Instagram Updates: The Best of April
Though I’m writing well after, I took all and posted most of these photos before the string of earthquakes that hit Nepal starting on April 25th. I encourage you to view these photos with an eye to the beauty of the country, but don’t forget that it will be a long road of reconstruction in a country whose infrastructure was already underdeveloped even before disaster struck. If you haven’t already, consider supporting the country either through formal aid structures or informally through a Nepalese friend of mine (one who, for what it’s worth, I trust implicitly to use donations at her best discretion for whatever the greatest needs in her community are).
I was beyond excited to find out I would get to go to Nepal again this year. My first trip, in 2011, was one stuffed to the top with hiking and nature and wildlife and temples and religion and culture. I spent WEEKS in Kathmandu, more than a month on a single hike, and a fair bit of time poking around places like Janakpur and Chitwan in wonder about how amazing (and how photogenic) the country is. So many good people, cool places, and delicious food. It will take time to rebuild what can be rebuilt post-earthquake, but while I have other commitments at the moment I’m already thinking about when I might be able to make it back to the region – with any luck it will be before the end of the year even.
Some of the places in these photos no longer exist, this first shot in particular from Patan’s Durbar Square which was hit very hard by the disaster, but even if the structures themselves can’t be repaired the people and culture that make Nepal so amazing to visit will still be there.
Celebrating Victory Day in Bishkek.
I’m currently out of the country, missing this year’s Victory Day celebrations in Kyrgyzstan. This is a big year, though, the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and likely the last big anniversary that will see a significant number of veterans of the fighting able to take part in the ceremonies in person. If you’re in a country that celebrates Victory Day, in the weeks leading up to May 9th make sure to seek out celebrations of this historic anniversary.
If you had to guess, what would you say was the best way to celebrate Great Patriotic War Against Fascism Victory Day?
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.