Saturday, June 25, 2011

What I'm reading...

right now:  The Wolverine Way by Douglas Chadwick.  It's an excellent description of a five-year study in Glacier National Park of one of the most fierce and tenacious creatures in the Rockies.  Outstanding tale, but perhaps a bit too much anthropomorphizing.

And just in time for my summer field class at, um, Glacier National Park.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Back from the Baltic...

and heading for Utah tomorrow. Will catch up with back-posting about my experiences during the recent voyage in the days ahead (there were a lot of problems on board with the Internet connection), but meanwhile there are more pressing priorities.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Winging my way home...

over northern Germany, barrier islands retreat in the distance in the southern part of the Baltic Sea, as I hop to Amsterdam in order to make a connecting flight into Seattle (click to enlarge).

I have to admit the highlight of this voyage wasn't really geological at all, but historical, and certainly cultural.  This experience filled a large void in my appreciation and understanding of the Baltic region in the wake of the early Vikings and Hansa, through WWII and the Cold War, and into present time.  I learned a lot from my fellow staff, traveled with interesting people, and had terrific fun doing so.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A large, offshore wind farm...

heralds our approach to Copenhagen, Denmark, the final destination of our cultural circumnavigation of the Baltic Sea (click to enlarge):
No matter which direction you cast your gaze, the cosmopolitan capital of Denmark has more spires on the horizon than anywhere else we've visited, blending the old with the modern:
A perfunctory early morning visit was made to the Little Mermaid statue very close to our berth, set artfully on large, rounded stones in the harbor in honor of the tale by Hans Christian Andersen, the famous Danish author:
Then it was off on a tour de force guided excursion of a series of palaces, commencing with Amelienborg Palace, the winter residence of the Danish Royal Family since 1794:
Quite by chance, the daily ritual of the changing of the guard took place very closely around us, and the presence of two flags flying above parts of the palace confirmed that some of the Royal Family were in residence:
Then it was onto Christiansborg Palace, the seat of the Danish Parliament, built on the original foundations of 1167.  Finally, we visited beautiful Rosenborg Palace, named for its rose-filled gardens. Built in 1606, the basement vault houses the Royal Crown jewels, which we were able to view.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The most picturesque...

of medieval walled cities must be Visby, on Gotland, a large and unusual carbonate island in the western Baltic, administered by Sweden (click to enlarge):
Part of our group approaches the north gate in the 3.4 km long limestone block wall, constructed during the 12th century and complete with a moat, that surrounds most of the city and the old church ruins:
And here's a shot of the ornate exterior of the more contemporary Visby Cathedral.  I particularly like the carved figure on the left, courageously tackling a lion and forcing its mouth wide open:
This mural, consisting of a  mosaic of stone chips and fossil crinoid stems (look closely), caught my eye during my wanderings of the streets in town during a personal early afternoon exploration:
Later, aboard ship, I presented my final lecture of the voyage on the plate tectonic assembling of northern Europe, starting with Baltica, an early-Paleozoic continental mass.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"Venice of the North"...

is a moniker often assigned to Stockholm, Sweden, carrying with it high expectations, but it went mostly unappreciated on this wet and gloomy day of our visit:
Our touring commenced at Stockholm City Hall, best known as the home of the annual Nobel Prize award banquet.  The relatively stark external brick face of the massive structure (at the base of the large tower in the image above) belied the nature of the truly exquisite rooms within.  Here's an image of the oddly-named Blue Hall:
The archeological highlight of this Baltic voyage was seen today, the fully preserved and restored Swedish sailing ship, the Vasa.  The scale of the maritime disaster that befell the enormous wooden warship in the 1620s was fully explained in this museum, when the Vasa sank no more than 20 minutes into her maiden voyage (top heavy and improperly ballasted), within sight of her launch:
Unfortunately the rain persisted throughout much of the day, dampening spirits of most travelers to take an afternoon Zodiac tour through the scenic canals in Old Town Stockholm:

Saturday, June 18, 2011

More than 20,000 islands...

and smaller rocks litter the appropriately named Archipelago Sea, somehow navigated safely through the dark of night on our approach to Turku, the oldest city in Finland.

Turku Castle is a stones throw from our berth, with its thick white-washed walls and complex history beginning in 1280, and was the objective of the morning's outing (click to enlarge):
Turku Cathedral is next on our tour, a magnificent brick-built cathedral with lofty interior walls and traces of Medieval paintwork murals:
The final stop was to the open air museum, where buildings which survived the devastating fire in the early 1800s that destroyed most of early Turku remain in their original locations, and today are all open to visitors where guides tell of the activities which took place in the community:
After our brief visit, we set a different route through the countless granitic and glacially-scrubbed islands, the product of isostatic rebound due to the latest deglaciation of the northern Baltic (at rates between 4 to 8 mm/year):
On our way en route to Stockholm a cormorant displays for a potential mate, but could be mistaken for waving farewell as we move quickly by:

Friday, June 17, 2011

A short cruise overnight...

into the Gulf of Finland takes us to Tallinn, the affluent capital and largest city in Estonia, and proud owner of an extremely quaint skyline that greeted us this morning (click to enlarge):
Upon arrival we first embarked on a tour of historic Kadriorg Palace, built by Peter the Great for his mistress Catherine in the 18th century.  In a word, opulent:
More impressive, in my opinion, is the grand Alexander Nevsky Cathedral that dominates the highest point in the city, complete with the onion-shaped domes and three-barred crosses iconic of Russian Orthodox churches:
And like most cities established during Hanseatic times, the Main Square with busy cafes and market stalls is the place to be on a sunny afternoon for optimum people-watching:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The architecture in Riga, Latvia...

follows the so-called Art Nouveau style, with carved facades and stucco frontages, colored tiles and distinctive but varied window shapes, and I have to say, it is stunning to see the edifices firsthand (click to enlarge):
A contemplative moment was spent in a local medieval cathedral later in the morning, where a diminutive organist played a gigantic organ for our group, after which I explored the surrounding grounds:
Remarkably, the Riga Central Market is housed in a series of WWI German Zeppelin hangars, now completely enclosed:
Inside, bustling meat, flower, fish, spice, vegetable and other markets churn with the constant activity of everyday life in Riga:
As we set on our voyage late in the afternoon, it becomes clear that the Port of Riga is also a large coal-exporting site on the Baltic:
I was most amazed, however, by the skillful ability of the fashionable Latvian women to navigate the cobblestone streets in their high heels without missing a step.  Incredible.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The day at sea...

provides an opportunity to learn more about the navigation equipment on the bridge, and to understand how the new forward-looking sonar functions (click to enlarge):
My GPS confirms our position (the dark triangle) as entering the Gulf of Riga in the eastern Baltic Sea, where visiting Latvia is tomorrow's focus:
A number of the staff used the time to present lectures, and I contributed a discussion about glaciers and glaciations in northern Europe.  In addition to stuffing our heads with new found knowledge, we enjoyed a late afternoon ice cream social with all sorts of sweet goodies:
Yes, it's difficult work aboard.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Hanseatic Old Town...

section  of Gdansk was largely rebuilt to the original plans and building footprints following massive destruction by bombing during World War II (click to enlarge):
We wandered the impeccably recreated Hanseatic streets during our afternoon explorations, sometimes guided but mostly independently:
Baltic amber, the subject of a mini-lecture of mine presented earlier on board the ship, was being sold everywhere:
Even unmounted polished nuggets were available for purchase, but unfortunately the credit card readers were not working at several shops, denying me a souvenir:

Enormous cranes tower over...

the adjacent berth as we arrive at Gdansk, Poland, the largest shipyard on the Baltic, and one steeped in recent world history (click to enlarge):
I didn't expect my powerful reaction to the Solidarity Museum, our first stop of the day.  It told the story of repressive life under communism, and the inception of the Solidarity movement led by Lech Walesa as it unfolded in the shipyards of Gdansk in the 1980s, culminating in the breakup of the Soviet Union a little more than a decade later:
Once outside the museum we took a short walk, crossing several streets, and emerged at the gate where the historic conflict began:
Today, a proud monument towers over the historic plaza, now named Solidarity Square:
It was impossible not to be moved by our experience this morning.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Christiansø is a small island group...

northeast of Bornholm. This afternoon we explored the fortress island, dating to the 17th century, that has remained largely intact and unchanged by time (click to enlarge):
The brightly painted and neatly maintained structures that dot the tiny island remind me of Norway:
And a mother eider duck tends to her chicks, just off the side of my Zodiac:

The most strategic island...

in the Baltic Sea surely must be Bornholm.  The island is the site of this morning's objective, Hammershus, the largest medieval castle ruins in Northern Europe. The massive brick castle was built from the 1200s onwards, and is located on an imposing granite outcrop overlooking the sea (click to enlarge):
The huge brick tower and facade were expanded by the Lübecker’s of Germany in the 16th century, clearly seen in this image:
Our next call was to Østerlars Church, the largest and most famous of the four round churches on the island, dating from the 12th century. The thick–walled, white-washed drum was shining brightly during our visit:
After lunch, we boarded Zodiacs and bounced our way back to the Odyssey for a short dash to a nearby island group for afternoon activities:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Shortcutting the Jutland Peninsula...

was the objective of the day, using the historic Kiel Canal.  We picked up the pilot and entered the western locks early in the day:
A very nice lunch was enjoyed midday on the aft deck, allowing us to enjoy the views of the mostly pastoral landscape framing the canal:
Late in the afternoon we entered the eastern locks, and shortly thereafter entered the Baltic Sea for the first time on this voyage:
Since the day began with a nice sunrise, here's the sunset to punctuate the end of an interesting day: