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.

Monday, June 2, 2014

WEISMAN ART MUSEUM, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Weisman Art Museum, Designed by Frank Gehry, Minneapolis, MN
Perched on a bluff above the Mississippi River, the gleaming exterior of the Weisman Art Museum on the campus of the University of Minnesota seems to hover like an earthbound space station.  Designed by Frank Gehry and first opened in 1993 (it was recently remodeled and expanded) the museum houses more than 20,000 artworks, many of them on view in the large, airy spaces inside.  On a recent visit to the Twin Cities I visited the museum.  It brought back memories of my trip to Bilbao, Spain, a few years ago and visiting the Guggenheim Museum there, also designed by Frank Gehry.  While not exactly a twin, the two buildings are close relatives.
Sculpture: Executive in a Red Chair by Duane Hanson
The Weisman Museum’s permanent exhibits feature twentieth century American art, a rich collection of ceramics, traditional Korean furniture, and works on paper.  As I walked into the large central gallery I saw what appeared to be a seated man reading a newspaper in one corner.  At first I thought he was a museum employee (the guards don’t wear uniforms), but as I got closer realized that it was a life size sculpture depicting Weisman, the businessman who donated much of the money to build the museum.  The sculpture, by Duane Hanson is called “Executive in a Red Chair.”
Special Exhibit:  Siberia, Imagined and Reimagined
An exhibit of photographs of Siberia filled the two rooms for temporary exhibits.  The pictures, which span both the history of photography and of Russian involvement in Siberia, range from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day and reflect cultural, historical and political aspects of Siberia as well as its vast landscape.  Some of the pictures depict the indigenous people who have inhabited the region for centuries, hunting, fishing, and herding reindeer and show how their lives and the landscape have changed, in most cases not for the better.  A last section of the exhibit compares Siberia with the American West, pairing photographs such as the Ansel Adams photos of a meandering river with mountains in the background with a very similar scene shot in Siberia.
Painting, Flowers by Georgia O'Keefe
The galleries with American art had works by many familiar artists–Louise Nevelson, Georgia O’Keefe, Andy Warhol, Marsden Hartley, and many more.  David Smith’s sculpture, Star Cage, 1950 was displayed in one corner.  During the year I took classes at Hunter College in New York (1967), David Smith was my sculpture teacher.  By then his works had become much more minimalist.
Sculpture: Star Cage by David Smith
Just outside the entrance to the museum is the beginning of a walking bridge across the river to the West Bank campus.  It was a beautiful day, so I walked across to enjoy the sunshine and the view.  Behind me was the museum and university campus.  In front I saw the skyline of downtown Minneapolis, which has been totally transformed since the time I was a child and grew up in the city.  While some things have stayed the same, I always enjoy coming back and seeing my home town as a tourist.
Detail, Clasp on Korean chest