Saturday, June 29, 2013

Ben Franklin's House

A couple of times during our travels this past year all of a sudden we are hit with something American out of the clear blue sky.  This was the case during the Sherlock Holmes Walk through London when all of a sudden we came upon the former home of Benjamin Franklin.

He lived at the house for 16 years over his life and it is the last remaining house that Franklin owned.

More than any other city I've been to London has history that is easily accessible...accessible as in turn your head and there is a neat little sign letting you know the history that happened right in front of your face.  

Some of the history might not be that riveting and then a few steps later something jumps out at you that is.  It certainly keeps it on your toes.

Marvel With A Mango: English Breakfast

While we were staying in London we stayed in the area of town called Little Venice.  

It's an area that has several small canals that little boats can fit through.  There are also several cafe/boats which were tied up along the sidewalks.  

The canals were home to many ducks and geese as well.

We stopped one morning at one of the canal cafes to have a full English breakfast.  I think I was just missing a slice of tomato and it would have been perfect.  It was certainly the best breakfast I've had since visiting Mom's Restaurant back in Colfax.

Now that's a banger that would make my Grandmother proud.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Hyde Park's Speaker's Corner

After visiting The Royal Albert Hall we headed up the street and went to Hyde Park.  It was quite the change from the busy London streets.  This section of the park was off limits and so it looks like there wasn't a soul in the park.  

The part of Hyde Park that I really wanted to see was the legendary Speaker's Corner.  Public political debate is nearly non existent in America short of a college campus or a Lincoln-Douglas debate forensics tournament and so I was looking to see the clash of ideas that makes democracy the least worst system of government.  

Unfortunately, this is what we found, not a public speaker in sight.  We went on a weekday in the afternoon and so I guess democracy takes a break sometimes.

Never mind the disappointment, at least we got to see the Marble Arch.

Plus there is the amazing bronze horse head statue which was a new edition in 2012.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Graffiti #17: Chalking Near Our Apartment Building

After Jāņi these chalk drawings appeared in the parking lot in front of our apartment building.  I particularly like the creature with the antenna.  And in case you are questioning my inclusion of chalking as "graffiti" here is a story of a man facing prison time for chalking in front of a Bank of America in California.  

Taking The Elevator To The Top of Riga

Here's a video of the view from the elevator at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Riga. It is 26 floors to the top and is one of the highest points in Latvia.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Preparing For Jani

An important part in preparing for Jāņi, which is the mid-summer festival/most important holiday in Latvia, is the making of the wreaths.  Both men and women wear distinctive wreaths on their heads for the holiday.  Men typically wear oak leaves on their head like this gentleman is wearing.  

Women have a lot more choices as they generally choose flowers as the main part of the wreaths.  Daisies are Latvia's national flower and so they are oftentimes the center piece of the wreath.

A few days before Jāņi down near the Freedom Monument in Riga there was a public wreath making event where you could come and get the flowers needed to make a wreath and you could get some lessons if you were new to it.

Folk costumes weren't required but you might stick out like a sour thumb if you weren't dressed in one.  

Another Jāņi tradition is that on the night itself you would jump over the large bonfires that are burned which would ensure that you would have good luck in the coming year.  Here a short clip I filmed of one of the bonfires at the Riga Jāņi celebration that wouldn't be able to be jumped over for many, many hours yet.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Babushka Brass Band

There are often musicians playing around Old Town in Riga but I had not come across this group of men dressed as babushkas in a brass band until earlier this week.  They have immediately become my favorite!

Here's a short video I took at the very end of their performance:

My Last Lenin

While walking around Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula we came up the last large statue of Lenin I would see during my time in Ukraine.   

Where is Lenin pointing?  Towards the Black Sea, of course.

Sevastopol is home to both Ukrainian and Russian naval bases and during Soviet times the city was closed to all non-residents.

Here's a view of Lenin's back side that I don't usually take.

While the Lenin statue is nice, it is the level of detail on the four crouching men surrounding Lenin that I'm really impressed with.  

Thinking about the Lenin statues that I saw during my trip I wasn't too sure when I would see something like it again.  I imagine it will be several years until I'm back in a place where Communism is still [kind of] celebrated.  And then I remember that I've lived in a place in America that has its own Lenin statue.  In Seattle, [technically, Fremont] there is a very prominent Lenin statue that many people [I assume] just sort of role their eyes at when they pass by...but when I'm in Seattle next time and see it I wonder if I will view it the same way.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Tower of London

The flight from Riga to London was only two and half hours and so after our early flight we still had time to get some sight seeing done before it got too late.  We decided to head to downtown London to see Tower Bridge...  

...and take a tour of the Tower of London.  I hadn't really realized that although people describe a singular "Tower" it is not really one structure and instead a collection of many smaller towers built through the centuries.

This is the thrown that the kings and queens sat upon when staying at the Tower.  It's not quite the Thrown of Swords but still...

The Crown Jewels are guarded in the Tower by Coldstream Guards.  They don't let you take photos of the jewels themselves...

...but we did get to see a changing of the guard in front of the Jewel House.

There was also a historical display detailing the possibilities of what happened to the Princes in the Tower.  Were they killed on the orders of Henry VII?  Was he murdered by Richard III?  Or were they not murdered and instead hidden away somewhere?  As you left the exhibit you got to vote for the answer that you thought was most likely.  It seems that we have a lot of good-hearted people who hope for the best possible fate for the Princes.

In the White Tower they are many historical displays including several devoted to warfare.  Here is one of the more interesting/disturbing pieces which is a set of armor made for a young boy...possibly a prince.  

And here is a closer look at the piece.

Also to be found in White Tower are many, many gifts that have been given to the Royal Family over many, many centuries.  Here's a gift from the United States government of a Great Plains Indians war bonnet.

There is also a legend about the Tower in that if the ravens that live on the grounds were to all leave then Britain would fall.  This seems like something that could easily happen until you learn that the Tower ravens have had their wings clipped.  

And the younger ravens that haven't been clipped yet are kept in a cage. 

Along those lines, the Tower has a rich history of housing many unique animals and some that you would be surprised to see ever see in England.  King Henry III received many exotic animals as gifts from other rulers during his reign and many were allowed to wonder around the Tower's grounds.  

As you walk around the grounds today, if you aren't paying close attention you might think some of those animals are still on the grounds.  

There are statues all around the grounds in honor of the past animals that lived on the grounds.  

There is one in honor of the polar bear which was a gift from the King of Norway.  The bear was sighted many times swimming in the Thames on a long chain.  

And as you enter and leave the Tower you are met by these three lions who were gifts from Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in honor of Henry's coat of arms which also had three lions on it

Visiting Yalta

After spending many, many months just 30 km from the Russian border it was with some excitement that we got to travel to the southern most part of Ukraine on the Crimean peninsula.  The highlight of that trip was spending a few days in Yalta on the banks of the Black Sea.  

It was also a chance to see my first Ukrainian palm tree.

Like Kharkiv, Yalta also has a very prominent Lenin statue.  It was placed near the main marina and today it looks onto a McDonald's restaurant open 24 hours a day.

A view of Yalta from the marina.

We visited at the end of March and so most of the boats hadn't been put in the water yet.

We were out and about pretty early that morning and so we got to see many fisherman practicing their craft.

From another angle.

Although there was a little garbage floating in the water near the shore this was by far the cleanest water we'd seen in Ukraine.

A lonely lighthouse on the Black Sea.

We also took a "three hour tour" on this ship along the coast which was currently the only way to view one of Yalta's famous sites, the Swallow's Nest.

It is currently closed for renovations and so you aren't able to drive there for a visit.  Believe it or not it the building has been an Italian Restaurant since 1975.

The Black Sea from our boat tour.

The other key site in Yalta is Livadia Palace which is a former summer home of tsar Nicholas II.

It was also the site of the Yalta Conference between FDR, Churchill, and Stalin at which discussions were held about how to re-organize Europe after Germany's defeat.

Apparently this dog did not read the sign telling him to keep off the grass.  

And here is the famous courtyard... which this famous photo was taken.  You can just barely make out the arches behind the men.

About half of the palace is devoted to a the Yalta Conference while the other half is devoted to Nicholas II and his family who stayed at the palace for a few summers.  Here is the view of the Black Sea from one of their rooms.

Yalta was by far the most tourist-centric place in Ukraine [Lviv would be a close second] and it was a wonderful change of pace.  Laura and I often joke that in 20 years when we come back to see what has changed in Ukraine we will certainly need to come back to Yalta one more time.