Tag Archive | art

Oaxaca

The last day in San Cristóbal, after eating out at a fancy restaurant (not at a street tacos stall) I was visited by Montezuma’s Revenge. This is something that happens to every traveller who spends any time at all in Mexico,, at some point or another. It happened to me the day before we were due to take another long, 12 hour bus journey from San Cris to Oaxaca City. Fortunately for me, after a couple of pills of Immodium, I was fine, and actually the bus ride to Oaxaca was pretty enjoyable. We left San Cris at 10.30 am and arrived in Oaxaca about 22.15 to be met at the bus station by our Air Bnb hosts!

I have to say that I love this website more and more. We got to stay in cheap, self-catering places and we met charming, kind local hosts, and found it that much more pleasant than staying in impersonal hotels. So if you are not familiar, go ahead and sign up! You can use this referral to join.

Anyway so the lovely couple at our place picked us up in their car so we would not get lost late at night, and drove us to the apartment, which was small, clean and had everything we needed including a small kitchen, charming patio where we ate breakfast every day, and a parrot (in their place not ours) which continually shouted “Hola!”

Next morning we got up to explore Oaxaca, and by lunchtime we had decided that we really liked it a lot and were going to extend our stay there. We had intended to go on to Puebla after Oaxaca, on the way to Mexico City. But we decided to skip Puebla and stay in Oaxaca for another week. There seemed to be so much to see and do there, but the pace of the place made us feel like we wanted to just relax and “be” there,, not necessarily charging around from site to site. Since our friends Renee and Barry had recommended the place, we started to see the charm of it right away.

If San Cristobal had been the “musicians’ city” , Oaxaca was the artists’ city. Everywhere we saw beautiful artwork, galleries, museums, and street art. The vibe felt relaxed, despite the fact that Oaxaca was about the most political place we went in Mexico. And when I say that, I mean that there were armed police everywhere downtown, and the Zócalo had at least 3 demos or political gatherings going on at any given time. Nevertheless, the place had a distinctly artistic feel to it and we enjoyed it a lot. As to what we did there, mostly just hang out, walk around and photograph the beautiful buildings and squares and eat and drink  the delicious Mexican chocolate. We did take one tour from Oaxaca, which was to Monte Alban, the Pre- Columbian Zapotec site, which was wonderful. The tour was combined with a place where they demonstrated weaving and dying yarn with natural colours, Mitla, another important Zapotec archeological site, and with Hierve el Agua , an incredible rock formation that looks like a frozen waterfall. We also got to see how the local liquor, called mezcal,  is produced from the agave plant, and of course to taste several varieties of it.

But every day we walked down town from our apartment we felt relaxed, whilst never quite knowing what we would see. One day, there was a wedding with huge puppets representing the bride and groom, and all the guests dancing in the street; another day a load of parades (political demos?), another day we came across some kind of municipal festival in a huge open air amphitheatre, with lots of stalls, and free tastings of food, and local dances. One day, as advised by our “Oaxaca guru” Renee, we went to the public lending library for a language exchange, where I tested the limits of my Spanish, and D met a man whose mother tongue was not Spanish but the Zapotec minority language. It was all great fun. Oaxaca is a city where you can walk around and continually be surprised.

Oaxaca is such a pleasant city that  it’s hard to really sum it up. I can say that the market is a great place to eat and sample the special cuisine they have, and that there are many lovely squares where you can sit, eat, drink and people watch. It is highly recommended to try the local chocolate, which is not like any other chocolate I have ever tasted. You can pop into art galleries and chat to the artists everywhere you go. And in the evening there is (as in everywhere else we went in Mexico) live music of all kinds to go with your beer or mezcal. We found a lovely restaurant-bar called Praga, which had live jazz every evening, and lovely quotations from poets all over the walls.

Of course there were also many churches, museums and galleries to see in Oaxaca. But just hanging out there was really the thing I will remember most about our stay there.

One day on one of the main parks, El Llano, we saw a VW bus painted like the Magic Bus, from which a woman,a  blond girl and two dogs emerged. They were from Patagonia, in Argentina, and were travelling from Patagonia to ALASKA in this bus. The girl had been born on the road. They were financing the trip by selling a book and T shirts. When we asked them when they would get to Alaska, the woman said, “It doesn’t really matter, but it won’t be this year!”.

As hard as it was to drag ourselves away from Oaxaca, we knew we had to be in Mexico City by a certain date to fly home, and we didn’t want to miss the main sites in the capital, so we gave ourselves a week to be in DF, as it is called, before our flight, so eventually we had to book our Airbnb in Mexico city and buy a bus ticket, for our final ADO bus to the capital, a mere 8 hour trip. So stay tuned for the Mexican finale, DF, the Mexico City bit….

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The (B) itch is back! (sorry Elton)

As you can see I have not written for some time. I was recovering from my foot injury (which seemed to take forever) and then once I could walk normally again juggling with various travel destinations in my head, and possible courses of action. It’s not that I don’t enjoy life in our new home (Kfar Saba) – actually it’s great- clean, green, small enough to walk around but not so small that it is boring. There are tons of cultural events on here all the time and if we want to pop over to Tel Aviv for music, drinking, theatre etc, it’s only 30 minutes away. But as a travel- obsessed individual, the travel itch is never far from the surface of my skin. So I am constantly scanning  Dave’s   or the Esl Teachers Board and looking into various volunteering websites to plan our next getaway. I discovered that most volunteering sites demand a TON of money to get you a position, and often it doesn’t include flights, and usually just very basic accommodation, which in any case in those locations is dirt cheap (Vietnam, Myanmar, Central and South America).Also, most volunteering websites seem to be geared to very young gap year travellers, and not so many grey nomads, so I don’t know if it would really be appropriate for us to go on one of those things. So then I thought why shouldn’t I just go somewhere that we fancy,  and if we get a volunteering opportunity whilst we are there, then good, and if not we will just hang out. We often travel using Couchsurfing or Servas , since we don’t really enjoy staying in expensive hotels, and we prefer to meet locals and hang out with them.

I have mentioned Servas before- I think it’s an amazing way to travel if you have time. It’s so much more interesting than being a tourist, to spend time in the company of a local who can tell you so much more about a place than the guide book.

So I can’t exactly explain how this happened. I juggled more and more destinations in my head. Realizing that we have seen a lot of Asia and Europe but having  never been to Central or South America, three places kept popping into my mind: Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico. I know that technically Mexico is North America, but everyone thinks it isn’t. Anyhow I went to hear a lecture on Costa Rica and far from convincing me to go there, it put me off. I am not sure how this happened, ( maybe it was the pictures of the huge spiders and the swaying jungle rope bridges in the Cloud Forest) but when I see a lot of pictures of a place it either turns me on or off. Somehow, the latter occurred. But Mexico suddenly became a more attractive destination and as I started reading about it, it became more so- beaches, delicious food, Maya and Aztec sites, colonial architecture, cheap and accessible.  We initially thought to combine it with North America, but as often happens with me less seems better than more. I don’t want to gallop around the places on my itinerary I want to “hang around” in them for a long time and get to know them. So Mexico it is! Booked for February and planned to take about 6 weeks, to do it at a leisurely pace. So we will fly into the Yucatan peninsula, and work our way south through Chiapas and then fly out of Mexico City. I already have about 5 Servas hosts scattered around. And otherwise guest houses or Air BnB look to be about $20. Stay tuned for trip report on our return!

A very cultural week

*** Warning! Long blow-by-blow post. Please feel free to skip as necessary!

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The gorgeous Belvedere Palace

As I wrote in my last post, the trip to Vienna was booked before we  knew that were going to Sri Lanka. But in any case of course Vienna and Sri Lanka are going to be very different experiences. We had never been to Austria before, partly because of my bias against the German language, but we decided it was worth a try.

So we packed up and flew off to our lovely air bnb care of one Anton Herzl. We got the airport bus to downtown for a cheap 13 Euro return (being careful not to lose the return part of the ticket!)

The flat was very well located, 5 minutes walk from the U-bahn subway station and a leisurely 20 minutes do the city centre along the Danube canal. We mostly walked down and travelled back by subway when we were exhausted. U-bahn has a flat rate of 2.20 Euro and is easy to negotiate, and all the machines are in English as well as German.

The first day we ventured down town and just wandered around to see what we could see. WE saw the Parliament buildings (which are very impressive, but didn’t take the organized tour) the  City hall or Rathaus building, and the huge Museum quarter. Everywhere there are statues, and highly ornate neo-classical, baroque and a few art deco style buildings. IT’s all rather ovewhelming, and it’s hard not to constantly stop and take pictures. We then walked back through the gardens of the Rathaus and around the area of the Imperial Hofburg Palace.

On our second day we first went to find the ticket office to collect our ticket for the Vienna Boys’ Choir, which we would hear the following Sunday in the Mozart Mass at the Imperial Palace Chapel. After this we visited the Albertina Museum for the fantastic Chagall to Malevitch and Monet to Picasso exhibitions. Then we hit the Naschmarkt open food market and partook of our first proper Schnitzel. Actually it was hard to decide where to eat as there were so many lovely looking restaurants, but we finally picked one, and then wandered around a bit (taking more photos of course) There was a nice Asian place where the waiters were all Chinese, so we chatted a bit to them and came back there the next day.

In the evening we attended a meeting of Vienna Couchsurfing at a small bar, and met people from Vienna, Spain, Colombia, Finland and even Syria and Palestine. It was fun but hard to talk to everyone as there were so many people. When we left it was pouring with rain so we took a taxi home, as we were not sure how to negotiate the tram.

The third day was spent entirely at the amazing Imperial Palace the Hofburg, which has several different parts, and it is difficult to see everything if you don’t want to be “castled out”. As rather limited animal fans we passed on the Riding school, but if you are a horsey person you can do that. We saw the Silver collection and the Sissi Apartments, which show a peek into the lives of Franz Josef and his young wife Elizabeth (the Sissi of the movie fame) and it was a very interesting experience and made me want to brush up on my history. Everything was fascinating and beautifully laid out.We then returned to the Naschmarkt for supper to get a bit of Stir fry and practise our Chinese on the waiters.

The next day being Holocaust Day in Israel we identified by visiting both Holocaust Museums in Vienna. We found them rather underwhelming after all the grandeur of the Hapsburg palaces, especially as the museums themselves are not very well laid out or labelled, or even that easy to find. The first one in Judenplatz was particularly uninspiring, and had a temporary exhibition of documents relating to Simon Weisenthal. The second one was better and had a special exhibition on the contribution of Jews to modern music, and this had a very good audio visual commentary accessible by smart phone.In the evening we had tickets to a Mozart concert held in the Sala Terrena, one of the (many) houses occupied by Mozart during his time in Vienna. The concert was lovely but even more impressive were the decorations in the hall itself,which were just gorgeous.

Day 5 was a visit to the incredible Belvedere Palace. It was hard to choose where to go, as there is also the Schonbrun Palace, which we were told is completely different and also amazing, but one can’t see everything,right? Anyway the Belvedere was indeed lovely, and quite easy to get to on foot,by walking through the lovely Stadpark. Fortunately the Stadpark had a food fair going on that day, so we had a great Viennese hot dog on the way as an added bonus. On arrival at the Belvedere, we noticed some workers erecting lots of scaffolding and a small stage, and decorating everything with flowers. There was no seating so it wasn’t a concert. We discovered that the place had been hired by a very rich Indian family for a wedding, to which 1,000 guests had been invited. Apparently this is a “thing” now. There are two palaces, actually the Upper and Lower, and the gardens. Fearing exhaustion we chose only the Upper, where the famous “Kiss” picture by Klimt is housed, and were not disappointed. There are rooms upon rooms of gorgeous artworks and it just goes on and on… Anyway the visit to the Belvedere, with its ornate rooms and galleries was another wonderful day out in Vienna.

Dan wanted to have a glimpse of the Danube proper and not just the Canal, so the next day we walked via the Karmelite market towards the river. The market, in Leopoldstrasse, a Jewish neighbourhood of Vienna, was quite nice but nothing amazing. But on our way to the river we walked through the Prater amusement park which was nothing short of splendid. I am not usually a fan of these things but the big wheel was indeed impressive and the whole place had a sort of yesteryear charm to it which was quite lovely, added to the fact that the sun was shining. We reached the Danube eventually, which was, as I had feared rather disappointing. There were no restaurants or cafes along its banks, as there are along the canal, and frankly nothing at all to do there. SO we decided to head back to the area around the Stefansdom, the iconic church set in the Stefansplatz, and the beating heart of the Innere Stadt. There we went up to the top of the spire in the lift, and enjoyed a view out over the city.

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D on the Danube

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Amusement park at Prater

There were still a few more surprises for us in Vienna. We had tickets for the Vienna Boys’ Choir singing the Mozart Mass in the Imperial Hofburg Chapel. I had not realized this would be a “proper” Mass and not just a concert. This was a rather weird anthropological experience for us good Jews, never having attended Mass before. I was rather worried they would call us up to do whatever it is you do with the host and the wine, but fortunately we didn’t have to do that. The choir was of course outstanding and the accoustics were incredible. The whole experience was very special. Our final musical experience was actually devoid of music. We did a tour of the Opera house, which was very interesting, but didn’t attend a performance, as we couldn’t get tickets, and I didn’t fancy queueing up for 3 hours to stand through something that we didn’t know well, and there were only performances of less well-known operas on, so we decided to pass.

Our last day in Vienna we returned to Stefansplatz a bit( quick glass of white wine and marching band!) and then walked along the canal again to just chill out and try and take in all the sights. We were blessed with gorgeous hot weather, and chanced upon a cafe restaurant, amusingly named Tel Aviv beach, complete with sand, deck chairs, hummus and pita (which we didn’t eat) and a great view of the canal.

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Imperial Box at the Opera House

Thus ended our week and we now have a month to get ready for the next adventure- Sri Lanka! Bring it on…

 

 

Obamas and Fake Monets

We returned to Xiamen by way of Amsterdam (only a 5 hours layover this time), Hong Kong and Shenzhen.We took a ferry boat directly from Hong Kong International Airport to Shenzhen Shekou Port thereby bypassing passport control and customs just as we had done on the way to Macau last year.This is a highly recommended route,especially if you have a ton of suitcases,since the port workers take your luggage out of the airplane in HK and load it directly onto the ferry boat,so you don’t need to worry about carrying it until you exit the port in Shenzhen. This is great and extremely convenient. I think it may even be quicker than taking the subway downtown to Shenzhen (depending of course on which part of the city you want to end up in).

We had visited Shenzhen before and had enjoyed it a lot.I don’t know why everyone seems to think that Hong Kong is so cool.I mean,I know it has glitzy shopping malls and restaurants,but it is so damned expensive and you have to pay over $100 for a decent room there which is usually a tiny box whereas for only 300 RMB you can get a fabulous large suite and there is plenty of great shopping and restaurants to be had on the Chinese side of the border.Maybe we have been unlucky with the weather every time we have been in HK but in short,it doesn’t grab me.I am not a shopping person, anyway.

Shenzhen,the Chinese city over the border from Hong Kong,is connected by subway to the Hong Kong subway.If you arrive by land you go through passport control and customs and just follow the signs to reach China (assuming you have a Chinese visa of course).Shenzhen is a massive city populated by mostly migrants from other parts of China.Today it is pretty well-to-do with huge theme parks, shopping malls,green parks and a fantastic cheap subway which is squeaky clean and all conveniently labelled in English.All announcements are made in Chinese,Cantonese and English too. Last time we visited Splendid China,a sort of theme park encapsulating all the major sites of China.It is next to Window of the World,which is the same for many major world sites.So this time we forgo a visit to Minsk World or OCT East resort, all of which are massive theme parks, and headed for Dafen Artists Village.

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Dafen Artists’ village

This is an area which has a large quantity of art galleries selling any kind of artwork from copies of Van Goghs to traditional Chinese artworks.You can take along a picture and have it copied,or you can get stuff you already bought framed fairly cheaply.It was a bit more subdued and quiet than I was expecting maybe because people were still away for their annual Spring Festival Holiday,but there was the Shenzhen art Gallery in the middle and that had a free exhibition which was very enjoyable.

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Art Gallery,Shenzhen

In the evening we went to Sea World Plaza,a big square which houses many restaurants both Chinese and International, a large ship that has been made into a floating restaurant The whole area was illuminated for  Valentines’ Day complete with kitschy musical fountains and laser show.

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The floating restaurant,Sea World

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From the art exhibition,Shenzhen Gallery

The next day we visited another part of the city known as the OCT which stands for “Overseas Chinese Town”.Basically this is a part of the town where wealthy Chinese who have made their fortune overseas in various businesses,return to live and/or invest money.WE had come across this term in Xiamen as the part of the city where all the universities are located is also based on income from “Overseas Chinese” It is a way of putting back into the community.In Shenzhen there is a very trendy area called OCT Loft which houses sort of avant garde yuppy galleries and eateries and also has a space for live music performances.Unfortunately we didn’t manage to go to any performances but we did see some amazing art exhibitions,and strolled around the area a bit before making our way to the train station to catch the high-speed train back to Xiamen.The high speed train on this route only began running in December but it is definitely going to be useful as it cuts the train journey down from 9 or so hours to less than 4. I also find it preferable to going by plane,not just because of the price but also because it is more comfortable and saves doing all the airline check -in and security stuff.

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Noodles guy in yuppy OCT restaurant

So now we are back in Xiamen at the start of a new semester.We have some new students and some from last semester,and life is good.It was really cold when we arrived here but now the sun is shining and the sky is blue,and we are planning where to go for our May 1 holiday and what we will do at the end of this semester.Who knows? I certainly don’t!

Everyday life-Competitions,classes,and concerts

This entry may be a little pedestrian compared to trips to Taiwan and Korea,but life goes on and we do have an everyday routine,even if it is far removed from the one we experienced before we arrived in China.

This week was the culmination of a month’s work with our Speaking Competition team who competed yesterday in the Regional finals in Xiamen for the chance to compete in the National Competition in Beijing.Last year the competition was held in Fuzhou and our team consisted of 3 wonderful girls (and a fourth who was in the reserve team) who have now become our “XIamen Daughters.” In fact one of them,Shirley confided that after working with the boys this year we would “love her less”. I assured her that this would not be the case.And in fact,although we again had a great experience working with the two boys to prepare them for the contest,the relationship did indeed prove different from the one we built with our girls.Edison and Daniel worked very hard and made second prize in the contest,but were not lucky enough to go to the contest in Bejing.This year,unlike last year,the contest being held at Huaqiao University,only 10 minutes bus ride from our house,we did not need to travel by train or stay overnight in a hotel,another factor which I think influenced our relationship with the team.We did go to the hotel where the boys stayed the night before the contest,and gave them a final coaching session,and my husband ironed their shirts for them.

The contest was fun,but again,I found myself contemplating the many differences between the Chinese and Western styles of education.Many of the students had just memorized their speeches and declaimed them in the Chinese style,whereas our boys had received coaching in the Western method of Public Speaking,using body language,eye contact and voice expression.

The topic too was a telling one:”When Confucious meets Socrates” ,requiring students of course to bring to a Harmonious conclusion that a synthesis of Western and Eastern traditions would be the best for China.

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Edison does his thing

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Huaquiao Campus

We are now over half way through this semester,which means we have to think about final exams and grades and plan our trip home in January (what to take,what to leave behind).It is always a funny part of our lives here to be here and yet occasionally dealing with issues back home.

In other news,we attended a classical music concert down on the island with some other friends.It was great,and the Xiamen Philharmonic are as good as they were last year,even though the lovely old lady conductor has finally stepped down at the age of 84 or so.The new young chap was dynamic and capable,and they whizzed through Wagner’s Flying Dutchman,some Mozart and some Brahms.We also went to a rock concert here in Jimei.The bands were not up to much,but the atmosphere was great and the whole of Jimei was lit up and really fun.There are lots of new little restaurants and coffee bars in Jimei,including a real Italian serving proper (as opposed to Chinese) pizza and pasta.

Last week we attended a Cultural Fair at the Xiamen International Convention Centre.WE were taken there by Daniel the Taiwanese guy we met at the port on our way there.He lives right by us and has a car,which is useful! Anyway the fair was very interesting with many curious art exhibits and handicrafts.There was also a Cosplay part which cost money (the other part was free entry) and was rather disappointing.After the exhibition Daniel took us for lunch at the Wanda Plaza shopping mall,which we had never visited before,at GOlden Olive,a Greek restaurant run by real Greeks,and featuring Souvlaki,Gyros,Olives and Feta cheese! We have since returned to this restaurant.

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Boat at crafts exhibition

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T shirt design at Crafts Exhibition

Classes are going well.My students this year seem to be more able than last year’s.They are Second Year students in 2 majors-International Business and Chinese as a Foreign Language.I had another class of MA Engineering students but only for 8 weeks so that class is already over!.The work is enjoyable and really not taxing at all,as the students are cooperative and pleasant if a little shy.

So that wraps up for today.Next week we are planning a birthday party at the weekend,where we will invite the girls from last year and the boys from this year’s competition and give them a taste of Israeli Falafel and Hummus.Stay tuned….

A great Day at the museum

Had a really good class today at the museum.The first part was about the use of the written word in Art,(I think it is called Conceptual Art ) and we saw works by people like Barbara Kruger, and we discussed the changes in women’s status since the beginning of the century (Virginia Woolf etc of course!)

Then came the really good bit. We had a talk from a young artist called Ariel Malca who has a new exhibit in the Shrine of the Book.It is a little hard to describe,but uses biblical texts moving over a landscape to convey the idea of the journey made by the Children of Israel on their way to the the land of Israel.That sounds crap but you really have to see what he did.Anyway we ended up talking about the lack of boundaries today between the different disciplines, since he doesn’t have any formal training ,either as an artist or as a techie. It was really cool.

Anyway when I got home I looked up some of the stuff including Barbara Kruger, and found a lot of really great stuff which I ‘d love to use in class. Maybe I will .

The ones that really caught my eye I have saved. Here’s one of them…
Barbara Kruger