Month: October 2015

Weekly Photo Challenge: Treat

This week’s photo challenge is: Treat.

Such an appropriate topic, because I planned to treat myself that very day! On Friday, Oct. 30, my husband and I went to the Lyric Opera in Chicago for the first time in a few years, to see Cinderella by Rossini. Afterward, we went to have dinner at the Florian Opera Bistro, a habit we developed when we used to go to the opera regularly. The opera and the Bistro were my Halloween “treat”!

First, there was the anticipation: We got off the train downtown at Ogilvie station, and crossed Madison street. I could see the sign on the opera house as we approached.

Crossing the bridge from the train station - the opera house is up ahead!
Crossing the bridge from the train station – the opera house is up ahead!

20151030_133645Photo opp: Having our picture taken by one of the ushers:

20151030_175827The program, which I always read: There is a synopsis as well as a history of the opera:

Cinderella programAfterward, we went to the Florian Opera Bistro for dinner – reviving a former tradition, but also, because this show was a matinee, to avoid rush hour on the train home:

Wine with dinner at the Bistro
Wine with dinner at the Bistro

The opera and the Bistro were my Halloween “treat”!

My 5K, October 26, 2015

I joined Automattic’s Worldwide WP 5K 2015!  I took a route I use often, which I know is a bit over 3 miles (5K). Here’s my story:

It’s 4:30 on a late October afternoon – the perfect time to go for a walk on this beautiful fall day! The colors are gorgeous, further enhanced by the sun, low in the sky now, adding a glow to the bright colors.

First, which shoes? I am going to wear the walking shoes I’ve been using for many months now, including every day on my trip to Europe. The soles are somewhat worn:

20151025_195457…but as long as I wear socks with good support, they are fine.

Before leaving, I take a drink of water from the bottle I bring with me.

20151025_163534_2This is what I see as I walk down the stairs into my driveway:

20151025_16335620151025_163445And I’m off! Here are some of the sights in Des Plaines, Illinois that I see in Mile 1:

Under a canopy of yellows, oranges and reds
Under a canopy of yellows, oranges and reds
This is one of the more interesting Halloween displays in the neighborhood.
This is one of the more interesting Halloween displays in the neighborhood.

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This is probably the weirdest, or most original, Halloween display I've seen!
This is probably the weirdest, or at least most original, Halloween display I’ve seen!

I finally arrive at Prairie Lakes Park & Fitness Center, which is Mile 1:

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I have no idea why this picture came out in sepia tones instead of color - I must have hit an edit button by mistake.
I have no idea why this picture came out in sepia tones instead of color – I must have hit an edit button by mistake.

I enter the park.

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I start down the 3/4 mile path around the park.
I start down the 3/4 mile path around the park.

20151025_170306Here are some real beauties!

20151025_170401 20151025_170540A man sets up his tripod and camera to take pictures of his pregnant wife.  She perches on the top of the bench, waiting to pose.

20151025_17080620151025_170841A jogger passes me on the path:

20151025_170953The path winds around another pond, where the bright colored trees reflect in the water.

20151025_17110220151025_171309 20151025_171236A group of Canadian geese and a duck couple swim through the golden ripples.

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Last time I saw mallard ducks (about a week ago), they were in a large group, with many males and a fewer number of females. Ducks mate for life, and, I’m told – by my niece, who’s seen it – go through a pairing ritual in which the ducks surround a male and female, who then swim off together. As I contemplate the scene above, I wonder if this couple has already mated, as it would seem, since they are alone together.

Continuing on, I saw people walking their dogs, soccer players, boys on scooters jumping the skateboard ramps, kids playing basketball, and a young mother doing work on her laptop while her son plays on the playground.

20151025_171554 20151025_171829_4 20151025_172044 20151025_172120 I’ve walked the full 3/4 mile loop and take the path back out to the street…

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20151025_172452When I get to the intersection of Wolf and Dempster, I’ve walked two miles!

20151025_172818I cross the street, my shadow elongated ahead of me.

20151025_172858I take Rose Street for a block and see more houses decorated for Halloween.
20151025_173204 20151025_173440Back on Prairie Avenue, I begin to retrace my steps back toward home.

I collect mushroom pictures, so I took a picture of this grungy fungus growing on a tree's bark.
I collect mushroom pictures, so I took a picture of this grungy-looking fungus growing on a tree’s bark.
One neighbor cleared the leaves off his lawn, the neighbor next door didn't.
One neighbor cleared the leaves off his lawn, the neighbor next door didn’t.

In our city, homeowners pile their leaves alongside the curb, and a truck comes along weekly to scoop them up. Since pick-up is tomorrow, the “lazy” neighbor will probably not have his leaves picked up until next week.

This Halloween display is very bizarre…Mt. Olive? A naked baby in a swinging basket? And a noose? Am I missing a cultural reference here??

20151025_173911Prairie Avenue stretches out ahead of me.

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Another flaming maple shows off her brilliance.
Another flaming maple shows off her brilliance.

I cross the railroad tracks and admire the tall trees ahead, their trunks and branches burnished by the late afternoon sunlight.

20151025_17482220151025_174918Potawatomie Park – I’m almost home!

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A neighbor's Halloween display
A neighbor’s Halloween display

20151022_162556The tree above is approximately the three mile mark, but I wait until I reach our deck to count Mile 3:

20151026_133651I did it! Now, time for a snack… (Hmmm, it looks like I also have some leaves to sweep/rake before the next pick up!)

I hope you have enjoyed sharing this 5K walk with me!

All pictures were taken by me with a mobile Galaxy S4 in Des Plaines, Illinois, USA, on October 26, 2015.

Sigtuna, Sweden: Runic stones, a church, and Lake Malaren

August 14, 2015 (continued): Sigtuna, Sweden

Sigtuna, the oldest town in Sweden (founded 980 AD), is not far from the airport. It has a renowned boarding school and is often a destination for church retreats. The name of Sigtuna comes from an old English word for town (tuna), which was originally a Viking word. Its history before the 11th century is recounted in old Norse sagas. Its population is currently about 8,500 inhabitants.
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First things first: Lunch
First stop: an inn or house where tables were already set with glasses, tableware, napkins, bread, and plates of salad in a large dining room. Soon after we got there, two more tour groups from the Eurodam arrived to have lunch with us.
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After the salad and bread, we were served an entrée: chicken breast over julienned vegetables. For dessert we each got a wedge of chocolate cake that was like eating fudge! We could help ourselves to coffee or tea. On shore, I always had coffee when given the chance, because the free coffee on the ship was American style (to get good coffee I had to pay for it!).

KODAK Digital Still CameraRunic stones and mythology
At a park, Britt showed us stones with runic writing, which came from the Vikings. The runic writing encircles an illustration in the middle. For example, on one stone there was a cross, indicating that the subject was a Christian, and also a weapon. Plaques near the stones gave a translation of the writing. By reading them, I realized that these stones were like gravestones, extolling the virtues of important people who had died. However, it was fairly common for an important man to create stones about himself during his lifetime. One chieftain erected at least five stones dedicated to himself!
KODAK Digital Still Camera KODAK Digital Still CameraBritt told us about an ancient creation myth in which a god threw a giant into the air. The giant’s cranium became the sun; to keep it up there, the gods created the directions: north, south, east and west. The giant’s bones became mountains, his blood became rivers and seas. Eventually the gods fashioned the first two people out of tree trunks, and they were endowed with life, soul, and intelligence. Their names were Ask and Embla. Hell was a cold place of snow and ice – nothing else.
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Thor was a hammer-swinging god, associated with storms, thunder and lightning. The word “thunder” derives from the Norse word “Thor.” Odin was the god of wisdom, who learned from suffering. He was associated with healing, death, knowledge, and the runic alphabet, among other things.
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The ruin of a church
We saw a couple of these stones, then crossed the street to see the ruin of an old church. High up on one of the remaining walls was another runic stone. In those days, people would sometimes use stones with writing on them as building materials, not realizing their future archaeological value!
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Next to the ruined church was this cemetery.
Next to the ruined church was this cemetery.

KODAK Digital Still Camera KODAK Digital Still Camera KODAK Digital Still Camera KODAK Digital Still Camera KODAK Digital Still CameraSt. Mary’s (Mariakyrkan) Lutheran church
Next, we visited a now Lutheran church dated from the 13th century, which is in remarkably good condition, an example of brick Gothic architecture. It was renovated in the early 20th century and then again in the 1960s. Surrounding the church is a burial ground.

St. Mary's, built in the 13th century. Remains of another church have been excavated beneath it.
St. Mary’s, built in the 13th century. Remains of another church have been excavated beneath it.

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grave for the unknown
grave for the unknown

KODAK Digital Still CameraInside was dark and peaceful. The walls were painted with designs as well as Biblical figures and scenes. Light slanted in through the stained glass panes of arched windows.
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Prominent family buried here had one son and five daughters.
Prominent family buried here had one son and five daughters.

In front, to the left of the altar was the tombstone of a family, most likely a prominent one, with the couple carved on top. Next to the carving of the man was one child (a son). Next to the carving of the woman were five children (five daughters).KODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still CameraWe then were free to walk around town – little shops along a couple of streets, the Town Hall, and off to the left, Malaren Lake, on which Sigtuna is situated. We went into the Town Hall, to see the contraption put on people who were taken to jail because they were drunk. There were two rooms inside – one room was lined with chairs, where people could wait for an audience with the officials. This room also had furnishings of a dining room and a green marble fireplace.The
other room would have been used as a jail for temporarily holding delinquents.

Sigtuna Town Hall
Sigtuna Town Hall

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The iron collar at left was put on the necks of drunks who were brought in to the jail.
The iron collar at left was put on the necks of drunks who were brought in to the jail.

After that, we strolled down the street with lots of souvenir shops.

KODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still CameraThen we headed down to the lake on a sloping street past picturesque houses (some quite large) with pretty gardens.

KODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still CameraAlong the lake was a park, including a spiral path with a faux runic stone in the middle, a miniature golf course that used tiny versions of local buildings for the holes, and many ducks who hoped for tidbits from an old couple sitting on a bench. There were lots of ducks in the lake as well, and I took a nice picture of a little girl on the lake shore trying to attract them.

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This illustration shows Sigtuna seen from the sea. Every inch of the shore is used for houses.
This illustration shows historical Sigtuna seen from the sea. Every inch of the shore is used for houses.

KODAK Digital Still CameraMiniature golf with a building that looks like the Sigtuna town hall!

KODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still Camera KODAK Digital Still CameraNext:  Vasa Museum

Gamla Stan: Stockholm’s “most amazing” statue, old-fashioned “Big Brother” and leaning houses

August 14, 2015 – Stockholm, Sweden (Day 1)

We met our guide, Britt, at our bus and proceeded to Gamla Stan, which means “Old Town” in Swedish, stopping briefly at a lookout point first, with a view of the harbor. Stockholm doesn’t get a lot of cargo ships (perhaps because there is a larger cargo facility in Malmö), but it does get lots of cruise ships, and there are a lot of ferries between Stockholm and Helsinki, Tallinn, and St. Petersburg.

Military ship in harbor
Military ship in harbor, cruise ship coming in

½ of the city of Stockholm is surrounded by salt water, ½ is fresh water from Lake Mälaren, whose easternmost bay is Riddarfjärden which is surrounded by central Stockholm. (More on this lake, and pictures, in Day 2). Lake Mälaren is the third largest lake in Sweden, and provides drinking water for seven towns. The city occupies 14 islands. (Holm means island.) In the metropolitan area, about 1/3 is green, 1/3 is water, and 1/3 is concrete or buildings. One island that used to be a royal hunting ground now has a zoo with Nordic animals. Our first stop on the tour - look out point

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100_1010In Gamla Stan we stopped in a main square flanked by the Stockholm Cathedral (we didn’t go in) and the Royal Palace (Sweden has a constitutional monarchy). The square fills up with tour buses and there was a lot of construction, including scaffolding on part of the palace.

Gama Stan - Old Town Stockholm
Gama Stan – Old Town Stockholm
Stockholm Cathedral and monument to  Gustav IV Adolph (King of Sweden 1782-1809)
Stockholm Cathedral and monument to Gustav IV Adolph (King of Sweden 1782-1809)
Close up of the facade of the Royal Palace
Close up of the facade of the Royal Palace

In spite of the monument to Gustav IV (who was also the last Swedish king of Finland), the most popular monarch was Gustav III Adolph, Gustav IV’s father. He enacted many cultural reforms, and established freedom of religion and of the press. He had a dramatic death in 1792, when he was mortally wounded by gunshot at a masquerade ball. He died 13 days later. Verdi’s opera Un ballo en maschera is based on this story.
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We walked from there to a church, behind which, our guide Britt said, was the “largest statue in Sweden – you’ll be amazed!” There was another tour group already there when we arrived, crowded around something that couldn’t be seen above their heads. As they moved on, we saw a small statue about 6 inches high on a small platform, called “The Iron Boy”.

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The sculptor meant it only to be a self-portrait: a boy who can’t sleep so he sits on his bed and looks up at the moon. However, it’s taken on an almost mythic reputation. Rubbing his head (which is now shiny from so much rubbing) is supposed to bring good luck. Britt said either you come back to Stockholm, you’ll find love, or something else I can’t remember – I rubbed his head because I want and intend to come back to Stockholm! Also in the winter, people knit hats and scarves for him and dress him warmly. All this for a tiny sculpture without a face!

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Britt then led us down the oldest street in Stockholm. She stopped at a doorway marked “No. 7” and told us to look upward. High up on the windows protruded little concave boxlike things which Britt told us were actually mirrors, allowing a person to spy on their next door neighbors to see if anything improper was happening! Big Brother of the 17th century!

The narrow streets of Old Town were crowded with tourists.
The narrow streets of Old Town were crowded with tourists. The only way to keep track of our guide was to follow the sign marked with a red 12.

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The 17th century had its share of Peeping Toms!
The 17th century had its share of Peeping Toms!

Some of the little streets in Old Town were extremely narrow – imagine navigating them in the winter when there are only a few hours of daylight! Down some of these alleyways were pretty gardens bordering small hidden courtyards.

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KODAK Digital Still CameraWe also saw the leaning houses on Stortorget, another plaza in Gamla Stan. The 2nd one, particularly (yellow) – it leans 90 cm!

The leaning houses in Stortorget square - the yellow one leans 90 cm!The Nobel museum is also on Stortorget, along with benches and sidewalk cafes filled with people enjoying this beautiful August day, their last week of summer vacation!

Because there are months in which there is little daylight – in Stockholm, sunrise is about 9 a.m. in December, and sunset is about 3:30 p.m. (farther north, there are only two hours of daylight in December and January!) – the Swedes are sun worshippers: they take advantage of daylight hours and warm weather in the summer to spend time outside. The June Solstice is a national holiday; many people leave the city. Many people own summer homes they go to during summer vacations – those that don’t have one, go to the cottages of relatives or friends.

Unlike the northern part of the United States, Stockholm doesn’t get much snow in the winter; although temperature-wise, its winters are much like ours.

Nobel Museum, history of the Nobel prize
Nobel Museum, history of the Nobel prize

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Stockholm Cathedral bell tower
Storkyrkan bell tower

Stortorget, incidentally, is the oldest square in Stockholm, its historical center from which the city expanded. There was originally a wall surrounding the town and as the city grew, parts of the wall were knocked down and rebuilt farther out.

We walked toward the Lutheran cathedral, Storkyrkan (also known as Stockholm Cathedral), with a clock on the face of its tower, where bells tolled the hour. Nearby, I saw a funny, old fashioned telephone booth that no longer contains a phone, merely a silver plate with graffiti covering the spot where the telephone had been.

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We then returned to our tour bus – a bit disappointing as I wanted to see more of Old Town Stockholm, but we were on our way to another city about half an hour drive from Stockholm. I hoped to be able to spend more time in Stockholm on Day 2.

Another view of the Nobel Museum
Another view of the Nobel Museum
Tour buses alongside the Royal Palace
Tour buses alongside the Royal Palace

Next: Sigtuna, Sweden

Photo Essay: October trees

Autumn is such a beautiful time of year! Lately the weather has been pleasant so I am taking advantage of it to take long walks. Today I took a variety of tree pictures, which I am sharing with you here.  All the pictures were taken with my cell phone camera.

Solo
SoloDuo
DuoMini-duet in red
Red duoTrio in orange
Trio in orangeTree-O!
This tree’s branches form an “O” where it has been trimmed around the telephone wires.

Tree O ! Ensemble in red:  Each townhouse seems to have its own red tree in front.
Townhomes and treesShades of red

Shades of red‘Fro!  The juxtaposition of two trees, the one behind bare of leaves makes it look like the tree has a frizzy hairdo!
20151021_152919Precocious!
Precocious!Nests
3 nestsClose up and personal
Close-up maple leavesCrowning glory!
Crowning glory!I hope you have enjoyed walking with me through my neighborhood!

Where:  Des Plaines, Illinois, USA
When:  October 21, 2015
Weather Conditions: Overcast but unseasonably warm
Camera: Galaxy S4 cell phone

Porvoo, Finland

Aug. 13, 2015

Our last destination on this, our only day in Finland, was in Porvoo, a town of about 50,000 inhabitants. First we drove past a pretty cemetery, which our guide told us was a “hero cemetery” for those killed in wars – this well-maintained cemetery contained gravestones uniform in size and shape. Boxes of pretty red flowers were placed neatly on each grave.

Our first glimpse of Porvoo from across the river
Our first glimpse of Porvoo from across the river. The very top of the Lutheran cathedral can be seen on top of a steep hill.

KODAK Digital Still Camera DSC_0950 DSC_0953Our guide passed out maps of Porvoo with numbers indicated places of interest. One of these, which she strongly recommended, was Brunberg, a candy store specializing in different kinds of chocolate.  We headed there first, patiently waited our turn while plenty of other tourists sampled chocolates and made their selections. I noticed a map of the world on the wall, with hundreds of pins stuck in it. Each pin represented where a visitor to the store was from.

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Spiral staircase in Brunberg's chocolate shop
Spiral staircase in Brunberg’s chocolate shop

When it was our turn, we did sample some chocolates, but left without buying any: “The last thing we need is more sweets!” my husband reminded me. We had already bought pastries and a box of cookies at the market in Helsinki that morning.

We strolled down the shopping street, went in a few stores, and admired the simple beauty of this town. As everywhere we’d been, people were taking advantage of the beautiful summer weather sitting at outdoor cafes and strolling the streets, although it was not nearly as crowded as the major cities had been, which was nice for a change!

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Town hall of Porvoo
Town hall of Porvoo

KODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still Camera100_0946DSC_0959DSC_0957DSC_0958We then took another street to the cathedral which wasn’t as steep as the more direct route. There were schoolchildren sitting outside drawing – three young boys were drawing a rectangular monument next to the church, and three older girls were drawing the cathedral itself. An Asian man with an expensive camera was taking pictures of them, which the girls allowed with embarrassed smiles. KODAK Digital Still Camera KODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still CameraThe cathedral was open so we went inside.  The walls and ceilings were painted with designs and there were a few family coats of arms hanging on the wall.

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Every church we've visited in the Baltic area has a ship representing the importance of their maritime economies, and to offer prayers for sailors past and present.
Every church we’ve visited in the Baltic area has a ship representing the importance of their maritime economies, and to offer prayers for sailors past and present.

KODAK Digital Still CameraKODAK Digital Still CameraDSC_0961Back outside, we admired the view from on top of the hill before descending the steep street that led straight down to the bridge we had crossed when we entered the town.

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WPC: (Extra)ordinary – discoveries of ordinary life in Finland

Weekly Photo Challenge: (Extra) Ordinary:

I like to notice small things or everyday things when I’m traveling that most people don’t notice in their quest to take a picture of that majestic cathedral or beautiful scenery.  For example, in Porvoo, Finland (a town of about 50,000 inhabitants), we were walking on the main shopping street, when I saw this children’s chair (I tried to sit in it and didn’t fit!) with a crown affixed to the top, so a child could imagine she was a princess on her throne, perhaps:

100_0946The notches on the back of the chair presumably allow the crown to be adjustable for different sized children.

Flowers are often beautiful, but sometimes their beauty is enhanced by focusing on just one flower. While my post about Savijarvi Farm contained many pictures of the “main attractions” – the horses, the furnishings of the house, the food – this picture of a flower is one of my favorites:

KODAK Digital Still CameraAlso on Savijarvi Farm was this row of mailboxes, one for each family living there:

Each family has their own mailbox.Noticing these small things, I think, gives me a connection to the place I wouldn’t otherwise have. While most of my travel pictures are interesting tourist attractions, I love discovering these (extra)ordinary things of daily life.