Tag Archives: street scenes

Day 19: Baku, Azerbaijan

City Sights

We headed to the high point of the city for an overview of the city skyline. At -28m below sea level, it is inperceptible that the area was covered by water, then receded multiple times in the past. The Caspian is called a sea for this reason–that the salt water from what was once part of the ocean differentiates it from from a fresh-water lake.

The Martyr’s shrine commemorates the 200 fallen rebels who led the second revolution in 1990. While being freed from Soviet rule and becoming independent, this was not the first attempt. Azerbaijan was established as a nation in 1920 as told by the Ali and Nino story I mentioned in the last post. Its success was short-lived however. The Russians came back and dominated the country for another 70 years before they relinquished power.

The Flaming Towers are Baku’s latest hotel, office, and condominium high rises that proudly display the city’s oil wealth and future. The capital of Azerbaijan was moved to Baku in the 12th century to this prominent peninsula on the west side of the Caspian Sea.

Shirvan Shah’s Palace and Museum

Architecture Inside Baku’s Old City Walls

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the old City in Baku has renovated its historic buildings for public view.

Miniature Book Museum

Founded by an Azerbaijani woman, this museum contains over 8,000 volumes of miniature reproductions from books collected throughout the world, including Western, eastern, and local literature. This museum is cited in the Guiness Book of Records!

Baku’s Friendly People

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid

This new building designed by Zaha Hadid, the world-famous Iraqi architect, has won numerous international accolades for its sweeping bold design. The museum displays Azeri culture and commemorates Azerbaijan’s former president, Heydar Aliyev.

Hadid created a vision and inspiration for the next generation of architects. Its womby curves and vast proportions offers a three-dimensional fly-through in real time. From the exterior, the building looks like a huge beached whale.

Museum Collection and Interior Details

Art Doll Collection

I couldn’t help but become fixated not only by the historic costumes and expressive faces of the dolls in this collection, but also by the exquisite, life-like hand gestures.

Day 17-18: Diffi-Culture

I am on my way to Baku today, so there’s not much activity. The flight this afternoon will take about four hours, with a time change.

While waiting at the Neustadt Train Station for my Flixbus to Berlin Airport, I came upon this memorial. I wouldn’t trust my own translation, but it commemorates the Jews in Dresden who were sent to Poland through this train station. It was a sad reminder of the German history and legacy that is yet to be reconciled.

Like anyone born with wanderlust flowing in the blood stream, I was ready to move on to the next destination. At the same time, I felt melancholy, realizing the fond memories about to be left behind. You grow accustomed to these contrary thoughts and expect the addictive emotions.

Our instructor hauled two big bags of books and magazines to class and asked us to pick something and read it for an hour. I chose a book by Wolfgang Hübscher, a well-known journalist.

This book recalled his tales of traveling along the entire border of Germany. He skipped along both sides by whatever means of transport was convenient. Naturally he wrote vignettes of the people he encountered and his experiences with hotels, history and loneliness.

My hour didn’t get me through the book, but encouraged me to read more German. I recommend reading in a primary language other than English to sharpen your synapses.

The author became wildly popular after walking to Moscow and writing about it. It sounded like another book worth investigating, and like the instructor told us, you’ll be more likely to read when you find something you’re interested in! In other words, it’s just what the doctor ordered!

In preparation for the Trans Caucasus Travel, we read “Ali and Nino”, a love story lent to us by our neighbors Jim and Leena.

Penned by Kurban Said, it’s a simple story about a mixed marriage, between an Azerbaijani Muslim and a Christian Georgian. That probably tells it all–except that Ali could only relate to the desert and its openness. The wooded forests always seemed dark and mysteriously threatening to him. That started the story that helps the reader understand that there are always more than one point of view. The movie is available on Netflix and was wildly popular when it was produced. I heartily recommend both.

Speaking of a popular series, I did binge on the Elena Ferrante of “My Brilliant Friend” that was shown on Italian TV. The eight-episode saga covered only the early years, so I imagine there will be subsequent seasons.

Addendum: Concert in Kulturpast, Dresden

Perfect sound in this newly renovated “Culture Palace” in the heart of Dresden’s Altstadt. This concert combined pros from the Hamburg and Dresden Symphonies. I heard that the Kultur Palast acoustically surpasses the Herzog and DeMeuron architectural masterpiece in Hamburg. I was sorry I missed an experimental organ concert, because the huge instrument made in Switzerland surely must sound magnificent.

C U in Baku

About to take off for Baku to meet hubby Gee Kin. He’s about the only other person I know who is interested to see the Caucasus and learn more about what was once the Persian culture. It has now been melded with Russian and Turkish influences and 2000 years of complicated history. The adventure us about to begin…

Above are quick shots before landing of the peninsula on the West side of the Caspian Sea where Baku is located; ladies at Immigration showing their images to female immigration officers; shots of the fanciful Baku Airport, and first dinner with local Kutun fish.

Day 15-16: Buntes Republik Neustadt

The hugest annual block party, known as the Neustadt United Republic, is happening this weekend in Dresden. I live in the midst of Neustadt’s six block radius, where three days of music, food, amusement, and dancing are rocking ’round the clock.

Families, old and young, sprinkle the age span of the predominantly young crowds. There are plenty of Goths and tattoed skins everywhere to offer endless studies of humankind. Cops discretely surrounded all street entryways and checked big bags, but you hardly noticed their presence once you passed the gauntlet from the edges.

Fortunately, my apartment is tucked behind a group of buildings in a cool, quiet courtyard that offers a quick and easy respite from the street action. I felt entirely safe and comfortable in “my hood.” The Neustadt “Buntes Republic” has been an amazing celebration of youth and a testament to good event planning.

Classicism and Romanticism in Dresden

A free access museum ticket, with compliments of the Goethe Institute, gave me incentive to revisit all the Old Masters Galleries and beautiful collections of regental splendor in the Residence and Zwinger Museums. I found two masterpieces that I remembered from my art history class at UC Berkeley! I almost gasped when I actually saw the Raphael and Vermeer works. They were totally overlooked by other visitors. Cranach also made his way onto my radar, especially after seeing dedicated works in Weimar.

The Turkish Kammer, or Chamber, contains some of my favorite museum pieces. The horses with armor and saddles, the swords, and the huge tapistried tent gives you a flavor of the power of the Ottoman Empire in its heyday.

The porcelain gallery would have been a chore had it not been for a few of the early Qing dynasty pieces from around 1700-1730 that paralleled Augustus the Strong’s reign as King of Poland and as Elector in Saxony. Meissen porcelain was developed after studying highly admired and coveted Chinese porcelain techniques. The figurines reminded me of the early Han pieces from Dunhuang and Chengdu. These galleries, made to emulate Versailles, were fun to rip through, in perfect condition and with no visitors!

After seeing the Michelangelo drawing exhibition at the Met in New York City, I was drawn to the Rembrandt drawing exhibit in Dresden. The fine sketches and studies by Rembrandt were not only awe-inspiring to me, but a number of famous painters such as Goya and Max Beckmann took to imitating Rembrandt’s style.

Dresden beats “Florence on the Arno”

The image often used in referring to Dresden is “Florence on the Elbe”, especially after Italian master Canaletto painted the famous river that snakes artistically through the town. After gliding over the river on gleaming tram rails numerous times this week, I have grown fond of the impressive Baroque skyline, the dominating Frauenkircke and the serene Elbe backdrop.

My memory of the Arno was that it was hectic. We stayed as a family in a pensione with a room directly exposed to the river with the roadway alongside it. The scooters beeped and honked all night long. After leaving the windows open to catch the breeze, the residual night noise drove us into a daytime stupor.

Another time, another view painted by a follower of Canaletto

Dresden first hit my radar in an Art History class. Many of the Romantic era classical paintings were located in Dresden. The city stuck in my curiosity bucket until I matched intuition with knowledge.

Weekend Wrap

In the sleepy daytime I had a chance to catch up with German friends for a “Grill Party” in their garden. Germans are intimately tied to nature and passionate about their gardens. It was a relaxing afternoon closing out a busy week of German classes, museum visits and evening musical performances.

Day 7-9: New State of Altstadt and Old State of Neustadt, Dresden

The location of Dresden’s landmarks are confusing, because the old part of the city was rebuilt after WWII and should be called Neustadt. But the neighborhood to the north of Dresden on the other side of the Elbe River is already called Neustadt. It was named that after a big fire in Dresden in 1685.

The beloved original Baroque buildings have been imitated every 200 years or so and throughout generations in between. So it is barely detectable whether they are from today (21st century), yesterday (19th century), or from its original reconstruction (1685). Dresden is fixated on the urban massing and proportions of five-story blocks with mansard, gabled roofs. It has committed itself to an elegant and functional building form worth repeating.

The plazas and central area of Dresden surrounding the major museums, the Frauenkirche, and the Semper Oper continue to impress old and new visitors to this historic imperial city. The large pit that was left open for a few years in the middle of the city due to archaeological excavations have been filled. In its place are replicas of the old Baroque buildings that were bombed during WWII. (See header above).

The Neustadt area where I live is jammed with young residents and visitors. It’s a lively scene where I live every night. Party-goers on bicycles invade the corner and perch on the curbs for hours on end. While the noise is evident, the scene is manageable. The bauhof or courtyard in my apartment building provides just enough sound separation to make unwanted noise undetectable.

The true test will be the annual local festival in the area next weekend, when the neighborhood comes unwound for three days. Clubs and restaurants will offer free music in nearly 20 different locations.

In the center of town, numerous free musical events took place throughout Altstadt (the old new part of the Old City). We caught a couple of young and old rock bands, two choir groups, and a brass chamber music ensemble. The often shuttered Japanese Palace was open on the weekend to host some of these events.

I’ve been buying my groceries at the corner Bio-Markt. It’s a minature supermarket complete with organic produce, fresh meat, dairy, and bread. I avoided the bread and wine to promote healthy living, but I did buy some landjaeger, one of my favorite dried sausages. It is packed with flavor, great for a snack or outing, and demonstrates one of Germany’s culinary skills- sausage-making.

Slowly, the Germans are learning how to eat better. Their culinary adventures are just catching up to the rest of the world. Germany has the second highest number of Michelin star restaurants after France. Like the English, German latter day awareness is under-appreciated. The fruit basket on display at a fair is a reminder of how ugly fruit and vegetables are shunned, despite the visually-appealing presentation..

An irresistible ticket price of 10 Euros drove me to the Semperoper to see Angela Georgeiou, the Romanian diva, in Tosca. Despite being in my favorite opera house, sitting in the fifth row slightly off center, a “clean” stage without a distracting cast of thousands, and the bargain, the performance was disappointing.

Day 1-3: Neustadt in Dresden, Germany

After 24+ hours of travel and three delayed flights later, I finally arrived in my adopted home town of Dresden, Germany. Each time I stayed in a new German city, I declared it to be my favorite. But now I can’t help but be loyal to Dresden. This is my fourth or fifth time here so it is not surprising that the city endures in my heart and mind.

I discovered Dresden first for the International Music Festival. It was regarded by the UK Guardian as one of the best in Europe, with popular performers like Rufus Wainwright and Eric Clapton, as well as all the classical conductors of world-class symphonies. I returned to Dresden several times for everything else–the beautiful Baroque architecture, historical museums and art collections, the intimate surroundings, and the familiarity,

The Neustadt neighborhood, created after a major fire in the heart of Dresden’s Altstadt, or “Old City”, is still relatively historic and elegant, with Baroque buildings from the 18th Century. So it’s a bit of a misnomer and confusing to first-timers here. The streets are still relatively narrow in scale, with streetcars rumbling along the cobbled streets in a predictable ambient noise level. They are punctuated by the occasional bells ringing from the many local Protestant churches nearby.

Courtyard buildings, designed to allow light and air into the deep superblocks, create intriguing walkways and chasms of sunfilled delight and discoveries from the busy thoroughfares now laden with shops and restaurants.

Food is still inexpensive and inspired by international standards of quality and diversity. I had a vegan rice wrap with glass noodle and spring rolls with tea for under $8 for dinner last night, but had trouble deciding among the extensive selection of Japanese, Afghan, Indian, Turkish, and even German specialties within a one-block radius.

Inside the Kunsthof Passage, or “Arts Passage”, is a delightful array of new buildings designed in the same proportion and massing as the surrounding Baroque buildings. Exteriors are decorated with tile artwork in a fanciful display of creativity and fun. “Lila Sossa”, a resturant now becoming an institution in the area, serves organic dishes and desserts from Mason jars.

Smell the Roses and Imagine

This month’s Fall colors on the North Side of Page Street in San Francisco are not the usual East Coast array of autumn leaves, but of late blooming vine flowers. You can still detect a floral scent as you meander down the street. I was traversing the city during my usual 5-mile jaunt from home to the CBD (central business district), but was surprised by the concentration of flowering vines framing beautiful Victorians along the way. They were lovingly nurtured by early morning light.

I also caught the aftermath of Halloween decorations that were clever and irresistible. How does anyone have the time and ingenuity to devote to such eccentricity? They were definitely enjoyable from an audience perspective.

These settings seemed to carry over to the Dia de las Meurtes, or Day of the Dead celebrated in the Latin-X World. It reminded me of the animated movie, “Coco” that introduced the positive significance of this holiday. The San Francisco symphony paid tribute to its members with puppet-sized effigies above the staircase (see featured photo above), when we heard Ray Chen, the violinist,  perform “Lalo” in a tribute to Hispanic culture.

The Crissy Field area on the north shore of San Francisco provides leisurely strolls along the Marina. It has been upgraded to include better landscaping, defined paths and killer views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city skyline. This walk easily gives the Hi-line in New York City a run for its money!

A few student sketches from my figure-drawing class show examples of foreshortening, gestures, and use of pencil, ink and charcoal:

If you are stressed about recent events or the upcoming election, here’s a great inspirational song from Barbara Streisand:

Apologies for my month-long absence. While due in part to technical difficulties (upgrading software, offloading movie files, and conversions for posting photos), I am debating about terminating my blog at the end of this year.

In 2019,  I will continue traveling and plan to return to Germany to study German. We may visit Armenia, Azerbaijian, and Georgia, in the same style as our travel to Iran earlier this year (See April 2018), and I may do another week of sketching in Portugal with Diane Olivier in June. Stay tuned, and as always, let me know your thoughts!

Global Climate Action Summit and Opera in the Park

The Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) 2018 was launched this weekend in San Francisco. The urban sketching group I belong to, San Francisco Urban Sketchers, is actively participating by sketching attendees and interviewing them for personal statements about their thoughts on climate change.

As co-chair of the GCAS, Governor Jerry Brown helped to launch California’s commitment and up to 90 cities throughout the world are joining hands to bring greater awareness to global climate change. Michael Bloomberg from New York City is also bringing attention to the cause and John Kerry has been invited to speak this week. Numerous events are planned throughout the week in San Francisco and other cities throughout the world.

For those interested in reading about this further, here’s the link to GSAC: https://globalclimateactionsummit.org

I had not realized the intensity of the effort by organizers and participants. First it started with a march from the Ferry Building to Civic Center. The afternoon was filled with information booths, spontaneous conversations, and networking. I saw Sierra Club, Grandmothers for Future Generations, and Native American groups joining in a peaceful demonstration. The day was friendly, inspiring, and perfect for getting out and getting active.

Fellow sketcher Karen made an eye-catching sign about the Emperor’s New Clothes, while other marchers dressed up and dressed down. Thanks to my figure drawing class, nothing was startling to me.

Our job as sketchers was to tell each individual’s story. We asked them why they came, what types of global warming they experienced, and what they were doing personally to help reduce global warming. We worked in pairs, taking turns interviewing and sketching. Our preparations and training the week before paid off, thanks to SF Sketchers organizer Laurie Wigham.

It was especially nerve-wracking for me as a new sketcher to sketch and color quickly (5-10 minutes all-in), nail the contours and features of the individual accurately, and stay calm while friends of the model watched intently! It was not unlike being a portrait artist in a tourist area. If you ever wondered what it was like, try it some time. I now know how difficult it is, but it was still fun pretending to be a professional for an afternoon!

Opera in the Park, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Our Sunday was graced with the San Francisco’s Opera In the Park. It is a free annual event to kick off the new opera season. Sketch buddy Karen was already staking out a couple of picnic blankets early in the day for the free event, so I was lucky enough to join her and company for the afternoon.

It was an unusually windless, warm but not hot, rare perfect day in San Francisco. We lolled to my favorite music from Cavallera Rusticana, the Drinking Song from La Traviata, and O Sole Mio by three soon-to-be famous operatic tenors. I even managed to sketch in between (See header above).

If you’ve been following me during my sojourn in Munich this summer, do you detect any difference in style and culture between the SF Opera audience and the one in Munich?!?

Day 47-48: Last Gasp for Gangnam Style

After introducing ourselves to what is “Gangnam style”, we celebrated our last evening in the hot spot of Seoul. As Korea’s answer to New York’s Times Square or Ginza in Tokyo, Gangnam literally stands for a mundane name: South of the River. It wasn’t surprising as Koreans follow the Chinese directional terms faithfully. More stylishly, I suppose you could call it South City, as in Chicago, or the counterpart to the “East Bay” in SF Bay Area’s Oakland.

The restaurants and dining options are endless. The bright neon lights mesmerize one’s ability to think and make decisions clearly. We ended up at, of all places, in 98 degree weather in a Korean barbecue. The vents worked great and the food was memorable, but we couldn’t keep the sweat from dripping down our backs in an air-conditioned environment. The coals from the grill at the tables were efficiently removed by an assistant and quickly delivered back to the ambient temperature outdoors.

We felt like were were cooking ourselves. That is, not making food, but cooking our bodies. Eating and drenching is not exactly a compatible nor relaxing experience. Most of the food service personnel around Seoul are from Dongbei or Northern China. They come as itinerant workers or have been long time residents of Korea. We could communicate with them and surprisingly, use more Chinese on this trip than we expected.

Earlier, our daytime expedition outside the city and into Jeonju Hanok Village and into the countryside required a 2.5 hour bus ride south. The hilly landscape, absent of animals that we could see, is highly utilized with rice paddies or laden with ramshackle structures. Korea is not a beautiful country, but it is practical and efficient. Aesthetics are extraneous and overhead lines and blight come from necessity.

As part of the UNESCO Creative World Cities Network, the ancient town is also designated as an international “slow city”. The town contained a cluster of historic residences, a royal portrait gallery, and an odd church that is a mixture of Byzantine and Catholic religions.

Sadly, my world trip for 2018 has reached its final destination and conclusion. I hope you have enjoyed my travels as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you. They included two new desinations, Hungary and Korea. Both countries are similar in some ways. They are less traveled but worth seeing and learning about. Their people have endured many hardships and misunderstandings, both in perception and reality. I hope you will be inspired to seek beyond your comfort levels and allow your curiosity to direct your next travels.

Go Gangnam!!

Day 43-44: Soul-Searching in Seoul

The first idea we had after checking into the hotel in Seoul, Korea, was to look for Gangnam style entertainment or Kpop. I’m not a true fan, so I wouldn’t know the difference between the two.  Other than flicking back and forth between Kpop stations and PBS every now and then, I don’t really follow Korean trends. Upon realizing that we were headed to an unfamiliar territory for the first time, we discussed what we could do in Korea for five days that would be different from other parts of the world.

We brainstormed over what is quintessentially Korean. We decided to dispense with the  usual museums, historic sites, and cultural events for the time being. We concurred that Korean entertainment should be our primary endeavor, especially since today was our only Saturday night in Seoul.  So KPOP here we come!!

Under advice from the hotel manager, we headed over to Hongik University. It’s the hub of the twenty-something crowd. Streets were strewn with throngs of kids intently watching lip syncing street dancers. It was a very orderly and satisfied crowd.

Here’s a pretty good real-time clip of some KPop performers:

And a future Kpop performer:

IMG_5238

Since this is our first exposure to Korea and Koreans, we are looking for the differences between the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures. So far we are very impressed by the civility, safety, and straightforwardness of the Korean people. There were no electric bikes or scooters along the pathways to stress your pedestrian skills, so it was calmer. We were able to get around by subway to most of our destinations, far and wide.

In the morning we headed to the fish market. We indulged in picking our own fresh, live crab, clams, abalone, and scallops for lunch. The market is extensive, with several floors for wholesale and retail sales as well as a line of independent restaurants that cook the food you choose. I couldn’t help but think about Anthony Bourdain’s love of fish markets and street food from places like this all over the world, and how he made them respectable.

A few specialties shown above included stingrays and sea urchins.

At the end of the day we headed over to the Dongdaemon area for dinner. I’m not sure just yet what is the soul of Seoul, but a soothing cafe with live music is everywhere and definitely part of the soul of Seoul that doesn’t exist in San Francisco.

Day 41-42: The GF Line

Chinese Opera Museum, Foshan

Among the hidden treasures in Foshan where we are staying in China, is the Chinese Opera Museum. I was coming to Guangzhou to do some research on Chinese opera, so I was delighted to find an entire complex devoted to my research! Below are only a few of the highlights that I poured over.

On an evening walk to dinner, we found another treasure. A huge temple complex was on the other side of our development.

Zumiao Temple, Foshan (1796)

Outside, the temple was teeming with retirees playing cards, mahjong and go under the lush green trees that provide shade and shelter for the day’s activities. A large stone turtle with a snake on its back was accompanied by a host of live turtles stacked back to back on the wooden dock of the pond.

The GF Line stands for Guangzhou-Foshan, one of the new mass transit extensions within the massive Guangzhou Pearl River Delta. Guangzhou is now a city of 13 million. Including Foshan to the west and Zhongshan to the South, Guangzhou is one of the largest conurbations on the planet.

Ling Nan Tian Di District

We are staying in Ling Nan Tian Di, a brand new development in Foshan. Our good friend, professional musician and Chinese opera performer Sherlyn Chew invited us to stay at her apartment in this burgeoning new area. Foshan is known for its Shiwan pottery, but the new development is as sophisticated as Xin Tian Di in Shanghai. High rise residential development, office towers, and a major shopping district are combined into a lively mixed use development.

Here’s a gallery of the renovated traditional village development for tourists:

The Tian Di district in Foshan is developed by Shui On, a single, large Hong Kong developer. In comparison, the San Kai village development in Zhongshan (shown in previous post) is a much more small scale, ad-hoc enterprise. Renovations are left up to each business owner-developer. The area feels more like an artsy live-work district with cafes and bars like what you would find in Oakland or Berlin’s industrial districts.

Food

Below, a somewhat repeat-performance of the dishes from Zhongshan (by choice): Steamed crystal prawns, shaved bitter melon with pork slices and gingko nuts, and roasted goose. The bowed tofu strips topped the braised pork belly underneath. I love the delicate Cantonese style of flavors, that are clean and unadulterated. If it is too salty,  it isn’t true Cantonese cooking.