Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley

       The Loire Valley in France is known as 'the garden of France' and 'the country of a thousand castles'. On a seven day visit I wondered through a glorious land of vineyards and flowers and explored at least eight of its 1,000 castles. Of those, I found the Chateau de Chambord to be the most spectacular.
       A mere two hour train ride from Paris, the chateau is situated in the centre of a 54 square kilometre forest. Enclosed within a 32 kilometre-long wall erected in the 16th century, the forest was once the hunting preserve of Francois 1. Still a wildlife refuge, its hunting rights are one of the perks of the presiding French President.
       For 25 years 1800 skilled artisans laboured on the building of the young French king's hunting lodge. This massive structure, France's second largest castle after Versailles, is crowned with a roof likened to the skyline of an Oriental city. Its upper terrace comprises an astounding array of lanterns, chimneys, cupolas, minarets and towers. During Francois' reign it was customary for ladies of the Court to gather on the terrace to watch the return of the hunt and for the King and his courtiers to enjoy spectacular events, many of them devised by Leonardo da Vinci.
The mysterious centre of Leonardo's double-helix staircase
       One of Chambord's most famous attractions is a double-helix staircase attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. After studying his design sketches, its present caretakers are of the opinion that Leonardo was likely responsible for the staircase's unique design. Built around a circular central core lit by an opening at its apex, the stairway is such that climbers ascending do not come in contact with those descending.
Amboise Castle
       Although the origins of Chambord are uncertain, it is thought that Leonardo may have had more input into the castle design that just the staircase. He was a close confidant of the king, so much so that the king had an underground tunnel built from Amboise Castle to the artist's home so that he could visit for conversation with his mentor at any time of the day or night.

Photo copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 26th January 2012

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

       To celebrate Arizona’s 100th birthday, Grand Canyon Railway(GCR) will operate the “Official Arizona Centennial Train” Feb. 14, 2012 by making a special round-trip run to the Grand Canyon using GCR’s steam locomotive #4960. This historic locomotive has been converted to use recycled vegetable oil for fuel, and reclaimed rain and snow melt are used in the boiler for steam.
       In addition, the National Park Service has designated Feb. 14 a “fee-free” day at Grand Canyon National Park.
       Centennial Train passengers will ride coach class in fully refurbished historic 1923 Harriman-style rail cars for only $7.50 round trip, approximately what it cost in 1912. The Winslow Harvey Girls and the Bill Williams Mountain Men will also be onboard to provide narrative information and stories from Arizona’s history.
       The Official Arizona Centennial Train will depart the Williams Depot at 9:30 a.m. and arrive the Grand Canyon Depot at 11:45 a.m. The train will then depart the Grand Canyon Depot at 3:30 p.m. and arrive in Williams at 5:45 p.m.
       “We are pleased that the state has designated Grand Canyon Railway’s February 14th steam run the official ‘Centennial Train,’” said Bob Baker, general manager of train operations. “Much of GCR’s history is intertwined with the state’s as we matured over the past century.
       Even those who are not riding on the train may wish to see the train off, said Baker. “Many train enthusiasts follow vintage steam engines, and each time engine #4960 is fired up it creates a photo opportunity and a chance to see this famous engine in action.”
       The pre-departure Wild West Show will be as entertaining as always, Baker added.
       That night the “Centennial Sweetheart Dinner” will be held at Sultana Theatre – also celebrating its 100th anniversary – in Williams. Now a special events center, the facility’s screen and curtain remain. The Sweetheart Dinner will feature a photographic account of Williams’ history as well as narrative accounts from local historians and a musical show recounting the previous 100 years. Proceeds from the dinner will be donated to the local Historical Society for purchase of preservation equipment to help preserve Williams’ historic artifacts. Tickets are available through the Chamber by visiting

Posted by Anne Gordon on Tuesday, 24th January, 2012

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Elephant 'taxi', Amber Palace, Rajasthan 

          Located just seven miles from the city of Jaipur, the 11th century Amber Fort is one of Rajasthan's most fascinating historic attractions. In my opinion it ranks in beauty and atmosphere with the most impressive sites that Rajasthan has to offer.
         Surrounded by the Aravalli hills this massive stone structure served in the 16th century as a pleasure palace for Maharajas returning from battle. In its tranquil Persian inspired gardens the battle weary warriors recouped their energies for further campaigns.
Monkeys on an Amber Palace ledge high above the lake
         Like the Maharajas of old, approaching the upper reaches of this fort through seven fortified gates riding on the back of a painted, caparisoned elephant, is an experience that one is not likely to forget. On the towering walls surrounding the fort, Hanuman monkeys clutching infants to their breasts, perch in casual abandon.
         On the banks of the lake far below colourfully dressed Indian women gather on the ghat to wash their clothes. In another direction meticulously laid out spice gardens on raised platforms in the lake tempt the viewer to investigate further.

Excerpt from my upcoming book ...

Images copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 19th January, 2012

Rondavels in Skukuza Camp, Kruger National Park

     On our last night in the Kruger National Park in South Africa we decided to treat ourselves. We wined and dined in Skukuza's restaurant after being summoned to dinner by a waiter beating a thumping rhythm on the taut skin of a huge African drum.
     Our meal was venison with a bottle of South African Zonnebloem (Sunflower) Pinotage. After coffee we sipped Amarula, a creamy liqueur made from the fruit of the African Marula tree.
     Like the elephants who often become intoxicated after a feast on the over-ripe Fall fruit of the Marula, we, slightly less intoxicated, sans flashlight and hopelessly lost after leaving the well-lit restaurant, bumbled our way 'home' in the darkness between rondalvels that looked exactly alike.
     Giggling and tripping along overgrown paths like two teenagers, James tormented me with frequent warnings about the fat sluggish puff adders that lie around in the darkness waiting for a sandaled foot like mine to prod them into deadly action.
     Before heading off the following morning, we sat with other visitors on an elevated deck overlooking the river where buffalo, Sable Antelope, giraffe and kudu came down to drink.
     A flock of doves swooped in, drank hastily then took off. Closeby a tiny mongoose peered cautiously from the exposed roots of a tree, then it scampered across the mud and sheltered beneath a rocky outcrop until the 'giants' wandered away replete, into the bush.
     On our way to Numbi Gate and our exit from the Park, we came across a two-meter long black mamba wriggling ineffectually on the smooth hot surface of the paved road. Unable to gain traction, its frantic efforts to move forward were hopeless. It was obvious that without help it would eventually exhaust itself and die.
     Anyone familiar with African snakes knows that a mamba's deadly venom can kill within minutes, but that did not deter James. He drove up alongside the reptile and put his hawthorn cane out of the car window against its body, providing the means for it to move forward. Repeating this several times the snake soon made the crossing and slithered silently into the bush.
     Then and only then did we notice a line of cars behind us. The successful rescue had been watched by a fascinated audience!
Excerpt from my upcoming book...
Image copyright Anne Gordon
Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 19th January, 2012

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sanibel Island Inn
           The Island Inn is proud to be hosting Sanibel's Party of the Year - The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum's annual "Under the Sea" benefit on January 29, 2012, from 4pm to 9pm.

          The Shell Museum's annual benefit is a firm favorite on the island and this year promises to be even more spectacular than ever. They chose the Island Inn, the original home of Sanibel's Shell Fair, to host this year's gala event - A Polynesian Luau beach party - themed "Under The Sea".
          There will be a pre-dinner reception hosted at Traditions On The Beach, our award-winning restaurant, followed by a live Polynesian luau, which includes:

•Dancers on the beach

•Live music

•Delicious Polynesian dinner

•Lots of spectacular auction and raffle prizes

•Artwork from Sanibel's renowned artist, Myra Roberts

          Book your stay directly with the Island Inn and enjoy a special "Under The Sea" gala ticket rate of $100 per person, a saving of $25. Only Island Inn guests are eligible to receive 20% savings for this highly sought after event. Stay where the party is and enjoy a spectacular event with us on Sanibel.
          Call (800) 851-5088 to book your accommodation and tickets for the event as space is limited and tickets are sure to sellout!

Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 5th January, 2012

Photo copyright Anne Gordon