My Time Capsule: 2018

27.9.18

Armenia: Rock-Cut Church At Geghard Monastery

Kotayk, October 2017




Armenia is truly a home of otherworldly churches and monasteries. As I've said it before, I was blown away by the fact that Armenian are advanced in choosing the most dramatic and extravagant location to build their churches. Previously I've posted about the gorgeous Noravank Monastery which is perched halfway up the mountain. Today I'm going to take you for another journey to my most favourite amongst all...*drum rolls*...the Geghard Monastery!


Geghard Monastery

"The monastery of Geghard and the Upper Azat Valley contains a number of churches and tombs, most of them cut into the living rock, which illustrate Armenian medieval architecture at its highest point. The complex of medieval buildings is set into a landscape of great natural beauty, at the entrance to the Azat Valley. High cliffs from the northern side surround the complex while the defence wall encircles the rest."

I peeked the brief introduction on UNESCO website before the trip and it already tickled my adventurous soul. I mean a rock-cut monastery complex? It can't be something as common as pancake with maple syrup, right?


It was originally called Ayrivank, means monastery of the cave.  The monastery was founded, according to tradition by St. Gregory the Illuminator, and was built following the adoption of Christianity as a state religion in Armenia (beginning of the 4th century AD).



Geghard Monastery complex

After a drive through winding roads into the heart of the mountain, Arman parked our sprinter van under the shade of a tree. I looked up as I jumped out the car but couldn't really see the monastery complex. From the parking lot, with anticipation high I made my walk up towards the entrance gate passing some Sujukh sellers (candle shaped candy made from fruits or nuts). As I get closer and the view of the monastery became clearer, my heart skip a bit. The greyish stone colour church stand tall ahead me encircled by tall cliffs with the first rock-cut church was built back in 1250. The setting is so dramatic, I could easily see it as a scene in some adventure movies like Indiana Jones or else. The autumn foliage made it look even prettier. Also I think I've made the best decision to explore the Caucasus countries in autumn. Not only the scenery was more beautiful, I also didn't meet any hordes of tourists at most places I visited. Moderately cool temperature was a plus too for a polar bear like me.


exquisite wooden door 

the Gavit

My favourite part of this complex is the main church or called Katoghike and the Gavit, built completely against the mountain in 1215. Natural lights from outside were the only source of light beside the candles. I was there around noon, just in time to see the sunlight passed through the room from the windows. Highlighting the huge blackish grey columns and floors. Creating a very dramatic and Gothic ambiance inside the church. The carving on the wall, ceiling and cupola filled me with a sense of awe. I don't think I've seen any church interior as mind-blowing as this before. Mysterious yet captivating. 


inside Katoghike

the carving of two lions in the rock-cut chamber symbolising Armenian royal family

cupola on arches

wall carvings

Since the 13th century, the name was changed to Gedhardavank means Monastery of The Spear. It was believed the spear used by a Roman soldier to pierce the crucified Christ was brought here by St. Jude (Thaddeus) the Apostle and was keep in this monastery for 500 years. Currently the spear is exhibited at the Etchmiadzin Cathedral which is known as the oldest cathedral in the world. The Monastery of Geghard with its remarkable rock-cut churches and tombs is exceptionally well preserved and complete example of medieval Armenian monastic architecture and decorative art, with many innovatory features which had a profound influence on subsequent developments in the region.



the Gavit

the altar


some carved khachars 

engrave crosses

the upper Gavit

The Upper Gavit's acoustics are remarkable, perfect for Sharakan (Armenian religious chant), which sonorous notes drift across the room and seep into the adjoining areas of the monastery. Geghard was renowned as a musical school and was unique in having among its famous composers a woman, Sahakadukht, who composed and taught at the monastery in the 8th century. In those days women were forbidden to be seen by monks but Sahakadukht was so famous for her compositions that the Church allowed her to teach students at the monastery, hidden behind a curtain.

Gayane my lovely local friend stood in the middle of the room and started to sing an Armenian song. I didn't understand what's the song about but her voice echoed really really beautifully that I got chills all over my body. She also told me that local choirs frequently come to Geghard Monastery to sing at the Gavit. Pilgrimages come here to drink the healing water from the holy spring that comes out from the rock under the north wall of the church.



one of the columns with carved cross and hewn out inscriptions 

towering cliffs at the Avat Valley

According to the locals, there was a legend about a sister and a brother from a noble family who decided to build a temple higher up the gorge of Azat River and live there. But, they couldn't figure out where's the exact place to build it. So they prayed everyday asking God to show them the way. They had been waiting for a sign until one morning they saw their scuffle hoe was stuck on top of the mountain. They thought it was the sign from God. The siblings then built the temple inside the rock with the help of a saint virgin and lived here till the end of their lives.

Besides all the facts that's written in history, I always love to dig another twist of the story or the urban legend about a place. It makes me wondering, how did they get into the idea? Or is it actually what happened back then? Perhaps because I grew up listening to tons of Indonesian urban legends as my bedtime story. As I get older I realised most of them are just a myth but it still fascinates me.

How about you? Do you also love to seek some urban legends when you travel ?






Sujukh sellers

it was hard to bid good bye

Tips:

* Geghard Monastery is about 40 km away from Yerevan. You can do it as a day tour and combine it with a visit to Temple of Garni which is only 10 km away, like I did.

* I can't say much about taking public transportation but I think you can take marshrutkas or local minibus from Yerevan. The easiest way to reach Geghard is either by hiring a private car or taxi like I did, or join a day tour which can be organised by most travel agents in Yerevan.

* Thankfully I loaded up my backpack with some snacks and water that I bought from Yerevan. Because I've seen only a few shops along the way.

* Always bring some cash (Armenian Dram that is) with you. Only major supermarket in the city accept payment by credit card

* Don't forget to bring some extra battery for your camera or a power bank for your phone. You will definitely need it if you are a shutterbug like me 😁

* I explored Armenia in October 2017 and there was no entrance fee at Geghard Monastery and all other churches or monasteries that I visited. 









29.7.18

Poland: Spending The Night At A Castle - Hotel St. Bruno

Gizycko, October 2016




"Dad, when I grow up I want to be a princess and live in a beautiful castle!" The 5 years old me said it firmly after watching Sleeping Beauty movie for the first time and got blown away.

"But I thought you wanted to be Cleopatra and live in a pyramid or last week you told me you want to be Tarzan and live in Africa." My Dad chuckled and shook his head. "Girl! You have such a mind-boggling imagination. You even told me you wanted to be a bird when we were in a plane!"

"I know! I know but can you build a castle for me?"

"Sure. Let's build a sand castle for now and later when you grow up, you can build your own castle. How does it sound?" The mini me squealed happily and rushed to get ready for the beach trip.


I was a very curious kid...well I still am I guess. A curious adult that is. As I remember I've always let my imagination run wild and crave for new adventures. I didn't really do playdate when I was a kid as I spent most of my time travelling. Tagged along on Dad's business trip since I was a toddler. Fairy tales books were my only friends, my everything. It accompany me during long flights or when Dad was busy with work. Mom would buy a new book for me every weekend and I would keep bugging her until she read it for me. So yes, it's easy to say that I've always been fascinated by princess stories and castles since forever.

Psst! I even tried to kiss a frog, hoping it would turn into prince charming. 🙅



Fortunately nowadays not only princess get to live in a castle, I found out that there are actually a bunch of castles around the world that can be rented for a night stay or a year if the budget allows. Thanks to the internet and Google! During the road trip around Baltic countries, from Vilnius in Lithuania we headed to Poland and stayed in Gizycko. I was thrilled when I found out that there's a castle-turned-hotel in the city so there's no way I would miss the chance to spend at least one night there. Dreams do come true!

St. Bruno is one of the most popular hotels in Gizycko, the biggest city in Mazury region which is also called the 1000 lakes. The red brick hotel surely has a beautiful surroundings next to the Łuczański Canal, connecting the lakes Niegocin and Kisajno. I think quaint is the word perfectly describes about this place.

glass winter garden pavilion 

the lobby

receptionist 

Hotel St. Bruno is housed in a restored Teutonic castle dates back to the 15th century. This castle has been through numerous restoration obviously. Original Teutonic Fortress was used as a Hunting Residence Lodge for renaissance princess until the year of 1850, then it as transformed to a military headquarters of the Boyen Fortress. Long story short, in 2010 the castle was finally restored to become a 4 stars boutique hotel.

My first impression as I stepped into the lobby was the contemporary design and interior looks quirky. After a swift check in, I walked around behind the lobby and found a narrow alleyway. It's dimly lit and going around like a maze. There's dozens of old portraits on the stone wall, probably pictures of some the previous landlords or knights who used to live in the castle. Walking through this alleyway alone certainly was a hair-raising experience yet triggered my curiosity. A kind of eerie feeling that made me feel even more excited. In each dark turn, I was kinda hoping to bump into a Knight or something. My Dad was right, I do have a mind-boggling imagination! 😝



the alleyway

my room for the night

image from amoma.com

I stayed in a double room with a sofa. Size wise it's pretty cramped but cozy enough with vintage-y interior. The beds were quite small even for me, a girl who is often called a hobbit. Perhaps I should have chosen other type of rooms such as studio, royal apartment or presidential apartment which I believe would be more spacious. Some of the room are located in the historical area of the hotel and have original parts of the castle still attached. All rooms are equipped with Internet Wi-Fi (seems like the most essential nowadays. Ha!), AC, mini bar, safe deposit box, TV and bathroom amenities.

Facilities of the hotel including Bowling Alley and the Music Club which are located in the castle vaults with old castle stone wall and curved red brick ceiling. It was a cellar, I think? Super cool ambiance along with a wide selection of alcohols. There's also billiard room, cigar room and spa with sauna and indoor swimming pool.

bowling alley

Music Club

lounge
image from amoma.com

the castle night view from the swing bridge

The swing bridge in Łuczański Canal is one of the most seek attractions by visitors in Gizycko. Until today it is still operated manually by a man pushing a "stick" in rotational movement for about 5 minutes each session (quite a work out!). It opens by swinging on one end to lay along the bank of the canal, to let a yacht of ship passing through. In its closed position, it works as a road over the canal allowing traffic to cross. I think it was my first time seeing a swing bridge operated manually. Pretty interesting! The history of the bridge dates back to the 19th century but have gone through some renovations to this day. Please do check the scheduled time if you are interested to see the whole opening routine.


the swing bridge at Łuczański Canal

La Bibliotheque restaurant

At the La Bibliotheque restaurant, the nine metres high ceilings gives a spacious and grand feeling as I walked in. And a two storey book shelf wallpaper adding a sense of depth of the interior, as if I was inside a library.....hence the name of the restaurant. I'm not really good at elaborating the interior design but believe me, it is too cute it felt like I was having breakfast inside a doll house. If you love shabby chic design, you would go "Awwwww, so cute! Awwww, soooo pweety!" all the time. There's just ample of Instagramable spots to take picture at.

 I chose a table in the glass winter garden pavilion so I could soak up the early morning sun while enjoying my food. Bliss! I could really get used to this princess-y life, in a heart beat.


glass winter garden pavilion 

cold station at breakfast buffet

The restaurant serves modern menu that combines traditional Polish cuisine with global trend. All products are delivered fresh daily from the local suppliers. There's wide array of food on breakfast buffet from cold station for varieties of ham and cheese, egg and omelet station, assorted bread, danish or croissant, hot station for grilled chicken, baked potatoes and else, also beverage station and dessert station. While the tea and coffee were served at my table.


shabby chic interior 

morning view from my room

One thing I regret about my stay in Hotel St. Bruno, it was such a brief one night stay. I could really stay for a couple days here to enjoy all the facilities they offer and explore this pretty town of Gizycko. Unfortunately I've already booked my visit and a lunch session at Marlbork Castle which is 200ish km away, so this princess had to leave her castle to pay a visit to another castle. Wait up, Prince Charming, I'm on my way 👸

Have you ever stayed in a castle before? Which castle would you recommend me to stay next time?



Hotel St. Bruno (*4)
ul. St. Brunona 1
11-500 Gizycko, Poland
Phone: +48 877 326 500
https://www.hotelstbruno.pl

6.6.18

Chiang Rai: The Blue Temple - Wat Rong Suea Ten

Chiang Rai, February 2017




Wat Rong Khun or the White Temple is undoubtedly the most famous landmark in Chiang Rai. It's the first images popped up when I was googling some information about must visit places in Chiang Rai. While I think the architecture is indeed stunning, my heart was actually stolen by the Blue Temple - a lesser known temple located slightly outside Chiang Rai's city centre, in Rim Kok District. The Blue Temple is about 7 km away from Mae Fah Luang - Chiang Rai International Airport.


Wat Rong Suea Ten

The Blue Temple or it's called Wat Rong Suea Ten by the locals is considered a new temple. Construction of the monastery and temple started from 2005 on a 6 acres area - upon the ruins of an ancient temple which abandoned nearly 100 years ago. The main hall was only completed in January 2016 and until today there's still works going on sites. Thus only a handful of visitors around when I was there, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed this temple more than the White Temple. It was so serene and enhance a more spiritual experience.

"Suea Ten" in Thai literally means the dancing tigers. According to the locals, it's an area where some tigers used to jumped over the Mae Kok  River. The tigers leap in such graceful way that it looked as if they were dancing, hence the name of Rong Suea Ten village. Honestly, I was secretly disappointed that there wasn't any tigers in Ballet tutu dress doing a tiptoe pirouette or grand jetté. I know, I shouldn't set my hopes too high 🙅


sunset gleam

Naga

"Wow! Such a striking colours!" I blurted out upon seeing the exterior of the temple which is mainly in electric blue colour (or is it Smurfs blue?) embellished with intricate gold details and covered with bright terracotta roof tiles. It certainly looks very different from any other traditional temples I have visited in Thailand. A more vibrant one I should say.  A local friend told me that blue colour represents Dharma in tribute to Buddha which is also the symbol of purity, wisdom and healing. Even the pair of fierce naga (dragon) that guarding the hall's entrance are in blue colour.


Blue Temple, Chiang Rai

Blue Temple ceiling

beautiful painting at Wat Rong Suea Ten

I was walking into the ubosot or the main praying hall when I froze in awe. My eyes widened as they swept across the room. The tall pearl-white Buddha statue is undoubtedly beautiful but what amazed me more was the paintings that covers the entire walls, pillars and ceiling. Delicate paintings in Thai contemporary style was created by Phuttha Kabkaew. He is a student of the national artist - Chalermchai Kositpipat who designed Wat Rong Khun or the White Temple. Hand painted murals along the blue walls depict the Lord Buddha's spiritual journey and also a fiery giant demon can be seen atop the exit door which depicts Hell. I love the fact that there's some huge windows along both sides of the main hall that allow natural lights and cool breezes to pass through.


Wat Rong Suea Ten


one of the guard with Dharma wheel representing the teaching of the Buddha

Green Yasha

Around this temple I also spotted some Yakshas known as guardian warriors who keep away evil spirits. It's very common in Buddhist temples throughout the country since the 14th century. Yakshas are important element in Thai temple art and architecture.

At the back of the temple, there's a Buddha statue displaying Abhaya Mudra hand position or gesture of fearlessness. It represents protection, peace and benevolence.


 the standing Buddha statue at the rear 

I was walking towards the parking lot when I turned around, decided to take some last shots of the Blue temple. It was right before the sun went below the buildings behind this temple. The pinkish sunset light against the intricate ornaments of the temple creating luminous golden orbs as I clicked my camera shutter. I looked at my camera screen and smiled. I knew I have captured a perfect image I want to remember about my visit to this beautiful Blue Temple. Whenever I look at this photo, I can still feel the warmth of sunlight in my face. Fond memories, indeed 😊


Tips:
* Don't forget to take off your shoes/sandals before entering the main hall
* Entrance fee is free and photography is allowed inside the ubosot
* However selfies could be considered rude since it's disrespectful to turn your back on Buddha statue
* Never point your feet at Buddha statue
* Dress properly and prevent loud talking

How to get there:
I'm not quite sure if there's any public transportation to Wat Rong Suea Ten since I went there by a private vehicle. Take Highway 1 north before crossing Kok River Bridge. After about 350 metres you'll find a direction sign to this temple and turn left. For a fuss free trip, you can always hire Tuk-Tuk or Taxi for a very affordable fare 😁



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