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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.

While in Oslo, we spent half a day in the National Museum of Norway. It houses a very famous painting by a norwegian.

Edvard Munch’s The Scream – 1893 (cropped)

A selection of Munch’s work can be viewed on the museum’s site.

Edvard Munch’s The Girls on the Bridge – 1901


There were also a couple of Degas’s bronze ballet dancers.

We know very little about Norway’s art. Below are a few that we liked.

The collection of old masters and modern art at the National Museum is one of the largest collections in Scandinavia. It consists of 4,500 paintings and 900 sculptures from antiquity until approximately 1945.

Can’t ignore these Norwegian flags.

Ethnic country girls – in their costumes.

Cold climate city – we liked these paintings that depict uniquely Scandinavian life.

Catching salmon in the baskets. This painting is massive and it was immersive standing in front of it. ; )

Moody man – perhaps it is the lack of sunlight for 6 months – many of the Scandinavian paintings are sombre.


Nasjonalmuseet’s collection contains around 400 000 art, architecture and design objects. Almost 40 000 objects are available online here.

Happy viewing.

In Oslo, with our ticket purchased for the National Museum in Oslo, we could use them to enter the National Museum of Architecture as well.

This establishment was opened in 2008. The main building was completed in 1830 as a division office for Norges Bank. It was adapted and extended by Sverre Fehn (1924–2009), who was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1997.

A gingerbread architecture competition is held annually by the National Museum (Nasjonal Museet), Norway.

Oil rig

All the entries can be seen here at the museum’s website.


Some of the results and the winners were on display.


The gingerbread exhibits was retrievable by the contestants on January 6 and any Houses not retrieved will be eaten.


After the audience award ceremony on January 7, a gingerbread House smash-and-eat was held to conclude the competition.


This is part 2 of our post on Gustav Vigeland, one of the most famous sculptor of Norway. The following are a selection of his works on display at the Vigeland museum (Vigeland museet) in Oslo. For more info about the museum, click here to see part 1.

In this post, we focus on the works. The photos below are organized according to the order they appear in the museum floorplan and the order probably corresponds to the periods when they were made.

There were only a few of these flat panels but they are so much details in each.

A different style altogether.


From a gallery of busts.

Using tree-like structure as a frame …

Smaller square panels appearing later in the exhibition.

 Nightmarish images

The dragon was used consistently to represent sin.


These massive columns can be seen in his sculpture park (Vigelandsparken), including smaller versions of the famous Monolith (Monolitten), with its 121 figures struggling to reach the top of the sculpture.

The park was too icy so we did not go.


A partially disassembled mould showing the making of a sculpture – the angry child statue is a favorite in the park, and is being reproduced on various souvenirs.

Go see them yourself. All these pieces are life-size or larger than life. They cannot be fully appreciated in photos.

Gustav Vigeland is one of the most famous sculptor of Norway. We visited a museum – Vigeland museum (Vigeland museet) in Oslo which houses an almost complete collection of his work.

In 1921 the City of Oslo decided to demolish the house where Vigeland lived and build a library. After a long dispute, Vigeland was granted a new building from the city where he could work and live: in exchange, he promised to donate to the city all his subsequent works, including sculptures, drawings, engravings and models. It was also agreed that the building will be used a museum of his work.

Left row. Use of tree-trunks like structure to create a frame.

Right row. One figure almost fell outside of the frame.

The neo-classical museum was first opened in 1947 which exhibits his works and documents how the sculptures were made.

This one has funny whiskers.

His last name was Thorsen but chose to use the name Vigeland where he lived with his grandparents after his father died.

His work reflects his interest in death and relationships between men and women.

The museum has sketching boards and folding chairs for loan.

Most characteristic to Vigeland’s works in the first half of the 1890’s is an emphasis on the inner life of his figures, combined with a dissolved and almost sketch like form. He was also the designer of the Nobel Peace Prize medal.

Some art critics considered Vigeland’s sculptures to be expressions of nazi or fascist aesthetics.

We did not go upstairs to see where the sculptor lived from 1924 until his death in 1943 (appointment needed to see the apartment).

Initially we also wanted to visit his sculpture park (Vigelandsparken) which is extremely popular. But due to snow which had frozen into sheets of ice, it was impossible for us to go and enjoy the park.

Here is a photo borrowed from Wikipedia of the famous Vigeland installation which features 212 bronze and granite sculptures. The sculptures culminate in the famous Monolith (Monolitten), with its 121 figures struggling to reach the top of the sculpture.

Three shorter versions of the column made of plaster were shown in the museum.

Most of these sculptures were created as a model for the bronze pieces installed in the park.

Fascinating work. See part 2 for more photos of his works.

Loved to have seen the park. Next time.

The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art (Astrup Fearnley Museet) is a privately owned contemporary art gallery in Oslo in Norway. It was founded and opened to the public in 1993. In 2012 the museum moved to two new buildings designed by Renzo Piano on Tjuvholmen (see previous post about the area).

The museum is funded by two philanthropic foundations established by descendants of the Fearnley shipping family, the Thomas Fearnley Foundation and the Heddy and Nils Astrup Foundation.


Viewer’s discretion advice.


The collection’s main focus is the American appropriation artists from the 1980s, but it is currently developing towards the international contemporary art scene, with artists like Damien Hirst (National History series), Anselm Kiefer, Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney, Tom Sachs, Doug Aitken, Olafur Eliasson and Cai Guo-Qiang.

Mother and Child (Divided) 1993 – Damien HirstFormaldehyde tanks preserving the mounted corpse of a cow and a calf.

The corpses were cut longitudinally and neatly into two halves with the internal organs exposed.

It was not as shocking as described because the internal organs looked the same as those sold in supermarket.

It was just a bit perturbing to see them in its natural position in functional relationship with the other parts.

God alone knows 2005 – Damien Hirst – another set produced more recently.

A poem is engraved onto the marble pedestal. The text reads:

Here is the night
It is a reflection of the hopeful terror of the day
Be not afraid

Can’t help but associate this piece with biblical crucifixes – the sacrificial lamb.

There is a catalog of its collection online – click here and  here.

Gilbert & George

About their collection, on their web site, they stated that “This exceptional collection does not aspire to present an encyclopaedic overview of international contemporary art.

Instead, it is an agglomeration of works by artists who occupy key positions in the field, either because they have created visual languages, objects and images of great originality and quality, or because they have reinvented significant aspects of cultural production.”

Giant books made of lead – Anselm Kiefer

Francis Bacon

The museum is not big as it only had a few galleries.


They put on temporary exhibitons – so it is well worth coming back.

Continuing with our visit of Oslo …, the Nobel Peace Center (see previous post here) is at the start of Aker Brygge.

Aker Brygge is a part of the Sentrum area, just west of Oslo down town.  It is known for its piers, where eateries with outdoor tables serve international cuisine, or casual fare like burgers and steak. It is one of the most visited area of Norway.

It was the former ship yard of Akers Mekaniske Verksted, which ceased operations in 1982.


A few old industrial buildings were demolished, while several of the major workshop halls were rebuilt as shopping areas. The first step of the construction was finished in 1986.

The area was reorganized between 2010 and 2014.

A popular summer boat bar is moored nearby, and ferries depart year-round for the scenic Oslo Fjord. There were locals and tourists around even in mid-winter – it must be really fun in the summer.

The new development included an inside street, going through the main buildings. Aker Brygge area today consists of 13 separate units.

Local cultural draws include the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art (designed by Renzo Piano, see next post).

Tyuvholmen is the area located on a peninsula sticking out from Aker Brygge into the Oslofjord.

The first element of the name is tjuv = ‘thief’, the last element is the finite form of holme = ‘islet’. Thieves were executed here in the 18th century. An older (Danish) spelling of the name was “Tyveholmen”.

The name for a modern hotel on the islet –  The Thief – also originates from this history.

It was a good 20 minutes walk from the Nobel Peace Center to here.

At the tip of the peninsula is the Tjuvholmen Sculpture Park. The park’s concept was designed by Renzo Piano and developed in conjunction with the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark.

We did not have time to walk out to the beach but the sunset was spectacular.

Take a look inside the Astrup Fearnley museum in our next post.

After our visit to Tromsø, we spent a few days in the capital of Norway.

In Oslo, the Nobel Peace Center which was 5 minutes walk from our hotel. It is located in the former Oslo Vestbanestasjon (Oslo West railway station) train station building from 1872, close to the Oslo City Hall and overlooking the harbor.

The Nobel Peace Center opened in the heart of Oslo, Norway on 11 June 2005. It is a center where you can experience and learn about the various Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and their activities as well as the remarkable history of Alfred Nobel.

They used the wall outside too. The building behind the wall is not part of the Center.

The Nobel Peace Prize (Nobels fredspris) is one of the five Nobel Prizes created by the Swedish industrialist, inventor, and armaments manufacturer Alfred Nobel, along with the prizes in Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature.

Since March 1901, it has been awarded annually to those who have “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.

The biographies and careers of Nobel Peace Prize laureates can be summoned and replayed on a video system.

The center also serve as voice and meeting place where exhibits, discussions and reflections related to war, peace and conflict resolution is in focus. Obama is here.

The Center combines exhibits and films with digital communication and interactive installations.

The Center has a small book and souvenir shop. Good selection.

In our opinion, the individual exhibits were done well but the overall experience of the visit was underwhelming.

Another highlight of this trip up north is to see reindeers.  We joined a tour to visit a reindeer farm located about an hour’s drive inland from Tromsø.

Reindeer pull a sleigh through the night sky to help Santa Claus deliver gifts to good children on Christmas Eve. We see them on festive cards and decorations.

None had a red nose or responded to the call of Rudolph.

It was around midday when we got there. The sky was steel grey with a hint of pink in the direction of the sun.

According to Wikipedia, reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), also known as the caribou in North America, is a species of deer that is native to Arctic, sub-Arctic, tundra, boreal and mountainous regions of northern Europe, Siberia and North America. Some populations are sedentary and the ones we saw are migratory.

Upon arrival, after getting off the bus, we were led to a shed where we were provided with an extra layer of waterproof one-piece outerwear because the temperature was around -20°C. It was the coldest afternoon I had ever experienced in my life.

We were allowed to pet the reindeer when we were inside the fenced area.

All were keen to approach us since we had food in our hands.

The reindeer loved lichen, presumably one of the very few things the reindeers can find and eat on the frozen tundra.

They were not shy with the lichens but did not like people touching them. Many of them are youngsters.

The tour was run by ethnic Sami people. The Sami’s have historically been known in English as the Lapps or the Laplanders, but the guide explained that these terms are perceived as derogatory as they mean “rag” or small pieces of textile.

They made hot tea for us in the tent and also explained various aspects of nomadic life while passing around traditional artifacts.

We sat in a “sleigh” made of slabs of wooden planks crudely made to form a frame and a platform, covered by animal skin.  The reindeer were pulling us just like how the Sami’s or Santa Clause was transported.

Overall, we had fun but the reindeer “sleigh” ride was not as exciting as we thought. It was similar to the speed of a donkey ride. We could have walked faster. Rides pulled by dogs (huskys) would have been more energetic.

We had two main objectives on this trip to Tromsø in Norway: Northern lights (aurora borealis) and reindeers.

We joined a lights-chasing tour one night – spent four hours with a “guide” who directed the driver to take us inland, looking for a cloud-free patch of night sky. There were plenty of stars, and even a galaxy(?- Chris saw a small hazy oval patch), but no aurora.

On the next night, we saw the Northern Lights from our balcony, appearing behind the mountain across the harbor – it was weak but visible and persisted for about 15 minutes. This is the best Northern lights photo from the whole trip.

We stayed in Tromsø over Christmas  – practically everything was closed for a couple of days, including that what appears to be the city’s main souvenir store.

A Christmas tree in the town center park.

Did you know that the giant Christmas tree at New York’s Rockerfellar Centre is a gift from Norway every year ?

Most of our activities were centered around the Radisson Blu hotel and Scandic Ishavshotel, both next to the port. This spot was effectively the center of town for those few days – most people that were out and about were tourists. All the tours including those originating from the cruise ships started from there.

Tromsø was selected by the Norwegian National Olympic Committee as Norway’s candidate for the 2018 Winter Olympics. This would have made Tromsø the first city north of the Arctic Circle to host the games. In 2008, the NOC suspended Tromsø’s bid, citing excessive costs

Arctic hunting, from Novaya Zemlya to Canada, started up around 1820. Tromsø was the major centre of Arctic hunting and became a major Arctic trade centre from which many Arctic expeditions originated.

Hence, there is a Polar Museum (Polarmuseet i Tromsø) by the harbor with all sorts of seal hunting and polar bear trapping paraphenalia.

Lots of histories and stories about life on Svalbard and explorations to the north pole.

View of the bridge that connects the island to the mainland.

Arctic Cathedral (Ishavskatedralen, literally “The Cathedral of the Arctic Sea”) across the harbor is a landmark for the city.

Dedicated in 1965, glass mosaic added 1972 and new organ installed 2005.

Modern, simple, severe.

Tromsø is a port of call for the Hurtigruten.

Hurtigruten (literally The Fast Route) is a ferry line along Norway’s jagged coastline. Originally, Hurtigruten was used as a means of transportation for passengers, goods and mail along the coast of Norway. The ships still transport a limited amount of cargo, but today the ships resemble cruise ships more closely than the original coastal steamers.

The southbound ships arrive at 23:45, and depart at 01:30 in the night, to Finnsnes, … Lofoten, Trondheim and Bergen all year round. MS Nordnorge has her own on-board Expedition Team and serves as a university at sea.

Tromsø’s city’s library.

It would be nice to come back in the summer. Things will look so differently.


Before spring arrives, we want to post these pictures before they become out of season. We went to Norway over Christmas.

Our first destination was Tromsø in Northern Norway – at the top of the Scandinavian land mass.

It is the third largest urban area north of the Arctic Circle (following Murmansk and Norilsk). Most of Tromsø, including the city centre, is located on the island of Tromsøya, 350 kilometres (217 mi) north of the Arctic Circle.

In the city centre, the sun is not visible between November 21 and January 21. We arrived around noon – the brightest time of the day.

The city is warmer than most other places located on the same latitude, due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. The temperature was fairly constant at around -10 degrees celsius. Thankfully it was not windy.

We rented an apartment south of the city center.

Our apartment building looks like the one above except that ours faces the harbor with a balcony above the water.

This area is full of new buildings unlike the older town center that is famous for its wooden houses.

The view across the harbor is the mainland.

A cable car goes up to Mount Storsteinen, 420 metres (1,380 feet) above sea level, with a panoramic view over Tromsø.

All kinds of ships passed by all hours of the day.

Our apartment has two bedrooms and a large living/dining room that opens to the balcony (one can sit outside and stare at the harbor, if there was no snow on the outdoor furniture).

The apartment was about 10-15 minutes walk from the city center. We trekked back and forth many times.

On the way, we passed the Polaria – a museum/aquarium – a touristy place for the cruise ship crowd – the building looked like a toppled deck of tiles or books.

The streets were largely empty due to the holidays.

This is Tromsø’s cathedral – built in 1861 largely with wood.

More pictures to come.

Rotterdam Blaak Station is the intercity train station nearest to my hotel. Above ground it has a flying saucer-like canopy.

It is a station situated below ground for the national railway network but not part of the Rotterdam metro system. The metro stop also named Blaak is next to it. Confusing isn’t it, unless I misread the maps.

While waiting for a train to take me to Schiphol Airport, I snapped these pictures in a quick burst before my train arrived.

To me, the station is an exercise in De Stijl (and perhaps a bit of Constructivism).

De Stijl was founded in 1917 in Leiden which is only 2 stops away from this station.

Having 4 platforms, the station was completed in 1993.

The blue/green neon-ish lights and transparent glass bricks do remind me of some MTV music videos of the 80’s.

Sections of the roof is wavy.

Simple arrangement of tiles to depict train carriages.

Sculptured underside of the landing and walkways … it echoes the graphical lines on a transport network map.

A hint of surrealism with these framed mirrors.

Notice the optical illusion at the feet of the white-tiled pillars.

Since this is not a major stop, many trains dashed past passengers on the platforms at high speed without slowing down.

My train arrived on time. It stopped at Delft, The Hague, and Leiden before the airport which was about 30 minutes away.



Cube Houses (Kubuswoningen) are a set of residential houses designed by architect Piet Blom and based on the concept of “living as an urban roof”, i.e., high density housing with sufficient space on the ground level. It is built in the late 70’s over Overblaak Street between Blaak and Oude Haven.

Blom tilted the cube of a conventional house 45 degrees, and rested it upon a hexagon-shaped pylon. The walls and windows are angled at 54.7 degrees. The total area of the apartment is around 100 square metres (1,100 sq ft), but around a quarter of the space is unusable because of the walls that are under the angled ceilings.

His design represents a village within a city, where each house represents a tree.

The cubes share a common area with no traffic which presents a nice atmosphere of a community. They reminded me of the heads of giant anime robots – mecha – think Gundam, for example.

There are 38 cubes and two large cubes, all attached to each other. There is a museum of chess pieces in one of the 38 cubes and a hostel in one of the larger cubes.

An apartment is opened as a museum –  Kijk-Kubus  – but it was too crowded and I did not bother to get inside.

Just across the square from the Cube Houses is Marthal. On 19 November 2009 work began on Marthal – the first covered market in the Netherlands. It was officially opened in 2014.

Its design is unique in that apartments are draped over the daily market in a horseshoe shape. It is spectacular given the scale of the whole structure.

The main hall houses the market itself, shops and restaurants, a supermarket and a 4-storey car park underground. It was a very popular location for locals and tourists alike.

There is a Chinese grocery store – Wah Nam Hong – which has a “restaurant”. The store is well stocked but the menu is however very limited. I tried but would not recommend it. If you want Asian food, the all-you-can-eat sushi chain restaurant is much more attractive and extremely popular.

The artist Arno Coenen created the Horn of Plenty, the biggest work of art in the world. Its bright colours cover an area of ​​11,000 m2.

While I was there, the weather was quite miserable – wet and cold. This marketplace is the perfect antidote to the grayness outside and to fill up with foods from the world.

One stop shopping for all of one’s culinary needs.

Wish there is one in Switzerland.

Rotterdam is a fun city.

These are the photos I (Chris) took and posted on Facebook. The series was 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 #346 – perform – new york


random photo  #347 – lima bias – kuala lumpur


random photo #348 – feeka – kuala lumpur


random photo #349 – gaze – penang


random photo #350 – bend – geneve


random photo #350 bis – twist – geneve


random photo #351 – long – budapst


random photo #352 – birds 2- kuala lumpur


random photo #353 – peranakan – penang


random photo #354 – hung over – aosta


random photo #355 – lunch – new york


If you are interested in seeing other Random Photos, click on the  random  tag on the left.
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