Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Universe In A Moment At Ryōanji

It's a Sunday morning in Kyoto and I am sitting on the long wooden steps of the hōjō, the abbott's residence of Ryōanji Temple – one of 1,600 temples in this historic city. At my feet is the temple's famous karesansui, or dry rock garden. In a small rectangle of white gravel, measuring just twenty-five by ten meters and raked to perfection by the monks each morning, fifteen stones have been arranged in such a way that they are never all visible from the same vantage point.

Strange Laws That Can Get You Locked Up Abroad

Getting arrested is probably far down the list of most people's travel concerns. After all, we're usually focused on checking museums and monuments off our bucket list -- not engaging in illicit activity. But seemingly innocuous behavior can get you into trouble in many parts of the world, including things like wearing bikinis and chewing gum. The British Foreign Office has released a warning about strange foreign laws after a report revealed that nearly a third of Britons seeking consular assistance were arrested or detained abroad. They say many travelers don't realize that activities that are perfectly legal at home could get you locked up or fined in another country. A few of the unusual foreign laws they highlighted include: Venice: It's illegal to feed pigeons here. Nigeria: Taking mineral water into the country could land you in hot water. Singapore: Chewing gum on public transit is a big no-no. Japan: Watch out if you have allergies. A lot of nasal sprays are on this country's black list. Wondering what other laws could get you locked up abroad? Here are a few more we rounded up: Dubai: Kissing in public could land you in jail in this conservative country. Thailand: Stepping on the local currency -- which bears the image of the king -- is seen as disrespecting the monarch and could get you arrested. Greece: Wearing stilettos at archaeological sites in Greece will get you into trouble. The pointy shoes are banned because of the damage they cause to the historic monuments. Germany: It's against the law to run out of gas on the autobahn. Stopping unnecessarily on this fast-paced high way is illegal, and that includes those who forget to fill up their tank.

Egypt's Ancient Heritage In Peril As Turmoil Continues

The political instability in Egypt is taking a heavy toll on the country's ancient heritage. Thieves have taken advantage of the chaotic situation to steal artifacts to sell on the illegal antiquities market, while vandals have been satisfied with simply destroying them. Both groups recently struck at a museum in Mallawi, about 190 miles south of Cairo. When supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi held a protest in the museum's garden, thieves took advantage of the police being distracted to break in and steal more than a thousand artifacts. When vandals saw the museum was open and unguarded, they rushed in and smashed up the place. National Geographic has published some sobering pictures of the destruction. The museum has put up a Facebook page detailing what has been stolen in the hope that it will make it harder for the thieves to sell the artifacts. Looting has been reported at numerous museums and archaeological sites around the country. Instability and lack of income from tourism also means many archaeological sites are suffering from neglect. There may be a political motivation for some of the thefts. Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram quotes Mokhtar Al-Kasabani, professor of Islamic Archaeology at Cairo University, as saying the thefts are to raise money for the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya. The Muslim Brotherhood is Morsi's party, and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya (Islamic Group) was allied with him when he was in power. Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya claimed responsibility for a 1997 terrorist attack in Luxor that killed 62 people, mostly tourists. So it appears fundamentalists are destroying Egypt's past in order to raise money to endanger its future.

Quick ricotta and courgette lasagne

We are still eating lots of courgettes in our house, and still no end of the courgette/zucchini season in sight. Not that we're complaining, however, as it's one lovely and versatile vegetable, as long as you don't let it grow into a full-size huge marrow. Here's another one of my favourite courgette/zucchini dishes - a simple and quick and creamy courgette lasagne. You'll need a 400 g jar of good tomato sauce - either home-made marinara-type sauce (say, this or this), or a decent ready-made one.
Creamy ricotta and courgette lasagne Serves three to four Adapted from BBC Olive (Quick courgette lasagne) 2 Tbsp olive oil 750 g courgette/zucchini (about 2 medium-sized fruits), coarsely grated 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped 0.5 tsp (Aleppo) chilli flakes 250 g ricotta a large handful of fresh basil leaves, finely chopped 3 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese + more for sprinkling 400 g good-quality ready-made tomato sauce 6 lasagne sheets sea salt and freshly ground black pepper Heat the oven to 200 C/400 F. Heat a tablespoonful of oil in a large frying pan. Add the grated courgette, chopped garlic and chilli flakes. Season with a little salt. Sauté over medium heat until soft, stirring every now and then. Remove from the heat, fold in the ricotta cheese, chopped basil and 3 Tbsp of Parmesan cheese. Take a small oven dish (mine is 25x35 cm). Spread about a third of the ricotta-courgette mixture at the bottom, then spoon a quarter of the tomato sauce on top. Cover with three lasagne sheets. Then half of the remaining ricotta-courgette mixture, a third of the remaining tomato sauce, lasagne sheets. Top with the remaining ricotta-courgette mixture and then the rest of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese. Bake in a pre-heated 200 C/400 F oven for about 20-25 minutes, until the lasagne is cooked and the topping "bubbles". Remove from the oven and let it rest for about 15 minutes before serving.