Tag Archives: Architecture

Reflections on Iran (An Excerpt from Dec. 2018)

In light of this week’s tragic events over Iran, I felt compelled to share a video I produced at the end of 2018. It captures my current thoughts and feelings about Iran (in conjunction with other countries visited that year). My heart goes out to the Iranian people and their uncertain future.

Here’s the video:

(The notes below are an edited version from the original post, “Wring out the Old”, from December, 2018.)

Before the year closes out, I wanted to combine a number of videos and photos that I collected during this year’s travels. The selection includes a life-changing trip to Iran, first-timers to Korea and Hungary, and regular mainstays in Germany, Austria and China.

While most of the visits were with those who follow or are aware of my intrepid travels, fresh new friends taught me bout the hardships and endurance needed to survive the complicated political and economic world we live in. Shared laughter helped to offset an arduous year and to renew hope for the future.

I hope you will enjoy this quirky video. I’ve culled material from travels this past year, based on Barbara Streisand’s moving song, “Imagine/What a Wonderful World”, from her album “Walls”. Let’s hope that we can resist building walls and find ways to build trust and friendship instead.

The video includes clips from Shiraz, Persepolis, Isfahan, Yasd, and Tehran in Iran, as well as a few from Seoul, Korea. There are clips from my month-long sojourn at the Goethe Institute in Munich, Germany.

If you are interested in reading more about Iran, you can find the blog posts from April 2018.

Templemania in Guangdong

For many foreigners who do not share buildings dedicated to one’s lineage, going to a Chinese family temple would be a dull experience. On this trip, we discovered a repository of family history that not only answered many questions, but we developed a quest for more knowledge of one’s origins.

In China, ancestral family temples provided the heart and soul of each community. They gave special significance to family members with a common last name. Family histories and genealogy were stored in these cultural institutions and offered missing information.

We visited the Chou, Lum and Fong Family Ancestral Temples in Guangdong and Zhongshan, where our parents’ native villages were located.

Chou Family Temple

Chou Family Ancestral Temple

The Chou Family Temple, originally in Punyu outside of Guangzhou, was a spiffy display of the achievements of its clan members. It was well-endowed, orderly and refined. Judging by its size, educational content, and tidiness, there was plenty of support from both local and overseas sources.

Here are more slides of the temple gardens and architecture (click to the right to advance): A poster room showed the first Overseas Chinese who migrated to New Zealand among other illustrious clan members.

Lum Family Temple

The Lum Family Temple in Antang was simple, modest, and a bit neglected. There seemed to be little interest in reviving its religious function. Perhaps due to generations of scholars and civil examination administrators, there was less outward display of wealth.

Lum Family Ancestral Temple

See previous post for additional photos of the Lum Family temple.

We also collected big manuals of family history. The “juk po” contains the genealogy beyond 24 generations. Most of these histories recorded began with the earliest patriarch who settled in a locality.

Many Northern Chinese migrated south prior to, during, and after the Mongol Invasions of Genghis Khan. We discovered some awesome dates as early as 1017!!

Newly Renovated Fong Family Ancestral Temple

Unlike the solemn and serious nature of the Chou and Lum Ancestral visits, we had a completely unique experience visiting the The Fong Family Ancestral Temple. The Fong clan pulled out all the stops for a lively inauguration of its newly renovated complex..

We were invited to join a sit-down dinner banquet serving over 1200 guests. Acrobats, dancers and a pop singer provided home-grown entertainment in the large playground outside the temple. Activities throughout the day included a lion dance commemorating the inauguration and honoring the ancestors.

The traditional nine-course menu included duck, chicken, fish, prawns, and abalone in the shell. The string of roast pigs first served to the gods were later carved and served to we lowly mortals in attendance.

It was a raw and bawdy but authentic affair. We were able to witness history with the entire community, and gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of our family roots.

Visiting three ancestral temples simultaneously may seem like cultural overload. But by visiting these ancestral shrines in a row, I could fully appreciate the importance of these facilities that served past generations of Chinese and will serve future ones as well.

Inauguration of Fong Family Ancestral Temple Complex Renovation

Note: I apologize if videos are not viewable on your device. Posting graphic material in WordPress from China has been a challenge! I will try updating them after I return to the U.S. next week. Check back then if you are interested.

Searching for (Lotus) Roots: Village Visits

House in Bamboo Garden

The Chou Family village home in the once-rural area of Punyu is now consumed by the urban demands of Guangzhou. Located in the Bamboo Garden Village in Bai Yun near the Guangzhou airport, the stately home was originally built in the middle of rice paddies. Through the maze of six to seven-story buildings haphazardly built in the 80’s and 90’s, the narrow alleyways lead to this peaceful oasis.

The house is the oldest remaining home in the village. A few remaining pieces of furniture shown above survived the past. The family residence remains unoccupied, but hopefully its redeeming features will support new life and purpose.

An Tang Village

A search for the Lum Family house in An Tang Village proved to be more challenging. The house no longer exists, but finding the precise location was also elusive. The search demands people, place, and time. Rickety 80’s and 90’s adhoc housing sprinkled throughout the village similar to that found in Bamboo Garden obscure landmarks. Being in a more rural setting, the An Tang Village contained more traditional village houses. This could be related to funding, demand and proximity to an urban area.

We located the home of my mother’s uncle. Adjacent to it was a 20’s era clinic. It reminded me of the contemporary style of Sun Yat Sen’s Residence in Hong Kong. Athough unoccupied, it appears to be a historic building ripe for attention and TLC.

The series of Ancestral Temples made the village visit worthwhile. In addition to the artwork that preserves the legacy of the Lum Family, local street murals scattered throughout the village provided inspiration for its residents.

Foodie Heaven

One could never escape a stay in Guangzhou without being first confronted, then blown away by the exquisite simplicity of flavors and unadulterated freshness of ingredients. The consistency of quality is truly remarkable. Restaurants compete for business. Reputation is everything. Now add innovation and creativity to rival any five-star presentation.

In one restaurant, a huge automated lazy susan brings the food to you. Similar to the sushi boat concept, you barely have to “lift a finger” to get the food to your plate!

Transit Nightmare

Despite the herculean feat of moving teaming masses of humanity, public transit in Guangzhou is still a frightening, mesmerizing, and astounding experience. High speed trains get you from Hong Kong to Guangzhou and other remote areas in less than an hour, buses interconnect to desired locations, and the internet provides information and easy ticket orders.

Nevertheless, the human experience is overwhelming. The length of the new Guangzhou South Railway Station is .6km and it takes nearly 5 minutes to transverse it! (See https://www.railway-technology.com/projects/newguangzhou/

Having worked on the HK Mass Transit Railway when its first line was under construction, I am at a loss at how to improve this situation. This development addresses mankind’s needs and for the time being, it is about as good as it gets.

Teeming humanity
The new Guangzhou South Railway Station is the length of 6 football fields

Day 53-56: Ravishing, Vanishing Vienna Woulds

Okay, this is going to be a fast landing. I am uploading a cache of pictures from this week’s class tours: the Friedhof, or Cemetery outside Vienna, where many prominent and famous people of Vienna are buried; the Insider’s Walking Tour of Vienna in the oldest area from the Middle Ages; and the collections from the Decorative Art Museum

Vienna Central Cemetery (Wiener Zentralfriedhof)

Established in 1874, this cemetery reminded me of the one in Montparnasse, Paris. The loess soil in the outskirts of town was considered a better site for interment, especially after the cemetery had to be moved a couple of times. The first location inside the walls of the original city was bulging at the seams before long, so districts outside the city walls began to create cemeteries for specific ethnic and religious groups.

With so many people dying from the plague and pestilence in the 13th C, plots became scarce. Dogs were digging up the bones of those who had been laid in shallow graves and reintroducing body parts and diseases into areas occupied by those still alive. Soon these local cemeteries became too crowded.

This time the cemetery was centralized. Cemeteries from individual churches were combined, but it created new challenges. Being nearly an hour outside the city, it was difficult for relatives to attend to their dearly departed. Administrators found clever ways to encourage people to buy and maintain plots in the new location.

They provided a grand church for services, leased and subleased unused plots, and offered a park-like setting with a cafe to enhance visits. There were strict rules to maintain supply and demand. A “Famous Composers” section with the remains of famous composers like Beethoven, Johann Strauss, Brahms and Mozart was created to attract tourists. The wealthy built artistic monuments and used expensive materials to flaunt their prestige and wealth.

It’s a pretty good guess that one of the Hapsburgs had a hand in creating nearly every institution in Vienna, and this cemetery is no exception.

Decorative Arts Museum (Museum für Angewandte Kunst)

The applied arts museum offers an extensive collection of Baroque, Rococo, and Art Nouveau era furniture, household items, and special exhibitions..

Names like Biedermeier, Jugendstil, and Thonet–remind me of the not insignificant role of Austrian design. The Vienna Werkstatt reflected early European modern design. It was was influenced by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement in England.

Back Streets of Vienna

I had dismissed Vienna as being pretty dry and uneventful until this week. The class outings picked up the pace and delivered pretty juicy stories about the history of Vienna. In three prior visits, I was completely unaware of the medieval section of the city. After starting at the edge of the old harbor to the Donau, we wound our way through crooked alleys and a labyrinthine course, passing many exclusive cafes, shops and historic businesses. We emerged by the end of the tour at the doorstep to St. Stephan’s Church in the heart of town.

The Greek Orthodox Church in the area was a reminder of the waves of immigrants who had populated Vienna and contributed to its growth and success.

A C Level Class for a C Level Student

Hey, I’m happy just to participate, as hubby Gee Kin would say. Here are a few parting pictures of our group, that included an Italian priest, three Chinese German language teachers, an Irish German teacher, a Belgian EU administrator, a Norwegian statistics consultant, and me.

This post is likely to be the second to last post for the trip. I am getting ready for the wrap in Salzburg, Austria this weekend. Look for it and let me know what you think of this year’s travels with myself and others!

Day 45-48: Vienna Schnitzel

Vienna is very deceptive. At first glance, you see alot of well-built, sterile looking buildings that have been well maintained and proud of it. Street sweepers are a common sight so you have to skirt around them more often than you expect. But the endless rows of buildings, ornate details, heavy duty hardware and deluxe glazing make the city seem drab.

By Day Four (today) of my two week stay here, my opinion is reversed. The unbefore-seen Museum Quartier, tucked behind the Volks Theater, was an eye opener and inspiration for a visitor to this historic city. It’s alive with young people enjoying the balmy summer evening, amidst theater, dance, art, spontaneous outdoor performers, and of course, food establishments galore.

Originally a series of small villages, the district has been tranformed into a string of happening event spaces. Outdoor dining seems to be the order of the day. What’s amazing is that these are primarily locals enjoying their new-found urban spaces, with perhaps a dose of savvy tourists to keep the economy thriving.

You would be completely missing out on Vienna if you only saw St. Stephan’s in the center of town, the Opera House (on summer break), and Mariahilferstrasse, the main shopping street. Just like we scoff at tourists in San Francisco who only go to Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s not the current menu. If you inadvertently end up there anyway, the center of town is only used to get one’s bearing for the rest of the city’s bright and newly minted cultural activities.

The Cultural Program

The Vienna Goethe Institute has an excellent cultural program, perhaps the best of any educational program I have joined. We started with a general city tour that gave us a good orientation to the center of town. Intriguing alleyways and amazing historic buildings are tucked behind major thoroughfares, so you almost require a guide to find these hidden gems.

There aren’t as many tourists, thankfully, as in Lisbon. We were only spared for a short time in the morning until we hit the center of town at noon. The St. Stephan’s church was the crowning glory and has been completely renovated for googling eyes and ears. Concerts are held on a regular basis here for eager tourists who take in the musical history of famous composers like Mozart, Schubert and Mahler.

Vienna’s history is shrouded in the Hapsburg reign from about the 13th C.-1918. Thirty Years’ War, religious battles between Protestants and Catholics, Napoleon, and the plague set the backdrop for a violent past. Marriages between royal families in Europe sealed the Hapsburg rule for nearly 800 years, one of the longest standing regimes in history.

The main history of Vienna is focused near the Royal residences and the churches in the area. In addition, the Spanish Riding School where the famous Lippizaner Horses are trained, and the National Library with its fabulous collection, are located in the same vicinity.

An excellent introduction to three historic and beautiful churches on the second day was even more fascinating and helped us to understand the extent of power controlled by church and state. Austria was primarily Protestant in the countryside but Vienna was controlled by the Catholics and the royalty. The powerful relationship prevailed at the expense of the majority. It seemed to be another sad lesson to today’s world politics and the division between the haves and the have nots.

According to tradition, many of the Hapsburg family have buried parts of their bodies in three separate locations. Hearts in Budapest, innards and bones in two other locations in Vienna. The family followed this creepy ritual. The guide savored telling the English pun: “May the emperor rest in pieces”. You can read more about the Royal family’s whereabouts here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Crypt.

The Class

There are 14 students, most of whom are German language teachers. They come from Ireland, China (Souzhou and Hangzhou), France, Belgium, England, Russia and Norway. I am the only American in the class and I am very happy that it turned out that way.

A word about my German C level class for my German language buddies. I don’t know how I did it but I was put in an advanced class. I figured the director must get a promotion for enrolling more students in advanced levels. We’ll see if he gets his promo after he gets the report on retention.

We have spent most of our time getting accustomed to the class environment. A full program of free guided tours of the city, museums, historic sights, and concerts are offered before and after classes. I am glad that I chose Vienna to study German! My only problem is that I am exhausted at the end of each day and have not had any time to sketch.

Accommodations, in true Viennese style, are generous and adequately stocked. You can see the view of the modern studio apartment below, that costs about $33 a day. It’s a great deal including the cultural program provided in the course.

More later as the class progresses.

Day 41-45: Bom Dia Lisboa!

After spending a week with a dozen companions in the Algarve, it took a bit of adjustment to being alone again. Fortunately sketching buddy Karen accompanied me to Lisbon for her return flight to San Francisco. She adeptly led me to the Neya Lisbon Ecohotel where we were staying. The hotel promotes saving the environment, even if it’s just a marketing ploy.

Use of solar panels, thermal and acoustic windows, separated garbage bins in every room, and reusing towels are commonplace for most hotels, but they don’t advertise it. Every little bit helps, so his hotel has got the right idea. I’m not sure that I can quote any other hotel chain in the U.S. or Europe that includes it in their name. If nothing else, you end up with a younger and more conscientious clientele.

I’m spending a few days here exploring on my own. Lisbon city streets are narrow crooked alleyways that hug the steep hillsides until they burst at the seams with long strings of steps. You are reminded of Telegraph Hill or Montrmartre as you carefully scale the steep paths and are glad that you aren’t sporting five-inch heels from the Ott’s.

The paved cobbles are slippery from hundreds of years of footfall. I wondered how many souls (pardon the pun) it took to shine them. Occasionally a patch of roughed up cobbles provided relief to the attentiveness needed to descend them.

Mentally, I had no trouble skiing down the hill toward town and paused to savor the tiled facades and ironwork that were so compatible with each other. Even the laundry hung out to dry seemed to add an artistic swoop, as if to apologize for the untiled surface.

Castelo S. Jorge

I scaled the top of the 11th Century fortress castle. It was crenillated with lookouts that made shooting from below a challenge. The views from the fort were spectacular and peeking through the openings made you wish could dodge target practice. Other than that…overrun with tourists like me.

Pena Palace, Sintra

Despite being a world heritage site, Sintra was another destination overrun by tourists. It diminished my appreciation of the area’s man-made beauty. Tucked into the hills outside Lisbon, the national park was transformed from a barren hill to lush forest.

The palace itself looked a little bit like Disneyland, especially the bright colors. Its Moorish features and gardens were obscured by short rooms that lacked the high drama normally found in other European palaces. Pena was built by Ferdinand II, who ruled from 1837-53, and his two wives. One was an opera singer so you can imagine the level of high maintenance required on his part.

The Museum of the Orient

Okay, this wasn’t my first goal for museum googling. My first futile attempt was to the Archaeological Museum. The entrance was blocked by a parade for the 150th year of the Police Academy, who were out at least 150-strong: a great time to commit a crime!

The second attempt was to the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology, located on the port side of a four-lane highway and railway line with no pedestrian crossing. I finally settled on the Orient Museum, that was also on the port side of the same highway and railway line, but WITH a pedestrian crossing!

150th Anniversary of Police Academy

Thanks to Vasco da Gama, who was responsible for the world trade routes to Asia as early as 1511! Macau and the Straits of Malacca were discovered in 1515, so they overcame the Silk Road drudgery of camel packs, winter snows, and sandstorms.

Had I thought about it, my Silk Road research and adventures could have been supplemented by tracing the Portuguese sea routes. Ach! Earlier freighters would have charted a simpler course. But…scurvy and mutinies…water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink…which was worse–the vast desert or the vast ocean?!?

This museum held me captive for over three hours. I read nearly every caption, to absorb the stories they told on porcelain, between the traders and the traded. As the market developed for the silk and porcelains, so shifted original Chinese themes to Western ones. The hunters became the hunted, and vice versa. Maritime prowess, religion, love of nature, and paganism were common topics that eventually drifted into the images depicted.

The Chinese found a liking to tobacco for both medicinal and euphoric purposes. Snuff bottles became popular and coveted. Opium became the new normal.

My HK friends will appreciate the material in this museum as it relates to Macau. Just north of Macau lies my family’s stomping ground in Zhongshan, China. It’s no wonder that the Southern Chinese were commercially influenced by 500 years of Portuguese presence, and they were already well into trading before the British arrived in 1851. A few of the well-curated artifacts are below.

Chinese Opera Exhibit

A separate permanent exhibit in the Museum of the Orient enhanced my research on Chinese Opera. The curators did an excellent job in presenting the topic to those unfamiliar with this form of integrated music and art. The costumes and descriptions were well preserved and comprehensive.

They clearly identified the four character types: the official, the maiden, the warrior, and the comic. The films that were shown were exemplary, not only of traditional opera, but one also described the complications during and after the Cultural Revolution by a ballet performer in the “Red Detachment of Women”. She was purged after the fall of the Gang of Four.

Shoes were of particular interest to me. Opera performers did not have bound feet, but they imitated those who did. They wore “high-heeled sneakers” with pedestals. If you wondered why Chinese opera performers were so deliberate in their actions, it’s because they couldn’t walk in those damn shoes! They had to balance themselves on platforms or pedestals and could easily trip on their costumes. The good news is that the pedestals allowed the fringes to flop over the edges and shimmy in a beguiling way.

One other note about this fascinating exhibit. Because of their heavy costumes, performers wore a shield of bamboo in between, so their skin could sweat! Just like bamboo mats. See the bamboo curtain below.

There were many other artifacts that mesmerized me for an entire afternoon. Here were just a few of the artistic pieces presented:

My apologies for this indulgence. They connect many dots in my historical knowledge of the Silk Road and the connection between East and West. Coming to Lisbon and seeing the artifacts at this museum was an unexpected delight. The museum gave me a deeper understanding of how two worlds collided and found a purpose.

Etch a Sketch

Just so you don’t think I have abandoned my sketching, here are a few from sitting at train stations and leftovers from Olhao:

Finale in Lisbon

An open air concert with the Portuguese Symphony outside the Teatro S. Carlo! The sound and film crew were more interesting to watch from behind. Apologies for the blocked view of the symphony. (Give the video some time to load).

I’m off to Vienna, so look for my posting from there mid-week!

Day 38-40: Art in the Algarve

The pace of life strikes you as soon as you have contact with the first native you meet here. There’s a natural warmth and friendliness that puts you at ease and convinces you to slow down. Especially in Olhao, grantedly a tourist town, the shopkeepers and service personnel are responsive and eager to cater to your needs.

We are staying the week at Arts in the Algarve, a collection of buildings with hide-and-seek rooms. Courtyards interjected here and there remind you of the warmth of the sun and the incredibly piercing light in this part of the world. You can’t help but feel healthy and inspired here.

Locals seem to enjoy being outdoors and life doesn’t start taking shape until after dark. Music wafts through the alleyways and over the rooftops into our rooms. Both pop music and accordion-style sing-a-longs with smiles and laughter are detectable. Parades and celebrations are a daily activity that bring multitudes of friends and strangers together.

The details and tiled facades of residential buildings allow owners to inscribe their mark, while balconies and connection to the outdoors are always evident. Lush shady trees and parks provide escape from the blazing sun, while artwork and monuments remind us of our fragile existence.

Our group in the art school this week includes four physiotherapists, an attorney, art and ESL teachers, an executive coach, real estate and finance, one with a diplomatic background, and two AirBNB hosts. There are plenty of interesting conversations at each meal as we convene in the school, poolside, and at nearby restaurants. We learn from and support each other as we challenge our artistic abilities.

There’s barely enough time in the mornings to sketch around town, so I took a day off from a planned nature tour to wander around Olhao on my own. Street scenes and people brought me back to ground zero, where art and ideas come together quickly for me.

The afternoons are spent in the studio culminating color, form, composition, and style from the morning’s sketches:

The food served in the school as well as in dining establishments is unadulterated, straightforward and fresh. Everything you need to stay healthy, especially the fish. The wide variety of daily catch includes tuna, halibut, sole, sea bream, sea bass, sardines, monkfish, and skate, as well as shellfish.

Before parking in Vienna for two weeks, I will be spending a few days in Lisbon, Portugal. Look out for a weekend post from there. Let me know if you have been to Portugal and what you find special about it!

Day 30-33: A Looka at Lucca

Lucca is one of those uniquely protected walled cities, that tells you to go away. Unless you’re inside, of course. It took a bit of battling to get in, with a car (restricted) to an Albergo with private parking privileges. You are acutely aware of harming the environment when you drive a car in this remarkable city.

Everyone moves at a slower pace, tourists and residents alike. Bikes have their place, although scooters are allowed. You wish life could be this way in your part of the world. Everything seems magical–the ice cream shops, the antiquaries, the magnificently preserved churches. Maybe it wasn’t Disney who spread gold dust here, but he must have visited and discovered the qualities that gave him ideas for his magic kingdom.

We were in Italy for a wedding over the weekend. On Elba Island to be exact. After connecting flights in Paris from Yerevan, Armenia, we spent a couple of days in a luxurious villa as our base. Getting to and from the island was another story, but we made it to the wedding in plenty of time.

We treated ourselves to dinner at the hotel’s well appointed facilities, including the original villa’s main house. Needless to say, food here as in everywhere in Italy is a major undertaking and form of entertainment. Here are just a few dishes that refreshingly attacked our palettes:

I’m off to Faro, Portugal for a week filled with art and sketching. Am traveling via Florence and Paris as stopovers. Stay tuned…

Day 26-29: Armenian Rhapsody

The Haghartsin Monastery and Churches range from the 10th-13th Centuries, and are a fascinating example of early medieval/late Byzantine architecture. The heavy basalt walls protected the churches from earthquakes, but a considerable amount of renovation and restoration work was still needed.

The thick walls supported small chapels with heavy domes made of stone. Nevertheless, the simplicity of the structures provided a timeless quality and soothing relief to the 90+ degree weather. The main church is dedicated to St. Gregory. You can read more about it here: https://www.advantour.com/armenia/tavush/agartsin-monastery.htm

Along Lake Sevan, one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world, the Sevanarank Monastery was built in 874. It’s surprising to find these early examples of Christian architecture that never made it into the art history lectures. Our Eurocentric focus has neglected the early beginnings of ecumenical architecture.

I am now customizing my own studies of architectural history and history. By visiting the trans-Caucasus countries, I realize how little we have learned about these countries and the significant roles they played during the “Dark Ages” in feudal and medieval Europe. We could have been learning about what was developing in other parts of the world, especially where it was not “dark”.

Want people?

Followers have noted that my photos are strangely absent of people. I’m not sure whether it is a blessing or a curse, but I do tend to avoid inadvertent passers-by to preserve my architectural shots. It takes some patience but basically a stealth-bomber approach as soon as the coast is clear. That doesn’t mean that I don’t get distracted by interesting people who are the subject matter themselves. And don’t be misled. There are plenty of tourists wandering around everywhere, so I may in fact be distorting the scene. The good news: we have run into very few Americans along our route.

Groups of Tourists descend from the Cascade Monument, Yerevan, Armenia

Food for Thought

With a bit of effort, delicious healthy food such as vegetable plates with presentation flair are inexpensive and available.

Cafesjian Center for the Arts

As part of the “Cascade”, an outdoor stairway system that ascends halfway up a steep hill in the middle of the city, an art museum is located adjacent to the escalator system serving the stairs. Sculpture is placed in layers as one moves along the escalators and views artwork at an enjoyable pace. The Cascade Monument was erected to commemorate the 2780th anniversary of the founding of Yerevan with an equal number of stairs.

Genocide Museum, Yerevan, Armenia

No visit would be complete without learning about the Armenian Genocide in 1915-20. An estim 600,000 and 1.5 million people were systemmatically killed by Turks in three phases: first by forcing men into labor groups without means of survival; next, by decapitating intellectuals and leaders of Armenia; and third, by rounding up women and children and sending them into the desert. The Turkish government has yet to acknowledge its responsibility in causing so many deaths.

All Armenians (3 million) and the Armenian diaspora (approx. 8 million) know about this tragedy. Funds for public and private projects such as the Cafesjian Center are sponsored by Armenians living outside of Armenia to help support the country today.

Armenia was the first countries to adopt Christianity as a state religion. Unless you majored in Religion or Theological Studies, you probably would not be familiar with the numerous stories fron the Old and New Testament quoted when visiting the early Armenian Christian churches. They helped to shed light on the activities of about 1100 years between the 3rd C CE and the 13th C. CE of devout Christian belief and that continues today.

Coincidentally, Gregory “the Illuminator” had a lot to do with the designating of sites or inspiring a number of them.

The Holy See of Armenia was the residence of the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, a monastery, and cathedral. It contained a museum in which the hierarchical aspects of the Catholica, archbishop and bishop, such as vestments, decorative items and tapestries were preserved. One of the most interesting was a reliquary covered by a piece of petrified wood purported to be from Noah’s ark.

Zvartnots Cathedral

What appeared from a distance to look like a version of Stonehenge, the ruins of this round cathedral served as the holy see, until an earthquake collapsed the stone dome above it. Only the arches and columns remain, as well as remains of the dormitories for monks and communal spaces.

Geghard Monastery

This UNESCO listed monastery and church complex was started in the 3rd C CE and was partly carved into the mountain. Many small caves behind the monastery were used by the monks for individual meditation.

We’re very sad to leave this part of the world behind. The wealth of UNESCO world sites speak for its significance in the development of mankind and societies. Politics reign above all and challenge our knowledge of these misunderstood countries. While we were only able to digest a few statistics and a small portion of its legacy, we are inspired to pursue further studies about the Caucasus.

Day 23-25: Georgia on My Mind

Sandwiched between Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Russian Federation lies the country of Georgia. We nearly crossed the entire country in a day trip east to west, stopping in a couple of significant Georgian Orthodox churches and towns along the way.

Gelati Academy

Built by King David the Builder in the 12th Century, this UNESCO protected pilgrimage site served as a scientific and spiritual life in Georgia. The church has been rebuilt with private funds after the earthquake.

Mtskheta Cathedral

The robe of Christ is purported to be buried here, after a Jewish monk purchased the garment and brought it to Georgia. Many pilgrims come here to worship and consider this 12th Century Cathedral a sacred place. The impressive Byzantine frescoes told the story of Jesus and his disciples on the walls of the main apse. The Mtskheta religious buildings are designated a UNESCO world heritage site.

Kudaishi Market

Sandwiched between a visit to the local food market, we were able to stop along the highway to try Georgian homemade bread and cheese. Earlier, we tasted wine in the famous Georgian wine at Khareba Winery in the massive valley that bisects the country.

Soviet era mural outside the market

Our car slammed its brakes to stop in time for bread and cheese being sold along the highway. Bread stuck on the sides of concrete ovens took about 15 minutes to cook. Wheels of fresh sheep’s cheese were wrapped in plastic bags ready for purchase. Our second roadside stop was another version brushed with honey and egg before it was covered with an old coat and blanket and cooked.

Georgian Dishes may leave the culinary skills behind flowery English descriptions. Our order for “Mushrooms in Clay Pan” was….mushrooms in clay pan. Fruit plates are….fruit plates. No inflated language necessary.

Master Cooking Class in Tbilisi

Our master cooking class at the Tabla Restaurant introduced us to a few classic Georgian dishes that we had already tried. Starters with walnut paste rolled in red pepper and eggplant were supplemented by walnut paste patties mixed with beet leaves, leeks, and spinach

Architecture and the Streets of Tbilisi

The huge time expanse transcends everthing from the 4th C. BC to the present-day, so many buildings appear to be dilapidated, neglected, or poorly maintained. There are a healthy addition of modern buldings that are flamboyant and daring to contrast with the crumbling old ones.

It didn’t help that there was a major earthquake of about 7.0 in 2003, leaving many of the cracked brick structures in the Old City crumbling and in dire need of attention. Owners and their descendants hold out for the big hotel developer to make them an offer to make them rich for the rest of their lives. In the mean time, the neighborhood suffers with blight and tenants who continue to risk their lives for cheap rent.

With over 1 million people, Tbilisi is home to nearly one quarter of the country’s population of 4 million people. There’s much work to be done to develop the city, and I remind myself not to expect all the conveniences and solutions of more well-developed countries.

We are able to see the country before major development take over. And yes, there are still many evident flaws and cracks in the system such as broken sidewalks, collapsed structures, and traffic accidents. The Georgians have suffered from failed and impovershed governments.

Georgia has been bombarded with invasions and systemmatic loss of its borders at the whim of leaders inside and outside the country. It is a small country that has been used as a political football for its neighbors. The capital city of Tbilisi has been sacked 27 times since it was moved from Mtskheti. Despite that, its people look to its future and hope that Georgia can soon join the EU and NATO. You can read more about this fascinating country in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia.

Addendum: We had been hearing about the active protests against the government after the Chairman of Georgia’s Parliament allowed a Russian MP to sit in his seat and deliver a message in Russian. Georgians were protesting the government for succumbing to Russian influence.