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Completing My Personal NASA Mission

10 Nov

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon, I decided I needed to revisit the space centers. In June I went to Kennedy Space Center, which you can read about below. Yesterday I completed my mission with a visit to the Johnson Space Center in Space City … Houston Texas.

I had visited this Center 30 years ago with my husband and then three-year-old daughter. I found it much changed with an excellent museum area that caters to children and families with many hands-on exhibits.

Luckily for me the hotel I was out could sign me up for a tour of sorts. If two people wanted to go, the Houston Tour Company would provide a van for the round trip and the entrance tickets for the Space Center. When I first went to the concierge desk, I was the only one who had signed up. But I left my name and room number in case someone else was interested. My plan succeeded. Within a few hours I got a call that my trip was on. And then a friend of mine decided she would go as well.

The next morning we met our new friend and traveling partner along with our van driver, Ruby, for our adventure.

I first need to say that years ago when I went to the Johnson Space Center, we just wandered the lovely campus of the Space Center, walking to the different buildings on our own. Now it is much more controlled. The entrance ticket included everything. But to see the actual Johnson Space Center you now have to take a tram. There are two to chose from. The blue line, which we took, goes to Mission Control and to see the Saturn V rocket.

Seeing the control room where most of the space shuttle missions, and in a few short years, the Orion Missions, will be watched over by a flight director and his crew was interesting as was the presentation. We could see a live feed into an active control room where the space station was being watched.

Along the way to the next stop, our tram driver told us about the other buildings, including the Astronaut Training Center, which is the first destination of the red tram line. He also pointed out a grove of trees planted in memory of the astronauts who perished during a mission and others who had an important role in the space program. Both lines stop at the Saturn V building.

It is exciting to see the size of the Saturn V Rocket. It lies on its side so visitors can walk around it and see how it connected the different stages and fuel tanks. The Apollo capsules were just a tiny portion at the top of the rocket.

We took the tram back to the museum area, and went to a 15 minute movie about the history of the space program. When it is over you then tour an area that has the original Apollo 17 capsule and much more space memorabilia. But the highlight is the Discovery Space Shuttle perched on a 747. You can go up and enter both. In the place is an exhibit on how the space shuttle was attached for transfer. And you can enter the Space Shuttle and see how astronauts lived while on it.

Another highlight for me was seeing all the moon rocks and actually getting to touch one. The museum employee in the room said that this stone was once rough and thicker, but over the years has become as smooth as glass. I can attest to that as I ran my thumb over it along with all the children.

There is so much to do. We were there for five hours and could not see everything. There were two shows at the I-Max Theater, which we did not see. I wish we had checked the times of the shows when we entered. We might have arranged our visit a bit differently. However, it was fun and exciting to see all the artifacts from space.

I loved walking the exhibits and trying out some of the interactive activities. There are virtual rides to help you experience the actual feel of space. Many families stood on line for these activities.

I believe I have celebrated mankind’s space accomplishments with these two visits. I look forward to seeing the start of the Orion Missions.

For true space enthusiasts, I also recommended a visit to the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas, and the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. I have visited both places when my daughter and son went to Space Camp. (See blog below.)

https://zicharonot.com/2019/06/06/visiting-kennedy-space-center-my-celebration-of-the-walk-on-the-moon/

https://zicharonot.com/2019/03/07/our-daughter-not-an-astronaut/

Watching Tango, Flamenco and Arabic Dance Performances is Like Watching Ballet

6 Oct

After years of ballroom dance lessons, by husband and I still dance whenever we have the opportunity.  But besides dancing ourselves, we enjoy watching other, who are much better, dance as well.

My favorite dance is the tango.   We never danced a true Argentine tango, we danced more of American ballroom tango.  We did learn a few basic and important tango steps like the ochos (figure eight swivels), corte (a sort of forward lunge for the woman), and the gancho (hook a leg around your partner’s leg).

Although we never became proficient in our tango, we have enjoyed watching others dance it professionally.    I loved the tango scenes in the movies Zorro and True Lies.  But to be honest Antonio Bandaras dancing a tango is quite nice whether it is in Evita, Take the Lead or Zorro.

A favorite for me is the tango between Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez in Shall We Dance.  MY husband and I both loved that movie.  It was so fun to watch an awkward man, uncomfortable with dance, become better throughout the movie. This tango is the start of his ability to actually dance.  The movie reflects my husband’s improvement.  He started out not knowing anything about dance. But now he loves to dance.

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Tango in Buenos Aires. You can see the band above the dancers.

We have been to Montevideo, Uruguay, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, the two cities where researchers believe tango was created in the 19th century.  Of course, we had to go see a true tango, which we did while we were in Buenos Aires.  It was excellent.  The dance is so quick in Argentina, unlike the slow dance we do in American ballroom tango.

The group dances were invigorating, but I loved the performances best when it was just one couple on the stage dancing together. This is the moment that I thought I saw true tango.  This is the tango I wish I could dance!

I also love the music in tango!  At the tangos I have seen, musicians play the guitar and the bandoneon, which is a small accordion-like instrument.  But I have also seen when even more instruments are played, including violins, flutes and piano in addition to the guitar and bandoneon.

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The group we saw in Malaga, Spain.

Instruments also play a part in Flamenco.  The guitar and a drum to sound the beat are usually played. Flamenco, which is a much older dance from at least the 18th century, is another dance we enjoy watching.  No one knows exactly how it started, except that it was different groups of people who came together in Andalusia, southern Spain, and the Flamenco was born.  For me in was interesting that there might even be a Sephardi Jewish influence in the dance.

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The woman in the red scarf sang with such emotion.

But Flamenco, unlike tango, has other important part besides the dancing.  There is the singer, who sings a story with unleashed pathos. Also, unlike Tango, one person can dance Flamenco, without a partner.

We have seen Flamenco danced in Barcelona, Spain; Malaga, Spain; and at a performance in Kansas!  That surprised me as well. But the group who came to a local college was wonderful and the performance was packed.

I admit that some of the Flamenco shows I have seen were touristy.  But even in these some of the performances were extraordinary. Flamenco is not a dance you can just learn for social dancing. This takes intense emotion, training and experience. However, you can still watch and appreciate the performance.

I will admit that to me the Flamenco reminds me of a belly dance or Arabic dance performance.  This is something I do know, as in my younger days I took years of Arabic dance lessons.  Like Flamenco, the older Arabic dance is a form of folk dancing, this one originating in Egypt.  I see in this dance and the Flamenco the movements of the torso and the hips and the intense emotion of the dancing and the artist.  It is also another dance, unlike ballroom dancing, where one person dances alone intent in his or her own emotions.

As I was doing research for my blog, I saw that there is a theory that this type of Arabic dance is one of the elements that combined together to create the Flamenco.

I love dancing.  But just like when I go to a ballet, and realize I cannot do what the wonderful dancers can do.  I realize I can enjoy the performance, which is exactly what I do when I see tango, Flamenco and Arabic dance programs.

 

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

https://www.tejastango.com/terminology.html

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b24a_2NPleg

 

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

https://www.britannica.com/art/flamenco

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibaPTk0D5Xg

 

 

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

 

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

 

A Fairy Tale Country, Estonia

21 Sep

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Spending a day in Tallinn, Estonia, was like being inside a fairy tale country.  I loved the old city with its quaint streets, towers and churches.  Tallinn is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it deserves that status.  But more than then the look of the country was the feel of the country.

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The tower is called Tall Hermann

I love that they name their towers and weather vanes.  I love the magical feel of the old city and its cobblestone walkways.

Behind the beauty, Estonia has had its hardships.  Torn between two powers who wanted their ports on the Baltic Sea and its resources, both Germany and Russia/Soviet Union invaded Estonia many times over the years.  But in 1939 the worst happened when Hitler and Stalin signed a treaty dividing Estonia between the two and the two powers invaded Estonia from different sides of the country.

Our tour guide in Tallinn, a lovely young woman, told us that this was the worst.  People were torn between choosing between two evils.  And the Soviet Union proved to be a great evil, taking over the country and killing or deporting all the political and business leaders.

The only positive I see from this however, is this occupation saved the majority of Estonia’s Jewish population, which was about 4000 before the start of World War Two. By then end of the war, about 1000 of Estonia’s Jewish residents were murdered in the Shoah. The others had escaped into the Soviet Union and so survived. After the war, 1500 Jewish residents returned.

After World War 2, Estonia entered a 50-year occupation by the Soviet Union. Estonia was terrorized.  Our guide explained how all access to the Baltic Sea were closed by the Soviets, who put military bases there. People could not get out.  Help could not get in. She explained life as lived by her parents and grandparents.  It was not a happy time.

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A statue of Ernesaks overlooks the Song Festival Grounds.

 

But in Estonia, they came up with their own way of revolution that did not included guns or violence. The Singing Revolution started with the singing of the national song, “Land of My Fathers, Land That I Love.”  For years they sang this song in rebellion against Soviet rule.  Gustav Ernesaks, the “Father of Song” for the country who helped start the song festival movement, helped in this non-violent rebellion. The singing events were held on the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds.

The Singing Revolution lasted four years. Multiple songs and citizens singing saved Estonia!  Tallinn is also known for the large chain of people, over two million, that spanned from Tallinn to Vilinius in August 1989.  Singing songs and then slowly moving forward with small steps of rebellion and independence worked. By 1991, Estonia gained its independence.

Along with the freedom for all Estonians, came renewed freedom for its Jewish residents after 1991.  In 2007 a synagogue opened.  Today about 2000 Jewish residents live in Estonia. It is a small but secure population.  According to our tour guide and to what I have read, the Jewish population lives in comfort and without any issues thanks to a law that protects all minorities in Estonia.  There is a synagogue, a Jewish Day School, a Jewish Museum and a Jewish Community Center. I wish I could say that I visited all these Jewish sites, but I did not.  I wish I had researched Tallinn before I went. So I put links below to the Jewish sites of Tallinn.

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I loved my day in Tallinn.  Visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site was a lovely experience.  Somehow, it seemed appropriate and joyful, to see a bride.

 

https://www.ejc.ee/templates/articlecco_cdo/aid/304672/jewish/History.htm

https://muuseum.jewish.ee/

Lessons I Learned While Traveling Through Countries Along Baltic Sea

16 Sep

During our two-week cruise of the Baltics, we visited Holland, Denmark, Germany, Russia, Finland and Sweden.   I never realized how close these countries are to each other, just hours away across the Baltic.  And I never realized how intertwined their histories made their peoples and languages and flags!  The architecture repeats itself in every city as influences of Sweden, Denmark, Holland, German and Finland structures can be found in all the cities, and a combination of these styles.

I met many tour guides.  Some were better than others.  But several gave sound advice that I want to remember forever.  In fact, I need to share them.

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Typical steps of unexpected heights!

We spent two days in St. Petersburg and had an excellent guide on our first day.  A retired engineer, she was now guiding tourists through the maze of royal palaces.  Her excellent advice: “Be aware of steps/stairs of unexpected height.”   I think it was her engineering background speaking. But it was so true.  With the cobblestone streets and the old buildings, many times we faced stairs and steps of unexpected height.

Often as we crossed the street or entered a building she would intone, “Be aware of steps of unexpected heights!” Her words resonated through my mind many times during the nine-hour day of touring.  I think, thanks to this lesson, we never fell, we were always aware, no matter what country we were in.

Another day in St. Petersburg, another tour guide with a different message. (She was a retired college professor.) “Don’t demonstrate your water bottle.”   I think what she was really saying is don’t make a big deal out of things.  It was very hot when we were there. Unexpectedly warm.  And many people had water bottles with them.  I kept mine on the bus. But others, especially older adults, needed their water.

However, at certain places, you are not supposed bring a water bottle in.  However, with the heat, they were making exceptions.  So, our guide said.  “Water bottles are not allowed, but don’t demonstrate your bottle. Put it in your back pocket and go through security.”  I guess if the guards wanted to take it away, they could. But not hiding, while at the same time, not making an issue of it, was the best policy. Thus several of our comrades on the tour kept their water bottles with them throughout.

In Denmark, I learned two important lessons.  The guide we had on a day when it was pouring rain, told us that in Denmark the saying is, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.”  I concur.  I had packed our Land’s End raincoats and good walking shoes.  We stood in the rain, without getting really wet, as the water skimmed over our coats, while others were drenched.  Meanwhile,  all around us, the Danes walked freely without umbrellas, ignoring the weather and  just strolling through town in the rain.

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He was wearing good clothes as he splashed in the puddles.

I especially enjoyed seeing a young boy dressed in his very good rain clothes and boots splashing through all the puddles in a park as his Mom pushed his stroller as she ambled along next to him.  Good clothes do make a difference!

I will admit, the first tour guides words resonated with me during the rain in Denmark. As we walked the cobblestones and the steps of unexpected heights, I looked down and carefully placed my feet on the wet and slippery walkways.

The Danish tour guide’s other lesson was that umbrellas are not needed because they don’t work. Also true.  I had an umbrella at the beginning of the day. While we walked the streets of the city, it seemed fine.  But by the time I returned to the ship, the only place for that twisted and ragged umbrella was the trash.  You do not need an umbrella in Copenhagen or Arhus.  You just need good clothes!

I loved our tour guide in Stockholm.  She had an attitude that I appreciated.  The problem with most tours is that some people are always late, taking up time from everyone else.   She kept a steady pace wherever we went, shouting back to the slower walkers, “You can’t get lost, there is only one way to go …straight.”

She told us outright, when we left for a short period of time on our own, after she showed us the main square, that if we did not make it back to our bus at the assigned time, she would assume that we were staying in town.   We were adults and we could find our own way back.

And I appreciated that she said that, but then her soft side showed.  We had one woman on our tour who walked slowly using a cane.   When she and her husband were not back at the bus on time, our guide said, “I am just going to check the corner to see if they are coming.”  We all agreed that was a great idea.  And it was, as the couple were slowly moving up the hill and being careful on the steps of unexpected heights.

 

 

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.