The markets in Seoul

Seoul is a city of contrasts – traditional and modern. The spicy food aroma attracts you from afar and lures you into another world. It is a world of street markets and traditional vendors plying their trade, in many cases for generations. Why not join me as I explore the Insadong district of Seoul.

Just off the main streets, we can explore a maze of back alleys filled with street traders. In the distance, you can still hear the hum of the traffic, but muted now, and another sound emerges – the sound of pots and pans and food vendors and spruikers. Here, you can see an old man with a knife sharpening stall on a cart

Korean knife sharpener, Seoul

Korean knife sharpener, Seoul

The variety of goods available was breathtaking. For example, there were hat sellers with every style you could think of, including traditional Korean style hats that resembled horse riding helmets, through to berets and dress hats of every description. Even trilby-style hats and sun hats of every description

Hat stall, Seoul

Hat stall, Seoul

The toy maker was a delight – with many automata and whirligigs along with traditional spinning tops and puppets all carved from wood and delightfully painted. Some were whimsical, like the flying pigs, and others had a more steampunk flavour – such as this whirligig flying boat. There were dolls and maniquins, small planes from a bygone era, and animals, each ornately and skillfully carved.

Korean toy seller, Seoul

Korean toy seller, Seoul

And they were there day and night. Of course, all this power shopping is enough to make anyone hungry. Perhaps you fancy something from the plethora of street food vendors? You can find everything from eggs on toast to traditional Korean noodles – you name it and it’s here. And it not only smells mouth-wateringly delicious, but it is cooked right in front of you so you know it’s fresh.

Seoul – street food vendors

Seoul – street food vendors

food vendor, Seoul

Another food vendor, Seoul

The markets start in the late morning and go through to around 10.00pm – and these run across several streets and laneways. While you can always shop in the main Western stores, you have to head to the back streets for the interesting stuff, like these garden ornaments

Garden ornament vendor, Seoul

Garden ornaments for sale, Seoul

There is certainly something for everyone here, and we found Seoul to be a very safe city to walk around in – even at night. There are direct flights from Australia, Europe and USA. Don’t forget to greet people with a friendly “Anyong haseyo” (hello [literally are you at peace?]). And say ‘thank you’ with “Kam samnida” – and always with a smile 🙂 It will go a long way to show that you respect their country and the people. Enjoy!

 

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Arles: Van Gogh’s CafeTerrace at Night – then and now

Ever wanted to put yourself in the picture? It was evening and the sky was precisely the deep Prussian Blue that Van Gogh portrayed in his painting of “the Café Terrace at Night”. The lights under the awning reflected warmly in the wine glasses as we toasted our meal and our time in Province. It was Autumn in Arles, and the smell of lavender mingled with the delicious food smells. It hadn’t changed much since Vincent (yes we’re on first name terms now) painted the café at around the same time of year in 1888.

 

Van Gogh's CafeTerrace at Night

In those days, the café terrace was lit by gas lamps beneath the awning, as the evening brought out the vibrant stars. Van Gogh did the painting as a companion piece to his Night Café in which he depicted the interior of this same cafe.

Van Gogh wrote about this painting to his sister Willemien Van Gogh on 14 September 1888:

“I was interrupted precisely by the work that a new painting of the outside of a café in the evening has been giving me these past few days. On the terrace, there are little figures of people drinking. A huge yellow lantern lights the terrace, the façade, the pavement, and even projects light over the cobblestones of the street, which takes on a violet-pink tinge. The gables of the houses on a street that leads away under the blue sky studded with stars are dark blue or violet, with a green tree. Now there’s a painting of night without black. With nothing but beautiful blue, violet and green, and in these surroundings the lighted square is coloured pale sulphur, lemon green.12 I enormously enjoy painting on the spot at night. In the past they used to draw, and paint the picture from the drawing in the daytime. But I find that it suits me to paint the thing straightaway. It’s quite true that I may take a blue for a green in the dark, a blue lilac for a pink lilac, since you can’t make out the nature of the tone clearly. But it’s the only way of getting away from the conventional black night with a poor, pallid and whitish light, while in fact a mere candle by itself gives us the richest yellows and oranges.”

– [Source:  www.vangoghletters.org].

There were other cafés nearby on the plaza that once formed part of the Roman Forum here, and over the ten days we stayed there, we sampled most of them. Here, the steak was tasty and the Beaujolais formed the perfect accompaniment, along with the traditional baguette. A cool wind blew, but we didn’t mind. The occasional scooter clattered past on the cobble stones  – damp after a recent shower – leaving an oily smoke in its wake. It is a real place. Yet somehow the damp ground added vibrancy to the colours, rendering the scene more painterly. I can see why he chose this town, this part of the south of France. It is the light.

 

Van Gogh's CafeTerrace at Night

[source: photographed by me from a print erected at the spot from which he painted the cafe.]

The cafe itself – as you can see – is still there on the Place du Forum in Arles, just down the road from the Roman Amphitheatre which is still in use today for concerts and bull fights. Sharon and I had a wonderful dinner there – very French – with a nice carafe of wine. It was a magic evening 🙂

As for the actual painting? You can find Café Terrace at Night on display at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands.

France: Les Machines de L’Isle in Nantes

Les Machines

Some go to Nantes because it was the birthplace of visionary C19th author Jules Verne; others for the quirky botanical gardens, but for something truly unique, visit Les Machines de l’Isle. In 2004, as the former Naval shipyard lay closed and abandoned, two theatre designers –François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice – had a dream to revitalise this industrial corner of Nantes and transform it into an artistic wonderland inspired by Jules Verne. And so the Machines de l’Isle was born.

Les Machines de l'Isle, Nantes

It is like entering a world of the imagination. There are giant mechanical puppets, including a four-storey elephant that can take 50 passengers for a ride around the precinct; a giant heron, a mechanical ride-on inchworm and a fantasy tree stretching tens of metres. There are carousels and marine creatures and it is all created in front of you. You can visit the huge workshop where artists, engineers and craftspeople transform metal, hydraulics and intricate wood carvings into the next generation of giant mechanical sea monsters, birds, insects and plants.

Les Machines de l'Isle, Nantes

From their theatre origins, the designers place performance before engineering and as a result, the place takes on a wonderful narrative form. They have worked together for over 20 years in street theatre and urban performance. They produced giant puppets for the Royal de Luxe troupe and saw an opportunity when the shipyards closed in 1987. A street theatre company was formed in 1999 and the first machines were animated in 2007 with the inauguration of the Great Elephant and followed soon after with the Marine Worlds carousel.

The Great Elephant

It is said that being on the back of the Great Elephant is like being on the 4th floor of a travelling house with a great view over the whole place. There are movies on how the machines are made – many go on tour worldwide – and everywhere you see designs and other machines in their environment.

The Great Elephant is a giant in every sense, and everything about it is … well… big. It stands 12m high 8m wide and 21m long. It comprises 48.4 tonnes of steel and wood (American tulip wood) and it is powered by a 450hp motor driving the beast 1-3km/h. As you will see in the video below, it is highly articulated, driven by 44 hydraulic cylinders, 6 pneumatic ones and 10 gas ones. the trunk is highly segmented and snakes in all directions, blowing air and water at the will of the driver. The ears flap, the eyes blink, the mouth opens and closes and the legs walk in a synchronised fashion as it takes its load of passengers on a tour of the grounds.

 

Les Machines de l'Isle, Nantes

The Machine Gallery

The Machine Gallery is a performance space – open since Feb 2012 – which houses a wealth of plants and puppet machines revolving around the Heron Tree project. Real plants combine with mechanical ones in a dazzling wonderland. The machines are explained by the machinists who built them – in French – and performers interact with the machines providing mini shows for students and adults alike.There is something to fascinate and delight everyone from children to the childish in all of us

Les Machines de l'Isle, Nantes

How to visit

There are various modes in which you can visit – the ‘discovery mode’ is the one we chose, so we could wander through the galleries and machines and workshops. You can take a ride on the Great Elephant and/or you can take the ‘fairground’ mode in which you get to ride on the carousels and explore the marine world more deeply.

Here is a sample of our experience and what you can expect to see:

The place is continuously being developed so more attractions are being designed and added as time goes on. For something completely different and only in France – Les Machines is well worth the visit.

Les Machines de l'Isle, Nantes

Getting there

Two hours by TGV from Paris’ Gare de Montparnasse.  Then take the tram on line 1 from the station to the Chantiers Navals stop (translates as ‘naval shipyard’) and cross the Pont Anne de Bretagne bridge to the other side of the river. Information on how to get there is on this page. You can find their opening hours and entry fees here. Please check their website for enhanced security measures – and leave your large luggage items back at your accommodation.

 

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