Cowboys & Indians | Marvelous Bridges, Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria

indianMy last “outing” for the year was a visit to the so-called Marvelous, or Wonderful, Bridges – a short drive from the Chepelare ski resort in the Rhodope Mountains, where we spent New Year’s Eve.

These so-called Bridges are a couple of pretty impressive natural arches, at 1,450 meters (4,760 ft) above sea level, formed over hundreds of years by the erosive activity of the once larger Erkyupryia River. There are all kinds of legends about the place – one involves shepherds fighting off a dragon who devoured their flocks, but none mention the presence of any Indians. And yet today, when one climbs to the top of one of the bridges and looks down at the rocks, there’s a Native American’s face carved into them.

In the Footsteps of the Romans and Van Gogh | Arles, France

arles_manhole_coverThe small town of Arles, located on the banks of the Rhône River in the South of France, has two major claims to fame.

The first is the town’s Antique history, testified by the Roman architectural remains, including: the humongous Arena, where – in addition to plays and concerts, corridas are still being held; a smaller open-air theater, which is currently undergoing restoration; the Alyscamps (Roman necropolis); and the Obelisk, located on the Place de la République.

arles_antiqueThe second is the relatively short period that Vincent Van Gogh spent living and working in and around the town between 1888 and 1890, during which he produced over 300 paintings. All over Arles, there are plaques embedded into the pavements, which take visitors on a walking tour of the spots, where Van Gogh set up his easel to paint some of his best known canvases, such as Starry Night Over the Rhône, The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night, and The Yellow House. arles_van_goghInitially I thought the image on the plaques, somewhat inexplicably, represented a hiker with a backpack (oops!), though it turns out that apparently it is based on one of Van Gogh’s self-portraits The Painter on His Way to Work, which showed the artist walking on the road to Montmajour. (The painting used to be part of the collection of the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum in Magdeburg, but is unfortunately believed to have been destroyed by a fire in World War II.)

arles_tilesArles was very much a delight to walk around in, not just on, but also off the tourist paths, over grey cobblestones and faded mosaics. We went to the enormous Saturday market; visited the Salon international des santonniers (the makers of the simultaneously very weird and strangely fascinating traditional “little saints” nativity scene figurines), which was housed in Arles’ former Hospital (where Van Gogh was admitted, following the infamous ear-severing incident and whose internal courtyard he captured in one of his paintings); wandered around La Roquette neighborhood, where our gracious hosts live and which – with its narrow, winding and deserted streets and colorful doors and windows, looked like a film set; and spent almost an hour in the shop&studio of Léon – the jeweler and international man of mystery, who was probably one of the most eccentric people I’ve ever met (though that’s a whole different story!).

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument | New Mexico, USA

tent_rocks_cactusI lost my phone and, together with it, all my pictures from my visit to Santa Fe, sadly.

All I can post here from that trip are these two snaps, taken with a friend’s camera (thank you, Julia!), during our hike around the Tent Rocks National Monument, but it’s just as well – I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance to visit Santa Fe again, but I’m pretty sure that I won’t be going hiking again anytime soon.

tent_rocksEven if that turns out to be the last hike I ever go on, however, that wouldn’t be too shabby of an experience. As far as hikes go, this one was truly breath-taking. Not so much because of the hot sun shining mercilessly on our heads, the dry wind filling our mouths with dust, the lack of water and the slopes that made me pant without end, all of which were serious factors I had to contend with. But rather because the views and the scenery around the area really did take my breath away. Like much of the rest of New Mexico, the Tent Rocks National Monument also had a otherworldly feel to it, like you had just landed on another planet, which these pictures don’t quite do a justice too, but only begin to hint at.

 

Starstruck | Cannes, France

cannes_palmdorIn Cannes, even the pavements celebrate the grand film festival, which has been taking place in the city every year since 1946, with a design in the shape of the festival’s highest prize – the Palme d’Or.

Just over a month before the beginning of this year’s festival, there were no flesh-and-blood movie stars to be seen anywhere, but their traces – or rather hand prints – were literally everywhere.

On the rather crummy-looking ceramic tiles in the little park next to the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès…

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Here, in a clockwise direction, starting from the image on the top left, we have: Whoopi Goldberg; Wim Wenders; the Pink Panther (!?!?!); Ben Gazzara and David Lynch; Isabella Rossellini; and Akira Kurosawa.

… on the decidedly more glitzy silvery tiles embedded into the ground around it…

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Here, starting from the largest image and going clockwise, we have: Sylvester Stallone; Sophia Loren; and once again, David Lynch.

… and leading up to (as well as underneath!) the red carpet at the Palais’ entrance.

cannes_red_carpetWalking along the Promenade de la Croisette, I could almost smell the faint whiff of celebrity, as I tried to imagine what this part of the city felt like during the time of the festival.

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In search of the tower | Pisa, Italy

pisa_collageThe only reason for our stopover in Pisa was to go see and take pictures with the famed leaning tower (in which we looked positively ridiculous, not unlike these people). It was a good thing then, that we got a little lost and took the long way, so that I could snap a few photos of the town’s grounds and iron covers, complete with the Pisan cross.

Lady of the keys | Poitiers, France

According to local legend, when the city of Poitiers was besieged by the English in 1202, the mayor’s clerk promised to bring the keys to the city to them in exchange for a lot of money. But when he tried to steal the keys in the night, the clerk found that they had disappeared from the mayor’s office. In the morning, upon discovering that the keys were missing and that treason had been committed, the mayor went to pray and request a miracle at the church of Notre Dame la Grande, where he discovered the keys in the hands of a Virgin Mary statue. In the meantime, according to the legend, the English armies – disconcerted by the appearance of both Mary and the local saints Hilary and Radegund fell into disarray, started to fight among themselves and eventually fled the city.

Unfortunately for Poitiers’ pride, this is only a legend. According to historical fact, in 1202, Poitou formed part of the English duchy of Aquitaine, under the reigns of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. During the actual battle for the city in 1356, the English beat the French, captured their king and only released him for an enormous ransom.

Oh well.

Red, blue and yellow | Poitiers, France

To make things easier for tourists, the city of Poitiers has designed three possible walking tours and marked their routes along the pavement in the central part of the town. The self-guided tours, marked by red, blue and yellow lines all start at the Notre Dame la Grande church – they split up and occasionally come back together, taking the visitor around the city’s central districts and main landmarks. It was way too cold to follow them systematically, but seeing them on the ground definitely made me look up and try to consciously look around at the churches, buildings and parks by which they passed.