Video: North Pole Expedition-in-Review


Saturday, 12 July 2014
Murmansk, Russia

This is an out-of-sequence post from our summer travels.  While I continue to work on our pre-voyage days in Helsinki, Finland, Mui has finished an expedition-in-review video of our trip to the North Pole aboard 50 Let Pobedy, a nuclear-powered Russian ice breaker.

Mui took a “non-journal” approach for this video, which will give you a taste in 10 minutes of what we experienced over a 12-day period.  Enjoy!

Videos with more details, and of course my blog posts with plenty of photos, to follow.

Walkabout in Helsinki


Friday, 27 June 2014
Helsinki, Finland

After a long day of sightseeing in Tallinn yesterday, we slept in a bit this morning.  Getting up around 8:00a, we had breakfast and did some laundry.  Two hours later, under brightening skies that were starting to show patches of blue, we were on the pedestrian path in Hesperian Puisto, enjoying views of  Töölönlahti [Töölö Bay] as we headed into downtown Helsinki

First on our agenda was a stop at the Kamppi Center, a complex that houses shops, and more importantly for us, the central bus terminal.  The signage wasn’t very helpful, but we eventually figured out how to go down a level to the main kiosk for bus tickets.  To where?  That’s tomorrow’s story ;-)  While at Kamppi, we also picked up a sim card to use in our unlocked mi-fi device … won’t have free internet after we switch hotels to join our Quark group; or when we return to Helsinki for our post-expedition voyage stay.

A couple of errands, and then sightseeing in Helsinki on our fifth day in the city.

Colorful flowers add cheer to the day.

Hey, Mui … didn’t know you bought a car; and with vanity plates no less ;-)

Now to start seeing the sights.  But no; it was noon and Mui wanted to have lunch first.  So we got into a bit of a tiff over when to eat lunch.  His regimented “it’s noon, let’s eat” attitude rubs me the wrong way sometimes — as I’m sure my flexible “eat anytime” attitude does him.  Anyway, I gave in — not gracefully, I’m ashamed to say — and we settled on a quick bite at Bryggeri, a brewery-restaurant on Sofienkatu, one of the streets that leads up to Senate Square.

While Mui enjoyed a salad topped with grilled chicken breast and peach chutney, I …

… kept it really simple with a pretzel and herb & cheese spread.
What can I say?  I wasn’t ready for a meal yet!

After lunch, we continued up Sofienkatu to our first sightseeing stop of the day — Helsingin Tuomiokirkko [Helsinki Cathedral].  It was built between 1830-1852 to replace an earlier church from 1727.  An Evangelic Lutheran church, it is neoclassical in design.  Prior to Finland gaining independence, it was known as the Church of St Nicholas.

An iconic landmark of the city, the Helsinki Cathedral overlooks Senate Square.

The church was originally built as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia.

The central dome rises 260 feet (80m) above sea level,
and is surrounded by four smaller domes decorated with golden stars.

The gables, supported by six Corinthian columns each,
are duplicated on the sides of the church not visible from this angle.

Twelve zinc statues of the Apostles are in the gables above the pillars of the cathedral.

Left: Matthew, the patron saint of book-keepers, tax collectors, and security forces.
Center: Thomas, the patron saint of architects, builders, and land surveyors.
Right: Peter, the patron saint of locksmiths and confessors, holding the keys to Heaven.

Left: The altarpiece, representing the burial of Jesus, was donated by Czar Nicholas I; it
replaced an altarpiece of the Savior Blessing Children, which was considered too childish.

Right: The surface of the pulpit is plaster-covered wood, painted to look like marble.

One of the highlights of the otherwise rather plain décor of the cathedral is the organ.

From the Helsinki Cathedral, we walked over to the North Harbor, and from there headed up and around to Uspenskin Katedraali [Uspenski Cathedral], another magnificent structure that dominates the Helsinki harbor skyline.  Constructed in the Russian-Byzantine style between 1862-1868, it is the largest Orthodox church in western Europe, and is a distinct symbol of Russia’s influence prior to Finland gaining its independence in 1917.  It is dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary).

The bricks used in the construction of the church came from
a fortress in Aland that was destroyed during the Crimean War in 1854.

Five of the 13 onion domes, which represent Christ and the 12 apostles.

Looking up into the main dome of the cathedral.

As with many Orthodox churches,the iconostasis is gilded and heavily decorated.

When we left the cathedral, I was still in the mood for sightseeing; Mui not so much.  So we decided to go our separate ways.  He returned to the hotel to rest, while I took a meandering path.  I had no specific plans, but when I found myself near the Crowne Plaza, I decided to drop off my DSLR, change my shoes, and continue another ½-mile to another attraction — the Sibelius-Monumentti [Sibelius Monument].

The monument honors one of Finland’s favorite sons — composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957).

The monument consists of welded steel pipes resembling those of an organ, and a bust of Sibelius.  The radical design of Eila Hiltunen was chosen over 49 other competitors, and went through several versions before she was given the commission for the project.  The website linked above describes the monument as: “ … an airy, free shape suggestive of a birch forest or Northern Lights.  The nature feeling was enhanced by openings and rich texture on many of the tubes.”  I don’t know about the birch forest thing, but having experienced the Northern Lights for myself, I can see the resemblance to the dancing curtains of light.

Looking up from under the acid-proof stainless steel tubes of the main body of the monument.

A closer look at some of the nearly 600 tubes that make up the monument.

The sculpture of Sibelius was added to the design to satisfy the public.
He is depicted in his creative age.

The monument stands in a quiet park, which was perfect for short walks to get away from the busloads of tourists that periodically descended to clamber all over the monument like so many ants.  I’d stroll down a path, return by way of another, and voilà … the crowds would be gone.  A nearby bench with views of a small marina and islands in the distance … a kiosk from which an ice cream cone was calling my name … it all added up to a lovely hour or so at the monument.

Taking an alternate route back to the hotel, I was in the room by 4:30p, ready to call it an early day.  Time to process photos and get some blog posts drafted … perfect!

Tallinn: Niguliste Church Museum


Thursday, 26 June 2014 (Part IIi)
Helsinki, Finland

We thoroughly enjoyed our day in Tallinn — which I have shared in two posts already (Part I and Part II).

The churches, buildings, city walls and towers … all of the sights of medieval old town were interesting and beautiful — with lots of opportunities to click the shutter.  But nowhere did I take more photos than at Niguliste — a church-turned-art museum — that deserves its own post.  It was certainly well worth the €7/person (~ $9.50) admission.

Originally built in the 13th century, Niguliste was partially destroyed by Soviet bombing of the city during WWII.  After being restored, it was converted into a museum that today houses an extensive collection of ecclesiastical art from the Middle Ages.  As a church, it was dedicated to the patron saint of merchants and seafarers, and known as the Church of St Nicholas.

The website I linked to above has all the information you could possibly want about the history of the church, how it was transformed into an art museum, when and how the art was collected, the permanent and temporary exhibits — and a virtual tour as well.  So, I’ll keep the words to a minimum in this post.

[Reminder: click any of the photos for a larger version.]

Entrance to the Niguliste Church Museum.

Entering the museum, we walked through a hall that had information panels, and black and white historic photos of the church.  I appreciated this exhibit since it gave us a glimpse into what the church looked like prior to the destruction wreaked by the WWII bombing of Tallinn by the Soviets.

(1) Niguliste and Harju Street before WWII.
(3) the nave from the chancel — late 19th century.
(5) Nave and the chancel — late 19th century.

Nave (2002)

(9) Northern Aisle — late 19th century.
(11A) Renaissance pews — late 19th century; now destroyed.
(12) Interior of the Chapel of St Anthony [formerly St Matthew]  — 1896.

The sepulchral chamber of Rosen and the mummified body of the Duke de Croy.
Drawing by E. Höpner from the first half of the 19th century.

Mummified body (1896) of Duke Carl Eugene de Croy — captured by
the Swedes in the Northern War; died in 1702; and buried in 1897.

Church of St Nicholas was all-but destroyed by the Soviet bombing of Tallinn in March 1944.
View of the chancel from the church tower (1948).

Ruins of the church with the tower in the background (1948).

Left: Restoration of the tower (1969).
Center: The tower after the fire (1982).
Right: Restoration of the tower (1984).

Next, we found our way into the church proper …

The seven-armed candelabra, which dates back to 1591, is almost 13 feet (4m) tall.

Decorative screen of the Bogislaus von Rosen Memorial Chapel (ca 1655).

Left: The baptistery of the Swedish St Michael’s Church (Workshop of C. Ackerman; ca 1680).
Center & Right: Saint Christopher (workshop of T. Heinz; 1624).

Note the globe on St Christopher’s back in the photo above.  I was curious about it, so I did a little web surfing.  Legend has it that St Christopher was asked to serve Christ by helping people to cross a dangerous river.  After he did this for a while, a child asked him for help to get across.  St Christopher obliged, but found the child to be very heavy.  Once across the river, he told the child: “You have put me in the greatest danger.  I do not think the whole world could have been as heavy on my shoulders as you were.”  Before disappearing, the child replied: “You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it.  I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work.”

Left: Epitaph of the family of Pastor Isaac Hasselblatt from Noarootsi Church — 1683.

Right: Christ on the Cross — last quarter of the 14th century.
The Virgin Mary and St John the Apostle — 1410-1430.

Amongst the art on display were several altarpieces …

The Holy Kinship Altarpiece
Workshop in Brussels (ca 1500)

The Passion Altarpiece
Workshop of the Bruges master A. Isenbrandt; ca 1515-1520

Retable of the High Altar of the Church of St Nicholas
Workshop of the Lübeck master H. Rode; 1478-1481

One of the grandest and best preserved northern German altar retables from the Late Middle Ages, extensive conservation work was done on this piece between 1978-1992.  And from what I saw, the work continues immediately behind the retable where conservators were plying their art today.  I thought I was seeing the fully open view.  Turns out I wasn’t.  But I didn’t know that until I started reading more about the retable on the museum’s website.  There’s an interesting interactive page that shows the three layers of this retable here — worth taking a peek even if the first image takes a while to load.

The half-open position presents scenes from the legends of the patron saints
of the church (St Nicholas) and the city of Tallinn (St Victor of Marseilles).
When fully open, the scenes above are replaced with gilded figures,
including those of saints, Christ and the Virgin, the apostles, and more.
[see the interactive page linked above.]

These two panels present scenes from the legends of St Nicholas, the patron of the church.
[Story from left to right across the top row of both panels; then similarly across the bottom row.]

These two panels present scenes from the legends of St Victor of Marseille, the patron of Tallinn.
[Story from left to right across the top row of both panels; then similarly across the bottom row.]

Photos showing the conservation work done on the Virgin and
baby Jesus figures that are part of the fully-open retable.

In the former sacristy, we found the Silver Chamber where a selection of church items were on display, as well as some from the Brotherhood of the Black Heads, and the guilds and crafts.  There were some really lovely items in the glass display cases, but they weren’t easy to photograph because of the reflections.  Still, I did my best and came away with some keepers.

Popinjay — 1st half of the 16th century; belonging to the Black Heads.

Left: goblet — 1744; belonging to the Black Heads.
Center: Welcome cup of the Journeyman Furriers — 1696.
Right: Goblet topped with a model of the Black Heads’ Building — 1910.

Left: Sacrament Box — 1697-1718; belonging to the Black Heads.
Right: Tankard with a bear figure — 1874-1898; belonging to the Black Heads.

Upon becoming a master, a craftsman would donate a silver pendant to his guild.
On the shield would be etched his name, date he became a master, and a symbol of his craft.

Danse Macabre
Workshop of Lübeck master Bernt Notke; 15th Century

This was probably the most fascinating exhibit at Niguliste.  Notke actually painted two of these, each slightly different.  One was for St Mary’s Church in the Hanseatic city of Lübeck in northern Germany; and the other for Tallinn’s Church of St Nicholas.  The one in Lübeck was not preserved, and by 1701 it was in such bad shape that another artist made a copy, which subsequently perished in a fire in 1942.  Only a segment of the painting in Tallinn has survived.

No one knows how long the original piece was, or how many figures it contained.
The 25-foot (7.5m) piece that has survived consists of 13 figures.

Danse Macabre [Dance of Death] was a popular subject in late medieval art and literature.  Some attribute this to the devastation wreaked by the Black Death in 14th century Europe.  The images in the art personify death dancing with mortals — from the most powerful, as represented by the pope and the emperor, to the commoner, as represented by peasants and even a small baby.

Believed to have been donated by a wealthy merchant, the painting is first mentioned in 1603.
The first character is the preacher, who is addressing his audience, which includes the Pope …

… as well as the Emperor and Empress.  His message to all is the same …

… that rich or poor, old or young, no man can evade death.

An information banner nearby compares the depiction of the Empress
dancing with Death in the Lübeck painting (left) and the Tallinn painting.

A macabre ending to my post on the Niguliste Church Museum … but a fascinating one.