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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Baltic birds soar, swim, sup, and strut their stuff.

We watched and listened to massive flocks of lesser white-fronted geese travelling to summer feeding areas. Two scout-geese led the vees to safe ground. From what we saw, we would never have guessed that these geese are considered an endangered species. Nearby, storks guarded their nests which were perched atop utility poles. We guessed that one might be sitting on eggs as it spent most of its time with only its head visible above the nest's rim. After lunch at Altja K├Árts, we walked along the beach and watched swans preen and feed in the Baltic waters.

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Michael, Barbara, and Peter in the watchtower - bog in the background.

Bog-walking is a natural park pastime at Lahemmaa National Park, not far from Tallinn. Peter was good enough to find us a lengthy bit of bog with a boardwalk and a watchtower -- no need for special racket-bog shoes or a guided tour. If we wanted to feel the bog underfoot, we merely stepped off the boardwalk to bounce on the drier mounds. In the background, you can see Peter's shoe sinking into the moist vegetation that varies from trampoline bouncy to super-soaked sponge. At some places, we tiptoed on boards that seemed to float on crystalline clear water, touted to be some of the cleanest in the world. Estonia ranks right up there with Finland as one of the boggiest lands in the world. Lovely at this time of year, but maybe not so pleasant after a mosquito hatch!
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Barb waves, "Hasta la Vista," to Helsinki.

Mix color and light with drab and dark, and you've got our 24 hours in Finland's capital.  We left feeling glad we had gone but in no hurry to return.
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Helsinki's spirit of rebirth, the lovely Havis Amanda.
Not even a short rest on one of her spouting seals can break this day's gray gloom!
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Finland's capital looks much better in sunshine, especially if you imagine hearing Finlandia flowing across the waterfront hill where we stopped to see the Jan Sibelius monument. Opening chords reflect our first twelve hours in Helsinki: dark, dreary, oppressive. We gained a new perspective the next morning — sparkling waters greeted us at almost every turn. At last we could understand why Helsinki came to be called the "Pearl of the Baltic."

After just shy of 24 hours in Helsinki, I no longer consider it a "been there, done that, got the t-shirt" sort of place. If I was in the neighborhood, perhaps on a Baltic Sea cruise, I now know how to enjoy a Suomi-day: visit only in summer, ferry to an nearby island, bring a picnic, and enjoy a waterside day.

p.s. Can you hear the organ thundering across the sky as you look through the monument's pipes?
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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Selection of Art in the Embassy

A Selection of Art in the Embassy

Barb and I were amazed as Rafi began pointing out some of his favorite artwork on the embassy's entry-hall walls: prints of quilts from Gees Bend! Just 18 months before, we had seen the quilts that inspired these prints at the Boise Art Museum. We truly do inhabit  a world of multiple connections.

Rafi's favorite piece is the Cup´ik Mask - the slide on the link above does not do justice to this indigenous art masterpiece.

Monday, May 2, 2011

  • Barbara, Jean, Maggie, William, Rafi, and Smiley the dog

A brief Sunday stroll in Viktoria-Luise Platz after breakfast at Montivideo is such a civilized way to set Barb and me off on our sightseeing afternoon to the Pergamon Museum — more on that in another post.

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So, you might wonder - why on earth are we looking at this collection of buildings behind a hanging street light? Well, the coolest thing we've done so far is to spend a few minutes in that round room at the upper right of the photo.  This circular glass room, called the Quadriga Conference Room, sits atop the U.S. embassy. Unlike TV personalities, we could take no photos in this room, but this is one view it's impossible to forget.

Imagine standing in an elegant space with windows opening right onto the quadriga view. Our voices hushed to a near-whisper as we entered the silent space on the embassy's rooftop. Stunned, our group turned all its attention across neighboring structures that stand below the embassy's roofline. We marveled at our view of the top — yes, the TIPPY-TOP! — of the Brandenburg Gate.  An incredible vantage with unimaginable proximity to the most famous statue in Berlin stunned, amazed, and absolutely awed us. Whispers seemed too intrusive for these moments spent admiring the quadriga from this marvelous perspective. So few people get to see this view that all we could say as we left the room was, "Lucky us!"
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  •  Click first link to learn more about that green statue on top of the columned building :-)
View of the Brandenburg Gate Quadriga from the panorama platform of a nearby skyscraper. We rose to the viewing deck in Europe's fastest elevator: 24 floors in 20 seconds.  On the smooth and speedy ascent, we thought we might have left our stomachs back at the ground floor, but neither in the going up or the coming down did we experience anything like the whiplash we expected.

From this lofty position, we saw not just the city's astonishing array of old and ultra-modern buildings  sprinkled among extensive parklands but also patches of rainfall. Hence the haze in this photo. Visible downpours dowsing different areas of this huge metropolis gave us the sense that each Bezirk (borough) is its own climate zone.
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