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These are the photos I (Chris) took and posted on Facebook. The series started in March of 2013. There is no theme – just something random and visually interesting. We gave each a title and noted where it was taken (to the extent we could remember the city).

random photo #356 – blue green – penang


random photo  #357 – coy – london


random photo #358 – options – hong kong


random photo #359 – tall mural – sao paulo


random photo #360 – buns -penang


random photo #361 – chimney – orleans


random photo #362 – cats – penang


random photo #363 – triangles – budapest


random photo #364 – corner – troyes


random photo #365 – rest – langkawi


If you are interested in seeing other Random Photos, click on the  random  tag on the left.
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We spent a day in St Gallen, a historic town located in the northeast of Switzerland. It is best known for its university and the Abbey of Saint Gall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.

The collection of buildings in the abbey precinct including its magnificent Baroque cathedral form a unique historical ensemble. The appearance of the abbey’s buildings is largely the result of constructions in the 18th century.

The west side includes the Baroque church (the present cathedral), flanked by two towers and the ancient cloister, which today houses the Abbey Library.

The city of St. Gallen grew around the Abbey of St Gall, which is said to have been built at the site of the hermitage of Irish missionary Gallus established in AD 612. The abbey followed the Rule of St. Benedict, which prescribes the contemplative study of literature. 

We were in awe of this late baroque Rococo decorations.

The abbey prospered in the 9th century and became a site of pilgrimage and a center of trade, with associated guest houses, stables and other facilities.

As a religious city-states, the abbey joined the Swiss Confederation in 1450s and the town became free from the abbot.

The abbey is an outstanding example of a large Carolingian monastery, represents 1200 years of history of monastic architecture from the Middle Ages.

Confession booths.

The interior of the Cathedral is one of the most important baroque monuments in Switzerland.

Ceiling frescoes.

Scrolling curves, gilding, white and pastel colors, sculpted molding, and trompe l’oeil frescoes – this church has every element of Rococo.

The Abbey library of Saint Gall (Stiftsbibliothek) is recognized as one of the richest medieval libraries in the world. It is also known as the Seelenapotheke (healing place of the soul). It is home to one of the most comprehensive collections of early medieval books in the German-speaking part of Europe.

There was a guided tour and we were required to wear soft overshoes to protect the floor. 

The two-storeys library, its walls and the balconies are ornately decorated. The library hall designed by the architect Peter Thumb in a Rococo style, was constructed between 1758-67. Bookshelves alternate with window recesses on both levels.

The library holds 2,100 manuscripts dating back to the 8th through the 15th centuries which are handwritten, 1,650 incunabula (printed before 1500), and old printed books. 400 of the handwritten books are over 1000 years old. These manuscripts are placed inside the glass cases.

Of particular interest are a beautiful collection of early medieval Irish manuscripts unique in Continental Europe.

The 2,700 year old Egyptian mummy Shepenese is also housed in the library.

This abbey and the library is really THE place to learn and experience central European history and see Rococo.

We passed the city of Bregenz on our way to Lindau, and made it the destination of one of our day trips.

Bregenz is the capital of the province of Vorarlberg which borders three countries: Germany(Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg via Lake Constance), Switzerland (Grisons and St. Gallen) and Liechtenstein. Vorarlberg is the westernmost state of Austria.

The city sits by the lake at the foot of Pfänder mountain (Der Berg am Bodensee).

The summit of the Pfänder (1064 m) can be reached by the Pfänderbahn from Bregenz. The cable car covers a height difference of over 600m in around 6 minutes. We waited for almost an hour to get onto it. Lindau is clearly visible.

With its views over the lake and the surrounding mountain peaks, the Pfänder is one of the most famous lookout points of the region.

One can see a stage on the water which is built for the famous annual international opera festival, Bregenzer Festspiele, which will run in the summer.

From a distance, it looked like a giant pair of hands rising out of the lake. Here is a time lapse video of the construction of this year’s stage for Carmen.

There is a small Alpine wildlife park at the top.

Back to town, the Vorarlberg area is known for its architectural principle – “Neue Vorarlberger Bauschule” – which combines traditional construction and modern interpretation, and involves craftsmen and locals in the building process.

Walking through Bregenz, we saw many modern buildings standing next to traditional houses.

Overall, quite harmonious.

One of Austria’s famous food is the schnitzel – pounded and breaded veal fillet. We were happy to find a restaurant specialized in this dish in a old historic building.

Goldener Hirschen at Kirchstrasse 8 serves many tourists but without being touristy.

Traditional interiors.

We sat outside in a small garden. They also offer a pork version but it was clearly stated and 15% cheaper. Many main street touristy restaurants do not offer a choice and serves pork (especially true in Germany).

The presentation was pedestrian, not as good as what we had in Vienna.  Overall very good.

Click here to see the Wiener Schnitzel we had a while back.

We have not posted on this theme for quite a while.

Well, here is no. 9 in a series of posts that is about funny business names or signs that we saw. From time to time during our travels, we came across English names that makes us laugh. This post will focus on English language signs we saw in the United Kingdom that are cute or humorous.

Check out Hilarity in names #1, #2, #3#4#5, #6#7 and #8.


King of Bling

Relatively Painless (sorry, it is a bit out of focus)

art pistol

Seriously Fishy


Murphy’s Law

AI Pets –  you mean smart robots ?

Pastel restaurant

Criminal – Made with Conviction

Fleshmarket Close – an alley in Edinburgh’s old town, not a shop

There are more to come …

While staying at Lindau, we went to see the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen. The industrial town is situated on the german shore of Lake Constance and west of Lindau. We saw a zepplin on the first day we arrived in Lindau.

The museum presents on 4000 m2 of exhibition space its world’s largest collection on airship navigation: a multimedia narrative of history, courageous people, technical innovations and high performance.

We used in this post much of the explanation of the museum from their web site which is here. We saw a short movie about the history of airship and the company which developed the technology.

Ferdinand von Zeppelin established his famous dirigible factory at the end of the 19th century. The 128m-long LZ1 airship (Das Luftschiff) rose from its mooring on July 2, 1900.

The first large exhibition hall on the ground floor is dedicated to the biggest and most famous Zeppelin airship: the LZ 129 Hindenburg. This partial reconstruction brings to life a flight to North and South America by airship that took place in the 1930s. 

This ship became the Hindenburg disaster which occurred on May 6, 1937, in Manchester Township, New Jersey, United States. The  LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed during its attempt to dock with its mooring mast. Of the 97 people on board, there were 35 fatalities (13 passengers and 22 crewmen). A variety of hypotheses have been put forward for both the cause of ignition and the initial fuel for the ensuing fire. Photo taken from wikipedia.

The disaster was recorded on film and widely distributed. The event shattered public confidence in the giant, passenger-carrying rigid airship and marked the abrupt end of the airship era.

Despite the disaster, it is clear that the frame is an amazing piece of engineering.

Intricate and precise. Perhaps, this is a reason why steampunk is almost believable.

Besides the preparations required for the journey, it visualizes the luxury at the time on board the flying hotel. 

Via the drop-in ladder you can climb into the real-life passenger compartments of the LZ 129, which have been recreated according to historical plans. It was noted that the interiors were designed according to the Bauhaus school in 1930’s – so the airship really incorporated state-of-the art design and technology of the time.

In the permanent exhibition, flying is explained graphically using the principle of “lighter than air” and made tangible at experimental stations.

The successful history of the Zeppelin Group and its pioneers shows how technical innovations have emerged and the cult of Zeppelin has been celebrated for over a century. There was a display of numerous zeppelin-inspired objects, e.g., pens, etc.

We took a coffee break at the cafe.

Other aviation companies, including Maybach, also arose in Friedrichshafen to help service the industry, which received a major impetus from World War I.

Old poster about identifying British versus German military aircrafts in World War I.

Maybach limo and engine

The exhibitions on the period from 1933 to today is mostly about the integration of the company into the Nazi and the WWII economy, the destruction of Friedrichshafen, and the reorganisation and redevelopment of industrial enterprises after 1945.

Because of its industrial output, Friedrichshafen was heavily bombed during the war. This aerial photo shows a decimated factory complex and all the bomb craters around it.

The company is still in existence and has diversified into various light and heavy industries, e.g. ZF Group that makes gear box for cars.

It was a really interesting visit as we know so little about zepplin before. Too bad it was too late to join a flight. I will try to do it next time.

The museum is located in front of the harbor and we took a ferry back to Lindau. Nice visit.

While on Lindau, we went to Eli.Gut.Halle for dinner. It is located close to the lighthouse at the end of the promenade.

Offering outdoor and indoor seating, it has both a view of the harbor and the lake.

Here is a view of the harbor of Lindau – the lighthouse, the lion and the tower (from right to left). There are more pics of the harbor in our last post.

We were there when the sun was setting, and the sky was beautiful.

The restaurant is attached to a lounge/event space, a bar and a gallery of sports cars. There is a meeting area upstairs.

From above, one could see the top tier of cars at a better angle.

The theme is obviously sports cars, but not all of them are vintage.

Most cars are German made understandably.

A few English and Italian.

Surprisingly, we did not see a BMW. Munich being the birthplace of BMWs is not far away and we were in Bavaria.

What I have not seen/heard before is a Porsche-branded tractor – fire-engine red.

The food was good, not touristy.

Nice ambiance.

Go for a drink if you are in town.

In May, we went to Lindau with IT. Lindau is a small island in Lake Constance (Bodensee), located near the meeting point of the Austrian, German and Swiss borders and is nestled on the lake in front of Austria’s Pfänder mountain (see later post). 

We took this aerial photo when flying from Zurich to Kiev after our visit to the island, and recognized it immediately.

Lindau is connected to the mainland on the north shore by a road-traffic bridge and a railway dam. We did not drive and came by train from Switzerland. The station on the island is an old building and has its charm.

Lindau Hauptbahnhof are connected to Friedrichshafen, Munich, Ulm, Augsburg, Bregenz and Zürich by train services run by DB, OBB and SBB.

Our hotel is in front of the harbor on the promenade. Very scenic and lively.

One morning, a small orchestra played on the harbor front outside our hotel.

Lindau is old. The first use of the name Lindau was documented in 882 by a monk from St. Gallen (which we visited after Lindau, see later post). The name Lindau means “island on which linden trees grow”.

Traditionally, it is popular for tourists from the southern parts of Germany.  A well-known landmark in this southwesternmost city of Bavaria is the harbor entrance with Bavarian lion and new lighthouse.

The six-meter-high lion, watching over Lake Constance, is the work of a Munich professor Johann von Halbig. Completed in 1856, it consists of sandstone and weighs about 50 tons.

We strolled to the end of the breakwater on the side with the lion and looked across to the lighthouse. The lighthouse is relatively new, 36 meters high and measures a base circumference of 24 meters. Apparently, it is one of the few structures of its kind which has a clock in the facade.

Looking back towards the harbor, the Mangturm tower can be seen on the left in the photo below. Our hotel is just behind it. This tower used to be a square stone building was built in the 12th century as part of the medieval city fortification.

There are cars on the island but only a small number as the streets are old and narrow. The island is charming for that reason.

Apparently, the Nobel Laureate Meetings began here in 1951 and brings many Nobel Prize laureates to Lindau each year. Students from all over the world are able to meet up with Nobel Laureates to discuss scientific developments.

The Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus) was built from 1422 in Gothic style – the work on the impressive building lasted 14 years.

It also houses the former Imperial City Library (Reichsstädtischen Bibliothek) in Lindau. It was Martin Luther who in 1524 called on the “councilors of all German cities” to create “good books or librareyen books” – and his appeal was heard here in 1538.

The library houses a colored copy of the first complete German Bible translation of Martin Luther from 1534 which has been put on display in autumn 2013 and protected by a huge climate-stabilizing glass cube.

The welcoming biergarten on the island. It must be packed with very happy people today as this is posted.

Lindau is a jewel on Lake Constance. Comfortable, relaxing, and cultural.

We will come back one of these days.

After a stroll through the 798 Art Zone with NKL (see previous post), he took me to the Art Museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (中央美術學院; CAFA) in Beijing. CAFA is an art academy managed by the Ministry of Education of China. It is considered one of the most selective schools in the country.

The CAFA Art Museum, designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki (磯崎 新), is located at the northeast corner of CAFA campus. The Museum opened in October 2008, for the University’s 90th anniversary.  So this year is the University’s centenary anniversary.

The school drew media attention during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, during which the students protested by creating a large statue, called the Goddess of Democracy.

NKL took me to see the special exhibit on the works by Xu Beihong (徐悲鴻; 1895 – 1953) who is the first president of CAFA and a painter.

Self portrait oil painting 1924

He was well known for his traditional Chinese ink drawings of horses.

Traditional caligraphy. I am no connoisseur. No masterpiece here.

He was also regarded as one of the first to create monumental oil paintings with epic Chinese themes – a show of his high proficiency in an essential Western art technique. These oil paintings are so strange as we are all used to seeing Western faces, green eyes and blonde hair.

In 1919, Xu studied overseas in Paris at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, where he studied oil painting and drawing. Notice he signed this drawing in French: Péon 1924.

Xu constantly pushed the boundaries of visual art with new techniques and international aesthetics, in bid to reinvent Chinese art.


1940 portrait made in Singapore

Between 1939 and 1941, he held solo exhibitions in Singapore, India and Malaya (Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh) to help raise funds for the war relief effort in China.

There were quite a lot of people on that day since it was raining outside.

There was a mock up of his study. He was a pioneer and a patriot.

It is really an interesting show about a painter that played an important role in the development of Chinese modern art.

While I was in Beijing, I met my high-school friend NKL who is in the art business there, and he took me to see the famous 798 Art Zone or 798 Art District (798艺术区).

By the way, I am not sure if the pile of bicycles in front of the 798 sign is art or a sign of excess of the sharing economy (people not returning the bikes that were shared via services like Uber).

It was a ugly rainy day and many of the galleries and eateries were not open. The consolation was that there were fewer people. The pictures are not pretty but you will get an idea of the place.

751 D-Park

Wikipedia has a lot of information on the history of the zone. So I will use their information in much of what is to come below.  The official web site is at

751 Ace Cafe

The 798 Art Zone is located in the Dashanzi (大山子) area, Chaoyang District, to the northeast of central Beijing. It is the site of state-owned decommissioned military factories including Factory 798, which originally produced electronics. The zone comprises a complex of 50-year-old factory buildings boasting a unique East German Bauhaus-influenced style (Dessau Design Institute). Factory #798 is only one of several structures inside a complex formerly known as the 718 Joint Factory.

Construction started in April 1954 and the factories started production in 1957. The factory quickly established a reputation for itself as one of the best in China. The Joint Factory produced a wide variety of military and civilian equipment. Civilian production included acoustic equipment such as all the loudspeakers on Tiananmen Square and Chang’an Avenue. After 10 years of operation, Joint Factory 718 was split into more manageable sub-Factories 706, 707, 751, 761, 797 and 798, following the Chinese government’s method of naming military factories starting with the number 7.

718 Art Ahead

The plans for the factory buildings, where form follows function, called for large indoor spaces designed to let the maximum amount of natural light into the workplace.

Arch-supported sections of the ceiling would curve upwards then fall diagonally along the high slanted banks or windows; this pattern would be repeated several times in the larger rooms, giving the roof its characteristic sawtooth-like appearance.

In 1995, Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), looking for cheap workshop space away from downtown, set up in the now defunct Factory 706. In 2001, American Robert Bernell moved his Timezone 8 Art Books bookshop, gallery and publishing office into a former factory canteen; he was the first foreigner to move in. Later that year, Tabata Yukihito from Japan’s Tokyo Gallery set up Beijing Tokyo Art Projects (BTAP, 北京东京艺术工程) inside a 400-m² division of Factory 798’s main area. BTAP’s 2002 opening exhibition “Beijing Afloat” (curator: Feng Boyi), drew a crowd of over 1,000 people and marked the beginning of popular attention in the area.

In 2002, designer artist Huang Rui (黄锐) and hutong photographer Xu Yong (徐勇) set up the 798 Space gallery (时态空间) next to BTAP. With its cavernous 1200-m² floor and multiple-arched ceilings at the center of Factory 798, it was and still is the symbolic center of the whole district.

Beginning in 2002, artists and cultural organizations began to divide, rent out, and re-make the factory spaces, gradually developing them into galleries, art centers, artists’ studios, design companies, restaurants, and bars.

Insight Bookshop

Giant mural of the zone in isometric view

Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, UCCA (尤伦斯当代艺术中心) is an independent institution of contemporary art, founded in 2007 by Belgian philantropist, Guy Ullens, out of a commitment to bring Chinese contemporary art into global dialogue.

In June 2017, a group of China-based investors came together to restructure UCCA, separating its commercial and non-profit functions, ensuring its long- term presence in the 798 Art District, and securing its future vision.

When we entered the Center, a volunteer gave us a guided tour of the exhibits in Mandarin. He was enthusiastic and memorized the opinionated spiel about the paintings. But it took too much time and our attention, so we declined the personal tour after a few rooms. I did not take any photo in the Center except in the shop which had a decent range of books and design objects.

Apart from contemporary art, we visited the gallery of a copper artist/craftsman who made incredibly beautiful and complex copper sculpture.

798 Art Zone mixes art, commerce and tourism. It is exciting and exhausting at the same time due to its size, novelty, and diversity. If I live in Beijing, I will come here regularly.

One could think of this as Beijing’s version of New York’s Soho. While the development of the Zone has undergone a similar industrial to artistic to commercial pattern, it is not quite the same. The Zone is in a suburban area, not central Beijing, and much larger in terms of area. To me, it felt a bit like a theme park.

After the 798 Art Zone, my friend took me to the Museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. See the next post.


Closer to home …

Earlier this year while the 2018 Winter Olympics games were being held in South Korea, we went to visit our town’s most famous tourist attraction – the Olympics Museum (Le museé Olympique).

The museum is located on a slope facing Lac Leman, not far from downtown Lausanne. We took a city bus to get there.

The museum houses permanent and temporary exhibits relating to sport and the Olympic movement. With more than 10,000 artifacts, the museum is the largest archive of Olympic Games in the world.

The museum was founded on 23 June 1993, on the initiative of then-president of the IOC Juan Antonio Samaranch.

After 23 months of renovation between 2012 and 2013, the Olympic Museum re-opened on 21 December 2013. Outside the museum is a park filled with sculptures.

The permanent exhibition is organized into three major themes on three separate floors: Olympic World, Olympic Games, and Olympic Spirit. A visit begins on the third floor, where the Olympic World part of the exhibition informs visitors of the history of the ancient Olympic Games and the rebirth of the modern Games in the 19th century.

Highlights include a display of Olympic torches, as well as a video documenting major moments in the history of opening ceremonies history.

The second floor focuses on the Olympic Games.

Mascots from previous games.

Models of stadiums – Bird’s nest from Beijing 2008

Sporting equipment for a variety of sports are on display as well as the more than 1,000 video clips of Olympic Games events and athletes which can be searched and viewed at individual viewing stations.

The uniforms.

On demand are video clips of so many dramatic and magical moments.

The final part of the permanent exhibit covers the Olympic Spirit, where visitors are invited to experience being in an Olympic Village and they can test their balance, agility, and mental skills with interactive exercises.

Interesting optical illusion painted on the ceiling and walls of the stairwell leading down to the Olympic Spirit section.

Olympic medals are also on display. These were from the Winter Games of 1972 from Sapporo, Japan.

We had a lunch buffet which included some Korean dishes while watching the games on the big screen.

There was so much to see. One could spend days here. It was for us a very nice Sunday indeed.

Continuing with our desert adventure in Wadi Rum …

Wadi Rum is Arabic for “Sand Valley”, as Rum ( رَمَّ‎) means sand, especially light sand that can be carried by wind.

The official site describes …

Wadi Rum is a protected area covering 720 square kilometers of dramatic desert wilderness in the south of Jordan. Huge mountains of sandstone and granite emerge, sheer-sided, from wide sandy valleys to reach heights of 1700 meters and more. Narrow canyons and fissures cut deep into the mountains and many conceal ancient rock drawings etched by the peoples of the desert over millennia. Bedouin tribes still live among the mountains of Rum and their large goat-hair tents are a special feature of the landscape.

If you are curious about the local geography/topology, there is a map of the desert and rock formations online here.

The experience in the desert was otherworldly to say the least. There was not much wind (thankfully) and it was not scorching hot. There was no smell.

Distance was difficult to estimate except by the haziness of more distant objects. By the way, there are a few tents just below the smaller rock formations if you can spot them.

While criss-crossing the desert in canyons formed between the little and big rock formations, our guide took us to see some markings made at Thamudic times. Apparently, as much as the desert looks hostile, Wadi Rum has been inhabited by many human cultures since prehistoric times.

Nearby there was a caravan of camels … that is another touristic thing to do. All the people living in and around Wadi Rum today are of Bedouin origin and, until recently, led nomadic lives, relying on their goat herds.

Have a camel ride in the desert … exotic but I think it would be really uncomfortable and potentially dangerous if one does not know how to ride. 

There are sand dunes and they are found mostly piled up agains the rock formations. They are difficult to climb as your feet sinks into the ground and sand pours into your shoes.

We started around 3-4pm, so by the time we saw the camels, it was getting hazy as the sun is setting.

Not only the vista was stunning, it was also very quiet (except when we were on the back of the truck with the engine and wind noise).

Our guide said he will give us a treat by taking us to a spot to see sunset (Al Ghuroub). We sat on this rock ledge and enjoyed the silent sweeping vista. The sun was mostly hidden behind clouds on that day.

Transcendence is the word.

This spot, not only afforded us with a vantage point, it was also used in the movie, the Martian. Many other movies about Mars were made around here. 

What a memorable adventure !

Recap: I (Chris) was on a business trip in Jordan. At the end of the meeting at the Dead Sea Resorts (see post here), many of our colleagues and I joined a tour to see Petra (see posts here and here). While one can spend a whole day in Petra, some of us were tempted by an offer of a desert adventure.

So in the afternoon, we took this side trip to Wadi Rum which was about 2 hours drive from Petra – 5 of us went with our driver in a minivan.

We met our local guide on a desert crossroad, quite literally at a point in the desert where two paved roads traverse, marked by a street sign.

Jordan has no oil (a poor cousin among the middle eastern oil tycoons) but it has rich minerals (potash) which are valuable fertilizers. We saw lone mineral processing plants along the highway and they are connected by these roads and rail lines.

Our local guide was in his early 20’s. He loaded us on the back of his truck which was opened with two low benches.

Then we just went off-road … and entered the desert !

Wadi Rum ( وادي رم‎) also known as The Valley of the Moon (وادي القمر‎) is a valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock in southern Jordan 60 km (37 mi) to the east of Aqaba; it is the largest wadi in Jordan.

We drove on shallow pre-existing tracks at about 30-40 mph (I estimated, as we were sitting in the back whipping about in the wind).

The scale of this little mountain cannot be appreciated until one get closer and start to notice details of its features.

There are many rock-climbing tours on offer, we noticed at the hotel. Given the way the rock face has been eroded, there are many cracks and hollows where a climber can use to ascend.

Wadi Rum is home to the Zalabia Bedouin who have made a success in developing eco-adventure tourism as their main source of income.

Most of these photos were taken while we were clinging onto our seats and handrails on the back of the truck.

The photo below will give you a sense of scale of these rocks.

The desert is not flat and the visible tracks are drivable actually at some speed.

If the truck go off-track here, it could get stuck in the sand. The ride was bumpy at times but it was reasonably safe if you hold onto the guardrail on the truck.

We stopped by a tented village to have some sweet minty tea. While it is an installation for tourists but it was fun. It also commemorates the spot where “Lawrence of Arabia” was filmed. It won 7 awards in 1963. The real T.E. Lawrence who led the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire passed through here in 1917-1918.

While we were criss-crossing the desert, we noticed at a distance some high-tech looking structures. Our guide told us that they are modern tents for tourists and the facility is run by his brothers. I would like to bring Sue and sis here for a few exotic days of camping.

By now, how can you not think of Tatooine in the Star War movies where Luke Skywalker was brought up ? (That episode of Star Wars was not made here, however). This desert has been used in numerous sci-fi movie, the more recent ones are Rogue One (Star Wars franchise) and Prometheus (Aliens franchise).

By the way, I was happy to see where/how this aloe-like plant grows natively. Before this trip, I have only seen it in florists around the world as accompaniment to some cactus in little pots. I also saw a Blaps bettle but it crawled away too quickly for me to snap a picture. The desert has many living creatures despite its harsh condition.

Part 2 will have more pictures of the desert as the sun was setting.

I(Chris) had a business meeting at the Dead Sea Resorts area of Jordan. See previous posts.

Amman is the capital of Jordan and is considered to be among the most liberal and westernized Arab cities. It has one of the tallest flag pole in the world. Jordan is a monarchy, having gained its independence in 1946.

Amman is among the most popular locations in the Arab world for multinational corporations to set up their regional offices, alongside Doha and only behind Dubai. When the location of our business meeting was first announced, many of my colleagues were worried about safety. At this time and for quite a long while, there was nothing to worry about really.

Areas of Amman have gained their names from either the hills (Jabal) or the valleys (Wadi).There are approx. 4 million people and it is located in north-central part of the country. Residential buildings are limited to four stories above street level and if possible another four stories below. The buildings are covered with thick white limestone or sandstone.

We spent most of our time at the Amman citadel – Jabal al-Qal’a, (جبل القلعة) – located in the center.

It is probably one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited places, having been occupied by many great civilizations. Most of the buildings still visible at the site are from the Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad periods.

From the top, a Roman Theatre built around 100 AD is visible, nested among residential buildings.

Parts of the Temple of Hercules are still standing.

Hand of Hercules. The full status must have been enormous.

While walking about in the citadel, a giant military propeller cargo plane (C-130?) flew above us – reminding us that Jordan is in the middle east.

After the citadel, we had a chance to stroll in the old city, checked out the market and bought some spices.

We walked through a mostly fruits-and-vegetables section of the market.

Fresh almonds, never seen them before until then, they tasted nothing like the dried almonds we eat.

Spice shops. An amazing range of products.

I am so curious as to how they all taste.

And these products are all so inexpensive, except we do not know what they are …  too bad we did not have more time to investigate.

After seeing the famous “Treasury”, we continued with our walk through the gorge which gradually widens and open up to a vast area. I, like many people, thought that the only thing to see in Petra is the Treasury.

It is the highlight of the site but there is an entire city on the other side. Petra (then known as Raqmu) was an important trading post located strategically in the desert at the northern end of the caravan route from Arabia to the Mediterranean. The people had great wealth and power at the time of the first centuries B.C. and A.D. It was reported by the Metropolitan museum of art that the fame of the Nabataean kingdom spread as far as Han-dynasty China, where Petra was known as Li-kan.

Petra is also called the Rose City due to the color of the stone out of which it is carved. Apparently, at certain hour early in the morning, the rock faces are lit by the sun creating a spectacle. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

During the reign of King Aretas III (r. 86–62 B.C.), the Nabataean kingdom extended its territory northward and briefly occupied Damascus. The expansion was halted by the arrival of Roman legions under Pompey in 64 B.C. Petra’s importance declined as sea trade routes emerged and many structures were destroyed by an earthquake in the 3rd century.

The Byzantine Era witnessed the construction of several Christian churches, but the city continued to decline, and by the early Islamic era became an abandoned place where only a handful of nomads lived.

It remained unknown to the world until it was “discovered” in 1812 by a Swiss traveller, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.

The Nabataeans buried their dead in intricate tombs that were cut out of the mountain sides and the city also had temples, a theater, and following the Roman annexation and later the Byzantine influence, a colonnaded street and churches.

We walked into an amphitheater – one can easily imagine a town meeting or a performance being attended by people who live in the caves around the valley. The theatre consists of three rows of seats separated by passageways and was carved into the mountainside during the reign of King Aretas IV (4 B.C. – 27 A.D.). Jesus was born at around the same time when this was being constructed.

Under the emperor Trajan in 106 A.D., Petra fell to the Romans who annexed and renamed Nabataea to Arabia Petraea. Apart from the many incredible structures carved out of the mountain, they also built free-standing buildings.

Great Temple – remnants

Inside the settlement

Animals in Petra – donkey – a less active ride than that offered by a camel.

Notice the pattern of marks chiseled in the rock behind the donkeys  !

Looking back towards all the tombs on one side from the Great Temple … one gets a sense of the human scale of this early settlement.

27 sites in Petra are now available on Google Street View. Even if you are not going to see Petra any time soon, it is worth checking it out using better tech than my photos here.

After the business meetings in the Dead Sea Resorts, a group of my colleagues organized a visit to Petra including an overnight stay.

Petra is a historical city in southern Jordan which lies in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah valley that run from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. It was about 2 hours drive from the Dead Sea.

A little vortex of sand crossing our highway. For us, it was rather dramatic as we entered the sand cloud with zero visibility for a few seconds. Thankfully the road was straight as an arrow.

The picture below was taken from the hotel the night before our visit of Petra which is hidden among these hills.

A visitor center was established to organize visits to the site. One can ride a horse or use a horse-drawn carriage to reach the site which is several kilometers from the entrance. Every one started walking downhill on the Bab al Siq.

Petra is believed to have been settled as early as 9,000 BC, and it was possibly established in the 4th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataean Kingdom.

The Nabataeans were nomadic Arabs who invested in Petra’s proximity to the trade routes by establishing it as a major regional trading hub.

Obelisk tomb carved by the Nabataeans in the 1st century AD.

Above the tomb are four pyramids (‘nafesh’) as well as a niche with a statue in bas-relief that is a symbolic representation of the five people buried there. Below it is the Triclinium, which was a banqueting hall.

The city is accessed through a 1.2 kilometres (0.75 mi) long gorge called the Siq, which leads directly to the Khazneh (Treasury). Two costumed guards stood at the entrance of the Siq (presumably providing employment to the displaced nomads who used to live in the ruins).

The Siq is essentially a rock canal that is 3 to 12 meters in width and reaches up to 80 meters in height. The main part is created by natural rock formation and the rest is carved by the Nabataeans.

Part of the reason the ancient residents survived in the desert is their ability to collect and channel water.

The Siq is gently sloping down towards the Treasury. One can catch glimpses of the Treasury between the rock faces adding to the suspense.

The Treasury is featured in films such as: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and The Mummy Returns. What a surprising sight to see in the desert.

It is amazing that the facade was created by hand-carving into the rock on this cliff face. The scale, labor and workmanship is unbelievable. We unfortunately cannot enter the building/cave.

Apparently, one can visit the site at night where hundreds of candles are lit. It must be magical.

We paid some local kids a little money and were then “guided”(allowed) to climb up the cliff on one side. It was very steep and slippery as the rock is soft and has been worn smooth over the years.

This view gives one a sense of the terrain and the scale of the gorge where this famous sight is located.

Camels were available to transport tourist back to the entrance or to enter further into the site.

In our next post, we will continue with the rest of Petra.


Chris attended a business meeting at one of the Dead Sea resorts in Jordan. It was the first time I visited that country.

Jordan is sandwiched between Israel and Saudi Arabia while it shares a border with Syria in the north. Security is a major concern in this part of the world.

Queen Alia International Airport is 65 km from the resort while the capital Amman is 45 km away. We saw a few checkpoints on the main road to the resort. Our hotel’s security routine included looking underneath our bus for bombs with a mirror-on-a-stick.

Jordan does not have any oil but it is blessed with the Jordan river which enabled it to grow fruits and vegetables despite the country is surrounded by deserts. The river has a major significance in Judaism and Christianity. This is the site where the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land and where Jesus of Nazareth was baptised by John the Baptist.

The surface and shores of the Dead Sea are 430.5 metres (1,412 ft) below sea level, Earth’s lowest elevation on land. Soon after we left the airport, we were going downhill on the main road.

The road that leads to the resort passes many farms and we saw truck loads of tomato, carrots, cabbage and onion. Many farmers set up roadside stalls to sell vegetables. They looked really good.

The resorts are located on the right bank of the dead sea and comprise a cluster of hotels: Hilton, Marriott, Kempinski and Mövenpick. We stayed at the Hilton which is closest to the conference center.

On the other side of the dead sea is Israel and the Palrestine’s West Bank. We are on the east bank of this lake.

The lights on the other side of the lake is supposed to be from the West Bank and Jericho.

The main reasons for tourists to come here is (1) to sample the dead sea mud which is rich in minerals and has numerous beauty and heath properties, and …

(2) to swim in the super salty water in which one cannot sink. With a salinity of 342 g/kg, or 34.2%, (in 2011), the hypersaline lake is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean. This salinity makes for a harsh environment in which plants and animals cannot live, hence its name.

The density of the lake water is 1.24 kg/litre (pure water is 1.0). One can effortlessly float about on top of this water. The extra buoyancy is strange at first but one get used to it quickly.

While there is no need to worry about sinking, it is important to maintain balance. Otherwise you could flip over or fall to one side and get the super salty water in your eyes or mouth. I felt little stings at a couple of places on my body. It turned out that I had a break in the skin at those places. I did not even know there were tiny cuts there.

Next door to the Hilton is a small shopping mall where one can buy dead sea mud, dead sea salt, and all kinds of products based on these local elements. Minerals are big business here – potash useful as fertilizer is the most important export.

Also visible from the hotel is a water theme park – i assume they must use freshwater in the pool and rides  … but how unexpected and precious it is to find a park in a desert where there is no water and next to a lake where it is so salty.

According to Wikipedia, the Dead Sea area has been known as a health resort for thousands of years.

The mineral content of the water, the low content of pollens and other allergens in the atmosphere, the reduced ultraviolet component of solar radiation, and the higher atmospheric pressure at this great depth each may have specific health effects.

The conference was over in 3 days. I doubt if I gained any health benefits but I enjoyed the uniqueness of the environment.

I (Chris) was in Hong Kong and managed to catch the Art Basel 2018 show on its last day. The show was hosted at the Hong Kong Exhibition Center on the Wanchai harbourfront.

Sis had complimentary tickets and access to the VIP lounge, where we had a nice simple lunch there.

A Swiss sponsor’s hardware were used to show the international scope of the organizer. AP had a booth serving champagne in the VIP lounge.

My favorite of the show is this video-on top of-a painted/printed piece. It depicts a mountainous megacity with high-rise buildings and construction cranes, and the street traffic is animated. Hong Kong is a bit like, that and Rio too. It is both futuristic and realistic.

The other favorite and also a crowd-pleaser is this sheet of sheer woven material that is ever so light, and it floats and undulates gently following the constantly varying air currents supporting it.

Cindy Sherman was there.

Timeless ?

The pieces below are those that caught my eye.

Live participant at this installation. She was cleaning the dishes.

I did not get the names, there were mobs in front of most pieces.



Nice miniatures of Hong Kong street scene.

Papier-mache with chinese ink characters

There were even organized tours. Somehow I doubt that it was organized by Art Basel.

I was curious to hear what the tour guide/commentator was explaining to those kids about a painting full of photorealistic gemstones and pearls framed by a bright gold-hued frame.

We did not stay long because there were so many people. Art Basel 2018 was a spectacle and a marketplace.


We love bookstores and Chris has been posting our visits on the blog. So far we have 25 bookstores from around the world from Moscow to Tokyo. Click the link to see the posts.

Moscow, House of Books

Tokyo, T-site

As much as Amazon is a threat especially to many small bookstores in the US, the bookstores (at least the major ones) have not disappeared outside the US. Thank God.

From the oldest in the world in Lisbon to a super modern store in Sao Paulo – both selling mostly portugese books …

Lisbon, Livraria Bertrand

Sao Paulo, Livraria Cultura at Iguatemi mall

From MIT which publishes academic books on advanced technologies to the Parisian publisher who puts out reprints of early 20th century original (translated) work by Einstein and many other physicists and mathematicians …

Boston, MIT Press

Paris, Edition Jacques Gabay

We will keep this series up.

Hope you find these posts interesting. To find our other posts on bookstores,  just click on books in the Categories on the sidebar of any one of these posts.

When I(Chris) was in Hong Kong during Easter, I came across this bookstore.

Breakthrough (突破) was a magazine that was published between 1973 and 1999. When I was in secondary school in Hong Kong, I was a school librarian and flipped through it. The history of the magazine, the social movement and its activities are described here.

Breakthrough is a non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to the education and development of youth culture with a christian viewpoint.

As you enter, you are greeted by this sign which says “re-experiencing the temperature of paper books”.

The organization’s mission is to develop, via media and interpersonal relationship, the city’s youth so that they become leaders of the 21st century.

They are a publisher of chinese language books.

The Book Gallery located near Jordan is one of three bookstores run by the organization.

These are key rings made with resin which resembles the signs used by old Hong Kong taxi and minibus (I think), particularly the font and colors.

Can be custom made with your phrase.

There is a coffee bar with barista service.

They also stocked a small collection of card games and board games, some of them translated from English or German.

The gallery like most shops in Hong Kong is small but it felt open and comfortable. A nice place to rest your feet and browse.

It is rare in Hong Kong to find an establishment like Breakthrough that is doing something meaningful and not entirely commercial.

Before we leave Oslo, we have an addition to our bookstore of the world series …

Eldorado Bokhandel is the largest independent bookstore in Scandinavia offering 4,000 square metres of books, culture and music. It is located at Torggata 9A.

The bookstore opened in 2013. The facade is fairly non-descript, narrow and does not reveal much about the store. We almost walked past it.

Eldorado has Norway’s largest departments for children’s books, audio books and classical music, as well as a coffee shop, a back yard restaurant (we did not see as it was winter) and four levels (we did not count).

It had a large collection of classical music by Naxos.

In fact, the layout is a bit confusing as it has several levels and the rooms are not rectangular.

A ramp with ducks in the background.

The atrium space with armchairs were very welcoming.

They have a fair number of English books and it was a very up-to-date selection.

and it included Norwegian literature

In English, a reason to buy books !

… a small theatre with comfy chairs

Drawings of people from around the world on the walls above bookshelves of travel books


… a throne from fantasy books ?

Evolution of the Penguin books logo  … cannot remember the context of this poster, maybe it is just a poster for sale.

They were closing at 6 … never figured out what the tall man is about.

Quite a bookstore befitting the name Eldorado.