Normandy 1994

Normandy was surprisingly green in November 1994.

Normandy94Then again, that winter was, at least until December, reportedly mild. I believe the shot above was taken from the train near Bayeux, where we stayed a few days.

The coast near Omaha Beach, so busy 50 years earlier in a way that doesn’t attract tourists, was comparatively empty by late fall.

Omaha Beach 1994I’ll bet there were a lot of visitors, of the tourist kind, along with old soldiers, during the summer of ’94, especially in June. Pennants hanging in the town — which unfortunately I didn’t document on film — still welcomed such visitors in English for the 50th anniversary, especially the old soldiers.

Former German pillboxs, left to the elements.

img507All well and good, to visit Normandy. But I need to get back to France someday, to see former trenches.

Kraków in the Fall

Around this time of the year in 1994, we were in Kraków. I remember liking the city a lot. In my memory, it’s always an autumn gray there. It has also just rained, though I don’t actually remember any rainy weather.

The streets were narrow and the buildings had a prewar feel. Which war? All the modern wars. Architecturally, at least, Kraków survived the great convulsions of the 20th century.

Actually, only the Old Town felt that way. We didn’t stay there, but rather in a plainer area not far away, and spent a lot of time wandering around the better-looking historic areas. As one does, as a footloose tourist.

I’ve posted about nearby places, such as the Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, but not central Kraków. This is a view of Wawel Cathedral.

Wawel Castle 1994 Or, as Wiki tells me, in full: The Royal Archcathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus on the Wawel Hill. We visited it, and the adjacent castle, and were duly impressed.

I don’t seem to have a picture of the Renaissance Cloth Hall in Main Market Square, but I remember both the hall and the square well. Inside was a large market, a vast array of booths offering goods by artisans, that didn’t seem to be tilted toward the tourist trade. Some of the Christmas tree decorations for sale were exquisite. The only reason we didn’t buy any was that we didn’t think they’d survive shipping home or a few more months on the road.

This building caught my attention. Enough to take a picture anyway. But I didn’t make a note of what it was, if I knew.

Kraków 1994

You’d think you’d remember at least the things you take pictures of, but it isn’t so.

Bali 1994

I hope Bali is as pleasant as it was 20-odd years ago. You go for its many charms, and so do a lot of other people. Yet somehow the island holds its crowds well.

Though serving an economic purpose, the Tegallalang Rice Terraces near Ubud, created using a longtime cooperative irrigation system, are pleasing enough to attract outsiders such as us.

Bali 1994

Plenty of people go to Goa Gajah, “Elephant Cave.”

Bali 1994

As well as the Ubud Monkey Forest.

Monkey Forest Bali 1994

I carelessly didn’t write the name of this temple on the photo, but I like it.

Bali 1994

Not nearly as many people spend time by the ocean at Candi Dasa, with its rocky beaches. But we enjoyed the place.

Candi Dasa Bali 1994

Lying around near the beach wasn’t the best part of staying at a room at Candi Dasa. Much better was listening to the crash of the ocean at night just outside your room, as a cool ocean breeze blew through. It was even better when the wind and rain kicked up, as it did a few times. Some of the lesser-commented pleasures of Bali are its many aural treats, and not just the ocean.

Speakers’ Corner

There was a speaker at Speakers’ Corner in December 1994, but I don’t remember what he was speaking about. He’d drawn a crowd, though.speakers-corner 1994

Considering that a pre-1991 Iraqi flag seems to be flying in the background, and probably a Palestinian flag behind that, Middle Eastern politics seems the likely subject. Lots of grist for impassioned public speaking there, at least in places, mostly outside the Middle East, where there’s little risk of official punishment.

I also remember an anti-Ba’athist, or at least anti-Saddam Hussein, parade in London, but that was in 1988 on one of the streets near Harrod’s. It was a thin line of people marching along, and a thin line of people watching, and (I think) some argument between some of the participants, but no fighting. There were some police around, probably wishing they could be anywhere else.

As for Speakers’ Corner, I’d made a point of going to see it one day we were in Hyde Park. Not sure how I’d heard of it, but heard of it I had. Maybe it was the lyrics in the peppy yet pessimistic song “Industrial Disease” (1982).

I go down to Speakers’ Corner, I’m thunderstruck

They got free speech, tourists, police in trucks

Two men say they’re Jesus, one of them must be wrong

There’s a protest singer, he’s singing a protest song…

The Royal Parks web site says that “the origins of Speakers’ Corner as it is known today stem from 1866, when a meeting of the Reform League demanding the extension of the franchise, was suppressed by the Government. Marches and protests had long convened or terminated their routes in Hyde Park, often at Speakers’ Corner itself. Finding the park locked, demonstrators tore up hundreds of yards of railings to gain access, and three days of rioting followed.

“The next year, when a crowd of 150,000 defied another government ban and marched to Hyde Park, police and troops did not intervene. Spencer Walpole, the Home Secretary, resigned the next day. In the 1872 Parks Regulation Act, the right to meet and speak freely in Hyde Park was established through a series of regulations governing the conduct of meetings.”

Paris 1994

November was a good time to be in Paris. So were the 1990s, as far as I could tell, though people sometimes pine for the Jazz Age or La Belle Époque in curious cases of nostalgia for times they never experienced. I take an interest in the history of places that I go, but I’m more interesting in seeing them as they are now.

Which, after some time (say, 22 years), becomes places as they were then. Here I am on the Champs-Élysées.


I spent a few minutes with Google Maps trying to figure out exactly where I was, without conclusion. But I think Yuriko took the picture with her back to the Arc de Triomphe.

Here she is in front the Louvre Pyramid, which was fairly new at the time.


Even though it was November, the museum was ridiculously crowded. I’d hate to experience it in July.

St. Petersburg 1994

After Moscow comes St. Petersburg. Of course it does. We spent the last days of our Russian visas in St. Petersburg after taking an overnight train between the cities, and after hearing stories about how thieves would pump knockout gas into our train cars and proceed to rob us naked. Somehow that didn’t happen.

If the Russians had been less prickly about extending tourist visas, we might have spent a few more days in the country, spending some of the hard currency we had that they wanted. But no.

StPete94.1It was a balmy October day when we boarded the Aurora. The vessel survived the Battle of Tsushima and later of course had her part to play in the October Revolution. Since the mid-Soviet period, Aurora has been a museum ship.

StPete2Also balmy outside the Hermitage. Much spectacle on the exterior, many fine works of art inside, but dank and crummy amenities, especially the bathrooms.

Scenes of Post-People’s Republic Mongolia

The part of rural Mongolia that we saw in September 1994 — in and near Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, 20 or so miles from Ulaanbaatar — looked a lot like this. Ulaanbaatar wasn’t a sprawling kind of place in those days, unless you count the large neighborhoods composed of thousands of ger (yurts).
Rural Mongola 1994In places the trees were fairly dense, with streams flowing through the land. Most of all, though, it felt remote. Even more remote than the arguably further-from-absolutely-everything Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia, because the infrastructure was so much more developed there, as far SW as you could go on the entire continent.

Ulaanbaatar didn’t feel so remote, though in ’94 sometimes livestock were seen wandering the streets. I wonder if that’s now a thing of the past for the Mongolian capital, as traffic inevitability increases. How do I know that traffic has increased in 20-plus years? That’s just one of those things that happens.

These prayer wheels were at the Gandantegchinlen (Gandan) Monastery in the city.
Gandantegchinlen (Gandan) Monastery MongoliaFrom the looks of more recent pictures, some restoration work has been done since then. At least, I’m fairly sure that the stock photo I linked to was taken at about the same place I stood; it certainly looks like it, taking into account various renovations and additions over the years.

In the city, we also visited the Mongolian Natural History Museum, known the world over for its dinosaur artifacts. “The museum is particularly well known for its dinosaur and other paleontological exhibits, among which the most notable are a nearly complete skeleton of a late Cretaceous Tarbosaurus tyrannosaurid and broadly contemporaneous nests of Protoceratops eggs,” Wiki says. I remember those eggs.

And, of course, the big skeletons. You could go up on a balcony for a look at them.

Mongolian Natural History Museum - dinosaursPhotography involved paying an extra fee. Or so the museum staff told us at the entrance. None of us paid such a fee, and pretty much everyone in our group took pictures, though as you can see, the light was lousy. I don’t even think any staff were in the big dinosaur room with us, keeping an eye on us. Things were lax. Hope nobody over the years took advantage of that to take anything besides pictures.


Yogyakarta is a city on Java than few North Americans ever seem to have heard of. But I won’t use that as evidence of any egregious geographic ignorance on the part of Americans, though in fact we aren’t known for that kind of knowledge. After all, how many Javanese, do you suppose, have heard of Memphis, Indianapolis or Kansas City?

We went there in August 1994. One important reason for going to Yogyakarta was that Borobudur and Prambanan were located nearby; in fact, they were reason enough to go. But the town itself also featured some other sites of interest, such as the Kraton of Yogyakarta, a palace complex that also featured a museum, as well as some interesting ruins whose name escapes me, and a few other places in town.

One day we witnessed a large parade through the heart of town, or would have, had the authorities had any notion of keeping the street clear. As it was, the street filled completely with people, and the parade — a lot of men on horseback, as I recall — had to push its way through the throng. This got tiresome pretty fast, so we didn’t stay long.

Then there was the time we were walking down the curiously named Malioboro Street (Jalan Malioboro), which is a major shopping street, past a lot of shop stalls and booths. As I walked past one vendor, a man perhaps about my age at the time, he said, “Keep smiling, friend. I kill you.” Maybe he was just tired of tourists, who so obviously could afford his wares, wandering by without buying anything. Or maybe his psychosis was deeper. We didn’t go that way again.

He was the only bit of hostility that we encountered, however fleeting. On the other end of the spectrum, a couple of teenaged Javanese girls buttonholed me on the street one afternoon, and wanted me to pose with them for a picture. Maybe I had novelty value. So I posed.

Another fragment of memory from Yogyakarta: sometime before dawn one morning, a rooster woke me up, because, cartoons notwithstanding, roosters crow whenever they feel like it. I lay awake for a while, and then off in the distance, I heard what must have been the pre-dawn call to prayers. Unfamiliar, mesmerizing, reminding me that I was somewhere else.

One evening, we had got a wonderful chance to enjoy Ramayana ballet at the Ramayana Open Theatre Prambanan.

IndoDanceIt’s something tourists do. Some people might sneer at that reflexively, but they’d be thoughtless. I’m glad that Ramayana ballet has some audience. I don’t, however, remember much about it now, except for a notion of colorful costumes and stylized movement.

Prague 1994

Earlier this year, when I read about Prague in Patrick Leigh Fermor‘s A Time of Gifts, I found myself wondering, did I really visit the same city as he did? The answer is yes and no. He was there in 1934. I was there in 1994. That makes a considerable difference. But more importantly, he had a sharper eye for detail than I did, than I ever could hope to, and was informed by a better education and an all-around aptitude for the road.

GolemBut at least I’d heard of the Second Defenestration of Prague, which made it a really cool moment when we saw the window from which it happened.

And I knew about the Golem. Or at least the concept. So I was interested in Prague to pick up Golem by Eduard Petiška, a Czech author and poet in a country that seems to take its poets seriously (and who managed to have an asteroid named after him). The book is his own telling of the various stories about Rabbi Loew of Prague and the creature he created to protect the Jewish population of the city. What is it about the Czechs and automatons? After all, another Czech author, Karel Čapek, gave the world the word robot.

Speaking of authors from Prague, we also made our way to one of the places where Kafka lived. It’s the little blue-hued structure on this pedestrian street. At the time you could buy his works inside. Probably that’s still true.

ZlataUlickaKafkaKafka seems to be fairly well known in Japan, which might be something of a surprise, except when you consider the Kafkaesque elements of a salaryman’s life. Anyway, Yuriko was familiar with him.

And why is it always Kafkaesque? Guess Kafka-ish or Kafka-like or Kafka-oid don’t convey that sense of dread in the face of anonymous, malevolent functionaries.

The Kremlin 1994

You can’t very well go to Moscow and not pose with St. Basil’s and the clock tower (Spasskaya Tower) of the Kremlin. Pedants might point out that Moscow’s Kremlin is only one of a number of kremlins in Russia, but I say common usage re-enforced by years of Cold War reportage means that the one in the capital of the Russian Federation is The Kremlin.

RedSquare94This was probably the afternoon of the first full today we were in Moscow. Note the clock puts the time at 3:15; in late September at that latitude, the sun would have been edging down pretty low by then.

It would not have been our first visit to Red Square. We arrived in Moscow in the afternoon, and Yuriko and I and most of the other people we’d traveled with on the Trans-Siberian went to the same guest house. Early in the evening, most of us met up again with two goals in mind: to go to Red Square because it’s Red Square, and to find something to eat. I remember our group — about a dozen people — walking down one of the thoroughfares that takes one to Red Square, turning a corner, and seeing it all at once. A place I’d heard about all my life, and there it was.

We ogled Red Square a while, but then got down to the business of finding food. The group settled on the Moscow McDonald’s, said to be the largest in the world at the time, and the only McDonald’s I’ve ever been to that had bouncers.

Moscow, Sept 1994There were some English lads, a couple of Australians, a Swiss woman, a Dutch couple and I don’t know who else or remember any names. I was the only American and Yuriko the only Japanese.

I didn’t appreciate the enormity of the Kremlin until we went in for a look the next day. Not everything was accessible, but I know we visited a number of palaces and churches (or maybe church-museums), such as the Cathedral of the Annunciation. Cathedral of the AnnunciationWe got a closer look at the clock tower, still featuring its red star. But within sight of the fluttering Russian tricolor.Clock TowerSpeaking of enormity, there was also the Tsar Cannon.

TsarCannonAnd the Tsar Bell.

Tsar BellJust outside the walls is Lenin’s Mausoleum, which we visited, and then the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. The likes of Stalin and various old bolshies were easy to pick out, since they were marked by busts. I didn’t see John Reed’s plaque, though I knew he was there. I didn’t know until later that some of Bill Haywood’s ashes are there (and some are near the Haymarket monument in suburban Chicago).