Tuesday, January 31, 2012


It has been over six months since we returned from our trip to Russia and Scandinavia, and I still have a few more posts about Norway that I need to get up before I am finally done.  In "The Old Days" we would gather our photos and notes and create a trip scrapbook, and the mess on the kitchen table would motivate me to get it done.  You would think that the ease of using a computer would make digital scrapbooking a breeze, but as Martin Luther King noted, "All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem."  No mess = No impetus to finish.

Well, I always tell my fledgling student writers, "Don't tell me what you are going to write about, just write!" And so, back to Norway.  Last July, I wrote a post about Oslo, the city and the churches, after the horrible shooting at a youth camp there. Now I am finally getting back to the many other beautiful sites of the city and the countryside.

One of my favorite places in Norway was Vigeland Sculpture Park. The park contains over 200 granite, wrought iron, and bronze sculptures of the various stages of human life, all of them created by one man: Gustav Vigeland, a Norwegian who lived from 1869-1943:

Vigeland is well known and much loved in Norway. Never heard of him? Chances are you have seen one of most famous works: The Nobel Peace Prize medal:

This ornate gate marks the entrance to the park:
A wide swath of neatly manicured lawn focuses all attention on the sculptures ahead:
It took Vigeland only twenty years to populate the park with his 212 sculptures.  They are all nude and somewhat block-like, purposely lacking the muscle definition and proportion present in Renaissance sculpture carved hundreds of years before, and yet they somehow capture a great deal of movement and beautifully depict the rich emotions of everyday life.

*Warning: By American standards, these are not G-rated sculptures.*

One of my favorites: an elderly father and his adult son. I loved the tender depictions of men.

In addition to these statues, there is a series of whimsical fountain sculptures with various figures playing in trees,

Around the base of the fountain are some wonderful friezes, again depicting different stages of life:
Children coming to earth

Death will separate even the most devoted of lovers

Poignant sculpture of two old men

If I had had a child with me, this pose would have been irrestible.
The most famous sculpture in the park is the 46-foot tall Monolith Totem, covered in 121 figures, all climbing towards the sky, a representation of man's reach for the spiritual and divine.

It took three stone carvers fourteen years to transfer the design from a plaster cast made by Vigeland to the stone. Vigeland died a year before its completion.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Bob and I have been crazy busy for the last few weeks, and we decided it was time for some fun.  Andrew invited us to Los Angeles to join him and Lauren for lunch on Saturday at one of LA's hot new restaurants, Bottega Louie.

Food? LA? Andrew and Lauren?

Great murals on the way to Andrew's apartment in Koreatown.

Lots of Korean stuff in Koreatown. 
I love driving around in downtown LA.  It makes me feel so cosmopolitan.  It is actually not that intimidating, especially on a Saturday afternoon.  It is nothing like, say, New York City, especially with Andrew and Lauren doing the navigation.

We ended up at a trendy, European-style restaurant Andrew knew about: Bottega Louie, located on the corner of 7th and Grand, just a block off Wilshire Boulevard:
 The kitchen was wide open to the large dining area, and there were dozens of chefs and waiters frantically buzzing all over the place:

We had an assortment of dishes that we shared around, including clam pizza, lamb porterhouse, grilled octopus, and trenne pasta with rib-eye and black kale.  However, my personal favorite was the order of portobello mushroom fries with herbed aioli sauce for dipping.  The fries tasted a LOT better than they look:
But wait.  I forgot the dessert!  At the end of our meal, the four of us shared a chocolate souffle with a custard creme sauce.  Delish.
 And on the way out, we just had to stop in the Louie Bakery and buy a few of these amazing (and amazingly expensive) pastries:
Are six pictures of dessert overkill?  Nah, I didn't think so either.

After we got home, I looked up this restaurant to see what others had to say about it.  I was surprised to learn that it was the #1 restaurant on Yelp for 2011--not just in LA, but in the entire United States.

Wow.  I feel so avant-garde.

Thanks, Andrew and Lauren!  Where are we going next?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


(*Note: I realized I have two more posts to do on our Russia/Scandinavia trip.  Rewind to last summer . . . )
If you had asked me a year ago where Estonia is, I would have said, "Is that a country or a city?"  Now I know that Estonia is one of the three Baltic States (Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia) and is slightly larger than Switzerland.  Its language is related to Finnish, and the Estonian people are distantly related to the Finns, but not to any other of their neighbors.

Estonia was conquered and ruled by the Teutonic Knights in the 14th Century, and there is a definite German flavor to the architecture of the city.  The dominant religion is Lutheran, although there is evidence of Russian rule as well, which began in 1710.  Estonia was liberated after World War I, but then returned to Russia in the 1939 dirty deal between HItler and Stalin.  Its independence was finally restored in a bloodless revolution, part of the amazing chain of events that occurred in the Eastern Bloc in 1991, and since then tourism has been booming.

Tallinn, the capital city, has a population of about 1.3 million and has been called the Silicon Valley of the Baltic Sea, which is amazing considering where they were 20 years ago.

We were on our own in Tallinn, and so we hoped for the blessing of this angel who greeted us as we entered the city:
The Russalka statue, erected in 1902 to pay
tribute to 177 men who lost their lives when
their ship by that name went down in a storm in 1893.
We bought tickets for one of those "hop on, hop off" tour buses to take us around the city, and the first area we saw was the business district, which looked clean and new.  No remnants of Soviet architecture here!
I loved this building covered with letters, and wonder what it housed. A newspaper office, perhaps? Maybe a publishing company?

Awesome graffiti.  Isn't this a great word?
For a few minutes, I thought we might be in LA, where this style of limo can often be seen:
And hey! Look! Here's my sweet little RAV 4!
One look at the street signs, however, and I'm glad we're not trying to drive our car around this city.

We got off the bus at the Toompea Castle, seat of the Estonian Parliament . . .
 . . . and made our way to Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.  Wait.  Are we in RUSSIA?

This cathedral was built in the late 1800s when Russia ruled and dominated the Baltic States.  As a symbol of oppression, the Estonians hated it so much that they planned to demolish it in the 1920s, but the building is so big and they were so poor that it never happened.  After they achieved their independence for the second time in 1991, they began to restore it, a process still going on today.

It is beautiful inside, and made me feel as if I had been teleported back to Russia:

Looking up at the interior of one of the onion domes.

A water tank for drinking and feet washing?

After drinking in all the gilded icons and the beautiful colors, we came across a much more subdued church, the Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin:

For a mere five euro, tourists can have the privilege of climbing a narrow, wood and stone staircase to the top to get a panoramic view of the city. Of course, we had to do it.

The 360-degree view from the top was pretty spectacular:

We moved on to St. Olaf's Church, the tallest building in Estonia and once the tallest building in the world (from 1549 to 1625).  The steeple used to be over 520 feet tall, but it got hit by lightning EIGHT TIMES, and the church has burned down three times. Now it is just over 400 feet tall.  Even at this shorter height, it was tall enough for the the KGB to use it as a radio tower and surveillance point. Too bad we couldn't climb up this tower!

The inside of the church was relatively simple and very elegant

Back outside again, we were enjoying strolling along the cobblestone streets . . .
. . . when out of nowhere a heavy downpour hit us. For a while we huddled in a covered section of a narrow alley that was ringing with laughter, especially when it started to hail.
We had no choice but to find a nice restaurant where we could wait out the storm:

Yeah, it was really tough.

After a while the rain stopped and we were back outside exploring.
We found the beautiful, colorful Old Town square . . .
. . . complete with City Hall:
I loved this barbershop sign.

Time was up.  We made our way back to the ship, passing a fortress . . .
and these cute sheep in a pasture by the sea . . .

. . . and STOPPING by this man's crepe-making stall:
We can never resist a crepe.  Savory for Bob. . .

. . . and sweet for Judy:

And Judy can never resist trying an assortment of the native chocolate:

Ah, Tallinn, we hope to visit you again someday.