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We spent a few hours before sundown in the Songyan cultural and creative park 松山文創園區 in Taipei. A and F joined us.

Starting our walk from the brand new Eslite Hotel right next to the Park, there was such a contrast of the new and old. Loved the hotel lobby which is designed to resemble a spacious modern library with books lining the walls and high ceiling.

The Park was based on the “Taiwan Sōtokufu Tobacco Monopoly Bureau” created during the Japanese colonial period. It was the first modernized tobacco factory in Taiwan.

After some restoration, it was taken over by the Taiwan Monopoly Bureau and renamed the “Taiwanese Provincial Tobacco and Alcohol Monopoly Bureau Songshan Plant”.

In 2001, it was appointed by the Taipei City Government as the No. 99 cultural heritage site of the city and renamed the “Songshan Cultural and Creative Park”. In 2011, it is officially opened to the public and has been transformed into a creative hub of Taiwan.

According to its website, the architectural style of the buildings belongs to the genre of “Japanese Early Modernism”, with emphasis placed on horizontal lines, simple classic shapes, and refined workmanship. The boiler room, mechanical maintenance factory, and tobacco Factory were completed in 1939, and began producing rolled tobaccos with 1200 workers.

Apparently, the Park was not designed with a commercial focus, but rather, its mission is to kindle creativity and innovation, and to be in synch with interdisciplinary development. 

We wandered into the complex and entered a number of shops that sells crafts and designed items.

Johannes Vermeer’s masterpiece reproduced by swatch tapes

Cafe and exhibition areas

Artifacts from the past. Cigarette packs and container wrappers.

Bright colored office equipment of yesteryears.

The concept of an “industrial village” was employed. Besides the production line, the benefits and needs of the plant’s employees were also taken into consideration.

With its large open spaces and courtyards, the site was a pioneering design for industrial plants at that time.

There are a number of statues in this courtyard. We are not keen on the rather tortured pose of this statue.

Nice fountain with more statues

A penguin amongst tropical flora ?

We were too late for the Taiwan Design Museum. The tropical vegetation is a nice contrast to the cool modern designs housed in the old building.

Tobacco storage barn now used as massive exhibition spaces.

Overlooking the park is the new 16-storey Eslite Hotel where we started, it looked stunning at dusk. The lights on the facade form several horizontal lines that appear to converge on the top left corner of the building. Sparkling, dynamic architecture.

Need more time here.

We spent almost a full day at the National Palace Museum (NPM) – 國立故宮博物院 which is in a suburb of Taipei. Built in the architectural style of a Chinese palace, the NPM has four stories, ornamented with corbels and colorful green tiled-roofs with yellow ridges.

A bit of history …

On Oct. 10, 1925, the NPM was officially founded to manage the Qing Imperial Possessions after the last Emperor of China abdicated. Most of the artifacts from the NPM’s collection was previously owned by the Beiping, Jehol and Shenyang (北平、熱河、瀋陽) temporary palaces. The NPM’s artifact collection comprised that inherited from the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing courts.

In fall 1948, the Communist Party of China began gaining an upper hand in the Chinese Communist Revolution. The NPM decided that the most precious artifact be transported to Taiwan and the remaining artifacts be shipped whenever possible.

Jade on display in a 2-year exhibit -實幻之間—院藏戰國至漢代玉器特展

On Dec. 21, 1948, the NPM artifacts, stored in about 500 containers were transported to Taiwan via a naval ship. A second batch of about 4000 containers arrived in January 1949 by the navy and merchant ships.

Bronze from Zhou dynasty

In 1965, the new NPM in Taipei opened to the public in the current buildings displaying artifacts including calligraphy, famous paintings, bronzes, tapestries, porcelains, jades, curios, rare books, and historical documents.

The history of the NPM follows closely modern Chinese history and it is a fascinating story. Click here to read the NPM’s official history.

Inscriptions in 32 columns of about 500 characters inside a big bronze cauldron – 毛公鼎 – 877-771 BC

Tuned bell-like musical instrument

Ancient bronze dish – to my eyes the motifs are less oriental and more pre-Columbian american – Mexican/Azetec

Below are a few that caught my attention.

We like the scholarly approach in presenting the work which has been well researched and simply explained.

There are a lot of caligraphy work – we saw a group of school children doing an assignment on various pieces on display

There is so much to see calligraphy, painting, sculpture, religious art, jade, ceramics, …

Talk about neat handwriting !

We managed to only photograph the lower half of this painting.

They really are very pleasing to the eyes.

Three pieces in the museum collection are often misrepresented as national treasures because they are very popular with museum-goers. One is the bronze cauldron 毛公鼎 with the inscription we showed above.

The other is a stone 肉形石 which was carved during the Qing dynasty from banded jasper to resemble a piece of dongpo pork 東坡肉 – braised pork with skin and layers of meat and fat.

The third is a sculpted jadeite cabbage 翠玉白菜 – known for its subtle shade of green and the insect that is camouflaged.

There was a huge shop in the museum to satisfy all tastes in souvenirs, collectibles and gifts. The intellectual properties are being monetized smartly. We spent quite a bit of time shopping and happily took home a fridge magnet in the shape of the braised fatty pork rock.

We went to the affiliated restaurant on the grounds of the museum, a nice modern place. The famous pork and cabbage are on the Silks Palace menu.

Love to spend more time here.

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 #396 – gathering – penang


random photo  #397 – moonlight – ortigia


random photo #398 – street life – catania


random photo #399 – wings of desire – taorminawings-1.jpg

random photo #400 – ascension – giardini-naxos


random photo #401 – relics – siracusa



random photo #402 – coded – budapest



random photo #403 – oh! – penang


random photo #404 – ends – miami


random photo #405 – toad – penang



If you are interested in seeing other Random Photos, click on the  random  tag on the left.
We have nothing to do with the ads below.

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 #386 – high rise – penang


random photo  #387 – decibels – penang



random photo #388 – hive – abu dhabi


random photo #389 – waves – milano


random photo #390 – untitled 3 – sao paulo

Cannot be found.

random photo #391 – 250 more or less


random photo #392 – conflagration


random photo #393 – camouflaged – langkawi


random photo #394 – shine – kuala lumpur


random photo #395 – spring time – lausanne


If you are interested in seeing other Random Photos, click on the  random  tag on the left.
We have nothing to do with the ads below.

This is the third post on our visit to the former residence of Marshal Zhang 少帥禪園 in Taipei. Part 1 is about the buildings. Part 2 tells the story of the famous resident. This post covers our lunch at the restaurant.

Zhang Xueliang 張學良 who was under house arrest over a 40-year period lived here for a long time. For his story, see part 2.

The restaurant offers four set menus – no a la carte dishes. We ordered the Young Marshal’s Menu and Lady Zhao’s All Fish Menu.

Traditional Chinese food served in the style of a Western style tasting menu.

Zhang Xueliang emigrated to Hawaii in 1990 and died there in 2001 at 100 years old. The restaurant claims that they researched his diet and designed the meals accordingly.

Lady Zhao is 趙一荻 aka Edith Chao (nicknamed 趙四小姐) was the mistress of Zhang who accompanied him for many years in this residence. Her preference for fish in her diet is unknown to us.

According to Wikipedia, to accommodate the mistress, Zhao begged for and received the acceptance of the wife.

The liquid was not there when it came out. I took too longer taking the picture.

Obviously, some one spent time designing these dishes.

Traditional chicken and abalone soup cooked in a bowl with a heavy lid.

Le Creuset concept. All the goodness remains in the soup.

A Chinese meal must have some rice. Right ?

The different colorful plates added to the experience.

We were pleasantly surprised by the meal. Highly recommended.

This is the second post on our visit to the former residence of Marshal Zhang 少帥禪園 located just outside of Taipei. Click here to read the first part.

We booked a table for lunch at the restaurant which offered a very limited tasting menu.

The restaurant is in what seems to be the main building of classical Japanese design with windows intricately latticed.

It was a weekday; there were only four or five occupied tables at lunch. The interior is not luxurious but somewhat modern and Japanese, with a display of a small fountain, hanging plants and what seemed like potted giant bonsai trees.

The whimsical decorations continue …

The soft and comfortable details seem ironic since this is one of the places of house arrest for Marshal Zhang which lasted nearly 40 years, although he was treated well. He gained his freedom in 1975 when he was in his 70’s.

Zhang Xueliang 張學良 was the effective ruler of Northeast China and much of northern China after the assassination of his father, Zhang Zuolin 張作霖 (the “Old Marshal”), by the Japanese on 4 June 1928. His father as a warlord was in 1920 the supreme ruler of Manchuria.

In the 1930’s, the leader of the Republic of China at the time, Chiang Kai-shek, focused on fighting the communists within China rather than the threat of the Japanese.

He was detained in Xi’an in 1936 by Zhang Xueliang and another general in order to force the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) to change its policies regarding the Empire of Japan and the Communist Party of China. This detention precipitated a political crisis, known as the Xi’an Incident 西安事變.

The crisis ended after two weeks of negotiation, in which Chiang was eventually released and returned to Nanjing, accompanied by Zhang. Chiang agreed to end the ongoing civil war against the communists and began actively preparing for the impending war with Japan.

Once Chiang were away from Zhang’s loyal troops, Chiang had him put under house arrest near the Nationalist capital, wherever it moved to. In 1949 Zhang was transferred to Taiwan.

There is a picture of Zhang and Chiang’s son at the residence.

After Chiang’s death in 1975, he gained some freedom but it was not restored officially until 1990. He immigrated to Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1993 and died of pneumonia in 2001 at the age of 100 there.

The food at the restaurant was very good. See our next post.

Happy New Year of the Pig !

We visited Taiwan in November last year. It has been many years since we lasted visited this island. We only had time to see Taipei.

Upon arrival, we checked into a spa hotel in Beitou 北投 in an area north of Taipei, which is famous for its volcanic sulfurous hot springs. Nearby is the former residence of Marshal Zhang which has been turned into a commercial enterprise – 少帥禪園 that include a tea house, a restaurant and a foot spa.

The residence comprises several small buildings built on a steep hillside overlooking Beitou and the Thermal Valley 地熱谷. The buildings are connected by walkways and stairs.

View of the roof of the residence and Beitou in a distance.

The gardens are very lush and well-tended. There are lots of little cutesy ceramic animals scattered all over the place. A bit too much if you ask me. I am pretty sure there were none when the Marshal was living there. You will notice them in the pictures.

The whimsy decorations soften the historical purpose of the residence – it was a place of house arrest for Zhang Xueliang or Chang Hsueh-liang 張學良 (1901-2001) nicknamed the “Young Marshal” (少帥), who was detained for almost 40-year period (1949-1975).

His study includes a photo of the “young marshall” and his lover 趙一荻 (nicknamed 趙四小姐, later his second wife) who accompanied him at this residence.

We know very little Modern Chinese history. My school did not teach Modern Chinese history.

He was a Manchu warlord who became a republican marshal and played an important role in shaping the Chinese world as we know it today. We will go into his story in the next post.

The residence was originally a part of the complex of the Xin Gao Hotel, built in the 1895-1945, Japanese colonial period.

In 1920, it was turned into a club for the Japanese military. During World War II, it was also a spot for the final pleasures of kamikaze pilots before they headed out on their suicidal missions.

A building which housed the guards who watch over the young marshal is converted into a tea house (open only in the afternoon). A beautiful set of drawers surrounded by soft toys and knickknacks is visible at the entrance to the tea house.

There is a place to soak one’s feet in warm sulfurous whitish water piped in from a nearby hot spring.

Flanked by banyan trees with hairy aerial roots, it was a shady, breezy relaxing spot. Perfect after some walking and just before lunch.

We booked a table for lunch at the restaurant. Our next post will feature the story of the young marshal, to be followed by a post on the fabulous food we had.


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 #376 – dolphins – penang

dolphin pool-1.jpg


random photo  #377 – haxen – cologne



random photo #378 – rain – langkawi



random photo #379 – shutters – chateaux d’oex



random photo #380 – secure – penang


random photo #381 – plan – aosta



random photo #382 – not trees – penang


random photo #383 – shutters 2 – cologne



random photo #384 – calming – langkawi



random photo #385 – IXIXIXI – orleans


If you are interested in seeing other Random Photos, click on the  random  tag on the left.
We have nothing to do with the ads below.

Our last post on Ukraine …

St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral (Володимирський кафедральний собор) is situated on Tarasa Shevchenko Blvd across the botanical garden and about 2 blocks from our hotel. It is one of Kiev’s major landmarks and the main cathedral of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchy.

This neo-Byzantine monument was our first stop in downtown Kiev. It was late afternoon and many office workers were leaving for the weekend and coming in to say a prayer. Ladies have to wear a scarf.

The cathedral was completed in 1882, however, the paintings were fully completed only in 1896.

The interior is quite dark which enhances the gold-accented fresco-lined walls and columns, and giant chandeliers.

The colorful mosaics were executed by masters from Venice. The frescoes were created under the guidance of a professor and by a group of famous painters, including Viktor Vasnetsov and Mikhail Vrubel.

The cathedral is dedicated to Vladimir the Great who in 989 AD accepted Christianity, leading the abandonment of paganism among the Kievan Rus’ people.

The Christianization of Rus people (Русь ) firmly allied it with the Byzantine Empire. The Greek learning and book culture was adopted in Kiev and other centers of the country. Churches started to be built on the Byzantine model.

We do not have a description of the body who is displayed and revered. It is not Vladimir.

St. Volodymyr’s is a beautiful church and in our opinion, more so than those in the site of the cave monastery. See earlier post here.

Inside the church is a few stands that sell religious art and souvenirs. They were not obtrusive and did not dilute the atmosphere. The church was really busy and not a tourist attraction, which is heartening to see. 

In the news at the time this post was drafted, Ukraine created the biggest schism in Christianity in centuries, as it breaks from the authority of a Moscow-based patriarch and formally gain recognition for its own church (“autocepaly”) from Constantinople (Istanbul), taking tens of millions of followers and church properties. Ukraine’s Parliament voted in December 2018 to force the Moscow-affiliated church, currently known as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, to instead call itself the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

See New York Times article here.

This cathedral of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchy will probably become more prominent as a result.

Due to the lack of time, we did not get to see the other even more prominent church in Kiev – St. Sophia’s Cathedral (Софійський собор). Well, next time.

Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Києво-Печерська лавра), also known as the Kiev Monastery of the Caves, is a historic Orthodox Christian monastery which gave its name to one of the city districts where it is located in Kiev.

Since its foundation as the cave monastery in 1051, the Lavra has been a preeminent center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in Eastern Europe. Together with the Saint Sophia Cathedral, it is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kiev Pechersk Lavra is essentially a complex split into two parts. One above ground and one below. It is very spread out with numerous buildings.

Built in 1073-8 AD, the main church of the monastery was destroyed during the World War II after the Nazi Germany troops occupied the city of Kiev. The reconstruction of the cathedral began in 1998 and was completed in time for its reconsecration during the Ukrainian Independence Day ceremonies in August 2000.

Great Bell Tower –  it was the tallest free-standing belltower at the time of its construction in 1731–1745.

It is an active monastery. Monks dressed in black walk around the complex. The monastery has a very informative web site in English – including information for local churchgoers and pilgrims –

The caves were the beginning of a detailed excavation in which monks created a labyrinth of underground caves and catacombs. Below ground, this network takes on a greater meaning as it is full of mummified monks, religious relics, and icons.

We were so distracted by the above-ground complex that we left it too late to explore the caves. Too bad as it would the most unique sight.  Well, next time.

In the news at the time this post was drafted, Ukraine created the biggest schism in Christianity in centuries, as it breaks from the authority of a Moscow-based patriarch and formally gain recognition for its own church (“autocepaly”), taking tens of millions of followers and church properties. Ukraine’s Parliament voted in December 2018 to force the Moscow-affiliated church, currently known as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, to instead call itself the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

See New York Times article here.

The cave monastery is owned by the Ukrainian state but occupied by followers of the Moscow patriarch under a long-term lease, could become a point of contention. What an ugly mix of geopolitics and religion.

View of the monastery garden

A view of the monastery from the River Dneiper. Due to the camera angle, the statue appears next to the monastery, but in reality they are actually quite far apart.

On our way out, we noticed these brand new copper tops of church spires. The monastery apparently has a shop that supplies the parishes with this essential architectural element.

We really missed out a lot of sights on this short tour. If this is interesting to you, the monastery has a wonderful 3D tour online at  Go take a look.

We spent a few days in Kiev (Kyiv) in Ukraine to see the 2018 Champions League final in June 2018. We knew little about Kiev or Ukraine, here are a few things we saw and learnt.

Metro stop nearest to our hotel – Universytet (Університет) – the style of “M” is the same as in Moscow – all Soviet state’s metro probably have the same logo

The National Opera House (Національний академічний театр опери та балету України ім. Т. Г. Шевченка) – –  we saw a ballet there

Independence Monument located on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) built in 2001, and to its right, the National Tchaikovsky Music Academy.

Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) – Ukraine has been independent since 1991, splitting from the Soviet Union (USSR).

Orange Revolution started here in late 2004 where hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in the square and nearby streets, and pitched tents for several weeks, protesting against electoral fraud. It led to an additional round of presidential elections which were won by the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko. Victor Yanukovych who lost the election served as Prime Minister.

The Ukrainian presidential election of 2010 was Ukraine’s fifth presidential election since declaring independence and was won by Viktor Yanukovych beating the then Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The square was the site of Euromaidan (Євромайдан) protests beginning in November 2013, progressing to violent clashes, fires, and ending in the ousting of the elected Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014. We created an earlier post (click here) on the extravagant residence of this ex-President just outside of Kiev.

The next presidential election is set for 31 March 2019.

TsUM (ЦУМ), a high-end Russian department store –

Champions League Final celebratory street fair on Khreshchatyk street next to Independence Square

NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium where the final game was played – Read Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1

Stalin empire style built between 1930-1955 – one of the “Stalinkas” on Khreshchatyk street – the star is no longer red – it is now in blue and yellow – colors of the national flag

Museum “Memorial to Holodomor victims” (Музей «Меморіал жертв Голодомору») – opened in 2008 on the right bank of the Dnieper river adjacent to the Kiev Pechersk Lavra.

Holodomor literally translated from Ukrainian means “death by hunger” – up to 4 million Ukrainians died between 1932-1933.

Actions by the Soviet Union such as rejection of outside aid, confiscation of all household foodstuffs, and restriction of population movement confer intent, defining the famine as genocide.

The Kiev Pechersk Lavra (the cave monastery) stocks copper roof top crosses for churches around the country. See later post for details.

The Motherland Monument (Батьківщина-Мати) – built by the Soviets, now controversial in modern independent Ukraine, allowed to remain standing because it is a part of a Museum on the history of Ukraine in World War II.

St. Andrew’s Church (Андріївська церква) next to a large and lively street market where we spent a nice afternoon.

Ukrainian driving licenses of the famous – in case you cannot read the names – E Macron, Mr Bean, Tom Cruise are there.

More posts on Kyiv to come.

Dear Readers,

It has been a tradition on this blog to take a look back at some of the places we visited last year. In Part 1, we posted photos of places we visited in the second half of 2018. Here are the places we visited in the first half.

Click on the links, where provided to read more about the places of interest. There are usually a series of related posts per location, you can discover them easily in the calendar at the bottom of the post.

In reverse chronological order:

Entrance to Harbor of Lindau, on the shore of Lake Constance in the summer

Red carpet area in St Gallen, Switzerland

Champions League Final in Kiev, Ukraine

Real Madrid scored against Liverpool and went on to win the title 3-1 –  Marcelo, Bale (2 goals – 64′ and 83′), Benzema (1 goal at 51′), Modric and Ronaldo

The Lavra, Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine

Neues Rathaus at Marienplatz, Munich

Late night Ginza, Tokyo, in April

Zhengyang Gate, Qianmen, Beijing – 正阳门箭楼

Wanchai, Hong Kong in April

WYK, Hong Kong

Wadi Rum, Jordan

Dead sea resort, Jordan

Petra, Jordan

Oslo, Norway where we spent the beginning of the new year

Nobel Peace Center, Oslo

Let’s see where we will go in 2019.

Dear Readers, Happy 2019 !

It is a tradition on this blog to take a look back at some of the places we visited last year. We traveled more in 2018 than 2017, at least in terms of distance traveled. Chris had been to Hong Kong and Tokyo twice and went to the Middle East.

Click on links, where provided to read more about the places of interest. There are usually a series of related posts per location, you can discover them easily in the calendar at the bottom of the post.

In reverse chronological order:

London – Regent Street, an early Christmas for us

Covent Garden, London

Hong Kong  – on Star Ferry in October

Taipei, Taiwan

The new Eslite – 誠品行旅

The old Grand – 圓山大飯店

Beitou –  just outside Taipei – 少帥禪園

Los Angeles – wedding at NeueHouse in Hollywood

Col de la Croix de Fer, 2067m in the Alps, France

Albertville, France

Tokyo, in June – Hie Shrine 日枝神社

First half of 2018 in our next post.



This is no. 10 in a series of posts that is about funny business names or signs that we captured on film. From time to time during our travels, we come across English name or signage that makes us smile.

Check out Hilarity in names #1, #2, #3#4#5, #6#7, #8, and #9.

Like Shoes in Amman, Jordan

Mall in Beijing

Uniqlo on Ginza, Tokyo, 4F – Womens Clean ?

And on 5F – Womens Bottoms

On the same street in Kiev, Ukraine – two eateries named after famous people …



“,” in ladies fashion

“super superficial” – we saw this in London, no idea what they do

Hope you smiled too, more to come …

In the last few years, we have been posting on various bookstores around the world. If you missed the blog entries, click here for a shortlist of the visited bookstores posted on this site. I(Chris) admits to like loitering in bookstores, browsing, and buying books.

Our interest is not just in the stores that display and sell them. We like books. But admittedly, for various reasons, not many books have been read cover to cover.

Anyway, to make books as a topic a bit more interesting, we will talk about pairs of non-fiction books with a similar theme. To start, we have:

The Shortest History of Europe by John Hirst


Europe: A History by Norman Davies

These two books actually inspired us to make this post. First, we are not history buffs.

Europe: A History by Norman Davies was bought initially for a reason. One advantage of living in Europe is that we have more opportunity to visit a rich diversity of churches, historical sites, and castles, etc. Although we use guide books and read descriptions onsite, the information is more often sketchy and does not provide the broader context. Usually, we get the “what” but not the “why”. And we soon forgot what we saw after we left the site. Knowing the history and the bigger picture would make the visits more meaningful and enjoyable.

We liked the idea of a panorama, from the Ice Age to the Cold War. This book does it. It is a hefty 3-pounds, 1400-pages tome.

In Munich’s airport, I (Chris) recently bought The Shortest History of Europe by John Hirst. I was impressed by the first 2 chapters – 50 some pages of an effective overview of the history of classical/medieval Europe (Greek & Roman learning, Christianity and German warriors) and the modern Europe (Renaissance, Enlightenment and Romanticism). The history was told by a focus on explaining the driving forces behind the social trends and events. The remaining chapters explore what made Europe unique.

The plan is to finish the short one and then go to the big book for specific events.

+ + +

Next up is a trio of books on languages – quick fix french grammar, Wicked Italian and Learn German in a Hurry. Judging by the titles, one can surmise that we want to learn at least two of these languages in the shortest possible time. All three are official languages of Switzerland (our host country).

We happen to live in a French speaking canton – Vaud. So the French book got the most use. We actually have quite a few more books on learning French but unfortunately the number of books is not a reflection of our competence in the language.

Wicked Italian is a collection of long-form (probably old fashioned and even cute) insults, and it contains some swear words. Vaffanculo! The book is for amusing our Italian friends.

+ + +

One of our favorite topics is food.

Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking – The Science and Lore of the Kitchen is a classic first published in 1984. The edition we have has been updated. The book is comprehensive and accurate on food science and practical cooking skills. The appendix has a primer on chemistry. We read it to improve our general culinary knowledge and for its simple explanation on why certain combination of things/techniques would work or not.

Arts & Foods – Rituals since 1851 is a catalogue of an exhibition we saw in the La Triennale di Milano in 2015 as a part of the World Expo. The following blurb sums it up nicely”

… an exhibition that brings attention to the theme of the event: ‘feeding the planet, energy for life’; creating an area for art in the center of the city, outside of the official expo venue. curated by Germano Celant, the exposition investigates the relationship between the arts and different food-related rituals around the world, offering: an historical view of the aesthetic and functional influences eating has had on the language of creativity; while exploring the way in which art in all its forms has dealt with themes of nourishment.

There are in this 960-page book, pictures of special forks used by the cannibals in New Caledonia, images of food in Italian neorealism cinema, as well as essays on design, autocracy, war, famine and migration. It is a smorsgabord.

+ + +

About Switzerland, our host country – we bought Swiss Watching by Diccon Bewes. Chris found a copy of Watching the English by Kate Fox at a book swap at work.

We enjoyed reading Diccon Bewes who is a travel writer from the UK and now living in the land of milk and honey (see tag line). The book is funny, insightful, and we can fact-check him.

We have just started with the book about the English. The tag line is The Hidden Rules of English Behavior. The writer herself a Brit and a social anthropologist takes a humorous look at and tries to explain Englishness.

“Every social situation is fraught with ambiguity, knee-deep in complication, hidden meanings, veiled power-struggles, passive-aggression and paranoid confusion.” 

Taken from a section of Goodreads which has a collection of quotes from the book.

+ + +

Last but not least, this pair of publications was probably the result of year-end shopping at airports, at least one was bought in the United States. According to the cover, the Onion’s Our Dumb World (Atlas of The Planet Earth) is the 73rd edition, hard cover and comes with 30% more Asia. If you do not know The Onion (America’s finest news source), click here to explore and enjoy.

2018 is a complicated year, a rich time for history writers. It will be interesting to see how much of the observations and prospects discussed in The World in 2018 panned out in reality. Judging by our daily world news, things will get even more unpredictable in 2019.

We encourage all to read more in the new year. We will.


Back in June, we spent one day in St. Gallen, on our way to Kiev from Lindau.

After seeing the Abby and its library (see the post here), we were looking for a place for dinner that was not far from the train station and our hotel. Not really expecting much, Lokal was the restaurant we chose from Google map.

Lokal, which is on the other side of tracks at the train station and it turns out to be a part of The Lokremise.

The Lokremise is a cultural center for St Gallen. It consists of a concert/theater/dance space, an outpost for the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, the cinema Kinok as well as our bar/restaurant Lokal.

The Lokremise was built between 1903 and 1911 at the time of the textile boom. It is the largest surviving locomotive ring depot in Switzerland.

I wondered what was the purpose of this tower. It looks mysterious.

The depot is a monument of national importance. The buildings were renovated in 2009/2010 and converted into the current complex.

The circular layout of the rail depot has been adapted to form a courtyard for having drinks outdoors.

Some train tracks remain visible under the pebbles. The space can be a really good lounge-y, party space.

Kinok moved into the new Lokremise cube, designed by the Zurich architects Isa Stürm Urs Wolf SA, featuring a cinema room, screening room and bar.

The art museum’s space is situated behind the cinema.

Sculptures and drinks.

The ambiance changed a little after dark.

The post-industrial, high-ceiling dining room is made less grungy by huge mirrors and warm color light fixtures.

Not sure what the idea is with these rows of chrome hemispheres … but they made the large otherwise stark wall a lot more interesting.

The food was overall quite good; the space is phenomenal. Location is super convenient. Highly recommended.


While we were in Kiev (Kyiv), we had a choice of visiting either Chernobyl (the site of the nuclear reactor accident) or Mezhyhirya (the residence of Ukraine’s ousted ex-president). They were both available as a day trip and one day was all we had. We took the safe option to view this monument of corruption.

We ordered a taxi from the hotel. It took us about 45 minutes to reach the residence outside Kiev.

The Mezhyhirya Residence (Межигір’я) is an estate where Viktor Yanukovych lived when he was prime minister and then president of Ukraine. It is now a museum displaying Yanukovych’s luxurious lifestyle at the people’s expense.

Yanukovych lived in the estate from 2002 to 21 February 2014, when he fled the country to Russia during the 2014 Ukrainian revolution (Euromaiden). He was one of the patrons of the now infamous Paul Manafort (ex-Trump campaign manager).

The estate is over 140 ha (350 acres) and is situated on the banks of the Dnieper river. It is packed with recreational facilities from a yacht pier, an equestrian club, a shooting range, a tennis court to hunting grounds. Unfortunately we did not see any of these facilities as they were quite spread out. We could have rented a golf cart but did not initially think we needed one.

The estate also has an automobile museum displaying Yanukovich’s exotic cars, a golf course, an ostrich farm, a dog kennel, numerous fountains and man-made lakes, a helicopter pad, and a small church. The entire complex is enclosed by a five-meter tall fence along the perimeter.

The grounds are beautifully maintained and we saw several couples in gown and tux taking wedding pictures at various scenic spots.

Gazebo with giant chairs

The main feature of the residence is the so-called “club house”, also known as Object Honka (Honka being the name of the Finnish company that built the log house).

Front of the House

Back of the House – only the top half is visible

He even built a fake Roman ruins next to the the House

On 21 February 2014, the police withdrew and Euromaiden protesters were able to enter the complex. There was no looting or vandalism. Activists later turned it into a public park.

Viktor Yanukovych served as President from February 2010 (defeating Yulia Tymoshenko) until his removal from power in February 2014. It started when Yanukovych rejected a pending EU association agreement, choosing instead to pursue a Russian loan bailout and closer ties with Russia. He is currently in exile in Russia and wanted by Ukraine for high treason.

Yanukovych has been widely criticized for “massive” corruption and cronyism with an estimated net worth of $12 billion.

Private zoo with many different kinds of birds and animals – ostrich

It was said “For most of [Yanukovych’s] career he was a public servant or parliament deputy, where his salary never exceeded 2000 US dollars per month. … In a country where 35% of the population live under poverty line, spending 100,000 dollars on each individual chandelier seems excessive, to say the least.” He was robbing his people.

Viktor Yanukovych hired and paid millions to Paul Manafort who was Donald Trump’s election campaign chairman for a period and has since been found guilty of five tax fraud charges, one charge of hiding foreign bank accounts and two counts of bank fraud. He recently lost his plea deal after being caught lying repeatedly to the FBI. Real crooks.

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 #366 – giant – munich


random photo  #367 – dessert – langkawi


random photo #368 – “new york style” – seoul


random photo #369 – tree – penang


random photo #370 – pattern – villandry


random photo #371 – shower – penang



random photo #372 – bloom – aosta


random photo #373 – celebrate – kuala lumpur


random photo #374 – lanterns – gyeonju


random photo #375 – islets – cologne


If you are interested in seeing other Random Photos, click on the  random  tag on the left.
We have nothing to do with the ads below.

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.
We have nothing to do with the ads below.

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.