During my stay in Beijing, I of course had to also visit the Forbidden City, a remarkable place and the center of power in China for several hundred years. I thought I already knew it, having watched The Last Emperor several times when I was growing up. Somehow it made it onto television around the winter holidays a few times. I’m not really sure how to convey my feelings about the sprawling palace complex — timelessness and serenity mixed together with mass-scale tourism and consumerism left me perplexed. At once grandiose and terrible, majestic and despicable.
Strolling around town and catching the snowflakes, we ran into Marko, an old friend of my sister’s who happened to be walking to his studio… which happens to be a print shop in the heart of Ljubljana. It is stocked with printing presses saved from the tooth of time (slovene phrase, but it fits) by tender love and deep appreciation for the art of typography and printing. Really a remarkable place, check out their website and pay them a visit, maybe learn a thing or two or just enjoy the beautiful space and letters all around you.
Sometimes I get lucky and happen to be home during the first big snowfall of the year. Ljubljana is always charming during holiday season (even in the sunshine), but it’s really special with a coat of white. Today’s snowfall wasn’t epic but it’s nice to feel the bite of winter again…
I visited Beijing two years ago, but somehow never managed to work through all of the photos I took on the trip. Recently, I was digging through my photo catalog and stumbled across these pictures I took at the Fayuan temple, Beijing’s oldest Buddhist temple. It’s a remarkably serene place, offering an alternate universe to the chaos of the Beijing streets that surround it. The feeling in the temple is not unlike some of the great mosques I remember from my days in Cairo, with worshippers and monks praying and strolling its grounds in quiet contemplation. I was lucky to visit around the time when a worship ceremony was taking place so I could observe the neighborhood pour in and assemble on the temple grounds. The temple is situated inconspicuously in a residential hutong and if it weren’t for its colorful decorated roofs, it would be hard to locate. Fayuan street is also on the border between a historic hutong neighborhood and a re-developed one, giving a casual visitor a quick glimpse of Beijing’s transformation that has slowly swallowed up much of it historic core. Nevertheless, the authorities seem to have recognized the appeal of hutongs and several are now protected (including, I believe, the one surrounding Fayuan temple). Many hutongs are also host to boutique hotels and classy residences interspersed with family dwellings that have existed there for many generations.
My sister Saša is something of an expert on straw hat making, especially in and around our home town of Domžale. As it turns out, the town of Wohlen in central Switzerland also took part in the straw boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We went to visit the little museum they’ve opened there – really nicely laid out in a beautiful old Villa with a fabulous garden – worth a visit!
Lev came with us too…
Tina enjoying the museum
The Strohmuseum is in a gorgeous old villa…
fashion straw ornaments
hats hats hats
you can try these yourself!
braid spinning machine
the museum houses volumes of catalogs from the straw-business days
the exhibit includes a “dressing room” where you can try on different hats…
they also have gentlemen’s hats
All manner of straw-hat making techniques are represented
The idea of staying in academia forever had always frightened me, mainly because I usually like to dabble in many different things. I’m good at some of them but I can’t devote my heart and soul to single pursuits very well. I started to feel that being a professional astrophysicist was requiring the sort of commitment I wasn’t ready to give, so finding good alternatives became a major priority over the past year or so. I won’t get into the details of why I decided to leave academia since the web has recently been flooded by such essays from all imaginable fields. Suffice it to say that sometime in the spring I found something that I think will be rewarding in the long-run and as soon as the deal was sealed I was rejoicing and packing my academic baggage.
But, I had committed to attend a conference in May more than a year earlier and had long since purchased all tickets and made the arrangements etc. so this was one last thing I absolutely had to do. It helped that the location was intriguing: a fancy resort in the Seychelles. You know the Seychelles already though you might not realize it — when your macbook throws on the cheesy screensaver with all the tropical island photos: they are all taken there (see below).
It seems crazy now, but I didn’t really want to go on this trip. I was very honored to be invited to come to this special conference, and to be surrounded by some of the people who have been a huge inspiration to me over the past ten years. But, spending time afterwards laying around on sandy beaches sounds like a nightmare to me most of the time. From the moment Molly and I arrived on the tiny island of La Digue, however, I was fully absorbed by the island flow (we spent the first week in a five-star resort on Mahé island for the conference — not many photos from there, but it was gorgeous). On La Digue, there are only a few cars and not very many roads. People ride around on bikes, mostly at a very leisurely pace. There are sounds of Reggae and its Indian ocean derivatives (e.g. Seggae) echoing among the palm trees. Chickens roam the forests and roosters play call-and-response during the night. Wild chickens, who apparently have nothing and no one to fear. The most dangerous creature is apparently some centipede that leaves as much as a welt on your skin. The air is a constant 23-27 degrees, cooling off in the evening just enough that the slightest breeze is enough to make it comfortable. Apart from soaking in the sun and the smells and sights and sounds, there isn’t much to do, even internet is a bit of a pain to come by. All this means your mind can really just freely wander and focus on things that matter. I don’t recall being more relaxed ever in my adult life.
Below are some photos from this awesome trip. It was our last big hurrah before the arrival of our new family member (Lev, born on September 13).
You can see my last words on some topics dear to my heart here.
on the beach at Ephelia resort
Molly enjoying a beach-side lemonade at Ephelia resort
stretching out the baby bump
looking back at Mahé island from the ferry
Grand Anse on La Digue
Grand Anse, La Digue
Grand Anse in late afternoon sun
awesome granite boulders piles
sunset on La Digue, looking at Praslin island
the way to Grand Anse on La Digue
walking the connecting path between beaches on La Digue
Molly pretty excited to be relaxing on Anse Cocos
danger, strong rip tides…
nice looking spider stopped us dead in our tracks…
Molly at Anse Caiman, the farthest corner of La Digue
beautiful little bay
this must have been a fun place to live…
wrapping up the sunday beach party — seemed like the whole town was there, and since no one has a car everyone was driven home by the party bus
Anse Source d’Argent with a new friend
Molly shows off her belly sunburn
sunsets are nice… thanks for the photo Mary!
watching crabs run in and out of water is awesome
Our place at Bois d’Amour
downtown La Digue
almost every house has a great little garden…
on top of La Digue there is a nice little bar…
these centipedes are scary looking… about 30 cm long
Molly on our hike to the top of La Digue
great place for pondering
sunset over Praslin
Molly after snorkeling for the first time in her life and swimming with turtles and seeing a reef shark. I didn’t think we could get her out of the water
neighbors drying off after a downpour
awesome little orange bird…
banana bird! I don’t actually know what it’s called
banana bird doing its thing
nice roads of La Digue
At Grand Anse again, this time the sky not looking so friendly
Molly enjoying the coconut while waiting out the downpour
First day in Beijing. A lot of it feels strangely familiar, having spent half of my childhood in another sprawling metropolis of a similar size. Chaotic traffic, thick haze, people in the streets. So far, though, Beijing feels calmer somehow and less frantic. I’m staying in a hotel that is a converted courtyard house in a hutong (old-style alley) neighborhood of Dongcheng — apparently the grid of these alleyways was initiated after the Mongols leveled the city. They have been bulldozed in recent years in lots of other parts of the city to make space for new developments, but particularly in this neighborhood they prevail. The hutong feel like real neighborhoods, densely packed with residential dwellings and businesses and people seem to spend a lot of time conversing outside, sitting on make-shift stools. There is food everywhere. Sometimes small grills are installed on the sides of buildings. Many people eat on the street, bent over low tables, drinking beer. Mostly, I’m blown away by the complete lack of noise — the hutong are narrow and although I would guess that occasionally driving a car through here is unavoidable (my taxi dropped me off in front of the hotel, but it would’ve been faster to walk from the main road), it seems that 90% of the traffic is either bicycles or some sort of electric bikes. In other words, all this adds up to basically zero noise apart from the occasional bell or horn, which is impressive given the density of the population. The low traffic also makes these alleys a nice place for a stroll…
taxi at the Bell Tower
peering through the fence at the Bell Tower
the variety of bikes is quite impressive — these have some sort of attachement from the top of the headset to the axle whose function I don’t understand…
delicious cold yogurt drinks
finally got a picture of these two boys, when the ladies walking by decided to pose as well
entrance to the Nanluogu Xiang street — note the squadron of 15-year-old policemen on the right
one of my favorite kinds of bikes so far, they’re like a mini car