Thursday, July 26, 2012

Our visit to Monet's white alabaster cliffs

One of the most beautiful places we visited while in France was a small town called Etretat in Normandy. We got there about 9 pm, which was more than an hour before the sun actually set. And, after checking in to our rooms, we spent at least an hour as we watched the sun set. It was possibly the most incredible sunset I've ever seen. And, Monet enjoyed this particular spot, too.

Monet's The Cliffs at Etretat from Wikipedia
I wasn't as familiar with these paintings, but Monet painted the cliffs many times. Etretat sits on part of the coast known as The Alabaster Coast. It encompasses 80 miles of sheer, white cliffs starting at Etretat. We only made it to Etretat, but it was an incredible night... and morning!

This was the first photo I took as we arrived at the beach. By now, it was close to 9:30 and I thought the sun would be down in minutes. The sun had been setting really late while in Europe, so I should have known better! But, my experience at the lake told me that when the sun is this low, it'll disappear fast. But, no! I bet we had another hour before the sun sank below the horizon.

Our hotel was about 3 blocks from the water. We were on the 3rd floor (without elevators and with several heavy suitcases!) and we could see this chapel on the cliff. We had meant to climb up either this side or the other (the town, in the middle where we are, is pretty flat), but my mom's foot was really bothering her. So, we didn't. But, just being on the beach was incredible. (Have I mentioned that already?)

I wish I could take you all with me to hear the sound of the water as the waves rolled out! The whole beach is pebbles and you have to get really close to the water to hear this, but... each time the water rolls out there is this incredible sound! I finally decided it sounded like a rain stick. It's really loud, too, though you have to be close to hear it. Amazing!

I love how you can see the sunset reflecting in Alex's glasses. By the way, these pebbles are hard to walk in! It's quite a workout! But, so worth it.

Alex has gotten pretty good at taking self-portraits... and even photos of the two of us. It was hard to believe that this was the 'middle of summer' and that there were so few people out on the beach! I bet there were 30 or less. We are close to the cliffs on the right side of the beach, so you can get an idea of how long the beach is.

Alex enjoying the sunset. At this point, I think it was actually quite a bit darker than it looks in this photo. This was one of the last few I took.

And, sadly, the sun is finally actually setting...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

More photos from "Monet's gardens"

I was asked for more photos from Monet's gardens at Giverny, and I'm happy to share them with you all! Here goes...
Les Nympheas is the restaurant we ate at located at the gardens. Did you know that Monet called waterlillies by their scientific name, les nympheas?

A beautiful snail... we saw quite a few snails!

This was our first view of the famous bridge. We are actually standing on a bridge at the opposite side of the pond. You can barely see 'the bridge' above Alex's head.

From the bridge (above where Alex is standing), if you look the opposite way you will see this boat that was also in Monet's paintings... or perhaps a boat LIKE the one he painted.

Doesn't this just look Impressionistic? (if that is a word...)

A rare shot of the bridge without any people on it. I wish there were fewer waterlillies so you could see the reflection of the bridge more clearly.

I was standing beside 'the bridge' to take this shot. You can see the lesser known bridge (the one Alex was standing on earlier) at the back of the pond to the right.

This is a second story window of Monet's house which looks over the gardens, not the pond. We were able to tour it, but not to take photos inside of it. His studio has recreations of about 30-40 pieces of his artwork. Work by other artists, including some Japanese artists who inspired Monet, are scattered throughout the house.

I hope you enjoyed these (additional) photos! We also visited the cathedral that Monet painted so many times AND the cliffs that he painted! I wasn't familiar with them, but the evening we spent on the beach by the cliffs was incredible. I'll share those next, I think.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Do you recognize this? It's "Monet's Garden!"

Yes, it's Monet's Garden! We had an incredible time visiting Giverny, the place of Monet's gardens, in Normandy, France. The weather this day was perfect and the gardens were more beautiful than I had imagined.

When you enter the gardens, you are first in a real garden area. It is HUGE! There are probably 8-12 rows that you can wander down. Unfortunately, I only took closeups so I can't really give you a good idea of what it looked like. We also saw quite a few gardeners busy pruning and doing other garden jobs.

Alex took lots of photos with my 'big' camera!
After leaving the regular gardens, you go through an underground tunnel. I believe the tunnel went under a road. Then, you go on a fairly long path that winds around different water features... until you arrive at the famous waterlily pond (1st photo). Wow! It's gorgeous!

It's very hard to get a photo of yourself alone on the famous bridge, though we did manage to get one of my mother. It was really crowded around the main pond, but there were other, quieter areas. Alex & I posed on this bridge that was behind the waterlily pond and were able to get a shot of just the two of us.

To Be or Not To Be

We've all heard those words many times, right? And, we know they are from a Shakespeare play. But, until last week I didn't know they were from Hamlet. And, I didn't know they were spoken by Hamlet as he contemplated suicide.

We are considering seeing an outdoor production of Hamlet next month. So, I wanted to learn the story. I actually started by watching the 3 part BBC cartoon production, and then I came across this Video Sparknotes: Shakespear's Hamlet Summary (posted above). It is a great video summary of the play.

You can Google for the other 2 parts of the BBC production, but Part I (above) can be found by clicking here.

I also enjoyed two other sites, both of which discuss the meaning of certain quotes from Hamlet. The first is a SparkNotes site (click here) and the second is from CliffNotes (click here). Both also offer additional information, but so far I've only read the quote section.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Seeing Lenin & Stalin

I'm going to skip ahead on our trip because I watched a movie about Stalin over the past two days. Besides France, we were able to visit three other countries: Finland, Estonia and Sweden. While in Estonia for three days, we went on a semi-private tour (7 people of which we were 5) of occupied Estonia. One of our stops on the tour was a pile of old statues behind a museum - primarily statues of Lenin, Stalin, and some soldiers.
our family with statues of Lenin and Stalin in Tallinn, Estonia
We took some photos of all of us around a statue of Lenin. To tell the truth, at the time I didn't know which statues were Stalin and which were Lenin. We were smiling and that later disturbed me. Would we have been smiling around a statue of Hitler? Is it because we don't understand the horror of these men? Maybe. But, as I thought more about it today, I realized that we were primarily smiling because of where we were... we were standing next to a piece of history. And, these statues weren't terrorizing people any more... they were piled up and neglected and no longer a threat. The people of Estonia are FREE!
my photo of Stalin statue in Tallinn
The History Channel documentary I just watched (online) is called "Stalin: Man of Steel." It was an amazing tale of a ruthless man who led to the death of millions of his people... but was strangely still their beloved Father. At the end of this post I'm going to share some of the notes I took - many of them actual words from the movie. But, if you are interested in learning more about him, I recommend this movie.

My notes:

The Romanov's had ruled Russia for over 200 years and it was the goal of revolutionaries, including Stalin, to overthrow them. On October 25, 1917, the Bolshevik's stormed the winter palace in St Petersburg and the Tzar was toppled. Lenin became the new leader of Russia. (Question: did Lenin take power immediately?)

Stalin worked as an enforcer in the Communist party during the next five years and was then elected General Secretary. Eventually, he became Lenin's right hand man. When Lenin died in 1924, there were two possible successors: Stalin or Trotsky. Congress went against Lenin's will and chose Stalin and exhiling Trotsky (who would be later assassinated under Stalin's orders).

Stalin, wanting only loyalty to himself, banned the Russian Orthodox religion and had all religious materials destroyed. He had the churches destroyed and thousands of priests executed. Then, he set himself up as a new god... and his image hung in every home.

Russia was a land of peasants and swamplands, but Stalin started industralizing building major factories and railroad tracks. Then, he took all of the agricultural land and created "collectives" - giant state-owned farms. The farmers who refused to deliver their harvests were subject to violence.

By 1932, modernization was taking its toll on the rural population. As 5 million people starved, Stalin had 5 millions TONS of grain exported! But, life in Moscow was good... if you followed the party lines!

A wave of political execution  followed with neighbors turning against neighbors and quotas set for how many people needed to be killed. Troika (groups of 3) went around conducting brief trials before executing people. In two years, 1.5 million people were killed.

Kolyma Goldmine from Wikipedia
Even as millions of people died in the Gulags, the prisoner's put their trust in Stalin. They thought he didn't know what was going on and would save them if he only knew. They thought he was a saint. In the Kolyma Gulag, a camp where gold was mined, the death rate was nearly 100%.

In the late 1930's, Stalin ordered a purge of his fellow party members and military leaders. He had 8 of his top generals executed and over 30,000 officers were killed over the next two years. Stalin wanted to raise up new leaders who would be faithful only to him.

In 1939, Hitler and Stalin signed a non-agression pact, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. But, on the 22nd of June, 1941, Hitler ignores the pact and attacks Russia. The Red Army is surprised and suffers heavy losses. The Soviet people fight for the Motherland and for their beloved Stalin.

Russia suffers massive losses, until winter sets in and they are able to save Moscow. Leningrad, however, is under seige by Germany for 900 days and over 1 million people die.

Yalta Conference from Wikipedia
Stalin had been pushing the Alllies to start another front, but that didn't come until June 6, 1944... D-Day. In 1945, the Yalta Conference takes place in the Crimea with Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill. Stalin demands control of German territories in the East and the other leaders, tired of war, concede.

In April 1945 the war is basically over, but Stalin pushes his army hard to be the first to reach Berlin. He sacrifices hundreds of thousands of soldiers and his officials discover the body of Hitler in his bunker. However, he keeps this information top secret. Russia is now a Superpower and Stalin is a hero.

The Postdam Conference takes place in July of 1945 when the leaders of the 3 Superpowers - Stalin, Churchill & Truman - divide territory among themselves.

On March 2nd, 1953, Stalin has a stroke and dies three days later. Russia mourns. Even those who have lost loved ones weep. Stalin has created himself into a mythical being... and he's turned a country full of peasants into a Superpower.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Outside of Notre Dame

I showed photos of the inside of Notre Dame. Now for some outside photos!

Welcome to Notre Dame!

Gargoyles. These are said to watch over the Seine River for drowning victims! (One of Alex's photos)

Part of the Gallery of Kings. There were 28 kings, probably meant to depict the Kings of Judah. However, there was confusion during the French Revolution and they thought these represented kings of France and they were destroyed. 21 of the original heads were found in 1977 and are now in the Musee de Cluny. These are recreations. Originally, these were quite colorful. (photo by Alex)

Another photo by Alex. I'm not sure what this represents, but someone is standing on this man!

My photo of Saint Denis, a martyr I studied before heading to Paris!

Inside Notre Dame Cathedral

One of the places Alex was most excited about visiting in Paris was the Notre Dame Cathedral. She ended up using my 'big' camera, and taking hundreds of photos. It was an amazing visit! We were just disappointed that, when we go into line to climb to the top of the towers, the line closed down for the night! Ugh! And, we had plans on going back later in the week, but we never made it.

It's amazing how Notre Dame towers over you. But, even more amazing, is the view from inside...

Wow! Pictures hardly do this justice. The ceilings are so incredibly tall! And, this was a Sunday morning and they were having a service. We were there over an hour and the service was still going on. The singing was absolutely gorgeous!!! I could have stayed for hours.

We found the Treasury very interesting. The treasury houses relics of various saints and holy people. Relics are items left behind by these people - it can be an actual part of the person (like a bone or some hair) or something used by the person (like a robe or Jesus' cross). The above reliquary has bone fragments from several saints. If I remember correctly, the center relic includes part of a jaw and a tooth of a saint. Notre Dame has 3 (unproven) relics from Jesus - the crown of thorns, a nail from the cross, and a piece of the cross.

There is artwork throughout the cathedral and I believe this painting was in the Treasury also. It's a detail showing Jesus washing the feet of a disciple.

Another view showing the incredibly high ceilings and some of the stained glass windows.

This is a view from the back. There are several thousand people sitting listening to the service. And, there are hundreds of visitors walking around, in silence, observing this amazing cathedral and taking photos. Again, the music was incredible and I wish I would have recorded a little of it.

Visiting the Louvre

Last week we returned from our big European trip! I have over 2,500 photos. Gulp! But, I'm ready to make my first post... our trip to the world famous art museum, the Louvre.

Alex & me in front of the Louvre & I.M. Pei's pyramid
After traveling "all day and all night", we arrived at our hotel by the Louvre about 10:30 a.m. Paris time. Even though we'd only slept about 3-4 hours, we decided to skip a nap and try to stay up until 7 p.m. We walked the few blocks to the Louvre and got lunch at a food court. I had a pizza and Alex had McDonald's - which was very easy as they had a computer you could order from in English!

My brother, who has visited Paris several times before, was able to help us find the 'other' entrance into the Louvre and skip the long lines. Our entry led us through the base of the old medieval fortress. The Louvre was started in 1190 when King Phillipe Auguste built this massive fortress as protection against invaders. Since that time, it has been added to many times, in many styles, to become the Louvre that is known around the world today.

During our visit, we mapped out a few of our "must sees"... those works of art the Louvre is particularly famous for, including Venus de Milo, an ancient Greek statue.

Besides some incredibly famous works of art, I think what sets the Louvre apart is the architecture. Built over centuries, different wings and rooms have different styles. The ceilings, walls, and floors are often as exciting to look at as the art.

Saint Peter Martry - I unfortunately didn't get the name of this work of art & artist
I have enjoyed learning about Saints in art this year, including Saint Denis, who survived decapitation, and Saint Sebastian, who survived being shot by multiple arrors. At the Louvre, I encountered Saint Peter Martyr who had converted from the beliefs of the Cathers to become a Catholic under Pope Innocent III. The Pope appointed him, under an Inquisition, to uncover those who were Cathers, not Catholics. The Cathers were punished with jail or even by being burned at the stake. Two of the men that Peter Martyr hired assassins who attacked him with an axe, wounding him in the head and chest. In the artwork, as above, you can recognize Saint Peter Martyr by an ever-present knife or axe in his head.

Mona Lisa, from behind the crowd
And, of course, we had to see the Mona Lisa! (Even though it isn't one of my favorite works of art.) The crowd around it was amazing! Even when you wait and push your way to the front, there is still a barrier around her and thick glass protecting her. We spent just a few seconds at the front before pushing our way back to the open space. It was pretty funny! But, I suppose everyone who goes to the Louvre has to see Mona Lisa!

We got back to the hotel later than expected, took showers, and went to bed. Alex and I both woke up about 2 a.m..... wide awake and hungry! We took a snack into the bathroom and set on the side of the tub and looked out the window. Even in the middle of the night, it wasn't really dark out! We watched the street below us, and listened as a few noisy groups went by. We had a wonderful time! After about 2 hours, we went back to bed. I think I got up at about 9, but Alex slept until noon! Thankfully, my mom & brother had already been in Europe for about 10 days and were adjusted to the time. They went out and brought us back breakfast.
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