Tag: Motorcycle



Helsinki, Finland – July 15, 2015

As the Regal Princess slipped into the Port of Helsinki, we could tell we were in for an exceedingly beautiful day. The sky had barely any clouds, just a fantastic azure color. The port was bustling. Large ferries came and frequently went to other ports in the Baltic.

The Princess Anastasia is a ferry. It can carry 2,500 passengers in a combination of seating and 834 cabins. There is a deck that holds 580 cars.

Arrangements by the cruise line included a shuttle bus. For 10€, we had roundtrip transportation from the port to a bus stop near the corner of Erottajank and Bulevarden. Lorraine and Arlene made arrangements for a tour of the city.

A rather unique bicycle rack on the road near where our bus dropped us off.

Leslie and I opted to see some sights on foot.
Once we got our bearings, Leslie and I began our stroll to the Helsinki Cathedral at Senate Square. We entered the west end of the Esplanadi, a park-like area about four blocks in length. The east end of Esplanadi is at Market Square. Along the road on the north side of the Esplanadi are all the high-end stores like Louis Vuitton. There were several bronze statues throughout the park. In the center of the park, the wide walkway is gravel.

Statues in the park.
A walk in the park.

At Unioninkatu we turned to the north. As we neared the end of the first block, we got our first glimpse of the Helsinki Cathedral at Senate Square. On the corner, just across from Senate Square, we found a souvenir shop. Yes, we bought another magnet.
After the magnet purchase, we crossed the street to Senate Square. The mid-19t h Century Helsinki Cathedral dominates the north side of the Square. There are 52 steps leading up from the Square to the Cathedral. In front of the stairs was a large portable stage. The Square teamed with several cheerleading squads, obviously preparing to perform on the stage. We saw a couple of different crews practicing in the Square.
Given the number of steps, Leslie decided to sit at the base of the stairs and watch the cheerleading squads while I went to view the Cathedral.  I ascended the stairs and found the main entrance on the west side of the Cathedral.

This is the Cathedral of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Helsinki.
A Swede posing on the steps of a Finnish Cathedral.
One of the minor domes of the Cathedral behind a statue of Peter.
View of the main dome of the Cathedral. The statue is of the Apostle Thomas.

The exterior of the Cathedral is all white with six columns holding the four pediments above each side. The top of the Cathedral has a large green dome adorned with a gold orb and cross. Four smaller domes with similar balls and crosses surround the central dome. The peak and two edges of each of the pediments are the bases for three statues.
It was hard to miss all of the gymnasts in the plaza next to the Cathedral. We found out the 15th Annual World Gymnaestrada. This is a gymnastic event held every four years. In Helsinki, there were 21,000 entrants from 55 countries.

Two groups of gymnasts practicing before one of the competitions for the 15th Annual World Gymnaestrada. There are a total of 55 countries and 21,000 gymnasts competing.
A ground view of the two practicing squads of gymnasts.
The steps of the Cathedral are pulling double duty as seating for the gymnast competition.
Some additional practice.
A slight hop in the routine.

The interior is quite Spartan. The chandeliers, altar, and pipe organ were all beautiful; but, other than some statues, there was not much decoration. Much like the encounter with the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, when I entered the Cathedral, I found myself saying, “That’s it?” With all of the hype, I was expecting a wonderfully decorated church. Instead, there was hardly any decoration inside. I was glad I did not have to pay to go inside the Cathedral.

Inside the Cathedral. The main aisle leads toward the altar.
The altar in the Cathedral.
Detail of the painting at the altar in the Cathedral.
The pipe organ in the Cathedral’s choir loft.
In a niche of the Cathedral, one finds a statue of Martin Luther.

Exiting the Cathedral, I noticed a smaller white building at the southwest corner of the Cathedral property. As I got closer, I saw it was the gift shop for the Cathedral. Inside I saw some lovely handmade crosses that I thought would go well in Leslie’s cross collection. Instead of just buying one, I walked down the stairs and told her what I discovered. She decided to walk up the 52 stairs with me and look at the gift shop. She did find a cross she liked. The gift shop also sold coffee. We decided to have a cup of coffee at the small table outside, and people watch.

I guess the sign outside the gift shop says it all.

Finished with our coffee, we decided to walk downhill to the Market Square. We chose Katrinegatan for our one-block walk to the Square. We saw an interesting store, Made by Helsinki, and decided to go inside. Local artisans made everything inside. Everything from jewelry to pottery and clothing was on display. We found some wooden Christmas ornaments that, when assembled, were three-dimensional. We bought three, one for Lorraine, one for Arlene, and one for us.

On Sofiankatu looking north toward the Cathedral.

There were many people in Market Square, each going from vendor tent to vendor tent. Leslie and I each bought a Finland t-shirt. Although the designs were different, each had the words “Finland” and “Suomi” emblazoned on the front.  I asked one of the vendors what Suomi meant.  He said it is the name of their country in Finnish.

The rather crowded market square. This is where we scored our Finnish t-shirts.

From the Market, we began to walk west toward the high-end shops. I wanted to find the littala glass store. I read a lot about the glass factory in the Lonely Planet guide to Helsinki. We found the store, but quickly decided it was not for us.
We emerged from littala and hailed a cab. We headed to the Museum of Contemporary Art (Nykytaiteen Museo Kiasma). American architect Steven Holl designed the modern-style building, apparently much to the chagrin of many Finns.
The building is striking, finished in 1998. Entry to the museum was 12€ per person.
We decided to start on the fifth floor and work our way down to the ground floor. One of the first exhibits we saw on the fifth floor was Think of One Thing by Mariele Neudecker. There were several clear plastic cubes, each containing a mountaintop poking above clouds. They each looked very realistic. Another unique piece we saw was the “wind” drawings. The artist (I forgot to write down the name) attached a pen to the branch of a tree or bush. The pen rests against a piece of paper, making marks as the wind blows. The artist did something similar with photographs and light, but I could not figure out the logistics of those.

Think of One Thing.
Think of One Thing detail.
Branch drawing by the wind.

On the fourth floor, we both thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit Face to Face. That is where we saw works such as Scarlet, Villu’s Portrait, Jack, Topless Compact, and Michael. Possibly the oddest work was Michael. It is a video made in 2015 by Iraqi artist Adel Abidin. The video depicts a fictional interview with Michael Jackson when he returns from death, complete with screaming fans in Times Square.

The ramp from the fifth floor to the Face to Face exhibit.
Face to Face. Note Leslie in one of the mirrors.
Detail of the Face to Face exhibit.
Scarlet by Stiina Saaristo (2004).
Villu’s Portrait by Berit Talpsepp-Jaanisoo (2015).
Jack by Juha Hälikkä (2009).
One scene from the Michael Jackson video.

Except for the Andy Warhol and the Yoko Ono photographs, neither of us liked the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit on the third floor.

Andy Warhol and Yoko Ono.

When we left the museum, we walked about a block and one-half to the central Helsinki train station. I wanted to see it because of the art deco styling of the building. We found a place to sit and have a beer. Leslie stayed there while I ran around taking various photos of the station.

A view of the Central Train Station.
The Central Train Station dates from 1919.
Detail of the statues holding lights at the Central Train Station.
A stop for a well-deserved refreshment. It is entirely possible that these glasses became Finnish souvenirs.

After the beer, we continued walking to the south. Ultimately, we knew we would end up at the bus stop from this morning so we could make it back to the ship. We stopped at the Virgin Oil Co., a restaurant, to eat lunch. We shared a pizza and had a Koff beer. This building also had art deco styling, including some art deco statues.
Sitting at the Virgin Oil Co., I noticed an advertising sign touting the grapefruit and cucumber Crook’s Head Dram… no, thank you. I will stick with beer or wine. I will keep my fruits and vegetables separated if you do not mind!

What?? Another beer?? Note the smile!!
Some of the statues adorning the building at the Virgin Oil Company.
I like grapefruit and cucumbers; however, I do not need them in my alcoholic drink…
A family waiting for a table at the sidewalk cafe.

From lunch, we walked the final two blocks to the bus stop. There was a bus there, so we were able to board and sit down immediately. Across the street, I saw an El Jeffe sign. I had to snap a photo of that since that is how my team in Madrid referred to me. At the same spot was the Erottaja Bar. While that may sound like the word “erotic,” it is a nod to the name of the street, Erottajank.

I had to capture “El Jeffe.”
If my Finnish is correct, Erottaja translates to Separator.

The bus deposited us back at the dock within about 15 minutes. There was a large tent under which were more vendors. We bought a couple of packages of some type of rye cracker. It ended up that Leslie did not like them at all. I thought they were good. There was a photo of a statue with the face cut out. Leslie was a good sport, allowing me to make her crazy photograph there.

My very own Finnish (Swedish) goddess!

Coincidentally, Lorraine and Arlene were there too. After we all had our fill of looking, it was back on board to relax and wait for the second formal night for dinner. While Leslie and I waited, I sat on our balcony and took photos as the ship departed Helsinki. The most striking thing I saw was Pihlajasaaren Beach. It is located on a small island just about a half-mile from the mouth of the port. The colorful beach cabanas are what made it so picturesque. While we passed the beach, I found it surprising the number of seagulls flying beside the ship as we sailed. I heard the captain on the intercom warn the passengers that it was illegal according to maritime law to feed the seagulls from the boat.

A view of the island of Pihlajasaari as we departed Helsinki.
A seagull gliding by the ship.
Seagulls by the dozen followed the ship for a long way.

Leslie and I dressed for dinner. We sat and had a glass of wine, overlooking the piazza area of the ship where a quartet was performing. The ensemble was there every evening, just before the first dinner seating. When we finished, we went into the dining room to meet Lorraine and Arlene for another of our delicious meals.

Still in love after all these years.
Our cruising companions ready for a wonderful dinner.
Dockside photographer.
As we were departing Helsinki, this seagull showed up on top of one of the lifeboats with its dinner.
Vehicles and a trolley are stopped, waiting for the green light.
A beautiful bas-relief on the frieze of the National Library of Finland across the street from the Cathedral.
The cobblestone street in front of the Cathedral plaza.
A trolley operator in the old-town area of Helsinki.
The Russian Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral.
Colorful, but empty, chairs at a sidewalk cafe.
A family out for a stroll.
Motorcycle parking.
The Canadian coat of arms at Pohjoisesplanadi 25, the location of the Canadian Embassy in Helsinki.
Flowers in a planter above the entry to the Helsinki City Hall.
Corrugated cardboard tubes.
Corrugated cardboard tubes detail.
Exhibits on the fifth floor.
Corrugated cardboard tubes close-up detail.
Horizons sculpture.
The Helsinki Music Center as seen from the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma.
Skateboard ramp outside the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma.
Corrugated cardboard tube sculpture.
A side view of Villu’s Portrait by Berit Talpsepp-Jaanisoo (2015).
Detail of Jack by Juha Hälikkä (2009).
A piece from Come back – Stay – Go – Talk to me by Tracey Emin (1998).
Seat and shadows. A sitting area in the museum.
Seat and shadows with a view to the outside.
Handful of Empties by Käsi Tyhjiä Täynnä (2013).
Four Seasons Suite, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter by Ismo Kajander (1975-1992).
A ramp to level 2.
A red moto parked outside.
Ramps and stairs.
The museum gift shop.
A trolley preparing to stop in front of the train station.
The main entrance to the train station.
Two of the 21,000 gymnasts from 55 countries attending the 15th World Gymnaestrada in Helsinki.
Bicycles crowd the side entry to the Central Train Station.
Bicycles seem to be strewn everywhere.
Just watching the hustle and bustle.
A young traveler.
Checking the phone.
Locking a bike at the metro station.
A very yellow maintenance trolley.
The Stockmann department store.
Pedestrians crossing from McDonald’s.
People waiting in queue for a drink.
Pedestrians crossing from McDonald’s.
A busy sidewalk cafe.
Two pedestrians passing by the sidewalk cafe.
A very busy part of Helsinki.
Stopped for ice cream while walking the dog.
A memorial at a Helsinki roundabout.
There may have been more bicycles in Helsinki than there were in Copenhagen.
An operator of the number 3 trolley line.
A wider view of the number 3 trolley.
A lovely park as seen from the bus on the way back to the cruise ship.
The endless geometry of construction.
A sailboat slipping by the cruise ship as we departed Helsinki.
A panoramic view of the Helsinki port.
A ferry and a cruise ship in the port.
A view back to the port.
Other ships navigating around the rocks on the approach to the Helsinki port.
The rocky end of the island of Pihlajasaari.
Looking back toward Helsinki across the island of Pihlajasaari.
A final view of the very busy port.
A lot of people enjoy a summer day on the island of Pihlajasaari.
A passing sailboat with the flag of Denmark flying at the stern.
A Viking Line ship negotiating the arrival to the Helsinki port.
The Helsinki skyline. The white dome to the left is the Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral. The twin spires to the right of the Cathedral are of the St. John Lutheran Church.
Heading back out to the Baltic Sea.
Another sailboat passes the cruise ship. This one has a Finnish flag at the stern.
A view of the string quartet on the ship.
A closer view of the string ensemble.
Ready for dinner.
The “ready for dinner” portrait.
The couple from Islamabad.


Lahore, Pakistan – April, 29, 2015

Disclaimer – before viewing the photographs in this blog, please understand that the clicking shutter was in a vehicle traveling at up to 80 miles per hour. Please forgive the less than sharp images.

A construction barrier at speed.

Today I had a business trip to Lahore, Pakistan. Several chimneys along the side of the road caught my eye. I guess their height averaged 100 feet. Some very dark black smoke spewed out of several of the chimneys. They appeared to be a key component in the manufacturing, by hand, of bricks. The farther south we traveled, the more apparent it became that brick construction was the norm.

A small town.
Brick structures beside the highway.

The drive was very scenic, especially on the approach to the Salt Range Mountains. The pass over the Salt Range was spectacular. The downhill side of the pass toward Lahore had a seven percent grade complete with numerous “Emergency Climb” areas. Emergency Climb is the local lingo for a runaway truck ramp. Instead of sand, the slopes had a filling of roughly fist-sized rocks.

A turn on a mountain pass.
A rock formation.

The road was similar to roads in the U.S. There were several truck weigh-stations along the route. A unique feature was the signs on virtually every overpass. Each sign trumpeted a safety slogan such as:

  • Reduce Speed in Fog and Rain Slow down, Life is Precious Check Gauges Frequently Check Tyre Pressure
  • Better Late than Never
  • Fatigue Causes Accident – Take Rest
  • Replace Worn Out Tyre to Avoid Fatal Accident

It probably would do no harm to have similar signs posted along the highways in the U.S.

For roughly two-thirds of the trip, either side of the road had acres and acres of wheat; there must have been hundreds of thousands of acres of grain. The amazing part was the number of people in the fields harvesting the wheat by hand. We only saw four or five combines, but other than those, the wheat harvest was a manual effort. I am sure the work was not only backbreaking but also fatiguing. The temperature was right around 100 degrees Fahrenheit during most of our trip. It reminded me of a live-action van Gogh painting.

One of the many wheat fields.

In comparison to the wheat harvest to the U.S., it is odd that the harvest in Pakistan was well underway in April. The harvest in the U.S. usually does not begin until about June. That may indicate there are two crops per year in Pakistan; I am just not sure.
It is difficult to describe the number of motorcycles on the road in Lahore, but there must be tens of thousands. They dart around the other vehicles like flies. In addition to bikes, there are numerous three-wheeled carts. I know them as tuk-tuks. Those vehicles are popular in India too. The number of them in Lahore is probably due in part to the fact that the India border is only about 29 kilometers (18 miles) from Lahore.

A tuk-tuk in Lahore.
Traffic at a roundabout on the outskirts of Lahore.
A motorcyclist in Lahore.
Another tuk-tuk driver.
No parking…supposedly…

We passed Canal Bank Road. It gets its name from the canal in the middle of this major thoroughfare. Our driver referred to the channel as the “poor mans’ swimming pool.” We did see several people swimming in the muddy water as we drove by the canal.
Lahore has much more of the hustle and bustle feeling than Islamabad. That is no doubt due to the population being about five times that of Islamabad. Lahore’s population is somewhere around 10,000,000 people.
When we left, there was considerably more northbound traffic than what we encountered on the trip to Lahore. Many of the jingle trucks hauled cattle in the bed of the vehicle. Some entrepreneurs rigged makeshift beds above the livestock for human passengers. In addition to the jingle trucks, the smaller vehicles with a rear cargo bed had people mixed with either goats or sheep. I hope their rides were short.
On the return trip, while crossing the Salt Range Mountains, we encountered a rainstorm. With the combination of rain and altitude, the thermometer plummeted to 18 degrees Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit), down from 39 (102 degrees Fahrenheit).  Unfortunately, once we were off the pass, the temperature jumped back up.

Hills in the distance.
A small town by a river.
Red rocks.
A hill in the distance.
A jingle truck.
A mesa in the distance.
A mesa with communication towers.
A jingle truck II.
A mesa in the distance with a jingle truck just coming into the frame.
A jingle truck III.
A jingle truck IV.
An opportunity for lunch.
The Colonel is Pakistan!
Books for sale along the side of the road.
HFC must stand for Halal Fried Chicken.
A closer view of HFC.
A customized tuk-tuk.


Murree, Pakistan – April 11, 2015

Leslie and I had a blast today. Our persistence trying to go on a Community Liaison Officer (CLO) trip paid off with our selection to participate in the journey to Murree, Pakistan.

Ready for the adventure!

Murree began as a British cantonment in the middle of the 19th century. At some point during its time under British rule, a brewery began operating in Murree under the name Murree Brewery. Today, that brewing operation is now located in Rawalpindi, a large suburb of Islamabad. Since this is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, there are no liquor stores. One can only obtain Murree beer from one of the five-star hotels in Islamabad. Not long after our trip, I did get some of the beer. I thought it tasted a little too hoppy and bitter. However, that is a story for another time.
We arrived at the Embassy in time to have some breakfast in the American Club. In addition to breakfast, we also ordered lunch to go, since the flyer for the trip noted a picnic lunch.With our lunches in hand, we walked outside the Club to the waiting vehicles. We picked a car at random, hopped inside, and soon departed.
Ultimately, the road reduced to just two lanes and began to gain altitude. A river flowed rapidly alongside the way. Unfortunately, I have not been able to track down the name of the river. Regardless, it was a beautiful valley. It reminded me of portions of the Colorado River west of Vail, Colorado.
Frequently we saw long, narrow, stone buildings. Some were one-story buildings, while others were two-story. The CLO Assistant happened to be riding in our vehicle. He informed us those were chicken farms. Unlike chicken farms in the United States, I did not detect any foul (pun intended) odors as we passed.
We continued to gain altitude into a heavily forested area. At times, the forest was broken on either side of the road by a small village, with shops and homes built very close to the road edge. As we passed through their lives, the villagers stared at us, no doubt trying to figure out just who was traveling through their town.

Passing the many small businesses.
A pedestrian walking past the Mobilezone business.
Some businesses on the outskirts of Murree.
The Shangrila Resort Hotel.
A roadside business.

Periodically we encountered switchback turns. Many were very tight turns. I do not recall seeing any as sharp in the mountains of Colorado. In some instances, the corners had a divider to keep traffic traveling in the opposite direction from leaving their lane.
The mountainsides became increasingly steep. Looking across the valley, one could see that much of the mountainsides are stepped, no doubt to help control erosion. The CLO assistant shared that those opposite mountainsides were fully forested when he was a child. Now they stand barren, victims of commercial logging.
A little more than an hour outside of Islamabad, we reached our destination, Pindi Point. The attraction to the area is the Pindi Point chairlift. A roundtrip ticket on the chairlift cost 350 Rupees, about $3.50. At that time of day, the only other people present consisted of a handful of chairlift workers.

At the bottom of the chairlift was a sign comparing the Pindi Point chairlift with two others in Pakistan. Some of the points trumpeted facts such as no breakdown or accidents in 24 years; it can operate in winds of up to 120 km per hour (not with me on it); and its gearbox is at least twice as big as the others.

A sign welcoming people to Murree City.
The lower point of the Pindi Point chairlift.
Technical comparison of the Pindi Point chairlift and three others in Pakistan.
Leslie had a good time with some of our mates on the trip.

I watched as two people from our group got onto the chair in front of Leslie and me. I decided that if we were there in the winter and if we had had skies, getting on would have been easy. When the chair came around the wheel, we both plopped down. The chair dipped a little, making it hard for Leslie to pick up her legs. One of her legs caught slightly under the chair. Luckily, she was not injured, but it did cause her some pain.
The Pindi Point chairlift is only intended for sightseeing. There is not an associated ski area there.
The ride up the side of the mountain was beautiful but steep. At about the midway point, a worker was standing at a platform. It did not seem to be a chance encounter, but rather, the man’s job seemed to be to stand there. I do not know why he was there. However, he was courteous, smiling, and waving as we greeted him in Urdu.

A worker alongside the chairlift.
Nearing the top of the chairlift.

Near the top, we saw two young men lounging on a blanket under the chairlift. They both enthusiastically waved and shouted as we traveled overhead.

Waving at us as the chairlift glides above.

At the top, just like chairlifts in the United States, we had to get off on the run. One of the workers there helped Leslie. She just barely kept from falling. That, on top of the beginning leg drama, had her shaken. That is when we noticed we had several dozen stairs to climb to reach the road at the top. It took a little time, but we finally made it to the way. I openly mused as to why the builders of this beautiful chairlift had stopped a couple of hundred feet below the road.
The top of the stairs emptied into an arcade type area. There were people selling food and water, while others operated booths with games. Another group held onto several white horses. The area bustled with tourists.

Some of the carnival-like booths at the top of the chairlift.

Some of the housing we encountered appeared abandoned, but in fact, people did live in them. There was a real feeling of expeditionary living in many places.

A rustic home.
A small shop outside a home.

The elevation was about 7,500 feet. That made for some very nice, comfortable weather. The road circles the top of the mountain, dropping slightly into the town of Murree. At one point, there was an overlook. Murree is only about 30 miles from the Pakistan/India border. From the overlook, we could see India and snow-capped mountains.

Another view of the snow-capped mountains.
Looking toward India.
Looking northeast toward the beginnings of the Himalayan Range. These peaks are in India.
The Clifton Lodge.
A family walking toward Murree.
A rug on the roof…
A green driveway.
A building with some character.

Mickey Mouse characters were abundant. One, in particular, pointed the way to the Regency Hotel to passers-by looking for a place to stay.

Welcome to the Murree Regency Hotel!

At the lowest point of the road, we were in a small commercial area. The CLO asked if anyone wanted to do some shopping. Of course, everyone jumped at the chance. Leslie and several others stopped in a little trinket store.
Just across from the store were five or six white horses. I imagine they were there for rent; however, we did not partake. Regardless, I am not sure I could have gotten on the horse anyway. Even if I had gotten on, based on the size of the saddle, some 80 percent of my caboose would have been without support. While I stood and watched, one of the wranglers went to work on the shoe of one of the horses, filing some problems away.

In the town of Murree.
Some of the businesses in Murree.
A crowd at the gift shop.
Our fearless leader for the day!
A man leading one of the many white horses in Murree.
Repairing a horseshoe.
The Bilal Mosque in Murree.

Departing the commercial area, we began the gradual climb along the road back to the chairlift stairs. We walked by a street cafe. I do not know what they were cooking, but it sure smelled good. For fear of stomach issues, I kept my course true and did not stop.

A restaurant on the side of the road.

A little further along the way, we encountered another group of horses. They seemed to be everywhere.  After that, we saw a man that was roasting what looked like nuts and beans. He also had some popcorn for sale. It was an interesting photo opportunity, but again, we dared not partake. We did not want to take a chance of occupying the bathroom for the next two straight days.

Horses in front of the Hotel Breeze.
One of the white horses.
A man riding one of the white horses.
Looking back toward town.
A local real estate office.
A shop along the road. This man was cooking some sort of lentils.
Maybe taking an order…
The man cooking the lentils was right at the side of the road.
On the phone again.
The valley below Murree.

Just around the corner from the cooking vendor, I spotted another rugged-looking home. A cute little girl about five or six years old stepped out of the house to try to determine just what was passing by her home.

A little girl at the door to a house.

Nearing the stairs, I saw a man selling baskets. They were all handmade from local bark and twigs. I bought one that is a good size for bread or fruit. It cost a whopping $2. In the same area, some of the people stopped to partake in the various games of chance. They reminded me of games at local fairs in the United States. They seem so simple, yet one very rarely wins any of the tantalizing prizes on display.

A basket vendor.
The basket vendor taking the time to read the newspaper.

We encountered another likeness of Mickey Mouse. This time he was on the door of a brightly decorated truck, near the Pakistan flag.  The Urdu phrase near his head translated to “Heart Heart Pakistan.”

Hello Mickey!

When we made it back to the top of the stairs, Leslie told the tour organizer of the troubles she encountered with the chairlift on the way up. She asked if the chairlift could slow down when we got on and off the chair.  Climbing down the stairs, we saw a sign that had an awful lot of Urdu and then one word in English, “Rescue.” That made me a little nervous, but such is the life of someone illiterate in the local dialect.

The Lucky Draw booth.
Preparing to descend to the top of the chairlift.
The attendant at a game of chance.
Nearing the top of the chairlift area.
Other than “rescue,” I am not sure what the sign states.

Much to our surprise, when we arrived at the chairlift, it stood still. Thankfully, the operators granted Leslie’s request. We got on and waited for the trip down to begin. It was just as beautiful as the trip up, but this time, we understood just how steep it was. After clearing the platform, we saw the two young men on the blanket again. They seemed just as excited to see us this time as the last. Another 100 meters or so down from them, we saw three children under the lift.
They asked us for candy or money. If my hands had been free, I probably would have tossed them some money, but, between my camera, backpack, and newly acquired basket, I could not manage anything else.

Three children hoping for some sort of handouts.
Three children II.
The steep way back down.
A view across the valley.
Mountains in the distance.
A truck below the chairlift.
Some more Urdu signs.

At the base, the chairlift stopped again so we could get off. Once everyone was down, we walked to a small home about 100 meters from the chairlift.  We sat with the others in the dining room and ate the lunch we purchased earlier.

The bottom of the chairlift.
Passing by the snack bar.
Wall hangings in the dining area at the Pindi Point Chairlift.

Our next stop was Kashmir Point. Our stop there called for a train ride. The engine of the “train” is a tractor made to look like a train engine.
When we arrived, the small square was bustling with people. A young boy with a hawk on a stick immediately caught our eye. It is the type of bird we see soaring in the Islamabad area daily. I am sure one could have taken a photo with him and the hawk for a fee. I might have done so if our group had not been moving so quickly to the waiting train.

Boy with a hawk.
Boy with a hawk at Kashmir Point.

The train, pulling two coaches, stopped. Our group boarded the second coach. Shortly after that, the train departed. Sitting directly in front of us, at the rear of the first coach, was the cutest little girl. She kept looking back to try to figure out just who we were.

The young girl taking her seat.
A young girl looking back at us.
Women walking by the Kashmir Point train.
Women walking past the Kashmir Point train.
View from Kashmir Point.

The train traveled along a road that circled the top of the mountain. The area, known as Kashmir Point, gets its name based on the fact one can see the Kashmir area from there.  The total trip only took about 15 minutes.

On our descent from Kashmir Point, we saw hundreds of Kashmir shawls and blankets displayed along the roadside, usually at turns in the road.  They were beautiful, but we did not stop.

The Jamia Masjid Masoomia at Kashmir Point.
The Hot Spot.
An A-frame structure.
The Hotel Bluemoon.
A motorcycle rides past a display of Kashmir shawls.
The vendor at a Kashmir shawl display.
Yet another Kashmir shawl display.
Driving through town.
Pedestrians at the roadside.
Curious onlookers.

Soon, though we were still in the mountains, we transitioned to a four-lane divided highway toward Islamabad. We arrived there when the local schools were letting out.  It was easy to see that the children all had to wear uniforms.

Schoolgirls waiting for transportation home.
A group of schoolgirls.
A highway sign.
The rear of a jingle truck.
Some hillside homes.

Along the highway, I found the roadside signs interesting. They provide the same information as warning signs in the United States, but with a flair for English. I saw signs such as “dead slow” warning of a sharp curve; “speed hump”; “speed camera ahead” warning of radar; and a “falling rock” sign.  The falling rock sign seemed necessary as we did see a large rock-slide in the opposite lane.

An Urdu road sign.
Dead slow, dangerous curve ahead, drive cautiously.
Speed hump.
A safety sign along the road.
A speed camera ahead.
Highway warning signs.
Falling rock!
Another speed camera ahead.

We also passed a Rescue station. I could only wonder if it was the same station referred to by the sign at the top of the chairlift. Lastly, we saw a sign that we thought depicted Smokey, the Bear. It was a similar message with a different character, Murree the Bear.

A rescue station.
Murree the Bear signs.
A parked jingle truck.
A man walking from a roadside vendor.
Pedestrians at the roadside.
A rock slide closed one lane on the opposite side of the highway.
If one stops, one may be able to get a Pepsi here.
Two women walking along the road.
A pedestrian bridge.
A new development.
A jingle truck.
Directional signs.
Auto parts stores and goats.
Walking by a mosque in the distance.
Men attending an event at Millan Shadi Hall.
More jingle trucks.
A jingle truck traveling the opposite direction.
An abandoned car.
Pedestrians walking by several small businesses.
The closer one gets to Islamabad, the heavier the traffic gets.
Even the small trucks are jingle trucks.
The girls’ campus of Dar-E-Arqam Schools in Bharakhu.
An electric shop in the background.
On the phone.
The Shikarpuri Bakery.
The only store sign I can read is for the bakery.
A multitude of businesses.
A small yellow car.
A business center under construction.
Multiple small businesses.
A small jingle truck used by the locals in a similar fashion to a bus.
One can get deals in medicine and cosmetics at Gulzar Pharmacy.
The Khan Medical Centre & Maternity Home.
Leopards Courier.

We ended up at home in the mid-afternoon. All of the roses in the median of 7th Avenue brightened the end of the trip. We truly valued the experience because the security situation here does not allow for much sightseeing.

Roses along 7th Avenue in Islamabad.
Riding the horse in front of the Breeze Hotel.
Teguc Tour

Teguc Tour

Tegucigalpa, Honduras – September 20, 2014

Today I went on a Tour of Tegucigalpa, arranged by the Community Liaison Officer. I thought the cost of 600 Lempiras, about US$30, was very reasonable. She was kind enough to stop by my hotel to pick me up. She delivered me to the Embassy. There was a small bus waiting there. I got on, took a seat, and prepared for the ride.
There were 25-30 people on the bus, including four armed security personnel. There was a chase vehicle behind the bus with another four or five armed guards. The level of security is necessary for safety. Unfortunately, crime is rampant in parts of the city. Throughout the tour, we found ourselves in a protective bubble as we walked around. That was a little odd to get used to, but we certainly did feel safe.
The first stop was the small Virgin of Suyapa church. That area had usually been off-limits to Embassy personnel. However, with all of the “firepower” we had, we were able to be in the area with impunity.
The Virgin of Suyapa church is about two blocks east of the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa. We walked those two blocks with our security contingent. It was easy to tell we were in a very distressed and impoverished area. I was glad I was not there alone.

The interior of the Virgin of Suyapa Church is quite small.
A small statue of the Virgin Mary and Jesus in the Virgin of Suyapa Church.
A wider view of the altar in the Virgin of Suyapa Church.
The altarpiece in the Virgin of Suyapa Church in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
The small figurine of the Virgin is visible in the altarpiece in the Virgin of Suyapa Church.
A vase on display near the altar in the Virgin of Suyapa Church.

Several small children seemed to appear out of nowhere. There was a couple in particular that continued to tap on my arm, asking for money. They followed us during our entire walking tour of the church.
Approaching the small church, we saw several vendors setting up stalls from which they sold various religious items related to the Virgin of Suyapa. It was still relatively early. I can only imagine how crowded and bustling the area must be later in the day.

A couple preparing a market stall across from the Virgin of Suyapa Church.
Across the small plaza from the Virgin of Suyapa Church were some restaurants. The green business is a pupuseria. The pupusa is a national dish. I did not eat one there, but they are delicious.

Construction of the Virgin of Suyapa church began in 1777 to honor a small statue of the Virgin Mary found by a young boy in about 1747. One can envision the faithful, but poor farmers that gave their time, talent, and treasure to build the church. It is not very ornamental, but it is awe-inspiring in its own right. If I understood correctly, the small statue of the Virgin Mary on display in the decorative wooden case above the altar is not the original statue. The original icon is safely stored in the nearby Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa, only brought out for display on extraordinary occasions.

The Virgin of Suyapa Church in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Over time, the large crowds of pilgrims became too much for the small Virgin of Suyapa church to handle. To handle the masses of people, the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa opened in 1954. Our tour guide said it is not a Basilica, but everyone refers to it as such. That may be news to Mr. Google. If one checks Google Maps, Our Lady of Suyapa is a basilica.
After touring the small church, we walked roughly two blocks to the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa. Once we got on the grounds of the basilica, there were very few people. Children no longer pestered us. The basilica itself was large but not as ornate as I was expecting. From the west side of the basilica, one has a commanding view of parts of Tegucigalpa. The small plaza just below the west entrance to the basilica contains a statue of St. John Paul II. The then-Pope visited the Cathedral on March 8, 1983. The statue faces the town, looking down over the vast cemetery and valley below.

A mosaic at the entry to the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa. The banner reads “Our Lady of Suyapa.”
The west facade of the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa.
Tegucigalpa, Honduras as seen from the grounds of the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa. The statue facing the city is of St. John Paul II.
Detail of the statue of St. John Paul II on the grounds of the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa.
A view into one of the valleys of Tegucigalpa from the grounds of the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa.
View of Virgin of Suyapa Church as seen from the grounds of the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa is massive when compared to the Virgin of Suyapa Church.
The altar in the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa.
Viewing the altar from an angle at the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa.
Detail of the altar in the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa.
The tiny figurine of Mary is visible in the center. The Latin phrase translates as “You are all beautiful, Mary. The original stain of sin is not on you”.
The ambo in the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa.
Detail of a stained glass depicting Mary and Joseph. This is in the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa.
The stained glass window depicting the birth of Jesus. This is in the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa.
Detail of the stained glass window depicting the birth of Jesus. This is in the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa.
The stained glass window depicting Pentecost. This is in the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa.
The pieta in the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

We piled back onto the bus for the 20-minute ride to our next stop, a small park, Parque la Leona, overlooking the old-town section of Tegucigalpa. Our travels took us over some of the only remaining cobblestone streets in the city. The roads are incredibly steep, narrow, and have numerous curves. On several occasions, I was surprised the bus was able to continue making forward progress.

This sign seemed appropriate was we entered the old part of Tegucigalpa after leaving the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa. The sign reads, Jesus Christ is the Way.
A mural on a building near the Parque la Leona in Tegucigalpa.
Detail of the mural on the wall near the Parque la Leona.
A very narrow entry to the home on the right.
A narrow street in the old town portion of Tegucigalpa.
Looking down at the central business district, one can see the Cathedral of Tegucigalpa.
In this view from Parque la Leona, one can see the National Stadium.
A row of lights along a sidewalk at the Parque la Leona.
Looking up the valley from Parque la Leona.
One can see the broken glass used on top of walls to deter entry. One can also see the odd growth on the power lines.
A house across the street from the Parque la Leona.
Another house across the street from the Parque la Leona.

The current Presidential House is next to my hotel; however, from the overlook, one could see the previous Presidential House.  It looked like an ornate castle, just a block or two away from the Tegucigalpa Cathedral.

The current Presidential Palace in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
The cupola in the center is at the Museo Historico de la Republica in Tegucigalpa. That building was the former Presidential Palace.

The bus motored down the alleged steepest street in town after departing the park. I cannot speak to the veracity of that claim, but I can say it was by far the steepest street on which I have ever been! At the bottom of the hill, the bus stopped to let us off. From there we began our walking tour, heading to the church at Dolores Park. All totaled, we walked just over two miles (three kilometers) today.
As we walked along the street, I could not help but notice the plethora of wires and cables strung from power pole to power pole. It just looked like a mess to me. I am glad I am not in charge of troubleshooting when there is a connectivity problem.

A very steep street in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
A shop on the corner at the base of the steep street.
The wiring and cabling in Tegucigalpa seem to be quite a maze.
Everywhere one looks, wires and cables zigzag across the street.

When we made it to the small church on the plaza, Dolores Church (Church of Sorrows); I was amazed at the number of pigeons perched on and flying around the front of the church. Since the church was under construction from about 1732 until 1815, I guess the pigeons had plenty of time to find the spot! A small boy in the middle of dozens of pigeons in the plaza mesmerized many of us in the tour group. The pigeons focused on him because of the bird feed he threw to them.

Several small shops selling a multitude of items ring the plaza. Because of the security detail, it seemed the people in and around the plaza were as interested in looking at us as we were in looking at them.

A woman selling tortillas to passersby. She sat beside the Iglesia de Los Dolores (Church of Sorrows).
Detail of the main entrance to the Church of Sorrows.
Detail of one of the reliefs by the entry door.
On 5 Avenida approaching the Church of Sorrows.
Looking at the Church of Sorrows from 5 Avenida.
A young boy feeding the pigeons in the Plaza of Sorrows.
Moments later, something spooked many of the pigeons.
A shopping area directly to the east of the church.
One of the entry points to the shopping area.
Several people gathered around one of the entrances to the shopping area.
People walking by the fountain and statue in the Plaza of Sorrows.
A man and young boy at the base of the statue in the Plaza of Sorrows.
A few shops on the edge of the Plaza of Sorrows.
People walking through the Plaza of Sorrows toward the church.

Inside, the Church of Sorrows is very colorful. I do not believe I have ever seen the primary colors used so predominantly in a church. The colors and the Baroque style made it very eye-catching. The people we observed in the church praying seemed to be very poor.

The altar in the Church of Sorrows was unlike any I have ever seen in the world. Never have I seen the figure of Mary play such a prominent role.
The opening to the cupola above the altar is visible here.
Detail of the figure of Mary at the altar.
Detail of the upper left corner of the altar.
Detail of the mural at the base of the cupola above the altar.
Detail of the upper right corner of the altar.
The intricate plaster ceiling medallion made all the more impressive by the paint.
A woman praying in the side chapel of the Church of Sorrows.
A woman praying at a side altar in the Church of Sorrows.

Leaving the Church of Sorrows, our next stop was the Museo para la ldentidad Nacional (MIN)(Museum of National Identity). We walked for a couple of blocks along Avenida Cristobol Colon (Christopher Columbus Avenue) to get to the museum. The street in front of the MIN was just for pedestrians. It was visually amazing because, for one block, dozens of colorful umbrellas completely covered the pedestrian mall. The umbrellas stretched between the MIN and the Galeria Nacional de Arte (National Art Gallery). It was a fundraiser for the MIN.

A man walking along 5 Avenida toward the Church of Sorrows.
This woman was leaning against a car parked on Avenida Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus Avenue). We passed her on our way to the museum.
Umbrellas were suspended above the pedestrian street (Calle Peatonal) between the Museo Para La Identidad Nacional (Museum of National Identity) and the Galleria Nacional de Arte (National Art Gallery). Our guide was sharing information about the installation.
A group of people walking under the umbrellas.
Detail of the umbrella installation.

In the late 1800s, the building housing the MIN was the first hospital in Tegucigalpa. In the mid-1920s, the government took over the building as the Palacio de las Ministerios, Ministerial Palace. The MIN opened its doors in this historic building in 2006.
When we entered the building for our tour, we found schoolchildren had pre-empted us. We waited for 30 minutes or so. While standing there with my camera, I found out I could not bring my camera into the museum, a crushing blow.
During the wait, the tour guide asked if anyone was interested in seeing the National Theater. He said it was only a block away. A few of us took him up on his offer. The 99-year-old National Theater sits directly across from a small park. It was a quaint theater modeled after one in Paris. A staff member related that the theater would soon be undergoing a significant restoration in preparation for its 100th anniversary.
A few minutes after arriving back at the MIN, we began our tour. A guide led us through the exhibits, describing Mayan artifacts, dinosaur bones, and silver mining artifacts. It was helpful having the guide lead us through with descriptions in English. Otherwise, for me, it would have been a little more challenging to understand the exhibits. The culmination of the tour was a 15-minute movie on the Mayan culture, mainly focused on the Copan site that is very near the border with Guatemala. It was in Spanish, so I only understood about 25 percent. Luckily, that was enough to get the gist.
When we left the MIN, we walked several blocks to the old American Legation. It was the first “Embassy” in Honduras for the United States, but the only identifying feature left today is the eagle above the main door. A bunch of wires and cables somewhat obscures it.

People along the Calle Peatonal.
Several vendors set up shop in the middle of the Calle Peatonal.
Shops in buildings lined both sides of the Calle Peatonal.
Pedestrians on the Calle Peatonal.
There were a lot of people on the Calle Peatonal that day.
Pedestrians on Calle La Leona.
An American eagle sits above the entry to what was once the American Legation building in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. This was about a block away from the Central Park.
Taxis awaiting fares along Calle Palace.
A sea of motorcycles complete with protective cardboard covers to protect the seats from the intense sun.

A block further down the road we found ourselves at the Plaza Morazan. What was most striking to me was the number of motorcycles and scooters that were parked, each one with their seats covered by a piece of cardboard. That was obviously to keep the bike seats from “burning” the butts of the owners when they returned.
The namesake of the plaza is Jose Francisco Morazan (1792-1842), a revered founding father of Central America. He was born in Tegucigalpa. There is a statue of him atop a horse in the plaza. There were dozens of people relaxing and talking in the “shadow” of the figure.

The Cathedral of Tegucigalpa faces the Central Park.
People walking by the statue memorializing Franciso Morazan, the father of Honduras.
Two men at the base of the statue memorializing Francisco Morazan.
The Central Park as seen from the steps of the Cathedral of Tegucigalpa.
People gathered around the base of a tree in Central Park.
A woman walking through Central Park.

Although the statue was impressive, the main draw of the plaza is the Cathedral, built between 1765 and 1782; it is dedicated to Tegucigalpa’s patron saint, Saint Michael the Archangel. The richly decorated interior immediately pulls one’s attention to the sizeable Baroque altar.

The west facade of the Cathedral of Tegucigalpa.
The very large altar in the Cathedral of Tegucigalpa.
A statue of Joseph and Jesus in the Cathedral of Tegucigalpa.
Detail of the altar and crucifix in the Cathedral of Tegucigalpa.

A few blocks to the east of the Cathedral is the oldest church in Tegucigalpa, San Francisco. It dates from the 1590s.  It was closed, so we were not able to go inside. The building next door housing a military museum used to be the monastery associated with the church.  It was closed too.

The front of the Military History Museum in Tegucigalpa.
A man coming around the corner from Avenida Cristobol Colon.

Just around the corner from the old monastery building, we boarded the bus again. The next stop was an overlook atop Mount Picacho. It provided some fantastic panoramic views of the city. Mount Picacho rises nearly 1,000 feet (305 meters) above Tegucigalpa, which is itself at about 3,300 feet (1,006 meters) in elevation. There were several other people there enjoying the weather and the view.

A panoramic view of Tegucigalpa from the el Picacho Mountain.
A woman looking over Tegucigalpa from El Picacho Mountain.
A detail view of Tegucigalpa from El Picacho Mountain.
In this view of Tegucigalpa, one can see the Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa in the center of the frame.
A closer view of Tegucigalpa as seen from el Picacho Mountain.
The National Stadium and the airport are visible in this view from el Picacho Mountain.
A view of Old Town Tegucigalpa from el Picacho Mountain.
A group relaxing together on el Picacho Mountain.
A football game as viewed from el Picacho Mountain.

At the far west end of the ridge is the Cristo del Picacho statue. Our bus took us to the parking lot. There was a small entry fee, about US$0.50, included in the tour fee. Once on the grounds, one is in a garden setting. A path meanders through the gardens, leading to the statue of Christ. The figure is about 65 feet (20 meters) tall. It sits on a 33-foot (10 meters) base, making the entire height just under 100 feet (30 meters). It is a recent addition to the Tegucigalpa skyline, finished in 1987.

A sign designating how much one should contribute to complete the walk to the base of the statue of Christ on el Picacho Mountain.
The path one takes to get to the statue of Christ.
The Christ statue is just short of 100 feet tall.
Looking up from directly below the statue of Christ.
The pedestal is 33 feet tall. The statue of Christ is 65 feet tall. That means the structure is near the height of a ten-story building.
The foot of Christ.
The hand of Christ.
View of the Christ statue on el Picacho Mountain from my hotel room.

At the opposite end of the parking area was a replica Mayan temple. I opted only to look, not walk to the top. After all of the walking during the tour, I was tired.

A group walking away from the pyramid on top of el Picacho Mountain.

From there it was back to the Embassy and then my hotel for some rest and a private meeting with Captain Morgan.

The statue of Christ towers over the trees.