Japan’s Brilliant Bullet Train

TRANSPORT IN JAPAN

If you decide to travel in Japan using public transport you will be pleasantly surprised. It’s efficient, punctual, comfortable and clean. The train system, that includes Japan’s brilliant bullet train as well as its  regular  trains, is excellent. The subway is fast, frequent and user-friendly. Over short distances, taxis are reasonably priced and very clean. It’s worthwhile to have your destination written in Japanese to show the driver since many do not speak English.

TRAINS

Remarkably, Japanese trains have an annual average late arrival time of only 38 seconds! They reach most places you are likely to tour in Japan and can be supplemented by buses or taxis.

The bullet train or Shinkansen that connects major centres, is a marvel. Travelling at up to 300km per hour, this sleek, white, green or red serpent of a train is whisper quiet and provides a smooth ride when you are inside. Outside, it appears as a rush of wind if you’re lucky enough to catch it passing at full speed.

Reserve seats and use it as much as you can. Like most trains, platforms are marked to show where you are to wait to alight your reserved carriage. You will have 30 seconds to get on or off. Don’t worry, you can actually do it in time.

We travelled on the newest Shinkansen line, inaugurated as recently as March 2016.

This sleek, green bullet train travels from the port city of Hakodate in the northern island of Hokkaido to Tokyo, with stops on the way that include the city of Sendai on the main island of Honshu. More than 50km of the journey is in a tunnel at a depth of 100 metres under the ocean between the islands of Hokkaido and Honshu. Our shiny new green train was connected at the rear to an equally shiny red bullet train, so it was actually 2 trains that together were hurtling above ground and under sea.

It’s worthwhile and saves money to buy a Japan Rail Pass (JR Rail Pass) if you intend to use the trains. This pass allows you to go on most trains and Shinkansen (but not trains privately operated) and other transport such as the JR Miyajima Ferry. For more information about obtaining the pass and a user guide see JR Pass.

 

SUBWAYS

Tokyo and Kyoto, the two cities in which you are most likely to use them, have excellent subway systems. On first descent into the stations, they may seem daunting with their myriad of lines and destinations and their banks of ticket machines, but help is at hand. Signs appear in English as well as in Japanese. There is often an information booth. A subway map in English is available at these booths. There are usually attendants on hand at all stations who will help you get your ticket at the machine and direct you to your train. They won’t necessarily speak English, but if you know your destination, they are remarkably helpful despite the language barrier. Again, if you plan to use the subways more than a very few times, it’s worthwhile getting an IC card for unlimited travel. See www.japan-guide.com for more information.

 

TRANSPORT FROM/TO TOKYO AIRPORTS

Of all the options – trains, taxis, buses and shuttles – the fastest and most economical to and from the airport is the train. Narita Airport (see http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2027.html for all transport options) is 60 kilometres from Tokyo and a taxi to central Tokyo is very, very expensive. You are much better off getting a train to central Tokyo and then if necessary, a taxi to your hotel.

The same is true of Haneda Airport. Although nearer central Tokyo, a taxi ride there from Haneda can cost over AUD$100. For your transport options from and to Haneda see http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2430.html.

A LITTLE SOMETHING FOR THE ROAD

It would be remiss to talk about transport, especially trains in Japan, without mentioning that every train station or subway offers a choice of take-away food and drink. The larger stations have cafes, eat-in or take-away restaurants, bakeries and shops. Some even have department stores attached. They are in essence shopping arcades. Many of the restaurants are excellent and of good value. Even the most remote station will have a vending machine that offers hot and cold drinks.

Or if you rushed to hop on the Shinkansen without having time to buy a little something for the road, fear not. A hostess will appear in your carriage with a food and drink trolley from which you can make a purchase. You are never very far from food when travelling in Japan.

Related posts:

Onsen in Japan

Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

Autumn in Japan

Notes on Japan

Ryokans in Japan

Hokkaido – the Northern Island of Japan

 

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The Pleasures of a Japanese Toilet

 

The pleasures of the Japanese toilet are gaining worldwide attention. The BBC in its news today, made an announcement about toilets in Japan. And recently the New York Times ran a feature story on Japanese toilets. Why toilets would qualify as news might puzzle many – but it would not surprise those who have been to Japan.

Japanese toilets are quite ingenious.

When you arrive in Japan and head for the first toilet you can find in the airport you find that it is impeccably clean, as are all toilets in Japan almost without exception. But you are stopped in your tracks by an electronic panel next to the loo with a dazzling array of symbols. There is so much to read! Do I need a user manual to go to the loo in Japan? Not really, but often you are stuck in the toilet because it’s hard to find the flush button in the dense display of options. Especially since often they are only in Japanese. Welcome to the Toto!

It is claimed that once you experience the Toto commode/washlet, you will never again be satisfied with a regular toilet. First, the seat is heated, a surprising comfort that never wanes. Then you have a varying number of functions depending on the model. The Japanese have combined in one what the French made separate – a toilet that is also a bidet with special features. You can choose a front or rear spray, the temperature of the water and length of cleanse. You can vary the water pressure. Some have an air-purifying system that deodorises during use. Many have air dryers to finish. While others also provide music or a sound button that plays warbling birdsong or gushing waterfalls to discretely cover your sound.

Panel of Japanese toilet

 

These toilets are ubiquitous throughout Japan, especially in hotels, restaurants and airports as well as private homes. They often exist in public conveniences as a Western-style choice alongside the traditional, squat toilets seen elsewhere in Asia.

It seems that the manufacturers of these hi-tech toilets have finally realised the difficulty the dizzying array of options presents to foreign tourists. So they have now jointly agreed to standardise and simplify the symbols on the toilet panels and reduce them to only eight new pictograms.

Press Conference of Manufacturers of Japanese toilets announcing new
toilet symbols- January 18th 2017

New symbols on Japanese toilets

Travellers to Japan, seduced by the temptations of the Toto, have been known to return home determined to find and install this triumph of toilet technology in their own homes. None of them seems to have regretted it.

Related posts:

Our Top Places in Japan

Ryokans in Japan

Japan’s Brilliant Bullet Train

Onsen in Japan

Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

Autumn in Japan

Notes on Japan

The Pleasures of a Japanese Toilet

Hokkaido – the Northern Island of Japan

 

 

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Ryokans in Japan

 

Western-style hotels or  Ryokans – traditional Japanese inns?

Ryokans in Japan have been described as national treasures. These traditional inns for travellers are located throughout the country. You can stay in Western-style hotels throughout Japan, but you would be missing out on very memorable and pleasurable experiences by not staying in a ryokan. Many hotels also offer you a choice of Western or Japanese-style rooms. The latter are similar to a room in a ryokan. These rooms tend to be larger than Western-style rooms which are often tiny.

What to expect in a Ryokan

When you enter the rooms in these ryokans, you remove your shoes in a small ante-room and put on the slippers provided. Tatami or densely woven straw mats cover the floors. The sliding doors (shoji screens) and windows are made of wood and paper.

The rooms are usually spacious and light with minimal furnishings. An atmosphere of serenity seems to emanate from them.

There is always a low wooden table with legless seats and cushions or just the  cushions for seating. Often rooms have an alcove attached in which stand comfortable low armchairs. When you first enter the room, there will be no bed or mattresses on the floor. It is only while you are having dinner in the dining room of the ryokan that staff come, move the table aside and set up futons with quilts on the floor. You can always ask for an extra futon if you want more cushioning between you and the floor. Pillows often have something in them that feels like small beans which adjust to the shape of your head, but are not particularly comfortable. All rooms have kettles or thermoses with hot water, a teapot and cups and supplies of Japanese green tea. Every implement is beautifully presented.

Most ryokans have en suite toilets and showers but it’s worthwhile to check before you book.

Kaiseki-style dinners

One of the most comfortable ryokan we stayed in was on Miyajima island, just across the strait from Hiroshima. The best rooms in the Miyarikyu Ryokan have views looking out to the sea and the sunset. You can watch the wild deer of the island wandering undisturbed on the street below. While the rooms in the ryokans are very clean and simple, the food can vary from quite basic to outstanding. The better ryokans provide breakfast buffets with a wide array of both Japanese and Western food. It’s worth trying the Kaiseki-style dinners at least once in the best ryokans. These are banquet-like meals in which a seemingly endless series of courses arrive of local delicacies and the best the chef can offer.

Yukatas

When staying in ryokans or hotels in Japan, you do not need to bring pyjamas. Sleepwear, usually a yukata – a unisex cotton kimono – is provided, as are toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoos and generally razors and hairbrushes too.

It is particularly pleasant to put on a yukata which often has attractive patterns and colours. A traditional jacket is also provided to wear over the yukata. The yukatas serve both as pyjamas and leisure wear. It is perfectly acceptable to wear the yukata to breakfast and dinner in the dining room, where everyone else will also be wearing the same yukata.

There is a very strict rule governing how you put on the yukata. You must always fold the right half against your body and then fold the left side over it so that it is on top and then tie it with an obi – a beautiful wide band. Folding the opposite way with the right on top is frowned upon as it is the way Japanese dress the dead.

Shukubo – Buddhist temple guest lodgings

Even less sophisticated ryokans provide a very good level of comfort. We spent one night in a shukubo, the guest lodging of Shojoshin-in, a Buddhist temple monastery in Koya-san. Koya-San is situated in forested mountains south of Kyoto. It is the world headquarters of the Shingon School of Buddhism whose founder in 816 was Kobo Daishi, one of the most important religious figures in Japan, who is said to be buried in Koya-san. The town has 110 temples and is a magnet for pilgrims. Which is probably why when we arrived at this remote spot after taking several trains and a funicular up the 650 metres to get there, we were stuck in a traffic jam in the town centre. There are many shukubo of varying degrees of comfort available in Koya-San for pilgrims and visitors. Many are listed on the Koyasan Shukubo Association website.

Shukubo lodging of a Buddhist temple monastery in Koya-san Japan – womangoingplaces.com.au

We assumed that the monastery would be quite austere, but were surprised to find the traditional style rooms comfortable, with heating, facilities for tea, wifi and a TV. Dinner was a strictly vegetarian meal with no meat, fish, garlic or onions according with their strictures – but sake was served with dinner on request. Although Western toilets were available, all toilet and bathroom facilities are shared and not en suite.

Most ryokans in Japan have onsen, varying from small and basic, as in the above shukubo, to elaborate and luxurious with a large choice of pools and optional features such as massage and treatments.

We highly recommend staying at least once in a ryokan as part of a memorable Japanese experience.

Related posts:

Our Top Places in Japan

Japan’s Brilliant Bullet Train

Onsen in Japan

Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

Autumn in Japan

Notes on Japan

The Pleasures of a Japanese Toilet

Hokkaido – the Northern Island of Japan

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Onsen in Japan

Japan’s ubiquitous volcanoes frequently cause land and sea to shudder. But they are also the source of the healing waters of the Onsen in Japan. These are the public bath houses all over Japan that are often supplied with mineral water drawn from hot springs in volcanic craters.

Onsen have been part of Japanese life for millennia.

One of the great delights of visiting Japan is staying in ryokans – traditional inns – with Onsen. Although most ryokans have public bathing areas, not all are built around hot springs.

The most memorable hot spring Onsen we visited was in Noboribetsu on the northern island of Hokkaido. It is an area called Hell Valley because it brings to mind a picture of the underworld. Rumbling, sulphurous clouds of smoke and vapour spew from numerous volcanic craters and caves. Pools of bubbling mud, geysers and streams of burning hot water cover the landscape. We stayed in the ryokan,  Dai-Ichi Takimotokan, on the site of the original Onsen set up here 150 years ago. The thermal waters here are said to have special healing properties. For this reason it is an area popular with not only Japanese, but also with South Korean and Chinese visitors. There are many ryokan and Onsen in the area.

After a walk in the surrounding National Park through the unearthly landscape, it is a treat to then step into an Onsen and sink into the mineral rich sulphur baths for as long as you can stand the temperature of  38-40 degrees celsius. You can also relax in the steaming outdoor bath, surrounded in autumn by snow-covered trees.

 

Hell Valley Noboribetsu Hokkaido Japan – womangoingplaces.com.au

 

Even in a smaller and simpler ryokan in Hakone, south-west of Tokyo on Honshu, the Onsen was the highlight of our stay at the Yajikitano Yu Ryokan.

If your hotel or ryokan does not have an Onsen, there may be Onsen available at a general public facility, for example, in Matsuyama on Shikoku, the famous Dogo Onsen, thought to be the first Onsen in Japan. Or you can go to a neighbouring hotel wherever you are staying and use the Onsen there for a fee.

Onsen vary from luxurious to basic, but they are well worth the experience.

 

Etiquette in an Onsen

There is a particular procedure that governs correct behaviour in the Onsen.

Some Onsen are mixed, but we were only in those in which men and women are divided into separate areas. You take off all your clothes and place them in a basket or locker, and enter a large room with rows of stools, individual shower hoses, mirrors, soaps and shampoos. You are given a small white towel/washcloth with which you scrub yourself and rinse off until you are thoroughly clean.

 

Noboribetsu-Onsen Dai-ichi Takimotokan, Hokkaido Japan

 

Then you walk naked into the adjoining area where there are pools of different sizes and temperatures. These pools are strictly for relaxation, not for washing. In the beginning you may feel awkward without clothes or a swimsuit, but you quickly get over it. You take with you the small towel which you used to wash yourself. It is considered unhygienic and therefore offensive to allow this washcloth to touch the water of the relaxation pools. So some fold it and balance it on their heads, while others tie it stylishly into a kerchief around their heads.

Many Onsen have saunas and also provide hair dryers, skin lotions and other beauty products. If the Onsen has an outside pool, try it, possibly after you have sampled the inside pools. They are usually set in a secluded area made to appear as natural as possible with rocks and greenery.

Even though rooms in most ryokans have an ensuite toilet and shower, bathing in the Onsen is quite a different and more blissful experience. It is certainly an essential experience of Japan.

 

Related posts:

Our Top Places in Japan

Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

Autumn in Japan

Notes on Japan

Ryokans in Japan

Japan’s Brilliant Bullet Train

Hokkaido – the Northern Island of Japan

The Pleasures of a Japanese Toilet

 

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塔斯马尼亚塔斯曼岛游船 – Tasman Island Cruise, Tasmania

 

游船的速度很快,海面也常常是波浪起伏。坐在船的前排,这快感仿佛是乘坐过山车。波涛让你时而上又突然下。如果你坐中间或者靠后的位置,整个航行会比较平稳,当然了,这取决于天气。所以,你可以根据坐在哪里来选择你想要的航行体验。

 

但是,无论你坐在哪里,塔斯马尼亚东南部海岸线的风景是非常壮观的.

媛梦之旅就搭乘了由Pennicott Wilderness Journeys公司承办的塔斯曼岛游船。

看到那令人敬畏又极其美丽的悬崖峭壁,船上的每个人都感觉很兴奋,内心也充满喜悦。

 

但突然间,我能够想象到200年前的人会对这些相同的悬崖峭壁作何感想。这些悬崖是那些来自英格兰的囚犯看到的关于范迪门土地(塔斯马尼亚)的第一样事物,在那里,他们将开始他们一生,或者是几十年的奴役生活。

 

当他们的船驶出迷雾时,映入眼帘的便是高达300米的巨大高墙,这些高墙是南半球最高的。灰色、荒芜,辉绿的岩石历经超过2.9亿年的时间,已经演变成为狭窄的垂直褶 。这些景象对于我们的视觉来说是令人害怕的,但这些景象对于我们来说也是地质奇观。

 

 

我们驰骋于拱门间、穿过径深的海蚀洞、经过低处的空隙和瀑布。我们的船漂浮在躺满无数海豹的岩石平台旁,与世无争的海豹们趴躺在上面,有的好奇地看着我们,有的则不以为然。在船上的另外一种感觉就是自由自在,因为我们从一片海域看到另一片海域—从塔斯曼海到环绕南极洲的南大洋是那么的轻而易举。

 

我们是从霍巴特乘坐公交开始我们的旅程的。当我们穿过鹰颈峡(Eaglehawk Neck)到达亚瑟港(Port Arthur),司机给我们介绍了臭名昭著的景点“恶狗之路”(Dog-line)。在19世纪,从亚瑟港到塔斯马尼亚大陆这一片狭长的土地上,饥饿的恶狗等在路边袭击附近流放地试图逃走的囚犯。

 

我们在一个码头下了船并穿上了红色的防水夹克。然后,我们登上了一艘时尚的生态巡洋舰,它是为适应崎岖的塔斯马尼亚南海岸破涛汹涌的海面而定制的Pennicott公司船只之一。这些长约12.5米的开放式刚性充气艇可分层容纳43名乘客。

 

当我们出海的时候,信天翁在我们的头顶盘旋。塘鹅,海鸥,燕鸥和仙锯鹱扫过浪花。海鹰和鹰隼守望在悬崖的上方。海豚陪伴船只左右,但现在不是观看鲸鱼迁徙的季节。这里的海岸线、多种多样的海洋生物以及海鸟都是塔斯曼国家公园(Tasman National Park)的一部分。

 

多种多样的野生动物、美丽的海岸线以及从一片海域驰骋至另一片海域的快感,都使这次体验成为最奇妙的经历。

这条线路,以及Pennicott Wilderness Jouneys公司运营的到布鲁尼岛(Bruny Island),已经多次赢得了旅游业的奖项。

 

照片: Rosalie Zycher 和 Augustine Zycher

视频编辑:Augustine Zycher

音乐:Albare演唱《No Love Lost 》选自专辑《The Road Ahead》

 

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澳大利亚的内陆地区:昆士兰卡穆威尔 派特•麦克弗森

 

 

     

          在澳大利亚,牧牛人是一个标志性的形象,在诗歌、民谣、绘画及文学中得到不朽传颂。

           在澳大利亚的内陆地区,牧牛人就是这里的传奇,这种关系就如同牛仔在美国西部所刻画出的标志性形象那样。

           但是如今在内陆地区,真正的牧牛人已经为数不多了,取而代之的则是公路列车和直升机。

           我的朋友,现年82岁的卢克•麦考尔(Luke McCall)就是那些为数不多的传奇的牧牛人之一。在半个多世纪里,他和成千上万头牛马一齐穿越澳大利亚广袤的大地。他热爱这样的生活,也深爱着他的这些伙伴们。他从未把这样的生活视为流离失所、危险重重或者与世隔绝。

           我的老朋友当卢克•麦考尔经常会讲他牧牛的经历。曾经有一段时间,他连着九个月每天都要坐在马鞍上,每晚都要轮流看守牧群。

           但那些已经是过去的事情了,而现在卢克也是澳大利亚仅剩的不足80位牧牛人之一。每年,这些剩下的牧牛人都会前往昆士兰的卡穆威尔(Camooweal)参加一年一度的“牧牛人扎营节(Drover’s Camp Festival)”。每年八月的第四个星期的周末,他们都会千里迢迢赶来参加这个活动。

           每年我都会开车送我的朋友卢克去参加这个活动。

    卢克最近非常喜欢赶时髦。但是对我来说,这是一趟7000公里的旅程,耗时大约三周。我们会住在我能找到最好的汽车旅馆里,同时得保证卢克每天都能有两次透气休息的时间,一次是吃午饭,另一次就是每晚来一顿不错的晚餐。他的那些在内陆的睡在地上、就着茶吃干面包的日子已经一去不复返了。他也发现到他这个年纪,是该稍微享受享受了。

           “牧牛人扎营节”纪念的是卡穆威尔作为全世界规模最大的牧牛群中心所流传下来的传统。当时这里的牧牛人会把1000至1500头牛从大型的牛场(驿站)一路驱赶到澳大利亚西北部的金伯利地区、北领地以及昆士兰。 牛群们走过2000公里,穿越最恶劣、最炎热、最干旱但同时也是澳大利亚最美丽的地区,从西澳到昆士兰州及南部地区,最后到达铁路和肥沃的土地。

           牧牛人有数十月的时间是在旅途中渡过的,他们经历了常人无法想象的困难。他们仅靠牛肉、干面包和茶度日,同时还要与严寒和烈日作斗争。

           这样的牧牛方式持续了一百年。但是在20世纪60年代的时候,这种方式骤然发生了改变。在短短的几年中,牲口的铃铛声就被摩托车的响声所替代了。叫做公路火车的长卡车被引进,从而取代牲口成为拉货进出市场的工具。那些由牧牛人带领牲口驮东西的日子已经变成了历史…… 但是,他们并没有被人们所遗忘。

           在卡穆威尔,人们产生了一种情结。它是由多个元素所组成的,包括一片室外的活动区域、一座纪念牧牛的博物馆、一个放置从前牧牛人肖像画的画廊以及一片扎营的广场。每年,年老的牧牛人都会聚集于此,重现那些值得回忆的日子。成千上万的人都会前来加入他们的队伍,参加各种庆典活动。

           我们欢迎每个人来参观。您可以借此机会见见这些传奇人物,感受一下澳大利亚内陆地区的文化遗产。尽管这个活动一年只举办一次,您可以在一年中的任何时候前来参观这里的博物馆,同时这里还有很多其它的活动,可以带您领略澳大利亚不同的内陆地区以及牲口驿站。

    欲知更多内容,请访问droverscamp.com.au

    派特•麦克弗森(Pat McPherson)是维多利亚州一名退休的护士。20世纪60年代,她是西澳金伯利地区Fitzroy 红十字会“澳大利亚内陆任务(Australian Inland Mission)”的一名护士。她定期会前往被她视为“内心故乡”的内陆地区。

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    Ragusa Ibla, Sicily

    Ragusa Ibla combines magnificent architecture, celebrity glitter, and the delights of a small Italian town.

    From afar, you see the limestone houses perched on a hill covered in carob, almond and olive trees. A deep valley surrounds the hill and drops into a water-filled ravine. A natural fortification that nevertheless, over 2000 years, failed to stop invasions from the Greeks, Romans, Normans, Byzantines, Moors, Spaniards, French and Turks.

    PALAZZI and NARROW PATHWAYS

    The houses of Ragusa, each adjoining its neighbour, are hewn into the side of the hill and follow its slope. Inside the town, you stroll down narrow, winding lanes past beautiful palazzi, churches and houses. The streets are so narrow, that you can stand in the middle of the street, stretch out your arms and almost touch the houses on either side of the road. When I locked the front door of my room I had to flatten myself against the building otherwise I would have been in the path of cars. Only permit holders can drive into the town. Residents need to lower rubbish in a plastic bag at the end of a string down to ground level where a small garbage van collects it.

    From the outside the houses look small, but inside, the rooms are often surprising spacious – white-washed walls with wood-beamed ceilings, some with stone arches. It was lovely to sit on the balcony of my hotel room with a sandwich of locally produced cheese, a glass of wine from the  region, and gaze over the green hills. Sheep, goats and cows graze on very fertile land here and the local produce of cheese, wine and cured meats is prized.

    UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES

    Ragusa Ibla is one of 8 towns in the southeast part of Sicily that are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This is because they are the only places in Italy with so many buildings in what has been called the Sicilian Baroque style of architecture. It is a style that grew out of a catastrophe.

    In 1693, the area was devastated by a massive earthquake which destroyed Ragusa and killed 5,000 inhabitants, as well as destroying other towns in the region.  After the destruction, the impoverished people of Ragusa decided to rebuild the city on a higher plateau, and thereby founded the more modern, upper town called Ragusa Superiore.

    The Ragusa aristocracy however, decided to rebuild their palazzi, churches and gardens on the ruins of old Ragusa. They were well served by a great architect, Rosario Gagliardi, who developed this Sicilian Baroque style which can be found most notably in the towns of Ragusa, Noto, Modica and Scicli.

    CATHEDRAL OF SAN GIORGIO

    An outstanding example of this style is the Cathedral of San Giorgio. It is the focal point of Ragusa Ibla and contains some of its best art works. In additions to religious services, it hosts many concerts. On the day of the patron saint of Ragusa, the huge statue of St. George on a white horse is taken from inside the Cathedral and carried by teams of young men through the decorated streets of the town. Hundreds of people from all over Italy join in the procession which culminates in a fireworks display that lights up the Cathedral.

    The Cathedral of San Giorgio sits at the top of the town centre –  the Piazza Duomo. And it is here, that you can sit and eat delicious gelato made from surprising ingredients such as carob, olive oil, or chilli peppers, and flavoured with wine. Gelati DiVini make their own gelato and offer different flavours each day. Follow this with an espresso. This Piazza is the focal point of the passeggiata around the streets of the town.

    When walking from the Piazza Duomo alongside the Cathedral – look up. You will see beautiful ironwork balconies supported by the most extraordinary limestone gargoyles. These gargoyles are UNESCO-listed and made from local limestone that has been naturally impregnated with underground oil reserves, making it both amenable to sculpting and durable.

    INSPECTOR MONTALBANO

    Ragusa Ibla has unexpectedly become a desirable tourist destination for a singular reason. Inspector Montalbano is the name of a remarkably popular Italian TV series, based on a series of novels by Italian author Andrea Camilleri. Filmed principally in Ragusa Ibla, the series has been a hit in over 40 countries and exposed people to the beauty of Ragusa, as well as the attractive looks of Luca Zingaretti, the highly regarded Italian actor who plays Montalbano. The popularity of the series has produced the phenomenon of Montalbano tours to Ragusa where tourists visit sites that appear in the series.

    Montalbano’s beachfront house and the expanse of beach onto which his balcony opens have become a place of pilgrimage. Fiction rarely accords with reality, and this is especially so here because the site filmed as Montalbano’s ‘home’ is in Punta Secca and his ‘beach’ that seems just beyond his balcony, is kilometres down the road, put together by the magic of the editing room.

    CASTLE OF DONNAFUGATA

    One of the truly spectacular Montalbano sites is the Castle of Donnafugata. In the series, it is the home of the Mafia boss, but in reality it is a very grand, very beautiful castle that sits on the highest part of Ragusa.

    This castle and the aristocratic family who owned it have an even earlier claim to fame. They were the inspiration for the acclaimed novel, The Leopard  by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Baron Corrado Arezzo De Spucches, whose family owned the Castle of Donnafugata for hundreds of years, was a leader of the Sicilian aristocracy. With the unification of separate states into the new  Kingdom of Italy in the 19th Century, the Baron and his class of ruling nobles lost much of their power. Hollywood made a film  called The Leopard, based on the novel, starring Burt Lancaster as the Baron, with Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale.

    Donnafugata Castle is open to the public, and although only 28 of its 122 rooms are open, they are fascinating. The gardens are gorgeous. You need to drive or get a taxi to Donnafugata as it is outside Ragusa Ibla.  Donnafugata is about 16 km from Ragusa so it can be reached in about 20 minutes by car. There is also a local train Ragusa-Donnafugata, but it runs only twice a day.

    NOBILITY OF RAGUSA

    Another legacy of the nobility of Ragusa is to be found in the middle of the Piazza Duomo. It is the Circola Di Conversazione, established in the 1850’s as a club for men. It is still a bastion of local power and influence with exclusive membership and no women allowed until 1973. My guide,  Nunzia Leonardi, a woman who had lived in the area her whole life, had never before been able to set foot inside this club.

    Remarkably, and with great courtesy, they responded to her request to let me, an Australian journalist, come in and photograph the plush red velvet sofas and drapes, the intricately designed ceilings and chandeliers, and the gorgeous terrazzo floor.

    One of the loveliest places to escape the hot Sicilian sun is in the gardens of Ragusa. The aristocrats of Ragusa built these gardens at the end of Ibla’s rocky ridge, initially as their own private gardens. But now they are a public gardens with views overlooking the valley.

    Ragusa is a town that charms you with its intimate size, its quieter pace, and above all, with its beauty.

     

    SOLO TRAVEL OR GROUP

    There are many tours to Sicily and given the poor public transport there, a group tour is probably the most efficient way to cover a lot of territory. I did not know this before I went, so I travelled solo and still had a fabulous time. I felt safe wherever I went in Sicily and was treated with courtesy and helpfulness.

    HOW TO GET THERE

    To get to Ragusa  from mainland Italy I flew to the nearest airport which was Catania. Since then a new airport has opened in Comiso (about 25 minutes from Ragusa) but it’s a small one and it is necessary to check what flights are available from the Italian mainland. See http://www.aeroportodicomiso.eu/en/flights-en/destination-en

    If you do fly to Catania, there are no trains from Catania to Ragusa. You can take a bus which takes about an hour and a half or a taxi which takes just over an hour and cost around 120 Euro.

    There are different taxi companies that you can either pre-book or call once you get to Italy. I used Sicily Airport Transfers.

    TOUR GUIDE

    In Ragusa, as in other Italian towns, I decided to hire a local qualified guide and I found that this was the best policy for touring the area, learning a great deal, and enjoying the company of a local. You can Google the various cities and find local accredited guides.

    The guide I found in Ragusa, Nunzia Leonardi was outstanding. She was a very knowledgeable about the area and its history, spoke excellent English, was most pleasant to spend time with and very accommodating in helping me explore the things in which I was most interested.

    She took me around Ragusa, Noto and Modica and it was wonderful tour. I recommend going to all these incredibly beautiful towns. Her email is: [email protected]

    HOTEL

    I found the Hotel Dell’orologia in Ragusa through booking.com. It is one central hotel with rooms nearby in different streets. My room was lovely, with a private kitchen, and a beautiful view over the hills of Ragusa. The breakfasts were a delicious selection of freshly baked pastries, local cheese, omelettes and good coffee. The hotel was reasonably priced.

    WHERE TO EAT

    Good food is one of the joys of going to Italy. You don’t have to go to restaurants to have sensational meals. In Ragusa as elsewhere, I just went into the local delicatessen and chose from the wide selection of cheese, sausage, and olives to go with a fresh roll.

    Trattoria La Bettola and Rusticana were two family restaurants that were enjoyable. The specialty of the region is anything to do with eggplant and in particular, eggplant caponata.

    When this sort of good unpretentious food is readily available, I would not waste time and money going to the Duomo – which has 2 Michelin stars. The lunch special I tried there was totally tasteless and the portions were tiny. You are better off crossing the piazza to the many local restaurants offering really good local food and large helpings that reflect their generosity and hospitality.

    * * * * * *

     

    Photographs & Slideshows – all photographs and arrangement in slideshow by Augustine Zycher, Editor, WomanGoingPlaces

    Music: Cusinota Mandolino

     

     

     

     

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    Donald Trump and “Crooked Hag” Hillary

    Donald Trump’s lewdness towards young women has caused an uproar that looks set to end his chances of winning the presidency. By contrast, his attacks against Hillary as an older woman have barely drawn a murmur. Trump and his supporters have conducted a vicious campaign against Hillary using her age as a weapon against her. As though being an older woman is contemptible. They have played on negative stereotypes of old women and used scary, nursery rhyme images of witch-like women. “Crooked hag” is just the latest double-barrelled epithet they have hurled at her.

    Instead of being inconspicuous like many older women, instead of babysitting the grandchildren and confining herself to a domestic landscape, Hillary Clinton, aged 68, is fighting for the most powerful position in the most powerful country in the world. She is not only threatening to smash the glass ceiling, but to shatter an entire system of beliefs that consigns old women to invisibility.

    When Donald Trump said Hillary Clinton did not “ look like a president”, he meant that a woman did not fit the image of a president. He was referring to her gender.

    But when Donald Trump in the first debate, amended his statement and said that Hillary Clinton “did not have the stamina to be president”, he meant that an older women could not handle being president. He was referring to her age. And to the stereotype of a frail, old lady.

    Powerful old men, weak old women

    Undeterred by the fact that he is two years older than Clinton, Trump elaborated on the caricature of an aged woman by saying that as president “she’s supposed to fight all these different things and she can’t make it 15 feet to her car.” This was accompanied by his parody of a weak woman barely able to walk.

    Oddly, as a label, “old Donald” does not resonate in the same way amongst many voters.  Despite his age, he is able to present himself as sexually super-charged, vigorous, powerful and successful. Powerful old men, weak old women.

    Old women in charge

    We have no problem trusting older or old men to be our political leaders. We believe that their age endows them with years of accumulated experience, even wisdom. But older women? Women over 60? There are no precedents for old women being elected as leaders in democracies.

    Theresa May aged 60, was parachuted into her position to replace David Cameron by the Conservative Party leadership and has not yet stood for election. Golda Meir, at age 71 was similarly parachuted into the prime ministership by Israel’s Labor party following the sudden death of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol.  Margaret Thatcher was only 54 when first elected. Indira Gandhi was 49 when first elected prime minister of India. Angela Merkel was 51 when she became Chancellor of Germany.

    There are no precedents for what Hillary is doing at her age. And this may be a decisive reason why the American public has trouble accepting her as their leader.  Alive to the prejudices of his audiences, Trump is  skilfully presenting the public with a caricature of what might be unpalatable to them – an old woman in charge.

    A new generation of older women

    Hillary Clinton reflects a much broader phenomenon whose scale is unprecedented.

    For the first time in history, there are millions of highly educated women who have professions and have spent much of their lives in the workforce. Now they are entering retirement.

    Now what? Given that life expectancies for women have risen to the age of 90, it is a long time to  babysit, garden or play golf.

    The last frontier of feminism

    Women ageing is the last frontier of feminism in developed countries. After fighting for equality and the particular problems in the life cycles of girls and women, feminists have failed to address these same issues in the life cycle of older women. And this is because many feminists of the ‘60s are only now hitting their own 60s. Only now are they themselves facing the problems of older women and the double standard in perception and expectations.

    Ageing women find themselves without roadmaps of how to live the rest of their lives.

    We may not all want to follow the road that Hillary Clinton is taking, but as a role model, she inspires us to reject traditional expectations.

     

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    Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great

     

    Exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria – until 8th November 2015

     

    Catherine’s Bad Girl Reputation 

    Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia has had very bad press for over 300 years.

    She was the most renowned and the longest-ruling female leader of Russia, reigning for 34 years until her death in 1796 at the age of 67.

    But ask the average Russian what he knows about her and he will smirk and say Catherine was debauched and is mostly known for having countless lovers, usually from the ranks of her young army officers.

    So why has the NGV decided to mount an exhibition dedicated to her?

    Catherine: Art Collector Extraordinaire

    Because in fact, Catherine was one of the most enlightened and powerful leaders of Europe in the 18th Century. Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great  showcases some of the works she sourced and commissioned to create one of the world’s greatest art collections in history. Catherine is said to have wanted to have the greatest expression of man’s genius all under one roof. So she constructed palaces to house her ever-growing collections. She called these pavilions the Hermitage, and so began her great legacy of what today is the renown Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

    The NGV, in conjunction with the Hermitage, is now showing the largest collection of her treasures ever to be exhibited outside Russia. It includes Rembrandt, Rubens, Velazquez and Van Dyke.  This is the finest group of Dutch and Flemish art to come to Australia. Amongst the 400 masterpieces from her personal collection are paintings, sculptures, drawings, porcelain, silver and precious gems.

    From Teenage Bride To Empress

    A German-born princess, Catherine at the age of 14, was married to the heir to the Russian throne. After a coup in 1762 in which her husband Tsar Peter lll was murdered, Catherine took his place on the throne. She then proceeded to drag Russia from a cultural and political backwater to an imperial power. Ably assisted by Grigory Potemkin, who was both her lover and her political partner, she pushed back the Ottoman empire, established a Russian presence on the Black Sea and extended the Russian empire to Alaska.

    Empress Catherine And The Enlightenment

    Largely self-educated, she oversaw a period of cultural renaissance in Russia. She was an innovative thinker and dedicated to education, the arts and culture. She sought the advice of Diderot, the most powerful art critic of the time about which art works to amass. In a period of only 10 years, she siphoned into Russia 1,800 paintings and 40,000 written volumes – including the greatest European and Asian achievements in architecture, design, art and literature and transformed the imperial capital St.Petersburg, into an international centre of enlightenment.

    Catherine corresponded for 15 years with Voltaire, one of France’s pre-eminent Enlightenment philosophers, about the ideas that were re-shaping Europe. Her ideals of abolishing serfdom and ensuring the equality of all citizens under the law were ahead of her time, but she was powerless to overcome the opposition of the nobility who were determined to keep their slaves. However, she achieved numerous other reforms, including the introduction of paper money and the modernisation of Russia’s education system.

    There is an excellent biography ‘Catherine the Great and Potemkin: The Imperial Love Affair’  written by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Interestingly enough, Montefiore looked into the number of lovers Catherine was supposed to have had and he concluded that she probably had around 12 lovers – hardly the debauched monarch of legend.

    For information about the exhibition go to www.ngv.vic.gov.au

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    一年中的哪个时间去日本旅行最好呢?When Is The Best Time To Visit Japan?

     

    一年中的哪个时间去日本旅行最好呢?

     

    秋天

    媛梦之旅团队选择秋天来日本旅行是因为在秋天我们可以欣赏到秋叶的美色。虽然今年日本的秋天比原计划来的晚了一些,但是我们还是在十一月份的时候看到了一些绝美的叶子。尽管天气变得越来越冷,我们在十二月上旬也还是看到了这些叶子的身影。北海道的叶子颜色变的要早一些,因为北岛的天气要比南岛更冷一些。

    春天

    因为能欣赏到樱花的美,所以春天的日本非常受游客欢迎。在春季,无数日本人及游客都会蜂拥至各个公园及花园 ,就是为了欣赏小路两旁的花海,淡粉、玫瑰红、以及白色的花朵交错陈列、美轮美奂。不过,真正的花季却会受天气的影响,所以与预期相比,开花时间可早可晚、很难预测。同时,花期也很短,所以很难说在你的路途中一定能够看到樱花绽放。

    夏天

    选择在夏天来日本游览有时会让你感觉不是那么得舒服。从六月开始一直到九月底,日本都是阴雨连绵、炎热且潮湿的。更糟糕的是,夏天是台风最恶劣的季节。

    冬天

    日本的各个滑雪圣地纷纷会在冬季出现在人们的视野中。对于那些想要在冬天来日本的人来说,这些地方日益受到他们的青睐。每年二月份在北海道的首府都会举行札幌滑雪节(Sapporo Snow Festival)。有了积雪和冰雕的助阵,这里俨然已经成为吸引游客的又一胜地。

     

    请跟随我们下面的视频来欣赏日本美轮美奂,五彩缤纷的秋叶吧。

     

     

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