificent sun-drenched beaches and has many tropical and sub-tropical islands well worthy of a visit, if you ever manage to get here, try not to miss seeing the lush rainforests of the north or the stark, surreal beauty of the Australian desert regions.

A sketch of Queensland Country and the Outback

Bundaberg Coral Coast and Country

Is that a bottle of Bundy Rum or what?

Bundaberg Coral Coast and Country - Queensland Australia - known as the southern gateway to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park with air travel and boat cruises to some 13 islands and more than 20 reefs.
Capricorn Coast QLD

Here there are beautiful rainforests, sapphire gemfields to explore, or venture out to the Great Barrier Reef or the popular Heron and Great Keppel islands.

Darling Downs

This vast agricultural region, just west of Brisbane and the Great Dividing Range has wonderful historic towns including Toowoomba, Queensland’s Garden City. The Granite Belt Wineries, some forty in all, are also here, most with cellar doors. Many of my family members hang out on the Downs.

Fraser Coast QLD

On Fraser Island the pristine beach stretches for seventy miles. A 4WD, fishers and camper's paradise.

Encompassing Fraser Island, Hervey Bay, Maryborough, the Great Sandy Strait and the coastal region surrounds of the Fraser Coast QLD. Fraser Island has gorgeous beaches including Seventy Five Mile Beach, sparkling fresh water lakes, multi coloured sandstone cliffs, Australian wildlife and plenty to see and do.

Gold Coast, Surfers Paradise QLD

The Gold Coast. Has a wonderful hinterland too.

South of Brisbane: The Gold Coast is extremely popular with Australians, with over 3 million visitors a year. Hinterland includes Tambourine Mountain where contemporary Aussie writer, Kate Morton pens her historical tomes.

The Outback

The Birdsville Hotel where they hold races once a year. Last year was flooded out and the rich and famous had to camp out for several weeks until they could get their planes out of the mud. The hoi polloi were stranded for up to two months. Not unusual in the Outback.

Wanna live here? Bit far from the beach for most Aussies.

The vast Outback of Queensland Australia has famous places like the Combo Waterhole, Mt Isa, Cloncurry, Boulia, the Birdsville Hotel, the Riversleigh site and the Simpson Desert. Queensland Outback Australia. (Well, just so you know you'll be hearing more about the Outback later...)

Well, that was a massive tour of a massive state, which is much larger than many countries. I think France fits into Austrlia 15 times, so a couple or three of France would fit into Queensland. But as you can see we are rich in beauty and culture.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A -Z Challenge - P is for Patagonia

Where is PATAGONIA you ask? It's in Chile. It's fascinated me ever since I read a novel (and I can't remember its name, but I remember its story) where the characters were flying over Patagonia. The descriptions were so vivid and intriguing it immediately came to mind when I had to decide on a P.

In PATAGONIA, the Southernmost part of Chile, the geography and nature emerge from the most extreme and spectacular forms that it is possible to imagine, adorned with breathtaking landscapes: a pristine concert of native forests, pampas, islands, fjords, channels, fast flowing rivers, lakes and lagoons, hot springs, majestic millenary ice fields and snowdrifts.

The Chilean Patagonia lies between the 41.5 º and 56 º latitude south. It is one of the most extensive areas of the country and yet the least populated: 1.3 inhabitants per square mile. The natural surroundings are practically virginal.

There are two sub-regions; the northern Aysen Region and to its south, the Magallanes Region. Aysen is home to Laguna San Rafael National Park and the Austral Road (Carretera Austral). The Carretera Austral has become one of the most important attractions in Patagonia because it allows you to enter into a territory that still is open to discoveries: Northern Patagonia with its large extensions of cold forests, national parks, glaciers, gigantic ice fields, lagoons, fiords, rivers, and lakes. It is an ideal territory for adventure tourism, fishing, trekking, hiking, kayaking, rafting, and observing flora and fauna in its most natural state.

The history of the southernmost point of the continent has always been linked to seamen and adventurers, frontiersmen and mythical native inhabitants such as the Patagones or “Patagonian Giants”. The Portuguese seaman Hernando de Magallanes (Ferdinand Magellan) arrived at the area in 1520 and baptized it with the name Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire), after observing the bonfires the Onas or Selknam natives kept burning in their canoes to navigate by night and keep themselves warm. This is an area of vast indomitable landscapes, islands and channels that maintain their legendary characteristics of old.

So pack your Gore-tex, sub-zero-degree sleeping bag and head to chilly Patagonia. You'll see glacial peaks, active volcanoes, icy tundra. The Chilean side is Patagonia's lesser-visited: places such as Tierra del Fuego and the Torres del Paine promise adventure - imagine downing a Pisco Sour (grape-brandy cocktail) shaken with glacier ice. Something to dream of...This isa great blog site dedicated to the region should you be inspired to go or to read more...

Put yourself in the picture...

Monday, April 18, 2011

A - Z Challenge. O is for the Outback and what it means to Australians.

Today our ''country' is the land, a sacred concept to our indigenous people, the aborigines. I've taken an excerpt from an Australian writer, Mary Durack, born to the heritage of a pioneering family and one of Australian's foremost literary figures.She's always lived in the Outback of Australia so is well versed in both its beauty and its terror.

                                                      A Map Of The Australian Outback

How do I explain it? The Outback is kind of, well, more or less, sort of, all of Australia...
Outback is a term that describes rural and remote areas in Australia, the parts where not many people live. The different colours in my Outback map show population density, and as you can see, most of Australia is rather empty... (Ignore the 'I live here,' I don't, I now live in Brisbane...)

Even though 83% of Australians choose to live at the beach or within 50 klms of the coast, strangely we still think of the Outback as the 'real' Australia. My excuse is that I was actually born and brought up in country Queensland so the outback is more than just an idea to me.

Here is an extract from Mary Durack's Keep Him My Country.

"After weeks of oppressive heat the April morning was cool and fresh. The homestead still lay in the grey dawn shadow, but already the sun had touched the flat-topped range to gold and silver and the river pearl-grey with a ragged scarf of mist streaking the dark trees, was stirring to life in its deep flood-ravaged bed. Cockatoos flapped and cried and blood-breasted finches spilled like a shower of rubies over the pale grass." (p.1.)

The Aboriginal view of the land as 'country' is well known. In the novel, Durack uses an aborigine to show how he feels about the land.

Dickie felt his heart swell with pride. The billabong shone like bright enamel under a sunset sky, reflecting the wheeling birds, pale lilies and dark bordering trees. This was his 'little country', the place from which he sprang and to which he would return. His father had found him here, a shadow child in the water feeding on the green weeds. Later the shadow had appeared again in a dream, in the form of a small goanna. After a time his mother had become sick when eating lily roots and she knew then that the goanna spirit had entered her and she would bear a child. The goanna would be his 'dreaming', and this his spirit place. So much he knew but there were secrets about his country and the time long past that he would never know. He would never hold the churinga that had belonged to his father, or, since he was dead, ever know its hiding place." (p.118.)

I talk of my country in the night,
I talk of my lover...
I talk to my country for she is woman
The water and the soil of life,
That the smoke of her fires encircle him in the night
And her strong loins hold him...
I cry to my country that her voice shall sing in his blood
and her hot suns fire him.

I cry to my country -
'Keep him that he may come to my side
For I wait through the burning heat of the day
And the long quiet cold of the night.
I wake when the whirlwind scatters my fire to the dry
And its embers die under the falling rain.
I wait for my lover."

(Extract from an Aboriginal love song)

The literature:

As well as Durack's many novels - (Kings in Grass Castles is another stunner about the early cattle kings of the outback,) there is a modern memoir, Tracks, by Robyn Davisdon, which is an amazing story of a woman's trek across Australia with four camels and a dog. Inspirationsl. There is no shortage of great Australian writing regarding the outback, much of it inspired by real life trials and tribulations.

I hope you enjoyed your glimpse of Australia's Outback.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A - Z Challenge - N is for Nepal

This was a hard one. Have you any idea how many countries start with N? A whole world of them. I was torn, but Nepal is the first country that came to my N mind. I tossed up Nova Scotia as I find it fascinating but I didn't want Talli Roland telling me I got my facts wrong, so here I am. Many of you may have already gone trekking in Nepal, but I never passed through that rite of passage. I haven't climbed Everest either. Do shout out if you have done something off the wall like that!

Facts about Nepal

Capital: Kathmandu

Language: Nepali (official) & 20 other languages divided into numerous dialects. Derived from Sanskrit, Nepali is related to the Indian language, Hindi, and is spoken by about 90 percent of the population in either native or second language fluency. Many Nepalese in government and business also speak English.

National Calendar: The Nepali year begins in mid-April and is divided into 12 months: Baisakh, Jestha, Asadh, Shrawan, Bhadra, Aswin, Kartik, Marga, Poush, Phalgun, Chaitra. Saturday is the official weekly holiday.

Unification Day: 1768 (by Prithvi Narayan Shah - First King)

Constitution Birth: November 9, 1990

National Anthem: "May Glory Crown Our Illustrious Sovereign"

National Motto: "The Motherland Is Worth More than the Kingdom of Heaven."

National Bird: Danphe


Area Total: 140,800 km2, Area Land: 136,800 km2

Land use: arable land: 17% permanent pastures: 15%, forests and woodland: 42%.

Geography: landlocked; strategic location between India and Chinese-occupied Tibet; extremely diverse terrain ranging from fertile plains and broad valleys to containing eight of the world's ten highest peaks.

Climate: Nepal has a climate that ranges from subtropical summers with mild winters in the southern lowlands to an alpine climate with cool summers as well as severe winters in the mountains. Average annual precipitation decreases from 1,778 mm (70 inches) in the east to 899 mm (35 inches) in the west.


Ethnic Groups: Among the earliest inhabitants were the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley and aboriginal Tharus in the southern Terai region. The Indo-Nepalese migrated from India and are ancestors of the Brahman and Chetri caste groups, which account for nearly 80% of the population. The Tibeto-Nepalese account for the remainder and trace their origins to central Asia and Tibet, including the Gurungs, Magars and Tamang in the west, Rais and Limbus in the east, and Sherpas and Bhotias in the north.

Religion: 90% Hindu (official state religion) 5% Buddhist, 3% Muslim, 2% Other (Christian, indigenous & animistic practices) While Nepal is the only Hindu country in the world, Hinduism has synthesized with Buddhism in Nepal. As a result, Buddhist and Hindu shrines and festivals are respected and celebrated by all.

Population: 23,200,000 (2001 census)

Distribution: 15% Urban, 85% Rural (2001 census)

Refugee issue over the presence in Nepal of approximately 100.000 Bhutanese refugees, 90% of whom are in 7 United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) camps.

Issues: Illegal trafficking in women is one of the biggest issues facing Nepal today. Lured by promises of employment in big Indian cities like New Delhi, Mumbia and Kolkatta, large numbers of Nepali young girls are smuggled by flesh traders and forced into prostitution. The flesh trade is made simpler due to the open border ensuring free movement of people. Nepali NGOs estimate that hundreds of thousands of Nepali women, mostly teenagers are forced to work in brothels in India. The United Nations has expressed concern over the growing trafficking and urged the Nepali and Indian authorities to initiate action to curb this trade.

Nepal is among the poorest and least developed countries in the world with nearly half of its population living below the poverty line. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, providing a livelihood for over 80% of the population and accounting for 40% of GDP. Industrial activity mainly involves the processing of agricultural produce including jute, sugarcane, tobacco and grain. Production of textiles and carpets has expanded recently and accounted for about 80% of foreign exchange earnings in the past three years. Apart from agricultural land and forests, exploitable natural resources are mica, hydropower and tourism. Agricultural production is growing by about five percent on average as compared with annual population growth of 2.5%. Since May 1991, the government has been moving forward with economic reforms particularly those that encourage trade and foreign investment.

The government has also been cutting expenditures by reducing subsidies, privatizing state industries and laying off civil servants. More recently, however, political instability—five different governments over the past few years—has hampered Kathmandu’s ability to forge consensus to implement key economic reforms. Nepal has considerable scope for accelerating economic growth by exploiting its potential in hydropower and tourism, areas of recent foreign investment interest. Prospects for foreign trade or investment in other sectors remain poor due to the small size of the economy, its technological backwardness, its remoteness, its landlocked geographic location, and its susceptibility to natural disaster. The international community funds more than 60% of the development budget and more than 28% of total budgetary expenditures. Remittances from Nepalese working abroad, nearly $1 billion in 1997, continue to be a significant source of foreign exchange.

Economic Performance: Nepal experienced positive upswings in most economic sectors during the past fiscal year of 1999/2000, growth of just under 11%, and projected to achieve a growth rate of six% in 2000/01. Much of this growth was spawned by the growth in the agriculture sector. Inflation declined in the first half of 1999/2000 reaching 2% in Dec 2000 as food prices stabilized.

The agriculture sector in Nepal contributes 41% of the GDP and employs an estimated 81.2% of labor. The primary food crops produced are barley, coconuts, coffee, maize, potatoes, rice, soybeans, sugar cane and wheat. The primary meat products are beef and veal, buffalo, chicken, duck, lamb and pork. The largest agricultural exports in 1998 were sugar cane, lentils, pulses, oilseed and nutmeg, mace and cardamon. Agricultural exports in 1998 was $72.2 million, while agricultural imports in 1998 was $156.5

Swift rivers flowing south through the Himalayas have massive hydroelectricity potential to service domestic needs and the growing demand from India. Hydropower exports are one of the major domestic resources which can fuel economic growth in Nepal, but development of these resources requires significant capital investment.  Hydro projects currently under construction in Nepal should nearly double the country's total generating capacity over the next two years.

Environment: Nepal's environmental challenges are largely a consequence of its dependence on fuel derived from wood, and the expansion of agricultural lands through non-sustainable development methods. This includes removing trees without measures for replanting, which results in widespread deforestation and soil erosion. Water pollution and contaminated water also presents human health risks.

Head of Government: Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba

Cabinet: appointed by the king on the recommendation of the PM

Sources: CountryWatch, BBC, IMF