Saturday, 22 November 2014

Visiting Strasbourg - Part III

In my previous post, I showed you pictures of the old town centre and just a few glimpses of the cathedral. I said that the minster deserves its own post, and here it is.

As for its name: officially, we are talking about the "Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg". Strasbourg has changed hands in the past several times between France and Germany, and the German place names are still well known throughout the Alsace (Elsaß) region. In German, the building is officially called "Liebfrauenmünster zu Straßburg". in English, Cathedral of Our Lady.

So, when is a church a cathedral, and when is it a minster? I can explain this for the German words, but am not sure the same applies to the English words. We were told this by our tour guide in Ulm when I stayed there in March for the first part of my course. A church is called Münster (minster) when it was not originally built as a parish church but as part of a monastery. It is called a Kathedrale (cathedral) when it is the seat of a bishop. And when would you call it a Dom (dome)? Churches that have special importance in architectural, religious-cultural or historical terms.

According to wikipedia. the Strasbourg Minster (or Cathedral) is one of the biggest sandstone buildings in the world. And having a look at it from the outside, I can easily believe that:

Building took from 1176 to 1439, and until 1874, it was the highest building on Earth, with its north tower reaching 142 metres.

Have a closer look at the roof - can you see the small, flat-roofed house on top of the church's roof? I was most intrigued by this and wanted to know what it was for. Did anybody actually live up there? I found out that it was used by visitors for dance parties at night and as a restaurant for hungry and thirsty tourists after their climbing up the tower. 

Now let's go inside.

Some of the windows are still the original ones from the 12th to 14th century. The next pictures are for my Mum, because she likes angels so much:

And here is the astronomical clock:

So impressive! You can get a good idea of its size from the first picture, where you can see someone's hand pointing up in the lower right corner. Its oldest parts are from 1353, but it underwent restorative work and had many additions throughout the centuries until it reached its final form, the way we see it today, in 1842. Did you know it is the only clock in the world that strikes 13?

I am not sure who this lady represents; a rich donor or a saint, but I like her face.

A visit to the Minster is something I'd highly recommend; there is no admission charge (unlike at York Minster, which was truly disappointing), but the inside of the building is very dark, and there are lights set up to illuminate the various points of interest if you put in coins. People are very ready to pay for that, and everyone else who happens to be in the same spot benefits from the one coin. I much prefer this method of getting at least some money out of the many visitors than charging a general admission fee.

That was the last of my Strasbourg posts. Next up will probably be Munich, where I spent all of last week for work.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Visiting Strasbourg - Part II

As promised in my first Strasbourg post (go two posts back to read it, if you are interested), here are the pictures I took during the afternoon spent on our own in the old town. 

Strasbourg Minster deserves a post on its own, therefore, you'll get only glimpses of this magnificent building in this post.

The last picture of that beautiful courtyard was taken by my sister - because by that time, the battery in my camera was flat, and the replacement I always carry with me turned out to be flat, too. Doesn't really matter, does it - these are certainly enough pictures to give you an impression of what the old town of Strasbourg looks like.

We ate Flammkuchen (regional specialty) for a very late lunch (after 3.00 pm) in a restaurant where we were the only guests. After that, we were very much ready for our walk around the town.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Read in 2014 - 41: Champagne and Lemon Drops

"Champagne and Lemon Drops" by Jean Oram (first time I've heard her name) is what usually gets classified as “Contemporary Romance” (in fact, the subtitle reads "A Blueberry Springs Chick Lit Contemporary Romance"), and it fulfills this class very well: Young woman is torn between two guys; which one will she choose? 

The setting is a small town – small enough for everyone to know each other –, where Beth is busy making plans for her upcoming wedding to the man she has loved for years before he realized she was not just his little sister’s best friend. 
So immersed is she in her plans and dreams of a “happily ever after” in the lap of a big, reassuring family, that it takes her a while to see that something is bothering her fiancé. 
Finally, he admits to be unsure about who he is, who he wants to be and where he stands in life, and the wedding is cancelled, much to Beth’s devastation. The small-town gossip surrounding her wherever she goes, from her workplace at a nursing home to groceries shopping or the garage, does not make things easier.

But then a new doctor arrives at the clinic attached to the home where Beth works, and he seems to have everything her ex-fiancé lacks. She still loves her ex, but… the doctor seems to be offering so much more in terms of romance, lifestyle and education, apart from being entirely sure of his abilities and plans for the future.

From the moment this doctor first appears in the book, the reader knows what is going to happen. For a while, though, what decision Beth will take in the end is not so obvious; the story could go either way. But at a certain point a little more than halfway through the book I knew what was going to happen, and merely kept reading on because I wanted to confirm that I was right.

Beth, both as a character as well as in her general behavior, was not really my cup of tea; I could relate to few of the things she did and wanted, but I am sure that type of woman does exist. I much more sympathized with her ex-fiancé as well as with her new guy, the doctor; with her sister, with her best friend, and even with her gran.

While this was certainly a pleasant enough read for the exhausted evenings after long working days at the trade fair, with no challenge for my brain, I won’t start looking for the author’s other books. This one was – of course! – a free ebook on Amazon’s kindle store, so no harm done :-)

If you would like to know more about the author, click here for her website.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Visiting Strasbourg

Last month, my sister and I both took a day off and travelled to Strasbourg as part of a group organized by our hometown's Community College. We had a comfortable bus and a chatty driver, but no proper organization which was a bit daft if you consider that we were supposed to be booked for a visit at the European Parliament as a group. Well, it all worked out in the end; we had a long question-and-answer session with one of the Vice Presidents (who is originally from our area; I've met him before and he is a really decent man, one of the few who seem to be able to maintain their personal integrity in the middle of the swamp that European politics sometimes appear to be), had a guided tour of the building and were then taken back into town by our chatty driver and left to our own devices until late afternoon when it was time to board the bus again for the drive home.

It was a very interesting day altogether, and I'll show you pictures of Strasbourg's old town center in one of my next posts. But first, here is where the European Parliament meets:

There is a roof garden up there, you can just about see the trees. I wonder who has access to it.

Inside the building, there was a lot of natural light from the top and the glass walls. Certainly not the worst of work places. The room where we met "our" Vice President, though, was windowless and filled with a most unpleasant smell coming from a combination of the dark blue leather armchairs and whatever cleaning stuff had been used on them.

Here is where parliament sessions take place when in Strasbourg:

You should now be able to work out where my "puzzle" picture in the last post is from :-)

Is this a way to leave one's work place behind?

The wood-covered cupola above the Parliament Room seen from outside, and the entrance to the visitors' gallery where we were allowed:

Media court and the background for countless pictures of politicians and visitors:

Your very own European Librarian! Now, would I make a good member of Parliament or what? (Of course I'd dress up for that, I promise!)

Monday, 10 November 2014

Going Away... and a little puzzle for you

In about 20 minutes, I'll head to the station to catch a train to Munich, where I am going to spend the rest of the week. To give you an idea of what I'll be doing in Munich, let me direct you to this post from two years ago.

Let's hope there won't be another power outage this time - or yet another train strike! We've had plenty of those over the past few weeks.

While I'll be gone, you can try and solve a little puzzle. Here is a picture I took a little while back on a day trip. Can you guess what it is?

Good luck, and I am looking forward to catching up with everyone's blogs on the weekend!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Read in 2014 - 40: A Voyage Towards the South Pole and Round the World

This 3-volume-work written by Captain James Cook himself was first published in 1777 and covers Cook's second long voyage on behalf of the British Crown in the years 1772 to 1775.
I read the first volume; it was a free kindle book (surprise!) when I downloaded it in 2012. Of course, my kindle edition came without illustrations, and the cover isn't particulary nice, either; therefore, I have nicked the cover of an audio edition from the internet:

At first, I braced myself for a rather "dry" read; with lots of listings of longitudes, weather observations and ships' provisions. And the book contains all that, as you'd expect from a Captain's account of his voyage. But there is so much more, and it was a surprisingly pleasant read which I enjoyed very much.

James Cook himself only went to school for five years before starting on his long life spent mainly aboard ships when he was still a teenager. He apologizes for his lack of writing skills in the book's foreword, but I quite like his simple style, very readable for something that was written in the late 18th century.

Throughout the book, he comes across a thoughtful, fair and honest man; honest with himself as much as with his crew and the people he meets during his voyage. At no point does he regard the natives of the various places he visits as inferior; he does not want to change their ways or claim their islands for himself or the British Crown; nor does he attempt any missionary work there. On the contrary, he frequently mentions how well skilled the natives are in their crafts, makes observations of their system of government, customs and religion, and never fails to admit to not fully understanding something the natives tried to explain to him and his crew (among which there were artists to draw everything they saw, botanists, doctors, and other scientists).

For instance, he writes "...the less I say about it, the fewer mistakes I shall make", clearly indicating that he does not want to speculate about positions of islands, meanings of customs or numbers of inhabitants when he is not sure about them. He is also not easily given to prejudice, writing that "The actions of a few individuals are not sufficient to fix a custom on a whole nation." In a book about his first voyage to the South Pacific, he had made some statements about the women on one of the islands he visited. In this newer book, after having visited the island again (and being received by the natives as the long-lost friend they truly seemed to consider him, and vice versa), he makes amends to his own former statements, saying that to judge the women of the island by what he observed in the few women he saw near the ship would be like drawing conclusions about the women of France by the behaviour of a few prostitutes met in the harbour of Marseille.
The green line marks the voyage described in this book.

His mission actually consists of one most important task: to establish once and for all whether there is or is not a large landmass to the very South of our planet, the unknown and much speculated about "Terra Australis".
On the way there and back, he has the task of (re-)visiting any land he finds along the way, and since he was equipped with one of the first chronometers ever built, there was hope he would be able to add more accuracy to the maps as had been possible ever before. He well succeeded in the latter, but not in the former task. 

His two ships are equipped with the latest in terms of technology, medicine and food deemed fit to combat scurvy and other illnesses, and several times during the book, the captain proudly declares that they had not one man on the sick roll, or (after months in the Antarctic Seas) only very few showed light symptoms of scurvy. He makes sure that the ship is scrubbed clean and smoked out between decks whenever possible, the bed sheets and clothes of the men changed and washed frequently, and there seems to have been very little disciplinary trouble with crew members.

The Resolution (Cook's ship) and the Adventure in Matavai Bay, Tahiti; painting by William Hodges, who accompanied Cook on this voyage.
The way Cook describes the islands, their inhabitants and landscape, is good enough to set the mental imagery in motion. It took me a while to work out where he actually was when he kept talking of Otaheite - of course he was referring to Tahiti, stupid me!
Like I said, I very much enjoyed reading this first volume and will try and find the other two.