I finally became a pure tourist in the last day of my California conference trip. Although having transferred flights at San Francisco for quite a few times, this is actually the first time I stepped out of the airport and paid a visit to the city. Golden Gate Bridge is for sure, one of the must-visit sites. There are two things that you can always be impressed by California, the nice weather, and the beautiful flowers. And luckily I got both when I visited Golden Gate Bridge!
Ayasofya was a Christian church when it was first built but later became a mosque. Nowadays, it is a national museum. It’s hard to believe that such a delicate architecture was built more than a thousand years ago. Due to the “multi-function” of Ayasofya in the history, you can find both mosaic illustrating that the Emperor and Empress making donation to the Christ Pantocrator and various kinds of traditional Islamic calligraphy. Looking out of the window on the second floor, you will also get a fabulous view of the Blue Mosque!
Stand on the top of the Galata Tower at sunset, overlooking the Golden Horn. The Galata Bridge connects the two European parts of Istanbul — the “new” city in the north and the “old” city in the south. Fishermen are still gathering there on the bridge; they count how many fish they catch today and say goodbye to each other. On the south bank, life goes on without noticing the night falls: food carts attract long lines of tourists who wish to try out the authentic local food, street performance earns rounds of applause, cruise ships come and go…It must be yet another lively night. And the sunset prayer begins. The music seem to come from everywhere in the city, one after another, lingering in the ears. So this is Istanbul, a city sits between Europe and Asia, a city embraces diverse race and religion, a city different from any other city I’ve visited before. Exciting isn’t it?
The Xi’an City Wall is one of the oldest and largest surviving wall of its kind in China. First built in the Ming dynasty, the city wall has been a landmark of the city for nearly 800 years. Riding a bike or walking on the wall is probably one of the best ways to embrace this ancient and modern city: At one moment, you just learn about this smart idea of creating a “barbican” (瓮城) with the double-gate system to protect the “city” (which is inside the city wall) against attacks from the outside enemy, and then you will see nowadays the concrete jungle spreads way outwards the “city”; at another moment, you find that people in different ages are very much enjoying themselves in the calligraphy, painting and antique market at the foot of the city wall, and then you start to wonder whether hundreds of years ago, people at that time have also experienced such lively lives in then one of the largest international city of the world.
The last stop of the new year trip is the courtyard of Family Chou (周家大院) in Yongzhou, Hunan. It is said that descendants of the famous philosopher Chou Tun-i (周敦頤) of the Song Dynasty live here. The courtyard was built in the late Qing Dynasty — although after hundreds of years, you can still imagine the prosperity of the family at that time. Now, while the houses were still there as if they were hundreds of years ago, it seemed to be much quiet than it could be back to that time, with the exception of the time when you can see kids chasing each other on the old granite road.
St. Augustine is said to be the nation’s oldest city. First explored and built by Spanish, you can almost smell the “European air” while walking in the streets: the Spanish architecture, the slow pace and the leisurely life. Among a number of sites to visit in St. Augustine, Castillo de San Marcos is a special one with its unique architectural design: It’s the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States and now it becomes a U.S. National Monument.
As the capital of a province, Changsha is among one of a few cities which enjoy abundant tourist resources — it’s probably the only one which has a mountain (山), a river (水) and an island (洲) in the city (城) at the same time. With the mountain refers to Mt. Yuelu (嶽麓山) and the river refers to River Xiang (湘江)， “island” here refers to the Orange Continent Head (橘子洲), which lies in River Xiang. The Orange Continent Head is known by Chinese people pretty much because of the poem “Chin Yuan Chun, Changsha” (《沁園春.長沙》) from Mao Zedong. Nowadays, the Orange Continent Head has become a city park where several pavilions and terraces have been restored or refurbished. Because of the popularity of a recent reality TV show “Where are we going? Dad”, when we are there in a weekend, almost all the visitors we see are families with young kids…So maybe this is the “positive energy” brought up by the media?
Taking a water taxi to the West Seattle and looking back to the waterfront skyline, it is another view. Here at West Seattle, a couple of parks are built along the Elliott Bay: In the Seacrest Park, men and women walk their dogs and chat casually; young couples sit under big trees and enjoy a different version of Seattle Skyline at Hamilton Viewpoint Park, and walk even further, you will enter the Aiki Beach Park with lots of people playing volleyballs, having picnic or simply relaxing on the beach. It happened to have an Aiki Arts Fair going on the day I visited, so as a bonus, I found something more interesting: silent auction, homemade artifacts sell and live music show. And if you walk all the way down to the corner point, here is the Aiki Point Lighthouse. This year is its 100th anniversary! Aiki Point Lighthouse 1913-2013!