Guest post by Ice Swimmer.
These pictures are from the wetland in Harakka. The summer has been dry and the wetland wasn’t as wet as I had seen it before. Still, it looked quite lush.
I’m supposed to be in Paris. Today. I should be there right now. It’s been the plan for 5 years to go to Paris in September of 2020. It’s the year a friend retires (she has) and the year I turn 60 (I will soon), and we were going to celebrate both milestones in Paris. We’ve read every guide book twice or thrice and have well-organized lists of what we want to see, do, and eat. We’ve talked endlessly about the trip, and the promise of it has helped us both through some difficult days. Covid doesn’t care about any of that, though, and so we had to cancel our plans.
This Water Lilies mural by Monet is one of 8 panels that grace 2 rooms at the Musee de L’Orangerie and I was very much looking forward to seeing it in person. Instead, I took a virtual tour today which only increased my desire to actually go there. The tour is nice though, and if you’re interested you can take it yourself. The link for the musuem will take you directly to it. The link for the photo has a nice walking tour if you’re looking for a bit more of Paris.
This is the last set of photos and it shows the olive plantations that are also an important part of the landscape, some wine cellars, and the Pinhão river, a Douro tributary. I hope you enjoyed this series. The Douro Valley is a magical place with a long tradition of wine and olive oil production. Its sustainability is currently threatened by an increase in intensive farming and tourism. In a way, it’s being a victim of its own beauty and of the quality of its products.
It’s time for the next leg of our journey with Nightjar.
The vineyards planted on Douro’s steep hillsides produce grapes with unique properties for wine production. We went in August, middle of the dry season and a little before harvesting starts. This region has been producing wine for nearly 2 millennia and is a UNESCO heritage site. Traditional farming methods are still used for the most part, but lately and due to increased demand, the pressure put on the river has been increasing to worrying levels. In addition to erosion, environmentalists have been denouncing the massive use of herbicides that obviously end up poisoning the river.
The next part of Nightjar’s series.
The views upstream of the dam were even more striking, but it’s quite clear this isn’t a natural landscape. It made me wonder how this placed looked like before humans started reshaping it many centuries ago.
I had some sort of brain fart yesterday and didn’t get part 2 of this series posted. Because of this, I’ve decided to post the series on Monday, Wednesday and Friday this week with the last 2 posts on Monday and Wednesday next week. That way there will be 2 weeks with beautiful photos by Nightjar, to whom I sincerely apologize. Without further ado, Nightjar presents The Douro Valley, Part 2.
I had never seen a lock operate before, let alone actually navigate through one, so I was really looking forward to this part of the cruise. Being raised 28 meters (92 feet) up a dam and looking back on it as we go upstream is quite an experience. I think these photos tell the story well.
Welcome to a new series from Nightjar. The story is told in 5 parts, beginning today and ending on Friday.
I’ve had this series semi-prepared for over a year but I kept meaning to write up a better story to accompany the pictures and since that never happened, I never shared them. I have now decided to write up something not as detailed as I had planned initially and just share the photos already. I’m sorry I couldn’t put more into this, but I hope you all enjoy it anyway.
Back in 2017 I did a (partial) Douro up-river cruise. Douro is one of our major rivers and the region around it is where Port wine comes from, as well as being home to important almond and olive plantations. I’ve regretted this trip, not only because cruises here are becoming too popular and thus environmentally costly, but also because shortly after it a scandal broke about workers’ rights abuse by the companies running this business. So, destroying the environment while trampling workers’ rights, that doesn’t exactly make me want to repeat it. But anyway, I selected a few photos I took during the trip to share. Here you can see an overview of the river and the surrounding landscape, some of its bridges and one of its dams. In the next chapter we, and the boat following us, will navigate through that dam. A 28 meters / 92 feet rise.
When we disembarked in Uglich we crossed a cobblestone bridge into the city where we were greeted by a duo singing a traditional Russian folk song. Their voices were clear and strong, and it was a charming welcome to the first of Russia that we saw outside of the big city of Moscow. On the other side of the bridge, we met our local tour guide who was to take us on a planned tour of the city. Being a tour guide is a noble profession in Russia, and once upon a time, the tour companies had a full-time stable of guides. There have been cutbacks, though, and now the guides all work as private contractors on an as-needed basis. For most of our trip, the guides were outstanding. They were all multi-lingual, friendly, thoroughly professional, and each of them had a comprehensive knowledge of the history and geography of the country. There was one guide, though, that we disliked.
This fellow was our guide in Uglich, and everyone in our group was unhappy with his performance. To begin with, he walked too fast. Way to fast for all of us. My friend and I were the youngsters on our cruise, with most of the other people being in their 70’s and 80’s, and everyone struggled to keep up. He also spoke while he was walking, without turning around at all, so that most of us missed what he had to say. We figured out the reason for the rush at the end of the tour, though, when we were taken into a woodcarvers shop and told that we had 15 minutes to look around and buy. We all suspected that the haste at the beginning of the tour was to make sure we had enough time to shop and that some sort of kick-back was likely involved. Working on an as-needed basis is difficult, so we understood the circumstances, but we’d signed up for the “slow” tour (most of the tours had an option for a quick, active group or a slower group with less walking) and this walk was anything but slow. We managed, though. It’s surprising how fast you can go with the right motivation. Turns out that I’m quicker when I’m worried about being left behind and lost in an unfamiliar place where I don’t speak the language and even the alphabet looks strange. We did have our guide books with us so we could at least recognize what building or church we were passing or were about to visit.
The city of Uglich is first mentioned in the All-Russia Chronicles of the Ipatievsky Monastery of 1148, however, there is archeological evidence that settlements have existed at the site since the First Millenium. The city houses many ancient churches, and we were able to visit three of them. Our tour began with a walk through the main area of churches viewing them from the outside before attending a 3 man a capella concert in a modern building used as a civic centre.
Our first stop after this was at the Transfiguration Cathedral, which is part of the city’s Kremlin (fort). This cathedral was first built in the early 1200s and it’s been rebuilt several times since then. The current church was built in 1713 and it’s the bright yellow building with orange trim and dark green onion domes that greeted us as we came into port. Beside the Church is the Bell Tower, which was erected in 1730.
We were given a very brief tour of the interior of the church later in the tour, just before being whisked off to the woodshop to buy souvenirs. Our guide told us the church is still in use and, as with all churches in Russia, there are no seats. All worshippers are expected to stand for services, including dignitaries and in previous times, the Aristocracy. Many of these services can go on for 4 hours. Gold was a prevailing detail in almost all of the churches we visited here and throughout Russia and every church has a unique set of icons.
That’s it for today. In the next installment, you’ll hear the curious story of Dmitri and see the church built in his honour.