Tag Archives: History

Allure of the Sinking City.

I didn’t have my boots. But luckily I didn’t need them this time. There was no aqua alta. No water came up onto the streets, squares and court yards like I had witnessed when I visited Venice a few years ago for work. However, major flooding, covering almost 15% of the city, now occurs about four times a year when the converging high tides and sirocco winds push more sea water into the lagoon. And minor flooding happens more and more often. This beautiful city is sinking.

Venice pictured from the lagoonPart of the sinking is due to natural compaction of the sediments on the 118 islands that make up the city, but a slightly larger part is due to human activity, such as conservation and renovation of the historic buildings. Some say the huge number of tourists descending on the city center on a daily basis also contributes, at least indirectly, to the sinking. And it doesn’t help that the water levels in the Adriatic Sea are rising due to global warming.

st Mark's Square Piazza San Marco VeniceI felt a bit guilty being one of the about 30 million tourists visiting Venice annually. Tourism has clearly made it more difficult for the locals to live, and afford to live, in the city. Many have already moved to the mainland. And tourism contributes very little towards the overwhelming challenges of conservation and protection against the rising waters faced by the residents. I am all for an entry fee for visitors and all the other limiting measures now contemplated by the Mayor and local government of Venice.

cruise ship in Venice_edited-1I also believe that banning the huge cruise ships from sailing into the lagoon would be a good step in the right direction…just check the scale of this ship compared to the buildings next to it.

my waterbus in VeniceThese thoughts in mind, but happy it was not raining, I set out to navigate my way from the (in comparison) small boat towards Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square as we call it in English.

I passed the Doge’s Palace, which I had already admired from the water. It had housed over 1000 Doges, elected rulers of Venice, before the “job” was abolished in 1797. The palace had also contained the court, administration and the prison systems of Venice during the medieval and renaissance periods.

the Doge's Palace VeniceOnce at the Piazza, I was fascinated by the gorgeous, intricate details of the Basilica San Marco. I just walked around it and zoomed in on one detail after another.

the horses of st Mark Basilica cavalli di san marco venice

nativity scene at saint marks basilica in Venice

mosaics at San Marco Venice_edited-1

painting on Saint Mark Basilica in Venice_edited-1The sights around the Piazza were just stunning. One beautiful building,  statue, detail or pigeon next to another.

Piazza San Marco Venice

Doorway in Venice

Detail of a pillar in Venice

the clock ringers in Venice

pigeons at Piazza San Marco VeniceI stayed there for quite a while and came across this ancient “letter box” in the wall. It was not one of the famous Boca de Leons through which citizens could anonymously send accusations to the Doge. This one had a more serious clang to it. The accusations of crime had to be signed with the name and address of the accuser. If, after a thorough investigation, the accusation was found correct and a crime had been committed, the accused would be punished. Sometimes beheaded. But should the accusation be unfounded, the accuser would be punished. Ouch. Judging from the discolorations around the letter hole, it seems this method of getting justice had been used quite frequently.

letter box for accusations non-anonymous in VeniceThe “weatherman”, as Venetians call the angel at the top of St. Mark’s clock tower, predicted overcast skies and some wind but no rain for the day. Encouraged by this good forecast, I decided to take a gondola ride.

the weatherman at the top of the clock tower in VeniceI walked to one of the “Gondola stations”. I wanted to see the ordinary houses where people lived, and some of the 430 bridges, cruising through a few of the 170 narrow canals.

gondola station in VeniceAnd after a short wait I was onboard. My gondolier worked hard to get us out to the Grand Canal. It should be noted that it’s not easy to become a gondolier. While the license is often transferred from father to son, the aspiring gondoliers must go to gondola school, do a formal internship of 6-12 months and pass a practical exam in front of 5 gondola judges. Among the approximately 400 licensed gondoliers today, there is only one woman.

My gondolier in Venice

gondolas in venice_edited-2

in the gondola on the great canal in Venice_edited-1We passed many beautiful buildings and churches exhibiting more exquisite mosaics.

mosaic on a house wall in Venice

exterior mosaic painting Venice_edited-1From the Grand Canal we entered the narrow, residential canals, sometimes navigating through traffic jams of gondolas, residents’ boats and water taxis.

canal and gondolas venice_edited-1

my gondola navigates in VeniceBoats were “parallel parked” in the front of the homes just like we would see cars elsewhere.

street parking in VeniceWe glided under some of the beautiful large and small bridges.

on the water in Venice

venice canal and bridge

in the gondola in VeniceAnd I witnessed, with some heartache, the true romance of gondola rides…a musician and a soloist onboard entertaining a couple. But “O’ Sole Mio” didn’t help to bring out the sun.

gondolier musician and solist in VeniceThe gondola ride was a unique experience to say the least. After the ride, I visited a glass factory. Or rather a workshop and sales quarters of one of the producers of the famous Murano glass. They had a small workshop in the city, while their main factory was…on the island of Murano. I watched the Master create a vase, and of course ended up buying some small, but still fairly pricey gifts.

glassblowing venice

Murano glass in Venice_edited-1Walking back to the boat over numerous brides, I got lost. The best way to see Venice, according to some. I noticed I was surrounded by several restaurants and realized I hadn’t eaten since my light breakfast at 5:30 a.m.

bridge in VeniceAfter some pizza and a glass of red wine, I regained my bearings. …and encountered some of the mysteries of this unique city.

mask Venice_edited-1From behind my Volta mask, I wish you all a beautiful Sunday and a great week ahead.

The Last Day. Anno 79 A.D.

It was late morning on August 24, 79 A.D. The lively city of Pompeii was buzzing with activity. The main street leading to the Forum was busy with carts, carriages and chariots bouncing over the large cobblestones.

main street Pompeii

street PompeiiOn residential streets, pedestrians negotiated their way on narrow sidewalks. The sidewalks were raised because unlike Rome, Pompeii didn’t have a sophisticated sewer system and much of the wastewater found its way onto the streets. Crossing the street with produce from the market or products from the many flourishing shops around the Forum was a balancing act on the large, flat stones provided for the purpose of crossing with dry feet.

street and crosswalk in PompeiiAs usual, people were gathering around the many drinking wells around the city exchanging the latest news and some, without a doubt, also engaging in rumor mongering.

drinking well in Pompeii_edited-2Nobody worried about the fact that the water to these fountains was flowing through lead pipes.

another well in PompeiiThe bath houses were still busy with late morning bathers, men and women enjoying separate quarters. Their clothing neatly tucked away in the “lockers” around the bath.

wall art outside a bath house in Pompeii

inside of the bath house in PompeiiSome people were lingering in the colorfully decorated common areas of the bath house.

bath house frescos PompeiiThis Tuesday morning, life was going on its usual merry ways at the many hotels (and brothels), shops and bakeries in the city.

hotel 2 in Pompeii

bedroom in Pompeii

shop in pompeii

bakery in PompeiiThe morning rehearsals at the Grand Theater had just concluded and the spectators were leaving the venue. It was a perfect morning.

grand theater pompeiiThe smaller Forum was busy too. Young men were competing in athletics, their families cheering them on. Some were standing in small groups discussing politics.

smaller forum in Pompeii

floor mosaic PompeiiAt the affluent villas of the nobel class and newly rich merchants, the morning was spent leisurely around the house.

the floor plan of the latest opened house in PompeiiGuests were entertained in the larger atrium, where the rainwater had been gathered in a shallow “pool” for some cooling on this warm summer morning.

Atrium of the most recently opened house Pompeii

House of Sirico Pompeii

frescos in a house in PompeiiThe servants were busy dusting the frescos and cleaning the mosaic floors in and outside of the house.

most recent house interior mosaic floor Pompeii

floor mosaic pattern PompeiiInhabitants and guests of the most opulent villas facing the sea, could enjoy splendid views from their elaborate terraces and gardens.

view of house interior Pompeii

sea view from the house garden PompeiiThose less fortunate could enjoy the public green spaces sprinkled around the city.

garden 2 in Pompeii_edited-1But the busiest place this morning was the Forum. It was the economic, religious and political center of the city, where municipal buildings, courts, temples and commercial activities were located around the two-story portico.

busy forum in Pompeii

two story pillars at the Forum Pompeii

Forum in PompeiiThe northern end of the Forum was closed by the Capitolium, with Mount Vesuvius rising towards the sky right behind it.

the Forum with backdrop of Vesuvius PompeiiAn ordinary late summer day. Until … around noon, a “cloud of unusual size and shape” appeared overtop Vesuvius.

the eruption of Vesuvius starts PompeiiIt could be seen across the city. At first, there was curiosity. But an hour later when ash started falling, people begun to panic. Many rushed towards the harbor, others started running north or south along the coast, but some 2000 people were hesitant to leave their homes. They would ride out whatever was coming and chose to take shelter in buildings and underground cellars they deemed safe. But the eruption escalated fast. Around 2 p.m. ash and white pumice was falling over the city at a rate of 10-15 cm (4-6 inches) an hour.

vesuvius erupts 2 Pompeii_edited-1By 5 p.m. the sun was completely blocked and there was no light for the people still seeking shelter or running away from the city. Ash, bits of pumice and charred rocks were falling on the city. Fires were burning everywhere. Roofs started to collapse.

vesuvius eruption 3b pompeiiAnd then, in the morning of August 25, just before 7 a.m., a pyroclastic cloud of hot ash and toxic gas surged down on the city killing everyone who had remained in its vicinity. Not one was spared. Men, women, children and animals all perished.

dead woman PompeiiThe eruption buried the city under 4-6 meters (13-20 feet) of volcanic ash and pumice. Life as it had been on that late summer day in 79 A.D. was frozen in time for almost 1700 years.

a man in PompeiiPliny the Younger,  a Roman writer who managed to escape from the city in time, described the eruption in letters to his friend, which were discovered in the 16th century. The ruins of Pompeii were found only in 1748.

artifacts found in PompeiiAbout 80% of the city has now been excavated and as the work progresses, we learn more about that fateful day 1938 years ago.

About 700,000 people currently live around the volcano, which last erupted in 1944.

outer walls PompeiiAs I am starting to “unpack” my latest travels, I wish you all a wonderful week ahead.

Mysteries in the Fog. Big Guns. And Other Adventures on Amelia Island.

“Look farmor”! For those uninitiated in Swedish language the latter stands for grandma. “There’s a big bird, take a picture”! That was my fellow photographer, aged 5, pointing at the foggy skies. As you can see, I followed her advice. A Brown Pelican was indeed flying in the mist over the ocean scanning for fish. Unfortunately it was not successful, but who would’ve been? The fog effectively merged the sky and the white hats on the ocean.

pelican in the fogDespite the fog and the wind, our trip to Little Talbot Island, one of the few undeveloped barrier islands in North Florida, was one of discovery. We had a wonderful, energetic “guide”, aged less than 2, who picked up some of the small treasures in the sand for closer examination.

our little guideAnd pointed out a few big ones. Like this mysterious palm trunk that had spent a considerable time traveling in the ocean. It had to be investigated.

palm trunk drift wood We also spotted a lone soul on the ocean braving the wind and the rough seas. And a gull keeping an eye on him.

wave runner at LTI beach gull flying on LTI beach On a sunny day, this beautiful beach would probably have been very busy, but we had it all for ourselves. Apart from a couple of Western Sandpipers.

Little Talbot Island beach on a foggy winter morningwestern sandpiper Walking back from the beach with a bag full of treasures, the Leap Pad photographer took pictures of the boardwalk and the sand dunes. She already has a well developed eye for discovering interesting items to shoot in the nature.

leap pad photographer little Talbot Island board walk But the excitement was not over yet. Our journey continued to Amelia Island. Despite the dense fog we could enjoy some beautiful views from the car windows.Once on Amelia Island, we drove along the Canopy Road leading to Fort Clinch State Park.

canopy road amelia island Our adventure would continue at this historic fort, built in 1847. It served as a military post during the Civil War, Spanish-American War and World War II.

fort clinch The fort stands on a hill facing open waters. Already the draw bridge and the outer walls were impressive.

fort clinch draw bridge fort clinch outer wallAnd the buildings inside the fort were surrounded by big cannons. Quite a few out of the originally 77 big guns still remained in place.

fort clinch buildings cannons at fort clinch We climbed up to the watch tower ruins through some very narrow, winding iron stairs. Those days they didn’t bother about railings,  and it was more like climbing up inside a chimney, but up we came. On a clear day the view would’ve been fantastic, but now we could hardly distinguish the water from the sky.

view from fort clinch at the wall of fort clinchTo our delight, we could also tour many of the buildings. We found sleeping quarters, dining halls, captains quarters, and a prison. All of which had to be documented by the two photographers. By this time, our guide was out of energy and had to replenish it by taking a short nap.

sleeping quarters fort clinch dining room at fort clinch captains quarters at fort clinch prison cell at fort clinch When we had climbed enough and examined everything, a Union soldier entertained us by playing jolly old melodies on his flute.

union soldier plays flute at fort clinch From the fort, our adventure continued to the historic district of Amelia Island. A  fun and “artsy” place.  Art works were displayed inside and outside the galleries, Christmas decorated shop windows and streets dotted with pirates and birds that didn’t fly away from the photographers. Cool shops where our young photographer and the little guide, now reinvigorated, could try their hand on all kinds of modern inventions. Entertaining indeed.

art in a window art on the ground hist district Amelia Island shop window Amelia Islandpirate Amelia Islandwooden flamingo Amelia IslansBy the time our shopping was done it was getting dark. Our troops were ready for dinner at the seaside. Tired, but happy like the shrimp greeting us outside the restaurant.

the shrimp statue at Amelia IslandThat was a foggy good adventure! Thank you for tagging along.

A Short Hike along St. John’s River

Just a brief post to say hi. I’m back home and trying to catch up on all the wonderful posts you, my friends, have produced while I was away. I had a whirlwind trip, but managed to get in a couple of hours of hiking on Saturday in the Timucuan Ecological & Historical Preserve along the St. John’s River in North Florida.

preserve jungle jaxThis huge and very interesting preserve represents one of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands on the Atlantic Coast. It would have required at least a full day or two to properly experience the beauty of its salt marshes, coastal dunes, and hardwood hammocks.

drift wood on the beach in jax

And to explore 6000 years of human history within it boundaries.  This preserve  marks the place where one of the Timucuan tribes met the first French explorers in 1562.  Sadly, this meeting, and the French and Spanish settlers that soon followed, represented the beginning of the end of the longstanding Timucuan culture.

native american hut jax

The preserve also houses an exhibit of Fort Carolina originally built by the first French settlers on the river bank.

fort in jax

We didn’t have the time to reach the wetlands where I could have found birds to “shoot”, but I could hear them everywhere in the jungle-like forest.

ecological preserve jax

The only bird I managed to capture on this short hike was a Turkey Vulture who enjoyed the winds above the river.

turkey vulture 2 jax

Stopping along the river we spotted several schools of dolphins, most of them too far out for me to get a picture.

dolphins in st johns river jax

The preserve also has ongoing ecological research projects in the many different types of habitats it houses. We stumbled upon one of the vegetation projects on our hike through the maritime hammock.

ecological project jax

It was a compact hike, but gave me a taste of what this preserve has to offer. I hope to return one day with better time to explore the beauty of its habitats, and its birds, properly.

st johns river 4 jax

I hope your week is going great. Get out and enjoy nature! Tiny – here leaning on a “twin” tree in the hardwood hammock.

Hiking in North FL

Silence Breathes in Colors. On Caladesi Island.

Caladesi island from the air. Source: Pinellascounty.org
The Hurricane Pass and Caladesi island from the air. Source: Pinellascounty.org

One morning at the end of January, I set out with a friend just after sunrise.  She had agreed to join me for a hike on Caladesi Island, one of the few remaining pristine barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, situated a mile and a half off shore from the city of Dunedin, FL.

It was called Hog Island until 1921 when a major hurricane split it into two separate islands. The Hurricane Pass was formed. The northernmost island became known as Honeymoon Island after becoming popular with honeymooners in late 1930s.  The southern island got its name, or so the story goes,  after a Spaniard named “Desi” said to have lived on the island bayou, which is “cala” in Spanish. Caladesi.

Caladesi Island eastern shore

Caladesi Island, now a state park, was “discovered” in 1888 by a Swiss immigrant, Henry Scharrer, who became the first and only homesteader ever on the island. His daughter, Myrtle, who was born there in 1895, has written an interesting book, “Yesteryear I Lived in Paradise – The Story of Caladesi Island”,  first published in 1984.

Myrtle and her father, Henry, at the homestead, circa 1902. Source: floridastateparks.org

In the book, she gives a timeline of the area’s early history involving the Tocobaga, Seminole and Miccosukee people, and the Spanish – English – Spanish rule until the Florida territory was acquired by the U.S. in 1821. She also describes her family’s life on the island in late 1800s and early 1900s in vivid color and fascinating detail.

Fishermen close to Honeymoon Island

We started our trip by driving to Honeymoon Island. From there we took the first boat of the day over to Caladesi. The air was cool. The ocean was completely still. A light mist was rising  from the water as the sun  slowly climbed higher.

fog rises on the ocean on our way to Caladesi island
A small island between main land and Caladesi Island

Suddenly we spotted some movement in the water. It was a bottlenose dolphin on a morning swim in the sparkling ocean.

A Bottlenose Dolphin near Caladesi Island
A Bottlenose Dolphin

A few minutes later we passed the northernmost tip of Caladesi Island. White sand,  shore birds … and more dolphins, all swept in the soft blue of the morning.

northern tip of caladesi island by tiny
The northern tip of Caladesi Island
A school of Bottlenose Dolphins frolicking in the ocean Caladesi Island

We watched them quietly for a while – and got another delightful surprise. A mother dolphin with a baby beside her “floated” by on the other side of the boat.  They might have been sleeping. It certainly was a dream-like moment.  Dolphins are such enchanting beings, meeting so many of them first thing in the morning was a treat. The universe was smiling.

Caladesi Island two Bottlenose Dolphins, mother and child
Two Bottlenose Dolphins, mother and child

The boat ride was short, about 20 minutes, and soon we started to navigate our way into the marina, the only establishment on the island. I was excited to finally experience the beauty of the island I had read so much about.

Caladesi island approaching the marina
Approaching the marina

The island is about six miles (9.6 km) long. We decided to start by walking south on the beach, and then hike the 3-mile (4.8 km) nature trail in the interior of the island. The beach was pristine, so beautiful I could have walked there for the whole length of the island!

caladesi island beach by tiny
The miles long beach on Caladesi Island

But we wanted to see more. I knew that unlike Honeymoon Island, this was not a place where I could spot lots of birds inland, but I anticipated that the nature itself would be breathtaking. And it was, Florida in its natural state, as it used to be.

caladesi island nature trail live oak by tiny
The nature trail
Caladeai island live oak on the nature trail by tiny
A huge live oak extends across the trail
caladesi island nature trail pines2 by tiny
Tall pines along the trail

The trail passed through beautiful old pine, oak and palm forests. And soon we came across the beautiful waterway along which one could reach the interior of the island by kayak.

caladesi island pond by tiny
The inland waterway

When we came closer to the former homestead, we found the only fresh water pond on the island. That’s where Myrtle and her family got their water for daily use. Trees were bending over the pond, as if protecting it from the passage of time. And silence… was breathing in mesmerizing colors.

caladesi island freahwater pond
The fresh water pond on north side of the trail
caladesi island freswater pond
…and south side of the trail

Fairly close to the pond, we literally stumbled upon the famous “Harp Tree” or twin pine as it’s also called. Numerous photos were taken there, and are exhibited in the book, by early photographers who came to the island to visit Myrtle’s family.

Caladesi Island The famous "Harp Tree"
The “Harp Tree”

It was a beautiful spot. I could feel the wing beats of history in the air. It was easy to imagine how life used to be there a hundred years ago, and how exciting photography had to be for these early pioneers. There would always be someone willing to climb up to be pictured sitting in the Harp Tree.

Caladesi island old pine trees
Beautiful, old pine trees

Then the trail turned back towards north and the harbor. We were admiring the old trees when we heard some rustling in the bushes next to the trail. We stopped, looked carefully, and saw a nine banded armadillo trying to dig a hole in the ground, either to find food or to prepare a new burrow. His head was already far down there, and he was working hard.

A ninebanded armadillo
A nine banded armadillo

The last part of the trail was equally beautiful. I felt like I’d been thrown back in time. A harsh time in many ways, but much more simple and peaceful in this island paradise.

A huge oak tree on the nature trail
A huge oak tree on the nature trail

The tranquility of Caladesi Island was tangible. Being dipped so deep into untouched nature was inspirational and soothing for the soul. Like coming back to my real origins.

I Share

Climbing the stairs of time

Life opens up

Light floods my steps

As I reach higher

Heavens come closer

I pause on today’s step.

I stand still and I breathe

This moment is live

Warmth fills my soul

Everything is here

I share it with you

All of you, and with everything.