To Kirkenes …

… and no further, from we here were heading south and back towards the light; I miss this dark place of snow, ice and the Merry Dancers. This is my diary entry from Christmas Day:

At 10:00am there is light on the horizon but the sun does not rise. The temperature is -20c and falling – everything crackles: the snow under your feet; the cars on white dusty roads; the air. A slight breeze makes your eyes ache and fingers stiffen in the search for the shutter release on an ice-cold camera. It is the perfect setting for a Christmas Day but it is strange nonetheless. By 11:30am the light on the horizon is beginning to fade; Kirkenes is returning to the dark. In truth, it does not really feel like one special day, just another in a series; Christmas started when the snow arrived in Trondheim.

All of these far northern towns have a certain similarity, particularly when seen by artificial light – life goes on despite the raw cold, the snow and the dark. There is industry and a sense of purpose which tourist destinations lack. The architecture is bright, clean, new and purposeful. It is the Alaska of my imagination.

On ship we have been celebrating Christmas since yesterday, Christmas Eve being the day of celebration and gift-giving for the Norwegians. There is no turkey but there is reindeer which is at odds with the story of Rudolph – it tastes good all the same.  In the evening there is a service on the upper deck which I am dragged to like the reluctant schoolboy. It is entertaining – there is competitive carol singing as we are encouraged to sing in our own language – the Dutch tenor wins :D.  This is followed by the story of Jesus in the ‘manga’ at which point we get a fit of the giggles. A joyous occasion, I am glad I did not miss it.

On Christmas Eve the northern lights appear again, right on cue.

Russian ships ... The mothers monument ... MS Finnmarken ... The road to Murmansk ... Finnmarken ... MS Finnmarken ... Near the harbour ... Ropes ... Spirits on the water ... Northern lights at ... Christmas morning ... Christmas morning ... Christmas morning ... Christmas morning ... Christmas morning ...

The frozen boy is a detail from a monument to the mothers of Kirkenes.
The northern lights images have been pushed to within an inch of their lives – the first shows mist rising from the cold cold sea, the lights from a distant town and the aurora on the horizon.

The Baltic

In March 2004 I found myself in Tallinn, Estonia presenting at a pre-accession IT conference. Nearly spring at home, the temperatures remained determinedly below zero throughout as the streets rattled to the sound of studded tyres on tarmac. On one of the short days we escaped to Kadrioru Park by the shores of the Baltic and walked upon the water – the sea was deeply frozen as ferries navigated in and out of the port through roughly carved channels.

The return flight banked over the Baltic and some years later we returned by a defrosted sea on our return from St Petersburg. Thus I have floated on the Baltic, walked on its waters and flown over its deep seas. A couple of weeks back I even went inside:

The Baltic

Actually, I have been inside the Baltic Mill, Gateshead on many occasions. It is a wonderful building but the content rarely lives up to its fine exterior.

(this is another image courtesy of the smartphone).

Travel theme: Dance

Travel theme: Dance:  These photographs were taken thirty years ago in Battery Park, New York.  The first is a little fussy with too much going on but with the passage of time perhaps it gains interest.  As I remember, the lone pom pom dancer had no connection with the street musician sat on the bench who was taking a rest between playing the accordion and the trumpet – a uniquely challenging feat for a one man band; the passers-by in their 1980s fashions seem too wrapped up in their own worlds.  Watching over them all is the Norman Millet Thomas Coast Guard Memorial established in honour of those from the US Coast Guard who served their country during World War II; nothing heals their wounds, nothing brings them back, nothing is learned – the world dances on.

Battery Park DancerBattery Park Dancer

On a lighter note, I was born with two left feet so I don’t generally take much interest in dance; consequently I found this theme choice quite difficult.  I have once again mined the Tallinn TREFF archive for these two images of clowns dancing:

Tallinn street theatre - danceTallinn street theatre - dance

(click on images to enlarge)

Baltic Gallery – now online

I have finally finished ‘tarting up’ the Baltic pictures.  They can all be seen at the original northumbrian : light gallery site.  There has been much mucking about in Photoshop so nothing appears quite as it should be.  The camera always lies.  For those easily bored or of a nervous disposition, be warned that there are 87 pictures – with a six second autoplay loop this is going to take nine minutes out of your life.


Flanders : brief impressions

In Flanders field the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead, short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders’ fields.

Warnemunde : brief impressions

It is difficult to imagine this seaside resort behind an iron curtain, difficult to imagine the lives of others.  The town is quaint resembling California’s Carmel although in this instance the quaintness is real, not manufactured.

The soft white sands stretch along a broad windswept beach for nearly two miles.  Empty numbered basket chairs are arranged in neat little rows, facing away from the sea and prevailing winds, they seem designed for eavesdropping.  Nevertheless, first  impressions can be misleading.  Beneath the lighthouse sits the Teepott (Teapot). This thoroughly modern sculpted building looks post-unification but was actually constructed in 1960.  Administrations and appearances can be deceptive.

Margaret Leigh writing in 1941 (Driftwood and Tangle) of a disappearing life in the Scottish Highlands describes a burial-ground with its freight of memories and prayers slowly sinking into darkness.  These are communities which  died of natural causes brought on by progress; by contrast the disappearance of many similar communities across Europe was hastened by war and its aftermath.

Helsinki : brief impressions

Finland is purpose made for the computer age, the language comes ready encrypted.  A common sight in the city centre is tourists peering at maps trying to match the random alpha character strings on the page with those of the street name.  Curiously the name is repeated on many direction signs; so similar are the names that this can only be a political imperative, one version being almost identical to the other.  Perhaps it is the alpha and beta versions of the encryption algorithm.  Like Oslo, like Copenhagen, unlike St Petersburg, this is a neat and tidy city. It floats amongst a land of islands and water; the land of Ari Vatanen  and the 1000 Lakes Rally. Everything is on the human scale even the industrial, the only objects that are out of the proportion are the ice breakers, laid up for the summer, they sit line astern, super Tonka toys.

All colours are muted, all lines are clean, there is no neon, nothing is brash.  Almost everything exudes good taste.

St Petersburg : more brief impressions

Deep under St Petersburg is the palace for the people, the Metro.  Mostly pristine and certainly grandiose, only the rolling stock fixes the system in time and place.  No moulded plastics, no bright lighting, the carriages are mostly wood lined with a depth of yellow gloss which can be traced back to the Neolithic.  Above ground, the western influences are more obvious – girls in too tight, too short skirts, mid-day drunks, too large, too dark sunglasses and McDonalds.  Amidst this is the Palace of Excess – The Hermitage – not too much wealth, just too much of everything.  Whisked through the heaving crowds by a citizen’s band voice in the head, the guides are intent on promoting everything and examining nothing – a hall full of Rembrandts was dismissed in a brush stroke.  The relief comes from looking upwards; away from the throng of heads hang the chandeliers, the bright gilt, the painted ceilings, the glass mirrors infused with gold to give a reflected image a flattering  Photoshop Gaussian overlay.

St Petersburg : brief impressions

St PETERSBURG:  Russians do not smile much and a journey into the centre reveals why.  Near the brand new port set in a flattened bleak landscape a six lane highway leads nowhere.  Cordoned off at each end, the locals sit on the central reservation and picnic; evidence that such surroundings are an improvement on the urban sprawl where they live.  Vast tenements reach upwards and outwards along the coast; this is not some hangover from the Soviet regime because they are building yet more.  This does not look a happy place.  I am reading Kathleen Jamie’s Sightlines – the third essay, The Woman in the Field ends:  You are placed in the landscape, you are placed in time.  But, within that, there’s a bit of room for manoeuvre.  To some extent, you can be author of your own fate.  True in the West, less so here.  So they seek alternatives.