Saturday, 31 October 2015

The Iguazu Falls, Argentina versus Brazil

Shooting Rainbows over Iguazu, Argentina ©Solange Hando

The natives called Iguazu ''big water' and with an average flow of 10 million litres per second in season, it's easy to see why.Stretching for 2.7 km, the cliff face is streaked by up to 300 waterfalls, plunging 60 to 90 metres from the upper to the lower Iguazu river.

Straddling Argentina and Brazil, the falls came to the world's attention when Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca stumbled upon them in the 16th century. 'Santa Maria', he exclaimed as he set eyes on one of the most powerful cataracts, and so it is still called today.

Crested Jay in Iguazu ©Solange Hando

Surrounded by rainforest, the Iguazu National Parks are protected on both sides by UNESCO and wild life can often be spotted near the falls, especially birds like macaws, parrots, toucans and jays.

Meanwhile caimans lurk in the lower reaches, jaguars and coral snakes hide in the forest and monkeys play havoc in the trees.

The Devil's Throat, Argentina ©Solange Hando

On the Argentinian side, tourist amenities have been kept well away from the falls and to reach the most popular cataract, you have to board an eco-train then make your way across the upper river on a km long walkway.

All seems placid at first until thunder begins to roar and suddenly you come face to face with the mighty Devil's Throat, the easiest fall to access on that side where you can also explore a network of trails.

 View of Iguazu Falls from the Air ©Solange Hando

Argentina claims 80% of the falls but since the cliff face is shaped like an inverted J, the Devil's Throat offers a limited view.

Brazil on the other hand reveals a stunning panorama across its own falls and most of those in Argentina. You can view the falls by helicopter and although amenities on that side are much closer to the falls, they're out of sight as soon as you make your way down the panoramic path.

Raccoon Looking for Spoils in Iguazu ©Solange Hando

Of course this raccoon knows nothing of borders but if you want to enjoy Iguazu from both sides, it's easy enough. It's just a short drive to the border bridge where the paint changes colour half way along -to reflect the national flags- and you can get a glimpse of Paraguay as well.

Rainbow over Iguazu, Brazil ©Solange Hando

Here on the Brazilian side, you look right across the falls, first from the top then at water level where a wooden walkway (top right in the picture) takes you to the heart of it all, but expect to get drenched. Or if you dare, you can hop on a boat and shoot the rapids.

For the best of both worlds, see the Devil's Throat in Argentina then go across to Brazil for the most spectacular views and a shot of adrenalin to top it all.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Tokyo, Cool and Traditional

Tablet and Kimonos, Tokyo ©Solange Hando

From technology to magnetic trains, Japan is zooming ahead but on special occasions, the traditional dress gives everyone a chance to look fabulous while preserving cultural links with the past.

Then of course, you do have to record it all on your tablet and share it with friends...

Buddhist Shrine in Tokyo ©Solange Hando

This is a quiet hidden corner in Asakusa Kannon, Tokyo's oldest Buddhist complex and a bustling place where among clouds of incense, statues and paper lanterns, fortune tellers and fast food chefs cater to every visitor's needs.

It's a popular temple if you wish to seek advice for the future or earn merits for the after life, for yourself or others.

Shibuya ©Solange Hando

It's rather different in Shibuya which many regard as the Piccadilly Circus of Tokyo. This is the place to meet your friends by the statue of the legendary dog who waited until death, for a master who never returned.

It's a lively district so don't be fooled by the empty crossings on the picture. As soon as the lights turn green, crowds will appear from nowhere, as disciplined as you would expect them to be for this is Tokyo, not London or Paris.

Traditional Shinto Wedding in Meiji Shrine ©Solange Hando

The Shinto religion is based on respect for nature and the many spirits who live there so shrines are located in natural surroundings.

When this shrine was built on the edge of Tokyo to honour Emperor Meiji, 100,000 trees were planted over seven years to welcome the spirits, 

Weddings aside, look out for the wishing tree where worshippers and visitors are invited to leave a message, as did President Obama for world peace.

Tokyo 21st Century ©Solange Hando

But whatever the traditions in Tokyo, the enduring image is that of a modern city with soaring skyscrapers and stunning architecture from the business district to the elegant bridges across the bay, the Tokyo Tower or the popular Statue of Liberty.

Yet, for many visitors, much of the charm lies in the careful handling of old and new, preserving cultural traditions while embracing the modern world and a bright future.

Here's to Tokyo, Ready to Go

 ©Solange Hando

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Aberdour near Edinburgh, Scotland's Hidden Gem

Harbour in Aberdour ©Solange Hando

Aberdour makes a lovely day trip from Edinburgh, just a 30 minutes ride from the city over the spectacular bridge spanning the Firth of Forth.

The name means 'water mouth'-here the Dour Burn enters the Forth- and when the railway replaced the pleasure steamers, the old coal harbour transformed itself once again and is now a delightful marina, tucked between the old jetty and the wooded banks.

Aberdour Castle ©Solange Hando

In this sheltered and strategic spot on the south shores of the Fife, the Mortimer family built the first castle and the nearby church of St Fillan around the 12th century. Later the property passed into the hands of the Douglas family, where it remained ever since, and was extended many times over the centuries.

At first sight, there seems little to explore but don't be fooled: these nostalgic ruins will take you by surprise, here a cavernous fireplace, there a bread oven, a tumbling tower or the original well. Best of all are the extensive terraced gardens, complete with orchard, beehive dovecot with 600 boxes and superb views over the countryside and the estuary.

Coastal Path on Aberdour Peninsula ©Solange Hando

In Aberdour, you can follow the coastal path around the peninsula, in a protected area where you might spot all sorts of birds, including oyster catchers and redshanks. Here and there, trees and shrubs cling to sheer cliffs and masses of wild flowers bloom along the trail, honeysuckle, foxgloves, thistles and more.

This is part of the Fife Coastal Path, stretching 117 miles from the Forth to the Tay and claiming the longest continuous coastal walk in Scotland.

Looking back to Aberdour from the Fife Coastal Path ©Solange Hando

By clear weather, even on this small Aberdour section, you can be sure of gorgeous views, the village nestling in the bay, the hills rolling all around, the open waters of the estuary where you might see Inchcolm Island and its abbey, popular for weddings, and Edinburgh in the distance.

Aberdour Silver Sands Beach ©Solange Hando

Then, when you reach the tip of the peninsula, you discover the fine Silver Sands, the most popular of Aberdour's two beaches, though almost deserted at times.

Add the old village with its winding lanes, the gardens blooming with flowers, the haunting castle, the quaint little church and it's no wonder that Aberdour, this small undiscovered gem, should have received so many awards in recent years, including 'Best Small Coastal Village' in Fife and Scotland.

Aberdour, Village in Bloom ©Solange Hando