I’d not been too well earlier in the year and I’d promised myself that I’d visit the Van Gogh Museum before 2013 was through. We made it with a little under a month to go.
I’d bought tickets for the Van Gogh Museum online and after a great breakfast in the nearby ‘Small Talk’ cafe, spent several hours in awe of the work of this amazing artist. Something of a lump in the throat, too, as I looked at his last painting, left incomplete just before his death. But Amsterdam itself soon takes your mind off things – not least the glorious canal network that surely served the commercial advance of the Dutch in the past.
And then there’s the ubiquitous bicycle. Just watch the variety of locals who ride these at speed and you get a sense of a people comfortable in their own skin.
I wasn’t quite expecting to see so much colour everywhere but then we’d been lucky with the weather and Amsterdam was gearing up for Christmas. Even these ripped billboards seem to have an artistic life of their own. You can just see the Christmas decorations hung above the street below.
One part of Amsterdam that did leave a different sort of mark was the Anne Frank House.
But then there’s always a houseboat gently resting on a canal that’s never too far away to cheer you up.
This cosy and inviting residence almost seems to sum up the warmth of an Amsterdam welcome. I’ll be back.
You’ve seen my posts from Crosby Beach before. Today was a chance to walk off the excesses of Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Just when you thought you’d seen all the varieties of Santa that there were to see, along comes this scary looking critter. It’s one of the figures from Anthony Gormley’s work complete with a Santa hat.
Looks more like the Grinch to me. Happy Holidays!
I can’t honestly say that I felt a spiritual surge with the approach of Christmas in China but they certainly know how to create the mood. Years ago – as a seventeen year old – travelling to New York and beyond to stay with family in the USA for Christmas for the first time, I remember the thrill and excitement of seeing Santa outside a local gas station shaking a large bell and waving to passing traffic. Not to mention the sweet smell of Christmas candles in large shopping malls. I’d left behind a frankly miserable mid-seventies Britain, dull and in the grip of civil and industrial strife. Christmas in the USA was a shot in the arm.
Now, several decades later, my Air France flight from Paris had flown east not west. Beijing was beckoning.
Crisp and efficient as you’d expect, customs and immigration were dispensed with easily enough, and soon we were pushing out into the stream of traffic heading into the city, past endless new developments. I was struggling between the urge to tune into Mandarin Chinese for the first time, or submit to waves of jetlag that were getting stronger and stronger the deeper we got into the traffic jam.
Snaking in via one or more of Beijing’s four concentric ring roads, I was soon checking in at the Qianmen Jianguo Hotel, my base for the next 5 days. A fine blend of the modern and traditional and with a warm welcome, I’d certainly recommend the hotel for anyone thinking of visiting. Here’s it’s website; http://www.qianmenhotel.com/en/index.html
It was in the hotel’s grand foyer that I first noticed China’s nod to Christmas. This was to be the first of many such nods that became ever more flamboyant, culminating in the commercial excitement that is Shanghai. After a day wandering around Tianenmen Square and strolling through the Forbidden City, a short bus ride and here was Christmas Chinese style, complete with the first of many enormous escalators that seem to reach into the skies.
Someone suggested to me that selling is hard wired into Shanghai and it’s people. They certainly know how to sell Christmas … no expense spared. Recession? What recession? This neon Christmas card stood at least 60 foot high brightening a chilly Shanghai evening.
They do subtle too. Here’s one of several carefully placed poinsettia’s dotted around a development on the other side of town. This is the home of feng shui after all!
Nobody was sending Christmas cards that I could see. Soaps on Chinese television weren’t about to blow up the local pub just because it’s Christmas either. But take a walk around streets and stores in Beijing, Tianjen or Shanghai, and listen to Chinese voices singing ‘Jingle Bells’ (in English), and tell me you haven’t got the Christmas spirit. Listening to ‘Silent Night’ can always squeeze out a sentimental tear or two from me, and this was no different hearing it sung a long way from home in the People’s Republic of China.
I’ve flown over the frozen landscapes of Mongolia and Kazakhstan and north of Moscow. It’s good to be home. Although I still check to see what time it’ll be over in China … eight hours ahead! Might sound an odd thing to say, but a chilly trip to China has really brought back the spirit of Christmas for me.
Merry Christmas everyone. And a Happy New Year!
A few weeks ago, preparing for my first visit to China, I was shopping in Liverpool One. Excited to be heading off on such an adventure, but feeling a little sad that I was going to be missing out on the build-up to Christmas at home. But I needn’t have worried. Santa’s made a big impression all over China it seems, from Beijing, through Tianjin, and all the way down to Shanghai. I’ll be writing a lot more soon about the trip and including plenty of photographs, but for now, here’s a shop assistant in Beijing showing that the Chinese are really getting the Christmas spirit.
Here by popular demand are a few more winter wonderland photographs. Hope you like them.
This one was taken on one of the coldest days .. not long before Christmas .. down by the marina in Liverpool.
Adding a splash of festive colour, this Christmas decoration was suspended high above Carnaby Street in London.
And all around the park the snow was falling like magic from the trees. Talking of magic, take a listen to the new Kate Bush album, ’50 Words For Snow’ – can’t recommend it highly enough!
Air balloon rides, brightly coloured merry-go-rounds and yes, that was Santa Claus on a tightrope, high above the Christmas shoppers in Bournemouth town centre today. Nothing unusual there you might say. Except this is November 19th, barely five weeks away from Christmas Day. Just a short stroll from town and beach huts were opening their doors to the balmy weather.
Everywhere you turned, people were brandishing ice-creams and surfboards, happy to defy the approach of winter somewhere on the distant horizon.
You could be forgiven for thinking this was Malibu or Maui not the Dorset coast.
A sunset is a sunset, right? Maybe, but this was just too good an opportunity to miss with my camera.
I had planned on putting together a winter wonderland post of photographs pretty soon. Santa will have to wait a little while longer.