Queen Marie's Summer Palace in Balchik

Although I am retired, my travel schedule does not seem to lighten up. For environmental reasons I do not take vacations or travel long distances for pleasure. My chalet meets my needs for a change of pace and a chance to get away from the pressures of life. However I still do fly for professional reason or where I can be of service. I prefer to take the train where that is practical within Europe, and only use my car for rural destinations that public transport does not reach.


The French Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD, formerly ORSTOM) invited me to be the scientific adviser to a new research project on land-based impacts on coral reefs, part of a new research programme on Coral Reef Initiative in the South Pacific (CRISP). I therefore traveled in April to Noumea, New Caledonia, with other scientists including my old friend and island specialist (nissologue) Christian Depraetere, for a meeting to plan the research programme. It was the first time in more than a decade that I had returned to Noumea where I lived from 1974 to 1985, where I met my wife and where my children were born. I was able to meet many old friends, to give some talks for the Baha'i community, and to lecture at the University of New Caledonia.

The city of Noumea as developed a great deal since we lived there, with buildings climbing up the hills, high-rise hotels and apartment blocks which were rare before, and whole new districts that did not exist 20 years ago. Even the road system had so changed that I had difficulty finding my way around outside of the downtown area.
Noumea skyline    Highrise buildings

While the beach at Ansa Vata, where I used to work, is much the same, the Secretariat of the Pacific Commission (SPC) has a new modern building complex across from the beach.
Beach, Anse Vata    Secretariat of the Pacific Commission

The old SPC site now has new high-rise buildings on it. My office used to be where the building is behind the tree in the photo below on the left. This is a big change from the single story wooden buildings with corrugated iron roofs that the U.S. Army had left after World War II. Only the coconut palms and the base of the old flagpole remain.
old SPC site    Anse Vata


The monks of the Benedictine Monastery at Ganagobie, in the south of France, organize an inter-faith seminar each year. Since this year the theme was the protection of the creation, the Baha'is of France asked me to represent them at the seminar, so I traveled to Ganagobie in June. We lived in the monastery with the monks, ate in silence in the refectory, and attended early morning mass (for the first time in my life). The gregorian chanting was beautiful, but the number of monks has diminished by half since they moved from Hautcombe in Savoie some 20 years ago, and it would seem that this ancient way of life may soon die out.

Monastery garden    old olive tree old olive tree
Ganagobie Monastery garden

The monastery is isolated on a high plateau with slopes that drop steeply to the river valleys below.
view    hut  hut on monastery grounds

The ancient Romanesque church and cloister are at the heart of monastic life.
Church    Church portal

Cloister    Cloister

The church interior is very simple except for the beautiful ancient mosaics discovered around the altar.
interior towards altar    interior towards entrance the monks sit facing each other

mosaic floor    mosaic
ancient mosaic floor


My old friend George Starcher, President of the European Baha'i Business Forum who lives in Chambery, Savoie, near where we used to live in St.Pierre d'Albigny, loves trekking in the mountains in all seasons, and organizes walks with his friends a few times a year. I was able to join him in June, to climb up towards Lac Noir. While George is 10 years older than I am, he still outdoes everyone. This is where I feel my age and my creaking articulations. While I managed to lead the group up, I was the slowest coming down. With my knee and ankle problems, my doctor has said that I can go up hill but not downhill, so I descend carefully with the help of two walking sticks.

George Starcher leading the group    Alpine valley
George Starcher leading the group                             A long way down to the valley

climbing up the trail    view from my rest stop
Alpine landscapes

view    the trail up to Black Lake
A carpet of wild azaleas on the mountainside       The trail up to Black Lake


In July, we were able to have a family reunion. My son Alexander wanted his wife Mahalia, stepson Jeremie and son Benjamin to meet his maternal grandparents, who are getting along in years (my father-in-law is over 90). We got them tickets to cross the Atlantic from Quebec, and my wife Martine, daughter Agnes, sister-in-law Catherine (and a grandson) and I all gathered at the Caillard residence in Plomodiern, Finistere, overlooking the Bay of Douarnenez in the very west of Brittany.

Caillard residence    Garden
Caillard residence and its beautiful garden with the Bay of Douarnenez in the distance

The house is not far from several beautiful beaches facing the Atlantic Ocean.
beach view    beach view

At the beach When the weather permitted, we went to the beach. Here are Mahalia and Alexander with Benjamin, and my sister-in-law Catherine with her grandson Sasha. The children loved to play in the sand.


Benji and AlexMy grandson Benjamin Gagnon-Dahl was the centre of attention and the subject of multiple photographs, here with my son Alexander.

Benjamin at the beach
    Jeremie football
My step-grandson Jeremie, Alexander and two friends played football, which is one of Jeremie's favourite activities. He returned to Quebec with a full uniform of the French football team.


The children were fascinated by the electric train that we gave my father-in-law many years ago when we moved to France from New Caledonia. We also went to Oceanopolis in Brest, where Benjamin had a chance to discover ice at the penguin exhibit.
Electric train    discovering ice

Another excursion was to the nearby city of Quimper, with its historic centre and gothic cathedral. For Jeremie the Quebecois, it was a chance to discover France and European culture.
Jeremie & Alex in Quimper    Quimper cathedral

The living room was the place everyone gathered, and where my mother- and father-in law, Francine and Claude Caillard, could be with the family.
Living Room    Francine & Claude Caillard    

It was a rare chance for my wife Martine Caillard Dahl, children Agnes and Alexander and I to be all together. Agnes' husband Bahador could unfortunately not come.
Martine     Agnes & Alex

Agnes is a doctor in Geneva, Alexander an information systems architect in Quebec.    
Agnes     Alex 

We strengthened family relationships and had a chance to dote on our grandson
Martine & Benjamin    Agnes & Martine 

Benjamin loves trucks (camion = anything on four wheels), and especially to ride on one in the garden.
Mahalia & Benjamin    Mahalia Mahalia in the garden

The next generation: Benjamin Gagnon-Dahl and Jéremie Gagnon
Benjamin My grandchildren   Jeremie


I was invited to give some environmental talks at the French Baha'i summer school, held this year in the village of St. Sernin sur Rance, in the Aveyron in the southwest of France, in the facilities of an agricultural school. In addition to the classes, I participated in two afternoon debates with outside experts, one on climate change, energy and water problems, the other on alternatives to globalization and the problems of agriculture, particularly for small farmers.
School grounds School dormitories and sports fields

An orchestra with traditional instruments provide an opportunity for all the generations to have a lively evening together.
dance    orchestra
dancing    dancing

We were also able to walk into the perched village of St. Sernin sur Rance for a festival with traditional music, and see a prehistoric menhir.
St. Sernin    perched village

The menhir Menhir


At the end of August I went to Bulgaria to teach at their Baha'i summer school, which was held in Balchik, on the Black Sea coast near the Romanian border. We stayed a short walk from the beautiful summer palace and gardens that Queen Marie of Romania, the first monarch to accept the Baha'i Faith, built in the 1920s and 30s. We were able to have a special guided tour of the palace and gardens.


Summer school    Summer school
Participants in the Bulgarian Baha'i summer school, Lois Hainsworth in the right foreground

Terry Madison and Emi DahlTerry Madison, long-time pioneer to Sofia, and Auxiliary Board Member Emi Dahl, my sister-in law


The visit to the royal palace in Balchik was a special occasion for the large group of Baha'is and their friends. We were guided by Professor E. Satchev who is a specialist on the palace and who explained how Queen Marie incorporated many Baha'i ideas and principles into the design of the buildings and gardens.
Prof. Satchev explaining palace concept    Entrance
Prof. Satchev before a picture of the gardens            Palace entrance

Flower gardens    Cactus garden
Flower and cactus gardens

Garden with Dahls    Emi, Joyce & Mina Dahl
Among the visitors were my brother Greg, his Bulgarian wife Emi, and Gregory, Joyce and Mina

House of one of the princes    Carved door
Queen Marie built a separate house for each member of her family in the traditional style

Garden with flowers    View

The gardens slope down to the beachfront, with paths joining the different thematic gardens
Garden paths    Garden paths

Gardens    ancient column

Prof. SatchevProfessor Satchev explained each of the garden's features, representing different cultures and religious traditions and demonstrating unity in diversity.

Map of the royal palace gardens
map of the gardens

Flowing water is an important feature, with a waterfall and pools, and channels throughout the gardens
Waterfall    Pool below waterfall

There is both formal and informal landscaping
Garden with children    Children in garden
My nieces and nephew and their friends enjoyed the gardens

There is a formal English rose garden, and a corner dedicated to the Virgin Mary where Queen Marie often came to pray
English rose garden    Virgin Mary

A part of the garden is modelled after Roman baths
Roman baths    Roman baths

There were old water mills in the gardens, one of which Queen Marie preserved. My nephew sat in a carved stone throne where Queen Marie often sat to enjoy the view.
Mill waterwheel    Chair

The gardens and Palace are just above the beach
Beach    Greg and family

At the end of long arbor-covered walk paved in millstones, there is a niche and millstone table where, according to Professor Satchev (but not other sources), Queen Marie was tragically killed. She tried to intervene in an argument between her two sons, and was accidentally shot through the heart by her younger son.
Arbor    Millstone table

After her death, a chapel was built to house her heart, which she asked to remain in her beloved Balchik when her body had to be buried next to her husband the king in Bucharest. When Balchik became part of Bulgaria during the war, her two sons came secretly by boat and took her heart back to Bucharest, according to Professor Satchev.
Chapel    Chapel interior

The Palace is surrounded by terraced gardens
Palace gardens    Palace gardens

The Royal Palace combines Christian and Islamic architectural styles, with a minaret-like tower.
Palace    Palace

The interior is in simple good taste, and is now furnished with many pictures of Queen Marie
Palace interior    Palace interior

My nephew Gregory, like the other visitors, enjoyed the Palace, its views and gardens
View from Palace    Gregory Dahl


Another afternoon we went to a famous Black Sea beach at Albena, where the children built a sand castle
Albena beach    Sand castle

Joyce and Gregory    Joyce, Mina and Gregory


Since we had to drive across Bulgaria from one end to the other, we stopped overnight in the traditional Bulgarian village of Zheravna and stayed in a 300 year old house.
Zheravna village    village path
Rooftops of the village of Zheravna                             a village path between the houses

House, Greg and Gregy    House
The 300 year old guest house where we stayed

interior    Porch
The interiors and porch have been restored in traditional fashion
Door    carved decor
The doors, pillars and beams have all been decorated with carving in traditional designs

Arbor    Gate
The arbor in front of the house was loaded with grapes. The garden was enclosed with a wall and traditional gate, and included a well.


I stayed an extra week with my brother Greg and his family at their house in Krupnik, the village south of Blagoevgrad where his wife Emi is from. Her parents live next door and take care of the garden and orchard, ensuring a constant supply of fruits and vegetables, and canning many things for the winter.
Krupnik garden    Krupnik garden
The village of Krupnik and the hills behind, from my brother's balcony.

Emi organized a Baha'i children's class for her children and their friends, and Greg accompanied their singing.
Children's class    Children's class

Children's class    children's class

I returned to Bulgaria in November when my brother Roger was also visiting my brother Greg and his family. One beautiful autumn day we went walking in the hills behind the village of Krupnik with Greg's children Gregory, Joyce and Mina.
looking back towards Krupnik    the family group

Roger and Greg   getting water at the spring   Roger
Roger and Greg                                getting water at a spring      

A woodcutter came by with two horses to carry his wood down the mountain. He gave the children a short ride on horseback.

children on horseback   the horseback ride

with the woodcutter   the twins Joyce and Gregory
Gregory, Joyce and Mina with the woodcutter          the twins, Joyce and Gregory


The International Environment Forum held its annual conference in Ottawa in October, which also gave me an opportunity to visit my son Alexander and his family in Quebec. For the IEF conference, see its own page of photos: After the conference, we went walking in a park near Ottawa to admire the autumn colours.

Quebec in autumn   lake with trees

autumn trees     My grandson Benjamin  grandson Benjamin


audienceEach year the European Baha'i Business Forum (EBBF) holds its annual conference at the dePoort conference centre in a forest near Nijmegen. Since I am a member of the EBBF Governing Board, I usually go every year. The conference draws over 150 business leaders, students of business and others with a legitimate interest in business to explore how ethical values inspired by the Baha'i teaching can make business more responsible.


EBBF President George Starcher and panel
George Starcher and panelSome of the principle EBBF leaders and speakers are shown here.

Secretary-General Daniel Truran
Daniel Truran

Wendi Momen                            Beppe Robiati                                      Augusto Lopez Claros                       Dorothy Marcic
Wendi Momen   Beppe Robiati   Augusto Lopez Claros   Dorothy Marcic

One feature of the conference is the presentation by AIESEC, the international student organization with which EBBF has a close partnership.
AIESEC panel

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Last updated 28 October 2012

Photographs copyright © Arthur Lyon Dahl 2007