Tag Archives: street scenes

Silk Road Adventure 2: Beijing Bites

POP-UP ZOOM MEETING!! If you are interested in joining a Zoom Party to share a conversation on Beijing with me and a former Beijing resident on Sunday, July 12, at 10:00am (PST), cut and paste the link here:

https://us04web.zoom.us/j/79590185140?pwd=Y0g3Vm5NYTk4TlBrNW80S3FxcFZIdz09

Depending on when you were traveling from Ulan Baator, Mongolia to join the Silk Road in Northwest China, you would probably travel via Beijing. We assume that you would take the train connection from the Trans-Siberian Express through Lake Baikal and Irkutsk, Russia, to the border at Ulan Ude, and then on to Beijing, unless, of course, you are flying.

From there, you would take a high speed rail train to the Northwest gateway to the Silk Road. If you were a Chinese citizen, you would probably opt to fly. Locals can fly internally at deep discounts over the next six months, and some travel agents even offer packages with unlimited travel! With many, many beautiful and breath-taking scenic spots in China, it all sounds very tempting. Unless, of course, you are unqualified to be in China and have a few other hesitations. 

So here are the Beijing posts from previous trips in 2016 and 2017, again in reverse order, to simulate travels on the Silk Road. Technically, Beijing, like Mongolia, is not on the official route. The map shows the important connection that probably led Marco Polo to travel from Kharkourum, the capital of Genghis Khan, to grandson Kublai and his new digs in Beijing.

Regardless, it is a key starting point for any travel in China, so we will take the map for its worth and include Beijing as a starting point.

Some of you may not find food in Beijing as appetizing these days after the COVID-19 pandemic started in a food market in Wuhan, but it would be odd to NOT focus on food when in China. This city visit was pretty much a pit stop, so we didn’t organize any official tourist spots.

Pedestrian Street

I went out looking for water and accidentally found this pedestrianized area around the corner from the hotel where we stayed. It’s in Wangfujing and just next to the Imperial Palace in Central Beijing.  (You can click on photo for captions).

Above, see the variety of food from street vendors.

Below, the vendors sell their specialties, and we picked up food for dining at the hotel apartment (chestnuts, sticky rice in Coconut, Tripe, and refried mini-pork buns).

Imperial Palace

The next day, I took an afternoon stroll in the neighborhood at the “Forbidden City”, or Imperial Palace. Having been here multiple times, I could finally absorb and appreciate its grandness and scale. From the outer to the inner courtyards, each progressive complex of buildings paced you from the formal to more intimate parts of imperial life.

Details and interiors of the latter half of the Imperial Palace are below. I did my best to allow the hoards of tourists from deterring my own personal enjoyment. It did flash across my mind, however, about the last encounter with the floods at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg last year. I couldn’t excuse the cruise ships for unloading here this time. I gave way to the primarily Chinese tourists who may have come from the outer reaches to finally see the centuries of human capital used to build the empire, or maybe like me, were just taking a stroll around the block.

Four Hour Dinner

In the evening, we made our obligatory stop to the Peking Duck Restaurant, again, only steps from the hotel on Wangfujing:

Four Hour Lunch
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Today was visiting Day with Gee Kin’s former professor in Hydraulic Engineering at Tsinghua University. We spent a leisurely day with him and his wife, who is also a professor in Water Resource Engineering. Gee Kin spent a year at Miyun Dam outside of Beijing in 1976 with his professor and other students. They were repairing the massive dam that was damaged by the Tangshan earthquake and that supports Beijing’s population.

The Tsinghua campus is now a bustle of activity and has the energy and flow of Stanford. Google-type buses were everywhere, and students, researchers, post-docs all sped by with focused purpose.

We had an elaborate lunch of Peking Duck, pickled web’s feet, chestnuts and Shanghai cabbage, whole steamed fish, braised pork belly, dry-fried bamboo shoots and green beans, and numerous fruits and sweet desserts.

Beijing Underground

We trained ourselves to use the new Metro Subway and took several lines each way to become fully versed in one of the largest systems in the world. It was built in only in less than 10 years and is indicative of China’s focus on their infrastructure systems. This is a huge achievement for the country.

More importantly, we observed how kind people were to one another. Passengers were always courteous and apt to get up for elderly people or women with young children. There was no need to provoke a response. It made me proud to be among the Chinese people (the ethnic pride thing in me kicks in!) and I was surprised at these small acts of human kindness within such a massive population. I wondered how often that happened on SF Muni or BART.

Window and Food Shopping–an Integrated Experience

We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying our neighborhood, where there are many traditional and creative shops to bend the mind (and the pocketbook!). This area has always hosted clever shops, and this new version is only an extension of the past.

We stayed in the Northern Hutong District (Gulouyuan) of Beijing in one of the hotels preserving the traditional courtyard style residences.

Original Posts: 6/20/16 and 8/6/15

Next Stop: Look for the Silk Road Adventure 3 on Northwest China in the next week or two! Send me an email at vifongit@gmail.com if you want a notification!

A REPOST FROM 2016 WORLD TRAVELS: Day 59: Vladivostok, Russia

Here are some first views of Vladivostok coming from the north by train on arrival at sunset the night before:

Dinner at Three Brothers across from the hotel, complete with live American jazz music for $30 for both of us with wine

Evening Entertainment: Portugal vs. Wales with Rinaldo scoring 1 of 2 goals

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If you were visiting Vladivostok for the first time like we were, you could start an early morning walk at the Friday morning Central food market:

You can take a minibus to the new Mariinskiy Opera and Ballet Theatre. It is hosting the first International Piano Competition at the end of this month. I predict that it will be a great draw for concerts, ballet and opera in the future. You might consider taking a trip to attend this magnificent new venue and the emerging new productions and stars that will perform here!

After that, you can catch a bus back to the city and stop at the Lookout Point over the new Golden Bridge completed in 2012. Does the design look familiar to you?

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Later in the day, get your cultural brains in gear and visit the Primorie Art Gallery. When we attended, it was showing an exhibition of Russian Art from 1700-1900. We were intrigued with the very personal touches of each painting, that may have reflected or imitated more famous Western paintings of the same era. Sargent, Picasso, and Matisse came to mind.

There were also a number of startling paintings that represented new subjects seldom seen in paintings of the same era. Chinese or Muslim figures were represented in historical settings that required more context and explanation. Unfortunately, all paintings were titled in Russian or limited English.

At the end of the day, kick back and have dinner at the Three Brothers for evening meal. This was our return visit from the night before. The outdoor dining was perfect for the cool balmy weather of Vladivostok. The city is very similar to San Francisco, with hills, coastal fog, city views everywhere, and a lively ambience. We’re in love with this city of 2 Million!! This city is destined to be a big tourist destination in the next 10 years, so come soon.

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter! With Shelter in Place heading into Week 3, Easter 2020 may be a more significant and memorable holiday than in the past.

Cameron Carpenter

In case you are looking for a little sparkle for your Easter, try this: https://youtu.be/d5O8cHI-vPY

If opera is not your thing, maybe organ music is?!? Cameron Carpenter is one of my favorite musicians. We saw him in Bamberg a few years ago to many accolades and a standing ovation from a stiff German crowd, then here at the San Francisco Symphony playing the score to the movie Battleship Potenko. He is a brilliant, creative dancer as well as classical and contemporary organist.

Cameron is good inspiration for us. Since all the talk is about what not to do with your hands, watching this clip of his performance might give you ideas what you CAN do with them. And your feet too!

Shelter in Place–Week 3 and Gavin Newsom

Three weeks ago, we were happily prepared to shelter in place when Governor Newsom mandated the requirement on March 18. The San Francisco Bay Area was one of the first to implement this restriction outside of Asia to contain the spread of the deadly corona virus. It was a novelty for the first two weeks.

Depending on when you start counting and entering into the lockdown, many Bay Area residents are beginning to feel more apprehensive. How long will this last? Is it really effective? Are we going to be living like this the rest of our lives?

Thankfully, in California with Gavin Newsome as our governor, we finally have some true leadership and direction. You can see the latest interview with Anderson Cooper here:

Meanwhile, what’s it like here at home in San Francisco? The days drift by for me with sketching, gardening, meditating and reading. In lieu of 6 hours on an IPhone, cooking is a productive time-killer. I finally tapped into those greasy cookbooks on the shelf near the kitchen and roasted pork belly with a Peruvian recipe last night. I also retrieved an easy, comforting flourless chocolate cookie recipe that I made at the beginning of lockdown. I even shared it on a recipe chain letter and sent it to a friend who ran out of flour and wanted to make a chocolate birthday cake.

A plethora of opera livestreams continue. All the major houses sponsor their own versions. I have followed Metopera loyally. During Wagner Week 2, I combined sketching with the music. Here are a few of the die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdammerung characters:

Meanwhile, idle time passes quickly by looking out the window:

The San Francisco Chronicle

We started following the San Francisco Chronicle, our local newspaper, again so we could get updated statistics on local media about the corona virus. But I still follow Deutsche Welle for reliable world news. Willie Brown, our former San Francisco mayor, wrote about a couple of jokes in his column:

I still haven’t decided where to go for Easter — the living room or the bedroom.

Classified ad: Single man with toilet paper seeks woman with hand sanitizer for good clean fun.

And from the man: it’s better 6 feet apart than 6 feet under.

Easter Flashback

Addendum: Here’s a link to my posting from Easter Island in 2017: https://travelswithmyselfandothers.com/2017/10/15/day-9-10-easter-island-moai/

Turkey Wrap

Sadly, our weeklong foray into the dazzling Blue Aegean coast of Turkey has come to an end. Daughter Melissa‘s quest for the freshest, most creative food did not disappoint. I came for the connoiseur’s ride.

Turkish Food

Delicate bits of chopped morsels are packed with texture, flavor, and color to delight the senses. You swear you could eat like this every day, convinced of the variety and healthy ingredients.

Dolmas, eggplant spread with pomegranate and pumpkin seeds, and artichoke with mustard sauce
Bodrum to Izmir

The four hour public bus from to Izmir to Bodrum followed the coast, was a safe and comfortable trip, and cost us each a hefty $6. In true Turkish hospitality, they even served tea and cookies! We gazed at the stark countryside, lit by the low winter sun behind turbulent clouds, as olive and tangerine groves slid past.

View of Mountains and farmland from bus
Bizim Lokanta

On arrival back in Izmir, we couldn‘t resist returning to the lokanta in the Bazaar where we had eaten earlier in the week.

Tongue soup, bulgar with fava beans, and cabbage rolls with thick, creamy yogurt
Kudos on two walls of this vest-pocket diner were self-explanatory
Bazaar Fun
It‘s a Wrap!
(Meatless) Kale and Cheese Wraps for a pittance

It‘s always bittersweet leaving a country, especially after such a short visit. But the food focus, imperial demands, abundance of land, and Mediterranean climate requires one to succumb to one of Turkey‘s finest features.

Emphasis on Ephesus

Our visit to the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey required an overnight stay in Izmir. Although we had a chance to get acclimated, we immediately took to the streets in search of lunch. Thanks to Melissa’s intrepid search for the tastiest food in any country and her Googling skills, we traipsed through the town’s nearby grand bazaar and after numerous twists and turns, tracked down a local locanta.

Izmir Locanta
Izmir Bazaar Favorite among locals

This is where the locals dine on some of the heartiest meals made with the freshest ingredients. We savored the sardine soup recommended by the gentleman sitting across from us. It’s one of those diners where you point to the big vats of steaming concoctions or decorated casseroles in order to get your meal secured!


Stewed Eggplant
Ephesus

The short 40 minute drive from Izmir to Bodrum jolted us into realizing how ancient the land in which we were traveling is. From biblical figures like John the Baptist, Mother Mary, and their pilgrim followers, to the largest civilization outside of Rome at its peak, it was hard not to be impressed by the significance and grandeur of Ephesus.

Once inhabited by 250,000, Ephesus is a UNESCO world heritage site and was carefully restored and brought to life. It is a relatively late-bake on the list, as its discovery is fairly recent and only a fraction of it has been uncovered.

The library at Ephesus

Highlights include the odeon, a theatre; an amphitheater, an agora, terrace houses, and a library. You can download Rick Steves’ Audio Europe app for free and use it as you walk the site. All the details of what we saw were based on his excellent instructions. I highly recommend trying it out, and he certainly covers the major features. This fascinating site was once a thriving port city before the Persians, Alexander the Great, and the Goths each had their go at destroying it!

We decided to hire a car for a day to get from Izmir to Ephesus and Ephesus to Bodrum, our final destination. The only catch was making certain that we could call the driver after he dropped us off at the carpark at the top of the entrance to Ephesus. He was to meet us at the bottom of the hill at the exit 90 minutes later. Minor details: he had our bags in the boot!! We needed a backup just in case we could not find the driver. After a bit of cell phone finagling, conversations with hotel personnel, and a lot of good faith—we managed. Where we spent on the driver, we saved on time and the cost of a tour and guide. Just a reminder on how you can travel the way you want, with just a few creative tricks and determination to be a traveler and not a tourist.

Boviera

Known as “Boviera”, sparkling Aegean resort towns along the Western Turkish coast include Bodrum. It’s off-peak and chilly presently, but well worth the quiet solitude and even threats of rain to avoid the throngs of English-speaking tourists.

As close as you can get to the creatures being served at your table before they are caught!
Anchovies, artichokes with pineapple, cheese and walnuts, and squash in yogurt

Note: due to traveling light and leaving my Macbook at home for this brief trip, I am using my Iphone to compose and post photos. The capabilities are limited, but I hope you will still enjoy the material the same as regular posts!

Antang Village Notes

Antang Village is being preserved by local authorities to capture the history and experience of village life in China. It is one of four classified villages in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, to be preserved.

The bronze sculptures told the stories of daily life and are set in intimate courtyards near my mother’s original house. Murals are similar to those in other neighborhoods of Antang shown earlier.

Finding the house location was a challenge as the original house no longer exists. But in classic form, we found an old fellow at the ancestral hall who knew where the house was located.

He agreed to lead us to the site based on the only picture of a wall of the house that I had. The walls of houses and granite paved alleyways provided a sharp contrast to the new artwork installations. These new additions were well integrated with the original village character.

I couldn’t help but think about the Italian village of Matera that Melissa and I had visited in January this year. Its preservation of twin hill towns was inspiring. The planners intend to preserve the environment for 0 impact from tourism while offering commercial opportunities to local villagers. I hope that the Antang planning authority will have the courage, wisdom, and funding to preserve this village in the same meaningful way.

In another moving experience during this trip, my cousin took me to find the gravesite of our ancestors. He goes every year during Ching Ming to clean the site of brush and leaves. For me, it captured the experience of many Chinese throughout time. They made the effort to respect and remember the shoulders of those upon which we stand.

Guangzhou to Hanoi

Getting to Hanoi from Guangzhou was an adventure! Initially, we traveled by train for four hours in the evening. We finished with a land route from the Chinese border at Pengxiang to Vietnam. We passed gorgeous mountain peaks reminiscent to those in Kweiin, but also traveled through many rice fields being burned. They polluted the sky and left us wondering why there weren’t alternatives for clearing the spent growth.

After three hours, we arrived in the old city. Our kamikaze driver got us to the city in half the time of a train ride. The honking horns and endless stream of motorbikes reeked chaos and anarchy. We were relieved when we arrived at the hotel safely.

A glimpse of normal life in Hanoi

Hanoi Central Park

From our rooftop breakfast room at the hotel, we spotted a small lake in the middle of Hanoi. We headed over for a look. The leisurely stroll refreshed our souls and allowed us to escape from the constant traffic noise. Girls and ladies in beautiful Vietnamese gowns posed for pictures, sketch artists entertained curious passers-by, and both tourists and locals enjoyed sharing the human experience.

Hanoi Street Life

On our first night, we ate street food along with crowds of tourists watching a local soccer match between Vietnam and Thailand on big outdoor screens. The crowd was cheerful, friendly, and intent on their home team’s win. Nearly every food stall took advantage of the opportunity to bring in business by offering seating, food, and large screens.

In the next morning’s walk, we waited for a couple of bank assistants to fill the depleted ATM machine. Metal cartridges of money were stacked beside them, but they seemed stymied at how to install them properly. They were searching the internet for instructions, using their powder pink and Hello Kitty decorated phones, while squatting in their high heels!!

Vietnamese Food

The Vietnamese food has been a delightful surprise. We did not expect such glamorous presentations and freshest ingredients. Meat or seafood, vermicelli, peanuts, and matchsticks of carrot and cucumber wrapped in rice paper make yummy, albeit a bit sloppy, finger foods. Black rice and tapioca topped with ice cream was a typical dessert and great palette cleanser.

After dining at the Orchid Restaurant, we decided to take a cooking class to learn how to make the fantastic dishes. In addition to learning from his family, the chef was trained for four years in a cooking school. He worked for over ten years in French, Italian, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants.

The four-hour class started by a trip to the market. It offered one of the most p ok ingredients that we had seen anywhere in the world.

We returned to the restaurant and donned aprons. We honed our cooking skills by learning how to filet fish, julienne vegetables, and wrap spring rolls.

If you come to Hanoi, try one of the many combo restaurant/cooking schools in the Old City. Vietnam cuisine ranks high on our list as one of the most colorful and tasty in the world.

We’re heading back to Zhongshan and Guangzhou, China via Hong Kong, so stay tuned…

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 49-52: Ba-Da Boom

Thanks to the Alps, there are plenty of resorts in Europe endowed with natural spring waters. The Europeans love to indulge in the purported therapeutic value. The Austrians are no less dedicated to magical wonders. Just one hour outside of Vienna lies a hidden gem known as Baden bei Wien (Bad is not bad, but good, for “Bath”).

That is, if you count having a casino as a gem. It’s a package deal, with a free music performance nearly every day in the summer in a toned-down version of Las Vegas or in a Riviera Wanna-Be. There are also miles of garden paths for “wandering” (a German-speaking country’s favorite past time), pedestrian-free shopping streets, and Baroque-era historical buildings. I even discovered one advertised as: “Beethoven slept here”.

Aside from the cutesiness, this little town is an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. Vienna is alot like Paris–overwhelmingly huge boulevards, huge art collections, and huge burning heat waves.

After a week communicating exclusively in German and starved by little or no English, my brain has had trouble with the cultural shift. Scrambling for a translation within whatever comes closest, glue exuding from my eyelids when I didn’t comprehend answers to questions, and the flippant responses emitting from my ignorance definitely caused Angst (a German word). Try a week of this and you will understand how I felt.

The planned mini-getaway with and from myself helped me to recover. Since there were no performances at the Vienna Opera House during the month of July, I searched my trusted opera.com website and learned that the nearest opera performances were listed in Baden bei Wien.

The “operas” were more like musicals, but the underemployed opera performers were very highly skilled and talented. This was a performance of “The Vogelhandler”, or the “Bird Trader”.

Beethoven Museum

The small town, not unlike Bath, England, yielded an unexpected find. Beethoven had spent many holidays in Bad bei Wien during his residency in Vienna. The museum provided interesting facts about Beethoven’s life, health, and companions.

Beethoven’s deafness was well-known, but he also suffered from various ailments. (See the diagram showing his various sicknesses.) His moving journal notes, posted on music stands, indicated how much pain he endured and how he tried to find doctors and remedies, to little or no avail.

Despite these illnesses while he was in Baden bei Wien during the latter part of his life, Beethoven managed to write some of his best work. The Ninth Symphony, the Eroica Symphony, and Missa Solemnis were among some of the pieces written while he lived here. A summary of his arrival in Baden and a sample of the various voices and instruments he wrote in his music are shown below. (Click on images to increase for easier viewing).

A video showed the individual instruments or voices presented during a performance of the NInth Symphony, with Daniel Barenboim conducting at the BBC Prom. The complicated nature and integration of pieces are demonstrated. Watch the colors on the left screen as they coordinate to the music graphically, while the voices and instruments are shown on the right screen below.

Although I didn’t expect to be coming to Baden bei Wien to learn about Beethoven, I found this tiny museum packed with moving and compassionate information about purportedly the world’s best classical composer. It made up for the operas that I had come to see.

I also managed to get a few sketches in!