- Leonardo was an illegitimate child, whose father was a merchant and whose mother was from a lower class than his father.
- Leonardo did not have a last name because he was not allowed to take his father’s last name.
- Da Vinci means “from Vinci” the town where he was born.
- He had no formal education but was an apprentice in an art guild at age 16 where he learned to paint.
- Leonardo never finished the Mona Lisa. He carried the painting around with him until he died. He worked on it constantly and technically it was never finished.
- He wrote from right to left. The reason for this is he was left-handed and had taught himself to write.
- Leonardo is known for his paintings, such as the Mona Lisa, but he was more of a war machine designer than a painter.
- Leonardo was the first person to have designed a version of a tank.
- He designed a submarine or underwater boat where people could breathe underwater.
- He designed a machine for walking under water similar to a SCUBA gear. He suggested that people could walk on the bottom of a shallow riverbed using a tube that went to the surface to breathe.
- He designed a mechanism for wartime that would for pushing ladders off walls of a fortification.
- He designed a giant crossbow that shot silently and could intimidate the enemy and shoot rocks and fire bombs.
- He designed the mortar for war. This machine was similar to a cannon but instead of shooting straight, the device would shoot upwards and strike the enemy from above.
- He designed the bicycle, a two-wheeled transportation device with a chain and gear system.
- He theorized about human flight suggesting that it was possible for people to fly with fake wings.
- Leonardo kept a lot of notes. There are at least 15000 pages of his notes in various museums. One notebook belongs to Bill Gates who bought it for 30.8 million US dollars in 1994.
- He never married or had any children.
- Leonardo and Michelangelo weren’t friends, but instead they were archenemies.
Exploring Ancient Delphi
The ancient site of Delphi was supposedly created when Zeus sent out two eagles from both sides of the earth. The eagles supposedly met above Delphi. The Greeks built a temple for the god, Apollo, and for his oracle here. In the past, people from all over Greece, and many other countries, came to Delphi to seek information or advice from the Oracle.
The Oracle of Delphi was a woman and was only available to offer advice for nine days of each year. She sat on a tripod-like stool inside the Temple of Apollo above a fissure in the ground. Gases came up through the fissure and the Oracle would breath these in. Supposedly she was receiving messages from the god Apollo. She was really just hallucinating and saying crazy things. The priests at Delphi interrupted what she said and then passed this information on to the person who asked the question.
During the nine days when people were waiting to see the Oracle, there were shows in the theatre. There were also sporting events held at the stadium that were supposedly better than the ancient Olympic games.
At ancient Delphi today, one of the grandest monuments is a sculpture of three bronze snakes wrapped around each other. Only part of this column of snakes can be seen today. The snakeheads and the golden tripod that was on the top are missing. This monument at Delphi is a replica because the original was stolen and taken to Istanbul. I saw the original in the Hippodrome when we were in Istanbul.
Exploring Modern Delphi
My family and I were in the town of Delphi, Greece for five days during Orthodox Easter. Easter is one of the most important holidays in Greece. On Good Friday after dark, the whole town walked through the streets with many candles and a giant cross with Jesus Christ on it. A marching band, followed by a priest, led the people through the streets. We watched from the sidewalk.
On Easter Sunday in early May, my family and I hiked from the centre of Delphi to the top of the mountain that Delphi is located on. The paths zigzagged up the mountain and it took us about 2½ hours to get to the top. Near the top, my dad, my sister and I climbed out on to a big rock that dropped off about 300 meters. My mother did not come because she was scared of falling off. Thousands of years ago, non-believers of Christianity were thrown off this rock to their deaths.
On Easter Sunday, before and after the hike the townspeople were roasting whole lambs on spits in the streets. Alex thought this looked gross and I thought it looked creepy. In the evening, there was dancing to celebrate Easter in front of the church that we got to watch with the locals. The teenagers were setting off fireworks and firecrackers all night, which was annoying because I could not sleep. Overall, I really enjoyed staying in Delphi and visiting the ancient site.
While we were in Athens, my family and I visited the great Parthenon. The Parthenon is a temple to the goddess Athena, the patron god of Athens. The Parthenon was built between 447 BCE to 432 BCE. It took the workers 15 years to finish the magnificent Parthenon. The workers used 22 000 tons (49280000 pounds) of white marble to build this structure. The Parthenon was built to show the wealth and power of Greece and to show respect to the goddess Athena.
The Parthenon is located on the Acropolis and is known as its crowning jewel. The Acropolis can be seen from anywhere in the city of Athens because it’s a small mountain in the centre and is the tallest thing in Athens by 100 meters. The Parthenon has 8 columns on each end and 16 columns on each side. The Parthenon does not have one straight line in the whole building. The columns bulge out in the center by five centimeters. The portico is a bit curved and the stairs are also curve down at the sides. The reason for this is to create an illusion so that from ground level below the Parthenon looks straight.
There use to be many sculptures above the columns all the way around the Parthenon. In the 19th century when the Turkish ruled Greece, Lord ‘Sticky Finger’ Elgin from England took many of the marble sculptures above the front and back entrances. These taken sculptures are now housed in the British Museum and are called the Elgin Marbles. There used to be a 13-meter statue of Athena made of gold and ivory called the Athena Parthenos inside the Parthenon. Unfortunately, this statue was supposedly stolen by the Turks and disappeared in Constantinople.
The Parthenon was used first as a Greek temple. Over the centuries, it was used as a Christian church and a Muslim mosque. It was partly destroyed in the 17th century when the Arabs stored gunpowder in the centre of the temple of Athena. Of the eight hundred canon shots shot at the Parthenon, one hit the gunpowder storage area causing a ‘big bang’. During the 20th and 21st centuries, the government of Greece has been trying to restore the Parthenon. The first restoration work in the 20th century did not work out because the restorers used metal clamps that corroded the original marble and destroyed it. Nowadays, the restorers use a titanium mix that does not corrode the marble. This is important so that the ruins remain in good shape in the future. There was a lot of equipment for fixing the Parthenon while I was there, but I still extremely enjoyed seeing it.
We visited two underground cities, Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, while in Turkey. There are over two hundred and fifty underground cities in Cappadocia. Kaymakli is the widest underground city in Cappadocia and Derinkuyu is the deepest. The cities were originally built by Hittites for protection from invading armies. The cities grew and became more advanced over the centuries.
Both of these cities had a big ventilation shaft because when people live underground they would need air. The Kaymakli shaft was about 40 meters deep and the Derinkuyu shaft was about 55 meters deep. In Kaymakli, rocks above blocked off the top of the shaft, whereas in Derinkuyu you could see the sunlight at the top of the shaft. Both had wet and dry wells. Wet wells are where the city would get water from and dry wells are where the water is stored. Kaymakli could house over 3500 people and Derinkuyu could house over 10000 people.
When I first entered Kaymakli, I was excited because I had never been in an underground city before. Inside the underground city there were tunnels that led you to dug out rooms. Most of these were living rooms, some were kitchens, some were food storages, some were wineries, and some areas were for animals. On top of some of the living rooms there were bedrooms. You could climb up the wall to get to the bedroom or take the tunnel a bit higher to get to the door. This would probably be pretty fun to climb up to your bedroom at night.
To protect the underground cities the people who live there had to have traps. They had holes in the ceiling for spears, and bigger holes in the ceiling for men to throw hot oil on the enemy if the enemy entered the city. These traps meant that the enemy could not breach the city. They also had big rolling stone doors that can only be opened or closed from the inside by three or four men by rolling the circular doors into place. From the other side the enemy could not budge the door. I really liked the underground cities because of its traps and how people could live underground. ☺
Chitwan National Park is a big conservation area where there are lots of animals that are protected from poachers and hunters. Humans are not allowed to live inside the park. On our first day in Chitwan we went on a jungle walk and saw a lot of animals. We saw eleven rhinos of which one was only two weeks old and hanging near its mother, six giant hornbills flying away from us, one antelope stopped on the path ahead of us, three wild boars two of which were six months old and had little horns, seven macaw monkeys running away from us, thirty-four deer eating the grass, one cobra that stood up and then slithered away from us, and a tiger kill with no tiger in sight, but a shredded deer lying in the tall grass.
The next day we went on an elephant safari inside the park. To mount the elephant you have to climb up twelve stairs and then climb into the howdah. A howdah is a place where you sit on the elephant. When the elephant started walking, it was a bit nerve wracking because we were tossed around a lot and the leaves of the trees kept whacking us. The first animal we saw was a large wild boar. When the boar saw our elephant coming, it froze and stared at us. A moment later another elephant carrying screaming tourists appeared and the wild boar quickly dashed into the foliage. Next, we saw two rhinos grazing – one was a mother and one was a baby. These rhinos were popular with the tourists, but they seemed domesticated. They continued eating and were not bothered by the screaming tourists sitting on the other elephants. The mother only looked up once when some of the tourists were really loud. Shortly after the rhinos, we came upon a clearing with 79 deer grazing. Nobody was around us because we had asked the mahout to take us to an area without other tourists. This meant it was quiet. When we saw the deer, we froze (like the wild boar) and our elephant carried us pass the deer. We were in the clearing looking at the deer, when our elephant stopped abruptly. Our mahout dismounted and left us for a few minutes sitting on the elephant. It seemed the mahout had to use the bathroom. The elephant started to move and we thought it might just leave the mahout behind. We were all very nervous. The elephant was actually only trying to get closer to the tall grass so that it could have a snack. Fortunately, the mahout returned and then we watched him climb up the trunk of the elephant onto the elephant’s neck, fix his cushion, and off we went again through the jungle. We then saw 22 monkeys – six of which were babies, one muskrat, and lots of different types of birds. After the safari ended, we dismounted and wanted to tip the mahout. I put the rupee note on the elephant’s trunk and the elephant passed it to the mahout using its trunk. This was fun.
We also went on a canoe ride down a river within the park in search of crocodiles and gharials (a fish-eating crocodile with a really thin snout). The canoe was made out of a single hollowed out tree. The poler/driver moved us through the water by using a pole to push off the bottom. We saw 13 crocodiles and zero gharials. The most amazing crocodile that we saw was a mother who was as at least as big as my dad and may have been at least 300 pounds. Fortunately, the crocs did not seem interested in us! Later that day while walking along another riverbank, we saw six gharials and another crocodile relaxing on the riverbank half in and half out of the water. Chitwan National Park is a nice place with lots of protected animals and I feel lucky to have visited the park and to have seen lots of its animals.
Our 12-day adventure began at 7:30 am when we took a minivan from the tourist city of Pohkara along twisty and very bumpy mountain roads to a village of Nayapul.
Nayapul to Tikhedhunga: On the first day of hiking, we walked about five hours along a dirt road up the mountainside. The road was like a snake because it twisted around the mountains. It was very hot because there was no shade.
Tikhedhunga to Ghorepani: The second day we climbed up about eight thousand Gurung steps. The stone steps were not the same height as the one before it so it was really hard. There were many mules along the trail carrying goods or building materials. These groups of mules are called mule trains. The mule trains were sometimes scary because a mule would come barreling down the stairs towards you. Fortunately, we were not hit by a mule train because the mules have bells on their necks to warn you when they are coming. When the mules get close to you, you have to step to the inside of the trail so that you do not get pushed over the edge of the trail. There have been people killed by the mules because they were pushed off the side of the mountain.
On day three my parents and my sister got up at 4:30 am to head to Poon Hill to see the views of the mountains. I was too tired to go so I decided to remain in bed. That day we decided to take a break day to acclimatize. When hiking up a mountain, you need to take time to acclimatize to the altitude so that you do not get altitude sickness. When you get up higher, there is less oxygen in the air and it is harder to breathe. Taking a break day means that your body can make more red blood cells. More red blood cells means that your body can take in more oxygen and you can breathe better. Check out this article on All About Blood and Adapting to High Altitude to learn more.
Ghorepani to Chhomrong: On day four the views were great and you could see many mountains off in the distance – the Dhaulagiri range, the Annapurna range, Himalchuli, and Machhapuchhare. The rhododendron trees were blooming with red and pink flowers and were beautiful. We saw four Langur monkeys in the magnolia trees. They were eating the magnolia flowers. It was interesting to see them jump from branch to branch, reach up and pick a flower and stuff it in their mouths.
Chhomrong to Bamboo: On day five, we spent the day going up and down a lot of Gurung stairs because the terrain isn’t flat. It was really difficult because we had to go down one side of the valley, then up the other side and then back down. At the bottom of the valley, we had to cross a long suspension bridge and it swung when we walked on it. When we got to Bamboo, I spent time feeding the bunnies and smashing cans. This was kind of fun.
Bamboo to Deurali: On the sixth day we walked from Bamboo to Deurali. Bamboo is at 2145 meters and Deurali is at 3200 meters. So we walked about 1055 meters up but in total we probably walked 20 kilometers. It is very hard to measure distance in the mountains because of the large up and downs.
Deurali to Machhapuchhare Base Camp: On the seventh day we walked from Deurali to Machhapuchhare Base Camp (MBC). MBC is at 3900 meters. We got there just ten minutes before the really thick clouds rolled in. We played cards while sitting inside the lodge in the clouds.
Machhapuchhare Base Camp to Annapurna Base Camp: The next day we walked up to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC). It was a really hot and hard walk up because of the snow and altitude. ABC is at 4130 meters and even though it sounds as if this is not far from MBC, it is actually a very long distance and took over 2.5 hours to hike up. When we got there, it wasn’t what I had expected. Annapurna seemed a lot smaller than I thought it would be because we were now so close to the mountain. A cool thing about ABC was that when you go up and look over the moraine there is a cliff and you are literally standing on a glacier that has dirt on top of it.
The walk out: Then we walked down to Himalaya, which is a small village before Bamboo. On day ten we walked back to Chhomrong. Then we walked 8 hours to Pothana the next day. On our last day, we walked to Pheti and took a taxi to Pohkara where the next day we took a bus back to Kathmandu. This trekking experience was great because at the beginning I didn’t think that I would be able walk that far. At the end, I was happy that I had made it (with only one sore knee).
In Bagan, Myanmar we rented electric motor scooters and went on an adventure. On the motor scooters you technically did not have to wear helmets, but through a lot of effort my parents were able to get two helmets for my sister and me. My dad and I were on one scooter. My sister and my mom were on another scooter together. When I first got on one of the electric motor scooters, I was excited and scared. I had never been on a motor scooter before and I was worried that I might fall off. These scooters had different speed levels. Each level had a maximum speed. The first level had a maximum speed of 40 kilometers per hour and that was the level that my parents would only allow. After we tested the motor scooters and had our helmets, we set off to see some temples.
There were previously 13,000 temples in Bagan, but you can only visit about 3,000 of these today. Our first stop was a temple that was built in the 11th century. At the entrance of the temple, there was a big gold painted Buddha that was about 7 meters tall. Inside the temple there were tunnels that led to meditation caves. We had to use flashlights to move through the tunnels to get to the caves. My mom did not want to crawl through the little hole to get to the meditation cave. I think my mom was scared of the rat that I had just seen!
After we finished this visit, we got back on our scooters to continue our adventure. We drove along back roads and the highway to find more temples. We had to park our scooters in a small village because the road was too rocky, sandy and steep. We were all worried that we would wipe out if we drove the scooters down the hill! After walking for about a half of a kilometer, we finally came upon a monastery surrounded by lots and lots of temples. Each temple had a Buddha statue inside. If you want to go inside the temples, you need to take off your shoes and socks. We only went inside a few of these because we were wearing running shoes and socks and it was a bother to take these off again and again.
Next, we wanted to find the Dhamma Yan Gyi Pahto. In some spots on the road there was a lot of sand and it felt like we were driving on a beach. The scooter was sliding around in the sand. Fortunately, my dad had strong arms and we did not fall over. My mom and my sister almost fell over once! When we finally arrived at the Dhamma Yan Gyi Pahto, we found the stairway and went straight to the top. The roof of this temple had a panoramic view of the 3000 other temples in Bagan.
We spent the rest of the day zooming around Bagan to try to find more temples. There was always a Buddha statue in each temple. Some of the Buddhas have gold leaf on them, some have gold paint, and some were just painted white and red. We probably visited about 12 temples this day. It was a nice and fun day in Bagan.
One day, my family and I biked around Inle Lake for ten kilometers to try to find a floating village. We passed crops of sugar cane, sunflowers and lentils. The sugar cane was 2 to 4 meters high. It was being harvested in the fields, then processed in a tiny factory right there, and made into sugar juice.
After biking for five kilometers we came to a little teak pier. We left our bikes and then walked to the end of the pier where we rented a canoe and hired a driver. To move around the floating village the driver paddled and we helped. It cost us 6000 kyats for an hour ($7 CAN). There are about 150 houses in the village and about 230 families.
A floating village is not actually floating. The houses are on stilts over a swampy area of the lake. The fisherman put their houses on stilts because during monsoon season the water rises. If the houses were not on stilts, the houses would flood and potentially be half way under water. To move around the floating village everybody has a canoe and everyone has to know how to paddle. The people in Inle have an unusual way of paddling. They paddle with one leg (see picture). This allows their hands to be free so that they can do other things, such as fishing with a net.
Each family seems to have at least one garden. The gardens are patches of floating earth held in place by bamboo poles. The families were growing a lot of fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, papayas, tomatoes and aubergines. The floating garden is also useful because during monsoon the water rises and so does the garden. This allows the farmers to grow food even during the monsoon season.
After visiting the floating village, we biked to the only winery in Myanmar where my parents tried a few types of wine. I had a cheese platter and some French fries, and my sister had some chicken fingers. The winery is located on a mountainside where we watched a nice sunset. After sunset, we biked back to our hotel to get some sleep so that the next day we could be ready for more biking – ugh! – another 10 kilometers up and down hill to find more temples!
There are 90 million people and over 40 million motorcycles in Vietnam. There seem to be motorcycles everywhere you look. In the big cities, especially Saigon and Hanoi, motorcycles make it very hard for people to cross the street. The motorcycles do not stop at red lights and they don’t seem to follow any of the rules of the road. Lots of motorcycles ride on the sidewalks, and I was once almost hit by a motorbike that came up in front of me onto the sidewalk. I also saw some motorcycles carrying full families (a dad, a mom, a sister, a brother, and a baby) driving at full speed and with nobody wearing helmets. Some other motorcycles had what I call an impossible load. This type of load is when a motorbike carries something way bigger than the driver. It might be an orange tree, a 15-foot bamboo ladder, a big screen TV, a refrigerator, or a 500-kilogram load of mangoes! In Canada, these loads would be illegal and sometimes more than we put in cars. Somehow the motorcycles and their loads manage to get safely through the streets!
Here are some pictures of impossible loads I saw:
One morning, my parents forced me out of bed at 3:35 a.m. to get into a boat to begin the one-hour and a half journey on the canals of the Mekong to get to the floating markets that open at 5:30 a.m. A floating market is a place where a bunch of boats meet up to sell freshly picked fruits, vegetables, fish and crabs, and other products.
Our first stop was at a small local floating market where local farmers sell their goods from their boat. Their boats were made out of wood that had longtail motors and two oars. Once inside the market area, the buyers and sellers turned off their engines and stood up to row their boats to move around. The buyers rowed around in what was first an empty boat. These buyers hooked onto the seller’s boat with a grappling hook (which is kind of like an oversized fish hook but not as pointy) and then they hopped into the seller’s boat. The buyers then felt the fruit and vegetables to determine whether these were good or bad. If the fruit or vegetables were good, then the buyer bargained with the seller for a better price. If the price was right, the seller started tossing the fruit into the buyer’s boat. At this floating market, we purchased some star apples. These looked like a very round green apple, but the inside was soft and there was a star shape centre. These tasted like sweet milk.
The second stop was at a commercial floating market. At this market, the boats are bigger and they had more merchandise for sale. They sold fruits and vegetables, as well as clothing, machetes, knives, plastic objects, etc. We had breakfast at this market. We attached our boat to a noodle soup boat, where a lady served us very hot and spicy noodle soup. After we finished eating, we detached and headed for another boat where a man was cutting and selling pineapple. We bought two of these.
After leaving the floating markets, we took the back canals where we saw the buyers trying to sell their remaining products from their boats. To let people know what they were selling, they either yelled out or had a soundtrack that kept announcing what they had for sale.
Even though I had to get up at 3:35 a.m. to see these floating markets and this took all morning, I think it was worth it because it was interesting to see people selling and buying objects from their boats.