Tag Archives: Architecture

Sunset over the Southwest

I’ve heard that foreign visitors to the U.S. often yearn to see the wide open spaces that are unique to America, like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone. As Americans, we often overlook those magnificent expanses of space that we take for granted in our own back yard.

On a weekend visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico, we caught some of the excitement over such vistas that seem to go on forever. We spent the first day exploring the mesas and pueblos of the Southwest. Located about an hour northeast of Santa Fe, the Puye Cliffs and area inhabited by the Santa Clara Tribe thrived here between 800 AD until the 16th Century.

The mesas were formed by tuff, or volcanic ash that covered this area (and made fossils out of alot of plants and animals), then eroded over time to form dramatic cliffs. The pueblos are Native American villages dotted throughout numerous reservations in New Mexico. The Santa Clara originally lived in these cliff dwellings and then later, in pueblos. (Click on Photos to see captions).

The kivas, or ceremonial roundhouses in each village, were used for male rites of passage, important decisions, and festivals. When the Spaniards arrived, they burned the kivas and built Catholic cathedrals over the sites.

The cliff dwellers protected themselves from invaders in the caves. Later, they created pueblo dwellings that were two-story structures on open land. The dwellings had no doors, but they used ladders to lower levels of the dwellings from the rooftops. These entries protected residents from invaders.

At our neighbors’ recommendation, we made a special day trip the following day to Ghost Ranch. An hour’s drive north of Santa Fe just beyond the Puye cliff dwellings, Ghost Ranch is a retreat cum camp for writers and artists. The ranch offers weekly programs, seminars and workshops in the high desert.

Georgia O’Keefe’s home is near here, so there’s plenty of creative inspiration and history in this area. The landscape alone is breathtaking, with wide open views of mesas in the distance as far as the eye can see. The ranch is nestled in an oasis with a precious lake nearby.

There are archaeological excavations that date back to the Triassic Period on the ranch. You can even participate in digs. From having taken three Anthro classes in college, I became interested in Anthropology and even contemplated majoring in it.

I immediately fantasized about joining a dig until I saw real-time photos of volunteers in the program, posing on their shovels during a break. The exposed skin on their faces and arms looked as parched as old shoes and as cracked as the pottery shards they were digging up! I decided to relinquish the idea as I was reminded not to forget my nightly skin regimen.

The main purpose of our excursion to Santa Fe, however, was to attend a premiere performance of the opera, the (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. It’s the complicated, contemporary, and tragic story of Steve Jobs. While the place names were immediately discernible to those of us living in the Bay Area (Stanford, Cupertino, Los Altos), the story of this one-of-a-kind genius gives everyone a perspective on where we have been, where we are, and where we are going.

The Santa Fe Opera was an ideal venue for this premiere, with its dramatic open-air stage, setting, and architecture. Everything was perfect, including the weather, production, and food!

Here’s the final curtain call, with Edward Parks (an international Operalia Competition winner), who played Steve Jobs, the librettist Mark Campbell, and composer Mason Bates. (apologies for the overlighting).

This production was sponsored by the San Francisco, Seattle, and Santa Fe Operas. When you get a chance, see it, or check it out here:

https://www.santafeopera.org/operas-and-ticketing/the-revolution-of-steve-jobs

Back in Santa Fe, art is ubiquitous and a reminder that beauty can, and should be everywhere. There are art galleries galore and tourist shops selling turquoise, carpets and pottery to numb the mind, but if you look beyond those, there are many treasures outdoors to be found. Here are a few examples of fanciful sculpture and mindful landscaping that you will encounter on a walk through town. (BTW, you can see more artwork from the Day 77-78 stop in Santa Fe from my October 2015 Amtrak trip).

Turquoise and terra cotta are the trademarks that define the American Southwest. They even use this palette to paint the overpasses along freeways so you always know where you are. As our weekend wound down, I managed to capture the mood, signature colors, and the remains of the day at the Albuquerque Airport.

Happy Celebrations to Pam C., Pam C., Karen M., and Jens U-B!!

Days 65-68 Lives of Others in Guangzhou, China

Like in Hong Kong, searching for old remains in Guangzhou has been puzzling. Many of the vestiges of the arcaded colonial city have been erased and replaced by newer, taller buildings. We headed to the area where Gee Kin’s relatives live, and what used to be the West Gate. It has been subsumed by modern development and is now considered part of the inner city.

IMG_8162

Yet activity in the area carries on like it did a hundred years ago or before. You see both men and women pushing or pulling hand carts along the road, scurrying and balancing the goods adeptly and efficiently at a pace more like a gallop than a prance. I watched for awhile in fascination, as social consciousness doesn’t seem to inhibit delivering goods this way and better, faster, cheaper.

The neighborhood shops may seem mundane to tourists, but the local market economy appeared to fully support the array (mixed used at its fullest: nuts and bolts fabricators next door to pastry shops, electrical repair next to fast food–you get the drift) of products and services offered.

Each shop relies on street for light and ventilation. That gave me plenty opportunity to poke my curious and annoying head inside. For some reason this reminded me of  Amsterdam’s red light district. The curtainless windows of the Dutch tidy “shops” openly invited customers to have a peak just like these shops in West Gate (Ximen Kou) did.

Shop assistants check their WeChat accounts frequently in between serving customers. You get a distinct impression that it’s not a bad system for the full employment act, even if the shopkeepers are bored and inattentive at times. The use of cell phones to combat boredom is nothing new throughout the world, but it’s remarkable if you look at the regularity and density of shopkeepers with cell phones staked in this area.

Earlier in the week, we visited one of my star architecture students who now lives and works in his home town of Guangzhou. Lam is a talented designer who is a partner in his own firm. It has been furiously designing shopping malls and theme parks all over China.

Lam’s “industrial chic” office could outdo any firm in the States as a showcase for innovative design. The office contains an experimental kitchen and full pig roaster. Rest and eating areas, conference rooms, and a library are all available to staff. The work areas are divided into manageable rooms or suites and therefore do not follow the pattern of open office design of most architectural firms. Large murals depicting the rebellion against the Qing Dynasty is provided by one of the partners.

As part of continuing research on my family’s history, I asked our friend Susan to accompany us to various institutions throughout the city. The new Guangzhou Book Store is one of the largest in the country. It was filled with floors of books and periodicals scattered between boutiques for Chinese calligraphy brushes and inkstands, tea ware, and books for sale.

Our second stop at the also new Guangzhou Library was another fascinating glimpse into the future of Guangzhou. With such excellent facilities, the hearts and minds of the students and researchers are captured. The north west reference room at the top where we were directed contained scholar’s rosewood furniture and fretwork screens. It was a noble nod to China’s classical examination system and its history and dedication to education.

Everywhere throughout China, you feel that it is a country on the move. There isn’t much time to stop and reflect on the speed and delivery of everything, from data to food to train tickets (they arrived at our hotel as promised). It’s exciting to witness, explore, and engage in the collective spirit.

Day 62-64: Hunkering Down in Hong Kong

Returning to Hong Kong has a romantic flair to it, as this is the city where Gee Kin and I met. I was a young architect starting in the profession, and Gee Kin was reinitiating his career as a structural engineer. There’s no doubt we were impressed with each other, particularly with our mutual sense of humor. While our relationship developed slowly by today’s standards, it gave us sufficient time to think about who we were and whether we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together or not. It must have worked, because we are still together over 35 years later.

Shortly after arrival in Hong Kong we encountered a typhoon. Known as Merbok, it was the first of the year. Everyone scurried to get groceries and head home at the end of the day. It was quiet and the streets were dead empty by early evening. It felt like Chinese New Year’s but without the festive atmosphere where shops are closed and everyone is at home with family celebrating.

After a couple of days of torrential rain, I was able to head outdoors. My first exploration was to the art studio downstairs, where I learned how to copy a Chinese flower pattern and paint with watercolors for the first time ever. It reminded me of second daughter Julianne’s brush painting from her high school days. I felt a bit awkward at painting in water colors, but the instructor was very kind and explained everything very clearly in Cantonese. It gave me a chance to reuse the lively language I learned while living in Hong Kong.

We decided to visit Fulham Garden in Pokfulam, where I lived when I worked for Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway. It wasn’t far from Central, but I had trouble remembering where the bus stop was located. The buildings are taller and there are more of them. Fortunately, there are still pockets that reflect and preserve old Hong Kong. After a quick look, we walked back to Central.

img_8718.jpg

IMG_8702

There are public parks such as Blake Garden tucked into the hillside, as well as many of Hong Kong’s prestigious private and parochial schools. The narrow roads provide relief for old banyan trees that have lived there for centuries. They cling to sides of walls like stubborn old centurions and continue to gasp for air and suck water.

img_8723.jpg

Many new trendy boutiques and cafes line the pockets above Sai Ying Pun and Sheung Wan. These shops are dotted throughout the area where we are staying and are immersed between many staircases such as Ladder Street and the escalators that ascend from Central to Midlevels. The manual stairs are not as nice as our tiled steps in Golden Gate Heights, but purposeful. Finally, we scaled our Air BNB in the five-level walk-up after plenty of exercise on the hilly side streets.

Days 59-61: Magic Carpet from Menara to Chek Lap Kok

Arrival in the big Kahuna was a bit anticlimactic, after five flights and stopping over in five cities. A bit crazy, but that’s the routing life of free travel. From Marrakesh Airport, a lovely new facility, I flew back to Frankfurt via Geneva and Zurich. I managed to buy a stock of Sprungli Truffes du Jour for Gee Kin. Unfortunately, in a moment of weakness, I bought a gigantic bottle of Argan Oil before leaving Marrakesh that was confiscated because it exceeded the 2 oz. liquid limitation.

Marrakesh Airport:

After an overnight stay at the Frankfurt Airport, I flew to Hong Kong via Beijing. A combination of mishaps made the journey less than ideal. My tax-free refund was denied at the Frankfurt Airport due to insufficient documentation. Then Beijing Security delayed me due to the same stupid portable charger that got me into trouble at the US Embassy last month. I ran like the dickens to catch the flight to Hong Kong with only an hour between flights. That included going through Security in Beijing twice–once out, once in again. It was enough drama to remind me that my heart beats within me.

Give Me Your Tired Passengers, Your Bored, Your Hungry

Aside from my luggage being delayed due to Customs inspection scheduled in Beijing rather than in Hong Kong (how was all that supposed to happen in an hour!?!) and a Typhoon Signal #8 in Hong Kong, everything here has been great! After husband Gee Kin joined me on the back end of my travels, we decided to slow live and let the weather dictate our actions. Not all goes smoothly all of the time, so this has been the R&R (Revise and Resubmit) weekend for me. OK, not exactly a MAGIC carpet, but it was a carpet.

Man Mo Temple

Despite the stiflingly oppressive heat and the onset of Tropical Storm Merbok, I did manage to keep up my daily drawing activity. Living in an Air BNB near the Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan, I drew the temple from a couple of different angles and Ladder Street. Like San Francisco, Hong Kong uses staircases up and down its hilly slopes, only more so.

This area is also part of a burgeoning art scene. The gallery downstairs offers drawing classes at $300HK for two hours, and I was tempted to participate.  Huge murals throughout Sheung Wan and on the side of the building where we are staying add to the street art in Hong Kong.

Sheung Wan

The ex-pat community is alive and well, and it looks like Lan Kwai Fong has spilled over into the Hollywood Road Antique area with a rash of foreign culture and food spots like Fusion Supermarkets, Classified Wine and Cheese, and Congee and Milk Tea sets.

It’s been a bit overwhelming to see the huge cultural shift to update the dining experiences in Hong Kong. In addition to infinite choices for traditional Chinese food that offer every Chinese provincial and regional cooking, you can frustrate yourself by deciding whether to sink into the bowels of Western food and desires. Life has always been a multitude of contradictions in Hong Kong, and food is no exception.

After coming down the hill from the Sun Yet Sen Museum, we re-discovered the series of free escalators half-way up a steep incline of Hong Kong Island. It serves as a clever conveyor belt and painless way to scale a mountain. It bustles at lunchtime, when we used it, to navigate a hillside with virtually zero calorie bust. It was even more impressive as we lived in the area it serves. It was more than just a superficial touristic attraction but a necessity. This system preceded the High Line in New York City, but certainly it has the same innovative spark and delight for residents and tourists alike.

To Build or Not to Build?

I’m reminded, after living in this city for seven years out of graduate school, that only 15% of the land is buildable. If you compare the high density living for 6-7 million people as positive space next to the negative or open space, the relative value of open area is immense. That creates some of the awe and beauty of Hong Kong that make a spectacular setting for human existence.

There are hiking trails that one would never expect from such a highly urban environment. Our daughter Melissa was pleasantly surprised when she visited here earlier this year. You can take excursions to the multitude of outlying islands, go to the Beach at Shek-o, or hike to the Peak. The New Territories offer even more camping and backpacking opportunities. Hong Kong is not just about shopping. However, foodwise, it’s just about FOOD…and rightly so. There ain’t nothing like it anywhere but here.

Fallout of Typhoon Merbok

A Camel_s Eyes Saved the World—a short fairy tale by Victoria Fong

FullSizeRender 17

More adventures later about Hong Kong and after the typhoon signal is removed…and Guangzhou to come.

Addendum: speaking of magic carpets, here’s one of the two Berber carpets I bought in Essaouira:

IMG_8511

Day 48-49: …They’re Taking Me to Marrakech…

When we were ferried out in a bus to the flight to Marrakesh at the Frankfurt Airport, I already sensed that the trip was not going to be a run-of-the-mill commuter. Instead, we ended up outside a hangar where planes were being repaired, and the lone plane outside looked as if it had been grounded for bad behavior.  The airport stretched for miles as far as the eye could see, between the Baltic and the Alps. I never realized that an airport could be THAT big, but Frankfurt was, like all German things, serious business.

We took off and landed three hours later to an another immense airport. The new Menara Airport, next to its old one, was so vast and empty that you wondered if they hadn’t put several square miles of the three largest airports in the world together and renamed it Menara. It was indeed a beautiful architectural masterpiece. Hopefully by a local architect. Regardless, it was impressive and ready to compete with Hong Kong, Paris or New York for tourists.

If you are in interesting places, it won’t be surprising to find that you are in a UNESCO world site without knowing it. That’s what happened here. Without trying, I discovered that the Medina of Marrakesh is indeed on the list. The history, the Islamic significant buildings (madrassas, mausoleums and mosques) and souks, or markets, all contribute to its status.

On an initial walk around the neighborhood of the hotel where we stayed, here were a few of the sights and sounds:

The Madrassah Ben Yousef was one of the earliest institutions of higher learning established in Marrakesh, where the doctors, lawyers and mullahs were trained.

The guilds within the market area preserve traditional crafts such as tanning, carpet weaving, metalwork, woodwork, and making argan oil and other pharmaceuticals for remedies.

The doorways are significant entry points through walls and into private spaces. Beautiful courtyards lie beyond reach for the public pedestrian. My guide explained, that after you arrive at someone’s home, you announce your presence. If they do not answer, you are never allowed to enter beyond the doorway, even if the place is accessible. That would be considered a breach of trust.

After a walk around the neighborhood on my own and a guided tour of the souk (market area later in the morning, I participated in a hands-on cooking class at the Clock Restaurant all afternoon. Its famous camel burger was on the menu, but we learned how to make tame versions of traditional dishes that included harisa soup, chicken tagine, eggplant caviar, and biscuits with dates.

And the Chef de Cuisine:

IMG_8204

At the end of a very busy day, I could escape to my suite in the historic Riad Dar Mouassine (also photo featured above)

Tomorrow: On to the Drawing Boards!!!

Day 39-43: Dwarfed in Düsseldorf

IMG_7673
Frank Gehry’s Media Hafen along the Rhine

After learning about all the fairy tales in class to conjugate the past tense in German, I was wondering if I hadn’t shrunk myself. At the place where I am staying, the owner trains horses and is about 6′ tall. She fitted out the apartment to suit her height. The kitchen table is at my chest height. Standing up (because there are no chairs this high, not even bar stools), I can slurp soup directly from the bowl on the table top without having to lift it.

I also need a stool to get to the bottom shelf of the overhead kitchen cabinets. I wonder if I’m not going to face an avalanche of dishes stored over my head every time I reach for one. It’s a pretty funny scene after the third or fourth time around when I try to cut corners. I really feel like a dwarf.

Speaking of dwarves, we learned all about Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Little Red Riding Hood in my German class. Don’t forget that these stories all come from Germany. The Schwarzwald, or Black Forest, isn’t far from here either. I always thought that the stories had a dark and ominous tone to them. I never understood why little kids were always getting lost in the forest. But not to worry. Walt Disney borrowed them, sanitized them, and made them safe harbors for the Disney Empire.

S-L-O-W Living

We talk a lot about slow food but not slow living. I have spent a lot of time meandering through parks here, partly because you run into one in any direction before you know it. The city parks are incredibly accessible, well-maintained, and beautiful here. Because Dusseldorf is along the banks of the Rhine River, it is relatively flat. A lot of bikes travel at a reasonable pace and share the footpath with pedestrians. It reminds everyone to slow down. Maybe it’s time to think about slow living.

Here are some views of one of the beautiful parks in the heart of the city.

I’m blasting a series of shots of buildings, sights, and details here:

Below: Daniel Liebskind’s masterpiece of the Ko and Shadow-Arkaden, a mixed use office and retail complex. The exterior on the Nordliche Dussel (a small lake) side is mesmerizing. The rear wavy-gravy houses Apple and Tesla, and has a great plaza for people-watching. I even managed to break out pen and paper to do some sketching.

Now I know and agree why Düsseldorf is deemed one of the ten most livable cities in the world.

PS. For those of you in San Francisco, you can see “Young Goethe in Love”, a great movie classic, at the Goethe Institute Thursday, May 25! It’s not too late! Check it out!

Day 26-31: Do So in Düsseldorf

I’m finally getting around town and am starting to like this place. There’s a reason for it being in the top ten livable cities in the world: a vibrant economy, clean streets, energetic people, and lots of historic and cultural sites to visit. What’s not to like?!?

Sunday Strolling along the Rhine is a Dusseldorf must-do, and a beautiful one at that. Its promenade is one of the longest and prettiest that I have seen anywhere. Here’s a snippet of the casual ambience, combined with a Sunday afternoon book fair. Of course everyone reads books here!

Many of my friends are astounded by my staying power for German culture. It could be regarded as passionless rather than passionate, dry as opposed to juicy, tired instead of energetic. To me, they are all the positive words I used.

My deep respect for the technical foundation of Germany was obvious to our family friend in Bath.  He knew exactly why I come here, and cited the Bauhaus before I could claim the catch phrase. Even though he can’t claim to be as obsessed as I am, he’s close to being an architect in mind and practice. Judging from his beautiful home in Bath, he already manifests an architectural way of thinking and living.

I’ve written about this in great detail in the past, but for newcomers, I’ll summarize three reasons, well actually, four, why I come to Germany every year:

1. To learn the second language I started in high school, fell in love with (after 5 years of loving French), but never had enough time to pursue;

2. To develop my love for art and science in architecture, and to savor Germany’s application of art history and technical ability together;

3. To learn and follow opera in German.

4. An extremely understanding husband, who lives with a crazy woman and gets a month off every year to recover from the other 11 months of being with her.

That’s my reason for being in and doing Germany. As for Dusseldorf, it’s in the top ten of liveable cities in the world, so why not? It’s the fourth in a series where I have chosen to study in Germany, after Dresden, Schwabisch Hall, and Berlin, in that order. Some of you may have missed earlier posts.

Yesterday, our German teacher explained that up until the Soccer World Cup win in Germany in 2014, Germany had never openly displayed the German flag. We were just learning the word for flag, and it was her teachable moment.

Miscellany:

Here’s a quick shot of the curtain call from our class evening at the opera, “Tosca”. The stage presentation wasn’t as impressive as those in larger cities, but the performance was still very good.  A group of students were invited to go free of charge, so we were delighted to attend and enjoy an evening getting to know each other.

A quick overview of our German class postings is below. Our teacher is great. She keeps us on our toes during the entire four hours of class each day!

Köln Cathedral: The last posting showed the interior of the cathedral as I breezed through it on the way to the opera performance. It’s situated directly opposite the train station, and therefore hard to muss.

A UNESCO World site, the cathedral is probably one of the top 50 buildings in the world, and yes, one of our classic architectural history gems.

I’m attaching the Wikipedia link to those who might want to learn more about this impressive Gothic Cathedral. It is one of the tallest during its time, with two rows of columns on the exterior to support the vaulted ceiling. Gerhard Richter was tapped to design the stained glass windows!!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cologne_Cathedral

Be sure to click on photos if you want to see enlargements or captions.

Days 17-18: Asian-American in London Sees An American in Paris

Blenheim must be one of those architectural gems featured in An Outline of European Architecture  by Nicholas Pevsner. I wanted to run to my tattered and worn copy on my shelf at home to see if it was. The book got me through most of my Architectural History classes, just at a time when I wondered why studying palaces like these were useful endeavors in life.

A rare English Baroque palace, Blenheim was built by John Vanbrugh. He was a controversial pick over Christopher Wren, who designed and built St. Paul’s Cathedral. Van Brugh managed the project poorly and he himself had to be managed during the process. In the end he left the project in disgrace. It’s funny, but I’m sure I didn’t learn the project management details in architectural history, but it figured prominent in the storytelling about Blenheim.

Van Brugh was probably better known for his layout of the rooms. He originally designed an entire length of the building intended as a picture gallery. It didn’t work out. Maybe there weren’t enough portraits of the family. The walls were converted for use as a library. One of the photo shows how it looks like…well, an afterthought.

The Duke of Marlborough, an original Churchill, lived here. He was granted the property after winning the war against France and Prussia around 1704. The battle took place in Blindheim, Bavaria with 50,000 troops on each side.

Sir Winston Churchill was also born in Blenheim–I didn’t realize that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, as they say. Sadly,  I didn’t find this palace very impressive, even though it is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site,

To reach Blenheim by public transportation, it takes a side trip from London through Oxford by train, then by bus to Woodstock. We stayed overnight in Woodstock (half an hour from Oxford) to visit the Palace early the next morning. Woodstockers are proud to claim their namesake that preceded Blenheim by about 500 years, and  ‘way before the piddly little NY town claimed the name. It’s famous for glove-making.

IMG_7322.JPG

Before the palace was open, we took an early stroll through the grounds. The rolling hills were fun to navigate among the pastoral sheep and a stray pheasant here and there. Not much going on except extensive stretches of green lawn as far as the eye can see and shady trees as shown above. No one was in sight, until we arrived back at the entrance where the tour buses were just unloading the hoards. It started to feel a little bit like St. Petersburg again so we hustled our way out of the throngs quickly.

Our friends in Bath had recommended the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, so we stopped there after Blenheim on the way back to London. The museum has an impressive ancient art and archaeological  collection and many representative pieces I had not seen elsewhere. I could also continue pursuing Silk Road connections and learn more about the string of cities along it.

From what I recall,  art history seems to formally begin around 3000 BC, when Egyptian civilization became established.  One of the earliest pieces in the museum was from as early as 8000 BC, during the Neolithic period in Metsopotamia. Here are a few of my favorite pieces from later periods:

On return to London, I planned a special return visit to Fez Mangal, an “authentic” Turkish restaurant in the Ladbroke Grove neighborhood. I craved its fresh mezzes and kebabs as much as those in Istanbul. Friend and fellow traveler Karen will remember this restaurant from our 2014 visit to London. While we waited for a table SRO, we ordered our sea bream and mixed grill (with lamb, chicken, and mixed lamb kebabs) dishes in advance of being seated.

An American in Paris (see curtain call in featured photo above)

Unfortunately, despite excellent dancers and singers, the confusing and dated dialog from the original production couldn’t be improved. Save your money and watch the movie.

By the way, I forgot to mention in my previous post that Bath is also a world UNESCO site.

In keeping with my celebration list, I’d like to wish dear Dresden friend Hannelore, who keeps me motivated and learning German, a “Happy Birthday” or “Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!”

Pretty Philharmonie, Pretty Cities and Pretty Yende

The fantastic Hamburg Elbphilharmonie is a newly minted symphony hall by Herzog and DeMeuron, one of our favorite starchitects. Costing nearly a Billion dollars (nur ein Milliarde auf Deutsch, to make it sound like less in classic German humble pie) and three times the original cost, it better klingt gut! It may seem unconscionable at that price, but…at least I wasn’t the project manager for that one!?! Whew!!

Nevertheless, I’m sure that it will take your breath away if you see it live. Perched high on a six-level parking podium, this building guards the Hamburg harbor.  Looking like a gigantic, dry-docked cruise ship, the interior is equally impressive.  Notice the scale of the building next to adjacent existing low rise buildings along the harbor. This building will change the face and pace of future symphony halls. More and younger crowds will attend to be seen and heard in these exciting venues that must include creative new productions and innovative performers in order to survive.

You can read all about it here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elbphilharmonie#

Five German Speaking Cities Ranked Top in Quality of Living Survey

A recent survey tracked the most liveable cities in the world. Of eleven top cities, five are German speaking (Munich, Frankfurt and Dusseldorf are in Germany; Zurich is in Switzerland; and Vienna is in Austria). San Francisco was the only American city ranked in the top ten aside from NYC. Berlin was #11.

The cities — 230 in total — were evaluated on 39 factors including political, economic, environmental, personal safety, health, education, transportation and other public service factors. Cities were compared to New York City which was given a base score of 100. Mercer, who conducted the survey, is one of the largest human resources companies in the world based out of New York City.

Here’s the (updated) link: https://www.mercer.com/newsroom/2017-quality-of-living-survey.html

This survey may explain why I devote so much time and effort in learning German and spending a good proportion of my travels in Germany. The clues are based on the key factors cited above. They are the same reasons why I live and breathe in San Francisco. Now you know where I’d be if I hadn’t left my heart here.

Pretty Yende Pretty Amazing

April 30 will be a big day for me, when I see Pretty Yende in Dusseldorf. She has a pretty strange and curious name, but once you see her perform, you will completely understand why she us called that.

Out of (South) Africa, Pretty started learning and doing opera from Age 13. Apparently enough time on the clock to soar to one of the Met Opera’s youngest divas–performing in the Barber of Seville, Romeo and Juliette, and pinch hitting a few years earlier in Comte Ory. She’s gorgeous, powerful, energetic, and a heavenly sensation.

She’s planning to learn Wagner next, so get ready for some more fireworks. Don’t walk but run* to the nearest operahouse where she is performing. She’s slated to sing Lucia de Lamermoor and Elixir of Love next season, and I am already getting in line for tickets at the Met!

Watch the trailer for her new album here:

Incidentally, if you are a new opera lover like me, check out http://www.operabase.org for a database of all performances, opera companies, and performers throughout the world. For instance, if you search for Pretty Yende under Artists, you will see all her past, current,  and future performances. It’s an awesome site that I use regularly for trip and personal event planning.

A friend spotted Rufus Wainwright at the Zuni Cafe at lunchtime yesterday! There’s still time to catch his performance at the Uptown in Napa tonight.

My next post will be the start of Year 4 for Travels with Myself and Others ….so fasten your seat belts…

*Strange visual as some people attending the opera require canes to get around, but that’s changing!

Wishing a happy birthday this month to sister Muriel!

Day 64-66: Nakasendo Highway and Matsumoto Castle

After traveling for over two months in Europe and Asia, the culminating event was walking along the Nakasendo Highway in Japan. An ancient highway for over 400 years to provide communication between Kyoto and Edo (present-day Tokyo), this route was used by messengers, tradesmen, and government officials.

Between postal stations and forest paths, much of the route is annotated with historical features. Literary references to famous Japanese writers and haiku poems about the physical environment were identified along the path, as well as religious shrines, military battles and scenic spots.

After scant Japanese and English translations at railway stations, the information transfer magically yielded maps and schedules. We were handsomely rewarded with instructions for a 500-meter change in elevation, three-hour walk through Magome Pass from Tsumago to Magome. We traverse gorgeous lush pine, maple and bamboo forests, deep glades and gushing river streams, and gently seductive waterfalls for an exhilarating experience.

We fell in love with this area surrounding Matsumoto. Although we had never heard about it before, it is famous for trekking, skiing, soba and sake. They all seem to fit well together.

I have been in such awe of the natural beauty of this area that it tempers my entire voyage to date. While my travels have been unabashedly Euro-centric to date, I am being severely challenged by this newly rediscovered Asian culture.

The Japanese have a deep, rich history and its status as an advanced industrialized country is impressive. Together, Japan has a lot going for it.

See the gallery below for a random assortment of shots in Magome and Tsumago, both prosperous villages at the time of their development and renovated, and the delightful walk between.

At the end of a day of hiking, we stayed at a ryokan in the lovely hilltop village of Magome.

Matsumoto

Our day was packed with three hours of  travel and three trains between Kusatsu Hot Springs to Matsumoto Castle.

Not being a Japanese speaker, I find that traveling in Japan is challenging. However, with a wealth of information available on line and at tourist information counters at stations, one can manage. Good travel skills like speaking slowly, waiting for stilted English to emerge, and a lot of body language and gestures definitely help.

The castle was built over 400 years ago in the Bunraku Period (1593-1594) and is Japan’s oldest existing castle tower. It is designated as a national Treasure. Take a look at the impressive stone foundations.

There were three moats surrounding the castle to slow down invaders. Shelves were constructed to release stones against soldiers attacking the castle. Guns eventually replaced bows and arrows used as weapons from the towers.

You can climb up steep steps to the top of the sixth level for a view of the Japanese Alps.  The castle and grounds  are impeccably preserved.

image

The sleek and elegant Bullet trains have transported us seamlessly between points, making it a pleasure to travel in Japan. Little English is (admittedly) spoken outside of Tokyo, but there are enough minimal signs to direct you to the right trains. Patience and fortitude pay off in one of the safest, most courteous countries in the world.