A Walking Tour through Soviet Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

One of the things that most excited us for our trip to Central Asia was the number of well preserved buildings from the Soviet Era. Bishkek, in particular, had a great concentration of the buildings, ranging from Stalinist to Socialist Modernist, all within easy walking distance from one another.  As you know by the title of my blog, I am a big fan of concrete architecture, and this post is for all of those wishing to see the greatest examples of the medium in the shortest amount of walking time.  I did a great amount of research before our trip to ensure our two days in the Kyrgyz capital wouldn’t be spent idling about.  We had an itinerary, and we stuck to it.

To start, here’s the route we’ll cover:

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Almaty, Kazakhstan, Dressed in Resplendent Concrete

The first stop on our whirlwind tour of Central Asia was Kazakhstan’s former capital, Almaty.  It remains the largest city in the country, as well as its cultural epicenter.  My knowledge of the city was somewhat lacking (aside, that is, from my standard furious pre-trip googling and wiki-ing), and the city threw me through a loop.  Not because of culture shock – actually, it was quite the opposite.  Almaty was strange to me because of how cosmopolitan, ostentatious, and developed it was, thanks in large part to the Central Asian (primarily Kazakh) oil boom.stans-2016-13_29877361666_o stans-2016-127_29877426286_o 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

Obsessed with Buzludzha, the Remains of Bulgaria’s Communist Past

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but have put it off because I’m not quite sure how to unpack my feelings about Buzludzha.  Have you ever seen pictures of a place, and become so captivated by it that you are compelled to see it in person?  Even if, when you are first exposed to that single image, you have no idea where that place is?  And, when you follow clues and finally discover where it is, its remoteness doesn’t deter you, or even compels you further into obsession?  The first time I can remember this happening to me was with Erdene Zuu Khiid in Kharkhorin, Mongolia when I was maybe 13 years old – when I visited at 28 it was somewhat of a watershed travel moment.  It’s happened a limited number of times since – Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto, Japan, the Rossiya Cinema Complex in Yerevan, Armenia, and Three Brothers in Riga, Latvia come to mind.

Rossiya Cinema Complex, Yerevan, Armenia
Rossiya Cinema Complex, Yerevan, Armenia
The Three Brothers, Riga, Latvia
The Three Brothers, Riga, Latvia
Erdene Zuu Khiid, Kharkhorin, Mongolia
Erdene Zuu Khiid, Kharkhorin, Mongolia

And then I became so obsessively captivated by Buzludzha – several years ago, while I was taking a relative travel hiatus. And it was more severe than I had ever experienced before. Read more

Abandoned in Herzegovina: Urbex in Mostar’s Sniper Den

The Eastern Bloc is great for folks interested in urban exploration (see also here and here).  As luck would have it (luck may be a bad word for it), the combination of poor economic conditions, relatively recent political turmoil, and communist history make for a wealth of abandoned, decaying structures that hold part of the key to understanding the rich, troubled history of the region.  december-balkans-1016jpg_24215660831_odecember-balkans-1111jpg_24008820190_o

Nowhere is the region’s troubled history more visible than in Mostar, the crown jewel of Herzegovina.  And, as it happens, there’s great urban exploration opportunities in the city as well. Read more

Top 5 Urbex Destinations of the Moment

I am a relative noob to the world of Urbex, but where I lack in experience, I make up for in time spent in internet K-holes.  I’ve already built quite a list of places I’m keen on tresspassing – here are the five that are currently top of mind.  Or, rather, the five that are currently living in my pipe dreams – I don’t have immediate plans to visit any of the places on this list, though I’m thinking that may have to change in the near future (especially looking at the Eastern Balkans…)

1) Gunkanjima/Hashima, Nagasaki, Japan

Approach to Gunkanjima, Nagasaki, Japan
Approach to Gunkanjima, Nagasaki, Japan

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