Hong Kong, Part 5 – Ngong Ping and Tian Tan

Author’s Note: This is the last of five posts looking to the past, to my trip to Hong Kong in September of 2008. Some of the details may be a little fuzzy because it was twelve years ago.

One of my favorite parts of this trip was going to Ngong Ping, for the Po Lin Monastery (which I forgot to walk inside of), and Tian Tan, the giant Buddha. To get there, you take the MTR to Tung Chung station at the end of the Island line. I want to point out just one more time that the MTR logo looks a lot like the Psi Corps logo. I’m just sayin’.

After you leave the MTR, you walk across a courtyard to the Ngong Ping 360, which is a cable car system. I quite like their mascot.

Boarding the cable cars is pretty standard fare for anyone who’s ever been on a cable car before.

One of my friends told me she took a curvy and terrifying bus up to Tian Tan. This way is better, in my opinion, but if you’re afraid of heights you might disagree.

The cable cars go past the Hong Kong International Airport first. The old Hong Kong airport had a single runway and planes basically flew directly into the busy Kowloon downtown- this must have been terrifying.

The newer airport seen here is an artificial island, created in part by flattening two other smaller islands and reclaiming some seabed. Construction of this airport added 1% to Hong Kong’s total surface area by the time it opened in 1998.

The cable car continues onward through a bunch of mountains until you get to Ngong Ping.

At 25 minutes long, the ride is long enough to make friends with your fellow cable-car riders.

It’s really quite spectacular.

Once you clear the bay, the cable cars go over footpaths up the mountains.

The cable car deposits you at Ngong Ping Village, a short walk from the Big Buddha. Lantau Peak (Fung Wong Shan,) the second highest peak in Hong Kong, is visible behind the Buddha.

This is the entrance to the Tian Tan Buddha. The Po Lin monastery is just across the way there, and I was so excited to see the Buddha that I completely forgot to look at the monastery. (This is not my most embarrassing tourism fail, but it’s pretty close.)

The stairway up to the Buddha has 240 steps. I realized about halfway up, while my legs were feeling like lead, that I am not in good shape.

Tian Tan is the world’s largest outdoor seated Buddha, though not the largest Buddha by a big margin. This bronze big boy is 85 feet tall from his base, on a lotus atop another platform.

Surrounding the big Buddha are six smaller (but still very large) bronze statues known as “The Offering of the Six Devas” that are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. Wikipedia says that these symbolize the Six Perfections of generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom, all of which are necessary for enlightenment.

When I set out to see Tian Tan, I thought it was an antiquity. I thought, “here’s a Buddha who’s been here for hundreds of years.” Boy howdy, am I an idiot. Tian Tan was constructed between 1990 and 1993. My niece is older.

Oh, and there’s a gift shop in the base, because of course there is.

In the “things Steven finds amusing” department, this book was in one of the gift shops in Ngong Ping:

What’s the biggest bronze statue you’ve ever seen?

41/52 (and 20 of 30!)

The Jim Henson Statue and Memorial Garden

A few months before I moved up here, I learned that there’s a statue and memorial to Muppet Creator and alumnus Jim Henson with Kermit the Frog at the University of Maryland. Jim created so much of my childhood that I knew I had to go see it when I had a chance. I made a note and tucked it away in my geographic to-do list until I could go to UMD.

Flash forward to last weekend- the weather was really nice, sunny and clear, so I decided to make the pilgrimage to Maryland. Even with the heavy traffic into DC for people celebrating Biden/Harris winning the presidential election, it only took me about half an hour to get onto campus.

I had the foresight to check a map for visitor parking before I left, and I was able to find a parking spot right across from the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, easy as you please. From the parking lot, it was a short walk back around to the front of the building, where the Jim Henson Statue and Memorial Garden is located. It’s really quite easy to find, not hidden away at all. You can see the sculpture as you approach.

A small plaque is visible on the low wall to the left of the sculpture. The memorial and garden were the idea of the class of 1998, after the 1997 event, “The Muppets Take Maryland” which featured an exhibit and workshops with Cheryl Henson. Some of the other classes from the 1990s helped with funding for the memorial, and the statue and garden were dedicated on September 24, 2003, on what would have been Jim Henson’s 67th birthday. There’s a great deal of making-of photos on the Muppet Wiki’s page about this sculpture.

The bronze statue is 450 pounds of bronze attached to a red granite bench. It was created by Jay Hall Carpenter after a national contest to select an artist and a design.

Here’s a closer look at the detail on the sculpture. It looks like Jim and Kermit are deep in conversation. I think this is just wonderful- I like to think of Jim still having these deep conversations even after his passing beyond the rim. Kermit touching Jim’s wrist is a really nice touch.

Here’s a little bit more of the detail… check out the frog belt buckle on Jim!

Of course since the sculpture is set on a bench, the whole place invites you to sit and join them for a little bit. Please excuse the mask hanging off of my ear; I should have just taken it all the way off for this photograph. (Or asked someone else to take the picture. I’m used to doing it selfie-style.)

Kermit is one of my favorites. I love his optimism in the face of unbridled chaos.

It’s a wonderful tribute to Jim Henson.

Since I was already at the front door of the student union, I decided to peek inside. Their Terrapin mascot is masked but their food court is open. The stadium was visible just past my parking lot, but I was there a few hours before their game against the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Have you ever been to the Jim Henson statue at UMD? Who’s your favorite Muppet?

32/52 (and 11 of 30!)

The United States Air Force Memorial

One night pretty soon after my arrival in Arlington, I saw this giant pointy thing from the passenger seat of a rideshare.

I had no idea what it was, and the driver of my Lyft didn’t know either, so when I got home I set about looking for it on Google Maps. I knew approximately where I was when I saw the thing, and it was obviously huge so it didn’t take long to figure out that it was the United States Air Force Memorial.

When Lorrie came up for a weekend visit a few weeks later, we noticed signs indicating it was nearby while we were on the way back from a diner. I had been meaning to go check it out, so we decided to stop. I’m glad we did, because the place was pretty neat.

The United States Air Force Memorial is at the east end of Columbia Pike, on the grounds of Fort Myer just south of Arlington National Cemetery. It is a fairly new memorial, relatively speaking- groundbreaking was in 2004 and it was dedicated in October of 2006.

The three metal spires are all different heights between 201 to 270 feet tall. They’re meant to look like the contrails of three jets doing a “bomb burst” maneuver, with the fourth spire missing to suggest a missing man formation.

Near the spires are four 8-foot-tall bronze statues sculpted by Zenos Frudakis, representing the United States Air Force Honor Guard. Across from the spires on the other side is a free-standing glass panel with the image of four F-16s in a missing man formation.

On either side of the spires are large reflective granite walls with various details carved in them. One section lists all the recipients of the Airmen Medal of Honor award, while another section contains comments and quotations from various important Air Force generals and other notables. Near the drive in are large carved inscriptions from Presidents Reagan and Bush.

I learned during the writing of this post that when there’s not a pandemic on, the United States Air Force Band holds concerts here every Friday night in the summertime.

Have you ever been to the US Air Force Memorial?

26/52 (and 5 of 30!)

What I Spent In Linz, Austria (Just kidding.)

I love the “What We Spent” posts that Ali writes when she travels, and I wanted to do one for my side trip to Linz, Austria last month.  Alas, I didn’t track my spending very accurately.    I can tell you that I spent somewhere around sixty euros for all my food in Linz, and I can tell you that I spent €12 on a ticket for an art exhibition, which I will come back to later in this post.  I also spent around ten euros for various public transit needs around the city, €6,30 of which was just for the Pöstlingbergbahn.

It turns out that tracking my spending in such minute detail isn’t really my style, so I’ll leave that to Ali and go back to doing what I do best-  posting waaaaaaaay too many photographs.  Seriously, I came back from a twelve day trip with roughly five hundred photographs, and I did not take a dedicated camera.

While the overall trip ran about twelve days, I was only in Linz for about a day and a a half.  I started off on Tuesday morning from Regensburg, traveling in one of my all-time favorite conveyances, a Deutsche Bahn high speed ICE train.

After I reached Linz, I dropped my bag off at the hotel and set out immediately to start my tourism.  Here’s the highlights of a brief visit to Linz.

The Mariendom. 

Also known as the New Cathedral, this very enormous cathedral is the largest in Austria, although not the tallest.  The style is very similar to the cathedrals in Regensburg and Cologne, although this one only has the one spire.  It was really difficult to get the entire thing into a single photograph.

I took a bunch of pictures inside, but I think this one gives you a sense of the size while also showing you some pretty, pretty stained glass.

Schubert, Kepler, and Mozart all lived here.

While I was in the city, I sought out the listed former homes of Kepler and Mozart.  The Mozarthaus is actually kind of difficult to spot because it’s part local government office (hence the Austria and European Union banners on the building) and part cultural location with shops and restaurants.   The only obvious sign I could find was a bust of Mozart and some commemorative placards just inside that archway.

The Kepler house was much easier to spot-  the sign over the door says that Johannes Kepler lived in this house, and the little one off to the right has a bunch more information.

I didn’t set out to find the Schubert sign on purpose, I just sort of stumbled across this one.  Basically, it indicates that Franz Schubert came here to visit family friend Josef von Spaun.  The bottom floor of this building now holds a Douglas, which is a perfume and cosmetics store.

Höhenrausch.

Höhenrausch is an art exhibit that Linz puts on every summer.  This year, it runs from late May to mid-October.   The theme this year is “The Other Shore,” and everything has to do with water in some form.  There are regular exhibit rooms, but the true delight of Höhenrausch is that it winds its way over the rooftops of the city, through church and building attics, and up a custom-built tower.  This is the flyer they give you at the start, showing you the full path you take for the exhibit.

I paid my twelve euro admission, climbed over the starting barricades seen all the way to the left of this flyer, and moved onward.  On a nice sunny day, the views as you clamber over the rooftops are spectacular.

I’m curious to know whether these walkways stay up year round, or whether they build them anew every year like they do for the decks at Cave of the Winds at Niagara Falls.

After I first emerged on the outdoor portions of this exhibit, I saw the sculture man in the distance.  I didn’t yet realize how large he is.

It had rained before and after my day in Linz, and this was a perfect day for this part of the trip.

As I got closer, I saw just how large the  sculpted man is.  His name is El Pensador, sculpted by Cuban artist K’cho.  He is made from the remains of Cuban fishing boats.

The tower behind El Pensador is called the Oberösterreich-Turm, which just translates to Tower Over Austria, I think.   Regardless, it was tall and I wanted to climb it.  Long time readers know that I always like to climb the tallest thing in any new city I visit-  I get a little bit King Kongy when I travel.  I wasn’t able to climb the spire at Mariendom because that’s only allowed during tours and my visit didn’t coincide with any tours. So, I climbed this instead!

Partway up the sculpture was “The Flying Ship,” said to signify a “new departure.”

Here’s one of the views from about two thirds of the way up the tower, looking toward the top of the Flying Ship sculpture.

Here’s one last look at the Linz skyline from the rooftops of Höhenrausch, before I head back inside.  Nice view of the Mariendom’s spire from here, don’t you think?

I took lots of photos of the art inside of Höhenrausch, but most of those photos were set aside before I started writing this post because I already had more than thirty shots to include.   Besides,  I feel like most of the art in this exhibit loses something in a still photograph.

Even this piece, “Uncertain Journey,” a dense network of woolen threads created by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota, loses a lot of its impact in a single photograph.  Pretty neat though.  I wonder if this was created within the space it currently occupies, or if it was made elsewhere and then installed here.

These pictures are only a fraction of the Höhenrausch exhibit, and if you have a chance to swing by Linz before it closes in mid-October, I highly recommend checking it out.

Hauptplatz and the Trinity Column

Hauptplatz is one of the largest city squares in Europe, and it’s home to the Dreifaltigkeitssäule, or Trinity Column.   The column is a giant Baroque sculpture which was installed in 1723 as a monument to those who had died in plague epidemics.

This building is in the square, and this interesting relief work on the building was directly over a restaurant.  I have no idea what the history is on this, but it looked pretty nifty.

Hauptplatz is also the launching point for this adorable little tour train that goes through the old city, as well as the end point for the Pöstlingbergbahn.

The Pöstlingbergbahn and Pöstlingberg.

Linz has a wonderful system of Straßenbahn (street cars,) but the Pöstlingbergbahn is a special part of the tram network.  The Pöstlingbergbahn is considered the steepest mountain rail in the world.  It was built in 1898 although it has since been modified to use updated rail technology with a more commonly used gauge of track.  To ride the Pöstlingbergbahn up to Pöstlingberg, you will need to pay for a round trip ticket, and then wait-  it comes once every thirty minutes.   The ride is picturesque as you climb the mountain.  The Pöstlingberg stop at the very top is quite pretty for a tram stop.

This is the door to the men’s room at the tram stop.  I just thought this was hilarious and kind of adorable.  And I cracked my head on low hanging stone at least twice trying to get a good photograph.  I feel like this is what it would have been like if Gandalf needed to take a whiz in the Shire.

When you walk out of the tram stop, there’s a sign to let you know that you are at the very border of Linz.

As you walk into Pöstlingberg, you quickly come across an open space that looks over Linz.

Pöstlingberg is high on a hill, on the bank of the Donau (Danube) river.  At 539 meters (1,768 feet,) the view of Linz is pretty great.  This was not the same day as the earlier pictures from Höhenrausch, and you can tell that this was a much more hazy day than in the Höhenrausch shots.

One of the big draws for families in Pöstlingberg is the Grottenbahn, a train ride geared toward small children.    As you approach it, fairytale creatures help to point the way.

I found the entrance to the Grottenbahn, but decided not to ride because there was a pretty large number of small children already waiting to ride and I just didn’t feel like waiting.  I will say that the walkway leading up to it was cooler than the rest of the hilltop by several degrees, and this was a very refreshing place to walk.

The decorations on the entrance walkway give you an idea of what you can expect inside.

Another major point of interest in Pöstlingberg is the Pöstlingbergkirche, a large pilgrimage church built at one of the highest points on the hill.

The walkway leading up to the door of the church has a fenced platform which has begun to collect Europe’s ever-present love locks.

I honestly have run out of things to say about the inside of churches throughout Europe.  They’re all pretty ornate and they’re all very impressive.   And most of the time, the people I find inside them are tourists rather than congregants.

The Ars Electronica Center.

After I rode the Pöstlingbergbahn back down the hill, I got off the tram one stop earlier than Hauptplatz so that I could go to the Ars Electronica Center.  It’s a museum that has exhibits related to technology, and I was curious to spend a few hours checking it out.  I had heard that it was a really cool place to visit.

Unfortunately, it was closed.  I didn’t catch that on their website-  they opened up again about a week after I left.    I got to see the entry vestibule, but that’s about it.  Anyway, the building is right on the bank of the Donau, directly across from Hauptplatz, so I walked back over the river.

Four random pictures that don’t fall into the rest of the narrative for this post.

This street is Landstraße.  I spent a lot of time traversing this street because it was kind of central to everything else I was doing, and it led directly to Hauptplatz.  It was also the path that most of my tram usage required, including going to and from the train station.

I hate a couple of times at Deli-Linz while I was in town, and this was my favorite snack of the visit-  Peanut Butter Bread with bananas and cracked cocoa beans.  With a Fritz-Kola.  Sehr lecker.

Last, but certainly not least, I saw a great many interesting vehicles during my visit.  This brightly colored Vespa was just too cute.

Have you ever been to Linz?

More Tom Otterness in Minneapolis!

There’s only about ten more posts remaining from my time in Japan.  However, I think it’s a good idea to take a break from talking about Japan every so often to look at something else.  Besides, I haven’t finished talking about Minneapolis!

During my trip to Minneapolis back in April, I rented a Nice Ride bike to get around the city a little more quickly.  On my way between the Walker Art Center and the riverfront, I saw some sculptures that looked really familiar.  I was so excited to see them that I dropped the bike on my foot, which caused some bruising and left me limping for the rest of the day.

What I was so excited to see was a courtyard full of these little round bodied statues.

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The last time I had seen these little fellows was at an outdoor sculpture garden in The Hague, in the Netherlands.  I looked into it, and sure enough, it was Tom Otterness again.

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The location, I found out later, is the Minneapolis U.S. Courthouse Plaza, constructed in 1997.

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The oddly shaped mounds of earth and grass are called Drumlins.  According to the downtown Minneapolis Skyway-Myway blog, the mounds “suggest the glacial drumlins (an elongated whale-shaped hill formed by glacial ice; the word is derived from the Gaelic word druim “rounded hill,” or “mound”).”

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I also learned from the aforementioned blog that the little round bodied sculptures are called “Rockman.”

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These two Rockman are my favorite.  (I’m declaring right here and right now that the plural of Rockman is also Rockman.)

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I suppose this little fellow would be a Rockturtle?

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I also really like this one, and I kinda feel like he’s just doing what I was doing that day.

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I’m glad that I stumbled across this little sculpture garden.  I found out from my research that there are other places in the US with little collections of Rockman by Tom Otterness.  I feel like I need to go see them all!

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What’s your favorite sculpture?