Monday, July 21, 2014


Great Wall of China, Badaling
The following is an excerpt from the diary of our trip to China July, 1995.  We were traveling with three friends, spending five days in Beijing and then three days in Xian.  China has changed greatly since our visit but many of the places we went to are still among the popular tourist spots. 

Detail of Cloisonne Vase

Day 2: On our first full day in Beijing, after breakfast at our hotel, we climbed into our van for a trip outside the city.  We drove northwest along wide streets and onto an expressway.  Our first stop was a cloisonne factory where we watched people making each step of the process–forming the patterns by gluing bent strips of copper onto the posts, applying the color paste, firing the pots and grinding and polishing them at the end.

"Painting" the cloisonne designs

Our guide, Amy, revealed that the workers we saw were only representative and that the real factory was somewhere else.  Flying over the yard were hundreds of swallows, by far the most common bird we saw in China.  After buying souvenirs I went to the bathroom–my first experience with a half-door floor toilet.

Taking the cloisonne pots out of the kiln

Next stop was the Ming Tombs.  We climbed up to the top of a hill and then descended a long stairway into the tombs–a series of underground rooms empty except for a few huge stone chairs. The locks on the doors were large versions of the anti-burglar poles that you jam into your door from the floor.  After the tombs were built they were buried to create a large hill.  Apparently all the workers were killed and buried in them so that no one except the next in line to the throne knew the location of the tombs.  (The ancient Chinese seemed to have no compunction about rearranging the landscape to their liking–moving rocks hundreds of miles to create gardens, digging lakes, and using the earth to build small mountains.)

We left the Ming Tombs and drove through the countryside and a small town, and then began to wind our way up into the mountains past small houses made of brick or stone, each with a fenced in courtyard in front.  We passed several sections of the Great Wall–including a large section being restored with a stone bridge across the road.  All along the way we saw beehives and small tents pitched next to the road with signs offering honey for sale.  We finally arrived at Badaling, a point where the Wall crosses a pass.

We made our way from the huge parking lot past a dusty camel, dozens of tourist stalls selling T-shirts (“I climbed the Great Wall”, etc.) and went through the gate up onto the wall.  The choice was between right–less steep but more crowded, or left.  We went left.  The most steep part (reminiscent of the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan in Mexico because the steps were so short your whole foot didn’t fit) was toward the beginning.

Alongside the wall, below, was another camel and a clothes rack of costumes.  For a fee you could dress up as a Mongol warrior and be photographed. As we made our way along the top of the wall we saw three species of butterflies and a magpie.  The sunlight became more golden as we walked and the crowds fewer so that by the time we got to the end of the reconstructed part we were the only people there. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

BEHEI PARK, Beijing, China (Day 1)

Behei Park, Beijing
The following is an excerpt from the diary of our trip to China July, 1995.  We were traveling with three friends, spending five days in Beijing and then three days in Xian.  China has changed greatly since our visit but many of the places we went to are still among the popular tourist spots. 

Temple roof decoration, Behei Park
Day 1:  We arrived in Beijing in the morning and were met at the airport by our guide, Amy. She led us to a car where our driver was waiting and we drove into the city. After helping us check into our hotel (Xinqiao) near the city center, we drove to the entrance to Behei Park, one of the oldest and best preserved ancient imperial gardens in China. We walked through the park to a temple, where, after paying a fee, we climbed up through two or three temple buildings with Buddha figures and then up a steep flight of steps.  Finally, we reached the top of the hill where we had a sweeping vista over the city.
View of Forbidden City and Beijing skyline from Behei Park
We climbed down over rocks on the back side of the hill.  At the bottom we walked under a covered walkway at the edge of the lake and chose to continue around the lake on a sidewalk rather than taking a boat across.  The lake was dotted with people in pastel colored pedal boats.
Walkway along lake, Behei Park
At the other end of the lake we went to a small “People’s Park” where groups of men played cards, dominoes, and a form of checkers on a board marked with intersecting lines. We then walked along the edge of the lake where there was a sort of street fair with stalls of toys, books, clothing, pottery, antiques, fruit, etc.

After returning to the hotel, we walked to the Foreign Language bookstore to look for a book of birds of China, but were unable to find one.  The street was crowded with shoppers.  We walked through a crowded department store filled with people buying purses, perfume, appliances, and a whole array of consumer goods.  On our way back to our hotel we passed McDonalds–the biggest McDonalds in the world, with 200 plus seats.  We went to bed early, to be ready for a full day of touring in the morning.

Monday, July 7, 2014

THE LIBERTY BELL, BEN FRANKLIN, and More: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Liberty Bell, cast in 1753 by John Pass and John Stow for the Pennsylvania State House
The Liberty Bell, with its famous crack, has long been a symbol of the American Revolution. But contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that the Liberty Bell rang on July 4, 1776, to proclaim independence. However, it did ring on many other occasions and was used to summon members of the Pennsylvania Assembly and to announce noteworthy events. It last rang in 1846 to celebrate the birthday of George Washington.
Independence Hall
Two weeks ago Art and I spent the weekend in Philadelphia at a family celebration and had the opportunity to visit the Liberty Bell and other sites around Independence Mall. The wealth of historic sites reminded me how central Philadelphia was to the early history of the United States. A map inside the Liberty Bell Center shows dozens of important sites–Independence Hall, the Benjamin Franklin Museum, Betsy Ross’ House, Christ Church and the Christ Church Burial Ground, Mikvah Israel Congregation (the oldest continuous synagogue in the United States), the Franklin Mint, the new National Constitution Center, to name a few.  We visited the historic area on a Sunday morning, which had the advantage of being cooler and less crowded.
Part of historic Philadelphia
My last visit to Philadelphia was fifteen years ago and I remember going inside Independence Hall and seeing where the Continental Congress first met.  Now, in order to go inside, one has to get a ticket (which is free) and stand in line for a tour (which we didn’t do because of our limited time, although we did walk through the grounds.) On my last visit, the Liberty Bell was housed in a small building by itself.  Now it is part of a large visitor center filled with exhibits about the bell and the concept of freedom, focusing on the fight to end slavery and for equal rights for all citizens of the United States.

Exhibits in the Liberty Bell visitor center
If you go to Philadelphia, it’s hard to avoid Benjamin Franklin. You can see where he lived, where he worked, and where he is buried.  His name is everywhere from the Franklin Mint to Franklin Court behind the Ben Franklin Museum.  Even the chairs in the lobby at the Westin Hotel where we stayed were decorated with his image.
Coins for good luck are strewn across Benjamin Franklin's Grave
Born in 1706 in Boston, Benjamin Franklin moved to Philadelphia as a young man, where he lived until is death in 1790 at the age of 84. Among his many accomplishments are that he founded the Philadelphia Library, invented the Franklin stove, was the first to utilize electricity, was the postmaster of Philadelphia, and a delegate to the Continental Congress. At his grave site in the Christ Church Cemetery there are two plaques.  One lists important dates in his long life.  The other has three quotes about him.  My favorite is by French writer Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot who wrote: “He tore from the skies the lightning and from tyrants the scepter.” (1779)

This trip made me realize that I need to go back to Philadelphia when I have more time so I can do justice to all the fascinating history in the city.  
Plaque at Christ Church Cemetery with famous quotes about Benjamin Franklin

Monday, June 30, 2014


The Great Bell of Beijing is rung to welcome the New Year and to celebrate the full moon.
More than six centuries ago, in the year 1402, the great Ming emperor, Yongle, began his reign over the vast kingdom of China. Yongle ordered workmen to build temples and palaces and to construct towers on the walls around the new capital, Beijing.  He also decreed that a giant bell be made. It took more than twenty years and three castings to make the giant bell. Then Yongle died and the bell was forgotten. 
Great Bell Temple, Beijing
In 1577, Shen Dong, another Ming emperor, decreed that the giant bell be moved to the Temple of Longevity just outside the western gate of the city. After it was hung in the bell tower, a monk pulled back a wooden post and let it swing forward to strike the bell.  At that moment, deep golden tones soared over the city. The monk struck the bell eighteen times quickly, eighteen times slowly, and then with eighteen quick-and-slow strokes together. At last the wish of Emperor Yongle was fulfilled.  In 1743 the Temple of Longevity collapsed and the big bell was moved again, this time to the northwest part of Beijing to the Temple of Awakening, which was then renamed the Great Bell Temple.
Entrance to Bell Temple and Museum
On our first trip to China, in 1995, Art and I made a point to visit the Great Bell Temple.  I was intrigued because I had read in my guidebook that the heavy bell had been transported to the temple by sliding it along an icy path in winter. We were there on a  hot summer day and the garden surrounding the temple was green and well tended and the lack of visitors and absence of souvenir booths and hawkers made it peaceful and pleasant.  For an extra fee I climbed up the tower to view the bell from the top.  I also bought a tape recording of bell sounds.
People from all over China come to the Great Bell Temple to celebrate the New Year and pray for good luck by throwing coins into the hole at the top of the bell.
The Great Bell of Beijing weighs 46 tons.  It is 22 feet tall, ten feet across, and eight inches wide at the thickest part of its wall.  The 230,000 Chinese and Sanskrit characters on its surface form the words of more than one hundred Buddhist scriptures.  Because of its size, the Great Bell is also sometimes called the King of Bells.  The bell is noted for its fine workmanship and beautiful clear tone.  With each stroke the sound vibrates for more than a minute and can be heard more than twenty-five miles away. 
Bell Museum
Part of the Temple is a Bell Museum. People in China have been making bells for more than three thousand years.  The Great Bell of Beijing is a type of bell called a chung.  A chung has no clapper; instead, it sounds when it is struck on the outside with a wooden post or mallet. 
Beautifully decorated ancient bell
Note: The Great Bell of Beijing is no longer the "King of Bells" -- that honor now goes to the 50-ton bell housed in the Altar to the Century (Zhonghua Shiji Tan), constructed in 1999 to celebrate the Millenium.

For information about visiting the Great Bell Temple and Bell Museum, click HERE.


Monday, June 23, 2014

ISTANBUL FOOD TOUR: From Pide to Locum, Guest Post by Kathryn Morhman

Pide, a pizza-like bread made in Istanbul
My friend, Kathryn Mohrman, an avid and excellent photographer, visited Turkey earlier this year when she was on her way to Ethiopia.  She has graciously agreed to share some of her photos and impressions of her visit to Turkey. Kathryn is a professor at Arizona State University and travels widely for her job as director of several projects with partner universities in China and Vietnam. You can see photos from her trip to Lalibela, Ethiopia, at her 2/17/14 post on this blog.  I have known Kathryn since we were students together at Grinnell College in Iowa. Here is her report of part of her trip to Istanbul.

Around Christmas and New Year's, 2013, I traveled to Istanbul to see the only city in the world that straddles two continents. What a fascinating place!
Breakfast with Turkish breads and other Turkish foods
One day I took a food tour with a company called Istanbul Eats.  We first had breakfast with breads, cheese and other goodies purchased at local shops by our guide (a Belgian married to a Turkish woman who had lived in Istanbul for decades--the man in the center of the photo).

Hot tea
The traditional way to serve tea and coffee is in glasses.
We tried baklava at one of the oldest and best specialty shops in town
And we ate pide, a cross between pizza and calzone.
Pide makers--the oven is much like a pizza oven.
The results--delicious pide!
Then on to a candy shop where we sampled Turkish delight (locum).  It is really yummy when it's fresh.
Turkish Delight--in many flavors!
We also sampled a nearly extinct traditional winter drink, boza.
Boza shop
Boza is made from fermented grain, and is served with roasted hazelnuts.

Plate full of selections from dishes served at our final feast.
Late in the afternoon we ended the foodie tour with a feast at an outdoor restaurant. Fat and happy, I staggered back to my hotel.  I never would have found all of these traditional foods on my own, many in out-of-the-way places.

Note from The Intrepid Tourist:  For more about eating in Istanbul, check out my post on August 6, 2012, Istanbul: A Food Lover's Delight.

Monday, June 16, 2014

CEDAR RAPIDS MUSEUM OF ART, IOWA: Grant Wood, Conger Metcalf, Mauricio Lasansky and More, Guest Post by Barbara Siebenschuh

Corn Cob Chandelier for Iowa Corn Room.
Grant Wood (February 13, 1891-February 12, 1942) is Iowa's most famous artist and one of the most celebrated American artists of the twentieth century.
My friend and fellow art student (at Grinnell College and University of Iowa) Barbara Siebenschuh recently went with friends from Iowa City for a day at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.  I think you will enjoy reading Barbara’s report. Note: The Ladiez of Leisure is a group of retired women in Iowa City who get out periodically to visit museums and other places of interest in the area. Their tour of the CRMA was led by the husband of one of Barbara’s and my college classmates, Sharon Sandford.

In early May, the remaining LOLs, Ladiez of Leisure, went to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art for a tour given by docent Floyd Sandford. It was fun, and the event was one of the last we will be able to have with Daphne who will be moving to New Hampshire. We saw an exhibit of French paper art: i.e. prints, drawings, etc. by some really major artists. And we saw the Roman Sculptures and coins. There were other exhibits of photos, etc. There is a permanent showing of Grant wood art, including jewelry, wrought iron work, paintings and an unusual chandelier made of iron painted green and looking like corn and corn stalks. But the lovely wooden bench he made was missing at this point.

My Brother Malcolm by Conger Metcalf

We also saw art by Conger Metcalf. Born in Cedar Rapids, Conger Metcalf began his art studies at the Stone City Art Colony, after which he enrolled at Coe College and studied under Marvin Cone. During his service in World War II and on subsequent trips afterward, Metcalf studied the European masters, who were very influential on his work.

The Lasansky room had recently had a change over of his works. I was glad. Many I had never seen. The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art was given a whole ton of Lasansky works. There is a permanent room at CRMA and his art works are rotated and will be shown there forever, is my understanding. [Mauricio Lasansky taught printmaking for many years at the University of Iowa. Both Barbara and I studied with him when we were graduate students.] We saw his print of Leo Tolstoy, depicted with bushy white hair. We also saw his print of Darwin, another one in his famous people series.

We all were too tired to see the new Cedar Rapids Library across the square. I have seen it. We will hold it for another day. Instead of eating at Rileys near downtown Cedar Rapids as planned, we turned off instead into a small town near the airport, Swisher. There we had a wonderful lunch with their famed coffee and treats. It is a good thing we got there before a huge crowd of ladies, some club or something. We were too late for breakfast but instead enjoyed lunch.

We went home along a route that allowed us to visit the town of Mount.Vernon. There is a neat consignment Antiques Shop there and we spent some time searching treasures. The landscape was green, but the whole day was overcast, some light rain and cold enough for jackets. By the time we came to Iowa City, we all decided we would eat again and take home leftovers for the next day. This we did across from A.C.T. at "Bob's Your Uncle". It was a fun day, a long time in the planning, as our lives have gotten a bit complicated lately.

Monday, June 9, 2014

TREKKING IN PATAGONIA, Guest Post by Owen Floody

Cerro Torre, Las Glaciares Park, Argentina
Our friend Owen Floody did a trekking and photo tour of Patagonia in Chile and Argentina this spring.  Owen recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He has always been an avid photographer and in his retirement has taken several trips that allow him to pursue his passion. Here is a short reflection on his Patagonia trip and some of his excellent photographs.

Andean Condor
I spent the first half of March in Patagonia, on a 14-day trek run by Mountain Travel Sobek which included Torres del Paine National Park (4 days), Perito Moreno Glacier (1 day), and Los Glaciares National Park (3 days). The other days were spent assembling in Punta Arenas (1 day), sightseeing in Buenos Aires (between 1 and 2 days) or traveling from one place to another. Most of the folks in my group arrived a day before me and did visit a penguin colony near Punta Arenas. During the first half of the trip, we were in southern Chile, having met and begun our travels in Punta Arenas. Later, we moved into Argentina, ultimately beginning our homeward flights in Buenos Aires. The group of eleven ranged in age from the mid-40s to -70s. But don't be fooled by the upper age boundary, as nearly all were impressively fit and experienced.  The hikes themselves didn't include huge elevation gains.  However, some were long (on the order of 15 miles) and there typically were a lot of ups-and-downs as we crossed valleys or glacier moraines.  The weather was good in the sense that we almost always had clear views at our hikes' destinations.  On the other hand, we ran into rain several times and frequently were buffeted by high winds, one of the things that Patagonia is famous for. The hiking was manageable but strenuous.

Torres del Paine, taken from a scenic lake near their base and at the end of our day hike in the Ascension Valley.
Our major activities in Torres del Paine park included four hikes--along the Ascension and French valleys and the shores of Lakes Nordenskjold and Grey (avid trekkers may recognize these as components of the well-known "W route"). We hoped to see as many of the famous mountains in this park as possible, including the Paine peaks (cumbres), towers (torres) and horns (cuernos). 
Cuernos del Paine, as viewed at sunrise from our lodging.
The photo above was taken from our lodging, a refuge tucked into the narrow strip of land between the base of the Cuernos and the shore of Lake Nordenskjold. Incidentally, maps suggest that a more distant view could be achieved elsewhere with little or no hiking. But a significant hike may be required for a good view of the Torres.

Chilean Hawk
We saw some nice birds in Torres del Paine but the group was moving so fast that it was nearly impossible to find the time to change lenses, take a shot, and hope to keep up. We had one nice sighting of condors alongside the road. And our best wildlife encounter was with a very calm juvenile Chilean hawk that forced me to change lenses and get the shot despite the fact that we were in the midst of a hike.
In Torres del Paine we stayed at Hosteria Las Torres (at the south end of the Ascension valley), Refugio Los Cuernos (right at the foot of the cuernos), and Refugio Paine Grande (at the northwest end of Lake Pehoe), all of which I think are pretty standard places for folks hiking the W route.

Glacier overview
Our visit to the Perito Moreno Glacier was brief but pleasant. All of us viewed one face of the glacier by boat and spent up to several hours taking in other views of it from a wonderful system of metal walkways where the views were spectacular. Optional tours, including glacier walks, were available, but strangely only to those under sixty, excluding me.
Glacier calving
It never hurts to be lucky when traveling, and we were in the right places at the right times to see two instances of glacier calving, with roughly seven-story slabs of ice tumbling down to cause an initial explosion of water followed by a long succession of large waves. 
El Chalten, Los Glaciares Park, Argentina
The last phase of our tour used the town of El Chaltén, within Los Glaciares Park in Argentina, as a base. As you approach this town, there is little doubt as to why you're there.  Our three hikes all were geared toward providing views of the most famous peaks in this park, Fitzroy and Cerro Torre. 

This trip was a good one, to what for me was a new part of the world.  It impressed upon me both the rigors and rewards of hiking in windy, changeable, Patagonia.  Though we hiked a lot, we left many trails untouched and possibly demanding exploration on some future trip.  More generally, though, I was impressed by all of the wonderful sights packed into southern South America, and will be on the lookout for treks, cruises, and other trips that will permit me to explore more of them.