Friday, August 27, 2010

Norway – arriving in Kirkenes

Kirkenes is located in the extreme northeastern part of Norway. It is the capital of the municipality of Sør-Varanger and borders the Barents Sea, which is a part of the Arctic Ocean. It is about 240 miles (400 kms) north of the Arctic Circle. Actually this is where Norway ends. This area was jointly occupied by Russia and Norway until the borders were set in 1826 between these two countries and Finland. Kirkenes is further east than most of Finland and only 7 kms (4.3 miles) from the Russian border (37 Kms/22 miles from Finland.) It has a frontier feel.

We had left Atlanta in the evening and after a change of plane in Paris we arrived in Norway the following afternoon. We stayed in Oslo that night then early the next morning we boarded a plane on Norwegian airlines and arrived in Kirkenes before lunch. When we left Oslo it was raining and there were heavy dark clouds but as we approached Kirkenes I could see the ground below. It looked very barren with many lakes and no towns. From the air it reminded me of Newfoundland and its unspoiled wilderness. I took some pictures from the aircraft.

Click on pictures to enlarge, then click again on each to bigify

These were taken from the aircraft with my little Olympus Stylus on the “Behind Glass” setting.

Kirkenes is quite a long way from Oslo, about 875 miles. Oslo is closer to Zurich, Switzerland (873 miles) than to this city in the north of Norway. Kirkenes is located in Norwegian Lapland – in the county of Finnmark which is the largest county in Norway. It is larger than Denmark (or about twice the size of Vermont) but has a population of only about 75,000 people.

Postcard of the Sør-Varanger area around Kirkenes

Kirkenes was initially populated by the Sami people, indigenous people of the area (it is derogatory to call them “Lapps” we were told.) I had booked a room in the center of town, at the Barents Frokost Hotell. A 14-room bed and breakfast whose clients are mostly Russians – the TV channels were both in Norwegian and Russian.

Our room was on the second floor, last one of the left

The hotel was centrally located – in front of the main square where a Russian market takes place once a month. I had not realized that there was a day tour to Russia which included a day-visa, to the port of Murmansk. We could have come a day earlier if we had known about it.

The German Marines and Air Force had a base in Kirkenes with 30,000 men during the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany. They were stationed there because of the proximity of Kirkenes to the Soviet port of Murmansk (which was not under Nazi control.) Soviet planes bombed Kirkenes day and night with more than 1000 air raid alarms and more than 320 aerial bombings. In October 1944 Kirkenes was liberated but the retreating Nazi forces burnt it to the ground. As a result, Kirnenes was, after Malta, the most bombed place during the Second World War. In the middle of the square is the War Mother’s Monument which commemorates women’s efforts during the war.

There is also a pretty fountain and a profusion of violets around it.

Russian fishermen come to sell their catch in Kirkenes as prices are much better here than in their ports to the east. Signs in the streets are both in Norwegian and Russian.

Across the square is the large Arctic Hotel where excursions can be booked.

We checked but were too late to go on the “king crab safari.”

The river boat trip on the Pasvik River was also completely booked.

The river boat goes down the river which borders Norway and Russia.

But the “husky hike with local lunch” was available after 2 pm (a late lunch then I guess.) We booked this trip and I shall talk about it in my next post. We then walked to the small harbour and watched fishing vessels, both Norwegian and Russian.

Some Russian fishing trawlers tied to the dock looked like they were antiques and left there to rust. No one was around them; they look deserted and very old.

A guy in a Jeep picked us up to go and visit the husky kennel and when we came back to downtown Kirkenes we walked to the edge of the bay. Even though we were way past the Arctic Circle it was quite nice and I did not need a jacket.

It had been a lovely day, but we were still jet lagged. We went back to our little hotel facing the old church (Lutheran, built in 1862, but there are two Eastern Orthodox churches close by, too) and had a choice of watching TV in Norwegian or Russian...

In winter Kirkenes must be very pretty although from November 21 to January 21 they are in winter darkness (the midnight sun shines from May 17 to July 21.) Many activities are offered in winter like dog-sled trips, ice fishing, snowmobile tours, cross-country skiing and a snow hotel. Since I live in the Deep South this arctic environment in winter might be pretty hard on my system...

Here is a postcard of Kirkenes in winter.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Blog Intermission no. 3 (entr’acte) An Island – Une Ile

Over the years I have visited many islands – some in France and other European countries, other in the United States and Canada, some in Asia, in Africa and some in the Caribbean. One of the pleasures of getting on in age is the delight of reflecting on all these trips. Some were close to where I lived, such as the Ile de la Cité, which is the little island where Notre Dame de Paris stands, and some were far away such as Koh Samui in Thailand.

L'île de la Cité, Michel Delacrois, French born in 1933

Some large islands like Vancouver Island , Prince Edwards Island and Newfoundland in Canada have become favorites but I also found a lot of charm in smaller islands like the island of Gorée (off the coast of Sénégal, Africa) Mykonos in Greece, Bali in Indonesia and Djerba in Tunisia.

Modern postcard purchased on the île de Gorée, Sénégal, Africa

There are still many islands I would like to explore such as Tahiti and Hawaii.

Road in Tahiti, Paul Gauguin, French 1848-1903

I hope to see some new islands this year, and if and when I do, I’ll share my pictures on future posts.

The Lofoten Islands, Norway (picture taken from the Web, author unknown)

If Once You Have Slept on an Island

If once you have slept on an island
You'll never be quite the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name,

Caldy Island 1879, John Brett, English 1831-1902

You may bustle about in street and shop
You may sit at home and sew,
But you'll see blue water and wheeling gulls
Wherever your feet may go.

The island of Malta (photo taken last November 2009)

You may chat with the neighbors of this and that
And close to your fire keep,
But you'll hear ship whistle and lighthouse bell
And tides beat through your sleep.

Grand Bank Lighthouse (taken on the coast of Newfoundland in August 2008)

Oh! you won't know why and you can't say how
Such a change upon you came,
But once you have slept on an island,
You'll never be quite the same.

- Rachel Field, American, 1894-1942

St Pierre Island (taken on St Pierre et Miquelon Island – 2008)


Si vous avez dormi une fois sur un île…

Si vous avez dormi une fois sur une île
Vous ne serez plus vraiment la même;
Vous semblez être pareille que la veille
Avec les mêmes occupations et le même nom

Shores of Long Beach, Pacific Rim, BC, Canada
(modern postcard purchased on Vancouver Island)

Vous pouvez marcher vite dans les chemins
et entrer dans les magasins,
Ou vous reposer chez vous, à coudre,
Mais partout où vous irez, vous verrez des eaux bleues
Et des oiseaux crier.

Mykonos Island, Greece (modern postcard purchased on the island)

Avec vos voisins, vous allez parler de tout et de rien,
Ou rester près du feu,
Mais vous entendrez mugir les sirènes de navire
et sonner les cloches des phares,
Et les marées berceront votre sommeil.

sur une ile dans les Caraïbes (on an island in the Caribbean)

Oh! Vous ne saurez pourquoi, et ne pourrez expliquer comment,
Ce tel changement a eu lieu,
Mais une fois que vous avez dormi sur une île,
Vous ne serez jamais vraiment la même".

Rachel Field, Américaine,1894-1942

Mont St Michel 1868, William Stanley Aseltine, American 1835-1900

Blog Break - Post pre-programmed –

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Blog Intermission no. 2 (entr’acte) - A Summer Song

Below is a lovely poem I read a couple of weeks ago. It is in a book called “Wings of Song” – a collection of poems by Phyllis Sparta, published in 1983. There is little information on this poet. Born and raised in Florida, she graduated from the University of Puerto Rico. Phyllis received many awards for her work. Trilingual, she has traveled widely. Phyllis Sparta is the founding member of the National league of American Pen Women, St Augustine, Florida.

Reading, Melinda Byers, American, Contemporary

Summer Song

As you tour the sun-scorched highway
Underneath a summer sky,

Traffic in Atlanta, Georgia (Photograph from the Web, unknown author)

Has some green, enchanting byway
Ever lured your restless eye?

Photograph taken outside of Plains, Georgia

Have you longed to leave the traffic;
Felt a yearning there and then

Atlanta traffic at night (Photograph from the Web, unknown author)

To explore the leafy shadows
Of some cool tree-shaded glen?

Photo taken in Asheville, North Carolina, summer 2009

Have you thrilled to sunlit waters
As they shimmer in the light?

Oconaluftee River in Cherokee, North Carolina , July 2009

Has a sudden field of flowers
Filled your heart with pure delight?

Fields taken in the Biltmore Estate, Asheville NC, summer 2009

As you hustle on your journey
To some drear appointed goal,
Has the beauty of a landscape
Ever charmed your harried soul?

Nature’s Gardens, Vintage Tuck’s Postcard

If the simple arts of Nature
Thus can make your spirits sing –

Photo taken near Americus, Georgia, August 2009

Though your years may be of Winter;
Still your heart belongs to Spring!

- Phyllis Sparta, American Contemporary

Painting Victor Vignon, French, 1847-1909

Picture at the very top was taken at Jimmy Carter’s boyhood farm in Plains, Georgia, August 2009

Note: Blogger Break - Post pre-programmed –

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Blog Intermission no. 1 (entr’acte) - Sea Fever


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,

And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

Newfoundland, Canada (picture taken in August 2008)

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

The Flying Cloud, Montague Dawson, English 1895-1973

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;

Seagulls, Timothy Widener, American, contemporary

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

–John Masefield, English, 1878-1967

Boats in a Fjord, Normann Adelsteen, Norwegian 1848-1918

I heard this sea shanty and did not quite get all the words, but I understood “Good-bye Fare ye well” and “ We’re homeward bound. “ So I thought it would be a fitting end to this post.

the 97th Regimental String Band singing the sea shanty “Good-bye Fare ye well

Painting by Christian Johan Dahl, Norwegian, 1788-1857

Picture at the very top was taken in the port of Genoa, Italy, last November 2009

Note: Blogger Break - Post pre-programmed –

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A walkabout through the South Coast Botanic Garden, California

Last Sunday 25th July I published a post on our visit to the Banning Residence. We finished our tour mid-afternoon. The day of this visit was June 17th and a special day for my husband and I since we were married on this day in San Francisco in 1967 - this was our 43rd anniversary. Our daughter told us that close by was a beautiful garden she had meant to visit. Coincidentally that day a special program was taking place indoor at the garden, meaning that it would stay open until 8:00 pm instead of the usual 5:00 pm. It was a lovely day, sunny and dry so going to scenic Palos Verdes and walking about in a beautiful garden sounded just the thing to celebrate our anniversary. The luxurious Donald Trump National Golf Course is located nearby.

Donald Trump National Golf Course, Palos Verdes

We drove back to the Pacific Coast Highway and less than twenty minutes later we were parking the car ready to visit the South Coast Botanic Garden. The garden is located atop the bluffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula of Los Angeles (about 10 miles south of Los Angeles airport.) They call it the “Jewel of the Peninsula.” It did not start that way however. It was a dump. From the early 1900s it was used as an open mine then sold in 1956 to the County of Los Angeles. They in turn used it as a sanitary landfill.

In 1961 a citizen’s group petitioned to have 87 acres (35 ha) of the site landscaped as “The South Coast Botanic Garden.” The land was reclaimed and landscaped over 3.5 million tons of refuse. In 1961 the LA County of Arboreta and Botanic Gardens planted 40,000 donated plants. The garden now has over 200,000 plants and 2,000 species from around the world.

Note: please click on the collages to open them, then click on each picture to enlarge it.

There are plants from as far away as Australia and South Africa. They join the Coast Redwoods, Ginkgos and over 100 trees and shrubs of rare mature specimen. The garden features a Japanese Garden, English Rose Garden, Mediterranean Garden, Conifer Garden, Cactus Garden, Palm Garden, Fuchsia Garden, Herb Garden, Garden of the Senses, a Children’s Garden, a Water-Wise Garden, Conifer Collection, Palms Collection, a Banyan Forest and more.

Click to enlarge individual photos too

A small manmade lake and a stream are visited by a variety of birds such as geese, ducks, coots and herons plus 200 species of birds sighted annually. The garden brochure says: “This continuing experiment in land reclamation has drawn horticulturists from all over the world, including Prince Charles of England, to study the feasibility of a similar project. The success of the reclamation effort is apparent in the peaceful, shady groves and areas of spectacular color.” It is truly a magical place.

The garden members had a meeting starting a 5:00 pm but we were told that we could stay in the garden until closing time, at 8:00 pm. Of course there was no one else walking about in the garden but us. We started with the Japanese Garden then the Fuchsia Garden. Behind these was a vegetable garden but we did not go there.

No little children were with us but we still went through the Secret Tunnel leading to the Children’s Garden where we saw the 3 Bears’ House, a yellow brick road and Goldilocks’ cottage.

Going away from Goldilocks’ Cottage I could not help stopping to take pictures of colorful flowers.

Everywhere I turned there were more flowers.

I walked over a small bridge and admired flowers bordering the little stream

then I arrived at an open area with a lacy gazebo. This should be a good setting for weddings, receptions and parties I think. Well this was our anniversary and the guests were all the birds and other critters in the garden.

There was another gazebo which I could see in the distance.

I went closer to the wooden gazebo and photographed some golden yellow roses growing close to it.

I went back and could see my daughter at a distance, sitting on the grass. What was she doing?

I approached silently and then I saw it. It was hiding being the sign for a Dwarf Callistemom bush from Australia.

It was a cute little bunny. I wish my two little grand children, our other daughter's sons, could have been here to watch it with us.

But there were more flowers and plants to see, some with name plates and some without. I took pictures anyway.

I had not seen a purple jacaranda tree like at the Banning Residence yet but a large tree with bright red flowers was on a little mount ahead. Its name was Cockspur Coral Tree, from Brazil.

A light shift in the wind brought a faint smell of lavender – de la lavande? Il y a de la lavande ici? (is there lavender here?) I was brought up with lavender. My grandfather would say that to keep me happy and quiet he would bring me to the lavender fields near our home in Provence. I was a wee girl but I remember their tiny pale purple blossoms and loved their sweet fragrance. There are several species of lavender, actually 39 of them and they have different fragrances. I remember buying lavender lotion after visiting Buckingham Palace - it was “grown in the Royal Estate Sandringham, Norfolk.” It had a slight different fragrance from the lavender from Provence. So now I followed the scent …and saw a little field of lavender swaying in the breeze with no one around.

All this lavender around me –

this was worth the trip even if there had not been any other plants.

Cueillette de la lavande, near Grasse, Provence (lavender gathering) vintage postcard

There was a gathering of crows close to me. I believe a gathering of crows is called a “murder of crows.” They were not looking combative though, just noisily having a meeting in the shade. I reluctantly walked away and went towards the steps I could see on the far side.

First I walked by a fountain and then another one. I would have liked to sit on one of the benches but there was so much more to walk about and explore.

Along the way I saw more flowers

and more

then I saw it – the rose garden! It was quite large. The brochure says that it contains hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras, old-fashioned and miniatures roses. Over 300 varieties. For a rose lover – this was heaven. My husband and daughter had long gone ahead so I was all alone in this garden. I certainly rejoiced to be alone and took my time with these beauties. I took many photographs (at least 450 that day) but cannot show them all to you as this post would be even longer… Here is the rose garden below.

Below is just a sample of some of the lovely roses around me.

Then more roses.

Alas I had to go. For a few more minutes I sat on the bench you can see below just admiring the colorful rose oasis. As I started to go away I noticed a plant with bright purple flowers on terminal spikes. I touched it and it felt like velvet. Its name is Mexican Bush Sage or Velvet Sage (Salvia leucantha.) Here are some pictures of it below.

I needed to rejoin my husband and daughter – but where were they? I started walking into a path, stopping to photograph flowers as I went by. As I shot a lacy red flower I felt as if someone was watching me.

I looked up and saw a horse on the other side of the fence - he was watching me!

I turned around to find a different path and saw a green sign indicating the “Palm Garden.” So I took it – maybe they were looking at palm trees.

Top palm tree on right is called Queen Palm (Syagruss romanzoffiana) the bottom left is called Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnia decurvata)

No one around. I crossed the road and went on another path indicating “the lake.”

As I approached I could hear ducks. Turning around the bend I saw tall grass then further on a lake and seated in front of the lake were my husband and daughter, watching a paddling of ducks.

We said goodbye to the ducks

and started down a trail.

We arrived at a creek where bales of turtles were happily swimming close to the shore.

It was getting late so we decided to walk on back. They went ahead towards the Banyan Forest while I took a picture of another little rabbit.

Then I followed them through the banyan grove. Going under those huge banyan trees was like walking into an enchanted forest.

I kept taking pictures while they went ahead. I was fascinated by the roots. The aerial roots grow into thick woody trunks. Their designs look like giant woodsy octopuses.

I needed to catch up with them. But walking back out of the grove more flowers were coming into view.

It was getting close to 8:00 pm so even though there was so much more to see I reluctantly went back towards the exit, shooting flowers until the last minute. It had been a wonderful day.

It is hard to believe that this garden was once a landfill. People working together certainly changed it into an amazing and wondrous treasure for all to enjoy. In the mid-70s a remake of the “Crying Indian” public service ad was filmed at the South Coast Botanic Garden where Cody, the Indian star, was riding a horse in the garden instead of the canoe in the original advertisement.

"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts." - Rachel Carson, American 1907-1964, Nature writer

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