Uri Fleischer in Vienna’s MuseumQuarter
(Note: this posted in a slightly different form in May of 2012, right after visiting the exhibit. I found it in the course of cleaning up old posts and links, and liked it enough to share it again. Enjoy!)
I had a LOT of time to kill in Vienna, hanging around for two weeks waiting on three different Central Asia visas to process. Many of my days there were bright and sunny and seemed to invite the city out to parks and cafes to revel in the the sun’s warmth.
Occasionally the day was drizzly and depressing, though luckily the city has more than enough museums to keep an itinerant visa seeker busy on blah days. Some of the best of these were all centrally located in Vienna’s MuseumsQuarter, with perhaps my favorite being the KunstHalle Wien.
I get that modern art is a hit or miss type thing. Either you’re into it or you simply don’t care. With the KunstHalle’s Uri Fleischer exhibit, I was definitely on the former side of the divide.
The exhibit itself is weird and fleeting and such that it can only ever be experienced in a given way one time; afterwards even a repeat visitor is living through a new version of the same. It is, in many ways, the same sort of feeling I have towards traveling. Even when going back to Vienna, a place I must have passed through five or six times in the past few years, every new visit is oddly different. The buildings are all still there and the currywurst still delicious, yet it somehow feels unsame.
Chariots and Pierced Tongues:
Bisket Jatra Festival in Bhaktapur
It takes something special to keep me in the city of Kathmandu for an extra week instead of jaunting off to the mountains of Nepal. I’ve had good luck in the past with festivals in this country, though, whether with Tibetan monks at the Mani Rimdu festival high in the Himalaya or way down in the plains of Janakpur where Sita and Rama were married at the Sita Bibaha. With the promise of a tongue-piercing chariot-dragging good time just outside of Kathmandu, then, how could I say no?
(Note: this one is pretty photo heavy. Put on your glasses, shut off your Dropbox, and welcome to the weird world of the Bisket Jatra festival.)
Even walking into the old town of Bhaktapur, the city feels transformed. What only a week before was a quiet warren of architectural inspiration of centuries past is now a teeming mass of people among whom the sounds of beating drums and full-throated yells that resound from every open space in the center of town. Anywhere there’s space, it seems, people are assembled en masse to watch processions of chariots and beshrined palanquins or to help pull down a symbolic wooden pole that doubles as a Shiva lingam. It’s loud, crazy, colorful chaos.
Vienna’s Most Elevated Art House
There’s a lot of pun built into that title, but I’m going to be a jerk and not explain it to you till the end.
There are just so many museums in Vienna. There’s Freud and Hundertwasser and Leopold and Strauss and Beethoven and Horses and Hofburgs and Furniture and Forged Art and… well, frankly, it would be ridiculous to try to combine them all into one trip. I mean I even LIKE museums and I’ve tried hard to catch some of the more impressive exhibits in Vienna but, come on, I like to see the sun every once in a while as well.
Which is all an excuse to explain away the fact that, somehow, it was my third trip to the city and THREE YEARS since the first time I was in town that I finally stepped inside the Albertina Museum.
(Also, on a tangent, it seems I waltz through Vienna exactly once per year these days. Who wants to join me in 2015?)
I say ‘stepped inside’ because I’ve actually visited the Albertina many times – there’s a beautiful terrace out front overlooking the back of the Opera House and the front of the Cafe Sacher AND Cafe Mozart. Even better, there’s a snack stand just at the foot of the terrace that sells a delicious currywurst for like two or three Euros. So, Albertina and I were acquainted, but I’d never properly made the time to stop in and say hello until this last trip.
Instagram Updates: Best of March
I’ve been having a bit of computer trouble recently, in that my computer won’t charge at all and so I’ve got no way to access the hundreds and hundreds of shots I took in Dubai. I’m hoping to have it resolved soon but, luckily, I was able to edit and upload at least a few of them before things turned south. With one exception every photo I posted to my Instagram feed in March was from the UAE, either old shots from past trips there or newly taken beauties from the week that just finished. Enjoy some of the best of both here, and with any luck by this time next month I’ll have been able to go through and post tons more from waterparks and desert safaris and Emirati food and a seaplane ride over the city’s unbelievable architecture.
Abu Dhabi doesn’t necessarily have the same flashy vibe as more popular Dubai but there are a couple of spots where they’ve definitely decided to do it up big. The first of these, the Emirates Palace hotel, rises up like a phantom through the sun’s haze and defines the city’s beachfront for me even if I’ve not spent much time inside. The other major ‘site’ though, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, is just as worthwhile on the outside as it is in the interior. That alone is worth the trip over from Dubai, even if you jump straight back on the highway afterwards and head back.
Nooruz: Persian New Year in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
(Note: this post originally published in 2014. Sadly I’m out of town for 2015 festivities, but hopefully next year I’ll be able to catch in Bishkek or Tashkent or maybe even Tehran? Till then, sprazdnikom nooruz!)
As with any holiday worth the title, half the fun of Nooruz in Kyrgyzstan is in the lead-up for the week before the festival as the city prepares to have fun. In Bishkek this can be seen not just in new signs on Ala-Too Square or the increasing number of Kalpak hats around town, but even in the very weather itself. As the snow finally melts away and flowers start to bloom in the streets, it truly feels like time to celebrate the beginning of spring: Nooruz.
Exploring the Vienna Woods:
Mayerling, Seegrotte, and Heiligenkreuz Abbey
Rising to the northwest of Vienna atop the very first foothills of the Austrian Alps, the Wienerwald is a beautiful green belt and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve actually within the city limits of Vienna. With over 500 square miles of forest to wander through, it also makes the perfect day trip to get out of Vienna proper and do some biking or light hiking. Indeed this is one of the planned uses for the Vienna Woods, with 39 mountain biking trails and 12 hiking routes. Not feeling quite so ambitious? Vienna is ALSO the only city with proper vineyards inside the city limits as well, and you can sample the fruits of these vineries at the Heuriger restaurant/taverns in the small communities that dot the woods.
As a traveler in Vienna, there are really two ways to make a daytrip out into the Vienna woods.
The first (and easiest) is a day wandering through the trails that connect the small villages immediately ringing the northwest of Vienna. Some of them, like the village of Klosterneuburg with its monastery/winery/museum offerings, justify a whole day in their own right. Others, like Cobenzl and Kahlenberg, serve more as convenient stopping points in between long walks than as destinations in themselves. These points are all connected to Vienna by public transport and by fairly bike-able roads and trails, so if you want an independent freewheeling day out of the city this is the way to go.
Snow Leopard Conservation in Kyrgyzstan: Snow Leopard Enterprises
Note: this article originally (apart from some minor changes) appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of AUCA Magazine, of which I’m the Editor-in-Chief. See the full version on the AUCA website. If you’re looking for gratuitous pictures of snow leopards, check out my post on Saving Snow Leopards in Kyrgyzstan: the NABU Rehabilitation Center. As the head of Snow Leopard Enterprises in Kyrgyzstan, Cholpon Abasova is responsible for not only ensuring that snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan are protected, but also that the local communities within snow leopard habitats prosper from the conservation effort. Like many of AUCA’s current and former students, Cholpon sees the snow leopard as one of the most important species in the Kyrgyz Republic and one whose protection is vital to the environmental initiatives in the country. Not content to stop at high level government meetings like the Global Snow Leopard Conservation Forum in 2013 or local awareness drives like AUCA’s annual Flashmob on International Snow Leopard Day, Cholpon is working to make snow leopard conservation sustainable in the very mountains these animals call home.
Snow Leopard Trust, a leading world authority on the study and protection of snow leopard populations, has been working with rural communities for over ten years to address the economic issues that when neglected will often lead to conflict between those communities and the endangered snow leopards that occasionally prey on their livestock and which represent a potentially tempting income from illegal poaching. Founded in Mongolia in 1998, the Snow Leopard Enterprises program provides economic incentives for rural communities to support the effort for conservation and join the fight against poaching and habitat loss for the animals.
The Best of February
Compared to December and January, February has been strangely quite for me. In fact I’ve been in Bishkek, as in haven’t left the limits of the city, for over a month and a half now! All those trip to Turkey and India and Kazakhstan caught up with me, I suppose, and then I do need to work every once in a while as well. All of the photos I posted on my Instagram this month, then, were old favorites – many of them celebrating the beauty of Kyrgyz winter that I can see to the south of town from my apartment window each morning.
One shot, though, stands apart from the others: the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. February 1st marked the 80th anniversary of the Hagia Sophia’s conversion to a public museum, and though I unfortunately wasn’t in Istanbul to celebrate the moment I’ve been there so many times by now that I can easily picture they way it would have been: soft afternoon light streaming through the windows in the vaulted room to illuminate the countless historical artifacts inside.
Aside from that shot, my Instagram feed was full of shots from Kyrgyz winter – some from camping and ski trips in years past like 2014’s first trip to ZiL Ski Base or a birthday hike to the Kol-Tor Lake high up in Kegeti Canyon. Others go even further back, including a photo I took on one of my first wintery camping experiences in Ala-Archa in May of 2013 when I’d just returned to Kyrgyzstan to properly settle down for a while.