A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about tourist sites


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Another couple of hours on a fast train saw me arrive in Sighisoara, a town in heartland Transylvania.

It was well after dark when I arrived, but that didn't stop me from just dumping my stuff at the hostel and going for a wander. It didn't take long and I found a wonderful wee cafe, Cafe Julius; old skool blues playing on the sound track, good coffee (another two coffee moment), a tasty omelette, interesting looking people engaged in intense discussions, a nice space to sit.

The town itself is fairly nondescript with a fairly low key main street:
although I found its banks quite interesting:
and it did have a rather nice church:

I did pop in to take a look; it took me a wee while to work out that the group gathered in the centre of the church was gathered around a body in a coffin - I retired discreetly.

But I was not there for the town; I wanted to look at the Citadel, this hilltop fortress that sits above Sighisoara, yet another UNESCO World Heritage site I have been to. In the day time it was not quite so spectacular:
but as I was walking up through these ramparts, maybe a bit after 8 at night, and then through the homes within the Citadel (166 families still live there, along with a bunch of guest houses, hotels, bars and even a YHA):
I was thinking that this is the coolest place on earth, at least of the places I've been to. So, I decided to have dinner up there, had a very nice paprika and pork dish with dumplings and a Cuic, a particularly nice Romanian beer.

I'm obviously not very observant, because when I went back up the next day, I realised that I had dined in the house next door to that of someone a few may have heard of - Vlad the Impaler, or Count Dracula. This is his house, where he was born:
I had to go in and have lunch, one of the worst meals I have ever had (a paper thin pork shop and cold chips - old Vlad would have had the cook beheaded, and he would have been right to do so):

Here is his church, well the one that is about 50 metres from his house:

Other random images from the Citadel (by the time I found the perfect location for an external shot, it was too dark for me to get a good one - stupid 4:30 darkness!):

After my lunch, I had pretty much exhausted what the place had to offer. Curiosity did get the better of me when I saw a hole in the wall and a few steps - it turned out I had quite a climb in front of me, to a church which was well above the Citadel. Going back down into the Citadel, I decided it was beer o'clock (it was New Year's Eve, after all) so went in to the YHA, which had a very pleasant bar and finished off Irvine Welsh's Filth about a cop who is disintegrating without even realising it (and being attacked by a tapeworm that is more capable of a coherent sentence and feeling than he is, very odd).

I was really looking forward to seeing what Sighisoara would have to offer in terms of a New Year's Eve celebration. Turns out that they do things a bit different here; by about 6:00 p.m., EVERYTHING was closed, all the bars, all the cafes, all the restaurants, even the pizza joints. I did see signs of activity in some, so poked my head in, only to see platters of food being laid out in set places and to be told it was "reserved". So, I had two or three fruitless circuits of the town before I gave up, and went to the "non-stop" - basically a 24 hour convenience store (ironically, closing at 10:00) and got myself some snack food and headed back to the hostel. There was a definite air of anticipation in town - I could see people people moving as if they had places to go, but I didn't know what was up.

So, I spent my New Year's Eve sitting in the hostel, starting in on the strange genius of Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano and wishing I was in Mexico. There was a bit of a party happening in the hostel, but no-one speaking English, all rather more loud and drunk then me, so I didn't really feel part of it. Besides, I had a train to catch; I'd booked the 00:45 sleeper to Budapest. Around 11:00 I headed to the railway station, which turned out to be a good move - at midnight there was a 15 minute firework show, along with lots of smaller (I'm presuming private) efforts, and the railway station was a grand place to see it all. So, that was a nice way for Romania to say goodbye to me.

Posted by NZBarry 15:03 Archived in Romania Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

National Museum of Singapore

sunny 30 °C
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The National Museum is a grand building
although it looks fairly puny in this shot

It was established by Sir Stamford Raffles himself as a library and musuem, but its interior has been dramatically updated since his day - lots of glass and steel. I spent the better part of Sunday wandering around. First stop was Robert Wilson's "Voom" exhibit, one that did very little for me. It was a sequence of what looked like still digital images on large TV screens; close attention revealed slight movements, even a very slight narrative in some cases (maybe all, I couldn't be bothered waiting). So, one of these showed Brad Pitt holding a gun, just standing there. After I don't know how long, he lifts the gun and fires (revealing it to be a water pistol). There's about a dozen of these, none impressive. I did score a photo of Steve Buscemi chewing, with a large carcase in front of him (he may be chewing a mouthful of it, who knows?):
(sorry about the flash - I hadn't worked out how to turn it off at that stage, damn flash new cameras!).

Next door was a much more interesting exhibition; photography of Taiwanese Chang Chien Chi who is concerned with the twinned notions of alienation and connection - the exhibit was called Doubleness, and had three sequences of photos. The first started with a couple of images of faces - to show how the Chinese read faces (by the location of moles) to discover character. [As a weird aside, I'm reading Orhan Pamuk's Black Book and a major part of that is about the history of face reading, where various parts of the face contain letters which can be read.] Anyway, the point of the mole reading is that the Taiwanese use these as the basis of arranging marriages between Taiwanese men and Vietnamese woman, around 80,000 per year. There were more than a hundred photos showing participants in the process; starting with the marriage guidance each "couple" is given, then he shows the auditioning (a bit backwards, I know) progressing through them submitting their documents for approval and on to the wedding itself. All of these wedding photos have the same backgrounds - it is later revealed that there are heaps of couples all lined up at the same table, being married simultaneously. The whole process starts on about the Tuesday and finishes on the Friday, with about a 10% failure rate. Not bad, when the whole thing looks like a shopping trip.

A second sequence was simply of men chained together in pairs; there is a monastery/asylum in Taiwan to which problem men (drug addicts, drunks, the mentally unwell) are sent. There they are simply chained to a more stable man - the only time they are not chained is when they sleep. No-one is ever released, so it is not really about rehabilitation; families simply pay to get rid of a problem. Once there, the guys are put to work - the place is also a huge chicken farm. Then his third sequence was about Taiwanese guys who head off to America to make a better life for their families.

The biggest part of the museum was devoted to a history of Singapore; this was suprisingly lame, as it was very short on artefacts, mainly a bunch of photos but with an interesting audio commentary so you could work out what was going on.

The other component was four themed sections (fashion, film, photography and food). I found the food section fascinating - videos showing how some of the classic Singaporean meals are made, the migration patterns that produced them, a few artefacts (such as the kind of cart used as a mobile kitchen) and then a room devoted to the ingredients and utensils

Posted by NZBarry 15:49 Archived in Singapore Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Singapore Art Museum

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So, I had a bit of time spare in the weekend and a desire to do something other than stay curled up in my nicely air-conditioned (albeit tiny) hotel room watching reruns of McGyver and High Chapparel (I know, they were very tempting!). In my wanders to get food, I'd seen both the Singapore Art Museum
and the National Museum of Singapore, and they both appealed.

The Art Museum had three collections on the go: one (the first I saw) I hated. It was the Daimler Art Collection, which is a bunch of modernist paintings (it also included the Andy Warhol "Cars" group of works (about which the New York Times said when reviewing it in 1988 there was a lot of filler and that it was hard not to feel embarrassed for the Guggenheim in exhibiting it)). If I quote some of the description of one group of works, it might become clear why I hated it:

"the pictorial elements, detached from any narrative or illustrative context, should mean only themselves, and should be simple, precise and controllable..."

And then there was a mention of "Zero Art", which is supposed to be minimalist and defy interpretation; the

"viewer was supposed to observe and appreciate the minimal object for its own qualities without deriving any additional meaning from the work."

So there were a few photos I kind of liked,DSC_01392.jpg and a couple of Warhol's car pictures - the video on endless loop of a Mercedes driving up, three women getting out and unloading a whole bunch of shoes from the boot and then bundling one of the women in; not so much. Really,
these chairs could have just as easily been an exhibit!

Then I went to the APAD exhibition, which was of contemporary and slightly older (back to the 1950's) art by Malays. No pictures, sadly; I was busted by a security guard as I was about to take a shot. He was very nice about it and proved to be a very amiable and helpful fellow. This exhibition I liked a lot; clearly representational, rather than zero, art, with lots of colour and images of local life and icons. One particularly cute and suggestive painting was called "Tea With Mr M" where someone was sitting down to drink tea with a single M&M (with a Nike swipe just in case we missed the point).

Going into the third (Korean Contemporary Art) I was blown away by a picture simply called "Pencil 3" (by Hong Kyoung Tock). For a start, it was huge, covering an entire wall. It was comprised simply of pencils and pens, millions of them, very bright but at points merging into one another and at others creating patterns. This is a smaller version:
He also did something called Library 3, with lots and lots of books piled up, again very bright and clean, but with some macabre touches: animal skulls lurking in amongs the books, headless mannequins and a kind of shrine covered in toys. All quite disturbing. Here's another from his library sequence:

Then there was something done by Lee Lee Nam: he took a very classical image, such as a wee shack on an island in a river, digitalised it and then displayed it on a big screen TV. But then you'd notice subtle and very slow movements - waves rippling, a boatman punting by, a light going on. I was entranced. The third thing that got me were a few apparently simple images of people in ordinary life; when I got closer, I saw that they were blocks several centimetres deep, and the images of the people had actually been carved or moulded into the blocks: they effect was that as you walked past, you'd swear they were turning to look at you.

During my wander through, I was accosted twice by people wanting to survey me, both funny in their own way. The guy had a set of questions, but decided he could fil my answers in for me, that everything was good or very good. The woman was much more thorough, I think we talked for more than half an hour. About twenty minutes in, she realised her recorder was not, in fact recording: "no matter, I'll do a rough version iof what you've said". Some of her questions were odd, such as "If Singapore Art Museum was a person, what sort of person would they be? Would you talk to this person?" Answer: "An older person, male I think, a great respecter of tradition but open to new things, might even wear some bling and manage to look gracious with it."

SAM was about all I could cope with, so instead of hitting the Museum, I took a wander through Fort Canning Park,
which unfortunately no longer has a fort, just its gate.

Posted by NZBarry 07:58 Archived in Singapore Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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