Once There Was a Warrior

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His hut is the farthest from the fire.

It makes him feel brave and independent.

He built it out of timbers, straw and stone

with sticks for a door to impede intruders.

His people are hunters and gatherers,

reliant on wild game and edible plants.

His hunt takes him deep into the wilderness

where adventure stirs his spirit and enriches his soul.

Though he’s content to share the air with all living things,

he realizes sacrifices must be made.

When day is done, he brings his bounty to the fire

which burns in a circular pit lined with stone.

The aroma of roasting meat fills the air

and beckons those in their hut to share his food.

In praise, their gratitude becomes a song

composed and chanted in rhythm with the wind.

The fire that moments ago was a tool for cooking,

now bears a mocking resemblance to the sun

providing warmth and brightness to the night.

Around a smoky campfire the stories begin

bouncing back and forth across the flames.

Like kindling, words spark imagination.

Truths lead to legends and myths are born of lies.

Tall tales come to a halt when the embers die

and people wander quietly to their home.

His hut may be the farthest from the fire,

but stories fill his dreams and he is never cold.

Poem prompted by photo taken at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England. The hut is a replica of one lived in 4,500 years ago by those who built Stonehenge.

Foto Friday #31

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In the lovely Scottish Highlands town of Pitlochry is one of the oldest working distilleries in Scotland, the Blair Athol Distillery, originally founded in 1798. In addition to its popular blended whisky, Blair Athol produces a 12-year-old Single Malt Whisky using an ancient source of water which flows through the grounds of the distillery from the slopes of the Grampian Mountains. You can sample the distinctive whisky at the conclusion of an informative guided tour of this beautiful facility.

The photo has a wide variety of textures, which is Cee’s photo challenge topic this week.

for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Texture

Three Sisters

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When Faith and Joy left home

Hope was lost without them.

“Please come home”, she cried

“I can’t live without you!”

…so they did

and Hope survived.

Poem inspired by photo taken in Waterford, Ireland

Foto Friday #30

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Flamingos are large water birds who live near lagoons or lakes and have long necks, stick-like legs and pink to coral-reddish feathers. Flamingos are pink because the algae they eat are loaded with beta carotene, an organic chemical that contains a reddish-orange pigment. If a flamingo were to stop eating foods with this ingredient, its new feathers would grow in much paler and the reddish feathers would eventually molt away.

Groups of flamingos are called colonies or flocks. The colony works together to protect each other from predators and to take care of the young. Flamingos are monogamous, meaning they stay with their mate for life. All the flamingos in a group will mate at the same time so their chicks will hatch together. Baby flamingos are gray or white and will turn pink within the first couple years of life.

It isn’t really known why flamingos tend to stand on one foot, but it is believed that by keeping one foot out of the cold water they stay warmer. It also seems to be a comfortable resting position for them. Flamingos live 20 to 30 years in the wild or up to 50 years in a zoo.

Photo taken at the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

For Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Color of your choice (Orange/Coral/Pink)

City Scene: St. Petersburg

DSC_0353 (3)St. Petersburg, Russia was a two-day stop on the Baltic Cruise we took for our 35th anniversary. It was a mixed bag of experiences, both enjoyable and not so much! We started off with a nonexistent welcome from immigration. The official didn’t smile or utter a word – he just looked at our passport, looked at us, then back at our passport. A nod of his head was our only indication to proceed through the gate. An air of unfriendliness continued throughout our visit, but the sights of the city were magnificent none the less!

The agenda for the day included a tour of Catherine’s Palace, lunch in the Czar’s Village, a visit to the world-famous Hermitage Museum, then a drive by the Palace Square, the Arch of the General and other highlights; but we weren’t the only tourists in town! Traffic was terrible, security procedures were strict, and it was crowded everywhere we went. It must be a daunting task to herd large numbers of people through historic structures while protecting them from potential harm. All that aside, Catherine’s Palace was spectacular! Even Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna was not this impressive! Although Peter the Great presented this estate to his wife Catherine in 1710, the Palace owes its awesome grandeur to their daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who ordered it completely redone. The result is why the Palace is now ranked as one of the masterpieces of world architecture.

Inside (where you had to pay to take pictures) the WOW factor continued! From the main staircase where the ceilings were decorated with 17th & 18th century paintings, to the Grand Hall with its gilded mirrored walls, to the State Study of Alexander the 1st, each room was stunning! None more so than the Amber Room! This famous room was originally constructed with over 100,000 perfectly fitted pieces of amber, but the Nazis dismantled the amber panels and shipped them to Germany during WW II and they have never been found. Russian artists began recreating the room in the early 1980s and it was re-opened to the public in 2003. Outside on the Palace grounds, we listened to an A cappella singing group perform for the crowd at one of the two garden pavilions near the lake.

Back on the bus, we searched over 30 minutes for the location of our restaurant for lunch only to discover it was back on the Palace grounds. Disappointment with our inexperienced tour guide and bus driver was setting in! After lunch we toured the Hermitage Museum—home to one of the greatest collections of art in the world! The building itself is a work of art, but the masterpieces inside it were barely visible because of the swarms of people surrounding them. There were Raphael’s, Da Vinci’s, and Michelangelo’s, to name a few, all right there under one roof, but we could only get a glimpse of them through the crowd. I’m sure it would have been an extraordinary experience under better conditions. If we ever do this again, we won’t go in June and we’ll spend the extra money for an “after-hours” tour! We were running late due to the lunch debacle, the snarly traffic, and the packed museum so we didn’t get to drive by all the planned highlights. We did, however, find time to stop at a souvenir shop where they were offering free samples of Russian Vodka. I think everyone needed a drink at that point, so why not! We bought a few sets of Babushka dolls as gifts, plus a charming Russian Egg Christmas ornament for ourselves. We ended the day aboard ship, and after a lovely dinner and show, we went to bed hoping for a better day two in St. Petersburg.

At 8:30 the next morning we got on the bus and were immediately relieved that our tour guide was not the same one as the day before. This one was pleasant, confident and informative – she even knew how to smile! Traffic was terrible once again, but we made it to our first stop at Peterhof, the summer palace complex of Peter the Great. We waited in line for an hour before entering the Grand Palace through its formal gardens. Although the front exterior was not as elaborate as Catherine’s Palace, the interior was equally lavish starting with the ornate ceremonial staircase followed by room after room of rich colors, intricate parquet floors, painted ceilings, fine silk wall coverings, gilded statues and massive portraits of the royal families of Russia.

The gardens behind the complex were amazing, with upper and lower fountains adorning the landscape between the palace and the Baltic Sea. It is the largest network of gravity-fed water fountains in the world. We ended our tour of Peterhof with a walk from the prominent center fountain, called the Grand Cascade, along a canal that flowed through the gardens to a pier where a hydrofoil took us back to St. Petersburg.

We enjoyed our jaunt across the Gulf of Finland to the mouth of the Neva River. Approaching St. Petersburg by water gave us a new appreciation for the beauty of the buildings on the waterfront. The Hermitage, for instance, was dazzling from a distance!  After a nice lunch at the City Café, we hopped back on the bus for a drive by St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the Bronze Horseman statue of Peter the Great, the battleship Aurora, and the Rostral Columns before stopping at the most gorgeous sight in St. Petersburg—The Church on the Spilled Blood!

The church was built between 1883 and 1907 on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 (hence the gruesome name). Both the exterior, designed in the traditional Russian onion-dome style, and the interior are decorated with bright shades of marble and detailed mosaic tiles. According to restorers, it contains several thousand square yards of mosaics – more than any other church in the world. The church was closed in the 1930s when the atheist Soviets, who were offended by religion, began destroying churches all over the country for being “inappropriate symbols of Christianity”. The church remained closed and under restoration for years and was finally re-opened in 1997, not as a place of worship, but as a Museum of Mosaics. The pictures we took of this church are some of my favorite travel photos!

It’s hard to comprehend the damage the city has endured from various disasters including fires, floods and wars, especially the cruel Nazi occupation of WW II, but all the sites we toured have been restored to their original glory. Architecturally, the city ranks as one of the most splendid in Europe. The historic district was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990. While I didn’t find St. Petersburg to be a particularly congenial city, clearly there is a fondness for art, opulence and beauty here. With construction and/or re-construction continuing everywhere you look, it will one day be even more magnificent than the current city scene!

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Other City Scene posts:

City Scene: Vienna

City Scene: Copenhagen

City Scene: Auckland