Traditional Polish Feel Good

Today Robin and I visited Gdansk, Poland– this stop certainly had significant meaning to me.  All four of my Grandparents were born in Poland in the 1890’s.

As a second generation American, I tried to keep going some of the Polish tradions I joyfully experienced during my childhood and early adult years.  Most of those traditions surrounded food– and most of the Polish food came at the Holidays and family events.

The one Polish tradition that I have passed to my children and have begun to establish with my older grandchildren are specialty Polish dishes.   For our family, we make Polish dumplings called pierogi in several varieties.  We enjoy fresh and smoked kielbasa sausage, occasionally we will add a cabbage, rice and minced pork dish called golabki .

As we visited Poland for the first time– the question arose how authentic was our cooking? So we chose to take the test in Gdansk (see photo)

Traditional kielbasa translated perfectly — identical tastes when you buy from a good German or Polish butcher. The pierogi was another story, one Gdansk restaurant bragged about 85 different fillings—- Although we have experimented at our house the tradition has been to make Potato and Sauerkraut filling– we have tried to introduce minced meat and jalapeño as a SoCal twist– still work in progress.
The fillings offered this morning were Cod, Pumpkin and Goose– we chose the goose and it was wonderful.  The filling was seasoned and served with a light mushroom sauce. The one aspect of our taste test that did work was the dumpling itself– our receipe was as good or better– but, we have a long way to go the the fillings.

The Hermitage 

We have been blessed to have visited some of the greatest museums in the world.  On our last day in St Petersburg we visited The Hermitage, previous known as the Winter Palace.

The Winter Palace has more than 1,000 rooms and famous works of art from nearly every period, style and design.

Italian artist such as DaVinci’s Madonna and Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son.  The French Impressionist Monet and Manet as well as works by Van Gogh are in a separate wing. The portrait of Anatolia Zarate by Spanish artist DeGoya was mystifyingly.

What was unique about the Hermitage was that not only were there paintings, sculptures and tapestries, but there were music boxes, china, furniture , clocks and the palace itself architecturally was a work of art. The following photo is the staircase of the main entry

St Petersburg — happiness among the organized chaos

The past two days have been filled with stories from our older guides of life in St. Petersburg. Although we heard that the last two or three generations had quite a hard time in the 40s, 50’s and 60’s

 What we saw today was hard working people (half of one percent unemployment in St. Petersburg market), we saw polite, fun loving people who were enterprising and generally happy.  So much made up by media and politicians. Here are some images we captured:

Two young girls near the Naval Admiralty on the Neve river
Robin and Jim at St. Issac Cathedral Russian Orthodox Church.
This is the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
Great visit to Russia!! Jim

Beautiful Innocense—- impossible not to celebrate 

Tsar Peter the Great envisioned St Petersburg with a lacework of canals, elegant baroque buildings, resplendent palaces and dazzling onion-domed churches. He had a vision 300 years ago– the city today fulfilled his dream.

Yesterday Robin and I took a tour in a boat on the beautiful canals of St Petersburg. The trip meandered through the central district passing St Issac’s Cathedral, the Winter Palace the Faberge Museum and many other places. Similar to other European cities there were many unique bridges. This is where the story begins.

After boarding the Russian boat ,which was designed to lay flat on the water due to the minimum amount of bridge clearance, we saw two young Russian boys standing on the bank of the canal smiling and waving . They were about twelve years– their wave was vigorous making sure they had the attention of all on the boat– they were having fun!

As we departed there would be a new bridge to go under about every quarter mile. Well it was at the next bridge that we saw the same two boys– one of the boys had a distinctive blue shirt. At the time I thought it odd that we would see the same boys in two different locations .

Well the same thing happened for the next twenty bridges. For 8 kilometers these two fit young Russian boys ran ahead of the boat and moved to the center of the bridge and waved like crazy—as our boat passed under, bridge after bridge the same exuberance occurred.  As the boat started going underneath the two of them took off running for the next bridge.

Well there were about 40 people on the boat and the boy’s enthusiasm was infectious making the boats passengers  laugh, cheer and applaude as we neared a bridge.  At one point, the blue shirted kid— started doing cartwheels for the cheerleaders on board.

I think everyone on boarding thought the next bridge would be their last— it wasn’t that we were going fast, but to beat the boat it took a good jog. After the tenth bridge the whole boat was into these kids exploits. I could hear from the back “there they are” running along the road next to the canal.

Our boat ride concluded where it started 8 kilometers or approximately 4 miles gof canals later.  As the captain pivoted the boat 180 degrees and docked I looked over and saw our two runners breathing heavy with a nice glow of sweat.  They stood next to the gangway and as passengers disembarked there were plenty of high fives, pats on the back and of course tips in all types of currency.  

The innocent smile of accomplishment on their faces was great–it was like your favorite nephew hitting a game winning home run at little league. It had to be rewarded. 

Oh, and yes the sight of beautiful St Petersburg from the canals was worth the trip— a picture of our boat follows:— Jim

Haiku #2

From time to time Jim will write a Haiku on something odd– remember it’s amateur hour

The Viking Sky Blues:

No Casino Here

As Such, My Franklins stay Near

I Sob and Shed Tears

Stuck on Helsinki 

We arrived in Helsinki, Finland today June 5th and spent the morning touring the city– really not much to see. Robin and I went on the Highlights of Helsinki Tour.

Russia had its influence in Helsinki– much of the architecture is block, not design oriented and rather drab– there are certainly some exceptions. Stockholm and Helsinki are very different cities considering that they are Nordic sisters.

We visited the Rock Church, commissioned by two local architects and built with natural rock  in the round– unusual design that produced wonderful acoustics. 

This church was jammed with tourists, and I felt that the building was unusual, but it was no Notre Dame or Sagrada Familia–yet it was the Highlight of Helsinki?  I walked away with the feeling that if this is the best Helsinki can offer to visitors– then this city is a little sad. See the photoAnother quirky thing about the church was that you had to have a half-dollar sized sticker on your lapel when entering.  There was no one checking to make sure you had a sticker. You didn’t have to purchase the sticker— no useful purpose, you just had to have one.  And everyone did!

Maybe it was a way for the church to gauge number of visitors based on how many stickers were given out. Or maybe it was a lingering Russian communist influence– a factory was created to make church stickers!?!?  Our guide said the whole sticker thing was ridiculous, but we needed to do it– dutifully we complied.

The strange thing about the stickers is that lost their stickiness  when they touched fabric. So now there were thousands of stickers everywhere on the ground stepped on and really sticking to the sidewalks and church grounds.  This iconic Rock Church of Helsinki looked like it had a case of chicken pox.  Not sure the church elders anticipated the amount of sticker  graffiti  when they OK’d the plan.

For those of us we’re able to retain our stickers an unwritten disposal law was to decorate the drain pipes of local buildings with this spotted adornments — the whole thing seemed quite unusual– perhaps in was a Nordic silent protest– kind of let’s’ Stick it to the Man’.  Here is one of the drain pipes

Our guide closed our tour with a must see Market Square visit at the water front, it was there that local artisans sold there wares. All very civilized you could buy a beer bottle opener with the handle made of elk bone or a genuine reindeer hid. As we were walking away from the Market Square we crossed a pedestrian bridge. See photo belowI stopped and immediately recognized that this was a Finlandia knock- off of the Paris Pont de Arts bridge or Lover’s Bridge over the Seine. You engrave your lover’S name on the lock, lock it to the bridge and throw the key in the water. This was just a smaller scale on a very pedestrian, pedestrian bridge

Finally,  on our trip back to the ship our guide told us a story that occurred on April 13th ever year. It is graduation day celebration for those who have finished school. There is a giant party in the downtown area for all graduates and precisely at 6pm –50,000 party attendees pull out a white hat trimmed with black and gold and put them on— the point is that Fins have a wired and quirky sense of humor.  I guess you should expect this from a city whose major export is ice breaker ships

The Hell in Helsinki 

A tour of the city was underwhelming so I decided to create my own fantasy of what I would have liked to have experienced by taking pictures of the postcards in the souvenir shop.  

I played with the huskies, watched a reindeer rummage for food in the snow and then watched the northern lights.  Not a bad day, even if it is all not true.   

Haiku #1

Once in awhile when vacationing, Jim feels compelled to write Haiku’s to talk about some of the ironies seen in day-to-day vacationing.  So here goes– amateur at work!

Blond People Abound

Svelte Bodies none that are round

Is this Stepford Town?

Trending in Sweden

Robin and I were strolling in the Old Town section of Stockholm this afternoon — this is the quaint part of the city known for its classic architecture, fun shops, galleries, the Nobel Museum and on this day a group of young men self-described as climate change deniers.

We walked down the pedestrian cobblestone streets stopping in shops.  Near the end of our visit we saw a gathering of twenty people huddled in front of one store.   The leader was holding a cardboard sign with a familiar theme.  In bold letters it said “Make Sweden Great Again” on one side and on the back it said as the photograph captured “Climate Change is a Lie”

As many Sweds are –each man was  six foot tall or taller– they did not cause a disturbance but were noticeable, determined and slightly menacing in stature.  As I watched from twenty feet away they were engaged in heavy conversation.

The influence of Donald Trump has far reaching tentacles.  In the end I believe that there was a discussion going on– not hateful to my ear, not a shout down,  but a serious back and forth.

Personally, I believe in the science and in the the thousands of scientists who have proved beyond a reasonable doubt  (to me ) that our climate is changing as a result of man made interventions. 

On this lovely day, when I was struck by the great strides in science made by countless Nobel laureates whose accomplishments we studied at the museum in their honor just an hour earlier. It was disheartening to watch the engagement.

More photos of the Old Town follow– it was a lovely place despite the distraction.

Impressions from the sunken ship Vaca — 2,000 bones

The Vaca sank in 1628 on her maiden voyage– she sunk in the cold waters of Stockholm bay. She remained there for 333 years and was recovered in 1961.

The Vaca’s recovery is 98% complete and the Vaca Museum curators monitor the health of the ship in every way. In its enormous resting place every aspect of the ship’s environment is considered. No ambient light shines on her, samples of her wooden hull are analyzed for chemical changes in composition on a consistent basis. The shape of the massive ship is measured constantly looking for structural weakness. The caretakers lovingly watch the ship as the treasure it is to the legacy of Sweden.

In the ships hull over 2,000 human bones were found, but only a handful of intact human skeletons.  Records show that nearly all of the crew and visitors were common people.  In 1628 there were little official records (other than the captain) of who sailed when the ship sunk on it’s maiden voyage.  So all of those lost souls still to this day are unidentifiable and unrecoverable tunlike the ship itself.  Who the many bones belong to are still a mystery probably never to be solved. — Jim