Picture

Today we went to Neuschwanstein Castle.  It's the castle from Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang and also inspired part of the Harry Potter Castle.  It was built by King Ludwig II in eighteen sixty nine and construction stopped at his death in eighteen eighty six with only one third of the castle completed.   When we arrived at the small town of Schwangau, we walked up the hill to the castle.  King Ludwig built it to be beautiful rather than a stronghold.  It's on a hilltop with cliffs, a waterfall, a lake and mountains on one side and fields and the town on the other side. We walked up a big spiral staircase to the throne room, which was absolutely beautiful. All the walls and the ceiling were painted with vibrant murals, but the most eye-catching thing for me was the chandelier in the middle of the room. I overheard from a guide that ...



 
Picture
During breakfast, Mom found a wallet with quite a lot of money in it. She turned it in and it turned out to belong to a Polish guy.  In gratitude, they gave her a bottle of pear liqueur, apparently a Polish treat, and some beautiful glasses.  Allegra, Iris, Tadej and I ran up a steep hill to Castle Bled. It's built right into a cliff above a lake and the view is spectacular! I could see little rowers on the bright blue water, the snow capped mountains surrounding the lake, and a little church on a tiny island. Eventually we 
 met up with our parents, and we all went to the museum. There was this one room with a really old printing press, so we got a card printed as a reminder of this beautiful place. After that we . . .


 
Picture
We are standing at one of the many courtyards within the palace grounds
Today we went to Topkapi Palace. It was built by a sultan in the late fourteen hundreds, and was passed down from father to son, sultan to sultan until the early twentieth century. We saw the weapons room, which was really cool, and would've been my favourite, if not for the treasury, which we saw at the end. We also got to walk throughout the harem, which is a big building where the sultan kept his four hundred concubines. A concubine is . . .


 
Picture
During our time in Uganda, my father and I built a brick oven. It started out as a dilapidated foundation of a barbeque.
Then . . .



 
Picture
_Today I did my situps and pushups, brushed my teeth, and set out for the school. On the way to the school Barbara pointed out a kid who had a sponsor in Canada that sent money every month for school. But he wasn't going to school, because he was at home. That really made me angry. Some people are sending money from the other side of the globe to help this kid get an education. And what does he do? He doesn't even make the effort to go to school, and he probably just pockets the money. It just teaches bad work ethic, and it really doesn't help the kid in the end. You'd think that they would be happy to be helped, but they make it really hard. Anyway, when we got to the school, we had an assembly. We were introduced, and the school kids sang some Ugandan songs for us, so we returned with Land of the Silver Birch. They had all this amazing rhythm, percussion, and harmonies, and we were pretty weak, to tell you the truth. Afterwards, I was given a job as . . .


 
Picture
_Today we went to Amber Fort which is 12km north of Jaipur.  The weather in Jaipur is brisk -- dry and chilly when you are in the shade and very warm when you are in the sun.  This brisk morning we were on a bus heading to Amber Fort.  When we got there the first thing that caught my attention were around twenty monkeys grabbing food from each other, chasing each other around and jumping through crowds of pigeons causing them to scatter in a cloud.  When we got inside the gates to the Fort there was a long walkway over a moat that led to a huge stronghold overlooking the valley.  Following us were a whole bunch of vendors and hawkers who were yelling prices at us and telling us to buy their stuff.  Being seasoned travellers of India by now we knew to . . .

 
Picture
_2012! We hung out at Green Palms, for most of the day, then in the afternoon we took a walk along the rice fields, with Thomas, our guide telling us all about them. One rice crop takes about four months to grow, so they usually have two crops, and during monsoon season the farmers let their fields lie fallow. Our guide also told us how essential the coconut palm is to the community. The roots keep the dikes from sinking into the sea, and the leaves are used to thatch the roofs. The hair on the outside of the coconut has many uses as well, from being woven into mats to being used as primitive toothbrushes! The shells are used to burn, because they burn slowly and hot, and catch fire very easily. They sell the meat or use it in their dishes. Thomas says that the farmers could not farm if not for the coconut!
Birch


 
Picture
Dad and I taking a closer look at the Gandhi Statue
__     We finally made the difficult decision to leave Auroville and travel to a city further south called Madurai.  Auroville served a valuable purpose in that it allowed us to recharge from our experience with "Teacher Ali" in Mamallapuram (see previous blog entry) and enjoy Christmas while away from home.  We hopped on a state bus and arrived in Madurai eight bumpy hours later.    
     The first thing we did was head to the massive Sri Meenakshi Temple in the centre of city.  The Temple has four huge towers at four main entrances.  We entered through the east entrance.  We had to take off our shoes and go through a security check.  It was a strange protocol.  It was cool knowing that we were walking in one of the biggest temples in India.  I liked the painted murals of lotus flowers on the ceiling.  Each lotus painting was completely different and there were at least a hundred painted along the ceilings of the corridors.  A bunch of young guys kept saying "Hi!" to me and wanted to shake my hand (just because I am white, I think).  After that we . . .


 
Picture
A solar field where the Sandhana Forest community gets all of its energy needs.
_Today we went to Sadhana Forest.  We woke up, had breakfast at our guest house and I was really eager to do my Christmas shopping so I left right away.  Unfortunately, the shops open at 9:30am so I had to wait for a half hour.  While I was waiting I realized that I didn't have a pack to carry the presents home so I raced back to our room and got my day pack.  At the guest house I intercepted my Dad and we went to the Visitors Centre together and we were still five minutes early.   We waited until the shops opened and I got what I needed and we got on our bikes and rode to Sadhana Forest.  Allegra and Mom took the bus.   We rode for . . .

 
Picture
_Today we went to the Dante Elephant Reserve.  We woke up at an unGodly hour (7:00 in the morning) and got picked up by Mr. Big (yes, like the chocolate bar) and he drove us to the reserve.  In the car with us was a guy named Richard, from Holland.  Richard sat in the front with Mr. Big, Mom and Dad were in the middle and Allegra and I sat in a makeshift back seat that was the trunk. There was zero leg room and the seat was six inches off the floor of the SUV.  When we got there the first thing I did was climb out of the back and stretch my legs because they had fallen asleep for so long in the car that they were probably in a coma.  I massaged my calves for a second and then looked up and that is when I saw the elephants.  They were actually bigger than I was expecting and they were doing what elephants do best: eating.  I could see about six in total but Mr. Big told us that they had a total of eleven elephants and one was a baby.  First we . . .