Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fame and Horror in Edinburgh

The name's a bit confusing as it is spelled in various ways: Edinburg, Edinburgh, Edinborough, Edinbourgh...but the city itself is remarkable in all respects. It's an inspiring city due to a lucky combination of historical , architectural and cultural elements.

Edinburgh , capital of Scotland, is the birthplace of Sir Walter Scott, the famous novelist (author of "Ivanhoe") , Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ( the creator of Sherlock Holmes), actor Sir Sean Conery (the first 007 agent, of the renowned TV serial). The city is host to a lot of annual festivals, the most well-known being The Edinburgh International Festival of music, opera, theatre, dance, and exhibitions held in August.

The dark gothic monument built in honour of Sir Walter Scott is one of the biggest attractions in the city - 61 m high, its top reached via 278 steps! (The architect never saw his final work as he tripped into a canal and drowned). The monument is decorated with 64 statuettes which are believed to illustrate characters from Walter Scott's novels and from scottish literature in general. Below the arches, there's a white marble statue of the writer and his dog.

The Edinburg Castle- the symbol of Edinburg and of Scotland, fortress and formal royal residence - is ,no doubt, number one tourist attraction in Edinburg. It stands on an extinct volcano and offers a splendid panoramic view of the city. There's much to be seen in the castle: royal appartments, the room containing the scottish crown jewels, the dungeon, cannons, and various arms on display. There's some military presence at the castle for ceremonies mainly.
I happened to be there when a gun was fired and it scared the bejesus out of me.
It was the firing of the one o'clock gun used to allow ship captains to set their clocks and watches by.

Horror tours within the historic old town area are very popular. Visitors are taken to dark courts and alleys, to chambers used by witches, to haunted graveyards - and told scaring tales about tortures, murders, paranormal happenings. Edinburgh Castle is considered one of the most haunted places. Like many other castles it has its dungeons where prisoners were tortured and killed. These dungeons are believed to be haunted by the ghosts of their victims.

It was Robert Louis Stevenson, born in Edinburgh, who wrote the nightmarish story "The strange case of Dr Jeykell and Mr Hyde". Well, the Old historic, haunted town and the New elegant, sophisticated town of Edinburgh are said to be symbolic of these two characters: Dr Jeykell, and Mr. Hyde.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pedestrian Mall and the Star

On Tuesdays and Fridays, the pedestrian zone of Nachlat Benyamin street in Tel Aviv, turns into a colourful, lively, open mall with artists selling their original handicrafts, with musicians and pantomime entertainers performing their magic shows, with cute cafes and restaurants feeding the visitors, with lots of people wandering among the stands looking for gifts to buy or just contemplating the crafts on display, and absorbing the special atmosphere of the place.

The pedestrian zone of Nachlat Binyamin street is located between Carmel Market and Alenby street. At the meeting point of these three sites , one could watch the singing performance of Miri Aloni (60), a former star with a superb, powerful voice who has become during the last decade a street singer. She accompanies her Hit songs with guitar playing; people watch, listen and put coins and bills into the box placed near her.

Miri Aloni first came to be noticed in the Sixties. She was then the soloist of one of the army regimental bands, The Nachal Band. She had a captivating voice, good looks, great talent, and so, following her success during her army service , she became one of the greatest israeli pop and rock stars. But something happened to her on the way to consolidating her stardom. After a very promising start and a certain period of glory there began a decline in her career. According to the gossip columns in the newspapers it was 'cherchez l'homme'- look for the man in her life. It was said that she was attracted to the wrong type of men who suppressed her personality and damaged her professional carreer.

Anyway, in november 1995 she became well-known abroad too due to a tragic event - the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhac Rabin at a peace gathering held at the Municipality square of Tel Aviv. She was on the stage singing together with Rabin and the foreign minister Peres her famous song Shir La Shalom (Song for Peace); minutes later, Rabin was assassinated. In interviews to the Media during the ensuing years she claimed that she was not happy being associated with tragedy and complained that this association had deteriorated her career and her ability to make a living.

Miri Aloni should be appreciated not only for her vocal performance but also for her tough character. Not everyone in her position would have survived this transition from concert halls to street corners.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Schaffhausen and the Rhine Falls

Schaffhausen- a word I could never forget. My father owned a schaffhausen watch , which was considered expensive and hard to obtain. One day it was stolen from him and that made him terribly sad. No hugs and promises of a new watch could make him overcome his bad mood. ( I'm afraid I have inherited this trait of character ; whenever I lose an item I can go sad for days , which is of course stupid. One shouldn't get so attached to things; it's only people that matter.).

Later on, I learned that Schaffhausen is a city in northern Switzerland with a long tradition of fine watchmaking. The IWC (International Watch Co) , a high-end Swiss watch manufacturer, is located in Schaffhausen.
However, the main attraction in Schaffhausen is not the watch industry or the city itself with its medieval car-free old town, but the Rhine Falls (3 km distance from the city).

I came to Schaffhausen with the ticking of my father's stolen watch in my mind, and I ended my tour with the thundering of the Rhine Falls in my ears. I could have composed a piece of music starting with ticking, and ending with thundering, and in the middle of it, the various noises made by the tourists ( if I were a composer).

Anyway, near Schaffhausen, the river Rhine offers a spectacular show (especially on a sunny day) of the waterfalls - the largest waterfalls in Europe (150mW, 23mH). It is possible to reach the Falls walking along the banks of the river , or by bus.

Once on the spot, one has to try and change positions to find a good angle to best see the roaring falls and take good pictures.
One can also catch a boat ride to a rock in the middle of the cascading waters which enables a closer view of them (if one doesn't mind to get wet by the gushing waters, of course)
Close by, on a cliff, proudly overlooking the Falls, is the old castle Schloss Laufen, which serves as a complex, housing: a restaurant, a hotel, a youth hostel and a gift shop.

A visit to the Rhine Falls is great fun; it offers amazing sights and sounds.