Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Monday, May 30, 2011
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Photo: The Radisson Blu Hotel in Copenhagen
High taxes are not economy killers. Just look at the Western European countries where taxation levels are all much higher than in the US. What is killing our economy and our country is the obscene disparity in wealth between the uber-wealthy and the rest of the population. A few smart wealthy people realize this and have spoken out about it (e.g., David Stockman, Warren Buffett.) There is no way we can survive as a leading world power if we engage in multiple wars, and maintain unnecessary military spending with bases all over the world (why do we need them?) and at the same time cut taxes on the wealthy. We jeopardize our future with cuts in education, and we are attacking the most vulnerable in our society by gutting social safety net programs. We're behaving like an end of empire country...eating our own while the most wealthy get wealthier. It's nothing less than shameful.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Friday, May 27, 2011
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Whew! We're home. IT was a great trip but exhausting. I need a vacation from Vacation. I really missed the animals particularly our kitten.
Since we were on a cruise we saw a lot of really beautiful lighthouses. This one is in Warnamunde, Germany, a port on the Baltic that we stopped at so that we could visit Berlin.
Monday, May 23, 2011
Photos: Oslo Town Hall; modern opera house; Karl Johann Gate, the main street of Oslo with the National Palace at its end; Vigeland art - metal gate
Norway was my favorite country that we visited during our land tour of Scandinavia in 1985. This morning we sailed into Oslo, the capital of Norway, and we got to spend an enjoyable half day touring this fine city. We took the “Hop On, Hop Off” city bus tour. At the famous Vigeland Sculpture Park we got off the bus and enjoyed a stroll. My favorite Vigeland art work in the park are the twin iron gates with male figures. After our tour we did a little shopping and purchased two great wool sweaters for a bargain price of $65.00 each. Our return to the ship for lunch had us both wishing we could spend more time here. Norway is a beautiful country. We sailed out of Olso and headed for Copenhagen marveling at the scenery along the coast, dotted with beautiful summer homes. We’ll have our final dinner on board the Emerald Princess this Monday evening. We dock in Copenhagen early Tuesday morning and catch a flight for Frankfurt, the beginning of our long trip home. It’s been a remarkable and memorable voyage here on the Baltic Sea. We have many memories and stories to tell.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
On the cruise’s second stop in Denmark, we docked at the second largest city, the seaport Aarhus. From there we took a bus excursion to Bryrup for a steam engine train ride to Vrads. The marvelous old train, manned by a volunteer staff, was fun, and on the journey we saw beautiful Danish lake and forest country.
After the train ride the tourists in our group re-boarded the bus to visit Sky Mountain, a spectacular look-out point that also added to our enjoyment of lovely Denmark.
But by that time most of the passengers on the bus were thoroughly disgruntled and protested to the tour guide. You might ask, dear reader, What? Why the tourist revolt?
Well, a tour to see the bog man mummy known as the ‘Tollund Man’ had been promised in the excursion ticket. But our tour guide Kirsten said that such a lengthy visit to the town of Silkeborg was not included on our tour, and thus the discontent.
There are still a few remnants of divided Berlin and the cold war that you can see. They have actually installed a reconstruction of the infamous "Checkpoint Charlie" former East-West crossing gate in downtown Berlin where it once stood. The sandbags around the soldiers booth are made of concrete!
Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio...just a sampling of the painters represented in the two museums in Berlin that we visited on Saturday.
Berlin is one of the great museum cities in the world. There are many, many venues all organized under the heading of “State Museums.” During our short time in the city we only had time to visit two: the Gemaldegalerie (the home of the royal Prussian collection, which covers European art from the 15th to 18th centuries) and the Neue National Gallery.
The Gemaldegalerie is particularly strong in German Renaissance art, the Italian Renaissance, the Flemish and Dutch Baroque. They also have Spanish, French and English paintings, but on a lesser scale. One of the most provocative and erotic Caravaggio paintings is his “Cupid,” which depicts a leering Roman street hustler posing as the god of love. The Rembrandts are very numerous in the museum, and Jim’s favorite, shown in the photo, shows a gesticulating Samson; Rembrandt’s metaphorical, Biblical scenes are among his most interesting. There are two Vermeers in the Gemaldegalerie, both first-rate. The one shown in the jpg is “A Glass of Wine,” a large interior with two superbly drawn and contemplated figures who converse in the artist’s special, magic light. Colors are rich yet subdued and the still life details speak volumes about how Vermeer appreciated the everyday on ritual and spiritual levels.
At the New National Museum, on Museum Island, we saw Berlin’s collection of first rate German and foreign paintings from the 19th century. Though there are works by Constable, Courbet, Manet, Monet and others, the vast majority of works are by the lesser known German artists. The early Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich is the most remarkable in my opinion, for his special poetry and the delicacy of his landscapes. Jim enjoyed the late Romantic works by the fantastic artist Frederick Bocklin. Illustrated on this blog is a painting of Ruggiero and Andromeda, which Jim found especially endearing for its spectacular blue dragon, who seems to sense that things will take a turn for the worse—for him. Knights on horseback and dragons usually didn’t relate well to each other, to say the least. Another, more famed Bocklin in the Museum is the “Isle of the Dead,” a mystical painting which inspired Rachmaninoff’s famed tone poem of the same name.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
It’s been about 20 years since we’ve been to Berlin. We last visited the German capitol city just after the Berlin Wall came down. When we visited in about 1990 or 1991 we stayed in what was the former West Berlin near the shopping street known as the KuDam. But when Berlin was partitioned in 1945, the communists got the really historic part of the city east of the Brandenburg Gate, including the famous Museum Island, site of so many historic buildings and museums. So we visited that part of town as well as Potsdammer Platz, once a beautiful and vibrant centerpiece of this great city, which was destroyed during WW II. At that time Potsdammer Platz had not been rebuilt. It was literally just an open field. However, now it is fully developed with many modern buildings. You would never know it had recently been nothing but empty space.
Our day in Germany began early Saturday morning after the Emerald Princess docked near Rostock in Northern Germany. We took a fast train to Berlin. The trip was about two and one half hours. We had only about five hours to enjoy Berlin this trip, but we managed to pack a lot into our short visit including visits to two of the major museums and quite a bit of sightseeing. In the late afternoon we caught the fast train back to the North, boarded our ship and set sail once again for Denmark.
Friday the Emerald Princess sailed West in the Baltic Sea all day. It was a beautiful sunny day all day. We had a little excitement early in the morning when a passenger with a medical emergency had to be evacuated by helicopter from the ship. We watched as the skillful helicopter pilot hovered just a few yards over the top deck of the ship. Medical personnel dropped onto the ship by a line from the helicopter and after some preparation the passenger was hauled aboard for a flight to a nearby hospital. Hopefully they’re OK. Friday evening we enjoyed a delightful dinner with friends. Saturday morning we docked in Warnemunde, Germany to catch a train for Berlin.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Only since the fall of the Soviet Union’s empire, mostly after 1991, did some of the countries in Russia’s sphere open up to tourism. Tallinn, the capital and main city in Estonia, is one of the most picturesque. The Old City features an amazing congregation of Medieval and Renaissance buildings, all surrounded by fortifications. We walked from the ship into town, and passed through the gate near a huge round tower which the locals have called “Fat Margaret” since the 18th century. The lower town, with many churches, shops and restaurants, all situated in old Medieval alleyways and houses, was the provenance in former times of the merchant class. This former Hanseatic League town also included an upper town, called Toompea, where the knights and higher church clergy dwelt. There were tensions between the two parts of town, and at various times different foreign countries, such as Germany, Sweden and Russia, controlled Estonia.
In Toompea we saw the castle, which on one side includes the present–day Parliament. We visited the Nevsky Cathedral, a 19th century addition built by the Tsars to symbolize Russian power over the Estonians. In the lower town the most outstanding church is that of St. Nicholas, (or Niguliste in Estonian) which dates from the 13th century, though much was leveled by Russian bombs aimed at the Nazi occupation of Tallinn in 1944. The church is now a museum and contains many Medieval paintings, including a wonderful “Dance of Death” by a 15th master from Lubeck, Bernt Notke.
After our visit to the Old Town, we walked back to the ship for lunch and a relaxing afternoon.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Photos: 1) Van Gogh; 2) Caravaggio; 3) Matisse; 4) The Golden Drawing Room; 5 & 6) The Malachite Room; 7) The Red Boudoir
Thanks to Jim’s great idea of visiting the Hermitage a second time, we were able to see this unique museum again. Though other museums, such as the Metropolitan, Louvre, Prado, etc, may rival the Hermitage as repositories of great works, none can rival St. Petersburg’s museum in being both a great masterpiece of architecture and a world renowned collection of art. Because we signed onto a second trip—exclusively to the Hermitage—we were able to see some rooms, such as the Malachite Room, the Gold Drawing Room and the Red Boudoir, that are never on a regular tour. Happily, these out of the way parts of the palaces (as the Hermitage is four linked buildings) were not teaming with tourists the way most parts of the museum are.
Jim was terrific at reading the complicated maps to the palace-museum, and we were also able to locate some great paintings that we had not seen yesterday. These included masterpieces by Watteau, Poussin, Fragonard, Reynolds, Caravaggio and most impressively Post-Impressionist and early 20th century works by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse and Picasso. The weather was rainier on our second day in the Imperial city, so it was agreeable to spend the morning inside the museum.
Next it’s on to Tallinn, the capitol of Estonia, a country we’ve never previously seen.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Photos: 1) The Gold Room at the Hermitage; 2) Malachite pillars in St. Isaac's Cathedral; 3) Titian's St. Sebastian; 4) The Church Of The Spilled Blood; 5) The Stock Exchange building; 6) Rostal Column; 7) The Winter Palace (Hermitage); 8) St. Isaac's Cathedral
One must confess that the Queen Bee of the Baltic is the amazing Imperial city of St. Petersburg. Peter the Great’s spacious and monumental city, in its oldest quarters, boasts lavish Baroque and Neo-classical facades, all designed to awe the visitor.
We started our tour of the city by driving past such landmarks as the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Rostal columns before the former Stock Exchange, the Orthodox commemorative church of the Spilt Blood (built to commemorate the assassination of the noble-minded Tsar Alexander II), the Admiralty buildings and the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. We visited the magnificent masterpiece of the French architect Montferrand, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and after a Russian lunch, we toured the Hermitage, one of the greatest art museums in the world. There we were able to enjoy works by Leonardo da Vinci (two rare, early Madonnas), Fra Angelico, Raphael, the Baroque Spanish masters, and especially Rembrandt. The Dutch artist’s “Prodigal Son” is one of the most moving paintings anywhere, since its subject is forgiveness for human transgressions, a rare and unusual topic to tackle, for even a genius. Rembrandt shows a simple shame in the pose and profile of the Prodigal son, complete forgiveness on the face of his father, and envy tinged with sorrow on the faces of the Prodigal’s two brothers. Rembrandt’s use of rich earth colors—red, gold, black and a multitude of browns---never ceases to amaze me.
Though the tour through the Hermitage, with all its stunning rooms (like the red-velvet covered Small Throne Room or the overwhelming Gold Room with its gold-plated columns) was an abbreviated tour, we were happy to know that we’d be returning to this treasure trove for a second visit. Jim had the bright idea to visit the museum twice, and I can’t thank him enough for that suggestion.