Osh, Kyrgyzstan: Not So Large, but Contains Multitudes

Boo yeah, that is a Walt Whitman reference in the title!  Literary self-congratulations aside, the description fits our impressions of Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second city.  Often referred to as Kyrgyzstan’s southern capital, Osh feels completely different from Bishkek – less modern, more steeped in tradition, and more Islamic.  As we ventured even further south, to Sary Mogul and deeper into Kyrgyzstan’s Islamic heartland, stores even stopped selling alcohol and cigarettes.  Despite how Islam is portrayed by American media and, sadly, the incoming presidential cabinet, we found that as places became more majority Islamic, so too did their people become more friendly.stans-2016-292_29912580065_o

Though, to be fair, the comparison is mostly Islamic versus Russified.  And in comparisons of friendliness, I’m afraid Russians will typically not make the podium. Read more

Renewing our Vows at a Post-Soviet Wedding Palace: Almaty and Bishkek

Unlike our time in Southeast Asia this past May, where we were pleasantly surprised by several examples of our favorite architectural styles in Phnom Penh, I knew leading up to our Central Asia trip that Almaty and Bishkek would be tremendous places for modernist/brutalist architecture spotting and photography. Thanks to several books I’ve collected over the years and some mildly creepy Instagram stalking, I already knew the places I wanted to see in both cities. I’ve always been particularly captivated by Soviet Wedding Palaces, and prior to this trip we’d seen some great examples, most notably being those in Tbilisi, Georgia and Vilnius, Lithuania. And while not much has been written (in English, anyway) on Almaty’s Wedding Palace, Bishkek’s Wedding Palace has been well documented all over the internet – particularly well by this post by Cooper Thomas, a former Bishkek expat.

Almaty Palace of Weddings
Almaty Palace of Weddings
Bishkek Palace of Weddings
Bishkek Palace of Weddings

Wedding Palaces served a very interesting role in Soviet society – a role which continues today in many post-Soviet nations: to gather information, making sure every couple is properly registered. It seems like the actual ceremony plays second fiddle to the act of registering itself. Despite this, it appears that weddings in the post-Soviet world have adapted to incorporate the more conspicuous displays of wealth commonplace in American weddings. The weddings held in these Wedding Palaces aren’t traditional to the region – contracts between families and festivities that usually linger for weeks – but instead more closely mimic their Western counterparts. Official documents are signed, then couples are whisked off in a fancy car, often back to everyday life. Read more

Sary Mogul, Kyrgyzstan: An Unlikely Hamlet at 12,000 Feet

There isn’t much space devoted to places like Sary Mogul, Kyrgyzstan in guidebooks.  Sary Mogul is one of those places that is typically seen as a stopping off point, or a place to have a sort of layover, perhaps in the midpoint between two more noteworthy destinations.  But for whatever reason, I was immediately struck and fascinated by the place.  Neat rows of one-story mud houses, free-roaming cows and pigs, a lack of vegetation (save for the odd potato plant), and the curious people made it very hospitable, and I found it to be an absolute delight to explore and photograph.img_2302 img_2300

Places like Sary Mogul, traditionally, shouldn’t exist in Kyrgyzstan.  Sary Mogul, like it’s larger neighbor to the east, Sary Tash, were founded in the 1940s by Soviets in an attempt to supply nearby Murghab with potatoes and livestock.  Murghab was a strategic point along the Pamir Highway, connecting the major parts of the southern Soviet Empire with the relatively more Russified Kazakh and Kyrgyz Soviet Social Republics.  Thus, Sary Mogul came to existence to support another town that wouldn’t exist if it were left to the rules of traditional Kyrgyz nomadism.  It was truly a manufactured place, and in that respect, it had been given a blank canvas for independent cultural development. Read more

A Three Hour Tour of Herzegovina’s Finest

I have to be honest with this one.  I did no work to plan what we’d see and not see while in Herzegovina.  The Bosnian portion of our Serbia/Bosnia trip in this past December was a fairly standard itinerary: into Sarajevo, then Mostar, and back to Sarajevo again.  In Mostar we hung around the Old Bridge, and did our best to fend off rather forceful drinking invitations from the sole two patrons of our hotel bar.  Peer pressure doesn’t always work (except when it does).december-balkans-1235jpg_24221982231_odecember-balkans-1141jpg_24304434975_o

It was New Years Eve, and we’d had an absolutely magical day in Mostar – we went to bed before midnight (as we had done in Tbilisi, Georgia a year prior), as we were to wake up early (in Bosnian standards, anyway) to see some key sights around Herzegovina the next day. Read more

Googie Architecture and a Piece of Infamous Seattle Real Estate

I didn’t know a term existed for the quasi-futuristic, kitschy American architecture of the 50s, 60s, and 70s until a few days ago.  But as I drove home from my parents’ house (the same house I grew up in) on the less-than-scenic Lake City Way last week, I drove by the in-progress restoration of Ying’s Chinese Foods Drive-In – as I have done multiple times before.  I decided I needed to photograph it, and in my googlings I came across the term “Googie Architecture.”  Things started to click, and I made plans to take the husband on a Golden Hour Thursday night date to document this both captivating and extremely kitschy building.DSC_0053

Growing up, as my father was working to start his own business, I remember going to Ying’s on special occasions for American Chinese staples like General Tso’s or almond chicken.  I was particularly attracted to the fried rice cakes the kitchen staff had colorfully and artificially colored vibrant pinks and greens and yellows.  The building has always had a special place in my memory, and yet I didn’t know the history of the plot of land itself. Read more

A Tale of Two Cambodian Train Stations: Kampot and Sihanoukville

Coming into our trip to Southeast Asia, architecture peeping wasn’t in my plans.  Despite evidence to the contrary from our tour of New Khmer architecture in Phnom Penh, I didn’t actually plan any of our adventures in modernist architecture – they just happened to occur.  Sure, I may have screamed and waved my hands for tuk tuk drivers to pull over at random places on the streetside for me to take pictures, but that was about the extent of my planning.DSC_0963 (2) DSC_0978 DSC_0993 (2)

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Things We Didn’t See in Luang Prabang, Laos

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that I have a problem with editing.  I’m notoriously unsuccessful at editing experiences, places, and things to do out of an itinerary.  A large part of my travel ethos has been that, because I have such precious little time off from my other life as a corporate employee, I need to see as much as possible in my time away.  Many would even consider our recent Southeast Asia itinerary to be too ambitious – but for us it was actually quite slow.DSC_0580 DSC_0627 DSC_0531 (2)

Then we arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos.  We’d spent a harried couple of days in Siem Reap, and despite only seeing five or so temples there, were fatigued.

Nature and atmosphere had a way of forcing us to slow down in Luang Prabang.  We had planned on renting motorbikes while we were there to explore around, but put it off until we didn’t have any days left. Read more

Finding Vann Molyvann in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

As I’ve stated before, our trip to Southeast Asia was a rather serendipitous one.  I’ve been rather singularly focused in the past 18 months on making my way through the former Eastern Bloc and Soviet nations, and had been hoping to spend this Memorial Day in the Ukraine, but luck brought us to Southeast Asia instead.  While planning our time in Southeast Asia, I struggled to find the happy medium between a total relaxing hedonistic vacation and finding meaningful cultural activities relevant to my interests.

What primarily interested me about Southeast Asia.
What primarily interested me about Southeast Asia.
Enter Phnom Penh.  Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, was where we started our trip, and to say it impressed us would be an understatement. It’s safe to say that if I were to create a pie chart of subject matter on this blog, modernist architecture would make up the lion’s share of it.  And despite knowing that Phnom Penh had been a jewel of French Indochina, I was not expecting it to be replete with amazing, funky, and downright jaw-dropping modern architecture.

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Between World War 2 and the Cambodian Civil War,  a man named Vann Molyvann founded the New Khmer style of architecture, and created the preeminent architecture style of the new Kingdom of Cambodia (1953-1970).  His buildings blended Modernist style and materials with traditional Khmer architectural elements to create startlingly beautiful structures all over the nation.  For more info on the style and his work, visit the Vann Molyvann Project site. Read more

My Favorite Ugly Building: The National Library of Kosovo

I’ll be honest, we ended up in Kosovo on a technicality.  When I spontaneously switched jobs last fall and decided to take an impromptu trip through the south Balkans, we were thinking primarily of Buzludzha.  We tacked on Macedonia to Bulgaria for Skopje’s space age Brutalist masterpieces and the relatively undiscovered Lake Ohrid.  We only ended up in Kosovo because it was cheaper to fly into Pristina than it was to fly into Skopje.pristina-29

But boy were we glad we did.  We spent three days there, between Pristina, Pec, and Prizren, and while we loved the latter two towns, Pristina (bad weather and all) was the Kosovar city to really win us over. Read more

The Subotica Synagogue: A Troubled Past in Technicolor

The places that David and I frequent when we travel generally fall into two categories.  The first of places we’ve seen, researched, geeked out over, and fallen into rabbit holes about for months (or years!) leading up to our departure.  Places like Buzludzha, the Hara Submarine Pen, Gergeti Sameba Church in Kazbegi, and Gozo’s Azure Window fall into this category.  The other category is a rarer breed – the kind of place that takes you by surprise.  The type of place that you see on a whim, without expectations or prior biases. 

december-balkans-219jpg_23929763689_o The old Subotica Synagogue is this latter, more elusive type of place. Read more