Month: September 2015

Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge – “Sense of Smell”

I took these pictures of wet pine tree trunks after it rained, at our former summer home in Wisconsin. I like the way the bark turned reddish when the trees were wet. To me, these pictures evoke the smell of rain dripping off trees onto the wet ground and a strong scent of pine brought out by the wetness.

Wet trees - I like the way the bark turns reddish when wet. Three trees Two trunksCee’s Fun Photo Challenge for this last week of exploring the senses is “Sense of Smell.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Change

Weekly Photo Challenge: Change – baking cookies

It is extremely rare for me to bake cookies! However, I wanted to give gifts last Christmas and had little money to spend, and since I hadn’t made cookies of any kind for a long time, I decided to make a project out of it! I downloaded recipes from Weight Watchers to find delicious cookies that wouldn’t be too fattening.  One of the most fun was making gingerbread cookies…

Ingredients

  • 3 cup(s) Gold Medal® Flour All-Purpose Flour   
  • 1 1/2 tsp Calumet Baking powder   
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda   
  • 1/4 tsp table salt   
  • 1 Tbsp ground ginger   
  • 1 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon   
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves   
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened   
  • 3/4 cup(s) dark brown sugar, packed   
  •   1 large egg(s)   
  • 1/2 cup(s) Grandma’s Original molasses   
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract   
  • 1 tsp lemon zest, finely grated

First, I prepared the dough: Whisk Together: Flour, Baking Powder, Baking Soda, Salt, Ginger, Cinnamon, Cloves. In a separate bowl combine and beat on medium speed until well blended: Butter, Dark brown Sugar, Egg. Add and beat until well combined: Molasses, Vanilla Extract, Lemon Zest . Gradually stir in the dry ingredients until well blended and smooth.
IMAG2892Next, I divided the dough in half and wrapped each half in plastic. Then I left them at room temperature while I worked on other cookies: Divide the dough in half. Wrap in plastic and let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours or up to 8 hours. (The dough can also be stored for up to 4 days, but in that case it must be refrigerated. Return to room temperature before using.) 

IMAG2893After a few hours, I rolled out the dough and used my Christmas cookie cutters to make different shapes. Meanwhile I preheated the oven.  To bake, position a rack in the upper 3rd of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease cookie sheets. Place 1 portion of the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Very lightly sprinkle flour over the surface of the dough and dust the rolling pin. Roll to a scant 1/2″ thick. Lift the dough frequently and add a bit more flour to to work surface and rolling pin as necessary to prevent sticking. Cut out the cookies using a 4 or 5″ gingerbread boy or girl cutter. With a spatula, transfer them to the cookie sheets, spacing them about 1 1/2″ apart. Roll the dough scraps and continue cutting out cookies until all the dough is used.

IMAG2907Then they went into the oven and baked.  Here, my husband is taking them off the cookie sheet with a spatula.  If desired, garnish with raisins or red hots for eyes and buttons. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until the edges of the cookies are just barely dark, 7 to 10 minutes; rotate the sheet halfway through baking for even browning. Remove from the sheet to a rack and let stand until the cookies firm slightly. Transfer the cookies to racks to cool.

IMAG2909Now the creative part…decorating them! Decorate with royal or cookie icing as desired. I made standard frosting, using powdered sugar, milk and food coloring.  Here I’m using toothpicks to apply details with the icing on the gingerbread boys. My husband wanted to get into the act too!

Applying icing to gingerbread boys.Voila! They’re finished and they look festive! I then divided them into separate gift packages for different people, along with other cookies I’d made.

IMAG2914Making five different cookie recipes was tiring and time-consuming, but rewarding in the end, when I saw (and tasted!) the final results and put them into gift boxes. The best part, though, was the joy these gifts gave to other people. I think I’m going to try some different recipes and make more this year!

The Hermitage Museum: 13 Masterpieces you can see in 2 hours

August 12, 2015

During our cruise in the Baltic Sea, one of the things I most looked forward to was visiting the Hermitage Museum, one of the largest and oldest museums in the world. It has the largest collection of paintings in the world.  The museum, located on the banks of the Neva River, was founded by Catherine the Great in 1764 and has been open to the public since 1852.  (Source) The museum occupies six buildings, but the main complex consists of five buildings plus a theatre.

Hermitage-main-complex          Aerial photo of the main complex downloaded from the Hermitage Museum’s web site.

Even if you had a week to spend at the Hermitage Museum, you could not see everything in the museum.  There are 3,102,917 items in the collection, but not all are on display at the same time. Our tour guide gave us a 2-hour tour of some of the main highlights, from which I chose 13 to highlight here. I hope to someday return to St. Petersburg and visit the Hermitage again, as well as other places of interest I did not get to see.

All pictures herein were taken by myself or my husband, Dale Berman, unless otherwise specified.

The largest building of the Hermitage Museum is the former Winter Palace of the tsars. It is this building that one first enters the museum.
The largest building of the Hermitage Museum is the former Winter Palace of the tsars. It is this building that one first enters the museum.

If you look very closely along the edge of the building pictured above, you can see a massive line of people waiting to get into the museum, which opens at 10:30.  This line continued down the edge of the museum and around the corner for at least a block! We were able to enter at 9:30, a huge advantage, partly because we were able to take pictures without hordes of people in the way!

I will list the 13 items in the order that we saw them, which should allow for a somewhat continuous flow between the two main buildings, the Winter Palace and the Small Hermitage.

  1. The Jordan staircase of the Winter Palace – The main staircase of the museum is called the Jordan staircase, because on the Feast of Epiphany, the tsar would descend this staircase for the ceremony of the “Blessing of the Waters” of the Neva River, an Orthodox celebration of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River. (Note: Some of my information comes from The Magnificent Hermitage Museum: One-day Guide to 10 masterpieces of the St. Petersburg Museum, by Larisa Levanova, e-book downloaded to my Kindle from Amazon.com.)

Jordan StaircaseDSC_0555Ceiling fresco above the staircase

2. Small Throne Room

The Small Throne Room, decked out in red, was built for Tsar Nicholas in 1833 by the French architect August de Montferrand (the same one that designed St. Isaac’s Cathedral). In the alcove behind the throne is a large painting dedicated to Peter the Great, flanked by jasper columns. The floors are covered in inlaid wood patterns. During the days of the tsars, diplomats would pay their respects to the tsar on New Year’s Day in this room.

Note the insignia on the throne and above the painting: it is a two-headed eagle, one of the symbols of the Russian royal family.
Note the insignia on the throne and above the painting: it is a two-headed eagle, one of the symbols of the Russian royal family.

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Wood floor design in the Small Throne Room
Wood floor design in the Small Throne Room

3. Hall of generals’ portraits

KODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still CameraDSC_05874. Wooden floor designs – The wood floors are also masterpieces of inlaid wood in a variety of beautiful patterns. The floors pictured are located in the first few rooms we went into.

KODAK Digital Still Camera KODAK Digital Still Camera5. Peacock Clock – Try to time your viewing of this clock to occur on the hour or half hour (which we did not) – bells chime, the golden peacock in the glass case spreads its plumage and its companions, a rooster and an owl, also move around. All we saw was the peacock sitting on a tall tree stump, and below are small creatures and mushrooms, all sculpted of metal. The actual timepiece mechanism is inside the largest, flat red mushroom. A dragonfly which serves as the second hand sits atop the clock mushroom.

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In the middle is the mushroom inside which is the clock mechanism. The dragonfly on top of the mushroom marks the seconds.
In the middle is the mushroom inside which is the clock mechanism. The dragonfly on top of the mushroom marks the seconds.

6. Tile floor mosaic – One floor that was roped off was entirely made of mosaic tiles depicting a circle of mythical beasts and human hunters – spectacular!

KODAK Digital Still Camera7. Rembrandt painting: Return of the Prodigal Son

20150812_0212378. Leonardo da Vinci paintings:  Madonna Litta and Madonna Benois (Madonna and Child). There are two small da Vincis in this gallery; my favorite was the Madonna Benois (Madonna and Child). The Madonna Litta pictures the Virgin suckling her child,framed by two arched windows.

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9. The Rafael Loggias. Empress Catherine II commissioned a replica of the Raphael Loggias at the Vatican. A loggia is a covered corridor, open on one side with vaulted ceilings and archways. This exact copy was painted after that by Raphael and his pupils, by a group of Italian artists. The paintings on the ceiling depict Biblical scenes, and the walls are covered with ornamental paintings with themes taken from mythology, the natural world, and the arts.

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10. Michelangelo sculpture:  The Crouching Boy.

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11. Rembrandt painting: Danae. This painting has an interesting story behind it. In the 1980s, a visitor to the museum, apparently offended by the painting’s nudity, threw acid onto the painting and slashed the canvas several times with a knife! It took 14 years to restore the painting. If you look closely, you can still see faint rivulets where the acid caused the paint to run, but other than that, only the artist would know the difference. Fortunately, Rembrandt had a tendency to paint in layers, so the damaged top layer was removed and the painting touched up. The cloth that covers Danae’s calves and feet in the original was opaque; now it is translucent. Other than that, the restoration was nearly perfect.

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12. Statue of Jupiter. A hall containing various Greek and Roman sculptures, including Aphrodite (Venus of Taurida), a Greek marble statue believed to date from the 2nd century B.C. and found in Rome in 1719, also contained the formidable statue of the god Jupiter, from the Roman Empire, estimated 1st century B.C. This 16 ton, 3.5 meter tall statue was brought from Italy in 1861 and had to be placed on a special foundation. This Jupiter is one of the largest antique sculptures in any museum in the world. In ancient Rome, Jupiter represented loyalty, keeper of the borders and defender of liberty. In his left hand, he holds a scepter and on his right dances the goddess of victory, Victoria. Jupiter enforced his will by thunder, lightning, and the flight of birds, represented by the eagle at his side with its wings spread.

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13. Giant jasper vase, the “Queen of Vases”.  It was carved out of a single piece of jasper and it weighs 19.2 tons (heavier than Jupiter!). This vase was carved in the Kolyvan region of Russia, some 5,000 km from the capital of St. Petersburg. In February 1843, 154 horses were harnessed to a giant sledge to haul the vase to the capital. In the fall of 1849, it took 770 workers to put it into place in the palace!

The Queen of Vases, made of one piece of jasper.DSC_0687

There is a cafeteria in the museum for relaxing during or at the end of your visit!

 

Onion domes and spires: Orthodox churches of St. Petersburg

August 11, 2015

Trinity Cathedral (Troitsky Sobor)
We passed this cathedral, which I thought was so pretty, on our tour bus and did not visit.  Wikipedia says that it is an example of Russian Neoclassism, and was built between 1828 and 1835. After years of neglect, it has recently begun to be restored. Many of its relics were looted or destroyed in the early years of the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1990, it became part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of St. Petersburg. In 2006, a fire started by a collapsing resotration scaffold burned the main dome, but the interior of the church was not damaged. Rebuilding of the dome was completed in 2010.

Trinity Church, St. Petersburg
Trinity Church, St. Petersburg

St. Isaac Cathedral (Isaakievskiy Sobor) is the largest orthodox basilica and the fourth largest cathedral in the world. It was designed by Auguste de Montferrand, a French architect that also designed the interiors of the Winter Palace (now the Hermitage Museum). It took 40 years to build so the tsar was able to request an even more grandiose structure than was originally planned. (Source) The cathedral was dedicated in 1858 on the anniversary of Peter I (Peter the Great)’s birthday. It is no longer an active church but is open for visitors. Occasionally a religious service may be held there at Easter or Christmas.

The dome of St. Isaac Cathedral is a feature of the St. Petersburg skyline.
The dome of St. Isaac Cathedral is a feature of the St. Petersburg skyline.

There were actually a total of four St. Isaac’s cathedrals built in St. Petersburg. The first St. Isaac opened in 1707 in a converted wooden barn. The second church, a stone structure built between 1717-1727, was built on the left bank of the Neva River. The left bank was unfortified and prone to flooding, so the building settled unevenly and eventually had to be demolished. The third St. Isaac’s was built on the site of the modern cathedral in 1768, designed by architect A. Rinaldi. Construction dragged on but under instruction by Pope Paul I, the building was hurriedly completed in 1802 under the supervision of another architect, V. Brenna, who distorted Rinaldi’s vision considerably – the final result was incongruous and ugly! Thus a decision was made to rebuild it. The fourth cathedral, built between 1818-1858, is what we see today.

This display case has models of each of the St. Isaac buildings.Outside the modern cathedral, massive pink marble columns, made from single pieces of red granite that weigh 80 tons each, hold up ornamented arched ceilings and towering marble walls display bas relief sculptures set up high, depicting Biblical and battle scenes. The doors are also covered with bas relief sculptures.

Columns - St. Isaac Church

St. Isaac Cathedral
St. Isaac Cathedral
Door detail - St. Isaac
Door detail

Many people choose to climb the almost 300 steps up to the colonnade (the drum part of the dome) to enjoy beautiful views of the city. We, however, spent our time looking at the relics inside.

KODAK Digital Still CameraInside, the walls are covered with marble panels, and above these are frescoes depicting religious themes. The ceilings contain more bas relief sculptures in gold leaf. (According to one source, more than 100 kg of gold leaf was used to cover the dome alone.)

Ceiling of central dome
Ceiling of central dome

100_0537DSC_0464KODAK Digital Still CameraIcons - St. Isaac CathedralKODAK Digital Still Camera

Many of the icons as well as malachite and lapis lazuli columns were created using the mosaic technique – tiny pieces fit together, which you can see on the columns if you get really close.

Mosaic malachite columns
Mosaic malachite columns

Two icons of Saint Isaac, one using the mosaic technique and the other painted, show the difference in texture:

This icon was made with small tiles as a mosaic. St. Isaac - iconA stained glass window portrays Jesus dressed in a red shroud. This is a Roman Catholic element – the Orthodox portray his shroud as lilac in color.

KODAK Digital Still CameraIcons of specific religious saints dominated the walls around the Jesus window, but the most beautiful icons were two small ones, one of the Virgin Mary and Child, and the other of St. Isaac.

Icon of Virgin & child KODAK Digital Still CameraPersonally, I didn’t like St. Isaac as a cathedral – it was too large and impersonal, its decor too lavish for my taste. On the other hand, maybe it was because many of the things I think of as part of a church – like the pews – were missing. And of course, how can it feel spiritual when there are hordes of tourists poking around and taking pictures? But as a museum, it was majestic and its relics beautiful.

Peter and Paul Fortress (Petropavlovskaya Krepost) is on Zayachi Island. The gold cathedral spire can be seen from various places in the city. At 123 meters from the ground to the top of the spire, it can be considered the tallest Orthodox church in the world. At any rate, its bell tower is definitely the tallest Orthodox bell tower in the world. (Source) All tsars, tsarinas and emperors from Peter the Great to Nicholas II (the last tsar) are buried within the cathedral, except two – one of whom was buried in Moscow and the other was executed. In the summer on Peter & Paul Island, there is an exhibition of sand sculptures and in the winter, an exhibition of ice sculptures.

DSC_0487The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (Tserkovʹ Spasa na Krovi) was built on the exact spot where Tsar Alexander II was fatally wounded in 1881. Per Wikipedia, the church was built from 1883 to 1907 and was funded by the royal family. It was dedicated as a memorial to the father of the then reigning monarch Alexander III. The interior is a museum of mosaics, as all the icons are made of mosaic tiles. Unfortunately, we did not have the chance to go inside. However, there is a walkway that encircles the church ¾ of the way around, affording many good photo opps! It is definitely one of the most photographed landmarks of St. Petersburg, as its colorful domes appear in many travel brochures on Russia.

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St. Petersburg (part 1): Two Palaces – Why Russia Had a Revolution

August 11-12, 2015

Catherine’s Palace
It’s no wonder there was a revolution in Russia, I couldn’t help thinking when we toured the opulent and ostentatious Catherine’s Palace. Some of it was beautiful; some of it was garish. All of it was obviously extremely expensive.

Catherine’s Palace was a gift from Peter the Great to his wife, Catherine I. The first palace on this site, referred to as the “small palace”, was built in the 1720s but was enlarged in the mid-18th century by another architect commissioned by the queen. The resulting palace contains both Baroque and Classical elements.

Arrival at Catherine's Palace
Arrival at Catherine’s Palace

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One of the palace gates
One of the palace gates

KODAK Digital Still CameraCatherine’s Palace was a favorite of the last tsar, Nicholas, and his family. The day before, I had visited another Catherine’s Palace outside Tallinn, Estonia (see my post Touring Tallinn …), also a gift from Peter the Great to his 2nd wife, but much smaller and less luxurious.

Peter been married before but was not in love, so when he met Catherine, he dispatched his first wife to a convent! Women were submissive and had few rights in those days, so I suppose she had to obey. Catherine came from a peasant family and in a Cinderella-type story, they fell in love and were married. Peter & Catherine had several children but most died in childhood. Elizabeth was one of two surviving children, and she took the throne in 1741. Her daughter-in-law was Catherine the Great.

Large hall, probably used for receptions or balls.
Large hall, probably used for receptions or balls.

After a long wait to get in, and then donning slippers over our shoes to protect the floors, our tour group went through room after room of Baroque style gold-leaf decorations.

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KODAK Digital Still CameraSince this palace belonged to Peter the Great’s beloved second wife, her monogram would be included on some of the decorations, which looked like a 3 with a vertical line through it. The “3” is the y sound, which is how Catherine is spelled and pronounced in Russian: “Yeh-Katerina.”

Catherine I's monogram
Catherine I’s monogram

Fireplaces of blue tile in each room are beautiful contrasts to all the gold.

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Formal dining room - the paintings on the wall depict animals having killed and are preparing to eat their prey. These gruesome images were supposed to increase the diners' appetites!
Formal dining room – the paintings on the wall depict animals having killed and are preparing to eat their prey. These gruesome images were supposed to increase the diners’ appetites!

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the palace and grounds were turned into a museum, while other buildings in “Tsars’ Village”, as the town surrounding Catherine’s Palace was known, were turned into educational and health facilities for children. The Bolsheviks thus renamed the town “Children’s Village.” In 1937, the country commemorated the 100th anniversary of the death of the poet Pushkin, and the village was once again renamed; the town of “Pushkin” is still called by this name today.

The furnishings are mostly replicas, because the palace was used as Nazi headquarters during WWII, and when they left, they destroyed it. Restoration was done with the aim to recreate the palace interior as much as possible to its original design. Someone on our ship joked that if you want job security in Russia, get a job in restoration!

This painting depicts how the palace looked after the Nazis left, having set the interior on fire. The outer walls are standing, but the interior was mostly destroyed.
This painting depicts how the palace looked after the Nazis left, having set the interior on fire. The outer walls are standing, but the interior was mostly destroyed.
Photos taken after the Nazis left
Photos taken after the Nazis left
Restoration begins.
Sorting out the artifacts: Restoration begins.

Most of the rooms are designed in Baroque style, but when the palace was expanded in the mid-18th century by another architect commissioned by Empress Elizabeth, it was done in Classical style.

Our guide, Katrina, gave a running commentary on the walls, columns, floors, décor, paintings, furnishings, dishes, etc. as we passed along; as usual when I visit palaces, all the luxury in room after room eventually overwhelms me and I stop really paying attention; the fact that the audio equipment didn’t work very well didn’t help.

KODAK Digital Still CameraHowever, like at other palaces I’ve visited, there is always at least one room that really stands out while all the other rooms blend together in a blur. In this case, the room that made an impression on me was the Amber Room, which is showcased in books about the palace, since no photography is permitted, unlike the rest of the palace. It really is quite spectacular. The walls, moldings and furnishings are all made of amber.

amber room - picture frame

amber room wallThe light colored amber – usually the most desired – is the oldest; the darkest is the youngest. The variety of colors is quite amazing. Pieces of different color amber were fitted together mosaic style to form the layers on the walls, etc. There’s also a table whose top is a mosaic of different colored amber.

amber room - crownamber room tableamber room - detailNote:  All pictures of the Amber Room were downloaded from Google Images.

One of the last rooms we visited was in Classical style – the walls were green and the white wall décor had more angular lines and more secularized themes. Although sumptuously decorated also, it didn’t have gold cherubs, statues, moldings, etc. which are the hallmarks of Baroque ornamentation.

KODAK Digital Still CameraThe gardens outside were mostly sculpted and symmetrical in design.

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There were other smaller buildings on the property.
There were other smaller buildings on the property.

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Peterhof

Peterhof is not just one palace – it is an estate containing a large park with fountains, gardens, and other buildings. The Grand Palace is what you first see when you arrive by car or bus. Like other Russian palaces, it is huge and is often referred to as the “Russian Versailles”. Versailles was the inspiration for Peter the Great’s desire to build an estate outside the new city of St. Petersburg.

The Grand Palace and the Grand Cascade, which consists of 64 fountains and 200 bronze statues.
The Grand Palace and the Grand Cascade, which consists of 64 fountains and 200 bronze statues.

The first palace built on the grounds was “Monplaisir”, a much smaller structure, designed by and for Peter himself, situated on the Gulf of Finland. It is what you see when you arrive or depart from the pier. Marly Palace (a much smaller Baroque mansion on the grounds, meant to be an intimate retreat) and another two-story building on a nearby island, to be used as a dining room, were also built before the grand palace.

Small palace, called
Small palace, called “Monplaisir”, was designed by and for Peter the Great himself.
Gardens in front of
Gardens in front of “Monplaisir”

Landscaping of the grounds had begun by the early 1720s, but work on the site stopped when Peter the Great died in 1725 and Peterhof was left abandoned until Peter’s daughter Elizabeth took the throne in 1740. Elizabeth commissioned Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who had already completed the Summer Palace in St. Petersburg, to build an opulent royal palace. The completed palace is long and narrow and not as ornate as Catherine’s Palace. We did not go inside, which was okay with me, but instead had time to explore the grounds.

KODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still Camera 100_0729 KODAK Digital Still Camera KODAK Digital Still Camera KODAK Digital Still CameraFountains were an integral part of the plan conceived by Peter for this estate, and each succeeding generation outdid the previous one by adding more sumptuous and ingenious fountains throughout the grounds. The Grand Cascade, in front of the grand palace, is composed of 64 fountains and over 200 bronze statues and other decorations. At the center is a statue of Samson wrestling with a lion.

In the center of the Grand Cascade is this bronze statue of Samson wrestling with the lion.
In the center of the Grand Cascade is this bronze statue of Samson wrestling with the lion.

There are also unusual fountains such as the Chess Cascade  and the Joke Fountains – here’s where the children have fun. One of these sprays water on a person who steps on a particular stone. Another is like a water fall that starts and stops, which you can stand under.

Chess Cascade with mythical animals at the top
Chess Cascade with mythical animals at the top
One of the "Joke" fountains - you don't know when the water will start or stop. The children love it!
One of the “Joke” fountains – you don’t know when the water will start or stop. The children love it!

The gardens were absolutely beautiful. Catherine the Great oversaw the first landscaped garden at Peterhof, the English Park. Everywhere we walked were more fountains, more gardens, but none of them the same.

Near Monplaisir Palace
Near Monplaisir Palace

KODAK Digital Still Camera KODAK Digital Still CameraBeing on our own by this time, my husband and I took a route through a small part of the park, but by no means did we see all of it – in one afternoon, that would have been impossible.

This rocky beach on the edge of the Peterhof estate borders the Gulf of Finland. The small yellow building on an outcrop of land in the distance was meant for use as a dining room for entertaining guests.
This rocky beach on the edge of the Peterhof estate borders the Gulf of Finland. The small yellow building on an outcrop of land in the distance was meant for use as a dining room for entertaining guests.

100_0779We met the others in our group at the hydrofoil dock, and took a hydrofoil back to St. Petersburg.

hydrofoil boat

Lost in Old Town Tallinn! (Tallinn part 2)

August 10, 2015

When the bus dropped us off in Old Town Tallinn, the first thing I noticed were the hordes of people everywhere! Since there were six cruise ships in port, each containing an average of say, 2,000 passengers – plus Tallinn has become a popular destination in Europe – Old Town was swarming with tourists. (Never mind the people that actually LIVE there who were navigating those same spaces!) The sidewalks were narrow and so many people passing that you were often forced to walk on the uneven cobblestone streets. This also meant that groups led by guides, who held up signs with their tour’s number, often stretched along considerable distance and it was hard to keep up, especially if, like me, you often wanted to stop to take a picture.  Which I did, often.

Our Matthew-Crawley- look-alike guide, Uve, gathers us around to give us a little history of what we were seeing.
Our Matthew-Crawley- look-alike guide, Uve, gathers us around to give us a little history of what we were seeing.

Uve told us we could have some free time to explore shops and go to the bathroom. There were several amber shops with beautifully decorated doorways.

Amber is a major product of the Baltic Sea.
Amber is a major product of the Baltic Sea.

Although we were right next to Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Church, we
didn’t go in because of the crowds and Uve said we’d see Orthodox churches in St. Petersburg.

Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox church
Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox church

We did, however, enter St. Mary’s Church, built in 1240 and now a Lutheran church.

Episcopalian Church
St. Mary’s Lutheran Church

Family crests covered the walls, some quite large due to one-upmanship. Uve told us this was a common and prestigious thing to do. Families also had their own pews, each sectioned off by a small door with the family’s name on it.

Looking toward the main altar.
Looking toward the main altar. Note entrances to pews have little doors – families had their own section.
Having your family crest on the wall of the church gave you status. It established your family's importance in the community.
Having your family crest on the wall of the church gave you status. It established your family’s importance in the community.

The organ was the most impressive thing in St. Mary’s Church. It is the largest in Estonia and has over 5,000 pipes.

Largest church organ in Estonia.

Apostles painted on the side of the pulpit stairs
Apostles painted on the side of the pulpit stairs

Both St. Mary’s church and Alexander Nevsky cathedral are in the area of Old Town called Toompea. Our group headed to a lookout platform, where we could see Old Town Tallinn below and take photos.  To get to this advantageous spot, however, you first had to patiently wait for someone to move and then worm your way through the crowd that was clicking away. Meanwhile, there was a teenager there who was doing fancy soccer moves for the public, a red cap on the ground in front of him for tips.

KODAK Digital Still CameraAnother young man was standing in front of a sign that said “Toompea Coin Minting”. After creating the coin, he would sell it to you on a lanyard.

KODAK Digital Still CameraWhen I finally reached the vantage point to take photos of the town below, I could see why it was such a popular place for tourists. Below us lay Old Town Tallinn and beyond, as far as the dock where our ship was anchored, the Tallinn Balloon floating overhead.

The Eurodam can be seen just under the Tallinn balloon.
KODAK Digital Still CameraBack on the walk, I got behind again – it was near a turn into another narrow street – and lost sight of my group and Uve with the sign. They’d obviously turned a corner, but which one? A crowd of people were ascending a narrow alleyway, so I went with the flow, figuring I’d catch up with the group at the top. Just then a man was coming the other way wheeling his daughter in a stroller and I had to move aside to let him pass. Meanwhile, a stream of people squeezed their way around me on my right. When I reached the top, I looked left and right – by that time, there no sign of them. So I guessed: I went right. KODAK Digital Still CameraI came to another lookout point in a small square where outdoor restaurants were full of chatting customers, and on the right was part of the old wall that once surrounded the town, and a tower which may have been part of a gate at one time. There were steps going up the side of the wall to a restaurant located in the tower, and I saw people climbing the stairs. Not many though and I was sure it wasn’t my group.

At this point, I was lost and came into this square with a section of the old wall and restaurants.
At this point, I was lost and came into this square with a section of the old wall and restaurants.

I asked myself if there were any hints about where they might be. I had heard Uve mention something about checking with the café to see if our lunch was ready. Did he really say that? If so, they could be on their way to lunch. Did anyone know I was missing? Uve always counted – surely he’d know. But how would he find me?
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I left the square with the old wall and busy restaurants and tried to retrace my steps. I got back to the street that I’d been on before turning into the alley, and peered down other streets leading off it. No sign of them.
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I began wandering aimlessly, trying to think and not panic. I came up with nothing – no plan of action and feeling sorry for myself that I’d miss lunch! Eventually I found myself once again in front of the orthodox church where there were hordes of people coming and going and as I approached entrance to the church, I spotted a green Eurodam sticker – more than one! Yes!

KODAK Digital Still CameraThis group’s stickers had the number 10 on them. At least they’d be returning to the same ship. I asked a man if I could stay with their group, that I’d been separated from mine. Was there room on their bus?
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He said yes, but I should talk to their guide. He led me to her; she was among the throng now inside the church. A golden wall full of icons was visible above all the heads. I took one picture. (I later learned no photography was allowed inside the church!)

The woman in blue looking up is the guide of tour group #10,
The woman in blue looking up is the guide of tour group #10.

I explained to her my dilemma and she called the company she (and Uve presumably) work for. A stream of Estonian followed but it sounded encouraging. My group, she said, was at St. Nicholas Church, which was a bit complicated to get to from here. However, after that they were going to a restaurant in Town Hall Square. I fished out a piece of paper advertising the upcoming Russian bazaar on board from my bag, and also provided her with a pen. She wrote down the name of the restaurant – MAIKRAHV – and told me it was located inside the town hall. She was emphatic on that point.
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She also offered to let me stay with them (but they weren’t having lunch and were leaving earlier) or go to Town Hall Square to look for my group. She told her group that she just needed a minute to show me the way.
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The way was simple. She pointed out the street and told me to continue down it – “Go down, keep going down” until to the right I would see the square. It was a big square, she said. I couldn’t miss it. I decided to go, so I thanked her and off I went, tucking the piece of paper into my pocket.
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I descended the long cobblestone street, passing along another section of the old wall on my right; on the left, free-lance artists displayed their work for sale.
100_0339After passing under a gate, I saw a large square to the right, full of outdoor restaurants with shade umbrellas over them, all of them bustling with people.
KODAK Digital Still CameraThe square was lined with tall, colorful buildings with streets leading off it like spokes of a wheel.

100_0345Town Hall Square

As soon as I stepped into the square, I spotted a young woman wearing an apron, obviously a waitress or something. I pulled out the piece of paper and smiled expectantly at her.
“Do you speak English?” I asked.
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“Yes,” she said.
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“Can you tell me where this restaurant is?”
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I showed her the slip of paper with the restaurant’s name. She didn’t say anything; she seemed to be at a loss for words but led me to the front of an outside restaurant near the one where she’d been standing, and gestured with her hands, holding them open like, “here it is.”
What? This made no sense. Where was the town hall? I thanked her and then went up to a young man standing in front of the next restaurant.
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“Can you tell me where is the town hall?” I asked him.
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He pointed to an old medieval building across the square that had looked like it might have been a church at one time. I thanked him and headed over there.Town Hall Square (finally!). The town hall is the old building in the center.There was a door open, which led down a few stairs into a dark interior. A sign outside indicated there was some sort of art exhibit inside. I saw a man wearing a uniform standing in the shadows. I approached him and explained that I was looking for a restaurant inside the town hall, and showed him the name. He said the town hall did have a restaurant, next door, but it was called Dragon.
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“Perhaps it had this name before, I don’t know. You can ask them.”
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Strange. Why would the guides’ company give me a name of a place that no longer had that name? Even so, I went next door to check it out.

Over the Dragon restaurant
Over the Dragon restaurant

As soon as I entered, I was pretty sure this wasn’t the right place. A woman wearing a long striped dress with an apron over it and a fitted cap was ladling out soup into cone- shaped ceramic bowls. She was also in charge of the register and dealing with customers.
“Excuse me,” I said. She turned and looked at me.
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“I’m looking for this restaurant.” I showed her the slip of paper.
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She glanced and said, rather brusquely, “across the square” and nodded in that direction. I didn’t interpret her tone as rudeness – she was just very busy and hadn’t time for pleasantries.
Beautiful old buildings on the squareSo I crossed the square once more and came to the same guy in yellow I’d talked to before; only this time, I showed him the name of the restaurant. He pointed to a doorway – sure enough, the name was printed overhead. I wouldn’t have noticed it before, what with all the tables outside and people sitting at them enjoying the outdoors. I was now beginning to understand what the first girl had been trying to show me.
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“It is our restaurant,” he said.
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He hadn’t seen the group wearing stickers like mine, but perhaps they were inside the restaurant. He led me partway to the entrance.

I finally found our group! They were about to have lunch in this restaurant.

Sure enough, down a short flight of stairs, I saw Uve standing there! What a relief!
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He did know that I (or someone) had been missing, but said they’d waited for five minutes for me, then had to go on their way. They had just arrived at the restaurant, and I saw everyone sitting around tables in the dimness. There was an empty seat next to a bearded man, and I asked if anyone was sitting there. The man said it was available, so I sat down. His name was David and his wife, sitting across from him, was Paula. They were from Halifax.
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The meal was excellent and came in three courses: salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing; chicken breast over julienned vegetables, in a sauce that was very tasty if a bit peppery; and dessert cake: two layers of white cake, with a filling and topping of gelled blueberries and raspberries.
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On our way to our last stop – shopping – Uve showed us the ruined wall of a church, where tombstones from the 14th and 15th century were displayed.
KODAK Digital Still CameraOld tombstones (described in previous picture)Old tombstoneFinally it was time for shopping! Paula and David were not going to let me out of their sight! Uve  told us to meet in front of McDonald’s in half an hour. The three of us stuck together while shopping, and I probably bought at least one thing I wouldn’t have otherwise. In retrospect, I wish I had purchased a piece of amber jewelry – expensive, but I may never have another opportunity!

Here's where we did a lot of shopping. Open stalls on the left, against the old town wall, shops on the right.
Here’s where we did a lot of shopping. Open stalls on the left, against the old town wall, shops on the right.
Our meeting place
Our meeting place

Blogging 201, Day 1

I started one of these “Blogging U” courses before, but got busy and couldn’t finish. So here I go again…

My three goals:
1. Increase readership by 20% by the end of 2015 or increase “hits” by 25% by the end of the year. Today, for example, I broke my own record for the most “hits” in one day – 83! This has been the most discouraging thing, I think, about my blog. I don’t get many people to read it. There are a number of reasons why this could be:

  • My blog is too eclectic: it needs to be more focused.
  • It could be the design of my blog is not as appealing as it could be. I am not very tech-savvy, and when I’ve tried to change themes to something more engaging, I get stuck on adding widgets or other things. On the other hand, I think simplicity is best – I would like people to focus on the content, not whether I have a lot of cool extras.
  • Maybe my posts are too long, or too boring, or don’t have enough pictures. Perhaps I can get help from others in the blogging community, which brings me to my 2nd goal:

2. Read and comment on/like at least 8 blogs from those I follow per week. Also visit the Commons each week and find out what other/new bloggers are doing! The best way to gain readers, I’ve found, is to let them know I’m here! And the best way to do that is “meet” them, read their blog, encourage them. If I pay attention to what they are saying in their blogs, it’s much more likely they will listen to me too.

3. Publish something – an essay, a poem, whatever. I’ve been saying this forever. I have the 2015 Writer’s Market. I tend to get bogged down in other writing. I need to find publications that would be interested in my work and follow their guidelines to get a piece published. It all comes down to: FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS, which is difficult for an ADHD mind.

and one more:
4. Complete Blogging 201 to the best of my ability!