Visitors to Dallas driving South on S. Griffin St towards the Convention Center may be surprised to see a herd of longhorn cattle crossing a shallow stream on their left.  Realistic enough to fool a casual glance, these are in fact larger than life-size sculptures of  70 steers accompanied by 3 trail riders which were created by Robert Summers of Glen Rose, Texas.   It is the largest bronze sculpture in the world – this is Texas, after all.

This may be the biggest, but it is by no means the only bronze sculpture to be seen on the streets of a city that is packed with art.  There are more than 70 public art sculptures adorning sidewalks, lurking in alleyways and gracing parks.  There is an official map of a 3.3 mile walking tour that you can download and then seek them all out.  There is a sense of impending discovery, of something wonderful around every corner.  Texans don’t walk much, but the possibility of discovering something exciting on the next block is a great incentive to explore this gracious city on foot.

You can’t miss the Four Chromatic Gates outside the Arco building or the Cancer Survivors Plaza with 7 life-size figures emerging victoriously from a series of rectangular arches.  In front of  I.M.Pei’s cantilevered City Hall is a huge amorphous figure by Henry Moore who thought that art needed a little mystery.  Less obvious is the neo-classical sculpture above the entrance to the Magnolia building, Dallas’s first sky-scraper. The chapel in Thanksgiving Square hides a magnificent series of stained glass windows within its spiral tower.  And don’t miss the huge glass mosaic mural “Genesis” at the entrance to the Dallas Museum of Art, itself an art experience not to be missed.

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February 27, 2013 News

The earliest attempts to climb Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, just three degrees south of the Equator were met with defeat as the climbers did not have the equipment to handle the snow and ice they found towards the summit.  Actually the mass also known as KilimaNjaro (which probably means Great Mountain) is composed of three volcanic cones, Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira.  Located in Tanzania, not far from the northern border with Kenya, this iconic mountain stands 19,341 feet above sea level.  This may seem puny compared to Everest’s 29,029 ft.  However, as the base sits on the East African Plains, the ascent takes climbers up 16,732 ft. It is in fact the highest free-standing mountain in the world (Mount Fuji is only 12,389 ft.)

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The climb is daunting and both trekkers and guides die each year from falls or hypothermia.  It is easy to think that the climate of equatorial Africa will make the limb easy, but the peaks are well above the level at which high altitude pulmonary or cerebral edema can occur. All trekkers can expect to suffer considerable discomfort during the climb, typically hypothermia, shortage of breath and headaches.  This discomfort can be minimized by taking the time to acclimatize to the altitude, and most trek organizers recommend that a climb should last for seven to eight days.  It is not an easy walk up the side of a mountain.

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Because of the altitude, getting to the top of Kilimanjaro is never going to be easy, but our changing climate means that the snow and ice at the top are diminishing with alarming rapidity.  While this may make life easier for future climbers, it may well prove catastrophic for the farmers on the lower levels of the mountain who rely on snow melt to water their fertile fields.  They do not, however, have to worry about being forced from their homes by ash and lava: while still dormant, Kilimanjaro has not erupted in living memory.

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February 27, 2013 News

Getting to Heavenly Lake 68 miles east of the Urumqi in the Uyghur Autonomous Region of Western China is not easy.  The drive from Urumqi is not bad, but when you arrive, you leave your vehicle in a gigantic parking lot and walk half a mile to the impressive welcome center.  Here you purchase multiple tickets for a series of buses which will take you in stages higher and higher into the mountains.  The Lake sits at 6,600 feet, higher than Denver or Mexico City. Going up is fine, but keep your eyes on the road going down so as not to notice the precipitous drops off hairpin bends.

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When the last bus drops you off you have the choice of a steep but pleasant walk through the trees to the lake itself, or you can splurge (about a dollar) on a golf-cart like tram.  The crescent-shaped Lake is well-named: it is heavenly.  Deep blue water, soaring mountains, clear skies and thousands of well-behaved tourists.

There are boat tours of the lake or walks along the edge to admire the view or visit the Damuo Monastery.  Some foreigners have even been observed playing Mah Jong at one of the stone picnic tables that dot the slopes above the lake.  There is a pleasant open-air restaurant under the trees where they serve, among other things, noodles made fresh while you wait.

There is another tourist area at the northern end of the lake, approached from Fukang, which has rustic accommodation in yurts rented out by Kazakh sheep herders.

Visitors are well fed on mutton stew, but the temperature drops steeply at night and even in summer a fire is needed to keep the yurt warm.  And toilet facilities are non-existent.

Tian Chi is one of China’s premier tourist attractions, a glorious oasis  high above the arid plains of  Xinjiang.

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February 27, 2013 News

The outstanding natural beauty of New Zealand has to be seen to be believed.  At its southern tip is Piopiotahi, the Maori name for one of the world’s top travel destinations.

The south west area of New Zealand’s South Island comprises Fiordland National Park, PiopiotahiMarine Reserve, and the 2.6 million hectare TeWahipounamu World Heritage site.  What people primarily come to see is -according to Rudyard Kipling – the eighth Wonder of the World: Milford Sound.

Easter Island, St Helena and the Galapagos may be more difficult to get to than Milford Sound, but not by much.  It is a long way from anywhere, but it would be a big mistake to focus solely on the destination, and ignore the route.To get to Milford Sound you pass, and should stop at, Mount Cook and its glaciers.  The fabulous Hermitage Hotel offers views  of and excursions to New Zealand’s highest peak.

Also on the way is Lake TeAnau, the largest lake by volume in Australasia.  It is a haven for fishermen who can pursue trout from jet boats, or families who want to go boating, fishing or kayaking.  Nearby are the TeAnau glow worm caves which rival the better known caves at Waitomo on the North Island.  One enters the water-filled caves by boat, as quietly as possible, to see a myriad tiny pricks of light overhead. A sudden clap is like an off switch, plunging the group instantly into darkness.

Lastly (and if ever there was the epitome of last but not least, this is it) there is the Ahuriri Valley leading to the Lindis Pass.  At the right time of year – midsummer – this valley has a carpet of pink and blue and purple spikes. Lupins as far as the eye can see. Truly one of the wonders of the world.

February 8, 2013 News

The 12th Century Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque is of great interest to architectural and ecclesiastical historians, but it is known today as the picturesque backdrop for a field of lavender. Just a few miles north of Gordes, gem of the Vaucluse, the Abbey has been photographed by thousands, and its many images on postcards and calendars may have given the impression that the Luberon valley is the only place in France where lavender is grown.

This is not strictly true. Most of the lavender grows to the north and east of glorious, enchanting valley immortalized by Peter Mayle in his book A Year in Provence. The area around Sault, beyond the Grand Luberon range, dominated by the perfect cone of Mont Ventoux, is covered with lavender fields. Further north still the Drome, and to the east the Alpes-Haut-de-Provence region more than hold their own in the extravagant display of row after row of purple mounds, stretching as far as the eye can see, towards a turquoise sky.

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And the smell! It is heavenly, heady, hedonistic. And healthy. If one were able to choose just one herb, it would have to be lavender. It is known as an antidepressant, an analgesic and an expectorant. It is antiseptic and antispasmodic, an insect repellant and a soporific. There are few ailments in this world that will not be alleviated by lavender.

Back to the Luberon. There may be more lavender fields in other areas, but there is only one Museum of Lavender. This is to be found in Coustellet where the road from Avignon to Aix en Provence intersects with the road from Cavaillon to Carpentras. The Museé de la Lavande explains the history, cultivation and industry of lavender. The shop sells soap, perfume, essentials oils, cleaning products and sachets.

Down the road a bit at the Gare de Bonnieux you will find a rustic restaurant offering a lavender ice-cream that is to die for. Enjoy.

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February 5, 2013 News