Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Unbearable Beauty of The Nakasendo

--Susan, every other Sunday

Last autumn, I walked a 7.5 kilometer stretch of the old Nakasendo - a 17th century travel road that once served as the primary northern travel route between Kyoto and Edo (now called Tokyo).

The Kiso Valley, as seen from the Nakasendo


Although my books are set in the 16th century, the section I walked is actually far older. Known as the Kisoji, this ancient travel road connected the mountain towns of Nagano and Gifu prefectures. (And thus, makes a perfect setting for one of my upcoming historical mysteries.)

Almost 8km, start to finish.

When the Tokugawa shoguns established designated travel roads (for monitoring and controlling commerce as they unified Japan), the Kisoji was absorbed into the Nakasendo (which follows its route exactly).

Before walking the road, I spent the night at Magomechaya, a minshuku (traditional guest house) in the preserved post town of Magome--once, the southernmost terminus of the Kisoji.

Magome in twilight.


After the day-trippers leave, the shopkeepers set lanterns along the street, turning the village into a magical place as the sun goes down.

Magomechaya, the minshuku where I stayed.

The following morning, I woke at dawn and followed the steep, winding road out of town and past the ancient notice board where Tokugawa shoguns posted edicts for travelers and townspeople along the Nakasendo:

You didn't want to see your name on this notice board.


Shortly after I set out, the sun appeared above the mountains, illuminating a lotus field:

Parts of the Nakasendo haven't changed much in 1000 years.


The road remains uneven, cobblestoned in places:

17th century cobblestones.


packed earth in others:

Silent, untouched, and breathtakingly beautiful.

It winds through mountains covered in towering pines and glorious maples:

More metaphors than you can shake a stick at.

And it hides a hidden danger ... bears.

Please have a thing out of the sound. Not a clue what that means,  but fortunately I survived.


Since medieval times, travelers on the Nakasendo have had to watch out for the bears that inhabit the mountains. Brass "bear bells" hang on stands at intervals along the road, with signs warning travelers to ring them hard "against bears."

"Ring the bell hard against bears."

I saw no bears to ring the bells against, which was probably good. The signs did not include instructions on how to make the bears stand still long enough for me to ring a bell against them, anyway.

About two-thirds of the way to Tsumago - the next town north of Magome, and my initial destination -- a road branches off, with a sign that reads "Otaki-Metaki Waterfalls." Never one to bypass an opportunity for adventure, I took the proverbial road less traveled by...

Not sure which one is Otaki & which is Metaki


The falls sit about 100 meters apart, and each is about 40' high.

It did, indeed, make all the difference.

Afterward, I retraced my steps to the Nakasendo and continued my journey, arriving in the preserved post town of Tsumago in time for lunch and a visit to the fantastic museums there.

Tsumago, Japan Alps.
But that's a story for another day.

Preserved inn and teahouse, Tsumago.

Although it's not as well-known as many historical sites in Japan, the Nakasendo is one of my favorite places in Japan. I loved every minute of my walk, even if its beauty was ...

... unbearable.

(Sorry, Jeff, I had to beat you to it.)







Saturday, May 27, 2017

Of Course You Can Go Home Again

Jeff—Saturday

Well, we’ve arrived on Mykonos. So much has changed. Or is it we have changed? Time may answer that. Or not.  But, no matter, the creative juices are flowing, and CNN is tucked away, lost in the white noise background of competing local craziness, not trumpeting breaking news inside my eyelids.  As I said, things have changed.

Everywhere. It’s palpable.

But I’m not going to talk about that this week. This is time for easing back into the old life, and what better way to do that than through a return to the sea, the source of all life.

So, here’s a photo essay taken on a spur-of-the-moment sunset run between the island’s new harbor in Tourlos and the old port in old town Mykonos.  Nothing fancy, just a quick jaunty cruise with friends in their “zodiac.”  It’s precisely these sorts of unscripted moments that remind me I’m home again.  And what else can one hope for than to be back among so many friends who are more like family—and allow me to play the crazy uncle. :)


We're off!
Entering the old port






Huddled masses

Our Captain's imitation of the Statue of Liberty, Greek Style
A few ships along the way



Dusk, and time to move on.



Until anon...

—Jeff

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Castle Of the Mad King

Mad King Ludwig probably wasn’t mad.
                                  

 I think he was my kind of guy. I would have asked him to do a guest blog. And he would have obliged.
                                   
                                              (2 minutes after car park at the castles opening)

He was an interesting dude. King of Bavaria at the age of 18. Bavaria was by then, part of the new Germany although it still retained much of its autonomy. Ludwig’s problem was that he wasn’t much interested in politics ( well that wasn’t a problem for him, it was more of a problem for those around him.) On his ascension to the throne, he let the ministers keep their jobs, he let the policies initiated by his father run and decided that a ‘hands off’ approach would leave him more time to do things he really liked. Like building castles. He avoided  the big formal occasions and all those stuffy meetings, preferring to go for long walks by himself, write poetry or ride through the country side chatting to farmers and peasants, often rewarding  them with lavish gifts if they had shown him any hospitality.


                                                    
                                                            It's behind you!!
He was called, the swan king, the fairy tale king and ‘mad’ but to his people he was ‘the cherished one.’

                                             
The many castles he commissioned were not state  funded but paid for out of the royal revenue. And that probably led to his own family  trying to have him declared insane. They didn’t have the foresight to see that the Neuschswanstein itself would ensure Bavaria’s place in bucket list tourist attractions – it’s in the top thirty of the 100 things to see before you die ( and walking up the hill it sits on is enough to bring about an early demise).  It has over 1.5 million visitors  a year. And Loopy Ludwig oversaw its design, the decoration,   the furnishing, the central  heating, the electricity and the funny ceiling in the bedroom.

And it was the first castle in Germany to have a phone, begging the question, who did he call?

                                            
                                                           The one that dad built.
And that’s just one castle. He did the Linderhof and a few other palaces. As the money ran out, his architects designed more and more outrageous and elaborate designs, safe in the knowledge nobody could ever afford to build them.  His Dad, a distant man, had nothing to say to his son. But as he had built the Hoheschwangau, you’d think they could at least have a conversation about plumbing or something.

It was while Ludwig was a wee kid, about 5 years old , he had looked out  a window  of the Hoheschwangau onto  an nearby Alp,  and thought  ' that would be a great place to build a castle- a fancy castle with towers and spires'.

The telescope is still there, at that window. As the tourists walk round they are invited to take a peak at the ‘Fairy castle’ just as the young prince envisioned it.
                                           
                                               Something like the view from the palace to the castle.
Although Ludwig didn’t get on with his dad, he loved his Grand pappy, who is described as a diagnosed eccentric.  Ludwig loved growing up in the Hohenschwangau, he and his close pal, Prince Paul rode around re-enacting bits from Wagner’s operas and reciting poetry to each other.
 If it wasn’t for the patronage of  Ludwig, Richard Wagner would only have completed half the operas that he did… but those of us who have suffered the ring cycle might judge  that to be a mark against Ludo’s sanity. I mean if we were meant to sit still through that I think God would have designed our buttocks differently and made us able to turn our hearing off.
And Ludwig's bed? He  designed the ceiling above his bed to show the solar system and the stars as they were in the sky above him. He also liked to ask his servants to harness the ponies to the sledge, then stand in a line, illuminating his way with candles as he  dashed  down  an Alp at midnight. He ‘d often ask young children to share the fun.
He sounds like the Michael Jackson of his day.
(At the this point , I think I should point out just how bonkers many of the royals are. It's all that inbreeding and waving out car windows that does it. Our lot are part of the Goethe Sax Coburg  clan. At least now they are allowed to marry commoners to breed the madness out but for a few hundred years they have been swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool.)
But, and here’s where the story gets dark. if  I am ever at a loose end, I’d like to dig out some official papers about how Ludwig met his end at the age of 40. There are more conspiracy theories than there are castles ie a lot ! The official version, as told by the tourist guide was that Ludo had been diagnosed with depression and then drowned. I found out that where he drowned was only waist deep and that as a younger man, Ludwig had been an exceptional  swimmer, certainly enough to right himself in the water. If he was conscious. And even then there was no water in his lungs.
He was not alone as he went out for a walk that fateful day. He was with his  doctor, Dr Gudden.
Neither of them came back. Ludo was supposed to have been stabbed or shot but there were no marks on his body seemingly although his close female friend maintained she had his coat, complete with a bullet hole. The good Dr had been beaten and stabbed.

The king was in good spirits and there was no reason for him to commit suicide. He might however have suffered a heart attack, trying to swim or wade his way across the lake on a cold, cold night. And was he doing that to get away from a life he could endure no longer?
Or had Richard Wagner just phoned him and told him that he's just written a week long opera?

So it all remains a mystery. Maybe he was just spending too much money.
But the castles  and the good will of his people have kept King Ludwig in the memory long after those that may have brought about his demise have slipped into eternity without anybody really noticing.
Here’s a few pics of him,  handsome, a cool kind of guy. He has very charismatic eyes and a fine pair of britches. Do Americans even have a word for britches?



Caro Ramsay Von Ludoblogger  May 26th 2017