Day 42 (a): Samarqand




The first day of this segment has overwhelmed me with history, jogging my brain and challenging all of those connections between Alexander the Great, the Mongols, and Tamir. Some of you may know this better, but for me, it’s learning on the job.

Lets start with Tamir and work back. Many of the madrasah photos shown here date from around the beginning of the 15th century. A madrasah was the focus of education, and included a library, classrooms and a place of worship. Tamir was from Samarqand and made a campaign to conquer India. His grandson was the scientist and developed an observatory and promoted a lot of concepts developed by the Arabs and and the Chinese.

2. When the Mongols struck in the 13th Century, they basically burned every town and village they encountered to the ground. Many of the relics predates this period, but the buildings are no longer standing. Alexander the Great conquered this area, but there is still some debate where and how long he ruled. He was physically here in the area with his army.

3. The complex of 3 madrassahs were built in two different periods: the one on the left was first developed in the early 1400s and the latter two that form a courtyard were from the 1500s. The later buildings were designed to form a symmetrical triad of buildings, but the domes are not symmetrically placed. There is a balance between symmetry and asymmetrical elements.

4. There were multiple religions operating at the same time, including Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Judaism. Sayings in Arabic on the entries to the building welcome all religions but only believers. These were sacred places of education held in high regard, and the eight major faculties each had their own rooms. Women were encouraged to learn in these institutions.

Extensive reconstruction of the tile work and buildings were made in the last few years. A bazaar used to be in the courtyard but the vendors have been relocated to preserve the structures.

Photos, from top:

1. Overview of Madrassah Complex, Samarqand

2. Map of Uzbekistan. My route is Tashkent-Samarqand-Bokhara-Khiva-Tashkent

3. Golden dome from inside, designed flat to reflect sound of prayer inside

4. Detail of stone tracery integrated with mosaic tiles to create textured pattern

Note: Internet access getting sporadic and unpredictable, particularly as I go further inland into the country. Keep your fingers crossed. I have an excellent guide but it is difficult to catch everything as she is covering a lot of ground. I’ll try to fill you in as I go.

Day 41: Dresden to Frankfurt

A full luxurious day on the train, on the beautiful Deusche Bahn system. These are to me the best trains in the world: fast, efficient and reliable. All the best in German engineering. As I sit on this five-hour ride, I can’t help but ponder what’s ahead for me in the future.

I am pretty happy. I decided that happiness is relative, and of course a process, not a place. It’s those endorphins you get planning something and thinking about where you WILL be, and not so much about when you are there. I have to say the German class exceeded my expectations. Little did I expect or know whom I would meet or learn from them. But that was just a bonus.

I used to watch the happiness programs on PBS and based on their advice, make the lists of what I was grateful for. Maybe it was needed when you are inundated with stressful days at work to maintain perspective. I definitely have had a full and satisfying life so far. But will that get me through the next third of my life? Who knows?

Part of this trip is about seeking inspiration. And my quest in Germany is fulfilling that. Learning about Goethe gave me a big shot in the arm and a reading list. At the top is going to be Thomas Mann’s Lotte in Weimar. The movie I saw about Goethe helped me to see inside the German culture. Then get an annotated guide for Magic Mountain. (The train just went through Weimar, and I wanted to get off!) Before, during or after that, maybe more on Weimar.

Currently the book given to me from the Krasnos has entertained and consumed me. “the Orientalist” is NY Times best seller and the author, Tom Reiss, won a Pulitzer Prize. It’s the story about a journalist Lev Nussibaum aka Essad Bey. It takes place in pre-war Germany, but traces Bey’s life from Lake Baku, where he was born, to a saga of escape from crumbling regimes through Turkey to France, and then to a private high school on an island in the North Sea. He ends up in Berlin writing books about Germany.

The author casts a lot of historical information as the backdrop for this audacious character, whose true identity was challenged multiple times. He was married to a socialite for a short time and operated in and was followed by high literary circles. I haven’t finished the book yet but am savoring and parceling out every last word as I am running out of something to read on my way to Tashkent.

Without getting into detail, this has been the best book for my trip. I’m really glad I have it and hope to use this as my springboard to learning more about German history, and its complicated relationship to Russia. The book in part tries to tackle the prickly question of how Hitler comes to power.

I decided that you could customize your own academic degree. When you have the time, you don’t need to find a program, apply for it, get credits, take exams and prove yourself with a degree–you just do it!

Targeting Tashkent…lets hope the Internet works there.

Day 40: Farewell to Dresden



imageAs I wind down this segment of my travels, I feel very sad to leave Dresden. Particularly having bonded with my German class, it is hard to say goodbye. Everyone has their lives to live beyond this momentary blip in the universe. I’m so grateful for having had the support and encouragement from family and friends to do this, at this time of my life, because it IS the time of my life.

I felt wistful about leaving out some shots that didn’t ever seem to fit into the theme for the day. This is a potpourri of architectural photos, a one-off sign, and some cultural relics. I’ll be leaving Dresden, overnighting in Frankfurt, then starting Segment 3 of the Silk Road this weekend.

Photos above, from top:

1. The Blood Center

2. Clinical buildings in the medical center area of Dresden.

3. Another clinical building.

4. Sign indicating from the Pirate Party that there is room for another million residents in Sachsen, the state where Dresden resides. It also implies that mixing and matching population is good for Saxony. (tap up the scale to read text).

Party elections are coming up and Angela Merkel is scheduled to come to Dresden on Saturday. Unfortunately, I will be off before then, but I would have definitively gone to see her.

Photos below, from top:

1. The Molkerei, a dairy and classic cheese shop that has been around for generations. The ornate decoration makes this a popular tourist stop.

2. The interior of the Frauenkirche, where Helena and I attended a concert. Maria Baumer played the part of Bach’s wife in several readings between Bach pieces. The concert was sponsored by the Moritzburg Festival.

3. Another panorama shot of Dresden and surrounding area from the Konigstein fortress. Zoom up to appreciate the beauty of this area.


Day 39: Sustainability and Transportation


 Sustainability in Germany

Photos above, from top:

1. Older buildings utilized exterior louvers to provide sun shading for buildings to reduce heat gain. (Refer to lower bottom right of photo).

2. Customers return bottles at supermarkets and receive instant cash receipts. These can be used at the counter when paying for groceries.

3. Photo from an earlier post (at Hellerau) showing how drying clothes outdoors has never really gone out of style in Germany, even in up-scale neighborhoods.

The only thing I didn’t see to any degree were solar panels, at least not as visible as in the Bay Area. Given the direction Germany has taken historically to provide steep roof lines for snow load control, it may be facing an uphill battle. The widespread use of penetrations for gabled roofs and attic windows don’t help matters. And there seems to be a lot of cloudy days here. 

Considering how Germany attempts to lead the world in sustainability and zero carbon footprint, this might hamper their reputation in solar energy development. Perhaps China has already pulled the carpet out from under Germany’s lead on industrial production of solar energy by now.

There has been a lot written about Germany’s endeavors to be sustainable, but it seems to come more from the traditional conservation methods than by innovative technology. Perhaps it’s not yet that evident, and it occurs in newer buildings. But for now, at least in Dresden, it hasn’t quite taken taken hold. Its historical use of reducing waste is a far better bet for the future than what the US is able to do for the time being.


The Dresden transportation system is one of the delights in coming here. I have managed to get around the city and all the sights I have posted, with few exceptions. It’s safe, clean, and efficient. There’s respect and even affection for public transportation. Why can’t we get it together? 

Buses, cars and bikes are all in symbiotic relationship with each other here. You don’t do stupid things, wait for the lights to change, and minimize the impact on the environment. With taxes being out to good use, the Germans reap the benefits of their efforts.

Photos below, from top:

1. A bus shelter, that posts the full schedule for weekdays and weekends. It’s reliable, practical and clearly identified. Bikers often use the system and bike in between.

2. Interior of the tram system is kept clean and tidy to make it a pleasure to use and appreciate.

3. Window graphics indicate that areas near doorways are for wheelchairs and strollers.

4. The train system has been developed throughout Europe and thrives. Stations like this one up the street from where I live make it easy to get to virtually any point in Europe, or to regional spots. Safe, clean, and efficient.




Day 37: Military History Museum

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The Military History Museum is one of the most interesting museums in the world, not only for its collection and the building design, but for the message it brings. It tries to tackle the prickly issue of war and its consequences and uses displays to teach how everyone loses in wars.

Daniel Liebeskind designed and finished this building in 2011. The exterior of the neo-classical building is truncated by a metal shard that points to the spot where Dresden was targeted. While both sides of the building are devoted to traditional armaments, the new building tries to confronts visitors with the human impacts of war.

Photos above, from top to bottom:

1. Exterior of the building, located in a former military area.
2. Overview of Building interior on the top floor.
3. Exterior terrace inside the metal point. From here you can see a view of Dresden Old City. The open metal walkway can be a harrowing experience but is appropriate with the entire building and what it conveys.
4. Beautiful stairs and custom designed lighting built into the handrails.
5. Custom designed horizontal panel for the elevator controls.

Photos below, from top to bottom:

1. Wall to the left shows a regiment of 10,000 troops in formation heading to war at a miniature scale.
2. A scale model warship, with a view of the formation in the background
3. A full scale display of animals
4. Typical text explaining the consequences of war. (Tap to scale up)
5. Another text display.(Tap to scale up)


For more information, see

Day 38: My German Class


After three and a half weeks together in an intensive advanced beginner course, its not surprising that we feel bonded and sad to leave each other. Human nature, no matter what age, links you inevitably to each other. Age was certainly less an issue than culture, openness and confidence. We supported each other’s endeavors and shared each others’ stumblings.

Its much easier to introduce the students from the class at the end than at the beginning, as you can see from the comraderie in the picture:

Front row: Marco,(Mexico); Valadimir (Bulgaria).
Middle row: Luis (Mexico); Paolo (Portugal).
Top row, standing: Saikat (India); Keyson (Thailand); Masami(Japan); Meilina
(Indonesia); me; Yongin (Korea); Hamid (Algeria).

It was a great program, great class, and I passed my exam! Now I can proceed to the next level (intermediate). I guess I wanted to prove that I could still think and learn like a student, but in the end, even though I did, it didn’t really matter. I highly recommend this to others of any age to connect with people in whatever way you can who are NOT the same age you are. I really learned a lot from this group of energetic world beaters. We are going to be in good hands with people like the ones in my class. That’s my message and purpose for this segment of the trip, I guess, and I’ll be ready to move on to my next quest: the Silk Road.

Day 36: Mme Mallory & der Duft von Curry


On Sunday afternoon I almost felt like a local going to the neighborhood movie theater (a famous one apparently, the Schauburg, in my neighborhood off Bischofsweg) to see a film that caught my eye: Mme Mallory & Der Duft von Curry. I’m sure you can figure out the gist of the movie as well as I can so I won’t elaborate. I thought it would make a good afternoon for improving my German, so I invited my friends Hanne and Jens to go along with me.

The story line starts with a family moving from India after their restaurant was burned down from civil strife. They manage to move from an initial try in London to France. As they are all packed into a car headed into the countryside, it breaks down in a small town. They decide to put their stakes down in a run down house that happens to be directly across from a Michelin-star quality restaurant.

The son of the restauranteur always had a talent for cooking, and he wanted to pursue his passion. It was natural when the father needed a means of livelihood that the son would lead his family in creating a quality Indian restaurant for the area.

Through a series of twists and turns, the family encounters battles with the puffy Mme. Mallory, who owns the restaurant across from them. This light comedy has great music that manages to pull at the emotions. It also succeeds at getting a few subtle messages across. One is how difficult it is for immigrants to arrive and survive in a new country. Combined with the stuffiness of French society, it can be overwhelming if not tragic.

Without conveying the outcome, this is a movie that is well worth seeing. It can certainly be included in the few and far between movies about food. It shows the ups and downs in the food business and the passion it takes to stay in it.

Overall, the dialog in German was easy enough to follow, thanks to gorgeous visual and audio support. It is unlikely to be a native German film, especially with credits to Spielberg and Winfrey. I guess globalization makes Hollywood inescapable, even for a Sunday afternoon walk in the cinema.

Access to the trailer here:

You may have trouble recognizing this famous actress on the poster, but you will want to see this when you realize who she is.

Foot forward: I am two days past the halfway mark for my trip and will be starting Segment III at the end of this week. I will be traveling to Tashkent, Samarkand and Bokhara. If you are interested in this segment, be sure to look out for my posts next week. Access to the internet is unpredictable, so there may be some delays.

Day 35: Moritzburg Palace

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The Moritzburg Palace was King Augustus’ playground for hunting. Only a mere 20 minutes’ drive from town, he could feel that it was a great getaway place but still reduce the carbon footprint. The most impressive part of the palace were the mooseheads, of every shape and variety you could imagine. They really looked like branches from some sacred trees, each individually chiseled and honed.

The other distinguishing mark to this palace unlike others throughout Europe were the leather tapestries. They had a lot of animals in the Wald so they made use of the skins by sewing them together and adding embossing for depth and texture, as well as paint from gold and other colors. The formal gardens were clean if not a bit sterile, but the strolls throughout the forest and surrounding area were extensive and well worth a day’s visit.

Moritzburg was in the midst of celebrating its Music Festival. They highlight young musicians hosted by the Dresden Musikfestspiele’s own director, Jan Vogel. The performers were the ones I heard in Proschwitz Palace. This Palace and the church are used as venues for performances, and would be well worth planning as part of a weekend stay.

Photos, from top:
1. Overview of Backyard.
2. Horsemen taking stroll along the extensive paths throughout Moritzburg.
3. An intriguing enclosed garden surrounded by a wall of manicured trees
4. A typical horse cart taking a shortcut through the palace grounds
5. Evening view of Moritzburg.

Day 34(b): Fourth Eye Blind




Ever since I discovered the blinking rooftops of Dresden, I got fixated on roof planes and how the German designers reconciled them. They do seem to take an inordinate amount of effort, load and space. My only conclusion is that the the tradition to go high and mighty has resulted in some of these new design dilemmas. The Protestant church steeples in every community make you feel as if you are in a throwback to Middle America. The Germans had problems shaking the dramatic effect of Gothic cathedrals. I am having fun going on scavenger hunts for these curious design solutions for pitched roofs. With only a few days before I leave I may have to wait for the next trip to Germany. I am including a few more roofscapes that intrigued me in Hellerau. This is for Pam, who came up with the idea of the blinking eyes.

Photos, top to bottom:

1. Four eyes. Don’t know if there are more than that, I am still looking.

2. One Eye. Proportion to roof plane seems crazy, but they really wanted that window there. But let’s not overdo it, they thought.

3. One Eye. Better version of previous post, just counting.

(In case you missed the previous one, check the Day 24: Third Eye Blind”. It was my first discovery of the blinking eyes.)