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.
Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge for this last week of exploring the senses is “Sense of Smell.“
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…
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. Next, 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.)
After 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.
Then 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.
Now 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!
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.
Making 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
3. Hall of generals’ portraits
4. 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.
5. 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.
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!
7. Rembrandt painting: Return of the Prodigal Son
8. 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.
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.
10. Michelangelo sculpture: The Crouching Boy.
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.
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.
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!
There is a cafeteria in the museum for relaxing during or at the end of your visit!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Inside, 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.)
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.
Two icons of Saint Isaac, one using the mosaic technique and the other painted, show the difference in texture:
A 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.
Icons 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.
Personally, 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.
The 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.
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.
Catherine’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.
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.
Since 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.”
Fireplaces of blue tile in each room are beautiful contrasts to all the gold.
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!
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.
However, 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.
The 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.
Note: 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.
The gardens outside were mostly sculpted and symmetrical in design.
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 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.
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.
Fountains 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.
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.
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.
Being 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.
We met the others in our group at the hydrofoil dock, and took a hydrofoil back to St. Petersburg.
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.
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.
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.
We did, however, enter St. Mary’s Church, built in 1240 and now a 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.
The organ was the most impressive thing in St. Mary’s Church. It is the largest in Estonia and has over 5,000 pipes.
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.
Another 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.
When 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.
Back 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. I 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.
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?
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.
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!
This 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?
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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. After 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. The square was lined with tall, colorful buildings with streets leading off it like spokes of a wheel.
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.
“Yes,” she said.
“Can you tell me where this restaurant is?”
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.
“Can you tell me where is the town hall?” I asked him.
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.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.
“Perhaps it had this name before, I don’t know. You can ask them.”
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.
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.
“I’m looking for this restaurant.” I showed her the slip of paper.
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. So 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.
“It is our restaurant,” he said.
He hadn’t seen the group wearing stickers like mine, but perhaps they were inside the restaurant. He led me partway to the entrance.
Sure enough, down a short flight of stairs, I saw Uve standing there! What a relief!
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.
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.
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. Finally 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!
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!
Very recently I wrote an entire trip journal by hand! It took a great deal of perseverance and a few late nights so I could finish that day’s journal before forgetting something by the next day! Since I was on a cruise, and paying for Internet on board was very expensive, I had no choice. On past trips abroad, I’d go to an Internet cafe and write my journal in a long email to family and friends every couple of days. The cost was at most equivalent to a couple of dollars each time.
The way I kept it up on the cruise was to take handwritten notes, although a few of the days I didn’t bring my journal and used note taking software on my phone instead. Then I would put those together, along with the pictures I’d taken, to complete an accurate entry about each day.
I found that my hand got cramped when I was writing all of it longhand, and that I would write some words with too many double letters or leave out letters. That was OK, as long as I could read it when I got home! I also had to correct some of the sentences, which I had written incorrectly or incoherently!
I do much better writing on a computer. However, I have read studies that show that when we write by hand, the information we are writing sticks in our minds better. College students who bring their laptops to class for note-taking retain less of what they have written than those who take notes by hand.
In addition, I have read at least one study showing that dyslexic children should be taught to write in cursive, because somehow attaching the letters together helps them keep the order of the letters straight. I tutored two kids this summer who had dyslexic tendencies, and part of the curriculum was teaching them to write cursive letters and words. They were going into third grade, which is a good time for them to start learning this; developmentally, 8 year olds have the fine motor skills to learn cursive. These two complained about it, but they did it and improved each time!
I know I’ve gone off on a tangent here, veering into why handwriting should still be taught (that’s the former teacher in me!), but that said, as an older adult I do find it difficult to write a lot of text by hand because I seem to be losing a little of my fine motor control.
For me, it makes more sense in general to write on a computer. I consider myself a writer and so I want to make my writing as good as I can. Dashing off emails to family and friends about my trips is fine, but I tend to run off into too many tangents. If I take the time to write what I want, then read it over and edit, my writing is much better. That is what I’ve done in transcribing my journals of my Baltic Sea cruise to make them more concise and focused, while at the same time keeping in the things that make the writing interesting. I think if I had lived a century ago and had had to write and edit everything by hand, I’d have given up by now!!
My only disappointment is that, while normally my travel journals are the most popular subject I blog about, this time I have not gotten a lot of hits or “likes.” So whoever is reading this out in blogland, please take the time and read my blog entries about the places I visited. I promise you’ll find them interesting!!
We docked at Tallinn on a beautiful day. At 7:45 a.m., the temperature was 25°C/77°F!
My husband got sick on the ship yesterday, and was quarantined for 24 hours – obviously no one wants a virus to spread like wildfire through the cruise ship! So I was on my own on the shore excursion to Tallinn, Estonia today, and sat by myself on the bus, wearing a bright green sticker with the number 8.
The guide was a very handsome young man named Uve, (he looks a lot like a young Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey!) who was funny, spoke very good English, and told us a lot of stories about his country.
. The Estonian language
Estonian belongs to a small language group called the Uralic languages (named for the Ural Mountains, where the ancestor of these languages is thought to have originated). There are four main languages in this group, Uve said: Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, and Elvish.
Several people giggled at this, assuming it was a joke – which it was, but only partly. J.R.R. Tolkien liked the melodic sound of Finnish and when he created the language for the hobbits in the Lord of the Rings series, Uve told us, he incorporated the inflection of the Uralic languages and some of their words into the fictional language of the hobbits. (For more information, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_constructed_by_J._R._R._Tolkien).
The nearest relative to the Estonian language is Finnish, which shares many similar words. Estonian is a difficult language, because unlike most European languages, there are no prepositions. Suffixes are added to words to describe a relationship in the way prepositions do for us. Also, Estonian has 14 cases! And there is no future tense – (Uve joked about that too, telling us that there is a saying that the reason the language has no future tense is because Estonia has no future) – so listeners use the context to figure out when the speaker is talking about the future. Furthermore, there are no genders: “dema” means man or woman. In spite of the country’s geography and history, Estonian is very unlike Slavic and Germanic languages spoken in surrounding countries, although they have borrowed many words from these languages.
The second major language spoken here is Russian, due to Estonia’s position as one of the former Soviet Republics and Russian influence during the time of the czars. All schoolchildren in the Soviet era had to learn Russian as their second language. However, since the break-up of the USSR in which the Soviet Republics all regained their independence, English has risen in importance and is now the most spoken foreign language in Estonia. Signs in Tallinn were often written in three languages – Estonian, Russian and English. I found that everyone I spoke to in Tallinn understood and spoke at least some English.
. The port of Tallinn Estonia gets about 300 cruise ship visits per summer and the tourist industry has grown tremendously. There is also extensive ferry service between Tallinn and Helsinki. The two have a close relationship and a friendly rivalry. The ferries use their own harbor, as do the cruise ships, while cargo ships use another harbor.
Currently there are 6 cruise ships docked here in Tallinn, some smaller and some larger than ours. Calculating an average of 2,000 passengers per ship, that means there are close to 12,000 tourists in Tallinn today, in addition to tourists NOT on cruise ships, not to mention the actual residents of Tallinn! This made sightseeing and keeping track of our tour somewhat difficult – more on that later! Anyway, trying to take pictures without a bunch of tourists blocking the view was a challenge!
Coastal Estonia is better suited for cargo ships than Russia. The soil in that part of Russia is very soft and sloped, not conducive to building ports. This may be one reason why Tallinn is much older than St. Petersburg, which was founded in the 1700s.
Kadriorg (Catherine’s Palace)
Catherine’s Palace (Kadriorg, which in Estonian means “Catherine’s Valley” even though it really isn’t), is in a suburb of Tallinn. The palace was commissioned by Peter the Great and construction began in 1718, as a gift to his second wife, Catherine I. The location was selected because Peter recognized the need for access to ports and therefore had to establish a Russian presence in the area. The palace, built in symmetrical Baroque style, including the gardens in front, was the summer palace of the czars until the overthrow of the monarchy. It’s quite a beautiful place, although we did not tour the inside, which is now an art museum.
In the same vicinity are the president’s residence and an art museum built in an ultra modern architectural style with beautiful rose gardens on the sloped ground in front of it. I was surprised to find the president’s house so lacking in security – there is no fence or wall in front, and I saw only two guards at the main entrance – until Uve told us that it is the prime minister that has the most power; the president’s job is much less important – he only has veto power for legislation.
Laulupidu (Song Festival)
Our next stop was at the song festival grounds. The song festival, Laulupidu in Estonian, was established in 1869 and has been held every 5 years since then. Choirs come from all over the country and now even a few international ones participate. In the 1960s, a new stage was built, and spreading out in front is a huge lawn lined with intersecting walkways. The festival grounds can accommodate more than 100,000 people and the entire space was packed at last year’s festival. The next festival will be held in the summer of 2019.
I include all this in here because looking at these articles moved me so much as I began to listen to the music and understand the importance this festival has for the Estonian people.
. Religion in Estonia
The main religions of Estonia are Russian Orthodox and Lutheran. Many people became Lutheran after the Protestant Reformation and Lutherans make up the largest denomination now. There is a beautiful Russian Orthodox cathedral in the old town, Alexander Nevsky, built in 1900, which must be the most photographed structure in Tallinn! The crosses on top of the cathedral have 2 cross bars, which is the Orthodox symbol of the cross.
1980 Olympic games
We then visited a nice marina, which was where sailing events in the 1980 Olympics were held. Uve gave two reasons for this: Estonia’s coastline was more suitable than Russia’s and also the Soviet government wanted to impress upon Estonia, and the world, their control of the region and the “close ties” between the two countries. Nowadays the small Olympic village houses a hotel and sports offices.
As I mentioned before, most of the Soviet leaders were not well-educated. Estonians tell this joke about Leonid Brezhnev, who wasn’t considered very smart – he had had little education and needed help when making speeches. At the opening of the Olympic sailing events in Tallinn, the joke goes, he held a paper supposedly containing his speech. But when he opened his mouth, all he uttered was, “Oh. Oh. Oh. Oh – oh.” An aide approached him and loudly whispered, “Comrade Brezhnev, you needn’t read that part – that’s the Olympics logo!”