Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cologne Cathedral views from a variety of angles (Photo-essay)

Variety, as the proverbial "they" say, is the spice of life. Hence it was that a couple of days after getting "churched out" while visiting the church-filled and cathedral-dominated town of Speyer, I got my German friend to agree that, even though it also is home to twelve important Romanesque churches as well as a UNESCO World Heritage listed cathedral, we would restrict ourselves to visiting just one Christian place of worship over the course of the two days we spent in Cologne.

As one might expect, the one religious establishment we visited in Cologne was its magnificent cathedral that took more than 600 years to be completed. And while six centuries does seem like an uncommonly lengthy amount of time to devote to constructing a single structure, the following photo-essay should help provide some visual evidence of the Kolner Dom's huge size and the incredible amount of detail adorning much of it; both aspects that go quite a ways to help account for the many man-hours spent working on this undeniably impressive edifice...

The first photo I took in Cologne was of --
you guessed it! -- its monumental cathedral

Even from a few kilometers away, and the other side  
of the Rhine, it's hard to ignore the fact that
Cologne's cathedral dominates the city's landscape

Close up shot of the cathedral's south portal

Zooming in even more to focus on
the portal's central Madonna and child statue

The enclosed location within the Kolner Dom of
the golden gilded Sarcophogus of the Magi
that is thought
to contain the bones
of the biblical Three Magi
shows how treasured it is

The cathedral also is home to the 10th century
Gero Cross
that has been variously described as
the oldest surviving monumental crucifix north of the Alps

and oldest full size cross in the western world

Conservators (and/or restorers) at work
in the heart of the monumental structure

For all of its undoubted artistic value and beauty however,
the cathedral undoubtedly remains primarily a place of worship
for many
-- something that, despite not being all that
religious inclined myself,
I nonetheless found pretty touching

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hong Kong wildlife

One of numerous large spiders spotted
along Stage 10 of the Lantau Trail
(click on the photo to enlarge it and really get a scare!)

Feral cows wandering about on Cheung Sha Beach

Unlike the previous two weekends, I didn't go hiking this weekend and thus didn't massively add to my photo collection. (Instead, I attended two Summer International Film Festival screenings and viewed one more movie at the Hong Kong Film Archive -- add a movie viewed this past Thursday and Friday and even this movie geek does think that she's seen more than her fair share of films in the past half week or so! [N.B. For interested readers, I have a regularly updated Most Recently Viewed Movies list on the left section of this blog, complete with links to trailers and/or reviews of the films.])

So rather than share photos taken this weekend, here's sharing two taken two Sundays ago -- and thus 'compensate' for not having a photo of the large snake I crossed paths with last Sunday by showing other photos of wildlife that hikers are known to encounter in Hong Kong.

On the subject of spiders: now that I've come to think of it, the largest spiders I've seen in Hong Kong have been far away from the Sai Kung Peninsula -- not only in the wilds of Lantau but also in Tai Lam Country Park. As for bovine creatures: Yes, I know that I've put up photos of the Big Lychee's not inconsiderable cow population on this blog before (e.g., here and here) but I reckon that the photo in this entry is particularly worth sharing because of how the scene is made really surreal by the amusingly casual disregard of the cows by the humans in the picture.

In any case, I trust that the two photos once again provide proof positive of the existence of a far different side to Hong Kong than the concrete urban jungle that many people most associate with this part of the world... :)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Framed (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

A few years ago on a trip to Bangkok, my mother complained of getting "Wat-ted out" as a result of visiting too many Wats (Thai Buddhist temples) in one day. My equivalent moment came on the afternoon of the fourth full day of my recent German holiday -- and in the middle of visiting a UNESCO World Heritage listed cathedral, no less!

The imperial cathedral of Speyer is an unquestionably impressive monument to Christendom -- and it most definitely is the largest Romanesque religious establishment that I have ever visited in my life. But it also happened to be the third Christian place of worship I was visiting that day -- and fourth religious establishment, if one includes the remains of a similarly Romanesque-era synagogue (in particular, its mikvah that is the oldest remaining Jewish ritual bath in Central Europe) --and seventh in two consecutive days.

And Speyer also is home to a collection of some of the -- sorry if this offends some Photo Hunters and other visitors to this blog, but this is how I have to admit to feeling about it -- more bizarre objects of veneration I have ever seen. Like a jewel encrusted as well as framed human bone(!) that is said to come from a saint; and thus is considered a religious relic. (Other relics in its collection include pieces of wood said to come from the true cross but there really were a lot of human bones on display in that part of the cathedral that also is famous for its crypt being the final resting place of eight German emperorors and kings, four queens and a number of bishops...)

On the other hand, I did manage to appreciate other, more conventional framed objects inside of Speyer's religious establishments -- such as the late Gothic winged Bossweiler Altar of St. Ludwig that dates back to 1485. And even in my "churched out" state, I did (do) recognise that churches and cathedrals, especially in countries like Germany with their long history of Christianity, are homes to impressive religious objects that are bona fide works of art in and of themselves. (Heck, their very buildings often are so as well!) :)

Friday, August 27, 2010

From one end of Speyer's Maximilianstrasse to the other (Photo-essay)

A couple of blog entries back, a few readers wrote in the comments thread of being happy to see Hong Kong-centric entries again after my marked German focus of the past few weeks. But the fact of the matter is that close to one month after my German holiday, I still have quite a few thoughts about, and photos from, that trip that I want to share... including the following photos taken on a day trip to the quiet town of approximately 50,000 inhabitants and a UNESCO World Heritage-listed cathedral that is Speyer:-

After arriving by train into Speyer,
my German friend took me directly to climb

the tower of the town's Altportel (Old Gate),
parts of which date back to the 13th century

...from whose top grand views could be had --
including this one of the Maximilianstrasse

and, at the end of that street, Speyer Cathedral

As previously noted, I found Speyer
to be
an unexpectedly quiet and uncrowded town

However, this is not to say I disliked the place --
and, in particular, I really liked the Altportel

and how it inspired me to take artistic photos

A view through an old window of the Altportel
that got me thinking of historical times

and maybe also fairytale places

Puppet Ponyo posing on Speyer's Maximilianstrasse
(after heading out of the cathedral fresh from
an organ music concert that evening)

An unobscured-by-Ponyo view of Speyer Cathedral

Close-up shot of the front of the impressively
monumental Romanesque cathedral
that is
the largest Romanesque edifice in Germany

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Watching events unfold "live" on TV

Yesterday evening, I had the time and opportunity to blog... but I just didn't feel like doing so -- this especially because my mood was heavy and thus far, I've tried to generally maintain a positive (Pollyanna-ish even) perspective when writing this blog. Some twenty four hours on, I am on a more even emotional keel. However, it seems like it would be remiss of me to let recent events in the Philippines involving a bus load of Hong Kong tourists go unmentioned and unmourned on a blog that, after all, is being produced out of Hong Kong.

On Monday evening, I met up with two friends for dinner in Kowloon City. As it so happened, our choice of restaurant was one within which a television was centrally placed -- so that people could watch whatever played on the channel of choice as they ate. And that Monday evening, the customers -- and waitresses -- found their attentions drawn to a "live" broadcast of a dramatic, at times downright surreal, hostage situation that lasted for several hours and tragically ended with several deaths.

As if it wasn't bad enough to be watching such a terrible event unfold in front of our very eyes there and then, as I did so, I found myself recalling previous times that I had watched 'live' on TV events that I knew would be top news stories. For even while the only other time I've watched such an event unfold 'live' on TV in Hong Kong, it was something positive and celebratory in the form of the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the fact of the matter is that the most hard-to-forget such experience in recent memory took place when I was living in Philadelphia on the morning of September 11, 2001. (And, as a matter of fact, I did actually have nightmares that wove in memories of 9/11 along with what I had seen and read about the Philippines hostage disaster on Monday night.)

Also, while my previous 'live' TV news experience before those ones involved watching that truly surreal car chase involving O. J. Simpson back in June, 1994, the previous two before that consisted of watching disturbing Gulf War news footage and broadcasts of events leading up to -- along with the actual events surrounding -- the June 4th, 1989, massacre at Tiananmen Square...

Returning to the subject of the recent events: I don't think it is an exaggeration to state that the whole Hong Kong has been in shock and mourning as a result of the event which has hit home because it involved Hong Kongers and also was watched "live" on TV by so many. And even while I'm not a native Hong Konger, I cannot but feel so very sorry for the victims -- and by these I don't only mean the dead but such as the poor woman who physically survived the horrific hostage crisis but now is without a husband, also outlived her two daughters and finds her son in critical condition as I write this entry.

Small consolation, I know, but many people's thoughts are with these people. I can but hope that the survivors of this terrible event which saw too many individuals lose their lives possess the courage and strength to carry on living. And that this event is not easily forgotten and be one from which people can learn from -- including in terms of not only how stupid and crazy people can get but also how heroic and caring. (I'm thinking in the latter case particularly of the man who sacrificed himself to protect his wife and the woman whose quick-thinking saved not only her two children but also another child who is not biologically related to her. May there be more people like them in this world.)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sai Kung Sunday

Today's hike was a bit of a slog in the summer heat
but the views alone make it feel very worthwhile

...and this even more so when one gets down
to the beach and spends time strolling on it and
cooling one's tootsies in the waters that lick the shore!

Earlier today, I went on a hike in one of Sai Kung's two country parks during which I skipped over what I thought was a section of black hose, only to belatedly discover after my hiking companion shouted aloud and it started slithering away, that it was the largest snake yet that I've seen in the wilds of Hong Kong!

That scary moment aside, my biggest fear this afternoon was the prospect of suffering from heat stroke -- seeing as the temperature rose up to 34.9 degrees Celsius in parts of the territory today, and the hike involved going up as well as down a couple of hills.

If truth be told, this is not the kind of hike I'd go on in the summer... but tempted by the prospect of going to yet another great long and not particularly populated beach in a scenic location along with the enthusiasm of a friend who has long wanted to check out the place, off we went to Tai Long Wan -- specifically the beaches of Ham Tin as well as Sai Wan.

Ironically, my friend -- whose plans included a swim as well as a hike this afternoon -- discovered that Tai Long Wan (Big Wave Bay) lived up to its name and the waters were too rough for her to comfortably swim there. On the other hand, I was happy enough walking about on the beach, including on those bits where the waves were alternately creeping up on and then leaving to dry -- with a bonus bit involving spending time having a "just what the doctor ordered" ice pineapple drink at the little budget eatery that comes with piped music and views that really helps puts one in a excellent mood. :)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Numerical (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Today, we play the numbers game; or, at least, do something with numbers on account of this week's Photo Hunt theme being a numerical one (pun intended!). ;b

On a numerical trivia note: I generally archive my photos in folders with numerical names. For example, the two photos above are from the 2010-05-23 folder -- numbers which help me to remember that they were taken back on May 23rd of this year.

On that pleasant Sunday, I took my mother -- out here in Hong Kong on one of her visits -- to Lamma Island where, among other things, we hiked the Lamma Island Family Trail that goes across the island from Sok Kwu Wan to Yung Shue Wan. Rather than do a round trip on foot, we took the ferry from Hong Kong Island to Sok Kwu Kwan and then the ferry back from Yung Shue Wan.

As we headed towards the Yung Shue Wan pier, we saw the next ferry fast approaching and lots of other people hurrying to catch it. Even as I did my own bit of rushing though, I couldn't resist pausing to take photos along the way -- including of a helpful electronic indicator box telling folks not only what time the ferry would be sailing out but also how many "seat" (sic.!) remained available on that ferry. (And yes, there really were many vacant seats left on the boat -- so we were able to have our choice of seats as well as comfortably spread ourselves and our bags about on the approximately half an hour ride back into a more bustling, densely populated part of the Big Lychee.) ;b

Friday, August 20, 2010

Heidelberg Castle and the town below (Photo-essay)

After my Heidelberg host drove us part-way up the scenic Neckar River valley up to Hirschorn, we headed back into Heidelberg -- where she said her goodbyes to my German friend (and her long time friend) and I near the entrance to Heidelberg Castle -- some 300 feet above sea level on a hill overlooking the town. What with summer days in Germany being bright through to around 9pm, we found ourselves with plenty of daylight to explore the famously romantic town -- starting, of course, with its now ruined but still beautiful castle...

View of Heidelberg town through
a big, gaping hole in the castle's outer wall!

The castle may be ruined but enough remains standing
to give a sense of how large it was -- and actually still is

The Powder Turret split by an explosion
and turned into an eye-catching ruin

The less ruined (and more crowded with tourists)
inner section of Heidelberg Castle

A plaintive head that's one of many adorning the facade
of the castle's ornately decorated Friedrich Building

The views from the castle are beautiful indeed
-- especially on a blue sky day :)

Looking right across the river --
where we had been the afternoon before!

Hello once more -- Puppet Ponyo posing for a photo
at the castle on a hill
that also takes in
a part of the picturesque old town below :)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

An unexpected element of my German visit

Interior shot of the magnificent Jesuit Church that appears
to be way off the beaten (tourist) path in Heidelberg

View of the largely vacant large square
next to Speyer's Altportel (Main City Gate)

"Summertime in Heidelberg, according to the song from The Student Prince, is a time for music and romance. Today, it's also a time when droves of visitors invade this beautiful city." Thus starts the Introduction to Heidelberg section of Frommer's Germany, the travel guide that I bought and read before I went on my most recent German vacation.

Although the Frommer's series of guide books have proved very informative for such as Japan, South Korea and -- yes -- Hong Kong, I have to say that its German edition wasn't as helpful in preparing me for a lot of what I found to be the case in the areas of Germany that I recently spent close to two weeks. For one thing, its food section paled in comparison (both quantitatively as well as qualitatively) to the equivalent guides for the Asian territories I previously mentioned. For another, rather than find myself in the midst of a whole horde of tourists, I found myself wondering far more than once -- including at times in Heidelberg, which I was expecting to be super tourist infested -- where the people, Germans as well as visitors, had gone!!

As early as my first night out in Germany, while walking home from the Africa fair in Ludwigshafen, I had noticed the lack of people about to my German friend. (Indeed, there was so little traffic on the road that: a) we didn't see a single car or other person on the walk home; and b) the loudest sounds I could hear were our voices and footsteps!) Her "explanation" that evening was: "It's late on a week night. So people are probably home and asleep."

A couple of days later, as we strolled through Hirshchhorn on Saturday afternoon, even another German friend could be heard remarking that it felt like we were walking through a beautifully kept-up ghost town -- or picturesque Potemkin village! (Somewhat taken aback herself, my German friend went online after we returned to her home that evening and discovered that that Neckar Valley village does indeed have a population of less than 5,000!!)

Still, the title of place where I really was the most surprised to encounter such a paucity of people over the course of my recent vacation has to go to Speyer. A town with a contemporary population of close to 50,000, it also happens to be home to a UNESCO World Heritage List-ed Romanesque cathedral -- the kind of place you'd expect to be a major tourist attraction -- and possess a settlement history that stretches back for thousands, not just hundreds, of years.

And yet... well take a look at the photo in this blog post that I took from the top of its Altportel late one Sunday morning!!! (My German friend's suggested explanation for how come the center of Speyer (including its cathedral and Maximilianstrasse, its wide main street linking the Altportel to the cathedral) was so bereft of people was that it's a Sunday, a day of rest for Germans...)

Like I hastened to point out to my increasingly agitated German friend, it actually wasn't the case that I was horrified per se by the lack of people about (though I had to admit that I did find it all somewhat creepy at times, especially in the late evenings and at night!). Instead, it also was true enough that I found the experience of being more likely to be alone than in a crowd on a wide urban space (like a main road or square) to be, well, so novel that there was quite a bit of humor to be had from and in it!

Put another way: At no time before I went to visit that First World country with a population of over 80 million did I ever think that I would spend time wondering and asking aloud the questions that I did end up doing more than once while there: namely, where are all the German people -- and, also, where are the (other) tourists? (The latter especially since so many of the places I visited really, truly, are not at all without attractions or charms!)

Monday, August 16, 2010

German castles galore!

Mittelburg -- one of four castles, all built between
1100 and 1230 AD, visible from the road as it passes
through the Neckar Valley town of Neckarsteinach

Schloss Schwetzingen -- an aristocratic summer residence
that appears more like a palace than castle to my mind

In the weeks leading up to my recent German holiday, my German friend and I held e-mail conversations that got me fully expecting that my vacation would be filled with visits to castles, cathedrals, churches, and brauhauses and biergartens. For all this though, I never expected that on my third full day in Germany, I'd not only be having lunch at one castle but also get driven on a section of the 1,200 kilometer long, officially designated Burgenstrasse (Castle Road) that included a town with four castles called Neckarsteinach and then spend a few hours touring another castle in the form of the ruined but still beautiful Heidelberg Castle!

Still, rather than feel like I had had my fill of castles for some time, that day only whetted my appetite for the sight of more of those structures. So it was with no small amount of joy that I discovered that the close to 200 kilometer-length (each way) train rides my German friend and I took from Mannheim to Cologne and then back the other way often effectively doubled as scenic Rhine River valley castle spotting opportunities!

In addition, on Day 9 of my German vacation, my German friend and I went and visited the charming town of Schwetzingen and its Schloss (which seems to translate to either castle or palace) -- which, like with Hirschhorn and Neckarsteinach, is located along the Burgenstrasse. Later down the road, I'll devote a photo-essay to showing the beauty of Schloss Schwetzingen's extensive -- and very impressive -- gardens. In the meantime, I hope you'll check out the photo above that shows but a section of just one of the schloss' wings and use it to let your imagination fly with regards to how big this place which was not given a single line of mention in Frommer's Germany as a whole is...!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Orange (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Is Hong Kong a place where orange is easier to be found than elsewhere? I ask because although I did do a search, I found myself hunting in vain for photos with enough orange (color or fruit) from my recent German holiday stash to put up for this week's Photo Hunt. And when I looked through my Korean and Japan vacation photos from the past couple of years, I found that I had already used the photos that would have been appropriate for this week's Photo Hunt theme.

So here's turning to Hong Kong again for things orange -- and things orange, I will add, that are different from what I put up the last time the theme for Photo Hunt was orange (back on September 5, 2009). More specifically, behold photos of the orange soil and flowers that I came across when hiking with my mom on Lamma Island a few months back! :b

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Picturesque -- but hardly bustling! -- Hirschhorn (Photo-essay)

On the final day of my recent German vacation, my German friend remarked on how I had been pretty lucky in terms of weather (as well as other things). And I couldn't but agree since: the temperature generally hovered in the high teens Celsius for much of the visit (in contrast to two weeks before I visited -- when I was getting e-mails from her reporting abnormally high temperatures of 38 degrees Celsius and such like); and there nonetheless were more days with bright sunshine (and associated bright blue skies) than rain or even just gray, overcast skies during the close to two weeks that I spent in that country.

Although the third full day of my recent German holiday began with gray skies and a chill in the air, the sun broke out in earnest in the middle of lunch at Schloss Hirschhorn. Consequently, a good proportion of the following photos feature blue skies along with other elements that I found very pleasing to the eye (along with a surprisingly -- for me, at least -- small amount of people (a state of affairs I plan to discuss further in at least one future blog entry!))...

View from Schloss Hirschhorn of
Neckar River and Hirschhorn (a village
that's spread across both sides of the river)

Hirschorn village houses in the front
Schloss Hirschorn and beautiful blue skies above

One of many signs I saw during my trip
that got me realizing
the Germans really do love their

Walking on Hirschhorn's picturesque --
but most definitely far from bustling! -- main street

towards its well kept-after Catholic parish church

Inside the village's Catholic parish church

In the shadow of the 14th century gate tower
that abuts the Catholic church

One peculiarity we couldn't help but notice:
Be it side street or main street, there just weren't
many people out and about -- and this despite
our visiting on a fine Saturday afternoon!

And oh, lest there be any doubt: of course
Puppet Ponyo
did go on the Neckar Valley tour with us! :D

Monday, August 9, 2010

Castle on a hill (above Hirschhorn)

A section of the ruined outer walls and tower
of Schloss Hirschhorn

An old but still habitable part of the former knight's castle

The view from the outdoor dining area of the
castle turned hotel cum restaurant

Ever dined in a castle? Some years back when visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing, I had pot noodles in a section of the former imperial residence that has been turned into a snack area -- but I don't think that really counts. So up until my recent German vacation, I'd say that the closest I ever came to doing that was having mulled wine and minced pies after a concert one cold winter evening in an English stately home known as Houghton Hall a few decades ago (when I was living and studying at boarding school in England).

But on the third full day of my recent German vacation, my German friend, her friend who was our host in Heidelberg and I went on a road trip up the Neckar River from that fabled university town that included a stop for lunch at a 13th century knight's castle that is but one of the many other castles in Germany that "offer hospitality" seemingly as a matter of course these days.

Situated on a hill overlooking the picturesque village of Hirschhorn, Schloss Hirschhorn is part ruined and part converted hotel-restaurant -- the kind of place that quite a few people choose to be married or spend honeymoons in. (And, indeed, during our visit there, we were witness to a happy wedding party!)

One on hand, although it may seem strange to think of the kind of structure that many people associate with warfare (or, at the very least, less peaceful days when those who could afford it opted to build residences on hills less for the view than for defensive purposes) having such social functions, this state of affairs provides some indication of how "normal" castles are for many Germans on account of their being such ubiquitous parts of so many German landscapes.

At the same time, it also shows that, for many people, there remains a romantic aura about these structures -- and while I wouldn't necessarily want to get married there (or married at all for that matter!), I definitely do find myself attracted to castles; not least because they appear to be places where my imagination is apt to feel free to roam... ;b