Utrecht, 2019

During my last stay in the Netherlands, I visited Leiden and I was very enthusiastic about this historic town. This time I had arranged to have lunch with a friend in Utrecht and I decided to make it a daytrip, so I could explore another historic town.

Let me start with three images. First a map of Utrecht , drawn in 1652. The town is surrounded by defensive moats (singels in Dutch).

This map is from 1856. Still not much development outside the singels

And here is a Google Earth screenshot from 2017. To guide the eye, I have marked the “singels” in blue and also indicated the locations where I have taken pictures. Click to enlarge. (I have rotated the GE image in such a way that North points in the same direction as in the old maps)

I arrived at Utrecht CS, the largest and busiest railway station in the Netherlands. To reach the historical town, I had to cross a shopping center to the Vredenburg square, from where I had a look at the TivoliVredenburg (2014), the modern music complex of Utrecht.

From the square I entered the Zakkendragerssteeg, mentioned for the first time in 1425 and reached the Oudegracht, dating back to the 12th century. In a few hundred meters from the 21th century to the Middle Ages 😉

The canals of Utrecht (Oudegracht, Nieuwegracht and a few minor ones) are rather unique in the world, very different from the Amsterdam ones. They have functioned in the past as an inner-city harbour. The canals were connected to the rivers Rhine and Vecht, and alongside the canals there were wharves, giving access to basement cellars, underneath the houses of the merchants.

I crossed the Oudegracht (more pictures later) and walked to the Janskerk, founded shortly after 1040, built in roman style, but of course modified many times later.

I had no time to visit the interior, and continued to the hallmark of Utrecht, the Domtoren (Dom tower) built between 1321 and 1382. With a height of 112 m it is the tallest church tower in the Netherlands. Work was being done on it during my visit.

On the Dom square I took a picture of the statue of Jan van Nassau, the younger brother of William of Orange, who has been instrumental in the signing of the Unie van Utrecht (1579), regarded as the foundation of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces, during the war of independence with Spain.

The Academiegebouw on the Dom square looks old, but isn’t ! It was built between 1891-94 in Dutch Neo-Renaissance style.

Then it was time for lunch. I met my friend at the Rechtbank, in earlier days a courthouse, now a popular cafe. He was one of my first students when I was a physics teacher, and is now a physicist himself…:-)

AFter our lunch I continued my walk, crossing the Nieuwegracht to the Maliesingel. The Nieuwegracht (New Canal) is actually very old, built around 1390, but still newer than the Oudegracht (Old Canal), which was built in the 12th century. The Maliesingel is one of the moats, still surrounding the old town.

In the past, rich people sometimes built simple houses for the poor around a courtyard. The Dutch name for such a compound is “hofje”, in Utrecht you still find an alternative name : Kameren. The houses consisted basically of one room (kamer). Here is the Bruntenhof (Bruntscameren), built in 1621.

I wanted to visit the Centraal Museum, so I walked back to the Nieuwegracht and the Lange Nieuwstraat. This “New Street” dates back to ca 1300, same as the Dorstige Hartsteeg. The church tower you see in the background, belongs to St Catherine’s Cathedral, no time to visit.

Walking to the Centraal Museum I noticed a sign for The University Museum and the Hortus , the former botanical gardens of the University.

I spent some time in the University Museum. Interesting mixture of sometimes weird objects. As a physicist I was of course interested in the particle accelerator, in this case even more, because my friend told me that he had actually been working with this machine, during his research!

Walking to the Central Museum I passed the Beyerskameren (1597), another charity project to give (free) housing to the poor.

The end of the Lange Nieuwsstraat is dominated by the Fundatie van Renswoude. Built in Rococo style in 1757, it was meant to provide education for “intelligent” orphan boys. The interior must be magnificent, but is only open to the public at specific times, like the Open Monument Day.

The Centraal Museum is the main museum of Utrecht, founded in 1838. It has an interesting collection of “old” art, modern art, applied art, the history of Utrecht etc. For me it was the first time that I visited the museum. Therefore quite a lot of pictures.

Many museums nowadays show their collection, combining the various art forms, like here: paintings, furniture, fashion. I really like this approach..

Of course the museum has lots of Rietveld furniture. The dollhouse is from the end of the 17th century and obviously not meant for children 🙂

Two examples of art mixing. Left 17th century portraits combined with a self-portrait by Carel Willink (1922). Right various forms of fashion.

Roelant Saverij (1576 –1639) was a Golden Age painter who lived a large part of his life in Utrecht.

Pyke Koch 1901 – 1991 ) can also be considered an Utrecht painter. He and Carel Willink were the main representatives of Dutch Magic Realism. He was a perfectionist, his oeuvre is quite small, and I am always happy to find one of his paintings in a museum. The Centraal Museum has quite a few!

J.H. Moesman (1909-1988) was born in Utrecht and lived there almost all of his life. A Surrealist painter, the “Dutch Dali”. The museum houses a large collection of his works.

I spent only about one hour in this museum, a next time I will stay longer, there is a lot to see, but I had to make my way back to the station.

The Nicolai church is located next to the museum. Its origins go back to the 12th century, the front with the two towers is still in the original Roman style. In 1586 one tower was raised to make room for a carillon.

A few more pictures of de Oudegracht.

On my way back, I visited a few more “hofjes”. Lot of heritage buildings, a very pleasant part of Utrecht.

But Utrecht is not only interesting because of its heritage. It is a lively town, with many cafes, restaurants and entertainment outlets. And there is a lot of Jugendstil in Utrecht, one of my architecturale favourites. But that will be for a future visit.

When friends of mine are visiting the Netherlands, I sometimes advised them to skip overcrowded Amsterdam and visit Utrecht instead. Now that I have walked around myself, I will keep telling them: Visit Utrecht!

Erwin Olaf in the Gemeentemuseum

To celebrate the 60th birthday of Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf a double retrospective exhibition of his work has been held in the Gemeentemuseum and the Photography Museum, both in Den Haag.

I have always been a fan of him, so during my recent trip to the Netherlands, Aric and I made a day trip to Den Haag. The Gemeentemuseum is one of my favourite museums. The building, designed by Berlage and constructed between 1931-1935, is an artwork itself, and the museum houses the world largest collection of Mondrian paintings. My last visit was in 2017, More museums in Den Haag

I was very impressed by the Erwin Olaf exhibition. I was familiar with his older work, but not really aware of his development during the last decades. As the Gemeentemuseum describes him, he is not only a photographer but has become a digital image-maker and storyteller.

Here are two of his recent works, that especially fascinated, and also intrigued me.

What struck me is the lack on interaction between the two persons. They seem to be living in their own world. Here are a few more examples.

More persons, or one only, I get the same feeling of loneliness and isolation. With all of these (large-scale) photographs, you are wondering about the story behind it. And of course admiring the sheer technical perfection!

A selection of portrait photos

Erwin Olaf is also an installation artist.

Last year he has made a widely acclaimed series of portraits of the Dutch Royal Family.

I enjoyed this exhibition of his recent works very much! Maybe also because some of his photographs reminded me of works by other favourite artists of mine 😉

Here is David Hockney‘s painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972).

And here is Edward Hopper‘s painting Automat (1927)

Before moving to the Photography Museum for the second part of the exhibition, we first had some food in the restaurant. The right picture shows my failed attempt to evoke loneliness and isolation 😉

The exhibition in the Photography Museum is about Erwin Olaf’s development as a photographer. Most of the photos I had seen before, so we spent less time here. There was also work of photographers who have influenced him.

Two fascinating self-portraits, created 33 years apart!

More portraits

In his early years he was influenced by Robert Mapplethorpe 😉

It was a perfect outing. On our way back, by tram to the Den Haag train station, we passed the parliament buildings and decided to have a short walk around, because Aric had never been there.

ArtZuid 2019

ArtZuid is an international sculpture exhibition which takes place every two years in Amsterdam. The first time was in 2009 and the artworks are exhibited mainly in Plan-Zuid, an urban development plan designed by Berlage in 1917. The 2019 exhibition takes place from May 17 to September 15. More information can be found on the ArtZuid website.

The exhibition is becoming bigger every time it is held, with extensions until the Rijksmuseum and Amstelveen. I limited myself to the proper ArtZuid exhibition, which has 91 items this year. Of course not all the works of art appealed to me, here is my selection. In a rather arbitrary order, but I start with those that have been created after 2000. For each artist I have added a link either to their own website, or to Wikipedia.

Atelier Van Lieshout. created in 1995 by Joep van Lieshout (1963), the Netherlands

Henk Visch (1950), the Netherlands

Johan Tahon (1965) , Belgium

Yoshitomo Nara (1959), Japan

Gloria Friedmann (1950), Germany

Erwin Wurm (1954), Austria

Yubi Kirindongo (1946), Curaçao. Also represented with some older works.

Roberto Barni (1939), Italy

Armando (1929-2018), the Netherlands

Theo Jansen (1948), the Netherlands

Nick Ervinck (1981), Belgium

Hans Van de Bovenkamp (1938), the Netherlands/USA

Eja Siepman van den Berg (1943), the Netherlands.

Jan Fabre (1958), Belgium

Tony Matelli (1971), USA

Left Nancy Rubins (1952) and right Matthew Monahan (1972), both USA

Ivan Cremer (1984), the Netherlands

Left Barry Flanagan (1941-2009), UK and right Jaume Plensa (1955), Spain

George Struikelblok (1973), Surinam

Left Marc Quinn (1964), UK and right Tom Claassen (1964), the Netherlands

Sachi Miyachi (1978). Japan

Left Joel Shapiro (1941), USA and right Jems Robert Koko Bi (1966), Ivory Coast

There are also artworks, created before 2000, mostly by artists who have already passed away.

Left Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and right Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), both France. Of course both sculptures are not the originals, many (authorised) copies have been made (and sold!). For Rodin see this Wikipedia List of The Thinker sculptures 🙂

Aristide Maillol (1861-1944), France. One of the many copies

Left Jan Havermans (1892-1964), the Netherlands and right the (in)famous thumb of César (1921-1993), France

Charlotte van Pallandt (1898-1997), the Netherlands

Left Nic Jonk (1928-1994) and right Karel Appel (1921-2006), both the Netherlands

Left Arman (1928-2005) and right Antoine Poncet (1928), both France. Poincet is still alive, in 2009 he opened the first ArtZuid exhibition!

An ArtZuid App is available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Very useful, it gives you a map with locations and information about the artworks.

Cinque Terre, May 2019

When Aric and I are visiting the Netherlands, we always try to include in our program a trip to another country. This time we wanted to visit Italy again. But which part? Aric suggested the Cinque Terre, the five coastal villages in northwest Italy. I had visited that region long ago, in 1991, and did not mind going again! Here is a map of the region.

We booked a flight to Pisa and from there took a train to La Spezia, where Aric had booked an Airbnb, near the station. A frequent train connects La Spezia with the five villages.

Our Airbnb was really something special and deserves a few pictures. It is the former home of Pietro Ravecca, an Italian Sculptor. After his death, his daughter decided to transform it into an Airbnb apartment. It is located in a traditional building with an old-fashioned elevator and massive doors. It feels like entering the past (but the bathroom and kitchen facilities are up-to-date 🙂 )

Many of Ravecca’s works of art are still kept in the apartment. A wonderful experience.

The next day, after breakfast, we walked to the station, passing a modern fountain in the Garibaldi square and, surprisingly, a marihuana shop (in Italy!). At the station we bought a 2-day Cinque Terre pass and discovered that several hiking paths between the villages were closed (because of landslides). Only the path between Monterosso and Vernazza was open.

We decided to walk that path and took the train to Monterosso. Mostly through tunnels. The Monterosso station is in the modern part of town, nothing special, but with a popular beach.

Monterosso al Mare

To reach the old town you have to cross a short tunnel. The village is at the
center of a small natural gulf, protected by a small artificial reef. It is the only Cinque Terre village with a substantial beach.

Here is a collection of pictures. Romantic, narrow streets, a church, many cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops.

We had a simple lunch in one of the cafes. A popular aperitif is the Spritz , Aperol with prosecco. Aric tried it, it was stronger than expected, I had to help him finish it 🙂 .

It was almost 3 pm when we started our hike to Vernazza. A well-maintained path, with some steep stretches.

AFter about 1.5 hour we got our first views of Vernazza. It was not always easy to take pictures.

Vernazza

Vernazza is very old, first mentioned as a fortified town in 1080! The only Cinque Terre town with a natural harbour. Basically still a fishing village, although of course nowadays crowded with tourists.

Narrow streets and an elegant church, the Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, c. 1318. We had ice cream, and tried cone calamari, fried squid. Delicious!

Vernazza is famous for its elegant, colorful houses. We stayed quite long there, to take pictures in the evening light, before we took the train back to La Spezia. A long, but very rewarding day.

The next day we took the train to Corniglia. It is the only Cinque Terre town that is not adjacent to the sea, but built on a promontory, 100 m high. From the station a shuttle bus brings you to the town, if you don’t like to walk 🙂 .

Corniglia

Corniglia is the smallest of the Cinque Terre towns.

After visiting the town, we took the shuttle bus down to the station. It is only a few minutes to the next stop, Manarola, the second-smallest Cinque Terre town.

Manarola

Francesca, our hostess in La Spezia, had suggested us to have lunch in restaurant Nessun Dorma, because of the superb view of Manarola. There was a queue, but it was worth waiting. The food was good too.

It is only 1 km from Manarola to the last village, Rio Maggiore, but the trail has been closed for many years already after landslides. So we took the train.

Rio Maggiore

From Rio Maggiore you can reach a small pebble beach, but it was too cold to sit down and relax.

We were back in our Airbnb around 8:30 pm. Having finished all five Cinque Terre villages, we decided to visit Portofino the next day, another picturesque town, southeast of Genua, 50 km northwest of the Cinque Terre.

Portofino

The weather was a bit dull and grey. When we arrived, we first walked up to the Castello Brown, dating back to the 16th century, later transformed into a villa. From there you have a beautiful view of Portofino with its harbour.

Castle Brown

We walked down to the old town, took more pictures and found a nice restaurant for our lunch. For the first time during this trip we had pasta 🙂

Here are a few more pictures, before we took bus and train back to La Spezia.

As it had started raining , we skipped the plan to visit Portovenere in the afternoon. We took some rest and in the evening we walked to a restaurant where we had the regional speciality farinata, a pancake of chickpea flour. Later we walked to the harbour, but it was too cold to protect the mermaid against the rain 🙂

The next morning we checked out, had our breakfast and took the train back to Pisa. The rain had stopped, we had time enough to visit the Piazza del Duomo with the Cathedral, the Baptistery and of course the Leaning Tower.

There were crowds of tourists. Many tried to support the leaning tower and of course I helped them 🙂 .

We flew back to Amsterdam with Transavia.

Nice views, of the Swiss Alps and, just before landing, of my beautiful country. In the centre of the right picture you can see fort Krommeniedijk, part of the (historical) Defense Line of Amsterdam .

It was a wonderful trip.

Paris, April 2019

During Aei Ling’s stay in the Netherlands, we decided to visit Paris a few days. By train! The fast Thalys train takes only a bit more than three hours to reach the Gare du Nord. From there to our Airbnb we took the Metro. It has been many years ago that I visited Paris, they still use the old ticket system 😉

Aric had discovered and booked an Airbnb with a view! Located on the tenth floor with a balcony. Metro and supermarket around the corner.

From the balcony we had a view of the Eiffel tower, the Sacré-Cœur and several other Parisian landmarks, like the Pantheon and the Notre Dame.

After some rest and a visit to the supermarket, we decided to have a picnic dinner at the foot of the Eiffel tower! Here is a view of the tower from the Palais de Chaillot, at the other side of the Seine river.

After taking “tourist” pictures from its terrace, we descended to the river, crossed the bridge and walked past the tower to the Champ de Mars.

Many hundreds of tourists were having their food there and we joined them, with wine, cheese, saucisson and baguette. Really fun.

While the sun was setting, slowly the lights on the tower came on, some blinking, like a gigantic christmas tree.

The next day we started with the Sacré-Cœur, we went there by Metro. I love the Art-Nouveau entrances of the Metro stations, dating back to the early 20th century. The basilica of the Sacred Heart is not an old church, construction on the top of the Montmartre Hill was completed in 1914.


It is the second most visited monument of Paris, so we were not the only visitors 🙂

The Butte Montmartre is the highest of the seven hills of Paris, if the sky is clear, the views are extensive. It was quite grey and a bit hazy during our visit, in sunny weather the church is bright white and sometimes nicknamed the “Sugar Cake”. We had a look inside the church, but did not climb up the tower.

Next we walked to the nearby Place du Tertre, where dozen if not hundreds of artists try to earn some money by painting tourists. Aei Ling could not resist the temptation to have herself painted ..:-)

We walked down the steep streets from Montmartre and had a cup of coffee. The electric scooters are very popular, you can hire them everywhere, but we took the Metro again.

Our next destination was the Notre Dame, but on our way we first had a look at some other monuments. Left the Sorbonne, the famous university of Paris, and right the equally famous Pantheon, burial place of many French celebrities.

Left a close-up of the Pantheon, in the center the Facade of the Faculty of Law (with a young doctor in front of it), and right the church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, next to the Pantheon. It is a very nice neighbourhood of Paris.

One week before our arrival, a devastating fire had destroyed the spire and the roof of the Notre Dame. Here are two photos. One (taken from the Internet) with the church in its full glory, the other one how it looked during our visit. Spire and roof have disappeared.

Of course many tourist wanted to see the destruction. The region around the church was cordoned of, but from across the Seine you had a good view. Protection work was going on.

It had been a long day, we were tired and decided to have a microwave dinner at home. The last day we would go out for a real French dinner 🙂

The next day we started with la Défense, the modern business district of Paris, dominated by the Grande Arche.

From the Grande Arche you can see, about 4 km away, the
Arc de Triomphe , our next destination. Click on the right picture to enlarge

We didn’t walk, but took the Metro to the Arc de Triomphe.

This is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, beneath the Arc.

A few more pictures. Construction of the Arc was started in 1806 after the victory at Austerlitz by Napoleon, but only completed in 1836.

From the Arc de Triomphe we followed the famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées to the Place de La Concorde.

On our way we passed the impressive buildings of the Petit and Grand Palais, built in 1900 for the World Exhibition. The Petit Palais is now a fine arts museum. As access is F.O.C, we decided to have a look inside…:-)

The Place de La Concorde is the largest square of Paris. During the French Revolution a guillotine was placed here, where King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette and many others were executed. In 1829 one of the Luxor obelisks was given by the Egyptian government to France and placed in the center of the square.

We continued to the Tuileries gardens and the Louvre. When you enlarge the top left picture, you will see the obelisk and the Arc de Triomphe in the background. Pity that it was rather cold and grey weather.

The Louvre is the world’s largest art museum. We didn’t visit , just had a look at the Pyramid, designed by famous architect I.M Pei (who passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 102!)

It was a long, but rewarding walk. After a short rest, we went out again to a restaurant, Au P’tit Curieux, where we had a nice dinner.

The next day we still had some time left, because our train back to Amsterdam was leaving Paris in the afternoon. After checking out we first visited the Places des Vosges. Built in 1612, it is one of the first examples of city planning.

Our last destination was the Musée d’Orsay, a former railway station, my favourite Paris museum. When we arrived at the museum, we noticed the very long queue of visitors, we should have bought tickets online! So that is what we did on the spot, with the help of Aric!

The station was built around 1900 and houses French art from 1848 until 1914.

I could have spent the whole day, but we had not much time. Here are a few pictures.

There was an interesting exhibition: Black models:from Gericault to Matisse. Famous paintings, like Manet’s Olympia and Rousseau’s Snake Charmer, but also interesting works, unknown to me.

Then it was time to go back to the Gare du Nord and catch our train back to Amsterdam. Amazing how much you can do in only a few days.

Aei Ling’s visit, April 2019

My usual visit to the Netherlands started this time in a special way! During the first two weeks, Aei Ling, Aric’s sister, stayed with us in Amsterdam. As it was her first visit to the Netherlands, we showed her many of the Dutch tourist destinations. Here is a report.

Monday 15 April

We arrived early morning at Schiphol airport, took the train to Amsterdam Zuid station and decided to walk to my apartment, although it was only a few degrees above zero! Just outside the station we saw our first tulips 🙂

After a few hours rest (and having our first Dutch strawberries) , we went into town. It was cold but sunny and everywhere the “cherry” trees were in full bloom. Aei Ling would have liked to ride a bicycle, but I thought that would not be wise…:-)

We took the metro to the center of the town, the Dam square with the National Monument.

Back home we had our first Dutch dinner. Of course with potatoes.

Tuesday 16 April

We visited the windmills of the Zaanse Schans, one of the top tourist attractions of the Netherlands. Several of the mills are working and you can visit them. In this picture Aei Ling is standing on the jetty at the left.

After coming home, we had another Dutch traditional dinner, mussels with fries. Yummie.

Wednesday 17 April

Our destination was the Muiderslot, one of the historical castles in the Netherlands. We took a ferry from Amsterdam, which lands at the castle itself, a very romantic approach.

The history of the castle goes back to 1280. In the 17th century P.C. Hooft, a Dutch writer and poet has been living in the castle, many of the rooms are furnished in the style of the Dutch Golden Age. It must have been many decades ago that I visited this castle, so it was a nice experience for me too.

It was my 75th birthday and I had invited a few people for dinner at the Zoku restaurant. A very pleasant evening.

Thursday 18 April

My sister Lous had offered to show us around in the tulip fields of North-Holland. We arrived by train, enjoyed their garden and had lunch with them.

The Keukenhof is the most famous flower garden of the Netherlands, crowded with tourists from all over the world. Not many people know about the Poldertuin in Anna Paulowna, a miniature Keukenhof, quiet and F.O.C ! We were lucky, it was a perfect time to visit.

There were so many species of tulips, daffodils, etc, that I kept taking pictures…:-)

After visiting the garden, Lous and Arend drove us around through the flower fields.

We visited one garden where you could pick your own tulips, for 25 euro cents per flower.

We had dinner near the beach, it was not cold, we could even sit outside.

We stayed overnight, enjoying a beautiful sunset.

Friday 19 April

The famous Cheese Market of Alkmaar was the destination for this day. Arend dropped us near the Waagplein, where the market is held every Friday morning. It is a colorful spectacle, attracting massive crowds of (mostly foreign) visitors. Background information can be found here.

It is a honour to become a cheese carrier and you need years of training. Each cheese weighs 12-13 kg, and a barrow carries eight of them. The market started in 1365 and the whole process is steeped in tradition.

Alkmaar is a beautiful historic town, where you could easily spend hours.

We took a train back to Amsterdam and had a late lunch in the Pancake Bakery, one of Aric’s favourite eateries. And at home a late dinner with escargots. By the way, Aei Ling is drinking 0.0 % alcohol beer, getting more and more popular these days .. 🙂

Saturday 20 April

The Amstelpark is in walking distance from my apartment. Many years ago I had visited in this park the rhododendron valley, and after breakfast we tried our luck. It was a nice , easy 20 minute walk to the park, you can easily forget that you are in a suburb of Amsterdam.

And lucky we were, the rhododendrons were in full bloom

Near the park a beautiful windmill is located, the Riekermolen (1636). Almost any time of the day tourist buses stop here., we had to wait a bit for a picture without people ..:-)

Before walking home we had lunch in the park. I had an uitsmijter, a visit to the Netherlands is not complete for me without this traditional lunch of fried eggs with ham and cheese on bread 🙂

Later we went out again, because a tourist visit to Amsterdam is also not complete without a visit to the Red Light district. Too many tourists, the ladies of the night are not happy about it and often close the curtains of their rooms.

It is actually a beautiful, old part of the town.

We had snack food at a FEBO outlet, a typical Dutch institution with vending machines for the different foods provided.

Sunday 21 April

Easter Sunday! My friend Inez had invited us for lunch. With eggs, that is the tradition.

In the afternoon we visited the Vondelpark where lots of people were enjoying the nice weather and even sunbathing. We joined them and also had a look at the Boomzagertje, a hidden jewel near the Leidseplein

The next day we took the train to Paris, where we stayed four days. I have written a separate post about it, Paris, April 2019, and continue this one, after we came back to Amsterdam.

Saturday 27 April

Koningsdag! The celebration of the King’s birthday is very popular in the Netherlands. Unfortunately the weather was not very favourable this year, cold with rain showers. But of course we went to town. The Vondelpark is a huge freemarket on this day, where kids try to earn a few coins by playing music etc. Pity that it was so cold.

Sunday 28 April

My friend Yolanda is singing in a choir and they were performing Mozart’s Requiem in the Dominicus church this Sunday afternoon. Before the concert we had apple pie in restaurant Winkel 43, supposedly the best apple pie in town 🙂

It was a beautiful concert, in a beautiful church.

After the concert we had a drink in a cafe nearby with Yolanda (left) and friends.

Monday 29 April

Aei Ling was flying back in the evening, still time enough for a last activity, a visit to Leiden. During my last stay in Holland I had “rediscovered” this beautiful town, near my “hometown”, see my report Leiden 2018

Only a few pictures here, to give an impression.

Then it was time to say goodbye. It was very nice to have Aei Ling as our guest!

Guilin, March 2019

Our last visit to China was in 2015 with our friends Pat and Roger, I published four reports about the trip, there was so much to see 😉 This time the same problem, I took almost 1000 pictures. Planning to write three reports, but that will take time.

Here is a first impression, just a few photos for each day of our visit with a short description

Friday 1 March

We had to wake up at the ungodly hour of 3am to catch our Air Asia flight to Guilin! The airport of Guilin is brand new. As it was cold and drizzling, we took a taxi to our hotel in the center of the old town and we had our first Guilin food, quit porky 😉

In the evening we went out to have a look at the twin pagodas, one of the (modern!) tourist attractions of Guilin.

Saturday 2 March

Cold and grey weather, we decided to visit the Reed Flute Cave, one of the many caves in the region. A showcave, with gaudy colors.

The cave is located on the outskirts of Guilin and a real tourist attraction with guided tours.

Sunday 3 March

We left most of our luggage in our Guilin hotel and took a bus to Longji, with its famous terraced rice fields. The hotel Aric had booked, was located high up in the hills and could only be reached on foot! It was still off-season, there were hardly any other guests. We were lucky that the weather was quite good this day.

The view from our balcony was spectacular and worth the steep climb 😉

Monday 4 March

The weather was foggy with intermittent drizzle. Good that we had brought our umbrellas. We walked two hours among the rice fields to the cable car station. Then we took the cable car down to the bus station, had lunch and walked up again to our hotel.

An iconic picture as a reward !

Tuesday 5 March

Originally we had planned to stay three nights in Longji, but two nights was enough. We walked back to the bus station following the footpath, passing picturesque villages. The local people are still wearing traditional dress.

Back in Guilin, we had enough time to visit one of the Guilin landmarks, the Elephant Trunk Hill. Because of the frequent rains, the water level was high, impossible to walk under the trunk.

Wednesday 6 March

Before leaving for Yangshuo, we spent the morning, visiting the Jingjiang Princes’ Palace, a kind of Forbidden City in Guilin. We climbed an isolated limestone hill within the compound, with a nice view of the karst hills surrounding Guilin.

Yangshuo is the main tourist center of the Guilin region. About one hour south by bus. Aric had found another romantic hotel/homestay, with a balcony overlooking the river. You can see the town on the other side of the river, the water level was so high that the usual crossing by ferry had stopped!

Thursday 7 March

Raining the whole day, we decided to have a rest day, had lunch in a local shop nearby and asked our hostess to prepare dinner for us, the local speciality, fish in beer sauce.

It was a nice meal, notice the people at the back, playing cards, with a electrical heater under the table… 😉

Friday 8 March

The weather was a little bit better, but still very misty. We decided to visit XingPing, a small town, north of Yangshuo. We walked along the Li river and climbed another steep limestone rock. Good exercise, but no view 😉

The traditional way of fishing is by using cormorants to catch the fish. Nowadays mostly a tourist attraction.

Saturday 9 March

Not yet sunny, but no rain, so we hired a bike, to explore the surroundings of Yangshuo. One of the attractions is the Moon Hill, another steep climb, but the view was fantastic. Many tourists here and eateries along the road. We tried a local speciality, pork with yam. We are not very impressed by the local cuisine, but this was eatable .

The landscapes are impressive.

In the evening we went to the Liu San Jie musical show. The show is based on the legend of Third Sister Liu, in 1961 a beautiful movie was made about her, which you can view on YouTube: Liu Sanjie

Sunday 10 March

Slowly the weather was improving. We went to Gongcheng, hoping to see the peach blossom, but not expecting too much, because of the cold weather. Not easy to find the place, first a big bus, then a smaller van, finally a three-wheel taxi.

With the help of our friendly lady-driver we managed to find a few nice spots with blossom. Not really clear if the season was over or not yet started.

After this excursion we took the bus back to Guilin. A bit reluctantly, because now finally the weather was nice. The water level in the river had gone down, riverboats were operating again.

Monday 11 March

Our last day was the first day with beautiful weather. First we walked along the river.

The rest of the day we spent in the Seven Star Park, the largest park of Guilin. There is a lot to see, caves, limestone outcrops (like the Camel hill) , temples, etc.

We climbed one more hill, with a view. No jackets needed 😉

After a long, nice day, we enjoyed the sunset from our hotel room, with a glass of local firewater .

Tuesday 12 March

Before going to the airport, we had the traditional noodle breakfast. Near our hotel was a popular shop, people were queuing, and had their bowl of noodles often just standing outside. I love all kind of noodles, but this was not my favourite.

Back home. We were a bit unlucky with the weather, but still a memorable trip.

Taiping, March 2019

No big plans for this visit. Actually I had one specific plan. Through a friend I came in contact with Syed Bakar, a retired teacher who has been living from 1952 until about 1995 in Pokok Assam. Pokok Assam is one of the New Villages, created during the Malayan Emergency, and I am interested in its history. But he was away during my visit, giving art classes in Sabah (although now 83 year old !), so meeting him will have to wait until my next visit 😉

I will write this blog as a kind of diary.

Monday, 25 March

I arrived in Taiping in the afternoon, traveling by ETS, comfortable, but bring some warm clothes! Preparing for the trip I could not find my umbrella, which you definitely need in Malaysia’s wettest town. Fortunately it was sunny when I arrived and I decided to walk to my hotel. First I stopped at Ansari for cendol. There I bumped into May Cheah, an old friend.

I decided to buy an umbrella in the Taiping Mall and just before I reached there, the first raindrops fell. When I continued my walk, with umbrella, it was absolutely pouring. As I was hungry, I managed to reach Casual Market for a plate of Char Koay Teow, but there I had to wait until the rain got less.

I had booked a room in my favourite Hotel Furama and after taking some rest I went out to Prima for a light meal of Chee Cheong Fun. After the heavy rain the atmosphere was cool and fresh. I walked back having a look at the beautifully restored Shun Tak Association and the Silver Jubilee Jetty (1932). A nice first day.

Tuesday, 26 March

I had breakfast with my friend Yeap at the Lian Thong restaurant. It is a popular eatery in Taiping. Yummie soft-boiled eggs on toast! The shop is housed in an attractive building, just forget about the ugly background.

No blog about Taiping is complete without a few pictures of the Lake Gardens. The fallen tree at the Raintree Walk is very attractive.

I hired a bicycle at hotel Furama, so I could explore a few places further away from the town centre. My first destination was the Kempe Club in Assam Kumbang. Built in 1922 as an alternative for the more posh New Club . In its heydays very popular with sport fields around the club. Now no longer an official club, but a group of (senior) citizens uses the building for their meetings.

The caretaker invited me in and offered me teh tarik. More people arrived and a game of mahjong was started. The different races mix here easily like in the days of yore. Very pleasant atmosphere.

My next stop was an abandoned pre-war bungalow, next to the official residence of the MPT chairman (who recently received in Berlin an award for Taiping being third in the Best of Cities category in the world). See my report About Taiping.

It must have been an impressive bungalow until it was abandoned about 20 years ago. It may have been occupied by government servants (KE VII school staff?

Now it is an impressive ruine, you can just walk around and enter it (at your own risk). I must confess that I am fascinated by decaying buildings, but of course it is a shame that the authorities have allowed this to happen.

For my lunch I went to the Casual Market, the Malay section, where I had a plate of popiah’s at Famous OMar Popiah.

I had dinner in Prima with my friends George and Jenny, and I invited them for coffee and cake at Yinn’s Patisserie, next to Yeap’s shop. A few years ago beautifully renovated by the brother of Yeap. Thean Hock was in the cafe and happy to show us around.

Wednesday 27 March

A “social” morning. I went to Tong’s CCF shop for breakfast with George, who was in Taiping for Cheng Beng and , not surprisingly, met a former classmate ;-). After that I visited Suet Fun, who has closed the Nest bungalow, up Maxwell Hill, for one year, because she is going to write a book about Maxwell Hill. I wish her good luck!

My next destination was the Taiping Municipal Gallery, which was now open, although still only partially operational. But at least there are several posters and banners about the things you can see and do in Taiping.

I met the friendly manager and asked her if she had ever visited the ruined Railway building opposite the Gallery. She had not yet, because she was a bit scared of the squatter who had taken the building as his “residence”. I had a look, he was not there and , with me as a guide, she and her assistant were brave enough to have a look inside 😉 .

In the afternoon my friend Bok Kin and her husband Ng Teng Hin picked me up from my hotel to visit the tomb of Ng Boo Bee and his relatives. Ng Boo Bee is the most famous tin miner, opium farmer and contractor in the history of British Malaya and Teng Hin is a great-grandson.

The grave is located in the Hokkien Cemetery of Taiping. Cheng Beng was approaching, when Chinese visit the graves of their ancestors for cleaning and prayers. Ng Boo Bee’s grave is almost a fortress, very impressive.

My friends told me that last year the grave had been thoroughly cleaned and repaired, they walked around and inspected it, but everything still looked in good condition.

There are also graves of descendants, both around the main grave and on a separate plot. From left to right, the graves of Ng Boo Bee’s mistress, one of his sons, and a grandson (Teng Hin’s father).

The graves are decorated with statues of lions and guardians.

I like to visit cemeteries, see for example my recent post about KL Cemeteries. We walked around a bit, beautiful trees, there is a War Memorial for those who lost their lives during the Japanese occupation. And there is cattle roaming around, not always good for the graves, but very romantic.

After visiting the cemetery we had dinner in West Joy Cafe, near Prima. Nice Thai food, will come back.

Thursday 28 March

My original plan was to go back home by train on Thursday. But when our Singapore friend ST Lee told me that he was coming back for Cheng Beng that day, and would like to meet me, I changed my plan: Aric decided to come by car, we would stay one more day in Taiping and drive back on Friday. I got a 50% refund on my train return ticket 😉

I decided to hire a bike again and first went back to Lian Thong for my breakfast. Soft-boiled eggs on toast again ;-). Had a nice conversation with Teoh, the owner.

When I told in my hotel about my cemetery visit, they told me about an isolated tombstone on the slope of Residence Hill, near the esplanade. I had a look, there are actually three tombstones, one of them recently painted, so somebody must take care about it. Would be nice to know who has been buried there.

Next I went to the Tourism Office in the Clocktower. Had a short chat with Miss Eng, she was busy as there were several visitors. A good sign, although the interior still looks more like an antique shop and there should be more leaflets, etc.

With my bicycle it was easy to ride the full length of Jalan Kota and take pictures of the heritage buildings along this street. Clockwise, from top left the Residence of the OBJ, the building of the Hokkien Association , the Malay Mosque ( oldest mosque of Taiping) and the Hosian Temple.

The Mariamman Temple can also be found along Jalan Kota. I was invited in, a priest prayed for me and I received some ash on my forehead. Nice.

I was clearly in the Cheng Beng mood and decided to have a look at the Hai San Communal Memorial, located in the new Botanical Garden of Taiping. Hai San and Ghee Hin were the two fighting groups of Chinese during the Larut wars. This grave is dated 1864 and could well be the oldest monument of Taiping.

The Botanical Garden is still under development and looks a bit barren.

Close by is the impressive Taiping War Cemetery, immaculately maintained, with separate sections for Christians and the other religions.

I rode back to my hotel through the Lake Gardens. I will hire a bicycle more often during my future visits, Taiping is very suitable for cycling and the bicycles of Furama Hotel are very good quality.

Aric arrived in the afternoon and, after some rest, we drove to Barrack Road 100 to meet St Lee and his sister Mrs Long. It was a very pleasant meeting with dinner in the Chinese Recreation Club (CRC).

Friday 29 March

The next morning we took them to the new Telegraph Museum, which they found interesting.

ST got quite excited when he saw this railway bridge (actually not related to the museum, but to the former First Galleria next door). This bridge has been relocated here from Bukit Mertajam and ST (who is from BM) has been crossing this bridge numerous times when he was schooling!

Then it was already time for a farewell meal! We went to the Lighthouse Restaurant in Matang and enjoyed their famous seafood porridge. Delicious.

A very nice trip!

About Taiping

As readers of my blog know, I love Taiping and I have written many posts about what I consider to be my 2nd hometown.

They will also have noticed that I can be quite critical about Taiping, Bandar Warisan (Heritage Town).

Before I write a blog about my last visit to Taiping, it may be good to report here about the opinion of others..:-)

In January and February 2018, the Malaysian television channel Astro Awani has aired six episodes of a documentary about Taiping, brought by the Northern Corridor Implementation Authority and the Taiping Municipal Council.

I missed the broadcast last year, but discovered later that all episodes are available as YouTube videos. You find them below.
When you click on an episode, you get the full version (each about 25 minutes), including an intro and with several breaks between the different topics. You can also view each of the topics in that episode (click on the start time)

Altogether almost 50 topics, a lot of variety. And everything very positive 😉

Episode 1

  • Trong Leisure Farm & Resort 2:20
  • Ethno Valley Resort, Bukit Gantang 6:00
  • Antong Coffee Mill 8:40
  • Taiping Lake Gardens 11:50
  • Doli Kuay Teow Goreng 16:30
  • Spritzer Eco Park 18:10
  • Trong Hot Spring 19:50

Episode 2

  • Kampung Sempeneh, rock climbing & bat cave Batu, Kurau 1:55
  • Kelulut Honey Farm, Jelai 7:55
  • Mee Udang Banjir Mak Teh, Kuala Sepetang 11:00
  • Matang Museum 12:50
  • Matang Mangrove Eco-educational Centre 16:10
  • Kuala Sangga Fishing Village 22:25

Episode 3

  • Kuala Sepetang Charcoal Factory 2:05
  • Ansari Famous Cendol 5:45
  • Batu Kurau Fruit Farm 7:40
  • Kampung Anak Kurau, Bertam weaving 9:15
  • Kampung Dew Firefly Jetty 11:10
  • Fadzil House restaurant, Pokok Assam 15:00
  • Burmese Pool 16:35
  • Ulu Tupai Nature Retreat 20:05

Episode 4

  • Zoo Taiping 2:55
  • Mergastua Restaurant (Zoo) 6:35
  • Night Safari 7:25
  • Gate Cafe, Taiping 10:15
  • Bukit Larut 12:20
  • Nafis Kitchen restaurant, Taiping 15:50
  • D’Muhibbah Nasi Lemak 18:35
  • ATV Adventure Park Larut 19:00

Episode 5

  • Taiping Heritage Trail 1:50
  • Oasis Restaurant, Assam Kumbang 9:50
  • Taiping Prison Gallery 12:05
  • Little India 14:35
  • Tai Sian Hoot Temple 15:20
  • Indian Muslim Mosque 15:50
  • Tanuntaya Batik, Assam Kumbang 16:55
  • Raintown Brother Western restaurant, Kamunting 19:40
  • Cross Street Bazaar 21:05

Episode 6

  • Pesta Taiping 1:55
  • Warisan Anak Utura (pottery), Changkat Jering 4:20
  • The Train restaurant, Taiping 7:20
  • Taiping Street Art 9:20
  • The Greenhouse restaurant, Taiping 10:00
  • Perak Museum 10:55
  • 5D Art Paradise 14:25
  • Locs & Thyme restaurant 17:15
  • Coronation Swimming Pool 20:14

I have decided not to give my opinion about the documentary, but I invite my readers, and especially the Taipingites among them, to send comments to this blog. Some comments have already been given on YouTube.

I came across these YouTube videos, after I read a few months ago in the New Straits: Times: Taiping makes it to 2018 Top 100 Sustainable Destinations . Probably I was not the only one who was surprised. Taiping a sustainable destination, even belonging to the top 100 in the world?

I searched for more information and found this list:

And here is a world map with (in green) the 2018 top 100 selection and (in purple) the 2019 top 100 selection. It looks like each year there is a new top 100!

This map and the list come from the Sustainable Destinations Top 100 website. When you click on this site the green circle for Taiping, you get a webpage about Taiping with this text:

Perak’s second-largest town is defined by water and greenery. Locals laud it as the ‘City of Peace’ for trailblazing Malaysia’s first museum, first railway and first newspapers in English, Malay and Tamil. But it’s Taiping’s ‘Rain City’ title that has stuck. Taiping has the biggest volume of rainfall in Peninsular Malaysia: all the better for its verdant lake gardens (and the pastime of ‘rain betting’, where locals take a punt on what time downpours will start and stop).

Taiping is a tourism destination with elements of nature such as mountains, waterfall and wildlife. Taiping is popular with the beauty of flora and fauna that attract tourist. Taiping always gets the most frequent rainfall catchment that is near 320 days per year.

Taiping’s nature welcomes wildlife and lush plants. The beauty of the nature is able to give a feels of relaxation to the tourists that come to Taiping. Tourists can enjoy the beauty of Lotus Flower in the lake and other plants around the garden.

The page contains four photos (Raintree Walk, Perak Museum, Lake Gardens and the former First Galleria, now the Municipal Gallery) and a video, the first episode of Discover Taiping. That’s how I got to know about the Astro Awani documentary 😉

Not only did Taiping make it to the 2018 Top 100 Sustainable Destinations, here is an article from the STAR, 7 March 2019: Taiping is No 3 most sustainable city in the world :

Taiping was placed third, behind Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, and Vancouver, Canada in the “Best of Cities” category, which awards cities that show leadership in urban sustainability and in avoiding disruptive over-tourism.

The awards were presented at the ITB Berlin, the world’s largest tourism trade fair.

Here is part of the (long) awards list. The whole list can be found here. No idea why for the Best Of Cities award, only Ljubljana is mentioned and not the no. 2 and 3, Vancouver and Taiping.

Here is the presentation of the rewards to representatives of Ljubljana and Taiping.

Also here I will refrain from giving my opinion. Comments are welcome

A Pale Blue Dot

On  December 7, 1972, the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft, on their way to the Moon, took a picture of Earth at a distance of about 29,000 kilometers. It has been named The Blue Marble and is one of the most reproduced images in history.

Five years later, in 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 1, to explore the outer solar system. It was a highly successful mission with flybys of Jupiter, Saturn and Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

After completion of this primary mission and before leaving the Solar System, it was suggested by astronomer and author Carl Sagan, that the Voyager 1 should look back and take one last picture of Earth. This picture was taken on  February 14, 1990 at a distance of about 6 billion km from Earth. The picture has been named the Pale Blue Dot , because in this picture Earth is not more than a single pixel. You may have to click on the picture to enlarge it and see Earth more clearly. The coloured bands are artefacts, caused by reflection of sunlight in the camera.

Inspired by this picture Sagan wrote the book Pale Blue Dot in 1994. Here is a quote from this book:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

I have used the Blue Marble image for a long time as background on my monitor screen. Recently I have changed it to the Pale Blue Dot.

At the moment Voyager 1 is still (partly) operational at a distance of about 22 billion km from the Sun, speeding away at more than 60.000 km/h.