Posted in U.S.A. - Alaska

A Very Large Glacier in Alaska!

Flag of Alaska

Postcard of Matanuska Glacier, Alaska. Sent by Marilyn Boaz from Anchorage, Alaska, on May 27, 2017. Received in Phuket, Thailand, on June 6, 2017. Distance travelled: 10,417 km.
Postcard of Matanuska Glacier, Alaska. Sent by Marilyn Boaz from Anchorage, Alaska, on May 27, 2017. Received in Phuket, Thailand, on June 6, 2017. Distance travelled: 10,417 km.

I have to admit that my younger sister, Marilyn, has surpassed me with her travels to interesting places since I settled in southern Thailand more than 14 years ago. I never know where her and her husband, Keith (often accompanied by my nephew, Spencer), will visit next and I am constantly amazed when the postcards begin to arrive.

This one was sent from Anchorage during a journey they made to Alaska last year, arriving in Phuket just eleven days later (and on the same day that a card they sent from Fairbanks four days earlier). It pictures a bit of Matanuska Glacier which, at 27 miles (43 kilometers) long by 4 miles (6.4 km) wide, is the largest glacier accessible by car in the United States. Check out this aerial view for a better feel of its massiveness:

map Matanuska Glacier
Matanuska Glacier from the air. Taken at Latitude/Longitude:61.898767/-147.557589.

Its terminus feeds the Matanuska River, lying near the Glenn Highway about 100 miles (160 km) north-east of Anchorage. Matanuska Glacier flows about 1 foot (30 cm) per day. Due to ablation of the lower glacier, as of 2007, the location of the glacier terminus changed little over the previous three decades.

A glacier is a persistent body of dense ice that is constantly moving under its own weight; it forms where the accumulation of snow exceeds its ablation (melting and sublimation) over many years, often centuries. Glaciers slowly deform and flow due to stresses induced by their weight, creating crevasses, seracs, and other distinguishing features. They also abrade rock and debris from their substrate to create landforms such as cirques and moraines. Glaciers form only on land and are distinct from the much thinner sea ice and lake ice that form on the surface of bodies of water.

The Matanuska River itself is 75-miles (121 km) long and  is a popular destination for whitewater enthusiasts who float mainly in rafts or kayaks. The indigenous Dena’ina Athabascan name for the river is Ch’atanhtnu, based on the root -tanh “trail extends out”, meaning literally “trail comes out river”. The English place name Matanuska derives from a Russian term spelled in various ways, including Matanooski and Mednoviska, meaning “copper river people”, perhaps referring to an implied route from Cook Inlet to the Copper River.

The glacier is the eponym of the Alaska Marine Highway ferry M/V Matanuska.

In addition to the Matanuska Glacier, named and unnamed streams that drain the Talkeetna and Chugach ranges feed into the Matanuska River. These include Glacier, Hicks, Purinton, Caribou, and Coal creeks, and the Chickaloon and King rivers, and many others. The main stem is silty with glacial run-off from spring through fall but at lower flows beneath winter ice, it runs relatively clear.

The Mat-Su Valley is one of the most settled regions of Alaska and one of the few areas in the state to support agriculture. Erosion by the glacial braided river has damaged roads, farms, houses, and houses for decades.

Mantanuska Glacier State Recreation Site is along the highway where Glacier Creek enters the river; King Mountain State Recreation Site is near Chickaloon, and Kepler – Bradley Lakes State Recreation Area is near Palmer.

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Posted in Italy

Happy Valentine’s Day with Pizza!

Would you believe that I don’t have a single Valentine’s Day postcard? Or, even an old Valentine’s card, for that matter (other than the ones my students have made for me out of colored paper). Perhaps I’ll have to get on eBay and find a vintage love-themed postcard (preferably with a February 14 postmark) to use on this blog next year…

I do have a few cards with small hearts but none caught my eye like this one, featuring a heart-shaped pizza. Bonus points because it was sent to me from Italy — arguably the most romantic country on the planet (France may disagree, however). I received it as part of a Facebook group swap last year.

I’ve written a lot on my stamp blogs about Valentine’s Day, including three over the past week here, here, and here as well as an extensive treatment last year. Feel free to take a look if you’re interested (shameless plug).

For this blog, I just want to wish everybody a Happy Valentine’s Day (or Single’s Appreciation Day, as the case may be).

Posted in Iceland

Seafood from Iceland

I haven’t received or sent very many postcards so far in 2018 and I have been negligent in updating this blog with some of my backlog of unblogged cards. As sometimes happens, an arrival in last night’s mail has inspired me to make a new attempt at catching up. I’ve been writing a lot for my other blogs over the past few days and the time is right to add to this one as well…

In the packet of 14 postcards from Strasbourg, France, received a month ago, there were also two unused cards advertising Icelandic seafood by Iceland Responsible Fisheries. According to their website,

Iceland has created one of the most modern and competitive seafood industries in the world, based on sustainable harvest and protection of the marine ecosystem. Marine products have historically been the country’s leading export items and the seafood industry remains the backbone of the economy. Responsible fisheries at the Icelandic fishing grounds are the prerequisite for the Icelandic fishing industry continuing being a solid part of the Icelandic economy and a principal pillar in Iceland’s exports.

The Statement on Responsible Fisheries in Iceland was released in 2007 in response to market demands for sustainable utilization of marine resources and was designed to inform buyers on how fisheries management is conducted in Iceland. It also stated that the Government undertakes to obey international law and agreements on access to marine resources, which they have signed. A logo indicating Icelandic origin of fish catches was introduced in 2009, as seen on the postcards.

Iceland maintains a 200 nautical miles exclusive fishing zone (758,000 km²) that includes some of the richest fishing grounds in the world. The fisheries management in Iceland is primarily based on extensive research on the fish stocks and the marine ecosystem and biodiversity, and decisions on allowable catches are made on the basis of scientific advice from the Icelandic Marine Research Institute. Catches are effectively monitored and enforced by the Directorate of Fisheries. These are the main pillars of the Icelandic fisheries management intended to ensure responsible fisheries and the sustainability of the ocean’s natural resources.

Iceland (Ísland) is a Nordic island country of Europe located in the North Atlantic Ocean. It has a population of 332,529 and an area of 40,000 square miles (103,000 km²), making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. The capital and largest city is Reykjavík. Reykjavík and the surrounding areas in the southwest of the country are home to over two-thirds of the population.

Iceland is volcanically and geologically active. The interior consists of a plateau characterized by sand and lava fields, mountains, and glaciers, while many glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream and has a temperate climate, despite a high latitude just outside the Arctic Circle. Its high latitude and marine influence keep summers chilly, with most of the archipelago having a tundra climate.

According to the ancient manuscript Landnámabók, the settlement of Iceland began in 874 AD when the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfr Arnarson became the first permanent settler on the island. In the following centuries, Norwegians, and to a lesser extent other Scandinavians, emigrated to Iceland, bringing with them thralls (i.e. slaves or serfs) of Gaelic origin. The island was governed as an independent commonwealth under the Althing, one of the world’s oldest functioning legislative assemblies.

Ósvör Fishing Museum at Bolungarvik, Iceland. Photo taken on July 11, 2003.
Ósvör Fishing Museum at Bolungarvik, Iceland. Photo taken on July 11, 2003.
View of Norðfjörður. Photo taken in August 2008.
View of Norðfjörður. Photo taken in August 2008.

Following a period of civil strife, Iceland acceded to Norwegian rule in the 13th century. The establishment of the Kalmar Union in 1397 united the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. Iceland thus followed Norway’s integration to that Union, and came under Danish rule after Sweden’s secession from that union in 1523. Although the Danish kingdom introduced Lutheranism forcefully in 1550, Iceland remained a distant semi-colonial territory in which Danish institutions and infrastructures were conspicuous by their absence.

In the wake of the French revolution and the Napoleonic wars, Iceland’s struggle for independence took form and culminated in independence in 1918 and the founding of a republic in 1944. Until the 20th century, Iceland relied largely on subsistence fishing and agriculture, and was among the poorest in Europe. Industrialization of the fisheries and Marshall Plan aid following World War II brought prosperity, and Iceland became one of the wealthiest and most developed nations in the world. In 1994, it became a part of the European Economic Area, which further diversified the economy into sectors such as finance, biotechnology, and manufacturing.

Eyjafjallajökull glacier, one of the smaller glaciers of Iceland. Photo taken on February 13, 2003.
Eyjafjallajökull glacier, one of the smaller glaciers of Iceland. Photo taken on February 13, 2003.
Suthureyri (Suðureyri), Iceland. Photo taken in June 2008.
Suthureyri (Suðureyri), Iceland. Photo taken in June 2008.

Iceland has a market economy with relatively low taxes, compared to other OECD countries. It maintains a Nordic social welfare system that provides universal health care and tertiary education for its citizens. Iceland ranks high in economic, political, and social stability and equality. In 2016, it was ranked as the 9th most developed country in the world by the United Nations’ Human Development Index, and ranks first on the Global Peace Index. Iceland runs almost completely on renewable energy. Affected by the ongoing worldwide financial crisis, the nation’s entire banking system systemically failed in October 2008, leading to a severe depression, substantial political unrest, the Icesave dispute, and the institution of capital controls. Some bankers were jailed. Since then, the economy has made a significant recovery, in large part due to a surge in tourism.

Icelandic culture is founded upon the nation’s Scandinavian heritage. Most Icelanders are descendants of Norse and Gaelic settlers. Icelandic, a North Germanic language, is descended from Old West Norse and is closely related to Faroese and West Norwegian dialects. The country’s cultural heritage includes traditional Icelandic cuisine, Icelandic literature and medieval sagas. Iceland has the smallest population of any NATO member and is the only one with no standing army, with the lightly armed coast guard in charge of defense.

Iceland is at the juncture of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. The main island is entirely south of the Arctic Circle, which passes through the small Icelandic island of Grímsey off the main island’s northern coast. The country lies between latitudes 63 and 68°N, and longitudes 25 and 13°W.

Iceland is closer to continental Europe than to mainland North America; thus, the island is generally included in Europe for historical, political, cultural, geographical, and practical reasons. Geologically, the island includes parts of both continental plates. The closest body of land is Greenland (180 miles or 290 km). The closest bodies of land in Europe are the Faroe Islands (260 miles or 420 km); Jan Mayen Island (350 miles, 570 km); Shetland and the Outer Hebrides, both about 460 miles (740 km); and the Scottish mainland and Orkney, both about 470 miles (750 km). The mainland of Norway is about 600 miles (970 km) away.

Iceland as seen from space on January 29, 2004
Iceland as seen from space on January 29, 2004

Iceland is the world’s 18th largest island, and Europe’s second-largest island after Great Britain. The main island is 39,315 square miles (101,826 km²), but the entire country is 39,768.5 square miles (103,000 km²) in size, of which 62.7% is tundra. About 30 minor islands are in Iceland, including the lightly populated Grímsey and the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. Lakes and glaciers cover 14.3% of its surface; only 23% is vegetated. The largest lakes are Þórisvatn reservoir: 32-34 square miles (83–88 km²) and Þingvallavatn: 32 square miles (82 km²); other important lakes include Lagarfljót and Mývatn. Jökulsárlón is the deepest lake, at 814 feet (248 meters).

Geologically, Iceland is part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a ridge along which the oceanic crust spreads and forms new oceanic crust. This part of the mid-ocean ridge is located above a mantle plume, causing Iceland to be subaerial (above the surface of the sea). The ridge marks the boundary between the Eurasian and North American Plates, and Iceland was created by rifting and accretion through volcanism along the ridge.

Many fjords punctuate Iceland’s 3,088-mile-long (4,970-km) coastline, which is also where most settlements are situated. The island’s interior, the Highlands of Iceland, is a cold and uninhabitable combination of sand, mountains, and lava fields. The major towns are the capital city of Reykjavík, along with its outlying towns of Kópavogur, Hafnarfjörður, and Garðabær, nearby Reykjanesbær where the international airport is located, and the town of Akureyri in northern Iceland. The island of Grímsey on the Arctic Circle contains the northernmost habitation of Iceland, whereas Kolbeinsey contains the northernmost point of Iceland. Iceland has three national parks: Vatnajökull National Park, Snæfellsjökull National Park, and Þingvellir National Park. The country is considered a “strong performer” in environmental protection, having been ranked 13th in Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index of 2012.

Aurora over Mount Kirkjufell, Iceland
Aurora over Mount Kirkjufell, Iceland
Landmannalaugar National Park, Iceland
Landmannalaugar National Park, Iceland

A geologically young land, Iceland is located on both the Iceland hotspot and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which runs right through it. This location means that the island is highly geologically active with many volcanoes, notably Hekla, Eldgjá, Herðubreið, and Eldfell. The volcanic eruption of Laki in 1783–1784 caused a famine that killed nearly a quarter of the island’s population. In addition, the eruption caused dust clouds and haze to appear over most of Europe and parts of Asia and Africa for several months afterward, and affected climates in other areas.

Iceland has many geysers, including Geysir, from which the English word is derived, and the famous Strokkur, which erupts every 8–10 minutes. After a phase of inactivity, Geysir started erupting again after a series of earthquakes in 2000. Geysir has since grown quieter and does not erupt often.

With the widespread availability of geothermal power, and the harnessing of many rivers and waterfalls for hydroelectricity, most residents have access to inexpensive hot water, heating, and electricity. The island is composed primarily of basalt, a low-silica lava associated with effusive volcanism as has occurred also in Hawaii. Iceland, however, has a variety of volcanic types (composite and fissure), many producing more evolved lavas such as rhyolite and andesite. Iceland has hundreds of volcanoes with about 30 active volcanic systems.

Holuhraun Volcano, Iceland
Holuhraun Volcano, Iceland
Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, Iceland
Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, Iceland

Surtsey, one of the youngest islands in the world, is part of Iceland. Named after Surtr, it rose above the ocean in a series of volcanic eruptions between November 8, 1963, and June 5, 1968. Only scientists researching the growth of new life are allowed to visit the island.

On March 21, 2010, a volcano in Eyjafjallajökull in the south of Iceland erupted for the first time since 1821, forcing 600 people to flee their homes. Additional eruptions on April 14 forced hundreds of people to abandon their homes. The resultant cloud of volcanic ash brought major disruption to air travel across Europe.

Another large eruption occurred on 21 May 2011. This time it was the Grímsvötn volcano, located under the thick ice of Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. Grímsvötn is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, and this eruption was much more powerful than the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull activity, with ash and lava hurled 12 miles (20 km) into the atmosphere, creating a large cloud.

These are my first two postcards “from” Iceland. It’s a bit of a pity that they are unused; I hope that someday soon I can find somebody in Iceland who can mail me a card from there (Iceland’s stamps are almost as beautiful as the country).

Posted in France

14 Cards from Strasbourg

On the first day that postal deliveries resumed here following the New Years’ holiday, I received a thick registered envelope from France. Inside were sixteen unused postcards — two advertising seafood from Iceland and the remainder were a variety of cards from the ancient city of Strasbourg (it celebrated its 2,000th anniversary in 1988).

This was quite a surprise as I knew I hadn’t arranged a trade; I generally prefer my postcards stamped with written messages. I don’t know anybody in Strasbourg and I checked the name against the members in the (many) Facebook groups that I’ve joined. The envelope didn’t include a note to give me a clue (although there was a loose 5-centime Swiss coin inside). So, it is quite a mystery. The sender did provide his return address, however, so I plan to reciprocate by sending him a selection of local cards in the near future. Gifts deserve gifts in return!

Strasbourg (Strossburi in Alsatian and Straßburg in German) is the capital and largest city of the Grand Est region of France and is the official seat of the European Parliament. Located close to the border with Germany in the historic region of Alsace, it is the capital of the Bas-Rhin département. In 2014, the city proper had 276,170 inhabitants and both the Eurométropole de Strasbourg (Greater Strasbourg) and the Arrondissement of Strasbourg had 484,157 inhabitants. Strasbourg’s metropolitan area had a population of 773,347 in 2013 (not counting the section across the border in Germany), making it the ninth largest metro area in France and home to 13% of the Grand Est region’s inhabitants. The transnational Eurodistrict Strasbourg-Ortenau had a population of 915,000 inhabitants in 2014.

Strasbourg is one of the de facto capitals of the European Union (alongside Brussels and Luxembourg), as it is the seat of several European institutions, such as the Council of Europe (with its European Court of Human Rights, its European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines and its European Audiovisual Observatory) and the Eurocorps, as well as the European Parliament and the European Ombudsman of the European Union. The city is also the seat of the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine and the International Institute of Human Rights.

Strasbourg’s historic city center, the Grande Île (Grand Island), was classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honor was placed on an entire city center. Strasbourg is immersed in the Franco-German culture and although violently disputed throughout history, has been a cultural bridge between France and Germany for centuries, especially through the University of Strasbourg, currently the second largest in France, and the coexistence of Catholic and Protestant culture. The largest Islamic place of worship in France, the Strasbourg Grand Mosque, was inaugurated by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls on September 27, 2012.

Economically, Strasbourg is an important center of manufacturing and engineering, as well as a hub of road, rail, and river transportation. The port of Strasbourg is the second largest on the Rhine after Duisburg, Germany.

Before the 5th century, the city was known as Argantorati (in the nominative, Argantorate in the locative), a Celtic Gaulish name Latinized first as Argentorate (with Gaulish locative ending, as appearing on the first Roman milestones in the 1st century CE), and then as Argentoratum (with regular Latin nominative ending, in later Latin texts). That Gaulish name is a compound of –rati, the Gaulish word for fortified enclosures, cognate to the Old Irish ráth (ringfort), and arganto(n)- (cognate to Latin argentum, which gave modern French argent), the Gaulish word for silver, but also any precious metal, particularly gold, suggesting either a fortified enclosure located by a river gold mining site, or hoarding gold mined in the nearby rivers.

After the 5th century, the city became known by a completely different name Gallicized as Strasbourg. That name is of Germanic origin and means “Town (at the crossing) of roads”. The modern Stras– is cognate to the German Straße and English street, all of which are derived from Latin strata (“paved road”), while -bourg is cognate to the German Burg and English borough, all of which are derived from Proto-Germanic *burgz (“hill fort, fortress”).

The Roman camp of Argentoratum was first mentioned in 12 BC; the city of Strasbourg which grew from it celebrated its 2,000th anniversary in 1988. The fertile area between the rivers Ill and Rhine (Grand Ried and Petit Ried) had already been populated since the middle Paleolithic.

Between 362 and 1262, Strasbourg was governed by the bishops of Strasbourg; their rule was reinforced in 873 and then more in 982. In 1262, the citizens violently rebelled against the bishop’s rule (Battle of Hausbergen) and Strasbourg became a free imperial city. It became a French city in 1681, after the conquest of Alsace by the armies of Louis XIV. In 1871, after the Franco-Prussian War, the city became German again, until 1918 (end of World War I), when it reverted to France. After the defeat of France in 1940 (World War II), Strasbourg came under German control again; since the end of 1944, it is again a French town. In 2016, Strasbourg was promoted from capital of Alsace to capital of Grand Est.

Strasbourg played an important part in Protestant Reformation, with personalities such as John Calvin, Martin Bucer, Wolfgang Capito, Katharina Zell, but also in other aspects of Christianity such as German mysticism, with Johannes Tauler, Pietism, with Philipp Spener, and Reverence for Life, with Albert Schweitzer. Delegates from the city took part in the Protestation at Speyer. It was also one of the first centers of the printing industry with pioneers such as Johannes Gutenberg, Johannes Mentelin, and Heinrich Eggestein. Among the darkest periods in the city’s long history were the years 1349 (Strasbourg massacre), 1793 (Reign of Terror), 1870 (Siege of Strasbourg) and the years 1940–1944 with the Nazi occupation (atrocities such as the Jewish skeleton collection) and the British and American bombing raids. Some other notable dates were the years 357 (Battle of Argentoratum), 842 (Oaths of Strasbourg), 1538 (establishment of the university), 1605 (world’s first newspaper printed by Johann Carolus), 1792 (La Marseillaise), and 1889 (pancreatic origin of diabetes discovered by Minkowski and Von Mering).

The city is chiefly known for its sandstone Gothic Cathedral with its famous astronomical clock, and for its medieval cityscape of Rhineland black and white timber-framed buildings, particularly in the Petite France district or Gerberviertel (“tanners’ district”) alongside the Ill and in the streets and squares surrounding the cathedral, where the renowned Maison Kammerzell stands out.

Notable medieval streets include Rue Mercière, Rue des Dentelles, Rue du Bain aux Plantes, Rue des Juifs, Rue des Frères, Rue des Tonneliers, Rue du Maroquin, Rue des Charpentiers, Rue des Serruriers, Grand’ Rue, Quai des Bateliers, Quai Saint-Nicolas and Quai Saint-Thomas. Notable medieval squares include Place de la Cathédrale, Place du Marché Gayot, Place Saint-Étienne, Place du Marché aux Cochons de Lait and Place Benjamin Zix.

In addition to the cathedral, Strasbourg houses several other medieval churches that have survived the many wars and destructions that have plagued the city: the Romanesque Église Saint-Étienne, partly destroyed in 1944 by Allied bombing raids, the part Romanesque, part Gothic, very large Église Saint-Thomas with its Silbermann organ on which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Albert Schweitzer played, the Gothic Église protestante Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune with its crypt dating back to the seventh century and its cloister partly from the eleventh century, the Gothic Église Saint-Guillaume with its fine early-Renaissance stained glass and furniture, the Gothic Église Saint-Jean, the part Gothic, part Art Nouveau Église Sainte-Madeleine, etc. The Neo-Gothic church Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux Catholique (there is also an adjacent church Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux Protestant) serves as a shrine for several 15th-century wood worked and painted altars coming from other, now destroyed churches and installed there for public display. Among the numerous secular medieval buildings, the monumental Ancienne Douane (old custom-house) stands out.

The German Renaissance has bequeathed the city some noteworthy buildings (especially the current Chambre de commerce et d’industrie, former town hall, on Place Gutenberg), as did the French Baroque and Classicism with several hôtels particuliers (i.e. palaces), among which the Palais Rohan (1742, now housing three museums) is the most spectacular. Other buildings of its kind are the “Hôtel de Hanau” (1736, now the city hall), the Hôtel de Klinglin (1736, now residence of the préfet), the Hôtel des Deux-Ponts (1755, now residence of the military governor), the Hôtel d’Andlau-Klinglin (1725, now seat of the administration of the Port autonome de Strasbourg) etc. The largest baroque building of Strasbourg though is the 150-metre-long (490 ft) 1720s main building of the Hôpital civil. As for French Neo-classicism, it is the Opera House on Place Broglie that most prestigiously represents this style.

Strasbourg also offers high-class eclecticist buildings in its very extended German district, the Neustadt, being the main memory of Wilhelmian architecture since most of the major cities in Germany proper suffered intensive damage during World War II. Streets, boulevards and avenues are homogeneous, surprisingly high (up to seven stories) and broad examples of German urban lay-out and of this architectural style that summons and mixes up five centuries of European architecture as well as Neo-Egyptian, Neo-Greek and Neo-Babylonian styles. The former imperial palace Palais du Rhin, the most political and thus heavily criticized of all German Strasbourg buildings epitomizes the grand scale and stylistic sturdiness of this period. But the two most handsome and ornate buildings of these times are the École internationale des Pontonniers (the former Höhere Mädchenschule, girls college) with its towers, turrets and multiple round and square angles and the Haute école des arts du Rhin with its lavishly ornate façade of painted bricks, woodwork and majolica.

Notable streets of the German district include: Avenue de la Forêt Noire, Avenue des Vosges, Avenue d’Alsace, Avenue de la Marseillaise, Avenue de la Liberté, Boulevard de la Victoire, Rue Sellénick, Rue du Général de Castelnau, Rue du Maréchal Foch, and Rue du Maréchal Joffre. Notable squares of the German district include: Place de la République, Place de l’Université, Place Brant, and Place Arnold.

Impressive examples of Prussian military architecture of the 1880s can be found along the newly reopened Rue du Rempart, displaying large-scale fortifications among which the aptly named Kriegstor (war gate).

As for modern and contemporary architecture, Strasbourg possesses some fine Art Nouveau buildings (such as the huge Palais des Fêtes and houses and villas like Villa Schutzenberger and Hôtel Brion), good examples of post-World War II functional architecture (the Cité Rotterdam, for which Le Corbusier did not succeed in the architectural contest) and, in the very extended Quartier Européen, some spectacular administrative buildings of sometimes utterly large size, among which the European Court of Human Rights building by Richard Rogers is arguably the finest. Other noticeable contemporary buildings are the new Music school Cité de la Musique et de la Danse, the Musée d’Art moderne et contemporain and the Hôtel du Département facing it, as well as, in the outskirts, the tramway-station Hoenheim-Nord designed by Zaha Hadid.

The city has many bridges, including the medieval and four-towered Ponts Couverts that, despite their name, are no longer covered. Next to the Ponts Couverts is the Barrage Vauban, a part of Vauban’s 17th-century fortifications, that does include a covered bridge. Other bridges are the ornate 19th-century Pont de la Fonderie (1893, stone) and Pont d’Auvergne (1892, iron), as well as architect Marc Mimram’s futuristic Passerelle over the Rhine, opened in 2004.

The largest square at the center of the city of Strasbourg is the Place Kléber. Located in the heart of the city’s commercial area, it was named after general Jean-Baptiste Kléber, born in Strasbourg in 1753 and assassinated in 1800 in Cairo. In the square is a statue of Kléber, under which is a vault containing his remains. On the north side of the square is the Aubette (Orderly Room), built by Jacques François Blondel, architect of the king, in 1765–1772.

Strasbourg features a number of prominent parks, of which several are of cultural and historical interest: the Parc de l’Orangerie, laid out as a French garden by André le Nôtre and remodeled as an English garden on behalf of Joséphine de Beauharnais, now displaying noteworthy French gardens, a neo-classical castle and a small zoo; the Parc de la Citadelle, built around impressive remains of the 17th-century fortress erected close to the Rhine by Vauban; the Parc de Pourtalès, laid out in English style around a baroque castle (heavily restored in the 19th century) that now houses a small three-star hotel, and featuring an open-air museum of international contemporary sculpture.

The Jardin botanique de l’Université de Strasbourg (botanical garden) was created under the German administration next to the Observatory of Strasbourg, built in 1881, and still owns some greenhouses of those times. The Parc des Contades, although the oldest park of the city, was completely remodeled after World War II. The futuristic Parc des Poteries is an example of European park-conception in the late 1990s. The Jardin des deux Rives, spread over Strasbourg and Kehl on both sides of the Rhine opened in 2004 and is the most extended (60-hectare) park of the agglomeration. The most recent park is Parc du Heyritz (8,7 ha), opened in 2014 along a canal facing the hôpital civil.

Unlike most other cities, Strasbourg’s collections of European art are divided into several museums according not only to type and area, but also to epoch. Old master paintings from the Germanic Rhenish territories and until 1681 are displayed in the Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame, old master paintings from all the rest of Europe (including the Dutch Rhenish territories) and until 1871 as well as old master paintings from the Germanic Rhenish territories between 1681 and 1871 are displayed in the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Old master graphic arts until 1871 is displayed in the Cabinet des estampes et dessins. Decorative arts until 1681 (“German period”) are displayed in the Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame, decorative arts from 1681 to 1871 (“French period”) are displayed in the Musée des Arts décoratifs. International art (painting, sculpture, graphic arts) and decorative art since 1871 is displayed in the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain. The latter museum also displays the city’s photographic library.

Strasbourg, well known as a center of humanism, has a long history of excellence in higher-education, at the crossroads of French and German intellectual traditions. Although Strasbourg had been annexed by the Kingdom of France in 1683, it still remained connected to the German-speaking intellectual world throughout the 18th century and the university attracted numerous students from the Holy Roman Empire, including Goethe, Metternich and Montgelas, who studied law in Strasbourg, among the most prominent. Nowadays, Strasbourg is known to offer among the best university courses in France, after Paris.

The Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire (BNU) is, with its collection of more than 3,000,000 titles, the second largest library in France after the Bibliothèque nationale de France. It was founded by the German administration after the complete destruction of the previous municipal library in 1871 and holds the unique status of being simultaneously a students’ and a national library. The Strasbourg municipal library had been marked erroneously as “City Hall” in a French commercial map, which had been captured and used by the German artillery to lay their guns. A librarian from Munich later pointed out “…that the destruction of the precious collection was not the fault of a German artillery officer, who used the French map, but of the slovenly and inaccurate scholarship of a Frenchman.”

The municipal library Bibliothèque municipale de Strasbourg (BMS) administrates a network of ten medium-sized librairies in different areas of the town. A six stories high “Grande bibliothèque”, the Médiathèque André Malraux, was inaugurated on September 19, 2008, and is considered the largest in Eastern France.

As one of the earliest centers of book-printing in Europe, Strasbourg for a long time held a large number of incunabula — documents printed before 1500 — in her library as one of her most precious heritages. After the total destruction of this institution in 1870, however, a new collection had to be reassembled from scratch. Today, Strasbourg’s different public and institutional libraries again display a sizable total number of incunabula, distributed as follows: Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire 2,098; Médiathèque de la ville et de la communauté urbaine de Strasbourg, 394; Bibliothèque du Grand Séminaire, 238; Médiathèque protestante, 94; and Bibliothèque alsatique du Crédit Mutuel, 5.

Train services operate from the Gare de Strasbourg, the city’s main station in the city center, eastward to Offenburg and Karlsruhe in Germany, westward to Metz and Paris, and southward to Basel. Strasbourg’s links with the rest of France have improved due to its recent connection to the TGV network, with the first phase of the TGV Est (Paris–Strasbourg) in 2007, the TGV Rhin-Rhône (Strasbourg-Lyon) in 2012, and the second phase of the TGV Est in July 2016.

Strasbourg also has its own airport, serving major domestic destinations as well as international destinations in Europe and northern Africa. The airport is linked to the Gare de Strasbourg by a frequent train service.

City transportation in Strasbourg includes the futurist-looking Strasbourg tramway that opened in 1994 and is operated by the regional transit company Compagnie des Transports Strasbourgeois (CTS), consisting of 6 lines with a total length of 55.8 km (34.7 mi). The CTS also operates a comprehensive bus network throughout the city that is integrated with the trams. With more than 500 km (311 mi) of bicycle paths, biking in the city is convenient and the CTS operates a cheap bike-sharing scheme named Vélhop’. The CTS, and its predecessors, also operated a previous generation of tram system between 1878 and 1960, complemented by trolleybus routes between 1939 and 1962.

Being a city on the Ill and close to the Rhine, Strasbourg has always been an important center of fluvial navigation, as is attested by archeological findings. In 1682, the Canal de la Bruche was added to the river navigations, initially to provide transport for sandstone from quarries in the Vosges for use in the fortification of the city. That canal has since closed, but the subsequent Canal du Rhone au Rhine, Canal de la Marne au Rhin and Grand Canal d’Alsace are still in use, as is the important activity of the Port autonome de Strasbourg. Water tourism inside the city proper attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists yearly.

The tram system that now criss-crosses the historic city center complements walking and biking in it. The downtown area has been transformed into a pedestrian priority zone that enables and invites walking and biking by making these active modes of transport comfortable, safe and enjoyable. These attributes are accomplished by applying the principle of “filtered permeability” to the existing irregular network of streets. It means that the network adaptations favor active transportation and, selectively, “filter out” the car by reducing the number of streets that run through the center. While certain streets are discontinuous for cars, they connect to a network of pedestrian and bike paths which permeate the entire center. In addition, these paths go through public squares and open spaces increasing the enjoyment of the trip. This logic of filtering a mode of transport is fully expressed in a comprehensive model for laying out neighborhoods and districts – the Fused Grid.

At present the A35 autoroute, which parallels the Rhine between Karlsruhe and Basel, and the A4 autoroute, which links Paris with Strasbourg, penetrate close to the center of the city. The Grand contournement ouest (GCO) project, programmed since 1999, plans to construct a 24-kilometre-long (15 mi) highway connection between the junctions of the A4 and the A35 autoroutes in the north and of the A35 and A352 autoroutes in the south. This routes well to the west of the city and is meant to divest a significant portion of motorized traffic from the unité urbaine.

Fourteen postcards from Strasbourg (and two from Iceland) is a nice start to what I hope to be a New Year filled with postcards arriving in my mailbox.

Posted in Thailand

New Year Cards from HM the King (200th Post!)

Yes, this is my 200th post on this, my postcard blog. Postcards To Phuket started out its relatively young life on December 2, 2014, called “Please, Mr. Postman!” a name which I later changed to The Postcard Traveler Blog and recently to its current incarnation. I’ve only changed the basic design twice in three years; I really like how it looks. I just wish I could find the time/motivation to post more often.

During the entire month of October, I have been paying tribute to His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Aduyladej (Rama IX) of Thailand on a blog that I have posted to each and every day since July 1, 2016. Called A Stamp A Day, it features stamps usually based on the issuing entity (country, territory, organization) and give a detailed political and postal history. Occasionally, I will mark various holidays and anniversaries of historic events, birthdays, etc. with an appropriate stamp.

Commemorative postcard created by Thailand Post in remembrance of the death of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The postmark is dated 13 October 2559 BE (Buddhist era = 2016), the date of the King's death.
Commemorative postcard created by Thailand Post in remembrance of the death of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The postmark is dated 13 October 2559 BE (Buddhist era = 2016), the date of the King’s death, which is now an annual national holiday..

King  Bhumibol died on October 13, 2016, and the entire nation has been in mourning for more than a year now. The Royal Funeral will occur this coming week from October 25-29, 2017. Most of October has seen event cancellations, bar/shop closures, in-country graying-out of websites and television broadcasts, etc. as the Kingdom gears up to say its final farewell to its most beloved king. (For much more about the amazing levels to which the Thai people and many expats such as myself mourn His Majesty, please have a look on my article entitled “The Death of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej“.)

I decided that I would post one stamp featuring King Bhumibol each day of October until the official mourning period is over (midnight October 29) as my own small tribute, a gift to my friends and students. Several of them have actually taken up stamp collecting as a result to my showing them how beautiful their nation’s stamps are and how His Majesty has been portrayed on them for 70 years. My original intent was to include minimal commentary, just technical details about the stamps themselves. The idea was that by not spending so much time on A Stamp A Day each day, I would have more time to devote to my other blogs, like this one.

New Year's greeting card created by His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej for 2014. As so many of these cards did, it features the King's favorite dog, Khun Tondaeng.
New Year’s greeting card created by His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej for 2014. As so many of these cards, it features the King’s favorite dog, Khun Tondaeng.

I realized the first week that each of the stamps had a bigger story to tell and soon the research took over as I attempted to detail various aspects of King Bhumibol’s life. My routine most days was to look through my Thai stamps trying to decide on a subject to cover that day. For many, I couldn’t rely on Wikipedia as a source at all the way I’m able to for so many other philatelic topics. Say what you will to criticize the site but the stamp and geo-political articles are generally top-notch. Many days, the research involved a lot of Googling (and some translating as well). Sometimes, the topic would lead to other things. It was during the piecing together of an article about His Majesty’s favorite dog that I recalled the New Year’s cards that would be published in newspapers each year.

While not a postcard, a New Year’s card is similar enough to include on Postcards to Phuket!

King Bhumibol created the New Year’s cards himself using his personal computer every year starting in 1988. He used color photographs of himself with one or more of his dogs on the cards issued from 2006 until 2014. These were sent out to government organizations and the media for widespread publication. The cards often included a poem bearing a royal message and a royal blessing to the King’s subjects.

The New Year’s card for 2015 featured a poster advertising the animated film, “The Story of Mahajanaka,” which was based on his literary work. Khun Tondaeng died on December 29, 2015, so the card made by His Majesty two days later includes a close-up photo of the King wearing a blazer with a logo of his favorite dog. This would be the last of King Bhumibol’s cards prior to his death on October 13, 2016.

Below are the New Year’s cards created by His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej from 1998 until the 2016 card:

New Year 1998 Card by His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 1997/12/31 17:19
New Year 1999 Card by His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 1998/12/31 19:09

New Year Card 2000 from His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 1999/12/30 18:29

New Year Card 2001 from His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 2000/12/30 23:29

New Year Card 2002 from His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 2001/12/30 17:39

New Year Card 2003 from His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 2002/12/31 20:09

New Year Card 2004 from His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 2003/12/31 20:09

New Year Card 2006 from His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 2005/12/27 21:49

New Year Card 2007 from His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 2006/12/29 23:05

New Year Card 2008 from His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 2007/12/23 20:10

New Year Card 2009 from His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 2008/12/31 19:22

New Year Card 2010 from His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 2009/12/28 15:25

New Year Card 2011 from His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 2010/12/23 12:19

New Year Card 2012 from His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 2011/12/29 18:50

New Year Card 2013 from His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 2012/12/29 18:50

New Year Card 2014 from His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 2013/12/31 06:09

New Year Card 2015 from His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 2014/12/30 10:21

New Year Card 2016 from His Majesty the King. Card creation date: 2015/12/31 15:02

At New Year’s 2017, a card was sent out by His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X) which featured photographs of King Bhumibol, Queen Sirkit, and the Princesses as well as the yet-to-be-crowned successor king.

On January 23, 2017, a set of four seasonal greetings cards hand-drawn by King Vajiralongkorn, expressing his best wishes and offering guidance on happiness, were put on sale in Thailand. Proceeds from the cards were to go to a charity in honor of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and to help flood victims in the southern provinces of Thailand.

Four different types of cards were available at 90 baht each. Each card features the King’s drawings of a house, a Christmas tree, a snowman, presents, happy people, and a dog. One greeting card also features a Buddha image and a worshipper at the top left corner, with a message reading: “End suffering, grief, illnesses, and danger with a firmness of the heart. Exercise self-restraint with complete concentration, and peace. Cultivate wisdom, and happiness will occur gradually.”

On the top right corner of the card, another message says: “Sor Kor Kor,” or send happiness with love. Wish each other well. Have decent thoughts,” along with a drawing of an angel holding a star wand and a mobile phone. There is also a message reading: “Send happiness. Increase mindfulness and develop wisdom. Move forward with goodwill, kindness, and carefulness for the sake of lasting happiness. Think and dream in moderation.”

The bottom right of the cards bear the King’s signature, with the greetings: “Merry Christmas & Happy New Year 2017” along with pictures of a present and a candle. Another card shows Santa Claus riding a sleigh pulled by two reindeer carrying Christmas gifts with the words “Ho Ho Ho!!” at the top. An angel also appears, along with the message: “Be happy with your mental and physical health and have a clear mind. Take pleasure in moderation, with the right understanding, concentration, and wisdom. Live a simple life and move forward safely and securely.”

It was very nice to see such Christmas-oriented cards from His Majesty the King in a nation where more than 90% of the population practices some form of Buddhism. Christmas is celebrated by the expat community and tourists but most Thai people know it for the “fun factor” rather than the religious aspects. It certainly is not a holiday here and actual Christmas cards are extremely rare except as highly-priced imported objects.

Posted in United States

October is National Stamp Collecting Month

Since 1981, the month of October has been celebrated as National Stamp Collecting Month in the United States and Canada. November is National Stamp Collecting Month in the Philippines.

I began collecting stamps around the age of nine years old; counting a few breaks for other pursuits (girls, music, travel to name but three), I estimate that I have been involved in the hobby for a little more than 30 years. I’ve been collecting postcards for nearly as long! I feel that the hobbies of philately (stamps) and deltiology (postcards) compliment each other.

I promote the hobbies whenever and wherever I can these days, having begun collecting again following my move to Thailand more than a decade ago.

I wonder if there’s a National Postcard Collecting Month somewhere? If not, there certainly should be!

Posted in Finland

Finland Wrap-Up!

My top 10 countries for received postcards and purchased postcards are:

  1. Thailand
  2. United States
  3. Russia
  4. Cambodia
  5. Germany / Laos (tie)
  6. Finland
  7. United Kingdom
  8. China / Netherlands (tie)

If I count just postcards received through Postcrossing, Germany and Finland tie for first place. This isn’t a surprise because Finland was the birthplace of Postcrossing back in 2005. I joined less than a year after the project was launched and a total of nine cards arrived from that country in the first two months I was a member (compared with just two from Germany between July 2006 and the end of that year).

Three of these cards have yet to be featured on the blog (which, you may have noticed, has received a name-change today: from “The POSTCARD TRAVELER Blog” to “Postcards To Phuket”). For this post, I will illustrate the cards but without my usual detailed historical commentary…

Postcrossing ID #FI-2318606 arrived back in March 2015 after traveling 32 days to Phuket. A nice map card surrounded by iconic images, it was enclosed in an envelope containing a few stamps as a gift — a much-appreciated gesture and I believe the first time this happened to me. Perhaps even cooler was that the sender mailed the card from the “post office of Santa Claus” and the envelope bore a nice Arctic Circle cancellation. Nice!

The enclosed stamps:


While the previous postcard from Finland took just over one month, Postcrossing ID #FI-2465242 in August 2015 traveled to Phuket from Helsinki in just under two weeks. Quite speedier than I’m accustomed to down here! The postcard depicts three views of a (typical?) home in the country.


Amazingly, Postcrossing ID #FI-2918380 is the only Finish card that I have received so far in 2017! I simply haven’t been that active in the hobby this year but hope to change that very soon. The card journeyed to Phuket in a fairly average 20 days, arriving early this March. It is the latest in what has become a relatively frequent (but always unexpected) occurrence: postcard sent in an envelope with a small assortment of stamps. The Finish people are certainly generous (as are Germans and the Dutch, amongst others).

The postcard pictures the fortress of Suomenlinna (Sveaborg) which was built on six islands (Kustaanmiekka, Susisaari, Iso-Mustasaari, Pikku-Mustasaari, Länsi-Mustasaari and Långören) starting in 1748 as protection against Russian expansionism. To learn more, please see my previous blog about a Postcrossing meetup card I received in 2016 picturing the fortress.

The enclosed stamps:

How long will it be until another postcard from Finland arrives? I hope it will be soon….

Posted in Canada - British Columbia

Totem Poles in Vancouver

Another Postcrossing postcard received earlier this year came from British Columbia, one of Canada’s provinces along the west coast of that country. I’ve long been interested in Native American culture and was thrilled to see the totem poles on this card. These are displayed in Vancouver’s Stanley Park and are British Columbia’s most visited tourist attraction.

Totem poles are monumental carvings, a type of Northwest Coast art, consisting of poles, posts or pillars, carved with symbols or figures. They are usually made from large trees, mostly western red cedar, by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest coast of North America (Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia). The word totem derives from the Algonquian (most likely Ojibwe) word odoodem [oˈtuːtɛm], “his kinship group”. The carvings may symbolize or commemorate cultural beliefs that recount familiar legends, clan lineages, or notable events. The poles may also serve as functional architectural features, welcome signs for village visitors, mortuary vessels for the remains of deceased ancestors, or as a means to publicly ridicule someone. Given the complexity and symbolic meanings of totem pole carvings, their placement and importance lies in the observer’s knowledge and connection to the meanings of the figures.

Totem pole carvings were likely preceded by a long history of decorative carving, with stylistic features borrowed from smaller prototypes. Eighteenth-century explorers documented the existence of decorated interior and exterior house posts prior to 1800; however, due to the lack of efficient carving tools, sufficient wealth, and leisure time to devote to the craft, the monumental poles placed in front of native homes along the Pacific Northwest coast probably did not appear in large numbers until the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Trade and settlement initially led to the growth of totem pole carving, but governmental policies and practices of acculturation and assimilation sharply reduced totem pole production by the end of nineteenth century. Renewed interest from tourists, collectors, and scholars in the 1880s and 1890s helped document and collect the remaining totem poles, but nearly all totem pole making had ceased by 1901. Twentieth-century revivals of the craft, additional research, and continued support from the public have helped establish new interest in this regional artistic tradition.

Stanley Park is a 1,001-acre (405-hectare) public park that borders the downtown of Vancouver and is almost entirely surrounded by waters of Vancouver Harbour and English Bay. The park has a long history and was one of the first areas to be explored in the city. The land was originally used by indigenous peoples for thousands of years before British Columbia was colonized by the British during the 1858 Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. For many years after colonization, the future park with its abundant resources would also be home to nonaboriginal settlers. The land was later turned into Vancouver’s first park when the city incorporated in 1886. It was named after Lord Stanley, 16th Earl of Derby, a British politician who had recently been appointed governor general.

Unlike other large urban parks, Stanley Park is not the creation of a landscape architect, but rather the evolution of a forest and urban space over many years. Most of the manmade structures present in the park were built between 1911 and 1937 under the influence of then superintendent W.S. Rawlings. Additional attractions, such as a polar bear exhibit, aquarium, and miniature train, were added in the post-war period.

Much of the park remains as densely forested as it was in the late 1800s, with about a half million trees, some of which stand as tall as 249 feet (76 meters) and are up to hundreds of years old. Thousands of trees were lost (and many replanted) after three major windstorms that took place in the past 100 years, the last in 2006.

Significant effort was put into constructing the near-century-old Vancouver Seawall, which can draw thousands of residents and visitors to the park every day. The park also features forest trails, beaches, lakes, children’s play areas, and the Vancouver Aquarium, among many other attractions. On June 18, 2014, Stanley Park was named “top park in the entire world” by TripAdvisor.

The province’s most popular attraction is a group of ten totem poles at Brockton Point, the most easterly part of Stanley Park and home to a 100-year-old lighthouse. Four totem poles were originally brought from Alert Bay and placed at Lumbermen’s Arch in 1924. Some had been carved back in the late 1880s. More totem poles were purchased in the 1920s and 1930s, this time originating from the Queen Charlotte Islands and Rivers Inlet. All of the totem poles were moved to Brockton Point in 1962 to allow the construction of an overhead road at Lumberman’s Arch. Many of them have been replaced with replicas, with the originals now kept in museums for preservation. The most recent addition, erected in 2009, was carved by a member of the Squamish Nation whose mother was born in Stanley Park.

Coat of Arms of Canada
Coat of Arms of Canada
Coat of Arms of British Columbia
Coat of Arms of British Columbia

 

Posted in Austria

Austrian Amusement Park

Over the years, I’ve only received two postcards from Austria through Postcrossing; the earlier card was received back in September 2006 and I believe it was the first homemade card that I got. This one arrived earlier this year and pictures the Wurstelprater amusement park in Vienna’s 2nd district (Leopoldstadt), often simply called “Prater”. It features the Wiener Riesenrad (German for Vienna Giant Wheel), a 212-foot (64.75-meter) tall Ferris wheel at the entrance. It is one of Vienna’s most popular tourist attractions, and symbolizes the district as well as the city for many people. Constructed in 1897, it was the world’s tallest extant Ferris wheel from 1920 until 1985.

The area that makes up the modern Prater was first mentioned in 1162, when Emperor Friedrich I gave the land to a noble family called de Prato. The word “Prater” was first used in 1403, originally referring to a small island in the Danube north of Freudenau, but was gradually extended to mean the neighboring areas as well. The land changed hands frequently until it was bought by Emperor Maximilian II in 1560 to be a hunting ground. To deal with the problem of poachers, Emperor Rudolf II forbade entry to the Prater. On April 7, 1766, Emperor Joseph II declared the Prater to be free for public enjoyment, and allowed the establishment of coffee-houses and cafés, which led to the beginnings of the Wurstelprater. Throughout this time, hunting continued to take place in the Prater, ending only in 1920.

In 1873, a World Exhibition was held in the Prater, for which a large area of land was set aside, centered on the Rotunda, which burnt down in 1937. This land now houses the Messegelände (exhibition center).

On the grounds of modern-day Kaiserwiese, an attraction called “Venice in Vienna” was established in 1895 by Gabor Steiner. The area included an artificial lagoon to simulate the canals of Venice, Italy.

The Wiener Riesenrad was constructed in 1897 by the English engineer Lieutenant Walter Bassett, Royal Navy. Its purpose was to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I, and it was one of the earliest Ferris wheels ever built. Bassett’s Ferris wheel manufacturing business was not a commercial success, and he died in 1907 almost bankrupt. A permit for its demolition was issued in 1916, but because of a lack of funds with which to carry out the destruction, it survived. The Ferris wheel and cafe on the Prater were once owned by a Jew, Eduard Steiner, who was murdered at Auschwitz.

The Wiener Riesenrad was built with 30 gondolas, but was severely damaged in World War II and when it was rebuilt only 15 gondolas were replaced. The wheel is driven by a circumferential cable which leaves the wheel and passes through the drive mechanism under the base, and its spokes are steel cables, in tension.

In 2004, major renovations to the Wurstelprater began, and a new underground railway line was finished and brought into service on May 11, 2008, which includes three stops along the Prater. The railway station Praterstern has been in operation for a long time and is only a few dozen meters away from an entrance to the park.

The overall area of the park has also been reduced by the building of the Ernst-Happel-Stadion (Austria’s national stadium), the Südosttangente (Austria’s busiest piece of motorway) and Krieau Race Track. In 2013, the new campus of the Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (Vienna University of Economics and Business/WU) was opened next to the Prater.

The Hauptallee (main avenue) is the main artery of the Prater, lined with horse chestnut trees, closed to motorists and known to sports enthusiasts from the annual Vienna Marathon. The Wiener Prater is home to the Liliputbahn, a narrow gauge railway. Another unusual object to be found in the Wiener Prater is the Republik Kugelmugel (Republic of Kugelmugel), a spherical micronation. The Wiener Prater also houses a planetarium and the Prater Museum.

Posted in China

Postcards from China

I received my first Postcrossing card from China on September 19, 2013. Since then, I have only received nine additional postcards from the country. While they may take a very long time to reach Thailand (odd, considering that it isn’t so far away), I always enjoy receiving items from China and the stamps are always interesting!

The postcard pictured above came from Shenzhen in Guangdong Province just north of Hong Kong but it pictures the Forbidden City in Beijing. This was probably my favorite site that I visited while in China during the SARS pandemic of 2003. While the public spaces such as this remained open, Chinese people stayed home and most tourists stayed away. I was literally the only person at the Forbidden City on the day of my visit and my photos have a ghostly, where has everybody gone?, feeling to them. Of course, word got out that there was a visitor and by the time I exited the northern gates, there were dozens of touts waiting to sell me something!

The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty — the years 1420 to 1912. It is in the center of Beijing and now houses the Imperial Palace Museum. It served as the home of emperors and their households as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government for almost 500 years.

Constructed from 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 180 acres. The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

Since 1925, the Forbidden City has been under the charge of the Palace Museum, whose extensive collection of artwork and artifacts were built upon the imperial collections of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Part of the museum’s former collection is now in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Both museums descend from the same institution, but were split after the Chinese Civil War. With over 14.6 million visitors in 2015, the Palace Museum is the most visited art museum in the world.

This card was a duplicate, the only time I’ve ever received two cards that were exactly the same (the first had come from Shantou about a year-and-a-half before this one came from Wuxi). The card portrays a gateway at the Cemetery of Confucius (孔林 — Kǒng lín, literally: “Kong Forest [of gravestones]”) which houses the Kong clan (the descendants of Confucius) in Confucius’ hometown Qufu in Shandong province. Confucius himself and some of his disciples are buried there, as well as many thousands of his descendants.

Since 1994, the Cemetery of Confucius has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Temple and Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion in Qufu”. The two other components of the site are the Temple of Confucius dedicated to the memory of the philosopher and the Kong Family Mansion, where his descendants lived. The three sites are collectively known in Qufu as San Kong (三孔), i.e. “The Three Confucian [sites]”.

Wuxi (无锡) is an old city in southern Jiangsu province, China. The city borders two other large cities, Changzhou to the west and Suzhou to the east, and borders Zhejiang Province as well in the south. It also covers a coastline of the Yangtze River in the north and two separate coasts of Lake Tai. Wuxi is well known for being one of the birthplaces of China’s modern industry and commerce, as well as the hometown of many important businessmen who have played essential roles in building commerce in Shanghai since the early 20th century.

One of the best things about living in Thailand is that there officially three different New Year celebrations each year: “Western” New Year on December 31/January 1, Chinese New Year in January or February, and Thai New Year (Songkran) in mid-April. The Chinese New Year celebrations always last around a week here and, in my community, are immediately followed by a three-day-long Phuket Old Town Festival.

Also known as the “Spring Festival” (春节 — Chūn Jié) in modern China, Chinese New Year is celebrated at the turn of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. Celebrations traditionally run from the evening preceding the first day, to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first calendar month. The first day of the New Year falls on the new moon between January 21 and February 20. In 2018, the first day of the Chinese New Year will occur on February 16, initiating the Year of the Dog (2017 is the Year of the Rooster).

The New Year festival is centuries old and gains significance because of several myths and customs. Traditionally, the festival was a time to honor deities as well as ancestors. Chinese New Year is celebrated in countries and territories with significant Chinese populations, including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mauritius, Australia, and the Philippines. It is considered a major holiday for the Chinese and has had influence on the lunar new year celebrations of its geographic neighbors.

Within China, regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the Chinese New Year vary widely. Often, the evening preceding Chinese New Year’s Day is an occasion for Chinese families to gather for the annual reunion dinner. It is also traditional for every family to thoroughly clean the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for incoming good luck. Windows and doors are decorated with red color paper-cuts and couplets with popular themes of “good fortune” or “happiness”, “wealth”, and “longevity”. Other activities include lighting firecrackers and giving money in red paper envelopes. In about one third of the Mainland population, or 500 million Northerners, dumplings (especially those of vegetarian fillings) feature prominently in the meals celebrating the festival.

This card came from Zhenjiang (镇江, “Suppressing” or “Guarding the River”), formerly romanized as Chenkiang, a prefecture-level city in Jiangsu Province, China. It was long an important entrepôt at the intersection of the Grand Canal and the Yangtze River near its mouth, and has some medieval historic buildings. One of these is Jinshan Temple, with a spectacular setting on a mountain overlooking the water, which is known to most people in China as the setting of a famous legend, about a snake-spirit that falls in love with a man.

In the 19th century, Zhenjiang became a “treaty port” open to international trade, and a British concession was established here. Some of the English-style houses and public buildings from the British period still survive, including the home of writer Pearl Buck. The ferry crossing at Zhenjiang was an important crossing on the lower Yangtze. A range of ancient poets crossed here and wrote poems to record their experiences; Marco Polo also mentions crossing the Yangtze here. Today, it is a preserved quarter with an ecletic mixture of medieval Chinese temples and 19th century European-style buildings built by the British.

The town is best known in China and abroad for its fragrant black vinegar, a staple of Chinese cooking.

Jinshan Park in Zhenjiang is famous for being a “mountain encompassed by monasteries (寺裹山)”. It is the setting of the ancient legend and novel “Tale of the White Snake (白蛇传)”, in which it is flooded by the heroine, a white snake spirit, because the abbot of the Buddhist monastery had imprisoned her husband.

This postcard pictures Xijindu Ancient Street (西津渡), an ancient ferry crossing heavily modified by contemporary restoration to create a more “ancient” feel. There are some interesting preserved medieval buildings and various shops and restaurants targeting tourists.