Sunday, 1 March 2015

Cité du volcan museum

The Cité du Volcan museum re-opened in August 2014 after several years of refurbishments. It tells you everything you need to know about Reunion's Piton de la Fournaise in particular, and volcanoes in general.

Exterior of the Cité du Volcan

It's located in Bourg-Murat, the small town where most of the eating and accommodation options are to be found nearest the volcano.

Exterior of the Cité du Volcan

Initially opened in November 1992, its existence is largely due to the French volcanologists Maurice and Katia Krafft, who had studied La Fournaise closely. They both died in a pyroclastic flow in Japan in 1991.

Exterior of the Cité du Volcan

It used to be known as the Maison du Volcan until 2011 when it closed for refurbishment. It reopened on August 5th 2014.

multi-sensory  lava tunnel, entrance to the Cité du volcan

Covering 6200m2, the new museum includes a 4D cinema, a 270°C auditorium screen, and has innovative and interactive features such as holographic projections, augmented reality, wide 'multitouch' surfaces, and audio-visual environments.

one of the exhibition rooms

In a bathyscaphe the colonisation of underwater lava flows is explained, including how a lava flow becomes a coral reef and the birth of living organisms.

one of the exhibition rooms



part of the Piton de la Fournaise timeline

A large part of the exhibition lets you explore Reunion island and its geological and geographical features, including the island's birth, more than 3 million years, up until the present day.

a copy of the first-ever map of Reunion

Other parts let you seen the human effect the volcano has had on the island, and explores the legends surrounding it.

exhibition room about the Volcano observatory 

The Cité du Volcan is one of four museums operated by the Regional Museums of Reunion group. The others are Kelonia, Stella Matutina and the MADOI.

exhibition room about the Volcano observatory 

The museum is open every day (apart from Christmas Day, New Year's Day and May 1st) from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. The ticket office closes at 4:45 pm.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

February 2015 volcano eruption

For the first time since June 2014 Reunion's Piton de la Fournaise volcano started erupting at 11am yesterday, February 4th. Here are some great photos taken by Olivier Lucas-Leclin from a 2,274 m summit called Piton Bert.

© Luc Perrot (source)

La Fournaise is one of the world's most active volcanoes, and this is its 12th eruption in 11 years.

© Olivier Lucas-Leclin (source)

© Olivier Lucas-Leclin (source)

The eruption is located on the southwestern side of the main crater.

© Olivier Lucas-Leclin (source)

© Olivier Lucas-Leclin (source)

Since 1980 the average length of an eruption has been 20 days.

© LR Photographies (source)

Here's a video from Imaz Press Reunion:


And here's a NPR radio report from Emma Jacobs, an NPR reporter currently in Reunion.

@Fabrice Wislez/Frog 974 Photographies

You can see live webcams of the volcano here.

UPDATE: the eruption came to an end late on Sunday 15th February.



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Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The best of romance in Réunion

Whether it’s Valentine’s Day or any other day of the year, Reunion has plenty to offer when it comes to celebrating love. How about one (or several!) of these options:

1) Lux hotels have won awards for ‘Most Romantic Hotel’ several times, and LUX* Ile de la Réunion faces a shimmering expanse of aqua-blue waters, fringed by a stretch of immaculate sands. In this well-appointed hotel you can renew your vows on the beach, or enjoy a couples massage under a garden bower facing the sea…

2) Also located on the west coast, Le Cap, the restaurant of the four-star Boucan Canot Hotel, offers an intimate dinner under a gazebo, near the swimming pool and overlooking the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean… Perfect for a dinner tête-à-tête with a loved one.

3) Reunion is not just about beaches, its highlands are beautiful too. Enjoy a few nights staying at the Lodge Roche Tamarin at La Possession surrounded by 15,000m2 of tropical vegetation, or the intimate Le Dimitile Hotel at Entre-Deux, where an 18th century Creole house has been integrated into the hotel structure.

4) There’s something very passionate about volcanoes – it must be all that hot bubbling lava. Reunion has one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and while you won’t be able to visit it when it erupts, what about a champagne picnic on its summit when it’s not? Pack a bottle along with a baguette, some cold cuts and French pâtés, a little tropical fruit and you’re all set. By the way, did you know champagne has more bubbles at high altitude?

champagne at the summit of the volcano!


5) What about a helicopter flight over the island or a sunset cruise? Reunion’s two helicopter companies both offer a variety of flight tours, and Le Grand Bleu offers a 90-minute cocktail cruise daily.

6) Romance doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, but it might cost some effort! After a hard day’s hiking, waking up the next day in a comfy double bed in a Mafate B&B and seeing the whole of the mountainous cirque spread out at your feet really takes some beating. For some great views while still lying in bed try the Gite des Trois Roches in Marla!

And if you want to whisper sweet nothings in your valentine’s ear try ‘mi aime aou’, which means ‘I love you’ in Reunion Creole!


P.S. If you can't make it to Réunion what about reading one of these romance novels set on the island:

  • Dead Sexy by Kathy Lette (a "satire on the sex war")
  • Island Awakening by Lynne Martin (romantic fiction)
  • Second Chance Sister by Linda Kepner


  • A version of this post was originally published on the Welcome to Reunion Island blog.


    Sunday, 25 January 2015

    48 hours in Barcelona

    I was lucky enough to spend  three nights and two days in Barcelona earlier this month - my first trip to Spain. 

    our rented flat was in this building

    We rented a flat in the Poblo Sec neighbourhood of the city, and our first trip was to see Barcelona's most famous symbol - the Sagrada Família.

    view of the Sagrada Família

    outside the Sagrada Família 

    As this was January I believe we were lucky as we didn't have to queue to get in - friends who have visited during the summer later told us there was 3 ½ hours of queue!

    Nativity facade 

    Sagrada Família is a large Roman Catholic basilica designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. Construction began in 1882, and Gaudí became involved in 1883, although when he died in 1926 (struck by a tram) the project was less than a quarter complete. Concerning the extremely long construction period, Gaudí is said to have remarked: "My client is not in a hurry." Work was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War in 1936, but has been carried on by various architects since 1940.

    entrance door detail - each insect is different 

    Unlike many other places of worship the Sagrada Família, which was consecrated by Pope Benedict in 2010, is filled with light inside. While never intended to be a cathedral (seat of a bishop), from the outset the Sagrada Família was planned to be a cathedral-sized building. 

    inside the Sagrada Família

     Construction is expected to be completed by around 2026- 2028.


    inside the Sagrada Família

    There are three facades: Nativity (to the east), Passion (to the West) and Glory (to the South). The latter is yet to be completed.

    sculpture depicting the Kiss of Judas on the Passion facade 

    The Plaza Monumental de Barcelona is a former bullring, the last bullfighting arena that was in commercial operation in Catalonia. It was inaugurated in 1914 and expanded in 1916. It was the last place in Catalonia where bullfights were held, since in 2010 the Parliament of Catalonia passed a ban of bullfighting events that came into force in 2012.

    Plaza Monumental (former bullring)

    Architect-designed telecommunications tower
    on Sants-Montjuïc

    Statue of a music hall performer who died 50 years ago,
    Raquel Meller, still adorned with fresh flowers.

    colourful Monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) are everywhere

    Palau Güell is a Gaudi-designed mansion built for Catalan tycoon Eusebi Güell between 1886 and 1888. 

    part of the facade of Palau Guell

    The next day we started by visiting the Gothic Cathedral of Barcelona, which was constructed between the 13th and 15th centuries.

    interior of Barcelona Cathedral

    The cathedral is next to an interesting part of Barcelona known as the Barri Gòtic or 'Gothic Quarter'. Many of the buildings in the area date from Medieval times, some from as far back as the Roman settlement.

    'Barcino' was the Roman name for Barcelona

    During the 19th century the city government installed a one-way system for horse-drawn carriages in the narrow streets of the Gothic quarter. Signs said entrada or 'entrance' at one end, and salida ('exit') at the other end, so you were not allowed to enter a street from the end marked salida, only from the entrada end.

    'entrada' sign on a street in the Old Quarter

    modern sculpture, Plaça Nova square

    After the Cathedral we headed to the beautiful Palau de la Música Catalana, or Palace of Catalan Music.

    upstairs balcony, Palace of Catalan Music

    This concert hall was designed in the Catalan modernista style by the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and was built between 1905 and 1908 for the Orfeó Català, a choral society.

    stained glass skylight in the concert hall

    The concert hall, which seats about 2,200 people, has been described as one of the most beautiful in the world, and is the only auditorium in Europe that is illuminated during daylight hours entirely by natural light. In a semicircle on the sides of the back of the stage are the figures of 18 young women popularly known as the muses (although there are only nine muses in Greek mythology). The monotone upper bodies of the women protrude from the wall and their lower bodies are depicted by colorful mosaics that form part of the wall. Each of the women is playing a different musical instrument, and each is wearing a different elaborately-designed skirt, blouse, and headdress.


    some of the muses at the back of the stage

    Our final visit was to Park Güell, a park system composed of gardens and architectonic elements designed by Gaudí for Eusebi Güell.

     view from Park Güell

    Entrance to the Park is free but there is a fee to visit the 'monumental precinct' (main entrance and the parts containing mosaics).

    Mosaic salamander (also known as a dragon) designed by Gaudi

    From the entrance a twin flight of steps rises, where the famous salamander or dragon can be found. The most popular image of the park, it is covered with decorative tile-shard mosaic. 


    Park Güell at sunset

    There are many other places we could have visited (Picasso Museum, Joan Miro Foundation, La Pedrera etc etc) but time was short, so we had to choose just a few places. We still have plenty more left for another trip!


    Suggested reading:
    • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

    Saturday, 8 November 2014

    Tananarive - then and now

    'Then' in the title refers to 1991 when I spent five weeks in and around Tana (or Antananarivo to give it its official name). 'Now' refers to the unscheduled stopover we recently had to make there for 24 hours on our way back from south-west Madagascar after Air Madagascar changed our flights. Although I'd spent the night near the airport when travelling to and/or from the Tsingy of Bemaraha and Nosy Be I'd never actually spent any time back in the city centre since 1991, so I was interested to see how it had changed.

    there are paddy fields quite close to the city

    Antananarivo is now a bustling city of 1.6 million inhabitants - that's 50% of the island's urban population (Madagascar's total population is currently 22 million).  Rather unsurprisingly the main difference since 1991 was the urbanisation and amount of traffic. The airport used to be located in a town separate from the capital, a shortish drive from the city, but it's now a case of bumper-to-bumper traffic and more or less continuous buildings, apart from a stretch where there are some rice fields (see photo above).


    We spent the evening at the home of an old friend who lives in Tana (the first half of dinner was with candles due to the city's rolling power cuts!), then (re)visited the city the next morning. A defining feature of Antanarivo centre is the Avenue de l'Independence, a very broad thoroughfare that is lined with shops. The old train station (called Soarano, which means 'good water'), from where I took a train to Antsirabe in 1991, is at the north end, and has recently been refurbished but currently only handles freight trains. There's a nice café on one side, Café de la Gare.

    Soarano train station

    When I was staying in the city in 1991 my accommodation was located just off the Avenue, and I often used to walk along it to one of the salons de thé if there were no political demonstrations that day. 


    looking down the Avenue to the station

    The large Friday market, zoma (which means 'Friday' in Malagasy), used to take place all along the Avenue, until in 1994 for reasons of safety and hygiene it was moved to a much smaller covered market, Analakely.

    Zoma in the Avenue de l'Indépendance in 1991

    Antananarivo city hall, located on Avenue de l'Independence

    Another defining feature of Tana is its hills; it currently spreads over 18 of them!

    Looking down and across Lalana Ranavalonal, 2014

    Looking down and across Lalana Ranavalonal, 1991

    Analakely market is at the southern end of Independence Avenue.

    Analakely market

    Analakely market 

    As mentioned above, Tana is located on several hills, and on one called Analamanga, at 1480m altitude, sits the Rova, or Queen's Palace (rova means 'fortified place'). Dating back to the 17th century, it was severely fire damaged by suspected arson on 6th November 1995, shortly before it was due to be inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and today only the stone shell remains, together with some outbuildings, statues and a chapel. 

    photo from my visit to the Rova in 1991

    King Ramada II's wooden palace and Andrianampoinimerina's original palace, which dated from 1845 and 1796 respectively, were unfortunately destroyed by the same fire, although a replica has been built of the latter. Today the palace is entered via a stone stairway leading to a large north-facing gate (built by the British architect James Cameron in 1845), topped by a bronze voromahery (eagle) imported from France by in 1840. The voromahery was the symbol of the Merina royal dynasty to which the monarchs belonged.

    Rova entrance gate; note the phallic symbol to the left 
    (a symbol of circumcision and thus nobility)

    Beyond the gate lies a courtyard where a semi-official fee of 10,000 ariary is charged to access the site, from where there are good panoramic views of the city. You can choose to take a guided tour. 


    Rova main building, called Manjakamiada
    ('A fine place to rule')

    The structure of the main building was originally made of wood, which was changed to stone according to Queen Ranavalona II's orders in 1869.


    The French moved the remains of Merina kings and queens from the Rova when they took over the city in 1845, an act that is still considered to be a profanation by the Malagasy. Today the remains are back, and since the fire they have been restored with bilateral government donations, state funds and grants from intergovernmental and private donors. The townspeople still visit the royal tombs to ask for blessings.


    royal tombs of Queen Rasoherina (left) and Radama I (centre)

    Beside the main building is a black wood hut, with a tiny, raised doorway - in fact a replica of the palace of King Andrianampoinimerina, founder of the Merina kingdom. The royal bed is situated in the sacred northwest corner of the hut. The simple furniture inside is aligned according to astrological rules. The king supposedly hid in the rafters when visitors arrived, signalling whether the guest was welcome by dropping pebbles onto his wife's head.

    inside the replica of King Andrianampoinimerina's palace

    Fiangonana ("Chapel") is a Protestant place of worship built in stone by William Pool for Queen Ranavalona II between 1869 and 1880. Italian-style, its construction used over 35,000 hand-chiselled stones and it had an estimated capacity of 450 persons. 

    outside Fiangonana chapel

    The building was designed with a private pew  and entrance for the royal family. At the time of its completion, its 34-metre tower was the only structure in Madagascar to be roofed in locally-sourced slate. The windows were decorated with stained glass, and a pipe organ was installed to provide music at services. The organ and stained glass were imported from England, while the pews, altar panels and queen's private pew were all ornately crafted from indigenous precious woods by local artisans. Partly damaged by the fire, it has since been restored.

    inside Fiangonana chapel

    From the Rova you can see Lake Anosy, an artificial heart-shaped lake located in the southern part of the city. On an island, connected to the shore by an isthmus, stands a large white angel on a plinth, a WWI memorial erected by the French in 1927.


    View of Lake Anosy

    panoramic view of part of Tana from the Rova

    another view of Tana from the Rova

    Next to the Rova is Andafiavaratra Palace, the residence of Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony, who governed the island kingdom in the late 19th century. The building currently serves as a museum and houses an estimated 1466 objects of historical importance to the Kingdom of Madagascar that were rescued from the Rova fire.

    Andafiavaratra Palace

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