UNESCO


Free Image Hosting by FreeImageHosting.netOK after being absent for quite some time and have had some health issues, after having uncompleted text on my hard disc for months and with a little pushing from my friends it’s a high time to sit and finally finish part 3 (the last one) of my Northern Adventures.
(in this post there are 29 small photos and they are clickable for enlargement. If you don’t see (and want to) all 29, refresh the page)

I should say that St Petersburg is a place I was dreaming to visit for ages and to be honest I didn’t expect I’ll have a chance for this any time soon. Naturally when that chance appeared I just couldn’t miss it. Therefore St Petersburg supposed to be the pearl of this voyage.

Everyone who has read Dostoyevsky (and I presume that readers of this blog have read at least few of his books) have one image of St Petersburg and I was truly hope I’d have a chance to see the other ones. After having mostly fantastic weather in Finland (something that quite surprised Finns as well) my hopes were quite high that it will be the same case in Russia. However weathercast wasn’t promising whatsoever: first day – rain; second day – heavy rain; third day – heavy rain. I was on hot line with my friend in Belgrade who were informing me everyday of the trip if there’ll be some changes. The answer has been always the same. I do love rain indeed but you REALLY don’t wish rain in place you are dreaming about for so many years.
When we crossed Russian border and enter in Leningradska Oblast (!) it was early in the morning, morning where sun was struggling with clouds so I thought “OK, hope dies last” and while we were approaching to St Petersburg through kind of spooky Karelia the weather was moving from bad toward worse until finally it didn’t appear in all his beauty that Dostoyevsky wrote about. I couldn’t believe; I’m finally here and it’s raining and everything is gray. In the distance we could see church towers trying to break grayness with their bright domes (not very successful I’m afraid). In the end I decided I’m not allowing rain to spoil my dream!

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After arriving in hostel we had to make a plan very fast. Spend only 3 days in St Petersburg is a sin but it was take it or leave it. We selected as a main destinations of each day Pushkin, Peterhof and The Hermitage. So we decided to go first in Pushkin. It was mostly cloudy so we thought to leave day with heavy rain for museum. Majority of my fellow travelers have noticed how my friend and I are organized so they decided to do whatever we do. In one moment we noticed one huge group of familiar faces are expecting from us to show them direction. I must say I wasn’t too happy with that. I mean I do have one “rule” on the trips which is going alone or with someone who has the same interest as I do. After not too long we heard “Wait for us! Can you slow down?” grrr! But we finally filled some kind of small bus. I didn’t pay the ticket at all, actually I didn’t have a ticket. Chauffeur was selling the tickets on the entrance of the mini bus and since we were big group with members who just had to put their butts on the seat (as if 8000km of sitting is not enough) he took some amount of rubles (without giving any ticket I believe but I’m not sure), closed the door and start the engine. Those mini buses are actually kind of cool stuff cause it’s much easier for maneuvering through the big city. However, finding right stop is small adventure. It seems there is one area where the stops are and you just have to find right line. I did have a guide where I checked for the number of the lines but the situation on the ground was quite different. Namely there were much more busses we could use than what guide listed. Curious thing was that the ticket price varied while all buses looked almost the same *shrug*

Anyhow we didn’t have time to experiment so we entered in the first mini bus with the note Pushkin-Tsarskoe Selo.

First day: Pushkin-Tsarskoe Selo
The original estate at Tsarskoe Selo (Tsar’s Village) was a gift from Peter I to his wife Catherine in 1710, and from around 1725 she started to spend more time here. It was under Empress Elizabeth and Catharine the Great that the place began to take shape being expanded and aggrandized.
The centerpiece is the vast 1752 to 1756 baroque Yekaterininsky Dvorets (Catherine Palace), designed by her favourite architect Rastrelli. It gradually became the favourite country estate of the royal family. In 1837 Russia’s first railway line was built between St Petersburg and Tsarskoe Selo to shuttle the imperial family back and forth.
When you enter the complex you’re finding yourself in a magic park full of sculptures and lovely small buildings in which you can see exhibitions, concerts and that kind of events. The magnificent parks and gardens of Tsarskoe Selo were created out of dense forest by thousands of soldiers and labourers. The park’s outer section focuses on the Great Pond. During summer it is possible o take a ferry to the little island where is Chesma Column that commemorates the Russian victory over the Turks in the Aegean.
And then suddenly you’re finding yourself absolutely speechless before lavish imperial palace. I knew it’s beautiful and saw many photos but standing there was just as if I’m dreaming…

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Oh and awaking was quite abruptly: the line to enter was one of the biggest I’ve ever seen! Even thought to stand there and wait, quite possibly for hours was terrifying so *blush* I didn’t. I took my friend and just stand some 50m from the entrance (behind us there was a line of hundreds of meters). However after 15-20min we noticed that nothing was happening; no one was entering in the palace and no one is exiting. I still don’t understand what was happening but apparently organized groups were entering without problems while others were waiting for Godot. OK I tried to enter saying that I saw my friend from the groups enters the palace (which was not complete lie; she was going in exchange office) but a KGB-looking man asked me about my guide’s name. I’m an idiot! Why I didn’t say Elena? (there MUST be some Elena who works as a guide) I said “I don’t know her name” and got the answer “In the line!”. I tried to explain but all he was saying was “In the line!” (generally speaking I’m stunned how many people don’t speak any foreign language. Here even grannies know some (very rudimental but still) English) so I was in the line. At least scenery was breathtaking, that grayness has started to disappear so we all hoped that weathercast will be wrong!

Eventually line started to move and then inside it was absolute chaos with buying tickets, again standing in line, groups with guides have had priority (just like outside) etc. I don’t know, but there must be some better solution than “In the line!”. Anyway we managed to pass all barriers and entered into another world. The palace was indescribable. After third or fourth room you’re starting to feel dizziness with all that light, gold, luxury. Interesting thing is that rooms actually have been beautifully restored (!). Palace has been devastated by the Germans and there are photos showing rooms (and the exterior of the palace) prior and after the Germans. It was almost completely destroyed!. There are numerous (but really numerous) rooms with all sorts of themes and colours but The Amber Room was something really special. Room is completely covered with gilded woodcarvings, mirrors, agate and jasper mosaics. The exquisitely engraved amber panels were gifts from Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia to Peter the Great in 1716. But these treasures were plundered by the Nazis and went missing in Kaliningrad in 1945, becoming one of the art world’s great mysteries. In 2004 the strange hoax was revealed: the Amber Room was destroyed in a fire in Kaliningrad while under Red Army actions. Those responsible for the loss were so terrified of Stalin’s reaction that an elaborate myth was created of its disappearance. In 2004 president Putin and German Chancellor Schröder presided over the opening of a new Amber Room, restored largely with German funds.

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Oh the curious thing was that there were lack of organized groups which spoken English. Majority were in Russian and then there were several in Spanish (evil grin). Naturally I joined one and silently translating to my friend what guide were saying. Guide was so sweet, Of course she noticed I’m not from her group but she didn’t mind. I had some question as well and she was quite happy to answer them. Moreover when they were moving into other building she mimicked me “Are you going?”. And then one (big) lady from the group who, I can bet wasn’t that interested in the story guide was telling, approached me and told me how she can’t listen properly because I’m in between her and guide. I started to laugh “What, my presence is so deafening?” She wasn’t pleased with my answer. Of course I remained with her group and she started to pointing my presence to others in the group but they didn’t find that annoying whatsoever. I wonder how would she react if she knew I’m not even Spanish (because my Spanish professor (who is Spanish herself) said that I looked completely as her compatriots)?

Second day: Peterhof
This most stunning of the tsarist palaces around St. Petersburg was first built by peter the Great (and it is also known as Peter’s Palace). Over the years his successors continued to build and expand to create the astounding ensemble seen today. It all started after the victory over Swedes at Poltava in 1709 when Peter decided to build a palace “befitting to the very highest of monarchs”. After his visit to Versailles Peter expanded his ambitions and employed more than 5000 labourers, serfs and soldiers, supported by architects, water-engineers, landscape gardeners and sculptors. Work proceeded at a frenetic pace until Peterhof was officially opened in 1723.
Indeed Peterhof is the most popular day trip from St. Petersburg for visitors. And that has its price, sometimes quite huge and I’m not talking about money but about nerves! Namely again we faced with “In the line” (it seems that’s the most used phrase in English) so we were obedient (sheep) and after a while we noticed that there are two lines: one to buy a ticket (some 300m long) and equally long line for entering the palace after (!) you buy the ticket. It was unbelievable. So my friend and I decided to split roles: I’ll wait in line to buy ticket and she’ll be in line to enter the palace and after I buy the tickets I’ll join her. And so we were standing in unmovable lines for ages. Eventually when I reached the girl who sells the tickets she spoke with her lovely voice: “No ticket!”; “No ticket!!! What on earth that suppose to mean?” and she explained: “Now only Russian people”. “I’m Serbian! It’s the same! Serbs-Russians-Brothers!” It was pointless. Oh, she can’t be serious!!! But she was! She was painfully serious! Apparently we were late some 30 min to catch time that allows us, non-Russians to get inside and therefore we had to wait some 90 minutes. The catch is maybe there are some note about that but ALL bloody notes were in Russian!!! So what’s the point inform in Russian people who are not Russians and therefore probably don’t speak Russian that they have special term to enter the palace! Gosh I was furious! We lost almost an hour waiting in the line to find out that we have to come in about 2 hours!

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Oh well we used those 2 hours in best possible way. We were marveling Peterhof’s park and fountains. I’ve never been in Versailles so I can’t compare but Peterhof left me speechless. Of course the most impressive is magnificent Grand Cascade, a symphony of over 140 fountains engineered by Peter himself. The central statue of Samson tearing open a lion’s jaws celebrates (as so many things in St. Petersburg do) Peter’s victory over the Swedes at Poltava. Shooting up over 60m it was unveiled for the 25th anniversary of the battle. From the Grand Cascade goes a canal, Water Avenue crisscrossed by bridges and bedecked by smaller sprays, leading from the palace (Grand Cascade is in the front of the palace) to the ferry dock in the Baltic.
The grounds at Peterhof include Upper, Lower and Alexandria parks, covering vast area of more than 600 hectares. As well as the numerous palaces and fountains there are three-lined avenues, wooded paths and the Baltic shore. The grounds next to the Great palace have been designed to be laid out in the French style with geometrically arranged flower beds, sculptures, summerhouses and pergolas. As I said fountains are just amazing and countless, there are so many that you really have to think hard not to repeat a wish if you wanna make one with each fountain! Beside magical Grand Cascade there is an imaginative variety mostly concentrated in the Lower Park, includes triton and lion fountains, dragon fountains with checkerboard steps, and smaller fountains with fish-tailed boys blowing sprays through conches. Most playful are trick fountains such as the Umbrella which “rains” on those who come too close.
So those 2 hours of waiting weren’t that bad after all.

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Grand Palace is an imposing edifice, although with 30-something rooms it’s not nearly as large as a typical tsarist palace. It has been transformed during the reign of Tsarina Elisabeth when a third storey and wings with pavilions at either end have been added. I don’t know what more I should write about royal palaces. Basically the story is pretty much the same as the one about Catherine’s Palace in Tsarskoe Selo: luxurious and breathtaking…

Third day: The Hermitage
Free Image Hosting by FreeImageHosting.netThe Winter Palace which is located in the historic center of the city used to be the Imperial residence. Several rooms in the palace were used to house unique works of art, and these rooms came to be known as the Hermitage. Later more buildings were constructed for the growing collections – the Small Hermitage, the Great Hermitage, the Hermitage Theatre and the New Hermitage. All these buildings now make up the State Hermitage – an enormous museum of art, history and culture.
Someone told me years ago if someone wants to see all what is in the Hermitage (and spend reasonable amount of time for each object) one would have to spend two years in the museum. The museum is a monster! My friend asked me “How can you use such a word for something so magnificent?”; well I don’t mean in negative way. I mean it’s horribly demanding, you literally need to be physically prepared as if you’re going to compete in the Olympics but also you have to know what you wanna see; you must have prepared priorities because there’s no way you can see everything. I was in shock when I completely accidentally peeked into some secondary, even tertiary corridor far away from the main halls and in the moment I was turning away my head I froze: “Have I just saw Van Gogh there in the corner?” It was Van Gogh, and then Gauguin , etc they are placed somewhere where I never thought they would. Of course there is a special room for them as well but that part on the lower floor is so easy to be missed. Then the next thought raised “Gosh! What have I missed so far in those countless other hidden corridors?!” So you can imagine what’s in the main halls!

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I’m not going to write about how I felt; I don’t think I could. I mean just to write the names like Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rafael, Caravaggio, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Cezanne, Monet, Picasso, El Greco, Van Gogh, Matisse, Rodin ….. should be breathtaking (and those are only painters and few sculptors and there are so much more!).
If you scroll down you’ll se an image of my computer and “The Dance” by Matisse. It’s one of my favourite paintings and I was so eager to finally see it. It’s was on third (last) floor… I knew it’s big but I couldn’t imagine how big until I finally enter in the hall where it hangs! It was on opposite wall of the huge hall and it occupies the entire wall. It looked like a mural. I really couldn’t believe I was standing there, even now while I’m writing this  (tomorrow will be) exactly 9 months later I’m shivering.

* * *

In between those main daily destinations I was cruising through the city hungry to see as much as possible. When I said cruising I meant literally: the best way to see St Petersburg in all its beauty is from the river (which mostly doesn’t look like a river but the sea). Neva is enormous and I can only imagine how the city looks when the river is frozen. St. Petersburg is built on 42 islands at the Neva delta where the river flows into the Gulf of Finland and it has it has over 300 of bridges! That’s why its most famous nick is “Venice of the North”.

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I’ve never been in Moscow but I saw St Petersburg as an example of Orthodox Christianity splendour! It is very different from what we have here in Serbia and I was little stroked, it reminded me on those cathedrals in Western (Catholic) Europe. Indeed we have the biggest Orthodox Temple in the world here in Belgrade but it’s not nearly like those churches in Russia. I’m not saying this in any negative way, I was just surprised. And when I saw how impressive churches are I was thinking “Oh God, please make they have candles inside instead of those machines where you put the coin and the small light turns on” (First time I saw those machines in Spain and I was shocked, even disgusted. At first my mind refused to believe they’re replacing candles. I mean even duration of time when the light bulb is on depends on the amount of money you put in. I found them utterly non-religious). Honestly I was deeply happy when I saw candlelight in those magnificent temples of St Petersburg. I was surprised that someone who is accustomed on different kind of religious beauty was so emotionally overwhelmed in those temples.

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There are countless number of churches in the city but the most important are the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ (The church is known as “The Saviour on the Blood” because on that place Alexander II of Russia was mortally wounded and the church is erected as a memorial to him), the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan (that was modeled after St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The church was dedicated to the victory over Napoleon in Patriotic War and General Kutuzov is buried in the cathedral), the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, St Isaac’s Cathedral (The largest cathedral in the city and the larges church in Russia when it has been built. During Soviet Union it served as a museum of atheism!!!).

Kazan Cathedral

Of course only three days for city like St Petersburg is not nearly enough to see all what is offered. But it was surely enough to say that this is the most beautiful place I ever visited. Hopefully I’ll be back one day…

* * *

From Russia we continued our journey and the next stop was Riga, capital of Latvia.
It’s really cute town, especially its old part with lots of cobbled streets and lovely architecture. Sadly we spent only few hours there before we continued journey to Krakow once again.
The roads were horrible and we arrived in Krakow few hours later than it was planned and therefore I was late to visit Auschwitz. I really wanted although my friends who were there advised me not to go because I would be so horribly moved that the feeling will gloom all positive emotion I’m having from past three weeks. Some of them still have that feeling in the stomach only when they heard I was aiming to go there and they visited the camp years ago. Anyway since we arrived late I had to modify my plan and go in “Wieliczka – Salt Mine”, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s absolutely incredible, it reaches 327 m depth and is over 300km long. Everything there is made of salt: passages, staircases, tunnels, statues of historic and mythic figures and the new ones (like Pope John Paul II) or scenes from the Bible like Journey to Egypt or replica of Leonardo’s “Last Supper”. We had great guide, she was fantastic and beside she gave us incredible amount of information she was enormously funny. I had to mention her here because she was really very nice memory from that visit. Oh and indeed everything is sculptured in the salt rock – I licked it *blush*.

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And that was almost everything I have to write about my fantastic Summer 2008 journey.
I hope you who were brave (or crazy) enough to read the entire story will find it interesting. I know I will keep coming back to these three posts to refresh my memories.

OK finally I managed to reach computer and write my impressions about the Summer trip on the European North. Gosh, I’m so full of emotions I just hope I’ll be able to stay focused. Oh and you can click on the small images if you wanna enlarge them (they will be opened in another window). Also maybe you might need to refresh page if you don’t see all small photos (there are 24 clickable pictures).

Beside the fact that the trip was absolutely amazing it was quite hard; I mean almost 8000 km in a bus doesn’t sound very tempting, right? But on the other hand there’s no way I’d be able to see so many things and cities in any other way.

Anyhow our first stop on the trip was Krakow in Poland. It was my second time in Krakow and I had high hopes I’ll see everything I missed first time but the weather wasn’t my friend. It was raining horribly and it was quite cold. I remember Krakow as a magnificent town but I must admit that rain has spoiled the picture. Anyhow I didn’t want to surrender myself and in spite the rain (and without umbrella) I was walking thru the streets. My goal was Czartoryski Museum and “Lady With an Ermin” by Leonardo da Vinci. This will be the very first Leonardo’s painting I’m going to see and I was so excited (was it raining at all?). I’m a huge admirer of Leonardo’s work and I had a chance only to see his models of airplane, bicycle etc but never any of his paintings. I tried to walk calmly thru the museum and observe exhibition with attention not thinking about upcoming meeting … I’m afraid I failed. I’ve noticed one work of Peter Breugel and one of Rembrandt but even then “Lady With an Ermine” was on my mind. And then, in one dark room I saw it. It was under pale light which was actually in harmony with her elegance. She was lovely. Gosh standing before Leonardo is indescribable. That was perfect introduction into what waited me on this journey…

Next morning we continued our journey and next stop was Tallinn, Estonian capital. I was hoping that my Estonian friends I met few months ago here in Belgrade will be there but sadly they weren’t. However we exchanged text messages with few tips, what is a must in Tallinn. We had few hours before embarking on the ferry and that was quite enough to enjoy in old Tallinn. Oh I was aiming to buy famous Estonian liqueur “Vana Tallinn” but I wanted to avoid shops in tourist zone so I went into information center to ask for nearest supermarket with normal prices so I asked a girl who worked there “Where can I find Vana Tallinn?” and she replied “Oh you have found it!” at first I was puzzled but then I realized what she’s thinking. Namely in Estonian “Vana Tallinn” means “Old Tallinn” and indeed we were precisely there!

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Old Tallinn is on the UNESCO World heritage list (as well as old Krakow) and it was obvious why: town is beautiful with all its walls, sweet colored houses, churches … you can really feel the history. And the view on the Gulf of Finland from the tower of St Olaf’s church is magnificent. Also from there you can see Tallinn “on the palm”. It’s small town (whole Estonia has population of about 1.3 million which is almost half of Belgrade’s population) but really beautiful. I must admit that I liked the most Russian Orthodox church of Alexander Nevsky. Again, the church was another fantastic introduction of what is waiting me on this journey.

We left Tallinn with very positive emotions. The town is beautiful as well as its people. They are usually very good in English, very polite and are willing to help. The town was full of tourists but somehow it contributes to the whole image and there are only few places where tourists aren’t spoiling the image.

Few hours on the ferry Tallinn-Helsinki have been good intro to create an image about Finns. We had fantastic time, very warm and sunny and almost all passengers were sitting outdoor, sunbathing and … drinking … drinking a lot! There were duty free shop on the ferry and the main product was alcohol. The journey was few hours (don’t remember exactly) and during that time one couple which was sitting near our table has “killed” two bottles of whiskey (sorry if noticing that was rude but I just couldn’t help myself). I was very curious if they will be able to stand up when we arrived in Helsinki. Gosh it was as if they were drinking mineral water! When we started to leave ferry I was shocked when I saw that almost everyone is dragging several boxes (!) of alcoholic drink with themselves. Almost everyone (regardless of the age) was red in face, with silly smile while staggering. But look on those boxes of drinks made me think “Is Finland expensive that much!”.

First image of Helsinki was quite surprising. I was imaging everything will be perfectly clean in perfect order, almost sterile, that you’ll feel kingdom of rules from the very beginning. I remembered that my foreign friends were very surprised that Belgrade is full of people in 2am. They couldn’t understand what people are doing on the streets and in bars in that hour. They couldn’t believe that we aren’t going out before 10pm, that real action in the city begins after midnight. Anyhow I imagined Helsinki will be something opposite of Belgrade. What I saw was very “Belgradish”: town was full of people! What I liked so much was the images of parks (and Helsinki has lots of parks) filled with people picnicking and drinking of course; they were lying on the grass and sunbathing (sadly here walking on the grass in the parks is not acceptable, maybe it’s even forbidden; that’s why I was longing to do that there!). And then night has fall on Helsinki (“night” is something that includes bright, red sky only for an hour and then it’s becoming brighter and brighter) and of course I wanted to see night life in Helsinki. What I saw has left me speechless: streets were full of people, mostly young ones and it was 2am! That was something I so didn’t expect to see here. And moreover, I don’t think I saw one single sober person. Everyone was drunk, majority completely destroyed, lying everywhere in the parks, on the streets, on the friend’s shoulders etc. but don’t get me wrong: somehow the atmosphere in the town was cheerful. When I’m talking about drunkenness I don’t have any negative thought (after all I do drink). But what I liked the most is that everyone of those drunk people was drunk for themselves. No one is harassing anyone (not sure the same would be here). I felt as if I’m looking some performance Helsinki is greeting me with. Next morning came with thought “the city has made love and the streets are crumpled” I was thrilled!

Our hostel was near Russian Orthodox Church, the biggest Orthodox Church in Western Europe (FYI the biggest Orthodox temple in the world is here in Belgrade, but we aren’t part of “Western World”). Near  to our hostel was an open market and I really love those things. It was crowded and the prices were generally quite high. However you can have perfect (and surprisingly cheep) breakfast there. Namely market is on the coast so part of it was with small boats where you can buy fruits of the sea and other fish specialties (I’ll recommend a salmon with everything fisherman will suggests (I remember garlic)); “dry” part of the market will offer you numerous of berries and among them the most intriguing cloudberries, something I saw for the first time (I’m quite sure we don’t have Serbian word for such thing) and which is apparently very typical for Finland.

From there you can catch the boat to Suomenlinna. Set on a tight cluster of islands, this UNESCO World Heritage Site (the “Fortress of Finland”) was the scene of a major event in Finnish history when the Russians seized it from the Swedes in 1808. The greatest fortress of the Swedish empire was founded in 1748 to protect the eastern part of empire against Russian attack. It was named Sveaborg (Swedish fortress).

After a prolonged attack, Sveaborg was surrendered to the Russians after the war of 1808, and renamed Viapori. Thanks in large part to the superb sea fortress, the Finnish capital was moved from Turku to Helsinki in 1812. It remained Russian until Finland gained independence in 1917 and the present name was chosen in 1918.

Beside its obvious historical value, Suomenlinna is a fantastic place for picnicking. We had beautiful sunny days in Helsinki (something not very common) and the locals were using every single ray. It was almost exotic image of numerously multiplied “Déjeuner sur l’herbe” (nope, no naked ladies you dirty mind!). Indeed there were loads semi nakedness since “cold water” is not the same for some Finn and for someone from the Mediterranean: sun is shinning, therefore let’s go swimming … in the Baltic! The ones that weren’t in the water were lying in the parks sunbathing.

Here I must say that I never saw so many tattooed people than in Finland (and especially in Helsinki). Without any exaggeration I can say that on every person without tattoo comes five tattooed (I’m talking about young population 15-35 years). It’s incredible! Also, since I’m watching Eurovision Song Contest I knew that Finns like hardcore sound but OMG, there is entire hardcore culture in Finland. Beside tattoos Finnish guys like either boldness or long hair in both cases leather with lots of metal adds. There are several boutiques that are closer to ironmonger’s store than to clothes store! For someone like me it was like a masked ball. Also I’m not sure if I’d feel comfortable to ask here in Belgrade someone who is bold (or with long hair), tattooed, totally pierced and in leather with an image of tough guy for direction or for some museum; or even if I’d asked I wouldn’t expect that he would be able to help me. Well not in Finland, those tough guys are very friendly and polite … you just have to accept that “dress code” as something very normal and relax 🙂

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Another thing I’ve noticed (especially (but not only) on Suomenlinna) is that Helsinki is full of young couples with kids. It was incredible how many under 25 (or so) have kids! They were with equally young friends (also with kids) observing their offsprings with beer in one hand and cigarette in other and enjoying the sun. It was such a great image and if I think further about this phenomenon the only reasonable explanation that is falling on my mind is an image of that alcoholically destroyed people on the streets of Helsinki Friday night LOL. Of course I’m joking but then beside so many young parents Finland has very high rate of divorces (I’ve read that somewhere. Yep, I tried to inform myself quite detailed before the trip) so I’m going to let you think about this…

From lovely Suomenlinna I went on another Island, Seurasaari. It’s another lovely place where locals are going during sunny days. It’s really lovely place with beautiful pine forest and nice beaches but that wasn’t the reason why I went there. Seurasaari is also an open-air museum. You can buy the ticket when entering on the island but it’s not obligatory if you don’t want to enter into the houses on the island. Of course I didn’t want to miss that. The concept of this museum is quite unique (later I found out there are many museums in Finland with the similar concept): on the island there are numerous 18th– and 19th– century traditional houses, manors and outbuildings from around the Finland. Guides are dressed in traditional costume and are demonstrating folk dancing and crafts such as spinning, embroidery and troll-making. I thought that houses were build on the island following the pattern of the houses from certain region of Finland but I was wrong. Every single house on the island including the church is authentic! That means that all houses have been moved from around Finland on the island. Every house has a guide who can tell you story about original inhabitants of the house. It was incredible because along with the house you can see some personal things of its first owners. I was thrilled with the whole idea.

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Oh and there while I was speaking with one of the guides she said “t…” and then stopped and said “also”. I had to ask her “did you wanted to say tambien?” and she said “Yes!” and then next 15 minutes we spoke in Spanish. My friend told me I have “nose” to smell Spanish; it seems she’s right 😉

Of course I had to visit fabulous monument of great Finnish composer Sibelius. It wasn’t windy when I was there but people are saying that when wind blows thru the monument, you can hear music it makes.

Near the monument is Olympic Stadium where Olympic Games 1952 took place.

I was roaming thru the city and I must say it’s beautiful place. Architecture is fantastic, I mentioned Orthodox Church already but there is also Lutheran Church that dominates city’s landscape. Beautiful town indeed.

Next day I went in Porvoo, the second oldest town in Finland after Turku. Officially it has been town since 1346, but even before that Porvoo was an important trading centre.

There are three distinct sections to the city: the Old Town, the new town and the 19th-century Empire quarter, built Russian style under the rule of Tsar Nicholas I.

The Old Town district was largely built after the Great Fire 1760. It’s an alluring warren of narrow, winding cobblestone alleys and brightly coloured wooden houses. The distinctive row of shore houses along the Porvoonjaki were first painted with red ochre to impress the visiting Kind of Sweden, Gustavus III, in the late 18th century. They were originally used to store goods traded with German ships but many are now Porvoo’s prime residential real estate.

The striking stone medieval cathedral dominates the Old Town and has an important place in Finnish history: this is where the first Diet of Finland assembled in 1809, convened by Tsar Alexander I, thus giving Finland religious freedom.

Porvoo is also the place where I tasted Salmiakki ice cream. Salmiakki is something utterly Finnish and usually quite disgusting to the rest of the world. However I loved it. It’s a strange mix of salty-bitter-sweet-who-knows-what-else taste. Ever since a friend of mine (who I met on this journey) sent me few years ago I loved it and was very lucky that my friends are hating it, which means that all Salmiakki is for me *evil grin* Of course I loved the ice cream as well while my friend couldn’t even look at me knowing what I’m licking.

When I came back in Helsinki I sadly didn’t have much time to visit more museums so I decided to spend this last day in Helsinki feeling the town’s heartbeat … and was scared cause I thought it needs reanimation: it was Sunday and all magic has vanished. Helsinki was deserted by its people! At 10pm there were no one on the streets, bars are closed … “dealcoholisation” was in progress, tomorrow is a working day and therefore there will be no action tonight and streets will not be beautifully crumpled next morning. Nope, not Belgrade after all…

Next day we continued our journey. We were driving through the regions with lakes and our next destination was Tampere, but before that we made few hours pause in the National Park Evo, between Helsinki and Tampere. Nature is beautiful, dense forest and lakes and Finnish army on the bikes. The image was silly. I mean there was a huge line of uniformed, armed bikers in the middle of the Park. They were look like everything but military forces; they were even in the mood to chat with us; relaxing drive thru the wood, the only what was missing was headphones lol (I was wondering how would they react if some petard would explode; I wouldn’t be surprised if they would vanished in the bush. I just couldn’t imagine their smiling, relaxed faces in the combat … oh ignore me). Beside “military forces” much dangerous were mosquito forces! Indeed I was warned in the guide that we are going in Finland in the time when mosquitoes and other bloodsuckers are most aggressive. Therefore I had repellents but if you leave any spot unprotected with the repellent they will find it!

In the park we saw several private homes (and were even invited in one). That’s really a pure luxury. It’s absolutely fantastic, house is just as if you are reading some fairy tale, hidden in the wood, usually red with white windows (wooden of course); grass around the house is perfectly shaven; there is a brook and the bridge and garden with chairs … it’s really beautiful. Oh and of course: its royal highness: The Sauna.

It seems that every house has its sauna (probably not but it’s very close). Public ones (including the ones we had in our hostels, yep we had sauna in the hostel) are either divided on male and female saunas; or there are separate open hours for men and women.

Sauna is a place where family is gathering and invitation to go in sauna is something you mustn’t reject. It’s actually an honour to be invited by your host in their sauna (no, I wasn’t invited but was informed before my trip). So all this sounds lovely until one point: I remember before this trip I was reading guide about Finland and the part about one Sauna in Helsinki which also have a swimming pool. There was something like separate hours for men and women (I was wondering why’s that?) and bathing suits are optional in the pool (I thought either guide has a printing error, or something’s wrong with my English) and not allowed in saunas. And then I realized: Of course! You can’t not be naked in sauna! (here in Serbia we do have saunas and no one is going naked; I can only imagine what would happened if someone would enter without anything. In Finland not even towel is allowed). For Finns that is perfectly normal. They will most definitively say “How can you go in sauna with anything, even underwear!?”

I don’t have problem with nakedness; quite opposite actually (and no, I’m not pervert) so of course I couldn’t miss sauna, otherwise that would be incomplete Finnish experience. On the other hand it would be very odd to go with your host family in sauna naked. But indeed Finns are strict about nonsexual character of sauna. The sauna was originally a place to bathe and meditate. Proper sauna etiquette dictates that you use a ladle to throw water on the sauna stove, which then gives off the steam. At this point, at least in summer in the countryside, you might take a bunch of fresh, leafy birch twigs and lightly strike yourself. This improves circulation, has cleansing properties and gives your skin a pleasant smell. When you are sufficiently warmed, you’ll jump in the sea, a lake, river, pool, then return to sauna to warm up and repeat the cycle several times. If you’re indoors, a cold shower will do (that’s what I have done). The swim and hot-cold aspect is such an integral part of sauna experience that in dead of winter, Finns cut a hole in the ice and jump right in! (would probably skip that) The final key ingredient is the sauna beer, which always tastes heavenly.

Finns will prescribe a sauna session to cure all ills, from a head cold to sunburn. The earliest written description of the Finnish sauna dates from the chronicles of Ukrainian historian Nestor in 1113. There are also numerous references to sauna-going in the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala.

Sauna is one of the most essential elements of Finnish culture and therefore no joking about it: It’s steamy but NO sex!

After enjoying nature in Evo National Park and won battle against mosquitoes we continued our journey to Tampere. Here I’m reaching the spot where I have to mention horrible problem I had. Namely I had for the first time a horrible toothache that started in the bus while we were still in Belgrade. It was really unbearable and all those days I described I was under antibiotics and filled with all sorts of analgetics. Everyone in the bus wanted to help so I took numerous pills, was chewing clove (it’s a method used among African tribes) and finally drink huge amounts of (several sorts) rakija (plum, peach, etc brandy). Nothing helped so I had to go to visit a dentist. Because of bureaucracy (even in Finland) I had to wait eternity to sit on the chair. Eventually dentist has done what he had to do but the effect came only after several days. I had to go in hospital again few days later in different town where they gave me prescription for very strong pain killers (you can’t buy strong pain killer without prescription in Finland) and in huge package (100 pills) to cover entire trip (some two weeks more from that day). It was really horrible experience and something that has marked part of this trip.

Anyhow, I was so exited with Tampere because I was supposed to see few dear friends of mine, BookCrossers and meet new ones. First day in Tampere I met Rea/CatharinaL (also regular reader of my blog) and few more BookCrossers (I’m just horrible in memorizing names *blush*). We were in Panimoravintola Plevna, a superb and spacious brewery pub in the converted Finlayson cotton mill buildings. It’s fantastic indeed. There I was brave and taste for the first time Mustamakkara, a sturdy black blood sausage which my friend Rea described like this: “looks suspiciously like something a very sick person would find in his toilet bowl” so now you realize why I need to be courageous to taste it. However it’s lovely, that evening I ordered something else but after I tried it (someone else ordered mustamakkara (see pic)) I recommended it to my fellow travelers and we all decided to eat it. It is delicious indeed.

It was very pleasant evening and I was looking forward to the next day monthly BookCrosser meeting (my first one!) where I’ll see more people including Lotta /Intry who is coming all the way from Turku because of me. Well at least I thought I was the reason only to find out while reading meeting journal that she was more exited with some drink while she didn’t mentioned me whatsoever! *grrr* However after “polite” intervention she fixed that horrible mistake *wink* I was very thrilled and touched by Lotta’s decision to come in Tampere and in my thrillness I think I was … how should I put this… emotionally aggressive for Finnish standards. Actually I think I scared them all a little bit with the same thing. Later I was thinking about first meeting with Rea on the street and she handled that very well but then I think I warned her in one of my emails that she shouldn’t be surprised if I forget myself and greet her the way we do here: with strong hug and three kisses. However Lotta was completely unprepared so I can only imagine how I looked!

That was one of the differences between South and North (I said South because I know Spaniards are very similar to Serbs and while I was in Spain it was as if I’m in my own country): there is one distance and one tendency to preserve this distance intact. When I mentioned this on BookObsessed forum some Finns (including dear Lotta) said it’s not that they don’t like person, it’s just they act that way. Of course I’m absolutely aware of that and when I’m speaking about that distance I’m not imposing some negativeness; it’s just an observation. And there was those moments of silence, something we experienced previous evening in Plevna as well. I must say moments of silence were utterly scary, that’s something I’m not accustomed with and I was thinking “gosh say, something; quickly!” and of course there’s no way you can start any decent conversation in that state. Anyway during that meeting I’ve learned that moments of silence are something very common when Finns are having conversation! I was quite surprised: “You mean, you’re not feeling uncomfortable when no one is speaking and the silence is ruling?” and everyone replied in one voice “Oh no, no. Silence is so Finnish!” And only when I think how I was sweating because of it!

The meeting was really fantastic and everything was great. Folks are fantastic and generally speaking Finns are very polite people, willing to help but I’m not sure I’d be able to adopt that distance between friends. I met one Serbian guy, my namesake who lives in Tampere. He was so excited when he heard that someone speaks Serbian and instantly approached us. He said that Finland is great country, that life is good, standard is high but something’s missing in this paradise and that something is closeness. He spent most of his life in Belgrade and in spite the fact that he lives in Finland for several years he just can’t transformed himself. That’s why he has to go in Belgrade from time to time.

When I was leaving the meeting since we were suppose to continue our journey further on the north I said “I suppose hugs and kisses are out of question” and again everyone replied in one tone “Oh, no, no hugs” We joked “That’s that famous Finnish coldness” but in spite joking and really great time I had with those folks I must say I do miss that last hug to close the story. It seems you shouldn’t expect icing on Finnish cake 😉

Oh I should mention Tampere as well. The town is situated between two huge lakes that seem almost see-like at time. It is effectively Finland’s second city and is very strange with its industrial zone in the city centre. It’s very strange to see lovely lakes, parks, streets and in the middle of all this huge smoke-stacks! It’s inheritance from its days as “the Manchester of Finland”, as 19th-century cotton mills once busily churned alongside the energetic Tammerkoski (the rapids right in the middle of the town).

It is where Lenin museum is situated in the Workers’ Hall where Lenin and Stalin first met at the conference in 1905. Speaking about this, Russian Revolution 1917 increased interest in socialism among Tampere’s large working-class population. It became the capital of the “Reds” during Civil War that followed Finnish independence.

Also what was little strange about Tampere is that is full of monuments of naked men! Indeed there are few naked women, but only few. My friend thought the reason why they are so liberated with nakedness is because of sauna. On the other hand my Finnish friends explained me they don’t hug each other and usually not expressing emotions so openly because Finns are shy. Now I’m thinking how to connect shyness with nude revolution? I can’t but after seeing monuments in Tampere I don’t have any doubts why Tom is coming from Finland! LOL!

Ok I’ll stop here. It’s 6am, I eaten box of peanuts and drunk two cans of beer.

To be continued in Lapland…

Thursday Thirteen

1. If someone would ask you about the eldest culture what would you say? Egyptians? Greeks? Romans? Oh well … this TT is about one ancient civilization you probably have never heard before; civilization 3000 years older than ancient Egyptians. Unfortunately for that culture is that is located in Serbia and therefore condemned on existence in the shade of ignorance at least for now (don’t get me wrong, we Serbs are partly guilty as well). I guess this is my small contribution.

2. First I’d like to write something about natural habitat of that ancient culture: the mighty Danube and its breathtaking Đerdap gorge. Đerdap gorge with its Iron Gate (on the photograph) is a center of Đerdap National Park which is on tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage located in the eastern Serbia.

Danube

3. The Đerdap gorge is the longest fissure in Europe and a rare natural phenomenon. There are sections where the vertical cliffs rise 300m above the level of the Danube and the measured depth of the so-called “cauldrons” goes up to 82 m (one of the greatest river depths in the world). 4. Gorge was always a world for itself, almost isolated from its surrounding and that especially in early Holocene when surrounding plain region had become deserted. Big River was the main sculptor in creating this remarkable mountain landscape which is why there are so many changes of altitude in one, relatively small region and therefore there are several ecological zones with many endemic species.

5. That breathtaking landscape was the settlement of civilization whose discovery marked a new chapter in the study of European prehistory: Lepenski Vir. Lepenski Vir is an impressive illustration of the link between man and nature, of the role and significance of the natural environment for husbandry and the organization of life and culture in general. 6. Archaeological site Lepenski Vir in spite the fact that it is place of immeasurable value and significance cannot shine in its full beauty due to its location – Serbia and its quite limited financial support (hopefully that will be changed in the future). It is the center of one of the most important prehistoric culture that had existed 8000-4500 BC.Lepenski Vir

7. First population were tribes of hunters who had stayed on these fertile river banks establishing first settlements. Then around 5300 BC culture of Lepenski Vir had so called “Neolithic Revolution” when they along with fishing and hunting started to domesticate animals. It was beginning of agriculture and cattle breeding.

8. They begun pottery manufacture and making tools and other objects including religious ones as well. It was birth of different beliefs and establishing of the cult of Mother Earth. 9. Therefore they had specific way of burying: in the position of embryo which confirms beliefs of ancient farming cultures that everything is coming from Mother Earth and that everything is going back to her (“dust to dust” sounds familiar?).

10. Figurines founded in the settlements have enormous significance and are representing divinities. Those stone idols are fish-like humanoids and that’s why we’re guessing that divinities are connected with the river.

figurine from Lepenski Vir11. Remains of the “villages” are amazing. Namely in order to use the terrain in the best possible way they’ve had to build houses according to some plan. There is a central building with the empty space turned toward the Danube and that was sort of main square. Other buildings had surrounded the central one framing the square and forming “streets” to the main square or Danube. Thanks to these facts we know that Lepenski Vir is the eldest known urban settlement in Europe.

12. “Houses” have had base in the form of trapezium with tent-like wooden construction above it. In the central part of the house was hearth with the place for sacred figurines. What it is fascinating is that heat from the hearth was spreading equally by the floor thanks to the material and way of building. So it seems they had one of the eldest (if not the eldest) floor heating 🙂

13. Life in Lepenski Vir died out 4500 BC when its inhabitants moved in search of bigger arable lands.

This was the story about my prehistoric “compatriots”. I hope you liked it.

Happy T13!

P.S. If you’d like to leave your comment please scroll up and click “Comments” under the title of this TT (and above TT photo with newspaper and coffee). The one which is above this entire post is for the book and not TT. Thanks!

Thursday Thirteen

1. Every nation has 1 date in its history which it considers more important than any other. For the Serbs, the most important date in their history is June 15, by the old calendar – June 28, by the new calendar (Vidovdan).
2. On that day, in 1389, 618 years ago, Serbian and Turkish armies clashed on the Kosovo Field. Both the Serbian ruler Tzar Lazar and the Turkish Sultan Murad I died as a result of the battle. Based on many of the Turkish historical records, it is believed that th
e Sultan was killed by Miloš Obilić who was pretending to be dead, while the Sultan was walking in the battlefield after the battle. On the other hand, in one account in Serbian records he was assassinated by Miloš Obilić, who made his way into the Turkish camp on the pretext of being a deserter and knelt before the Sultan. He stabbed him in the stomach while kneeling before him.

3. According to historical documents neither the Serbs nor the Turks won the battle, Serbia was so exhausted that it was unable to continue resisting the Turks’a few decades later the heirs of Prince Lazar recognized Turkish suzerainty and 5 centuries of domination of the Serbs by the Turks ensued. That long and martyrlike enslavement changed the course of Serbian history and interrupted the cultural progress of the Serbs, which was clearly evident during the rule of the Nemanja dynasty.

4. It is difficult to assess the importance of the Kosovo Battle for world history. Such is also the case with the battles at the Alamo or Gettysburg, which are so important for American history. However, it is undeniable that the Battle of Kosovo was exceptionally significant not only for Serbia, but also for Europe and European Christian civilization. (The Painting is “The Kosovo Maiden” by Uroš Predić 1857-1953) The Kosovo Maiden

5. It is a fact that on Vidovdan, June 28, 1389, the Serbs, without help from a single European nation, defended on Kosovo Field not only the frontiers of their own territory and lives of their people, but, at the risk of losing their national independence, they also defended the interests and security of Christian Europe. In the conflict of 2 rival civilizations, the Muslim and the Christian, the Serbs checked the wave of the Turkish invasion, interposed themselves as a wall between the Turks and Europe, and enabled Europe to make preparations for its own defense. 6. It is questionable whether the history of Europe would have been the same without the Battle of Kosovo and the sacrifice of the Serbian nation.

7. No matter how great the historical value of Kosovo and Vidovdan may be, for the Serbs they have an additional unique dimension and preeminence. Persons of non-Serbian origin may consider Kosovo as only a far-away, strange, and, even, unimportant geographical territory, and Vidovdan, June 28, 1389, as a date of a battle of which they know little or nothing. 8. As far as the Serbs are concerned, Kosovo is their Holy Land, the cradle of Serbdom, and their inalienable, historical, national, and cultural heritage. As far as they are concerned, Vidovdan, June 28, 1389, is not just the date of a battle, but their nation’s identity, and the sacred will and testament which contains religious, ethical, and national principles for all Serbian generations from the Kosovo Battle until the present. 9. In the national consciousness all of Serbian history is divided into 2 periods: prior to the Kosovo Battle and after the Kosovo Battle.

10. As a geographical territory, Kosovo was Serbian even before the year 1389, before Vidovdan. That ownership was not marked by sticks, in the way the prospectors for gold marked their claims, nor by the deeds written in ink on paper, but by ancient and magnificent churches and monasteries and by Serbian cemeteries and tombstones. The capitals of Serbian kings and the thrones of Serbian archbishops and patriarchs were in Kosovo.

11. In the course of 6 centuries the geographical boundaries and demographic constituency of Kosovo, as well as the political and social conditions have changed. Serbs, who represented a majority in Kosovo, have been reduced to a minority. Uncontrolled migration of thousands of people from neighboring Albania to Kosovo on one hand and, on the other, mass exodus of Serbs from that territory, because of the merciless oppression to which the Serbs have been subjected by the newcomers, especially in the period 1943-1988, has changed the status of the Serbian population from a majority to a minority. Atrocities, unheard of even in uncivilized countries, have been perpetuated against the Serbian population in Kosovo. (Observe the eyes of Queen Simonida; an Albanian has dug out her eyes. It is fresco from the Gracanica monastery built between 1317-1321)

12. This is why we say that Kosovo is Serbian Golgotha. It is the Cross through which one nation entered into eternity and uncovered the eternal and divine dimensions of its existence.

13. After arrival of UN forces in the province more than 200 churches and monasteries have been destroyed. Majority from 12th-14th century; some of targeted monasteries are part of UNESCO World Heritage.

(PS
My apologize to everyone who have left comments here and whose blogs I can’t visit. Namely I still have problem to open certain blogs (not all) on blogger.)

EDIT TO ADD:

I have been asked to explain how is celebrated today.

Vidovdan is religious day; it is the Day of St Vitus (in Serbian St Vid (“Vid” is a name but also in Serbian means “Eyesight”). St Vid was a healer especially he was healing problems with eyes. But as of Battle of Kosovo Serbian Orthodox Church is celebrating that day as day of St Vid but also as the day of Holly Tsar Lazar and holly warriors of Kosovo.

In every Serbian Orthodox church in the world there are liturgy and requiem for all victims of Kosovo, from 1389 ‘till the present day. That’s why today is not happy day, we shouldn’t sing or dance today.

Vidovdan commemorations, which have been celebrated annually for centuries on the field where battle has been, are reconfirmations of both the Serbian ownership of Kosovo and of the Vidovdan-Kosovo ethics, which are the core of the Serbian national image and the essence of Serbian identity.

It should be emphasized that the Vidovdan commemorations are not celebrations of a Serbian military victory over the Turks, for the Serbs were not victorious in the Kosovo Battle. However, it is incorrect, and even malicious, to claim that at Vidovdan commemorations the Serbs “celebrate their defeat in the Kosovo Battle.”

On those occasions the Serbs honor and commemorate the heroes of Kosovo who laid down their lives defending their faith, freedom, nation, and country. At the same time, Vidovdan commemorations are the annual reviews of the post-Kosovo Serbian generations. They are evaluated in terms of Vidovdan-Kosovo ethics and on the basis of their reconfirmation of the Pledge of Kosovo. On Vidovdan, June 28, 1389, on the Kosovo Field, the Serbs chose once and for all their religious, cultural, ethical, and national identity. Their choice, in the form of an unwritten pledge, was handed down to all post-Kosovo Serbian generations and, through 600 years, Serbs have lived by that pledge.