My hometown history

May 24, 2011

Scott Thomas Photography’s challenge for this month is about “Your hometown history”.

http://stphoto.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/assignment-13-hometown-history/

My  hometown is in another state but surely a “hometown” is also the place one feels good in : my close family lives here as well as some very dear friends. I  have  enjoyed practising many activities over the years since my family and I decided to settle down in this town.  I love the area we live in now almost as much as the one I was born in.  My hometown then would be Fribourg in the French speaking part of Switzerland. Halfway between Berne, our capital and the picturesque area near the Lake of Geneva, not far from my “real” hometown in the Alps.

As for history… this subject has been very much part of my life thanks to my paternal grandfather, Ulysse, who was a self-taught historian.  A long while ago, I wrote a post about him :

https://isathreadsoflife.wordpress.com/2009/01/14/ulysses-books/

This is the old part of Fribourg  on a rather grey day. The medieval town was  was built in 1157 along a river. The Sarine  river  borders two areas in my country: the French and the German  parts.  Fribourg (town/canton) is one of the 26 cantons/states of the Swiss Confederation. Almost one third of his 30000 inhabitants are students.  Several academies, high schools and a bilingual university attract many young people from here and abroad.

Various bridges cross the river meandering around the old town.

Apart from a winding road,  there is a funicular (1899) that connects the ancient town to the newer part above the hill. No motor but recycled water that acts as counterweight.

This medieval town used to be surrounded by ramparts. Most of those walls were destructed over the centuries. A few of them remain and have been restored as well as one heavy wooden gate that would close the town at night.

A colourful old house that used to be a military arsenal.  Nowadays people seem to be more peaceful in town and the arsenal became “Arsen’Alt”. The large painted house is meant to bring people together in the Alt district. It promotes local community life for all those wishing so: kindergarten, various courses, craftwork, cultural activities, meetings, movies,  birthday parties, etc… An inter-generation leisure complex.

By chance I happened to be in the old town when a photography exhibition took place on a square. It was all about the people who lived and are living now in this part of our town. Maybe one of these two ladies recognized herself or someone she knew on a picture ? 🙂

Pictures from today and yesterday; remembering history in a district that used to be a deprived area inhabited by large families coming from the country  in search of a job in town.  Years later many of those same families left their old houses that had become run-down for apartment houses in the upper part of  the town. Ancient houses have been restored and are now sought-after… Times are changing.

Just an old pub about one of my idols 😉  “Elvis et moi”. The owner must have the complete collection of The King’s LP’s ! A real fan and a charming lady. Pity the pub was closed as I took this picture.

A window from another time… Pretty old dolls, second hand books, ancient CD’s and other fancy dusty objects.

Many museums are worth visiting in Fribourg. A favourite of mine is the Gutenberg Museum. A whole post would be necessary to show you its wonders. I will write more about it some time. For now let’s meet the writer and the bookbinder…

… as well as two Turkish musicians who were practising folk music in a garden outside the museum: “Our landlady does not allow us to play in the apartment !”.  They were preparing for  a traditional celebration with members of their community,  an important one in our city.

Are you tired after the visit  ? Then why not take a break on the lawn or on this stone (molasse) bridge. From there you will be able to have another look at the old city, like in the first picture. Fribourg or Freiburg in German is a town of bridges over the river. Bridges over cultures,  languages and times.  Bridges that join rather than divide. It is a small town you may well enjoy visiting if you are around someday.

Thanks Scott for allowing me to use pictures of various “times”. I loved this theme too.

A tulip as a symbol…

October 21, 2010

A large, very large city (15 mio inhabitants) spread over two continents, Europe and Asia, linked together by two bridges and whose symbol is the tulip. A city whose name varied over time  and  civilisations : Byzantium under the Greek settlers,  and Constantinople  as the new Eastern capital of the Roman Empire. Did you guess where I had the great pleasure of spending four short days recently ? Yes, right 🙂 In Istanbul, Turkey, just 3 1/2 hours away from Geneva (by plane). But what a change of scenery and way of life !

One of the bridges linking the Eastern shore of the Bosphorus to the Western part of Istanbul.

Describing and picturing all I saw in this  short time is not really easy. I took many photos of the main touristic  sites we visited. A morning cruise on the Bosphorus,   gardens and palaces visited during a rainstorm that looked and felt more like a deluge,   a Byzantine underground Cistern,  the famous  Bazars, the seagulls that were everywhere and as big as ducks,  ancient Ottoman quartiers and their wooden houses,  small sesame breads sold in the streets which never tasted as good as when eaten under the pouring rain, the bridges and their busy lanes (day and night) that we crossed by bus, and  so much more… There are a lot of blogs and sites about this prestigious historical city – named “European Capital of Culture for 2010” – that will inform you much better than I would about the incredible  and precious treasures of Istanbul. Personaly, I chose to share with you some images that may tell you how I felt about Istanbul,  its contrasts, the traces of its historical past and its ever-present beauty.

A mosaic in blue shades  like the magnificent  domes of the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet I mosque) and the Hagia Sophia Museum (formerly a Basilica, then a Mosque and now and museum.

The breathtaking shades of  Hagia Sophia’s stained glass windows, a soft inner light that no words can tell. I felt an  indescribable   feeling of  serenity (in spite of the crowd); I could well imagine the  fervour shared inside the same basilica/mosque  over the centuries by so many believers.

These are various patterns seen during the visits. The tulip (symbol of Istanbul) on a prayer carpet, an intricate mosaic in the Topkapi Palace and a rich embroidery sewed on a Sultan’s kaftan.

The magnificent Topkapi Palace and its gardens were visited under a heavy rain. The sky had darkened considerably but the area was not without any colours…

Deserted benches in a luxuriant vegetation.Group in blue…It was a great day for street vendors 🙂 We were offered blue plastic raincoats and umbrellas. ‘brellas,’ brellas ! was the rather joyous cry people heard all day long in the saturated streets. And of course,  we were only too happy to buy an umbrella on such a wet day !

When rain was just too much to put up with, the Grand Bazar and the Spice Bazar (also called Egyptian Bazar) would welcome you. A feast for the eyes and, in some shops,  a delight for your sense of smell.  Imagine carpets, shawls, embroidered boots,  jewels, spices, soaps, leather goods, glasses, ceramics, coffee,  those very special herbal teas and the sweet Turkish delights 🙂 Just anything you can think of.Walking in Istanbul’s ancient Ottoman areas is a totally different experience and well worth it.

Away from the crowds and the most visited sites, small wooden houses huddle together along  uneven streets where people live and work. Another vision of old Istanbul, its craftmen and shopkeepers, small stores and cafés where tourists are rare.

Fruits, veges  or other food are often sold in the streets. Tempting, delicious.

As the evening comes, a muezzin calls  for another prayer. The sky darkens before rain starts falling again. Will the remaining golden patches of sun between the clouds announce a sunny day in the morning ?

Yes, indeed ! The sky has cleared up and a sunrise over the Bosphorus was one of my favourite moments in Istanbul. Pastel shades over the straight for  boats  which are coming back slowly to the fishing market early morning. A view I never tired of.

Thank you for accompanying me for this short visit through  the ancient part of the city. I thought I would focus on the historical part of Istanbul although the modern area is quite another story and well worth seeing too.

Below are a few links of interest for those of you who would like knowing more about Istanbul.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Istanbul

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Bridges_in_Istanbul

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topkap%C4%B1_Palace

Piemonte

October 1, 2010

Back from a visit to Italy, in the Piemonte area which is not far away from the South of Switzerland;  it was a long drive though, the winding and steep roads went through mountain passes and narrow valleys. Photos will follow when I will be back from another trip to a completely different and unexpected destination 😉Until later and enjoy these first weeks of October which I hope will be mild and colourful. Fall is definitely on its way…

Slowing down

August 16, 2010

This post is my contribution to  the new photography  challenge assigned by Scott Thomas, http://stphoto.wordpress.com; its theme is related  to Travel Photography. On the following link you will find  the necessary information if you want to join us. Everyone is welcome ! Photos are to be posted until September 8, 2010.

http://stphoto.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/assignment-8-travel-photography/

For me, Hauterive is not  a faraway place to travel to, 15kms at the most from my home near Fribourg, Switzerland (South of Berne). More than a travel in the usual sense of the word, I would call it an “inner journey”. As soon as you leave the main road leading to the Abbey of Hauterive, you enter a small domain where peace, silence and nature help you slowing down. You don´t even realize it but the way you walk down the path leading to the Abbey is definitely more slow.

I did not meet many people as I strolled under the forest archway. It was a weekday; on Sundays the monastery welcomes many visitors coming to the 10am mass celebrated by the Cistercian monks  in the Abbey founded in 1138.The community of Hauterive is a haven of peace. Whenever I  need some quietness or just a little time for myself , I love to go and sit in the garden in front of the Abbey. Parts of this garden are closed to the public and reserved to the monks. Pilgrims on their long way to St- Jacques de Compostelle in Spain may stop there for the night.Between light and shade, some benches welcome people who come there for a pause in their day. Some – for their own particular reasons at a period of their life – can stay for a longer time at the Abbey and live with the monks according to their rhythm and spirit.  I cannot speak for them but personally I always feel a great inner peace as I stay there, outside or inside the church, also when walking along the river.

This is a view of the Abbey (at the back) and the farm (in front). The monks´s monastic life is essential  (“ora et labora” – pray, work and also fraternal life). The monks also cultivate a certain form of relationship with the exterior world.  Over the centuries they have valorised agricultural land  so  that they can sell their various products which bring the necessary revenues for their subsistence.Silence is appreciated in the areas where the monks are praying, meditating.

Hauterive Abbey (which means “high banks”) is located near a river, the Sarine. It flows quietly; people like to come and spend the day at the edge of the water.  I saw fishermen trying to catch  trouts. Cistercian monasteries  were often built near a river in rather secluded areas. Maybe they used rivers as a way of transportation for their goods to be sold in the towns nearby ? It was often done so in the Middle Age when roads were  unsafe.

To reach the Abbey you can either walk down a peaceful forest path or use  those  old wooden stairs. They have been restored of course and if they could talk, they would tell of all the people and the countless  steps up and down over the centuries. The walls are original with an occasional patch of new cement and paint here and there. No  straight lines for them but slight curves,  a sort of imbalance as if they carried the weight of time and events.Let´s  enter the Abbey itself through the  main porch decorated by a fresco.  I visited Hauterive several times over the years; for this photo assignement I came on a sunny morning which soon turned out to be a rainy one. The colours would have normally been much brighter.

I never took any pictures inside the Abbey but the monk I asked about it said it was all right. Those  are the stained glass windows on the South side of the church, their bright colours subdued under the cloudy sky.  The “rosace” (rose window) is very striking.

Rose windows are particularly characteristic of Gothic architecture and may be seen in all the major Gothic Cathedrals of Northern France. Their origins are much earlier and rose windows may be seen in various forms throughout the Medieval period (Wikipedia).

There were very few people inside the Abbey. I sat for while on the chair on the left. On Sundays and special  celebrations the nave and the lateral aisles are all taken up. The monks are reunited behind the choir-screen for the celebration. Their Gregorian chant fills the  Abbey. Moments of spirituality and sharing. I feel like saying a sharing beyond all religions,  a sheer spirituality that the site inspires and transcends.  The monks´chant is bringing life to the ancient walls.Leaving the Abbey by the quiet forest path, I was surprised by a bird flying right in front of me ! I still don´t know how I managed to take a picture. But here it is, a graceful bird dashing to the purple flower bush. A lovely ending of my travel with you.  I hope you enjoyed this quiet journey near Fribourg, Switzerland. Thanks to Scott for another interesting photography challenge.

For more information on the Abbey of Hauterive, here is a link to its  site. An English translation is available too.

http://www.abbaye-hauterive.ch/index.php#bas1

My Hometown

March 22, 2010

Scott Thomas has posted a new photo challenge  whose theme is “My Hometown”. Everyone is invited to participate in posting one or more photos about this particular subject.  If you are interested, please go to the link below and  post your photo(s) until midnight (your time) on Wednesday, March 24th, 2010.

http://stphoto.wordpress.com/

Fribourg, in the French speaking area of Switzerland is not really my hometown… but it is the place I lived the longest in. So now I consider it as my hometown, I feel as good here as I do when I go back to my home state in the Alps. It is a town of about 30’000 inhabitants, its medieval part built along a river, the Sarine. Its cathedral, dedicated to St Nicolas, is imposing and was built in the 11th century. When you walk through Fribourg as I did last Saturday, you cannot but lift your head and admire the old architecture of  its roofs and bell towers. Many of them !

Old bridges cross the river and one of them is covered. Cars may drive through it, buses too but just barely ! So much nicer to walk when no vehicles are around.

Saturday was a rather dull day, not many colours to light up my pictures but it was Scott’s challenge 😉 so I did my best and found some cheerful shades.  The sun was away but the moon stood in a garden ! Bright and smiling and joyful in a rainy day..

May I introduce you to The Big Moon ? a lovely sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle; the artist was born in Paris but lived in New York for a long time.  She spent some time in our town and left a great collection of art in a museum here. I visited it later on and, as always,  enjoyed it immensely. I hope you have enjoyed this short walk through my hometown too.

Thank you Scott for giving me the opportunity to present a little of Fribourg.

In love

February 14, 2010

A young couple looking into each other’s eyes with so much love 🙂

Usually I am not too keen on taking pictures of people, I am a bit shy about it. On this particular occasion, I thought I would not be noticed at all, so totally oblivious were they of the people right beside them.  There were many tourists visiting the ancient castle of Gruyères. Now imagine that for a second they, “les amoureux”,  had looked around  or below the old window they were sitting on. It  was highly unlikely but just imagine 😉 This is what they would have seen : a nicely designed  garden inside  the castle walls. Over the walls, green pastures, forests and mountains. An idyllic landscape.

The castle is built on a hill and is quite a sight no matter what direction you come from. The young couple was sitting inside a large open window that you may notice on the outer wall of the castle. Better seen in the last picture, in Winter time.

Here is  is the  castle of Gruyères in Summer and in Winter. I have seen it many times but can’t help admiring this site whenever I am in the area.

Happy Valentine Day to all !

interweaving

December 11, 2009

A Spanish rose fading beautifully beside an arch built by the Moors in Andalusia. Did you notice the little bird taking refuge in the delicate stucco honeycombed sculptures ?

A quiet fountain in an Andalusian patio. The late afternoon sunrays were illuminating an ancient pavement built long ago by Moorish  craftsmen. Tiny stones of all shades and shapes interweaving in an intricate and exquisite pattern.  As I look at these pictures, it makes me think of multicultural influences all over the world and how they are a richness and a gift for anyone who cares to look at them for their intrinsic beauty. Letting aside all prejudice of any kind.

Welcome to Fribourg

October 2, 2009

Fribourg, old town

Fribourg is a medieval town (the old part dates from the XIIth century) in Switzerland. It is situated in the French speaking part of the country but very close to the German speaking area.  A town of paved roads,  narrow lanes borded with old houses mostly restored in the ancient style. The sunrays bring out the beauty of some picturesque ancient constructions.

ruelle à FRThis is a town where you can walk for miles along the river Sarine which is a natural limit between two areas : Swiss French and Swiss German. A river coming down from the Alps and flowing slowly through Fribourg, although  it can be quite wild in the lower and ancient part of the town in the rainy season.

along the Sarine

Place à Fribourg 1Fribourg is also a town of squares  decorated with fountains of all styles. I love to sit there on a warm day reading a book or just enjoying the sun and watching people walking by. On the day I took this picture, it was freezing cold though, hardly anyone around… In Summertime Fribourg is a town where terraces bloom all over the place. A lively town which I enjoy visiting and meeting friends. These are just a few flashes of a town I live close by and which is well worth visiting if you are in the area (Geneva, Lausanne, Berne, Neuchâtel, Lucerne).

FR vu des 4 vents

Sparks of Central Asia

January 16, 2009

mosaique-asie-centrale-blog1

Mid-March in Moscow, the roads of the city were still bordered with heaps of wet and dirty snow, the sun had been scarce and timid for months,  the temperatures  still low. During a vacation, I felt like heading South for a while and spend a few days in Central Asia. I chose the Republic of Uzbekhistan for all I had read about Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, the Silk Road, the famous astronomer Ulug Beg, Tamerlan’s loved wife, Bibi Khanum and more. Those ancient and brilliant civilisations that I had been dreaming of learning more about and seeing what the present cities looked like.

I think the Aeroflot flight took about 6-7 hours from Moscow to Samarkand. It was my first flight outside the Russian capital since I had arrived there in the late Fall. A great excitement ! As soon as the plane landed and the doors of the Tupolev were opened,  all passengers were welcomed by Spring.  We had left snow and a cold Winter in Moscow and found sunshine, flowerbeds, a sweet scent of roses in the parks,  along the roads leading to the center of Samarkand. What a joy ! I will never forget my first day in Central Asia. It looked definitely like another continent to me, one of colours (the  clothes Uzbeks were wearing as well as the blue mosaics covering many ancient buildings and medresse, islamic schools).  A world of scents I discovered going to the market, so many more vegetables and fruits than in Moscow at the same season ! I bought peaches, grapes, figs, even cherries if I remember well. I ate  spicy roasted lamb kebabs in small shops along the streets, I loved drinking glasses of a strong black tea in a “tchaikhanas” (houses where tea is served). I just enjoyed strolling around, trying to find my way in the narrow alleys leading to hidden palaces and antique ruins.  People were friendly and eager to meet foreigners at that time but talking to them was a bit difficult; my Russian knowledge was still poor, I did not know any word in uzbeki arabic. Sometimes I would find someone understanding a bit of English or German. But still I was welcomed anywhere I went and helped and guided as much as possible.

It has been a long time since my travel to Uzbekhistan,  politics and new ways of life brought changes there too, good or less so. The Uzbekh Republic no longer belongs to the Soviet Union, wars have been raging at its borders, time surely has left its marks on this ancient world like everywhere else. My memories of this journey (far too short) to the ancient Uzbekh cities remain  filled with admiration for all its historic figures, the architecture of its monuments that bears witness to a prestigious past. And last by not least, the warm welcome I received by the people I met.