Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The City of Rouen, Normandy, France

One of the main reasons we stopped in Rouen, Normandy (in France) was to see the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. But, my mother was in a lot of pain and needed to rest. So, we left her in the car and told her we'd only be gone for 1 hour. We hurried through the town looking for the memorial cross... but we never found it. We did, however, see several beautiful blocks of Rouen.

The first site we came across was this beautiful building - the Palais de Justice. This gothic building was built near the turn of the 16th century and was mostly destroyed during the Allied bombing of WWII. This, the western facade, is heavily pockmarked from WWII bullets.

A "close up" showing some of the bullet holes still left on the western facade of the Palais de Justice.

Half-timbered buildings lining a street in Rouen.

Close-up of a half-timbered building.

We stopped and had a quick drink - this was one of Alex's favorite drinks on this trip. It is a soda/juice mix! And, we were pleased to find out we could buy it at one of our local grocery stores that carries lots of international foods!

This is an amazing clock that I wish we would have seen up close. I only took this photo as we quickly turned the corner! The "Great Clock" was created in the early 1400's and rebuilt in 1527-1529.

Above is a close up of the photo I took. The clock only has an hour hand (no minute hand, as I guess the hour was close enough) and it is a little after noon. Under the VI there is a a cut out which changes each day of the week and shows a god on a chariot that demonstrates which day it is - I believe this was a Monday. Above the clock face is a globe that indicates the phase of the moon - I believe the colors are blue & silver so, this being completely silver, I think it was a full moon.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

More of Monet's Gardens

I was asked for more photos from Monet's gardens at Giverny, and I'm happy to share them with you all! Here goes...

Les Nympheas is the restaurant we ate at located at the gardens. Did you know that Monet called waterlillies by their scientific name, les nympheas?

A beautiful snail... we saw quite a few snails!

This was our first view of the famous bridge. We are actually standing on a bridge at the opposite side of the pond. You can barely see 'the bridge' above Alex's head.

From the bridge (above where Alex is standing), if you look the opposite way you will see this boat that was also in Monet's paintings... or perhaps a boat LIKE the one he painted.

Doesn't this just look Impressionistic? (if that is a word...)

A rare shot of the bridge without any people on it. I wish there were fewer waterlillies so you could see the reflection of the bridge more clearly.

I was standing beside 'the bridge' to take this shot. You can see the lesser known bridge (the one Alex was standing on earlier) at the back of the pond to the right.

This is a second story window of Monet's house which looks over the gardens, not the pond. We were able to tour it, but not to take photos inside of it. His studio has recreations of about 30-40 pieces of his artwork. Work by other artists, including some Japanese artists who inspired Monet, are scattered throughout the house.

I hope you enjoyed these (additional) photos! We also visited the cathedral that Monet painted so many times AND the cliffs that he painted! I wasn't familiar with them, but the evening we spent on the beach by the cliffs was incredible. I'll share those next, I think.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Visiting Monet's Gardens

Yes, it's Monet's Garden! We had an incredible time visiting Giverny, the place of Monet's gardens, in Normandy, France. The weather this day was perfect and the gardens were more beautiful than I had imagined.

When you enter the gardens, you are first in a real garden area. It is HUGE! There are probably 8-12 rows that you can wander down. Unfortunately, I only took closeups so I can't really give you a good idea of what it looked like. We also saw quite a few gardeners busy pruning and doing other garden jobs.

Alex took lots of photos with my 'big' camera!
After leaving the regular gardens, you go through an underground tunnel. I believe the tunnel went under a road. Then, you go on a fairly long path that winds around different water features... until you arrive at the famous waterlily pond (1st photo). Wow! It's gorgeous!

It's very hard to get a photo of yourself alone on the famous bridge, though we did manage to get one of my mother. It was really crowded around the main pond, but there were other, quieter areas. Alex & I posed on this bridge that was behind the waterlily pond and were able to get a shot of just the two of us.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Seeing Lenin & Stalin

I'm going to skip ahead on our trip because I watched a movie about Stalin over the past two days. Besides France, we were able to visit three other countries: Finland, Estonia and Sweden. While in Estonia for three days, we went on a semi-private tour (7 people of which we were 5) of occupied Estonia. One of our stops on the tour was a pile of old statues behind a museum - primarily statues of Lenin, Stalin, and some soldiers.

our family with statues of Lenin and Stalin in Tallinn, Estonia
We took some photos of all of us around a statue of Lenin. To tell the truth, at the time I didn't know which statues were Stalin and which were Lenin. We were smiling and that later disturbed me. Would we have been smiling around a statue of Hitler? Is it because we don't understand the horror of these men? Maybe. But, as I thought more about it today, I realized that we were primarily smiling because of where we were... we were standing next to a piece of history. And, these statues weren't terrorizing people any more... they were piled up and neglected and no longer a threat. The people of Estonia are FREE!

my photo of Stalin statue in Tallinn
The History Channel documentary I just watched (online) is called "Stalin: Man of Steel." It was an amazing tale of a ruthless man who led to the death of millions of his people... but was strangely still their beloved Father. At the end of this post I'm going to share some of the notes I took - many of them actual words from the movie. But, if you are interested in learning more about him, I recommend this movie.  

My notes:

The Romanov's had ruled Russia for over 200 years and it was the goal of revolutionaries, including Stalin, to overthrow them. On October 25, 1917, the Bolshevik's stormed the winter palace in St Petersburg and the Tzar was toppled. Lenin became the new leader of Russia. (Question: did Lenin take power immediately?)

Stalin worked as an enforcer in the Communist party during the next five years and was then elected General Secretary. Eventually, he became Lenin's right hand man. When Lenin died in 1924, there were two possible successors: Stalin or Trotsky. Congress went against Lenin's will and chose Stalin and exhiling Trotsky (who would be later assassinated under Stalin's orders).

Stalin, wanting only loyalty to himself, banned the Russian Orthodox religion and had all religious materials destroyed. He had the churches destroyed and thousands of priests executed. Then, he set himself up as a new god... and his image hung in every home.

Russia was a land of peasants and swamplands, but Stalin started industralizing building major factories and railroad tracks. Then, he took all of the agricultural land and created "collectives" - giant state-owned farms. The farmers who refused to deliver their harvests were subject to violence.

By 1932, modernization was taking its toll on the rural population. As 5 million people starved, Stalin had 5 millions TONS of grain exported! But, life in Moscow was good... if you followed the party lines!

A wave of political execution followed with neighbors turning against neighbors and quotas set for how many people needed to be killed. Troika (groups of 3) went around conducting brief trials before executing people. In two years, 1.5 million people were killed.

Kolyma Goldmine from Wikipedia
Even as millions of people died in the Gulags, the prisoner's put their trust in Stalin. They thought he didn't know what was going on and would save them if he only knew. They thought he was a saint. In the Kolyma Gulag, a camp where gold was mined, the death rate was nearly 100%.

In the late 1930's, Stalin ordered a purge of his fellow party members and military leaders. He had 8 of his top generals executed and over 30,000 officers were killed over the next two years. Stalin wanted to raise up new leaders who would be faithful only to him.

In 1939, Hitler and Stalin signed a non-agression pact, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. But, on the 22nd of June, 1941, Hitler ignores the pact and attacks Russia. The Red Army is surprised and suffers heavy losses. The Soviet people fight for the Motherland and for their beloved Stalin.

Russia suffers massive losses, until winter sets in and they are able to save Moscow. Leningrad, however, is under seige by Germany for 900 days and over 1 million people die.

Yalta Conference from Wikipedia
Stalin had been pushing the Alllies to start another front, but that didn't come until June 6, 1944... D-Day. In 1945, the Yalta Conference takes place in the Crimea with Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill. Stalin demands control of German territories in the East and the other leaders, tired of war, concede.

In April 1945 the war is basically over, but Stalin pushes his army hard to be the first to reach Berlin. He sacrifices hundreds of thousands of soldiers and his officials discover the body of Hitler in his bunker. However, he keeps this information top secret. Russia is now a Superpower and Stalin is a hero.

The Postdam Conference takes place in July of 1945 when the leaders of the 3 Superpowers - Stalin, Churchill & Truman - divide territory among themselves.

On March 2nd, 1953, Stalin has a stroke and dies three days later. Russia mourns. Even those who have lost loved ones weep. Stalin has created himself into a mythical being... and he's turned a country full of peasants into a Superpower.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Outside Notre Dame Cathedral

I showed photos of the inside of Notre Dame. Now for some outside photos!

Welcome to Notre Dame!

Gargoyles. These are said to watch over the Seine River for drowning victims! (One of Alex's photos)

Part of the Gallery of Kings. There were 28 kings, probably meant to depict the Kings of Judah. However, there was confusion during the French Revolution and they thought these represented kings of France and they were destroyed. 21 of the original heads were found in 1977 and are now in the Musee de Cluny. These are recreations. Originally, these were quite colorful. (photo by Alex)

Another photo by Alex. I'm not sure what this represents, but someone is standing on this man!

My photo of Saint Denis, a martyr I studied before heading to Paris!

Inside Notre Dame Cathedral

One of the places Alex was most excited about visiting in Paris was the Notre Dame Cathedral. She ended up using my 'big' camera, and taking hundreds of photos. It was an amazing visit! We were just disappointed that, when we go into line to climb to the top of the towers, the line closed down for the night! Ugh! And, we had plans on going back later in the week, but we never made it.

It's amazing how Notre Dame towers over you. But, even more amazing, is the view from inside...

Wow! Pictures hardly do this justice. The ceilings are so incredibly tall! And, this was a Sunday morning and they were having a service. We were there over an hour and the service was still going on. The singing was absolutely gorgeous!!! I could have stayed for hours.

We found the Treasury very interesting. The treasury houses relics of various saints and holy people. Relics are items left behind by these people - it can be an actual part of the person (like a bone or some hair) or something used by the person (like a robe or Jesus' cross). The above reliquary has bone fragments from several saints. If I remember correctly, the center relic includes part of a jaw and a tooth of a saint. Notre Dame has 3 (unproven) relics from Jesus - the crown of thorns, a nail from the cross, and a piece of the cross.

There is artwork throughout the cathedral and I believe this painting was in the Treasury also. It's a detail showing Jesus washing the feet of a disciple.

Another view showing the incredibly high ceilings and some of the stained glass windows.

This is a view from the back. There are several thousand people sitting listening to the service. And, there are hundreds of visitors walking around, in silence, observing this amazing cathedral and taking photos. Again, the music was incredible and I wish I would have recorded a little of it.

Visiting the Louvre!

Last week we returned from our big European trip! I have over 2,500 photos. Gulp! But, I'm ready to make my first post... our trip to the world famous art museum, the Louvre.

Alex & me in front of the Louvre & I.M. Pei's pyramid
After traveling "all day and all night", we arrived at our hotel by the Louvre about 10:30 a.m. Paris time. Even though we'd only slept about 3-4 hours, we decided to skip a nap and try to stay up until 7 p.m. We walked the few blocks to the Louvre and got lunch at a food court. I had a pizza and Alex had McDonald's - which was very easy as they had a computer you could order from in English!

My brother, who has visited Paris several times before, was able to help us find the 'other' entrance into the Louvre and skip the long lines. Our entry led us through the base of the old medieval fortress. The Louvre was started in 1190 when King Phillipe Auguste built this massive fortress as protection against invaders. Since that time, it has been added to many times, in many styles, to become the Louvre that is known around the world today.

During our visit, we mapped out a few of our "must sees"... those works of art the Louvre is particularly famous for, including Venus de Milo, an ancient Greek statue.

Besides some incredibly famous works of art, I think what sets the Louvre apart is the architecture. Built over centuries, different wings and rooms have different styles. The ceilings, walls, and floors are often as exciting to look at as the art.

Saint Peter Martry - I unfortunately didn't get the name of this work of art & artist
I have enjoyed learning about Saints in art this year, including Saint Denis, who survived decapitation, and Saint Sebastian, who survived being shot by multiple arrors. At the Louvre, I encountered Saint Peter Martyr who had converted from the beliefs of the Cathers to become a Catholic under Pope Innocent III. The Pope appointed him, under an Inquisition, to uncover those who were Cathers, not Catholics. The Cathers were punished with jail or even by being burned at the stake. Two of the men that Peter Martyr hired assassins who attacked him with an axe, wounding him in the head and chest. In the artwork, as above, you can recognize Saint Peter Martyr by an ever-present knife or axe in his head.

Mona Lisa, from behind the crowd
And, of course, we had to see the Mona Lisa! (Even though it isn't one of my favorite works of art.) The crowd around it was amazing! Even when you wait and push your way to the front, there is still a barrier around her and thick glass protecting her. We spent just a few seconds at the front before pushing our way back to the open space. It was pretty funny! But, I suppose everyone who goes to the Louvre has to see Mona Lisa!

We got back to the hotel later than expected, took showers, and went to bed. Alex and I both woke up about 2 a.m..... wide awake and hungry! We took a snack into the bathroom and set on the side of the tub and looked out the window. Even in the middle of the night, it wasn't really dark out! We watched the street below us, and listened as a few noisy groups went by. We had a wonderful time! After about 2 hours, we went back to bed. I think I got up at about 9, but Alex slept until noon! Thankfully, my mom & brother had already been in Europe for about 10 days and were adjusted to the time. They went out and brought us back breakfast.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ponce Inlet, Florida

Now that summer's here (yeah!), I'm spending some time catching up on my blog. I'd love to catch up on all of our vacation photos before we start on our next big adventure...16 days in EUROPE!! So, here's part I of our trip to Florida last summer. Alex & I went with my husband's family: his mom, dad, sister & her son who was three.

We rented a house in Ponce Inlet and that was our base for the week. We used Ponce Inlet Watersports three different times during the week and really enjoyed them. Alex and her cousin enjoyed these 'swings' while we waited for our various tours.

We rented kayaks which was a LOT of fun, but I didn't take my camera because I was afraid it'd get wet. This photo was from the EcoTour and the photo was of my favorite part...I got to hold a jellyfish! It's a cannonball jellyfish and isn't painful unless you get the chemicals in your eyes or mouth. I washed my hands afterwards. Thrilling!

I went running on the beach at sunrise three different times. It was WONDERFUL, though I tried it barefoot the first time. Ouch! I ended up with some bloody toes. Yuck! Anyway, another thrill was seeing sea turtle tracks! It was nesting season and I could see where the turtles had crawled up onto shore, dug a nest and deposited their eggs, and then returned to the ocean. Amazing!!!

I visited the Reptile Discovery Center in LeLand one day by myself. I didn't know the schedule and only got to see the last two snakes being milked. It was an amazing thing to watch, though! And, it was very safe as the man, and snakes, were in another room behind a glass wall.

Alex and I visited the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet while the others went shopping. We enjoyed the touch tank and the aquariums and other displays. Outside we got to see some turtles who were being rehabilitated. There were displays showing what was harming them... like trash. We saw x-rays of harmful things they had swallowed... like a fishhook. And, we visited the nearby SeaBird Rehabilitiation Center.

Our house was about 1/2 a mile from the beach and we spent a lot of time there. Here's my nephew making a sand angel!

And Alex having fun on a boogie board. We had a blast with these!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

DC at Night!

My final post about our DC fall 2010 trip with the Carolina Homeschoolers is of a nighttime tour we took with two other mom/daughter groups. We had a wonderful time this night!

Besides the information we received as the bus drove us around, the bus also stopped several times for us to get off and explore various monuments. This is the Jefferson Memorial which was modeled after the Pantheon of Rome. It is a gorgeous building with a large statue of Jefferson inside.

This was my favorite photo of the night - the Lincoln Memorial and the moon enveloped in clouds.

Another place we stopped was the FDR Memorial which opened in 1997. It was a really neat memorial which includes four outdoor areas which each showcase one of FDR's terms as president. The girls LOVED this memorial! Here they are posing in a Great Depression bread line sculpted by George Segal.

The back of the Lincoln Memorial....

and the front of the Lincoln Memorial. We loved seeing DC at night!