Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Images of a Baltic Sea Fortress

While visiting Finland, we took a ferry tour out to the island sea fortress of Suomenlinna, "fortress of Finland." This fortress was originally built by Sweden starting in 1748. In 1808, the fortress was surrendered to Russia during the "War of Finland." And, after Finland's declaration of independence in 1917, Suomenlinna was officially a part of Finland starting in May 1918.

Part of the island fortress.

A seagull that flew alongside us during our ferry ride.

This is Neck, a Nordic water spirit. According to tradition, he lived in the sea and parents used him to scare children to keep away from the water. He could also attrack people with his magic songs. He is now a 'guide' at a museum on the island fortress.

This poster is showing the channel of Sarkaa during the Crimean War. An underwater obstruction was built here to keep ships from passing through the channel.

The fortress island has museums, shops, boat docks and more!

In this building, they were building a boat!!!

And I loved this paint-splattered floor.

There were LOTS of baby geese! Some of them as big as the mamas & papas!

And, I loved this old building...

And this one, too.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Visiting Finland: Helsinki & the Lutheran Cathedral

We only spent one full day in Finland and most of it was on the fortress
island of Suomenlinna. But, I'll start by blogging about Helsinki itself.

This is what Helsinki, the capital of Finland, looked like as we flew in. The city is on
a peninsula in the Gulf of Finland, which is an arm of the Baltic Sea.

We arrived during the night so this was our first view of Helsinki in the morning. We walked to our first stop of the day...

Senate Square. Helsinki was founded here in 1640 and, according to a sign, this area has been the 'centre of the city ever since.' Also, according to the sign: Finland was for centuries a part of the Swedish Kingdom. After the war of Finland in 1809, Finland was ceded to Russia as an autonomous Grand Duchy. Helsinki became the capital in 1812. The city centre was rebuilt and gradually assumed its present look. Finland became independent in 1917.

This morning, bands were practicing for a concert this evening. It was for the "2012 Helsinki: European Athletic Championships."

Looking over Senate Square is the Lutheran Cathedral which was finished in 1852. It was built as a tribute to the Grand Duke, Nicholas I, the Tsar of Russia. (The previous photo of the stage was taken from the top steps shown here.)

The cathedral was built in neoclassical style which can be recognized by: tall columns, symmetrical shapes, triangular pediments, and domed roofs.

The gorgeous organ!!!

That evening... the concert was ON and the crowds were OUT!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Visiting La Defense in Paris

Our last hotel in Paris was the Hilton in La Defense, the business district of Paris. It is also at one en of the historical axis ("Axe historique") or the Triumphal Way ("Voie Triomphale").

image from Wikipedia

At the other end is the Louvre. And, in between are places such as the Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, and the Luxor Obelisk.

The large monument in La Defense is this large, cube-shaped arch known as the Grand Arche which was completed in 1989. It was built as a monument to humanity and humanitarian ideals. My brother and daughter are climbing the many steps in this picture!

And, here's a picture of the Grand Arche from the distance. On the left side, close to the arch, is a mall called The Four Times (or "Les Quatres Temps"). We shopped and ate here as our hotel is just to the right of this monument.

And here's the view (zoomed in) from the top of the steps of the Grand Arche. You can see down the busy street of Champs-Elysees to the Arch de Triomphe.

On our last morning in France, we split up and I took a photo walk while the others shopped. Here's a better view of Champs-Elysees and the Arche de Triomphe. I really wish we would have went to the top of the Arche and looked back towards La Defense!

A very neat looking water-fall.
An interesting sculpture.
A self-portrait (& I did do a little shopping... for sweets! Ha!)

I played with my camera's settings... a black & white with the colorful fountain in
front and the Grand Arche in the back.

Images of buildings in a building (in b&w).

Another self-portrait with another setting...
And the "Carrousel; Jules Verne". This was so amazing with the beautiful artwork!

I tried to read it when I got home, but had trouble sticking with it. I loved these images though!

And, with that, we left Paris... and France...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Paris Cruise: Bridges & More

We got caught in the rain on the day we decided to take a cruise down the Seine. In Paris, there are 37 bridges over the Seine. Each is unique and we enjoyed seeing a handful of them.

But, before we get to the bridges, here's a view of the Eiffel Tower on this rainy day.

And this is Pont Alexandre. (Pont is French for 'bridge'.) It was built between 1896 and 1900 for a world's fair. It is named for Tsar Alexander III of Russia and his son, Nicholas II, laid the first stone. It features art nouveau lamps and Nymphs of the Neva with the arms of Imperial Russia (double- headed eagle). On the other side would be Nymphs of the Seine with the arms of France.

The golden winged horse is also part of Pont Alexandre. The building with the glass roof is known as the Grand Palais (which we did not visit). This was also built for the Universal Exposition, or world's fair, of 1900. Today, it often hosts art exhibitions.

This building was also finished in 1900. It was originally a terminis for the Paris-Orleans Railway. It now houses the Musee d'Orsay which we visited on a different day.

A couple on the bridge of "love locks" which we walked across on another day. I think this image looks so Parisian! Maybe they were putting on their own lock?

This is Pont Neuf, which means "new bridge". However, it is actually the oldest bridge crossing the Seine in Paris! King Henry III laid its first stone in 1578 and it was completed in 1607 under Henry IV! There are almost 400 of these faces on the bridge. Each of them unique! They are called "mascarons" which is Italian for "mask."

More mascarons on Pont Neuf.

This bridge is the Pont Saint Michel which was built by the request of Napoleon III.

A view of Notre Dame from the 'back' showcasing the flying buttresses.

This bridge is the Pont de Bir - Hakeim which has two levels - a lower one for vehicles and pedestrians and an upper one for the Metro. I believe this statue is called "Labor" by Jules-Felix Coutan.

This is the same bridge with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

And, after we got off the boat, we came across this... the "Flamme de la Liberte"! It is an exact replica of the flame held by the Statue of Liberty which was, of course, a gift to the United States from France!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Visiting Musee d'Orsay


Outside of Musee d'Orsay - photo from Wikipedia
We visited several art museums while in Paris, including the Musee d'Orsay. This was one of our favorite art museums, though we didn't have much time here. We saw only a fraction of it - and we'll just have to go back some day!
We started out with lunch at the restaurant. It was gorgeous!
You aren't allowed to take photos in the exhibits, but many people take a photo like this from one of the upper floors. We saw works by Cezanne, Degas, Gaugin, Monet, Renoir, Seurat, and Van Gogh.
Alex and I spent quite a bit of time looking at these 'puppets' from a display about the Chat noir Shadow Theatre. As the name implies, these figures would make shadow figures and stories were told in that way.
And, isn't this a great one?
The museum is built in an old railway station and has several gorgeous clocks including this one.

My Longest Bike Ride... So Far!

I started running 2 1/2 years ago. Then, after doing a 5K, a half marathon, and a few other races, I branched out and tried triathlons. I have now completed: four 5Ks, one 10K, one 10 miler, four half marathons, and two sprint triathlons. My next goal? A century ride, otherwise known as a 100 mile bike ride. And, my goal is to complete it this year.
My longest ride, until this weekend, was a 34 mile ride I did with my friend, E, last May. In November & December I built up to doing 20 miles at a time. And, Thursday night, I decided to enter my first organized biking event. I chose to do 45 miles and E would be riding in the car with me while her husband, R, would ride with their friend M.

We left very early because they'd done the ride before and knew traffic would be bad. We got there easily and had plenty of time to stop by the bathroom & get some breakfast. I first tried a breakfast taco, but I really don't like egg mixed with 'stuff' and only could eat a few bites. I then had some oatmeal, but I didn't see any sugar and it was so bland! E then showed me where the sugar was & it was great! I also had half a large banana and had already had some food on the drive.
Me before the ride.
I was pretty nervous about the start. It's a lot more dangerous starting with all those bikes than with runners! And, in a triathlon, you are spread out and it's illegal to get close to other riders. E, R & M all ride faster than me and started in the wave (or group) in front of me. I thought it'd be easier if I just did this on my own and didn't worry about my friends having to watch over me. I stayed to the far left, and took off with the crowd. It was actually not so bad!

I ended up being at the end of a wave, which was unplanned but I really liked. For the first few miles, I pretty much kept a little distance between myself & the back of the wave. I wasn't really interested in being surrounded by bikes!

A little before mile 3 everyone started yelling "slowing" and then "stopping". We could see an ambulance up ahead and knew that wasn't a good sign. The ride marshalls had us walk into the grass quite a ways before the ambulance. Most people were carrying their bikes and I tried for awhile, but then decided it was too tiring.

As I got closer to the wreck, I really started thinking that it could be my friend, E. I was praying and thinking "Please, not her!" I saw they had someone on a backboard, but couldn't remember what my friend had on. As I passed, I realized it was the other friend... M! The one who'd rode with my E's husband! Oh, no!!

I walked up and asked if I could talk to M. The EMT's encouraged me and said no one else had known her. I talked to her. She had a whole in her glove and a knuckle was bloody. And, she was holding her left shoulder. I didn't see anything else. I talked to her and she didn't know who I was. I told her we'd only met that morning but I was E's friend. She started crying and held my hand and told me she was scared and didn't know how she'd got there. I told her she'd be OK, that I'd be praying & try to contact E & R. I asked if I could call anyone and she said "no." I stood by until the loaded her in the ambulance.

I texted my friend, E, as I didn't have her husband's number. Then, I headed off at a pretty good pace. I was praying that I could catch up with my friend at the 1st stop. But, they were probably far ahead. I'd been slowed by the walk and then I'd stood by for probably 5 minutes or so.

I got there and coulnd't find them but saw a ride marshall and talked to him. He'd actually been one of the first on the scene! As I pieced together the story from him & from my friend's husband who later talked to M, I found out that: someone else had fallen down & M had wrecked into them. Surprisingly & sadly, though M was injured, the other rider got back on their bike and took off! They found another driver's license next to my friend and I guess they think that is the other person's. I was shocked someone would do that!

By this time, I was still upset and wondering if I should just go back to the car, but decided to press on... and slow down as I'd been pushing myself to try and rush to the 1st stop. I heard from my friend, E, at the 2nd stop. I didn't get much info then, but later learned the following: her husband had been having knee problems very early on and was already back at the start when she contacted him. So, he got to go straight to the hospital and be with M! Isn't that amazing? And, the news on M: she broke her shoulder and will be out about 2 months. (Though she'll get a 2nd opinion from a sports doctor this week.)

Back to the ride:

So, the temp was about 50 when we started and near 60 when we finished. I wore bike shorts with capris over them, a bike shirt and my wind jacket with removable sleeves. It was totally overcast (except for a brief time when the sun tried to break through) and winds were 10-15 mph, so I also wore my 'beanie' to protect my sensitive ears.

For most of the ride, the wind was at our side, and yet it felt pretty powerful to me! Most of the ride was flat with only 4-5 decent hills. (And those are Houston hills... so not that bad for many of you.) We only had about 2 miles with the wind at our back, and that was AMAZING!!! And, we had from about mile 40-43 with it in our face, and that was HORRIBLE!!! (But wind makes you stronger!)

On the main sections, when the wind was at our side, I was riding at about 12-15 mph. When the wind was at our back, I averaged 18-22. And, when it was at our face, I could only pull about 9!!! At one time, going up a hill with that wind, I dropped down to 7!!! And, at another time, I stopped pedaling and was afraid I might end up going backwards!

Rest Stop #1 of 4

There were 4 stops with great food and I stopped at each. I had oranges (sliced), banana pieces, cookies, peanut butter carckers, a granola bar... I didn't drink enough. I was afraid to drink much while riding as I'm still a little unsure of my abilities. I need to make sure and drink more.

I met another lady at the 2nd rest stop and then we hooked up at the 3rd and finished the rest of the ride together. For about 10 miles we were able to ride side by side and that was the easiest part of the ride... I think because we were chatting & forgetting our pains!

Different parts of my body hurt at different times, but I was thankful not to have any nagging pains. Today, the only thing sore is my SEAT! I feel terrific! And, I'm already looking at next weekend's ride where I think I'll do 45 miles again (well, 46.5).

I love BIKING!

Jesse Owens & Hitler

I am currently listening to A Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The book takes place in Nazi Germany during WWII. In the part I just listened to, we visit 1936 where a young boy is fascinated by the black Olympian, Jesse Owens.

The chapter is called "The Jesse Owens Incident" and the young boy, about 7 years old, paints himself black with charcoal and pretends he is Jesse Owens winning a gold medal. His father finds him and scolds him for pretending to be black. He should be happy with his blonde hair and blue eyes... especially as they live under the watchful eyes of Hitler who believes the Aryan race is supreme. In fact, the Olympics were supposed to showcase the supremecy of the Aryans, and yet 6 gold medals were won by black American athelets, including 4 by Jesse Owens. Hitler stormed out of the stadium after Owens won the 100-meter event.

I found this brief video about Jesse Owens on Biography.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Siege of Leningrad: A Book Review & A Young Girl's Diary

After reading The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simmons, a historical fiction book about the siege of Leningrad, I was interested in learning more about this time in recent history. I found this Kindle book called The Siege of Leningrad by Rupert Colley which is part of a series called "History in an Hour." It really had some good information in it and was interesting to read.

The Siege of Leningrad: History in an Hour
The Introduction to the story is powerful. I've included several pieces below:
The Fuhrer has decided to wipe the city of Petersbury from the face of the earth. After the defeat of Soviet Russia there is no interest in further existence of this large inhaabited area. - Adolf Hitler
With these words, issued on 22 September 1941, Adolf Hitler effectively sealed Leningrad's fate.
The number of deaths in Leningrad exceeded those who died from the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, and constitutes the largest death toll ever recorded in a single city.
While being surrounded for almost 900 days... over one million died... from German bombs or artillery, or from disease, the cold or starvation.... The story of the siege is one of heroic resistance and stoical survival but is also one of unimaginable suffering and extreme deprivation.
After telling about the siege, the author tells about some of the people of the siege. One of them, Tanya Savicheva, was a young girl who kept a diary. She was 12 years old when she started writing in her diary. But, with the intense cold and lack of fuel, her diary became fuel along with their household furniture. Tanya was eventually evacuated in August 1942, but she died of tuberculosis on July 1st, 1944. Her nine surviving diary pages tell of the deaths of her family members:
Zhenya died on Dec. 28th at 12:00 P.M. 1941
Grandma died on Jan. 25th 3:00 P.M. 1942
Leka died on March 5th at 5:00 A.M. 1942
Uncle Vasya died on Apr. 13th at 2:00 after midnight 1942
Uncle Lesha on May 10th at 4:00 P.M. 1942
Mother on May 13th at 7:30 A.M. 1942
Savichevs died.
Everyone died.

Only Tanya is left.

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