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Monthly Archives: May 2018

Japan – Golden temple and food market

Kyoto is the most “old Japan” it gets in Japan, and famous for its temples and gardens. There are at least a dozen famous ones, but just walking down any street you never go far without coming across a temple or shrine.

golden view

First up: Kinkaku – the so called “golden temple” – the main building is covered with gold foil. This is one of the most famous views of Japan – so there are lots and lots of Japanese tourists coming in big groups, and everybody is herded through the temple grounds along a straight path. Beautiful, but not exactly serene.

ginkaku garden 2

As always, the gardens are the best part.

 

ginkaku

I do not know the significance of the huge, geometrically exact cone-shaped pile of gravel. The whole country should come with an audio guide explaining what’s going on…

ginkaku magical

golden garden

golden buddha

Alright, time for some more earthly pleasures – eating my way through nishiki market, a huge area downtown full of food shops and stalls.

nishiki market

nishiki sweet potato

An easy start: Fried and candied sweet potato. Not my favorite, but OK.

nishiki octopus

Now things get more interesting: a fried octopus on a stick, with an egg stuffed into its head. The verdict: Chewy, not much taste.

nishiki grill

More fried octopus parts. Not bad when barbecued, but very chewy.

nishiki gambas

Some regular crab meat on a stick. Good, but almost boring.

jp food squid balls

Back to the old standby: Fried octopus balls. Very tasty.

supermarket joghurt

Dessert. It has a picture of cows on it, so probably yoghurt? Please, let it be yoghurt. Phew, it actually was yoghurt.

nishiki fish flakes

One of the more popular items are these things that as far as I can tell are dried fish flakes.

nishiki kimono

Some beautiful classic Kimono fabrics. Prices here start at several hundred euros, though… Japan is generally not really that expensive, very much comparable to Germany. Just items that could be considered traditional, high-style crafts or art, or are intended to be prestige gifts, can be VERY expensive.

nishiki teas

A tea shop with samples from all over Japan to smell. There were at least 200 of varieties to try. Sadly, I’ll travel too far from here to be able to do much shopping.

bus station

Time to go back to the guest house – Kyoto has two metro lines, but most useful routes for tourists are handled by buses, which are sometimes easy to understand, and sometimes not so much. Thank god for bus numbers in roman numbers – then take the bus in the direction of “two squiggly lines and barstool”, and get off at “pointed hat, blockhouse and christmas tree” (my Kanji interpretations are based purely on ignorance).

guesthouse ninja walk

Cute sign at the guest house. Good night!

 

Japan

Japan in one sentence: “Wow, this is interesting/weird/fascinating/amazing – also, I don’t have the slightest clue what is even going on”.

guesthouse

I stayed at the “Gojo guesthouse” – a hostel in a traditional Ryokan style (i.e. a wooden house with floors of rice-straw tatami mats, and you roll out a futon to sleep on). An excellent choice – hostels can be hit or miss, either anonymous like a hotel but without the privacy or one’s own room, or party hostels where you can’t get any sleep. This one was great, though – maybe Japan inspires everybody to be respectful, or maybe it was the really cool people running the hostel, and providing a cozy common area.

jp calligraphy

As always, I like to start exploring a new city by just randomly walking round the neighbourhood, and seeing what I find. Like this beautiful stone inscription – no idea, what it says, though.

jp vending machine

Or a vending machine selling very reasonably priced coffee, soft drinks and green tea. These are absolutely everywhere, by the way, on literally every street corner that sees a bit of foot traffic. Quickly became one of my favorite things about Japan – no need to carry water, and can try some new drink all the time.

jp vending machine drinks

Not all of the choices are identifiable, but coffee is always good (favorite ad slogan “Suntory coffee boss – boss is the boss of them all”).

jp atm

Speaking of identifiable: Japan is the first country where things like ATMs or train ticket vending machines can not necessarily be switched to English. Above is an ATM, by the way – I did not manage to get any money from this one.

jp train

And for the train ticket from the airport I had to ask someone for help – turns out, the machine does not offer tickets to a certain direction, but only at certain price levels – and you have to check a route map poster to find the price for your destination beforehand.

 

jp pachinko

Also on the way: A pachinko parlor. Pachinko is like a cross between gambling and pinball. It’s basically a machine that shoots metal balls to the top of the screen, that then fall down, and where they fall determines how many more balls you win to continue playing. Since gambling is illegal, you can kind of influence your winning chances a bit by controlling the timing (I think) of the way the machine shoots the balls. It seems to be played mostly by zoned-out old people. By the way, everything in the picture above is either a video screen, a bright blinking light, or makes loud noises, so I fled from the place after a few minutes.

jp taxi

More very Japanese things: Taxis mostly look like this – a Toyota model specific to Japan, that looks like a cross between a Mercedes from the eighties with a Soviet statesman’s car. Contrary to the cliche, my driver from Kyoto station did NOT wear white gloves – disappointing. The car did feature hand-knit white seat coverings everywhere, though, fitting in neatly with the 80s pensioner’s car theme.

Also specific to Japan: When you exit Kyoto station, there are two lines of taxis – regular taxis and “foreigner-friendly taxis”. Now when something is billed as “foreigner-friendly”, it usually means two things: a) more expensive and/or b) the regular variety will be impossible to deal with. Here it’s neither, though – the foreigner-friendly taxis charge the same rate, and just happens to be drivers that have made an effort to learn English. There were none available, though, and I was in a rush to reach my hostel before registration closed (having unexpectedly spent more than an hour and a half in the immigration line). My non-foreignerfriendly driver turned out to indeed not speak any English at all, but I came armed with directions to the hostel written in Japanese, so that worked out well.

kyoto tower yodobashi

Next to Kyoto central station: the so-called “Kyoto tower”. Very big, very pink, and very peculiar looking.

jp toilet control

By the way, those Japanese high-tech toilets are real, and everywhere. This is one of the more basic models – more options include various kinds of ventilation, music and sounds to drown out any impolite noises, and options to control the direction and strength of various ways of applying water to your behind. Since it’s all Japanese, and not obvious which buttons does what, I had a lot of fun trying out everything…

nishiki squid balls

Food stop: “takoyaki” – a.k.a. fried squid balls (not the balls of a squid (although I’m sure the Japanese would eat those, too -squid is like a major food group here), but little balls made from a moist dough with some squid meat bits inside, grilled in a special plate, and combined with lots of different toppings like onion, soy saue and other less identifiable bits. Really tasty.

nishiki tea cookie

For snacks, seaweed, red beans or green tea are seemingly in everything. I like to drink green tea, but in cookies? Not so much. Green tea soft ice cream is surprisingly good, though.

shojo me gate

First sightseeing stop: Nijo-jo, a medieval castle/palace in central Kyoto.

shojo kimono

Officials in Japan, even if it’s just a gate attendant at a tourist attractions, all wear cool snazzy uniforms. You very much feel like caring about what you do and doing it properly is really a thing in Japan.

And young Japanese people dressed in Kimonos are everywhere – although it’s probably mostly rented Kimonos (Kimono rental places are everywhere), and just to take pictures in front of something famous.

kyoto gion geisha

Although I did catch this picture of what seems like a real Geisha walking down a lane in the neighbourhood – Gion, the nearby old town of Kyoto, is the center of Geisha culture.

shojo garden

Back to Shojo castle. The palace itself is nothing special – basically empty halls where the Shogun used to receive, laid out with Tatami mats, and with some nice but unspectacular paintings on the walls.

shojo garden 2

The garden is very nice, though. I love Japanese-style gardens, both the “dry” i.e. Zen gardens, and the Chinese-inspired park-like gardens.

shojo garden 4

They seem very natural, but are actually very carefully designed, and very harmonious. I could basically take pictures of Japanese gardens all day – wait, that’s pretty much what I did…

shojo entrance

Exit gate of Nijo-jo. I can not, for the life of me, remember Japanese names of places, have to look up the name of the place I’m going every time I’m looking for a sign, and when somebody asks me later where I’ve been, I’m like “the temple, in the north, the big one with the gates?”. Something about the Japaneses language that wants to not be remembered by my brain.

ryoan drone

Drones seem to be enough of a thing that they are specifically worth banning.

 

 

Singapore: Gardens by the bay

gardens mbsHas Singapore:

a) Too much Money

b) Dubai Envy

c) Not enough parks

d) All of the above

It’s probably d)

The Marina Bay Sands building above is a private enterprise – and while a really cool picture at night or as a skyline, a lot less impressive in the day, from the near looks almost like a communist era residential tower. Inside is a casino, luxury shops and a luxury hotel – so nothing of interest to me, and while it does have a viewing platform on the top, it’s tiny, limited to one side, and costs more than 25 euros – not for me. I’d rather come back once I can afford to stay at the hotel, and use the infinity pool on top.

gardens supertrees 2

What I did visit is this part – the “gardens by the bay”, a huge new park developed at the same time as the marina bay sands. The things above are so-called “supertrees” – i.e. concrete and steel tree-shaped things whose only purpose is to look cool.

gardens supertrees walkway

You can also take an elevator up to a narrow, swaying walkway suspended between some of the tallest ones, which is neat.

gardens port

A view from the top of the walkway – remarkable for the incredible density of ships coming to or leaving Singapore’s harbor – from the plane on the flight here, it looked like the whole ocean was a parking lot for ships.

gardens supertrees

The gardens are really nice and well-designed, with different thematic areas etc. Although I really tried to enjoy them, due to the heat and humidity I gave up pretty quickly and made a beeline to the (air-conditioned! yay!) indoor conservatories.

gardens giant baby

Huge floating baby on the way – it’s art, I guess?

gardens cactus

The first of the two huge, cooled greenhouses is a relatively normal garden exhibition about all kinds of plants found in meditarranean climates.

gardens flower

Not that spectacular, but very nicely done.

gardens waterfall

The second one, the “cloud forest”, IS pretty spectacular, though. This waterfall you come across after the entrance is the size of a pretty tall building.

gardens forest walkway

You take an elevator up inside, and then make your way down along lots of orchids and jungle plants, on a rather spectacular walkway sloping around, inside and outside of the “mountain”.

gardens orchids

Lots of pretty orchids everywhere.

gardens lilys panorama

And some views of downtown Singapore.

gardens transporter

On the way back, saw this fully automated, driverless shuttle to the metro station. Was rather underwhelming, though – while it IS driverless, there’s an attendant inside who has to push a button for it to continue every time it encounters something in its way, and even when it’s moving, it creeps along slowly, and seems to stop for every leaf blowing across its way.

gardens me finish

sg colonial hotel

More random pics from the way back: luxury with a colonial vibe is definitely in in Singapore.

sg memorial

The so-called “civilian war memorial” – not as in “civil war”, but as in “civilian victims of the Japanese occupation”.

sands me merlion

Aaaand the “Merlion” – yup, it’s a lion with a fishtail. That is huge, bright, somewhat tacky and spews water, and has become something like the symbol of Singapore.

sands lasers

And to close it off, the Marina bay sands again, but this time looking much cooler at night, and showing its nightly laser show. Because everything is better with lasers, right?

 

Singapore: Little India and around

Nope, that’s not little India – that’s the oldest mosque in so-called “Kampung glam”, i.e. the muslim area. Not much muslim character left, but the mosque looks nice.

And they celebrated the beginning of ramadan by – a street food fair? Makes no sense, but hey, food is always fine with me.. Had a weird-looking, but fantastic, Avocado-with-coconut-syrup smoothie.

Yup, definitely getting more Indian now. The temple looks like a miniature plastic version of the giant temple towers of south India.

This guy prevented me from going in, though, even though they had areas to take off your shoes, and plenty of people did go in. He’s the first unfriendly Hindu temple attendant I’ve ever met, and also the only person I met in Singapore that did not speak any English – so the guy officially sucks 🙂

A convenient stall next to the temple for all your needs in terms of temple offerings.

And of course you can find all kinds of Indian fabrics etc. Did not really take pics of the Indian-style shops, since it’s not really new to me. But I did find a place selling lots of Bollywood DVDs (real DVDs! not cheap pirated VideoCDs! What has the world come to…), so picked up a few recommendations from the owner.

On the way, some drinks to tide me over till dinner – my two favorite tropical drinks: green coconut water, and freshly pressed sugarcane juice.

Also met these guys with the cool outfits there – had to ask what they were about, and they meant that it’s not for a special occasion, but what they wear all the time, for religious reasons, as they’re Sufis.

Little India looks decidedly more colorful, and not quite as OCD clean as downtown Singapur. Pretty, though.

Chinatown, I think?

Unassuming little neighbourhood altar tacked onto a column on the sidewalk.

And I got a haircut here. Not sure if it made me “royal beauty” as promised on the sign, but given what they had to work with, and the price of about 3 euros, I’ll take it.

And finally went to “Tekka center” for some Indian food. It’s the most Indian hawker center in Singapore, and at first glance pretty shabby and chaotic. But the food is amazing!

Again, does not look like much, but the best and most authentic Dhaal and Naan I’ve ever had outside of India. They make an bake the bread right before your eyes, and it comes out of the oven and onto your plate in 30 seconds. Soooo good, I came back for Indian food to the same stall every night afterwards. Oh, and it also cost about 3 euros. Funny enough, in the sort of fancy area of my hotel, just 5 minutes walking away, there’s also an Indian restaurant where you would pay more like 30 euros for dinner – and I’m sure the food would not be as good.

Singapore is funny that way – cheap or expensive is not really determined by what it is, but by the socio-economic target audience.

Not sure where these guys came from – did I mention Singapore has a bit of everything?

Singapore: Museums & Downtown

One downside to Singapore: the climate. A little above 30 degrees: no problem. Combined with 85% humidity: start hunting around for an air-conditioned building to duck into after about 5 minutes of walking. Otherwise get windshield wipers for your forehead, and feel yourself dissolving in a puddle of sweat.

sg old police

So just some quick impressions from downtown, here a former police station that was kind of like the first skyscraper in colonial times.

sg university

And the university’s art faculty, with a really cool modern building.

gallery balinese

And yes, I totally meant to go into the National Gallery, not just enjoy some A/C… Which turned out to be really good – focusing on art both about Singapore, and from artists based in the region, so nothing you’ve ever heard about in a European gallery, which made things fresh and interesting.

gallery building

Housed in both the former supreme court (the new supreme court next door is by Frank Gehry, but uncharacteristically way too ugly to photograph) and the former city hall, renovated and combined by an ultramodern new shell building.

gallery landscape

Will not post too many pictures of the art, since that’s a personal taste, just some I liked.

gallery calligraphy

gallery expressionist

gallery modern chair

Contemporary art, but quite cool – seen from just the right angle, the pieces strewn about the floor form into the shape of a complete chair.

gallery hall

The old city hall part of the building.

museum piano

And finally – the first piano I’ve seen on my trip!

Unfortunately, it’s both a Steinway special edition, and therefor a museum piece, and reserved for the occasional formal concert. If this had been Egypt or Nepal, I would have ignored the barriers, hopped on and played for a bit, and when caught relied on a combination of playing dumb and white-guy privilege, and it would have worked. But Singapore is not a country where that would fly, so sadly no piano for me 😦

sg parlianment

The parliament building – Singapore might be governed by the same party since independence, but they do have elections and a parliament. It seems to be a kind of benevolent-not-quite-dictatorship that works.

museum video

Next air-conditioned building important museum: The national museum of Singapore.

The picture is from a strange but cool huge room-sized video installation with swirling and evolving plant shapes in a dark dome. Weird video projections seem to be all the rage in art circles in Singapore, seems like every museum needs at least one.

museum colonial

Singapore seems to be very much OK, even proud, of its British colonial history. The Japanese occupation, though, occupies a wholly different, and dark, chapter in the museum. Reminds you of how much other countries in South-east Asia have NOT buried their WW2-era grievances with Japan, and how lucky we Germans are in contrast.

Another fun fact: The whole Malaysian thing (Singapore initially joined Malaysia after independance from Britain, but left/became independant/was kicked out shortly after) is very much glossed over, and hardly mentioned at all. So I have no idea why that happened.

museum hdb kitchen

From the chapter of development after independance: A model kitchen from an “HDB flat”. HDB stand for housing development board – basically a huge program of public housing run by the government, and responsible for the huge number of not pretty, but quite OK-looking concrete residential high-rise towers covering most of the city.

museum poster

And yup, can’t have Singapore without a little paternalism, this one from a campaign from the seventies.

food breakfast toast

Tea break: Some “Copi-O” (indonesian-style coffee, brewed in a few seconds with ballet-worthy moves by the barista, somehow combining condensed milk, a dark roast, and a rather bitter flavor. Drinkable in a pinch, but I’ll stick with my overpriced-cappucino-from-a-local-Starbucks-clone. Why hard-boiled eggs are served as a combo with toast – no idea.

food orange machine

Found on the sidewalk on the way home: this little marvel of technology. You know those fresh orange juicers sometimes standing in supermarkets? Here is one packed into a fully automated vending machine, including chilled orange storage, and a robotic arm capping your drink and handing it to you. Of course, you can pay by either contactless storage, WeChat or Alipay.

 

 

Singapore: First impressions

I can’t even tell you how much I love Singapore right now!

After Nepal etc, firmly back in the first world. Not the Western world – Singapore is plenty exotic, with an interesting mix of Chinese, Malai, Indian and Western culture.

But at the same time, it’s a very rich country, and more importantly a very organised one, where everything just works.

If you imagine every place you could travel to having two dials – one labeled “adventure”, (i.e. how foreign, exotic and exciting is the place), and the other one labeled “comfort” (i.e. how easy and relaxing it is to travel there) – then most of the places I’ve been so far would rate very high on “adventure”, but rather low on “comfort”.

So compared to that, Singapore is like “excitement in easy mode”.

sg signs

Stuff that just works in Singapore: All around, there’s lots of signage not just telling tourists how to get to sights, but for everybody pointing to the nearest metro station, public toilet, car park etc.

sg mrt

Speaking of the metro: Not only does it have fully automatic driverless trains, it also stops exactly in front of the fully automatic platform doors.

sg mrt load

And it has monitors showing you, before the train arrives, which part of the train will be how full.

sg ezpass

You also don’t have to worry about figuring out which ticket you need – you just get one of these smartcards, load a few singapore dollars on it, and then just tap it when entering and leaving the subway, and it will automatically deduct the fare according to distance – usually just a few eurocents per trip downtown.

sg mrt fines

The cliches you’ve heard about huge fines in Singapore are true, though. 1 Singapore dollar is about 60 eurocents – so yes, I was worried I’d drink some water without thinking about it, and get hit with a 300 euro fine. (No fine amount given for taking a durian fruit on the train – I wonder why?).

And yes, your visa sticker does have a big fat “Death panelty for trafficking drugs” on it…

sg four languages

The four official languages of Singapore – Mandarin, English, Malay and Tamil (not Hindi!). Although in practice English and Chinese are by far the most common.

I actually have to remind myself that most people are at least fluent in English, if not native speakers – Singaporean English has some “Singlish” influences, i.e. local slang, and expressions influenced by Chinese and Malay, and accents tend to be pretty pronounced, so when I speak to someone who looks Chinese, and speaks with a heavy Chinese accent, I have to actively remind myself that they probably speak English better than I do, and NOT to fall back into the simplified pidgin quasi-English that serves as the real international language of tourism in non-Englishspeaking parts of the world.

sg coffeeshop whychwood

Speaking of cultural mix: this coffee shop for some strange reason was carrying beers from the Wychwood brewery in England – some of my favourite beers, currently, and hard to get in Germany. A single bottle was like 15 euros, though, so I did without.

sg hawker

Not everything is expensive, though – there are “hawker centers” everywhere – something in between a bunch of rowdy street food stalls, and a mall’s food court.

sg food chinese

Where I got this delicious Chinese (I think) chicken curry for about 6 euros.

food drinks

Speaking of food: here’s the latest in the ongoing series of “trying weird stuff from the nearest convenience store”: The Lemon Barley drink turned out to be delicious and refreshing, the “yuzu” fruit drink to be some kind of citrus fruit, and the package wrapped in imitation banana leaf to be some kind of rice dish with some weird nuts and dicey small fish bits.

Nepal: Patan etc

durbar portal kumari

Some more pics from Kathmandu – this one is the entrance to the home of the Kumari – a child that is worshipped as a living goddess, showing herself here once a day, but only until she hits puberty, at which point a new, younger Kumari is chosen. Yup, Hinduism does get weird sometimes.

temples neighbourhood

Kathmandu is full of small neighbourhood temples, shrines and statues – just being there, with some prasad (sacrificial donations of e.g. food), and some people praying, but otherwise just being part of daily life. I found those often much more interesting than the famous temples on e.g. durbar square.

alley statue

Like this one, just hidden in a backyard of some side street.

stupa back alley

Or this one I stumbled upon while getting lost.

patan rafters

Lots of statues and carvings everywhere. Some creepy demons, some sexual in nature, some weird. Certainly interesting, but I have to say that as artworks the buddhist-influenced imagery did not appeal to me as much as some other hindu styles.

patan me archway

sb prayer mills

I prefer the plainer things, like those prayer mills.

patan stones

Or those beautifully carved ancient stones. These ones were in Patan, another former kingdom, nowadays more or less a suburb of Kathmandu, and just a cheap but hair-raising taxi ride away.

patan museum

The palace has been restored, and now houses a fantastic museum of buddhist and hindu statues and other art and historic artifacts. I had a bit of an overload of statues with lots of arms and animal heads, though – which I say not to sound flippant, but rather because I was surprised and rather disappointed how much the tibetan style of buddhism had turned buddhism, which started not as a religion, but a life philosophy, into a “real” religion full of gods, saints and folklore.

patan buddha

So I’ll just post this picture of my favorite, much plainer, buddha, in the museum.

patan monasteru

The inside of another buddhist temple and monastery in Patan.

patan ritual

They did not speak enough English for me to get what the ongoing ritual was about, but did not mind having their picture taken.

road google maps

On the way back to Kathmandu. Having google maps on the phone is absolutely fantastic when roaming around an unknown city (and internet access has so far worked in every country visited, and at expensive-but-ok prices), but sometimes the reality of “highway leading directly in your direction” and the reality, as in the picture above, does not quite match up.

modi visit

Back in Kathmandu, I started to freak out when suddenly lots of soldiers, and policemen in riot gear, appeared – until I saw the sign above, and remembered that somebody had told me yesterday that India’s prime minister Modi was coming for a state visit.

minibus

These vehicles are minibuses, that apparently have more or less fixed routes, and leave when full. Would have cost me 20 rupees or so to Patan instead of the 500 for a taxi, but since 500 rupees is about 4 euros, in this case I went for the less adventurous option.

garden overview

And now for something completely different: The “garden of dreams”, a recently restored garden built by a rich aristocrat in the 19th century (I think), inspired by victorian English gardens. VERY beautiful, and an oasis of calm in the madness of downtown Kathmandu.

garden fountain

Made me realize that public spaces that are green, clean, safe and quiet is a true luxury of living in a rich country. Also, sometimes you just have to quit sightseeing and exploring for a while, and kick back, read and relax for a bit, which I did in this very spot.

That’s it from Nepal – next up: Singapore!

 

 

Nepal: Swayambunath

Swayambunath was a name that I could not for the life of me remember – had lots of conversations like “What are you doing today” – ” Going to Saya..waya…the Buddhist stupa, you know, the one with the monkeys”.

sb main stupa

Swayambunath is a major ancient buddhist site on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Besides the giant stupa with the all-seeing buddah eyes, there’s lots of smaller temples, including hindu sites of worship, on top of a hill.

sb stairway to heaven

The hill is famous for its long, steep climb (symbolizing the journey to nirvana – and also a lot of sweat, even in the slightly cooler evening).

sb monkeys man

And also for the monkeys living on it – the real stars of the show for me. They are neither aggressive nor shy, just doing their own thing among the humans coming to visit.

sb monkey altar

Did I spend more time watching the monkeys then looking at the temples? Well, what if it’s both in the same picture?

sb valley view

Also famous: the view from the top of the hill. Here towards the Kathmandu valley, where the sheer size of the huge sprawl of Kathmandu becomes apparent.

sb prayer flags

The view towards the mountains was sadly rather non-existant, due to the hazy sky (weather or pollution? probably both).

wikipedia_Airport_and_himalaya

This one is NOT my picture, but from wikipedia (attribution and link to original), just to show the view I had been hoping for.

sb stuffs

Plenty to see on the hill, though. Sadly, it’s not quite a mystical pilgrimmage site, but quite a circus full of the usual souvenir sellers, guides, touts, chinese tourists with selfie sticks etc.

sb monkey

And monkeys, of course. Those are cool.

sb monkey statue

Did I mention the monkeys?

sb detail

Alright, more temple views. Those are impressive, too.

sb me mills

Prayer mills are also very much a thing, with different sections responsible for different mantras when spun. The monks were happy to let me have a go at the prayer mills – a preayer’s a prayer, right? Though when walking around the temple, you have to do it clockwise, otherwise the blessing does not work, according to the tibetan style of buddhism.

sb statues

Some more modern statues at the base of the hill.

sb hindipop

Some more shrines. Although to get the real impression, note the bluetooth speaker placed on the shrine in the foreground by the souvenir seller next to it, blasting some finest Bollywood soundtracks. Fit the scene, though.

sb fluss

On the way back downtown. Hey, why don’t you just walk, whispered google maps seductively. It will be a nice stroll along the beautiful riverside, it promised. Eugh. Picture is not even complete without the lovely smell of garbage.

mango seller

Not be unfair to Nepal, though, let’s finish today’s pictures with something prettier: random guy on the street selling fruit from his “cargo bike”. Advantage of coming to Nepal in the host season: Papaya and Mango are in season, and very, very tasty.

Nepal

Nepal is where I almost failed to be let into the country.

patan me entrance monastery

Visa? On arrival at the airport, check. Fee? 25 USD, check. Except I stupidly left my US Dollars in my luggage – whereas Nepali immigration is, as usual, *before* baggage pick-up, so I could not access my bag without dollars, and did not have dollars without access to my bag.

No worries – I had already changed my remaining UAE dirham into Nepali rupees back in Abu Dhabi, and had just enough to pay the visa fee. Except that Nepal immigration takes US dollars, Euros, and a bunch of other hard currencies (they would even have taken dirham) – but not Nepali rupees! WTF? What country refuses to except its own currency?

OK, plan C – credit card. Which is accepted  – except not today, because the network connection was down. Well, shit.

I started looking around for fellow foreign passengers I could beg to lend me some hard currency for just a few minutes, when I remembered my second, back-up, credit card, and convinced the immigration officer to try that one. And luckily, this one, with no network connection, fell back to accepting just a signature. Phew!

Lesson learnt: You can never have too many ways to access money.

thamel street

Being in Nepal also means firmly being back in the third world (Nepal is considered the third-poorest country in Asia, just slightly ahead of such shining beacons of development as North Korea, Afghanistan and Yemen) after Abu Dhabi. Which means back to chaotic traffic, rather basic conditions, and general chaos and improvisation.

durbar square me statue

Luckily, Nepal is somewhat of a home game for me – culturally, Nepal is to India pretty much what Austria is to Germany, so unlike in Egypt, there was a lot of things I was already familiar with, and also a bit of nostalgia for me. (Most Nepalis, when asked, don’t particularly like India, though, seeing it as more of a domineering big brother).

thamel prayer flags

Differences between India and Nepal:

  1. The religion and culture feels at least as much Buddhist as Hindu. Like those prayer flags above – those were in the tourist ghetto of Thamel (pretty much like Bangkok’s Khao San road – a whole area with nothing but travel agents, guest houses and restaurants catering to backpackers), but they are actually showing up in lots of places.

road cow

2. No cows on the road!! Was almost happy to find this single specimen above. Also, the classic Indian “whole family on a motorcycle” scene was quite rare – car traffic seems to have grown a lot in the last couple of years. All the usual South Asian traffic “rules” apply, though.

traffic

3. Noticeably poorer. Unpaved roads in the center of the capital were quite shocking to see. And everything, from houses to vehicles to infrastructure, seems pretty worn-out and improvised. (Compared to India – that’s saying something). On the other hand, there was less openly visible misery in the form of e.g. crippled beggars, or slums – although it’s probably not a fair comparison, having seen only the capital city and its surroundings.

durbar temple people

4. Somehow more relaxed. E.g. lots of the neighbourhood temples have a more lived-in feel to them, less a sacred place of the gods, and more a community center to hang out in.

garden date

5. Less religiously conservative. For example, while you see plenty of women dressed in Saris or even muslim-style whole-body covers, you also see young women in jeans or short skirts just walking down the street. Or, in the photo from a park above, even young couples out on dates (which seem to consist mostly of the couple silently sitting next to each other..)

patan construction

6. Sadly, lots of damage from the devastating earthquake of 2015. The photo above is from durbar square in Kathmandu – the central square with lots of famous palaces and temples. Unfortunately, a lot of them are either reduced to rubble and being rebuilt from the ground up, or under heavy renovation like those above.

election poster

7. Democracy is a new thing. On one of the main roads, there were lots of posters like the one above, explaining to people how elections work. Nepal was a monarchy until quite recently, went through a civil war to abolish it, and Nepali are apparently still complicated.

cycle rikshaw

8. On a lighter note: No auto-rikshaws! (at least in Kathmandu). Cycle rikshaws, which have become rare elsewhere, are still a thing, though.

To finish this post, some similarities:

convenience store

Kiranas, i.e. small neighbourhood mom-and-pop stores, are everywhere. There are some supermarkets, but most of your daily needs will be handled by a store like this one. Just such a regular thing that I never remembered to take a picture before.

snack bar

Roadside snacks are the best food. I love Samosas!

copper shop.JPG

And there are so many beautiful things you can get, with some bargaining, for, converted to hard currency, very low prices. Now I even if it’s beautiful I have neither the need nor the luggage space for a large water bowl, but I did buy enough Pashmina shawls, Tshirst and yak wool blankets that I had to send a package by mail – an adventure by itself.

 

 

 

Abu Dhabi: Louvre

louvre logo.JPG

Nope, not a typo: Abu Dhabi does have a Louvre – the first museum called Louvre besides the original one.

Louvre_Abu_Dhabi

Picture By Wikiemirati – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65054805

I wanted to take a picture of the rather spectacular building from outside – but it was way, way too hot to walk far enough away to get a panorama, so here’s a shot from Wikipedia instead.

louvre 3 masks

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is not like other art museums, where they showcase some artist or style per room. Instead, it’s a tour through the history of civilisation, with art from all over the world illustrating common concepts – like showing death masks made out of gold from 3 different continents next to each other.

louvre ramses

Of course, Ramses II. (all over the place in Egypt) shows up here, too, but juxtaposed with some classic statues from Assyria, and e.g. a bust of Augustus from Rome.louvre augustus

louvre assyrian

louvre coins

Some coins found in the U.A.E. from the era of trade on the silk road.

louvre cy twombly

Can’t avoid some contemporary art, I guess – here by Cy Twombly, a big name in contemporary art, but just as shitty here as in Munich.

louvre ai weiwei

Ai Weiwei also makes an appearance – shiny is good, I guess?

louvre paravent

My favourite piece was this paravent from Japan.

Overall, it’s pretty amazing how many significant works of art they have amassed in a really short time (the Louvre Abu Dhabi opened just a little while ago).

Half of the artworks are loaners from the Louvre, but also some other French museums like the musée d’Orsay or the musée guimet (for which Abu Dhabi payed something like a couple hundred million dollars…), the other half was acquired by the museum within a few years. I guess another instance of “let’s see what we can do by throwing unlimited amounts of oil money at it”.louvre reflections

The roof structure is really cool, shading the galleries underneath it, but letting in some soft fuzzy light. The cafe has an outdoor terrace next to the water, where the heat was almost bearable in the shade for a few minutes.

 

Before leaving Abu Dhabi, some more random impressions:

toilet dual.JPG

A commitment to the dual style of toilet – note the western-style toilet paper on the right, combined with the middle eastern-style water hose on the left.

gold souk window.JPG

A shop window from the gold souk, a part of the mall next to my hotel with dozens of stores next to each other specialising in nothing but gold jewellery.

supermarket veg

The huge supermarket in the mall is like a cross between a British supermarket, an Indian grocery store, and some filipino, Thai and Arabian sections. Like these vegetables, which I had previously only seen sold by vegetable sellers in India.

supermarket durian.JPG

Or the fact that they sell western brands, but with a middle-eastern twist, like Sesame Snickers, or Nescafe with Cardamom flavour. And yes, Durians are available, too!