Posted in Croatia

Zagreb’s Cathedral

Flag of the Republic of Croatia

Postcard of Zagrebs cathedralZagreb, CroatiaNearly one year ago, I received my first two postcards from the Republic of Croatia — one from Split and the other, this card, from the capital of Zagreb. Mailed about a week apart, they arrived in Thailand on the same day. While preparing for this article, I realized that I hadn’t yet written a country profile about the current independent republic for my daily stamp blog so I set about to do just that. An account of the recent history of Croatia (from the 1990s until the present date) can be found on that blog, as can a history of the World War II German- and Italian-controlled but otherwise unrecognized Independent State of Croatia.

Zagreb is the capital and the largest city of Croatia, located in the northwest of the country along the Sava river, at the southern slopes of the Medvednica mountain. It lies at an elevation of approximately 400 feet (122 meters) above sea level. The estimated population of the city in 2018 is 809,773. The population of Zagreb urban agglomeration is slightly above 1.1 million inhabitants and it makes approximately a quarter of a total population of Croatia.

Map of Croatia

The oldest settlement located near today’s Zagreb was a Roman town of Andautonia, now Šćitarjevo, which existed between the 1st and the 5th century AD. The first recorded appearance of the name Zagreb is dated to 1094, at which time the city existed as two different city centers: the smaller, eastern Kaptol, inhabited mainly by clergy and housing Zagreb Cathedral, and the larger, western Gradec, inhabited mainly by craftsmen and merchants. Zagreb became a free royal town in 1242.

In 1851, Zagreb had its first mayor, Janko Kamauf. Gradec and Kaptol were united in 1851 by ban Josip Jelačić, The first railway line to connect Zagreb with Zidani Most and Sisak was opened in 1862 and in 1863 Zagreb received a gasworks. The Zagreb waterworks was opened in 1878.

After the 1880 Zagreb earthquake, up to the 1914 outbreak of World War I, development flourished and the town received the characteristic layout which it has today. The first horse-drawn tram was used in 1891. The construction of the railway lines enabled the old suburbs to merge gradually into Donji Grad, characterized by a regular block pattern that prevails in Central European cities. This bustling core hosts many imposing buildings, monuments, and parks as well as a multitude of museums, theatres and cinemas. An electric power plant was built in 1907.

During World War II, Zagreb became the capital of the Independent State of Croatia, which was backed by the Nazi Germany and Italians. The history of Zagreb in World War II became rife with incidents of regime terror and resistance sabotages, and the Ustaša regime had thousands of people executed during the war in and near the city. The city was liberated by the Partisans at the end of the war. From 1945 until 1990, Zagreb was the capital of the Socialist Republic of Croatia, one of the six constituent socialist republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

During the period of former Yugoslavia, Zagreb remained an important economic center of the country, and was the second largest city. After Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia, Zagreb was proclaimed its capital..

Map of Zagreb, Croatia

Zagreb has a special status in the Croatia’s administrative division and is a consolidated city-county (but separated from Zagreb County). It is administratively subdivided into 17 city districts. Most of them are at a low elevation along the river Sava valley, whereas northern and northeastern city districts, such as Podsljeme and Sesvete districts are situated in the foothills of the Medvednica mountain, making the city’s geographical image rather diverse. The city extends over 19 miles (30 km) east-west and around 12 miles (20 km) north-south.

The transport connections, concentration of industry, scientific, and research institutions and industrial tradition underlie Zagreb’s leading economic position in Croatia. It is the seat of the central government, administrative bodies, and almost all government ministries. Almost all of the largest Croatian companies, media, and scientific institutions have their headquarters in the city. Zagreb is the most important transport hub in Croatia where Central Europe, the Mediterranean and Southeast Europe meet, making the Zagreb area the center of the road, rail and air networks of Croatia. It is a city known for its diverse economy, high quality of living, museums, sporting, and entertainment events. Its main branches of economy are high-tech industries and the service sector.

Reconstruction of the Zagreb Cathedral in 1894.
Reconstruction of the Zagreb Cathedral in 1894.

The Zagreb Cathedral on Kaptol is a Roman Catholic institution and not only the tallest building in Croatia but also the most monumental sacral building in Gothic style southeast of the Alps. It is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary and to kings Saint Stephen and Saint Ladislaus. The cathedral is typically Gothic, as is its sacristy, which is of great architectural value. Its prominent spires are considered to be landmarks as they are visible from most parts of the city.

In 1093, when King Ladislaus moved the bishop’s chair from Sisak to Zagreb, he proclaimed the existing church as a cathedral. Construction on the cathedral started shortly after his death and was finished in 1217 and consecrated by king Andrew II of Hungary. The building was destroyed by the Mongols in 1242 but rebuilt by bishop Timotej a few years later. At the end of the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire invaded Croatia, triggering the construction of fortification walls around the cathedral, some of which are still intact. In the 17th century, a fortified renaissance watchtower was erected on the south side, and was used as a military observation point, because of the Ottoman threat.

Kaptol Square and Zagreb Cathedral. Photo taken on May 7, 2009.
Kaptol Square and Zagreb Cathedral. Photo taken on May 7, 2009.

The cathedral was severely damaged in the 1880 Zagreb earthquake. The main nave collapsed and the tower was damaged beyond repair. The restoration of the cathedral in the Neo-Gothic style was led by Hermann Bollé, bringing the cathedral to its present form. As part of that restoration, two spires 354 feet (108 m) high were raised on the western side, both of which are now in the process of being restored as part of an extensive general restoration of the cathedral.

The cathedral is depicted on the reverse of the Croatian 1000 kuna banknote issued in 1993.

When facing the portal, the building is 150 feet (46 m) wide and 354 feet (108 m) high. The cathedral contains a relief of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac with Christ done by the Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović. The cathedral was visited by Pope Benedict XVI on June 5, 2011, where he celebrated Sunday Vespers and prayed before the tomb of Blessed Aloysius Stepinac.

Postcard from Zagrab, Croatia, 2017

Coat of arms of Croatia

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Posted in Chile

Ode to a Road: Carretera Austral

Flag of Chile

Postcard from Valdivia, Chile - Carretera Austral

Info box - Valdivia, Chile

While not the postcard that has travelled the farthest to reach me in southern Thailand, my first card received from the Republic of Chile (República de Chile), is definitely in the top five at 16,364 kilometers (10,168 miles) from Phuket. It took a month-and-a-half to make the journey. It was a swap with a member of a Facebook group and was mailed from the city of Valdivia — the capital of Los Ríos Region and the capital of Valdivia Province.

The city of Valdivia and the Chiloé Archipelago were once the two southernmost outliers of the Spanish Empire. From 1645 to 1740, the city depended directly on the Viceroyalty of Peru, which financed the building of the Valdivian fort system that turned Valdivia into one of the most fortified cities of the New World. In the second half of the 19th century, Valdivia was the port of entry for German immigrants who settled in the city and surrounding areas.

A typical
A view of Valdivia, Chile. Photo taken on Pedro de Valdivia bridge, while crossing to Isla Teja in January 2006.

In 1960, Valdivia was severely damaged by the Great Chilean earthquake, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded at magnitude 9.5. Debris and destroyed buildings from the earthquake can still be found in the suburban areas. In addition, land subsidence and sediments have resulted in complex navigation challenges on the local rivers and in some areas, ruins of buildings are visible from the water.

The postcard pictures several views found along one of the most beautiful road journeys in the world — the Carretera Austral (“Southern Way” in English). This is the name given to Chile’s Route 7 (CH-7), which runs about 770 miles (1,240 kilometers) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins through rural Patagonia.

Carretera Austral provides road access to the XI Region of Chile’s Aysén del General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo Region and southern part of the Province of Palena in the X Region of Los Lagos. These areas are sparsely populated and despite its length, Carretera Austral provides access to only about 100,000 people. South of the highway’s start in Puerto Montt, Coyhaique (population 44,850) is the largest city along it.

Due to the complicated geographical characteristics of the territory, in which the Patagonian Andes predominate, lakes, turbulent rivers and the presence of ice fields, the construction of the Carretera Austral is in permanent repair even when most of its sections are operational. On the other hand, a large part of the route lacks paving.

Map of Chile
Map of Carretera Austral (CH-7) in southern Chile

The Carretera Austral is also known unofficially and propagandistically as the Presidente Pinochet Highway or the Pinochet Presidente Longitudinal Carretera Austral, despite the fact that no official document indicates the existence of said name for the route. Photo taken on September 30, 2004.
The Carretera Austral is also known unofficially and propagandistically as the Presidente Pinochet Highway or the Pinochet Presidente Longitudinal Carretera Austral, despite the fact that no official document indicates the existence of said name for the route. Photo taken on September 30, 2004.

Construction of the highway was commenced in 1976 under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in order to connect a number of remote communities. Before that, in the 1950s and 1970s, there had been unsuccessful attempts to build access roads in the region. It is among the most ambitious infrastructure projects developed in Chile during the 20th century.

Carretera Austral has a strategic purpose due to the difficult access by land to a significant portion of Chile’s southern territory. This area is characterized by thick forests, fjords, glaciers, canals and steep mountains. Access by sea and air is also a complex task due to extreme winter weather conditions. For decades, most of the land transportation had to cross the border to Argentina in order to reach again Chile’s Patagonia. These difficulties were deepened during the 1970s due to the Beagle Conflict crisis. In order to strengthen the Chilean presence in these isolated territories and ensure the land connection to the rest of the country, the government planned the construction of this road, which was executed by the Chilean Army’s Engineering Command. More than 10,000 soldiers worked in its construction. Many of them lost their lives during this effort.

The highway opened to traffic in 1988, and by 1996 was completed to Puerto Yungay. The last 62 miles (100 kilometers )to Villa O’Higgins were opened in 2000. In 2003, a branch road to Caleta Tortel was finished.

Villa O'Higgins is the southern end of the Carretera Austral in Chile.
Villa O’Higgins is the southern end of the Carretera Austral in Chile.

Villa O’Higgins is a small town in the Aysén Region, located 137 miles (220 km) south of Cochrane and 342 miles (550 km) south of Coyhaique. Founded in 1966 and named after the Chilean independence hero Bernardo O’Higgins, it is the capital of the O’Higgins commune of Capitán Prat Province. Villa O’Higgins is the gateway to the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. The town has an airport, several guesthouses, a radio station, and a number of shops. In the summer (December to February) a regular boat service takes passengers from Villa O’Higgins across the O’Higgins / San Martín Lake to Candelario Mansilla, from where it is possible to cross the border into Argentina via a footpath (no road).

Traveling the entire route of the Carretera Austral requires the use of three ferries:

  • a 30-minute crossing about 28 miles (45 km) south of the start of the highway in Puerto Montt
  • a 5-hour crossing from Hornopiren (68 miles, 110 km south of Puerto Montt) to Caleta Gonzalo
  • a 50-minute crossing from Puerto Yungay to Rio Bravo, connecting to the final 62 miles (100 km) of the highway

The highway began as almost entirely unpaved, but more sections are becoming paved each year. As of March 2018, the paved road ends at Villa Cerro Castillo, with roadworks going on just south of there.

There is also a plan to extend the road to Magallanes Region, which still lacks domestic road connection to the rest of Chile. This means constructing a 581-mile (935 km) branch Rio Bravo-Ventisquero Montt-Puerto Natales, with nine ferry crossings planned. By January 2007, the construction on the Rio Bravo-Ventisquero Montt section had begun, with the branch off point from the main Rio Bravo-Villa O’Higgins road being at 48.00°S 73.13°W.

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Postcard from Valdivia, Chile 2017
I wrote about the history of the country of Chile on my “A Stamp A Day” blog in October 2016. Please have a look, if you are interested.
Chile Route 7 (X Region)Coat of arms of Chile

Posted in Australia

The First Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge

Australia - Scott #1371 (1994) maximum card

Australia - Scott #1371 (1994) maximum card
Australia – Scott #1371 (1994) maximum card

I have collected stamps much longer than I’ve collected postcards. Nowadays, I love to combine the two hobbies and yet I have relatively few maximum cards.  Also known as a maxi-card or maxicard, this is a postcard with a postage stamp placed on the picture side of the card where the stamp and card match or are in maximum concordance. The cancellation or postmark is usually related to the image on the front of the card and the stamp.

Not every country issues maximum cards (the United States does not) and some who do (Germany, for example) have only a limited number of releases every year whereas others issue maximum cards for every stamp, such as Australia. The collecting of maximum cards is known as maximaphily.

Australia - Scott #1371 (1994)
Australia – Scott #1371 (1994)

This particular card doesn’t match the design of the stamp but both commemorate the opening of the First Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge (สะพานมิตรภาพ ไทย-ลาว แห่งที่ 1, — Sapan Mittrapap Tai Lao Hen T-Nun in Thai and ຂົວມິດຕະພາບ ລາວ-ໄທ ແຫ່ງທຳອິດ — Kua Mittapap Lao Tai Hen Tam-It in Lao). The stamp affixed to the picture side of the card was released by Australia on the opening date of the bridge — April 8, 1994, and is listed in the Scott Postage Stamp Catalogue as Australia #1371.

Why did Australia issue a stamp picturing a bridge that crosses the Mekong River, connecting Nong Khai Province and the city of Nong Khai in Thailand with Vientiane Prefecture in Laos? The Australian government funded the approximately £19 million cost of the bridge as development aid for Laos. Also, it was designed and built by Australian companies as a demonstration of their ability to complete major infrastructural projects in Southeast Asia. The concept design of a balanced cantilever bridge was proposed by Bruce Ramsay of VSL with the final design carried out by Maunsell consulting engineers.

With a length of (0.73 miles (1,170 meters, the bridge has two 11-foot, 6-inch (3.5 m)-wide road lanes, two 4-foot, 11-inch (1.5 m)-wide footpaths and a single 3-foot, 3 3/8-inch (1,000 mm) gauge railway line in the middle, straddling the narrow central reservation. Opened on April 8, 1994, it was the first bridge across the lower Mekong, and the second on the full course of the Mekong. The official name of the bridge was changed by the addition of “First” after the Second Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge further south at Savannakhet opened in January 2007.

Traffic on the bridge drives on the left, as in Thailand, while traffic in Laos drives on the right. The changeover at the Lao end, just before the border post, is controlled by traffic lights. A shuttle bus service operates across the bridge, between the Lao and Thai border posts. Bicycles and tricycles etc. can travel on either the road or the footpath, which is also used by pedestrians. The bridge is part of the AH12 Asian Highway Network.

A meter-gauge rail track from Nong Khai station runs along the center of the bridge. Road traffic is stopped when a train is crossing. The formal inauguration of the railway line to Thanaleng Railway Station in Laos, about 2,2 miless (3.5 km) from the bridge, occurred on March 5, 2009. Approval of funding for the rail line from Thanaleng Railway Station to Vientiane, about 9 km away, was announced by the French Development Agency in February 2006 but the plan to extend the service was abandoned in November 2010.

Over the years, Thailand and Laos have released several stamps portraying the First Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, including a joint issue to mark its 20th anniversary in 2014.

Lao first day cover - 20th Anniversay of First Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge Thailand first day cover - 20th Anniversary of Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge TH-1040, 2014)

Thailand first day cover - 20th Anniversary of Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge TH-1040, 2014
Laos and Thailand first day covers for the 20th Anniversary of Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge 2014

I have ridden over the bridge once (in a mini-van) on a trip to Laos in 2009. I hope to return sometime very soon!

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Posted in U.S.A. - Alaska

Mt. McKinley, or Denali

Flag of Alaska

Postcard mailed from Fairbanks, Alaska, on May 27, 2017.Last year, my sister and her family visited Alaska for the first time. Marilyn mailed postcards to me from Anchorage (previously blogged) and today’s card from Fairbanks. I didn’t record the date they arrived in Phuket but I do remember it taking a long time. After all, Anchorage is more than 10,000 miles away and Fairbanks is even farther!

Mount McKinley is the former official name for what is now called Denali. This is the tallest land-based mountain on Earth — with a vertical rise of about 18,000 feet (5,500 meters), as well as the highest mountain peak in North America — with a summit elevation of 20,310 feet (6,190 m) above sea level. With a topographic prominence of 20,156 feet (6,144 m) and a topographic isolation of 4,629 miles (7,450 km), Denali is the third most prominent and third most isolated peak, after Mount Everest and Aconcagua. Located in the Alaska Range in the interior of the U.S. state of Alaska, Denali is the centerpiece of Denali National Park and Preserve.

Map of Alaska

The Koyukon people who inhabit the area around the mountain have referred to the peak as Denali for centuries. In 1896, a gold prospector named it Mount McKinley in support of then-presidential candidate William McKinley; that name was the official name recognized by the United States government from 1917 until 2015. In August 2015, following the 1975 lead of the state of Alaska, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced the change of the official name of the mountain to Denali.

In 1903, James Wickersham recorded the first attempt at climbing Denali, which was unsuccessful. In 1906, Frederick Cook claimed the first ascent, which was later proven to be false. The first verifiable ascent to Denali’s summit was achieved on June 7, 1913, by climbers Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, Walter Harper, and Robert Tatum, who went by the South Summit. In 1951, Bradford Washburn pioneered the West Buttress route, considered to be the safest and easiest route, and therefore the most popular currently in use.

On September 2, 2015, the U.S. Geological Survey announced that the mountain is 20,310 feet (6,190 m) high, not 20,320 feet (6,194 m), as measured in 1952 using photogrammetry.

Map of Denali National Park

Geologically, Denali is a granitic pluton lifted by tectonic pressure from the subduction of the Pacific Plate beneath the North American Plate; at the same time, the sedimentary material above and around the mountain was stripped away by erosion. The forces that lifted Denali also cause many deep earthquakes in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. The Pacific Plate is seismically active beneath Denali, a tectonic region that is known as the McKinley Cluster.

Denali rises from a sloping plain with elevations from 1,000 to 3,000 feet (300 to 910 m), for a base-to-peak height of 17,000 to 19,000 feet (5,000 to 6,000 m). By comparison, Mount Everest rises from the Tibetan Plateau at a much higher base elevation. Base elevations for Everest range from 13,800 feet (4,200 m) on the south side to 17,100 feet (5,200 m) on the Tibetan Plateau, for a base-to-peak height in the range of 12,000 to 15,300 feet (3,700 to 4,700 m). Denali’s base-to-peak height is little more than half the 33,500 feet (10,200 m) of the volcano Mauna Kea, which lies mostly under water.

Denali has two significant summits: the South Summit is the higher one, while the North Summit has an elevation of 19,470 feet (5,934 m) and a prominence of approximately 1,270 feet (387 m). The North Summit is sometimes counted as a separate peak and sometimes not; it is rarely climbed, except by those doing routes on the north side of the massif.

Denali from the north, with Wonder Lake in the foreground. Photo taken on June 29, 2010.
Denali from the north, with Wonder Lake in the foreground. Photo taken on June 29, 2010.

Five large glaciers flow off the slopes of the mountain. The Peters Glacier lies on the northwest side of the massif, while the Muldrow Glacier falls from its northeast slopes. Just to the east of the Muldrow, and abutting the eastern side of the massif, is the Traleika Glacier. The Ruth Glacier lies to the southeast of the mountain, and the Kahiltna Glacier leads up to the southwest side of the mountain. With a length of 44 miles (71 km), the Kahiltna Glacier is the longest glacier in the Alaska Range.

The Koyukon Athabaskans, living in the Yukon, Tanana and Kuskokwim basins, were the first Native Americans with access to the flanks of the mountain. A British naval captain and explorer, George Vancouver, is the first European on record to have sighted Denali, when he noted “distant stupendous mountains” while surveying the Knik Arm of the Cook Inlet on May 6, 1794. The Russian explorer Lavrenty Zagoskin explored the Tanana and Kuskokwim rivers in 1843 and 1844, and was likely the first European to sight the mountain from the other side.

William Dickey, a New Hampshire-born resident of Seattle, Washington who had been digging for gold in the sands of the Susitna River, wrote, after his returning from Alaska, an account in the New York Sun that appeared on January 24, 1897. His report drew attention with the sentence “We have no doubt that this peak is the highest in North America, and estimate that it is over 20,000 feet (6,100 m) high.” Until then, Mount Logan in Canada’s Yukon Territory was believed to be the continent’s highest point. Though later praised for his estimate, Dickey admitted that other prospector parties had also guessed the mountain to be over 20,000 feet (6,100 m).

The first recorded attempt to climb Denali was by Judge James Wickersham in 1903, via the Peters Glacier and the North Face, now known as the Wickersham Wall. Because of the route’s history of avalanche danger, it was not successfully climbed until 1963. Famed explorer Dr. Frederick Cook claimed the first ascent of the mountain in 1906. His claim was regarded with some suspicion from the start, but was also widely believed. It was later proved false, with some crucial evidence provided by Bradford Washburn when he was sketched on a lower peak.

A photo of Denali taken from the back of a Boeing 737 on September 10, 2003 on an Alaska Airlines flight from Red Dog Mine to Anchorage.
A photo of Denali taken from the back of a Boeing 737 on September 10, 2003 on an Alaska Airlines flight from Red Dog Mine to Anchorage.

In 1910, four area locals – Tom Lloyd, Peter Anderson, Billy Taylor, and Charles McGonagall – known as the Sourdough Expedition, attempted to climb Denali despite a lack of climbing experience. The group spent approximately three months on the mountain. Their purported summit ascent day included carrying a bag of doughnuts each, a thermos of hot chocolate, and a 14-foot (4.2 m) spruce pole. Two of them reached the North Summit, the lower of the two, and erected the pole near the top. According to the group, the time they took to reach the summit was a total of 18 hours. Until the first ascent in 1913, their claims were disbelieved, in part due to false claims they had climbed both summits.

In 1912, the Parker-Browne expedition nearly reached the summit, turning back within just a few hundred yards of it due to harsh weather. Hours after their ascent, the Great Earthquake of 1912 shattered the glacier they had ascended.

The first ascent of the main summit of Denali came on June 7, 1913, by a party led by Hudson Stuck and Harry Karstens. The first man to reach the summit was Walter Harper, an Alaska Native. Robert Tatum also made the summit. Using the mountain’s contemporary name, Tatum later commented, “The view from the top of Mount McKinley is like looking out the windows of Heaven!” They ascended the Muldrow Glacier route pioneered by the earlier expeditions, which is still often climbed today. Stuck confirmed, via binoculars, the presence of a large pole near the North Summit; this report confirmed the Sourdough ascent, and today it is widely believed that the Sourdoughs did succeed on the North Summit. However, the pole was never seen before or since, so there is still some doubt. Stuck also discovered that the Parker-Browne party were only about 200 feet (61 m) of elevation short of the true summit when they turned back.

Denali's West Buttress (lower left to upper right). Photo taken on August 2, 2010.
Denali’s West Buttress (lower left to upper right). Photo taken on August 2, 2010.

The mountain is regularly climbed today. In 2003, around 58% of climbers reached the top. But by 2003, the mountain had claimed the lives of nearly 100 mountaineers over time. The vast majority of climbers use the West Buttress Route, pioneered in 1951 by Bradford Washburn, after an extensive aerial photographic analysis of the mountain. Climbers typically take two to four weeks to ascend Denali. It is one of the Seven Summits; summiting all of them is a challenge for mountaineers.

In 1906, conservationist Charles Alexander Sheldon conceived the idea of preserving the Denali region as a national park. He presented the plan to his co-members of the Boone and Crockett Club. They decided that the political climate at the time was unfavorable for congressional action, and that the best hope of success rested on the approval and support from the Alaskans themselves. Sheldon wrote, “The first step was to secure the approval and cooperation of the delegate who represented Alaska in Congress.”

In October 1915, Sheldon took up the matter with Dr. E. W. Nelson of the Biological Survey at Washington, D.C. and with George Bird Grinnell, with a purpose to introduce a suitable bill in the coming session of Congress. The matter was then taken to the Game Committee of the Boone and Crockett Club and, after a full discussion, it received the committee’s full endorsement. On December 3, 1915, the plan was presented to Alaska’s delegate, James Wickersham, who after some deliberation gave his approval. The plan then went to the Executive Committee of the Boone and Crockett Club and, on December 15, 1915, it was unanimously accepted. The plan was thereupon endorsed by the Club and presented to Stephen Mather, Assistant Secretary of the Interior in Washington, D.C., who immediately approved it.

The bill was introduced in April, 1916, by Delegate Wickersham in the House and by Senator Key Pittman of Nevada in the Senate. Much lobbying took place over the following year, and on February 19, 1917, the bill passed. On February 26, 1917, 11 years from its conception, the bill was signed in legislation by the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, thereby creating Mount McKinley National Park.

The east side viewed from from the Stony Dome lookout point in Denali National Park and Preserve. Photo taken on August 21, 2005.
The east side of Denali viewed from from the Stony Dome lookout point in Denali National Park and Preserve. Photo taken on August 21, 2005.

A portion of Denali, excluding the summit, was included the original park boundary. On Thanksgiving Day in 1921, the Mount McKinley Park Hotel opened. In July 1923, President Warren Harding stopped at the hotel, on a tour of the length of the Alaska Railroad, during which he drove a golden spike signaling its completion at Nenana.

The hotel was the first thing visitors saw stepping down from the train. The flat-roofed, two-story log building featured exposed balconies, glass windows, and electric lights. Inside were two dozen guest rooms, a shop, lunch counter, kitchen, and storeroom. By the 1930s, there were reports of lice, dirty linen, drafty rooms, and marginal food, which led to the hotel’s eventually closing.

In 1947, the park boundaries expanded to include the area of the hotel and railroad. After being abandoned for many years, the hotel was destroyed in 1950 by a fire. There was no road access to the park entrance until 1957. Now with a highway connection to Anchorage and Fairbanks, park attendance greatly expanded: there were 5,000 visitors in 1956 and 25,000 visitors by 1958.

The park was designated an international biosphere reserve in 1976. A separate Denali National Monument was proclaimed by President Jimmy Carter on December 1, 1978.

The reverse side of the Denali National Park quarter.
The reverse side of the Denali National Park quarter.

On November 5, 2012, the United States Mint released a twenty-five cent piece depicting Denali National Park. It is the fifteenth of the America the Beautiful Quarters series. The reverse features a Dall sheep with the peak of Denali in the background.

Postcard sent from Fairbanks, Alaska, on May 27, 2017.

Posted in U.S.A. - California

Avila Beach

Postcard from Avila Beach, California, circa August 2015.Postcard from Avila Beach, California, circa August 2015.I really do envy my sister for a myriad of reasons, particularly her travels, and I always look forward to her postcards. Although I am thrilled to receive her cards from such places as Montenegro, Greece and various Caribbean islands, those from Avila Beach and certain other locales will always hold the most meaning for me.

Place names such as Avila, Pismo, San Luis, and Morro Bay evoke fond memories of our childhood as we would often use our summer vacations to visit our grandparents in the then-quite small Pacific Coast town of San Luis Obisbo, California. Although I haven’t set foot in SLO County since probably 1982, I have more recollections of places within the community and the surrounding area than I do of many of the places we actually lived in!  A native of eastern Iowa, my grandfather Alonzo moved there in the early 1930’s; my mother was born there in late 1938. I am quite jealous whenever I hear that my sister is visiting the area, despite none of our relatives living there any more.

Marilyn has sent me postcards featuring the fishing pier at Avila Beach on two separate occasions. The first, bearing some nice Harry Potter stamps (unpostmarked, of course), arrived in early September 2015 while the second (pictured at the end of this article) came in August 2017.

Avila Beach, California, taken on the morning of October 12, 2007, from the eastern end of Front Street.
Avila Beach, California, taken on the morning of October 12, 2007, from the eastern end of Front Street.

Avila Beach is an unincorporated community in San Luis Obispo County, California, United States, located on San Luis Obispo Bay about 160 miles (257 km) northwest of Los Angeles, and about 200 miles (320 km) south of San Francisco. For statistical purposes, the United States Census Bureau has defined Avila Beach as a census-designated place (CDP). The census definition of the area may not precisely correspond to local understanding of the area with the same name. The population was 1,627 at the 2010 census.

The beach is less than 0.5 miles (0.8 km) long and sheltered in San Luis Bay, which is formed by Point San Luis on the west and Fossil Point on the east. Avila Beach faces south and the 600 foot elevation of Point San Luis breaks the prevailing northwesterly winds. It is therefore usually warmer than the other beaches on the Central Coast. Most of Avila Beach is undeveloped, except for a few blocks adjacent to the beach with homes, hotels, and small businesses, and a few upscale housing developments inland near a golf course. Avila Beach is also known for its hot springs, which are used for resort spas.

U.S. Route 101 and State Highway 1 bypass this part of the coastline to the east in favor of a more direct route from Pismo Beach north to San Luis Obispo. According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP covers an area of 6.0 square miles (15.6 km²), 99.71% of it land, and 0.29% of it water.

The name Avila commemorates Miguel Ávila, who was granted Rancho San Miguelito in 1842. The town was established in the latter half of the 19th century, when it served as the main shipping port for San Luis Obispo. Around this time, Luigi Marre built a honeymoon hotel here and steamboats brought customers from San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Although Avila Beach still has a working commercial fishing pier and the inland areas have extensive apple orchards, tourism is now the main industry. There are few historical structures remaining; among the oldest is the Point San Luis Light, built in 1890 after a series of shipping accidents. In October 1933, the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat — USS Constitution (named by George Washington himself) — visited Port San Luis as part of a cruise around the United States.

In the late 1990s, Unocal began the cleanup of decades old oil seepage discovered years earlier from corroding pipes under the township, and which had caused a massive oil spill under the town. Over 6,750 truckloads of contaminated material was sent to a Bakersfield landfill, and replaced with clean Guadalupe Dunes sand. Many of the town’s homes and businesses, including several blocks of Front Street, were razed as a result of the quarter-mile-wide excavation. New buildings, homes, businesses, modern walkways and sea motif walls and benches have been constructed.

Avila Beach, California
Avila Beach, California

Avila Beach has three piers: Avila Beach Pier, 1,685 feet (514 m) in length, is closed to tourist strolling and recreational fishing; Harford Pier, which is for commercial fishing boats to offload their wares since 1873; and the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly SLO) Pier, part of the university’s marine research program, is not publicly accessible.

In recent years, the pier has become a site for whale watching as numbers of grays and humpback whales come into bays around the pier to feed and draw crowds during the seasons.

Diablo Canyon Power Plant, the last remaining nuclear power plant in California, is located in a remote part of the Avila Beach unincorporated area, about 6 miles (9.7 km) northwest of the beach itself.

The Avila Beach Pier was featured in a Super Bowl advertisement on February 7, 2010.

Avila Beach was the primary shooting location for the 1979 film California Dreaming, which starred Dennis Christopher, Glynnis O’Connor, and Seymour Cassel.

Postcard mailed from Avila Beach, California, on July 26, 2017.

Postcard sent from Avila Beach, California, on July 26, 2017. Arrived in Phuket, Thailand, on August 29, 2017.
Postcard sent from Avila Beach, California, on July 26, 2017. Arrived in Phuket, Thailand, on August 29, 2017.

 

Posted in U.S.A. - California

Beautiful Big Sur

Greetings fellow postcard people, be you Postcrossers, swappers, lottery group members, or just curious bystanders!

I have a confession to make: I just have not been very active in my postcard activities thus far in 2018 and have yet to send (or receive) a single Postcrossing card in months. I am also very far behind in not-yet-blogged cards and really aim to get caught up, starting today.

I can lay part of the blame on all of this with work. Late March and early April is the end of the school year for most government-run schools here in Thailand. The lead-up to this is quite busy; my position as Deputy Head Teacher for our province’s largest foreign teacher agency sees me doing a lot of school visits to make sure our teachers are doing their student assessments and other mounds of paperwork. If a teacher departs on holiday without finishing it (including marking hundreds of final exams), guess who gets to do that?

Despite the craziness of the past couple of months, I have managed to keep up with my daily history/philatelic blog, A Stamp A Day, which often leaves little time for anything else. For the past few days, however, I have taken some time to organize folders of my postcard scans and determine which haven’t been blogged about yet (via a new spreadsheet after my old one somehow became corrupted). I think that, if I really set my mind to it, I can get the backlog cleared up by….oh, let’s say, the end of this year!

 I currently have cards from 75 different countries and from about half the U.S. states (plus the district of Columbia and Puerto Rico). My sister is a pretty big contributor with her travels around the United States and occasional international journeys. This card, giving a view of Big Sur in California, was sent by her in late July 2015, franked with a trio of Jimi Hendrix stamps. Unfortunately, like so many cards from the U.S.A., they didn’t receive a postmark.

I remember driving across the Bixby Creek Bridge several times as a child during family vacations to the West Coast. My dad was born in Santa Rosa and my mother came from San Luis Obisbo so we often visited our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in the Golden States. I don’t think we ever stopped in the Big Sur area, however.

Approximate boundaries of the Big Sur region.
Approximate boundaries of the Big Sur region.

Big Sur is a lightly populated, unincorporated region on California’s Central Coast that is frequently praised for its rugged coastline and mountain views, where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. Big Sur has been called the “longest and most scenic stretch of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States,” a “national treasure that demands extraordinary procedures to protect it from development” and “one of the most beautiful coastlines anywhere in the world, an isolated stretch of road, mythic in reputation.” Big Sur’s Cone Peak at 5,155 feet (1,571 m) is only 3 miles (5 km) from the ocean and is the tallest coastal mountain in the contiguous United States. The stunning views make Big Sur a popular global tourist destination. It receives about the same number of visitors as Yosemite National Park which has led to ongoing, lengthy traffic backups and parking issues, especially during summer vacation periods and holiday weekends.

The region does not have specific boundaries, but is generally considered to include the 71 miles (114 km) segment of California State Route 1 from Malpaso Creek near Carmel Highlands south to San Carpóforo Creek near San Simeon, and the entire Santa Lucia range between the rivers. The interior region is uninhabited, while the coast remains relatively isolated and sparsely populated with about 1,000 year-round residents and relatively few visitor accommodations scattered among four small settlements. When the region was ceded by Mexico to the United States in 1848, it was the United States’ “last frontier.”

The region remained one of the most isolated areas of California and the United States until, after 18 years of construction, the Carmel–San Simeon Highway (now signed as part of State Route 1) was completed in 1937. Along with the ocean views, the winding, narrow road, often cut into the face of seaside cliffs, dominates the visitor’s experience of Big Sur. The highway has been closed more than 55 times by slides, and in May 2017, a 2 million cubic foot landslide blocked the highway at Mud Creek, north of Salmon Creek near the San Luis Obispo border, to just south of Gorda. The road is expected to be reopened in June 2018.

Big Sur Coast looking north towards Bixby Creek Bridge. Photo taken on June 21, 2008.
Big Sur Coast looking north towards Bixby Creek Bridge. Photo taken on June 21, 2008.

The region is protected by the Big Sur Local Coastal Plan, which preserves the region as “open space, a small residential community, and agricultural ranching.” Approved in 1986, it is one of the most restrictive local use programs in the state, and is widely regarded as one of the most restrictive documents of its kind anywhere. The program protects viewsheds from the highway and many vantage points, and severely restricts the density of development. About 60% of the coastal region is owned by a government or private agency that does not allow any development. The majority of the interior region is part of the Los Padres National Forest, the Ventana Wilderness, Silver Peak Wilderness, or Fort Hunter Liggett.

Because the vast majority of visitors only see Big Sur’s dramatic coastline, some consider the eastern border of Big Sur to be the coastal flanks of the Santa Lucia Mountains, only 3 to 12 miles (5 to 19 km) inland. Visitors sometimes mistakenly believe that Big Sur refers to the small community of buildings and services near Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, known to locals as Big Sur Village. Author and Big Sur historian Jeff Norman considered Big Sur to extend inland to include the watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean. Others include the vast inland areas comprising the Los Padres National Forest, Ventana Wilderness, Silver Peak Wilderness, and Fort Hunter Liggett about 20 miles (30 km) inland to the eastern foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

Central Californian coastline looking south, with the McWay Rocks (with arch) in the foreground, and McWay Cove in the center.
Central Californian Big Sur coastline looking south, with the McWay Rocks (with arch) in the foreground, and McWay Cove in the center. Photo taken in May 2013.

While the Portolá expedition was exploring Alta California, they arrived at San Carpóforo Canyon near present-day San Simeon on September 13, 1769. They traveled through the San Antonio and Salinas Valleys before arriving at Monterey Bay, where they founded Monterey and named it their capital. The Spanish referred to the vast, relatively unexplored, coastal region to the south as el país grande del sur, meaning “the big country of the south”. This was often shortened to el sur grande. The two major rivers were named El Rio Grande del Sur and El Rio Chiquito del Sur.

The first recorded use of the name el Sud (meaning “the South”) was on a map of Rancho El Sur land grant given by Governor José Figueroa to Juan Bautista Alvarado on July 30, 1834. The first American use of the name “Sur” was by the U.S. Coast Survey in 1851, which renamed a point of land that looked like an island and was shaped like a trumpet, formerly known as Morro de la Trompa and Punta que Parece Isla during Spanish times, to Point Sur.

A post office bearing the name Sur was established on October 30, 1889. The English-speaking homesteaders petitioned the United States Post Office in Washington D.C. to change the name of their post office from Arbolado to Big Sur, and the rubber stamp using that name was returned on March 6, 1915, cementing the name in place.

message side of postcard sent from Big Sur, California

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.

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.