A few years ago, we were faced with the heavy burden of making one of those decisions that would clearly mark our lives forever. Choosing where to move after Seattle was a task that defied any clear optimization. Though it seemed trivial compared to all other parameters (job, language, city size, music scene, beer quality etc.), being near mountains was a bigger factor to me than I perhaps dared to admit. In retrospect, it’s something I craved the most during the long years moving around the (mountain-less) world — Cairo and Missouri, where I spent a combined 11 years certainly have their charms, but snowy mountain tops are not among them. Spending some time near the Cascades rekindled my love for the outdoors and for the special kind of suffering that brings you to places not accessible to those with less resolve.
Now, with the mountains an easy train ride away, I can head out almost anytime conditions and time allow. In this case, it was early last Wednesday morning. 1000m of beautiful snow and bluebird skies, a few hours with friends and time to be alone with my thoughts during the meditative ski up the mountain. Steep powder-inspired adrenaline. Back at work by lunch-time.
Abundant snow fall at low altitudes meant that some “special” tours were doable — including Stöcklichrüz, which is a hill above the town of Lachen on the southern end of the Zürisee. What this tour lacks in fun steep slopes it makes up for with the novelty of skiing basically from lake level…!! Good fun, back at work before lunch time…
The long-anticipated snow fall finally provided some pillowy, creamy smooth powder not far from home. Fog games added to morning drama, but the day was one of those wonderful combinations of sunshine, good snow and great company that make you want to come back again and again.
… this actually happened two weeks ago, but somehow I haven’t found the five minutes I need to post the pictures. We went to the closest awesome place, Wägital with its always-tracked-to-hell Redertengrat. The freshly-coated forest looked spectacular in the diffuse light coming through the fog and it was a lot of fun trying to capture the feeling on camera. With the falling snow and the wind and the crap that got stuck on my lens somewhere in between and the zero visibility it was pretty satisfying. It looks like it might be a yearly tradition to ski this tour in a white out. Always fun but leaves you wanting just a bit more… aching for the next adventure.
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.