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Lovely Gardens and Amazing Fountains: Peterhof Palace

29 Sep

 

 

An afternoon at the Peterhof Palace is not quite enough.  When we visited this summer palace of the tzars, which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, we only walked the gardens. But that is fine, we had already been at the Hermitage and the Summer Palace in Puskin.  I cannot imagine that the inside of the Peterhof Palace was any less grand than those. However, I do know that it seems a bit smaller.   What makes Peterhof unique are the unbelievable fountains and gardens.  Spending an afternoon walking the grounds was amazing.

I am quite used to seeing lovely fountains.  Living in the Kansas City area, we are used to seeing fountains along the boulevards, in historic areas and near and in the Country Club Plaza. In fact, Kansas City is referred to as the City of Fountains.  We so do love our fountains here.

Perhaps it is this affinity to fountains that made Peterhof so mesmerizing. But then I think anyone would be impressed.

Peterhof is like fountains on steroids!  The overwhelming size and number and variety of fountains is fantastic.  I use words like fantastic, amazing, overwhelming and awesome with a whole heart.

No one can come away without being amazed by the engineering that makes these fountains possible to run for hours every day without electricity.  Just water and gravity!  There are no pumps, just water from natural springs and one aqueduct fueling the incredible number of fountains. The gardens were designed by Alexandre Le Blond. I am not sure if he also did the engineering for the fountains.

Our tour guide promised us that we would see close to 200 fountains on our amble through the lower gardens.  I think we did.  Although I will admit that she counted all the water sprouts in each fountain separately. So what! They were still amazing.

 

There is the Grand Cascade and Samson fountain right behind the palace.  There is a children’s fountain with dancing waters. There is a secret fountain through a path of trees that sets a spray of water over anyone walking by. Personally, I especially loved the giant slide of a fountain, called the Dragon Hill Cascade. The statues of this fountain were buried before the Nazis got there and so survived the occupation.  You can see a display of photos explaining what happened.

Much of the Peterhof gardens, fountains and buildings were destroy by the Nazis in the Second World War. But almost immediately after the war, like with the other palaces, the country started work on renovating and repairing the grounds and buildings.  There are large photos that show what Peterhof looked like right after the war.  It is amazing what was accomplished!

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Peter’s private home.

Included on the grounds are other lovely buildings, including  a much smaller ‘palace’ that Peter the Great actually designed and stayed in.  It is lovely and quaint from the outside. We could peek into the open windows to see inside.  But it is the view from the rear of the building that catches the attention and you understand why the tzar wanted to stay in this quiet home.  The view of the Gulf of Finland, which leads to the Baltic Sea, is lovely.  It is so peaceful there, I can imagine him sitting by himself and just relaxing! Can a Tzar relax?  If yes, this is just the place.

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A lovely greenhouse. One of my favorite buildings.

If you enjoy walking outside admiring gardens and fountains, then Peterhof should be on your list to see.   To be honest, I went serendipitously as it was part of my tour.  It was a day well spent.

 

https://www.britannica.com/place/Peterhof

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peterhof_Palace

 

Braille City Maps of Germany Delight Me

22 Sep

Our first stop in Germany was in an area that once was East Germany and part of the Soviet Union.  While many people from our cruise ship chose to take a train to Berlin, we decided to visit another Baltic City and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wismar.

The first place we went to in Wismar was the center town square, or Market Place.  Our tour guide, a college student, first told us about the square and its important architectural structures, then walked us to a wonderful metal 3-dimensional, braille map of the city. When we arrived, a blind man and his care giver were at the map.  The man was examining the map with his fingers, as the woman explained what each place was, naming streets and buildings.

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Map of Wismar

Our guide waited a bit, then asked politely if he could talk to us about the map. (I was glad to know I still understand German, even though I have not used it in 20 years.)  Most important, I was impressed with the map.   I asked the guide if Wismar had a school for the blind, and so the map was there for this purpose.  He asked the care giver, who replied that was not the case. The map was just there for anyone to use.

That was that, or so I thought.

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St. Mary’s Church tower.

As we walked our guide told us about Wismar and the bombing damage during World War 2.  Two churches close to the town center, St. Mary’s Church and St. George’s Church, were heavily damaged.  Although St. George’s Church was rebuilt, St. Mary’s has only its main tower remaining and the start of a park that will be in the shape of the outline of the original church.

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When we got to St. Mary’s Church. I was surprised to see another braille map this one detailing the destroyed church and its environs.  It was being examined by the blind gentleman we had seen earlier.  We waited until he was finished, then we walked over to examine the map ourselves.  It was interesting to see the details of the church from before the war.

After viewing this map, we visited both churches.  The St. George’s Church has been rebuilt, but nothing remains inside. It is now used for concerts because the acoustics are excellent.  Inside the remaining tower of St. Mary’s Church are some displays about the churches in the city.

We signed up for this tour for another important visit, to the one brewery in Wismar.  Centuries ago, there were almost 200 breweries in the town.  During the Soviet occupation, all breweries were closed and the beer came from other cities.  In 1995 Herbert Wenzel purchased a building that had been a brewery in the 15th century.  It is now the only brewery in Wismar.  We visited the now named, Brauhaus am Lohberg zu Wismar, and tasted three of its beers.

Although the brewery, the port and the town center were all delightful and gave good reason for this to be a UNESCO heritage site, it was the braille maps that gave me the most joy.  What a great idea!  And to see someone actually using it made it so much more meaningful.  I loved these two maps.

I thought when leaving Wismar, I would not see them again.  But I was wrong.  The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lubeck also had a braille map that was used by our tour guide to explain the old city to us.  I really enjoy seeing the city from an overview.

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Map of Lubeck

I was very curious about these maps.  Were they a German government idea? I thought maybe a UNESCO plan? I did not see these maps at any other UNESCO World Heritage Site.  When I looked back at my photos, I realized he map in Lubeck had a big clue.  On the map was a note in German that mentioned that the map was a gift from the Rotary Club Lubeck-Holstentor and said the maps were for the blind and sighted people.

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Map of Lubeck with information about donors

That helped.  I knew that Rotary Clubs do community service and specifically have activities for the blind.  In 2017 Rotary International joined with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) to combat blindness.  I am assumed the map in Wismar was also donated by a Rotary Club, but I was wrong. When I looked back at my Wismar photos more closely, I saw that this map was donated by a large number of organizations, starting with the Lions Club of Wismar.  I am aware of what Lions Clubs do as well.  I often donate my old eyeglasses to the Lions Club!

I personally would like to thank the Rotary Club of Lubeck-Holstentor and the Lions Club of Wismar along with all the other organizations for these great maps!! I have an affinity for anything that helps the blind and vision impaired.  My mother was blind in one eye due to childhood accident.  Throughout my life, she constantly dealt with issues concerning her eye and was vigilant in making sure we had good eye health.  These maps delighted me and touched my heart.

 

 

https://www.rotary.org/en/rotary-partners-international-agency-prevention-blindness

 

 

Seeing A Surviving Synagogue in Lubeck, Germany, Made My Day!

11 Sep
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The Holestentor, gate to the old city of Lubeck.

When we toured the UNESCO Heritage site of Lubeck, Germany, I loved the oval-shaped, island city which is surrounded by the river Trave.  I never thought I would enjoy being in Germany.  I carried my grandparents’ and parents’ distress about the destruction of our family in Europe during the war. But I hoped that Germany of today is not the Germany of the 1930s and 40s. So I went with an open mind.

Of course. I had to ask our tour guide about Jewish Lubeck.  She was open and sincere and had knowledge.  I am sure I am not the first person to ask her. She informed me that before the 1800s Jews were not allowed to live in the old city.  But afterwards, when the French took it over, Jewish residents moved in. But they had to leave again after the French and Napoleon were defeated. Jewish residents did not move back until 1848.

She told me that the synagogue in Lubeck survived because the Germans did not want to damage the museum that was next to it. It was built in the middle 1800s.  She gave me directions to find it during our free time.  The synagogue was closed for renovations, but I had to see this German synagogue that survived the war.

My husband and I took a ten-minute walk in the rain to the building. For me it was well worth it.  It seemed, from the outside, to be in good shape. A red brick building set far back from the street, the area in front was gated off and a sign explaining what was happening was in front.  When we were there a group of elementary school children were walking by.  Their laughter and joy in the rain, lightened my spirit.  Although I could not go inside, below I have put a link to what the shul looked like inside in the 1920s.

Our guide also told me an interesting story. She said that Jewish resident of Lubeck who escape Germany and settled in England helped to save the city. She said that the city was bombed by the Royal Air Force of Britain in March 1942 in retaliation for Germany bombing Coventry.  During that bombing 20 percent of the historic area was destroyed.  That was the only major bombing of the city, but it caused much damage.

From what I had read, the reason it was bombed was to test the firebombs to see how much destruction they would cause on the narrow streets of the old city. About 300 people were killed during the raid, so I think the RAF succeeded in destruction.   Her story is not totally correct from what I can tell. But that bombing was the only major attack on Lubeck.

She also said, that the Jewish resident who fled Germany to London wanted to save Lubeck. That made me wonder, could it be true?  Would a Jewish resident want to save a city in Germany?  It is a lovely historic area, but really after fleeing to survive, would I want to save my home town? I am not sure. However, that was her comment.

She continued that this man was a relative of the head of the Red Cross. So, I did research.  I think it all goes back to a man named Eric M. Warburg, who was born in Hamburg, Germany, not far from Lubeck in 1910.  He fled to the United States in 1938 and he became an intelligence officer for the US army and helped get German scientists and their families to the United States and out of Germany. He served as a liasion officer between the RAF and the US Army Air Force.

He along with Carl Jacob Burchhardt, who was president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, made Lubeck port a Red Cross port to supply prisoners of war with aid. Since Burchhardt was not Jewish, I assume she was referring to Warburg, even though he was not the head of the Red Cross, he had contacts. Also it made sense for Lubeck to be the Red Cross port as near Lubeck, the Nazis had a prisoner of war camp for officers, Oflag X-C, from 1940 to 1945.

Mr. Warburg was a member of a large Jewish-German banking family.   Could he have had a relative who lived in Lubeck and wanted to save it?  Maybe? Or could it be Mr. Warburg himself, a Hamburg native, who supposedly tried to save Lubeck?

I just have no proof of this. But I do have proof that members of the Jewish community in Lubeck were murdered by the Nazis.  I found five Stumbling Stones (Stolpersteine) for Jewish residents who were murdered in Riga. In fact, the last 85 Jewish residents in Lubeck were deported to Riga Ghetto in 1941-42, including Rabbi Joseph Carlebach (1883-1942), who was murdered in the Shoah.

You might notice that two of the Stolpersteine are for victims with the last name Alexander.  I have in my family members with this surname.  I will admit that I felt an extra pang in my heart when I read these two stones.  (See blog below about my Alexander family.)

I am not sure if there are any Jewish residents in Lubeck now.  There are about 3000 who currently live nearby in Hamburg.  At one point, before WW2, Hamburg had almost 20,000 Jewish residents.

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Salzspeicher houses along the Trave River.

Lubeck has many lovely medieval buildings.  I saw the unique entrance gate, the Holestentor,  that leads to the old town.  I ate marzipan at the famous Cafe Niederegger, which was founded over 200 years ago.  I saw the Salzspeicher houses that stand along the Trave River close to the gate. We walked past the home of Thomas Mann’s family. But for me, seeing a synagogue that survived World War 2 in Germany, was the highlight of the day in Lubeck.

 (Thank you to a resident of the area who was kind enough to contact me and tell me that there are about 800 Jewish residents of Lubeck and 5000 in Hamburg.)

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_L%C3%BCbeck_in_World_War_II

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_M._Warburg

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10165-lubeck

https://dbs.bh.org.il/place/hamburg?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI2PabjJTH5AIVBr7ACh3P1gVmEAAYASAAEgJd4vD_BwE

 

https://dbs.bh.org.il/image/interior-of-the-synagogue-of-lubeck-germany-1920-c

https://zicharonot.com/2015/06/13/finding-katie/

 

The Floors of St Petersburg

10 Sep

It is a bit overwhelming to try to see as much as possible in two days in St. Petersburg. We went to Czarina Catherine’s summer palace in Pushkin. To two cathedrals: Isaac and Church of the Spilled Blood and the Hermitage, also known as the Winter Palace.

They were opulent, they were amazing, they were beyond belief, and so they made you realize why the ordinary Russian peasants and people rebelled against the aristocracy! The dichotomy between the rich and the poor was extraordinarily!

While in these churches and palaces, I began to notice the marble floors and the wood floors. They were also astounding. And I became obsessed, especially in the Hermitage where the floors were stunning examples of inlaid word and marble.

So here are some of my many floor photos.

First the floors of Catherine’s Summer Palace in Pushkin.

The marble floors of The Church of the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg:

Finally the most magnificent inlaid wood floors of the Hermitage. I need to say that while we had to put on special booties to protect the floors in Catherine’s Palace, we did not have to wear them at the Hermitage. Some of these stunning floors are beginning to show damage. Here they are:

These buildings were so astonishing, it was often impossible to decide where to look. I think i focused on the floors, which are usually simple, as a way to relax my brain from the overwhelming lushness of what I was seeing. If you have ever been through the Vatican collection, then you know that exhaustion of seeing so much at one time. That is the feeling I had throughout my visit in St. Petersburg.

Visiting the Van Vleck House and Gardens

3 May

Another delightful site to visit in Montclair is the Van Vleck House and Gardens.  Once a private estate, the house and its gardens were donated to The Montclair Foundation in 1993 by the heirs of Howard Van Vleck, who owned this Italianate villa.  The house was built in 1916.  While other homes once were on the estate as well, this is the only house that still remains.

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The original main entrance to the house on Van Vleck Street.

The gardens are open to the public for free every day!  No holiday closures!  The lovely house is used as a center for nonprofit groups for meetings, events, and fundraisers.  I actually saw people having a yoga class in one of the rooms! What a spectacular yoga studio!  The windows overlook the gardens!

The house and gardens were a short walk from the Montclair Art Museum, just along Upper Mountain Avenue.  Our visit came after several days of rain, so all the grass was lush.  But the blooming season, except for the daffodils was not yet in progress.  I think by the end of May these gardens will be stunning.  When we saw them, everything was greening up, but not much was flowering.

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The formal garden in the back of the house.

There are several walkways and levels of gardens.  The formal gardens behind the main house are lovely. Staff members were setting up for an event when we were there, so we tried to stay out of the way. Although not much was blooming yet, it was a great place to get a good walk in a lovely setting.

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One of my favorite spots.

The Upper Lawn had several stations to check out.  You can download the Van Vleck house’ app and learn about the different areas using codes on the signs.  I liked an area on the upper lawn that had many daffodils and a bird house.  When you walk across the upper lawn, you come to the Mother’s Garden and then to a percola that was renovated.

At first, I was not sure if you were allowed to walk on the lawn, as there were no paths. But seeing the information signs across the way gave me some confidence that this was acceptable.  Also the Garden Etiquette flyer we picked up at the Visitor Center, says, “Walk only on the pathways and grassy areas.”  So we did!

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The Visitor Center with an Ap sign.

The children’s butterfly garden should be lovely as well. It is located behind the Visitor Center. (Where there are good restrooms.  Always important when walking.)  I also liked the colorful signs with details about insects and disease impacting trees and what to look for that lined the path from the butterfly garden to the front of the Visitor Center.  I was glad to see on the website that there are many children and family activities planned throughout the spring and summer.

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The pavilion by the Tennis Garden.

We did not go on the Rhododendron Walk.  It was somewhat muddy and damp, and I was not in the right shoes for that.  However, I did enjoy the Tennis Court Garden, planted where the estate’s tennis court once stood.  To the side is little pavilion.  I could, in my mind, see people resting there between sets of tennis, or watching those playing while enjoying the shade.

I hope to go back to Montclair and visit the Van Vleck gardens when everything is in bloom!

 

To learn more about the gardens and home, go to: www.vanvleck.org

 

Counting the Hogans Leads Us to Learning More About The Navajo People

28 Mar

As part of our Road Scholar trip we were often on the road in a bus going from one place to another.   I need activity.  I remember when my children were young finding something to count along the way: water towers, yellow cars, different license plates, helped.   Soon I found myself counting the hogans.  Joining me was my partner in anxious inactivity, we traveled with another couple, and the husband and I share this trait.  We sat by the windows and started counting.  I must say that I was better at discerning the shape of hogans better than he.

What is a hogan and why count them, you might ask?  I am glad to explain.

A hogan is a Navajo hut/home.  Originally there were two types.  The simple, smaller, tipi style Hogan was called a male hogan. They are made of wood covered in mud. These were usually used and lived in by single men.  But anyone could live in them.  It is not gender assigned in that sense.

A beautiful stone Hogan on the grounds of the Hubbell Trading Post.

The other, female hogan is much larger.  It is often multi-sided ranging from 6 to 9 sides, with differing explanations why. But one guide told us a nine-sided hogan is to represent the nine months of pregnancy.   Both males and females can live in a hogan.

The opening of a hogan always faces east to welcome the morning sun.

Although many Navajo families still have a hogan on their property for ceremonial reasons, most no longer live in hogans.  However, that is not an absolute.  They are inhabited as well.  They can also look different now.  No longer are they just mud-covered beams of tree trunks and branches, they can be made of brick, stone, wood, shingles and siding.   We saw it all.  Some have had additions put on to make them bigger.  Others stand alone and silent, somewhat decaying.  Others have had windows installed — no longer with just an opening in the east and on the ceiling to let the smoke from the stove or fire vent.

We saw our first hogan in the Heard Museum in Phoenix.  The guide explained to use how they were built and why they were used.  Being that it was inside and enclosed in the museum, it did not face the elements ,and you really could not tell that it was facing east.  But it was interesting to see.

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Hogan at Canyon De Chelly

The second hogan we entered was at the entrance to the Canyon De Chelly National Monument on the grounds of the Welcome Center. This hogan was outside.  Our guide told us stories about his family and what his grandmother told him about the meaning in parts of the hogan.  Much we had heard from our guide at the museum, but his tellings were more authentic.  Our Road Scholar guide explained later that different families have slightly different opinions. And she did correct one bit of information he gave us.  Thank you Azalia!

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Agathla Peak or El Capitan 

Our third entrance to a hogan was at a rest stop near El Capitan.  First the beauty of the surrounding area as we drew closer to Monument Canyon was stunning.  Seeing El Capitan, or Agathla Peak, an ancient volcanic plug in the horizon was amazing.  We eventually got much closer to it.  So at first I did not notice the hogans, but there they were with some information about them.

The rest stop featured two hogans, both the male and the female.  Thus for the first time we could enter the smaller one and see how it was made. I loved seeing how the interlocking forked branches and tree trunks formed the top of the male hogan.  To be honest, it was quite small, and I can see why it has gone out of use.  Unless you are camping or living off by yourself, there is not much room but to sleep and take shelter, so it is not a great living situation.

The female hogan is much better for families or daily living. The way the logs were formed for these is much more intricate, with layers of logs forming a design in the ceiling.  Some female hogans have the side logs layered horizontally. Other are formed by longs standing upright, vertically around the exterior.

So why count hogans? Well as we drove through the Navajo reservation, we had plenty of time on the bus.  And although much of the scenery was breathtaking, there were also many areas where we drove through empty dessert, except every so often we would see a group of homes where a family had its compound.  And there, among the more modern homes was often an original or remodeled hogan.   So we did what any child would do on a long trip, we found something to count and to discuss.  We counted 15 hogans.  They were a variety of colors, symmetry, materials, and shapes as we saw several connected to other additions.

Counting hogans led us to discuss what we were seeing.  How do people live out here in the middle of nowhere?  We found that solar panels have helped with electricity.   That water has to be brought in.   That addresses are basically non-existent.  Residents of these isolated compounds tell visitors to go to a certain highway marker and turn either left or right and follow a dirt road to get to their homes.

I am glad we started counting hogans because this led us to learn more about the Navajo people and their life on the reservation.

 

 

Finding My Heritage In Spain

28 Oct

Our trip to Spain and Portugal had a special purpose for besides wanting to see places I had not seen. I also wanted to see the bits and pieces left of the Sephardic Jewish imprint on Spain. I have written about my maternal grandfather and his family’s Spanish roots in an earlier blog (see below). Now I wanted to see what I could see.

I was on a mission that started in Barcelona. I had been to this lovely city before and heard the story about the Jewish cemetery destroyed and replaced with a Christian cemetery. Now the only Jewish aspect was the name of the hill: Montjuic. However, in Barcelona you can visit the site of the Major Synagogue. A small space that you must walk down to see, this tiny space reflects the rule that no religious site would be bigger than the smallest church. So it is small. But I was glad to see that it has been found and reclaimed. There is a guide on site who gives a 10 minute presentation about it. So I am glad we went. Most places do not even have that!

Our next stop with a bit of Jewish history was surprising to me. We went to the small city of Sagunt or Sagunto near Valencia. I was not expecting what I found. First they were having a festival to celebrate their Middle Ages history, and as we entered I saw a menorah symbol on banners. The town had its Jewish quarter still designated including one of the original arches, called the Blood Arch. The tour guide did not know why. I have my own ideas. You actually walked through the Jewish Quarter in order to get up to the Roman teacher.

The narrow, hilly streets are picturesque, and walking through the quarter you come to the top where a private house stands on the site of the original synagogue, with an iron Menorah window. We were also able to see the archeology site of where they think the mikveh was located.

I have since researched and learned that in ancient days this town was called Morviedro. Here the Jews were protected from massacres in 1391 and Jews from other areas took refuge there. When the 1492 decree was made, the Jewish residents arranged safe passage out about 500 people.

In fact almost every city we went to had some remains of its Jewish inhabitants. In Malaga, the birthplace of Picasso, we found it was also the birthplace of Yehudah Ben Gabriel, who revitalized Jewish literature. And we found the Jewish Quarter nit far from the Picasso Museum.

Gibraltar had a thriving Jewish community and still does. We saw people walking the streets wearing kippot. We walked to the old Flemish Synagogue and took a photo of the door to the walled area. Unfortunately we could not go in.

Only in Cadiz was all remnants of the Jewish community destroyed. Probably because of the 1755 earthquake and tsunami. But at one time there was a thriving community that had to escape due to the forced expulsion of the Jewish people. In fact 8000 Jews left Cadiz and traveled to North Africa.

A sign in Sintra

In Portugal we went to Sintra to see the Pena Palace. But while walking through the narrow streets of the city, I found a cork store where I purchased a purse. Then I noticed its address: Beco Judaea. The street of the Jews.

Church of Sao Domingos where Jewish citizens murdered in 1500s

The Jewish Quarter.

But it was in Lisbon that we had the most in-depth experience. Besides visiting some of the important sites like the palace of the inquisition and Rossi’s Plaza where the Crypto Jews were tortured, we visited the church, Sao Domingos, where the massacre of Jews began in the 1506, walked the Jewish Quarter, and learned how King Manuel I tricked the Jewish population and baptized them all without their permission. He wanted to marry the daughter of the king of Spain, but he also wanted to keep his Jewish citizens. This was his solution.

Finally we visited the Lisbon synagogue built in the early 1900s that still has services today. Portugal was a neutral country during the war, a Lisbon was a place of refuge. Today 2000 Jews live in Portugal.

Https://dis.bh.org.il murviedro-sagunto