For the past several years, my Chinese New Year holidays have been spent in Europe as a way of taking advantage of the low-season there and avoiding the high-season chaos in Asia. This year was no different as I headed off to Florence, Italy – with a day trip by train to nearby Siena thrown in for good measure.
I think that the only real downside to traveling Europe in February is the weather – mostly wet this year. Even then, I prefer that to the crowds of tourists that would be swarming like mosquitoes during the summer break. Not to mention the high temperatures. May as well stay in Hong Kong for that.
Florence is a much smaller city than Rome, so that makes it very walk-able. As you can imagine, the central part and anywhere that has a major tourist attraction is going to be jam-packed. Even during the low season of February I was surprised how busy the city was. I can only guess at the craziness of summer.
There are several must-see galleries and museums in the city. Obviously the Galleria dell’Accadmia, with Michelangelo’s “David” is a huge draw but to be honest, not the most impressive of all that Florence has to offer. The Uffizi gallery is marvelous. There are so many exhibits that I decided to squeeze in a second visit. The Bargello is fantastic for statuary, many done by masters. The Palatine gallery and the Pitti gallery are certainly worth a look if you want to see the opulence of the Medici family. I skipped the Boboli gardens primarily due to the time of year – not much to see in February.
Siena was pleasant once the weather improved. When I arrived, it was hailing. Thankfully that only lasted for about 30 minutes, but the wind that forced the closure of several high-level viewpoints lasted all day.
I could go on about Florence in more detail, but I suppose the photos will give a better idea.
I was going through my cache of photos in preparation for a long overdue update to my GES Photography site when I realized that I had a rather large body of work of various themes. Some of the photos I may have posted before, but quite a few have yet to see the light of day. Here, for your consumption, are some “street” style images plucked from the archives.
Ok, first off, I’m a bit embarrassed about how long it’s been since my last post. I’ve said it before (and will likely say it again), I can’t believe how time just seems to get away from you when you’re not paying attention.
Before the summer break, I realized it had been seven years since visiting Tokyo. This, despite several trips a year back to Japan. Normally I go back to visit friends in Kansai. I figured it was time to reacquaint myself with the megalopolis.
If you’ve been to Tokyo in the summertime, you know it’s hot and humid. Not as humid as Hong Kong, but the temperature still gets right up there in the low-to-mid thirties. A big difference from the December/January temps that I experienced previously. Also, when you visit Japan around Christmas/ New Year, even in a city like Tokyo, places tend to close down and people head back to home towns for nenmatsu (year end). Not so at the tail-end of August. The place is jumping. That being said, despite the size of the populace, it feels less claustrophobic than Hong Kong. A large part of it has to do with the attitudes of the people (which I won’t bother to rant about here) but also, there is room to spread out. Even walking in areas like Shibuya and Shinjuku, the crush of people still feels more manageable. Or it could be all in my head.
The amazing thing about Tokyo is how much the city has to offer. There’s no shortage of things to see and do for a week or ten-day trip. I made an effort to see the many galleries and museums that I missed out on last time because they were closed for the holidays. Even then, I didn’t come close to seeing all the museums and galleries in Tokyo. Sadly, a few of the ones I wanted to visit were closed for renovations, most notably the Bridgestone Museum of Art (closed “for several years”) and the Metropolitan Museum of Photography (closed until late 2016). Of the ones I did see, my recommendations would be the following:
If you’re a book lover, you must also head to Jimbocho. Granted, most of the shops specialize in Japanese books but there are a few that have great English language selections. Don’t be put off by Japanese books. A lot of the antique ones are fantastic for the artwork and the calligraphy alone. If you’re looking for photobooks, try Komiya. A great many hard to find first editions were on display when I was there.
I could go on. There would certainly be enough minutia for several more paragraphs, but I’ll let the photos continue the explanation. I’ll try to have something else before too long.
Here are a few from Kyoto and Osaka that don’t really have their own overall theme. They include kimonos, gardens, art galleries, neon and okonomiyaki. I told you there’s no real theme.
During this year’s trip, I had a sudden gap in my schedule. The friends I intended to stay with over the weekend had an unexpected development that would make it inconvenient for me to visit. As the Easter break typically falls during peak cherry blossom season for Kansai, there were no hotel vacancies (in my price range) for those few days in any of the usual places. Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, even Nara hotels were booked up. What to do? Then it hit me; who said I need to stay in Kansai? I’d been to Kanazawa before, but only as a day trip from Osaka. I knew it had far more to offer so I figured this would be an excellent opportunity. Besides, like in Europe, I’m always up for a nice train journey to see different parts of the countryside. And it is a very nice journey, through areas of rice fields as far as the eye can see, with snow-capped mountains in the background.
Kanazawa is north-east of Kansai, in Ishikawa prefecture, on the Japan Sea coast. It’s often referred to as “Little Kyoto”, and indeed, it does have some of Kyoto’s ambiance. As with Kyoto, Kanazawa has geisha districts in the three ‘chaya’ districts – Nishi Chaya, Higashi Chaya and Kazue-machi Chaya. Unlike Kyoto, you’re unlikely to see the fake dress-up geisha in these districts. There are also old Samurai areas. Naga-machi in particular, is where the streets and houses have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. It’s definitely a great place for a wander.
The jewel in the crown of Kanazawa is the 17th century garden, Kenrokuen. It is recognized as one of the three most famous gardens in Japan (the Japanese love their ‘best of’ lists) and is well worth the visit. Be warned though, it will most likely be swarming with tourists! You could spend the better part of the day in this part of Kanazawa as other sights of note are Kanazawa Castle Park (right across the street) and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (just down the street). You could even venture to the west as Higashi-chaya is only about a 20 minute walk away.
I fully recommend visiting Kanazawa not only for what it has to offer, but also what it hasn’t: the crowds of the more prominent cities like Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo.
Tokyo has the Yamanote line, Osaka has the JR Loop line. Both are essentially circular train routes around the central parts of the respective cities. I had been thinking of this little project for a few years and finally had the time (and the wherewithal) to do it during my time back in Osaka over Easter break. The plan was to hop on the inner loop line (since it’s a loop, it runs either clock-wise (outer) or counter-clockwise (inner)) at Umeda and then hop off at every station, shoot the name of the station and try to photograph something of interest in the immediate location. In some cases, this was far more difficult than I thought it would be.
The first section of the line actually began service in 1898, with the entire line being completed in 1961. There are 19 stations and the distance of the circuit is just a shade under 22 km long (21.7 km, to be exact). This little project actually took me two days to complete. I initially thought that I’d be able to finish in one, but after 5 hours it was time for me to meet up with friends and I still hadn’t gone all the way around. I had to finish, or it would be all for naught, so I needed to go back the following day to get through the last five stations.
I’m not entirely sure if this was an overly unique, or even a successful project or not. I suppose you, the viewers, will be the judges of that. What was interesting for me, despite knowing Osaka quite well, was to see areas of the city that I hadn’t had reason to go to before. There are some very drastic changes as you go from certain areas to others. South Osaka in particular is noticeably less affluent. For my Vancouver folks, you could equate it to the lower East-side, minus the overt drug problem.
The other thing a bit unusual for me is that I shot all these digitally. Normally I shoot film, but I had planned on doing some night photography this trip (which didn’t happen) so brought along my DSLR. I also ended up applying various filters to these images. Mostly just for film types that I like because I find digital images to be “too perfect”. You’ll notice a few others have more significant filters applied. I figured if this was going to be an experiment, I may as well do a bit more to make things interesting.
Seriously?! My last post was in November? That’s a bit ridiculous, isn’t it? Well, hopefully what I lack in quantity, I at least make amends for in quality.
So yeah, the end of Feb. had me spending CNY in the UK, primarily in London but with the odd day trip thrown in. Last time I was in London was summer 2010 and as usual, I was flying completely solo. This time around, I had the fortune of not only staying with friends, but having a few others to hang out with as well since over the last year, several friends have moved to London for various reasons. It was a nice change and made for a great trip.
London at that time of year isn’t exactly stellar in terms of weather, but I hardly cared about getting drizzled upon; I am from the “Wet Coast” of Canada after all. On the other hand, getting hailed upon down on the south coast during a visit to my friend’s parents’ place was something I hadn’t experienced in a hell of a long time.
London is truly one of the world’s first-class cities. You would have to be incredibly unmotivated to not find something to do in this city. During the planning stages for my trip, I did a lot of online researching trying to find places and things to do that were outside of the regular tourist traps. I also consulted friends who know London well and ended up with a long list of bookstores (Daunt Books in Marylebone High Street is a new fave), shopping venues (markets!) and eating/drinking hotspots (craft brews are thankfully becoming a big deal in most pubs). I barely scratched the surface of the list during my ten day trip. I guess that leaves something more for next time! Of course, there were certain touristy things that I needed to do, like taking in Brick Lane and Spitalfields Market on the weekend (crazy busy!), and visiting some of the various galleries and museums dotting the city (because I’m starved for culture in HK). I also fit a couple of day trips into the itinerary: one down to Bognor Regis on the south coast and another to the ancient city of Bath in order to see both the Roman-era baths as well as the Georgian architecture. There’s another story to Bath, but that one is still in the making.
That about sums it up for now. Thanks for your patience. Hopefully it won’t be too long before my next post.