This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Where to generally lie-in

Southbank-1In London there once was a General Lying-In Hospital. Sounds like heaven for busy workers. Or those with coronavirus. Yet, Google tells me that “lying-in” actually once meant childbirth. Was the actual mental image of childbirth so sensitive that it had to be referred to indirectly?

Turns out that the actual “lying-in” was the period of two weeks to two months after childbirth that a new mother had to stay in the hospital. For the first few weeks she was not even allowed to get up. Sunday lie-ins turned to days and months. Childbirth was dangerous business.

(London, United Kingdom; February 2020)


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What Florence dreamed of

Nightingale-1Today I discovered that Florence Nightingale loved Nature as a child. She would collect plants and identify every kind of living creature, aided by the books she received from her parents. But in Victorian times, women could not become naturalists unless they were depraved of all close kind, like Mary Kingsley. Or unless they became painters, chasing the jungles in search of exotic flowers, like Marianne North. Becoming a medical doctor (a “surgeon”) was an even more preposterous notion.

So Florence Nightingale became a nurse. Although she probably treated patients like a doctor and commandeered everybody like an army captain.

Being a nurse is difficult, essential, and respect-commanding. But as I wandered through the Florence Nightingale Museum in London I could not help but wonder, what did little Florence once dream of becoming, before gender roles were imposed on her imagination?
Nightingale-2(London, United Kingdom; February 2020)


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In the middle of nowhere, a monastery (part II)

galicia-3In the middle of the forest lies yet another over thousand years old monastery. Galicia is practically littered with these cute resting places for body and soul.

The Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil was first annexed to the Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil monastery (now a fabulous Parador). Later, when the Spanish government carried out a lengthy confiscation and resale of various religious assets around the country (for varying reasons, during nearly two centuries), both monasteries ceased their spiritual operations.

In a way it is unfortunate, as I am sure the Benedictine monks (and perhaps a limited amount of lucky visitors) would have continued to feel contented in this charming little monastery, for another thousand years.
galicia-4(Galicia, Spain; September 2019)


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At the university

galicia-34Born in 1495, the university of Santiago de Compostela is one of the oldest still functioning universities in the world. Initially it was the local archbishop Fonseca who thought that knowledge should be properly cultivated in his local hoods. And so he opened his swanky family palace to serve students and education. That was obviously not good enough as he ended up founding an entire university. The Fonseca college is still functional today – and a charming place to visit.

(Santiago de Compostela, Spain; September 2019)


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The Two Towers

bologna-1Bologna was once a Roman city. It is easy to see this from above: all streets lead to the central square (and one presumably to Rome). But Bologna is older than Rome: it was originally the home town of many Etruscans. bologna-3Each city has a local flavor of oddity. Bologna’s flavor is a penchant for building towers. Up to 100 towers in the late medieval ages, historians have concluded. Why? Who knows, but certainly one ruler would not have budgeted for all those towers so there must have been quite a few builders. Perhaps it was fashionable to have a tower in one’s backyard, ensuring that the family was viewed as having sufficient importance?

Today there are about a dozen smaller towers left and only two distinct, tall ones, aptly named the Due Torri or Two Towers. Yes, like the Tolkien book. I discovered that it is possible to stand near them and still not find them, thanks to the maze of Bolognese streets and Google Maps having the wrong coordinates for the location.

It is also possible to wear one’s lungs and muscles out before reaching the top. We passed quite a few tourists having a huffy and puffy pitstop on the winding wooden staircase inside the Asinelli tower. After all, an ascent of 97 meters and nearly 300 stairs is a decent workout.bologna-2(Bologna, Italy; July 2019)


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Underneath it all: a Roman floor

salzburg-10Deep under the cathedral of Salzburg, one lucky team of archeologists discovered old Roman street pavings and house floors. What a thrilling sight it must have been, to slowly brush away dirt and debris from what once was the surface of the city.

How marvelous it was to walk on stones that carried Roman feet, two thousand years ago. As I stood observing the intricate mosaique floors of a wealthy Roman citizen’s house, how marvelous it was to imagine that someone, living all those thousand years ago, had been commissioned to first draw it and then sit on the floor for days, meticulously laying one little stone cube after another one, to form all the colorful diamonds and flowers and woven rope patterns. Perhaps that person did not consider the possibility that two thousand years later someone would dig up his beautiful floor and show it off as a piece of art for future generations.salzburg-11(Salzburg, Austria; July 2019)


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All the bells

salzburg-9I stepped into another of the magnificent European cathedrals, this time in Salzburg. Just like in so many other places, a church has stood here since the 8th century AD. Since then, the church has been rebuilt two times: once after a fire and once because of other severe damage. This is the story of most magnificent European cathedrals: the church we see today is often not even the church of the medieval townspeople. And even if it is, we would hardly recognize the version that served the townspeople 1000 years ago, with so many alterations and additions. salzburg-7In the 1960, the lovely people of Salzburg added 5 new bells to the 2 surviving, 17th century bells. One of the bells is named Barbara, which certainly is an odd name for a bell. She joins the other lady bell Maria, along with the gentlemen bells, to form the total set of seven bells. Sometimes bells are needed in the war, you see. Not because of their beautiful form and peal, but because they can be melted to aid the death of people. What a change of profession for a church bell indeed. salzburg-8(Salzburg, Austria; July 2019)


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The pink castle Mirabell

salzburg-1If one is an archbishop with ailing health, why not just have a palace built next to the center of the city one shepherds? This was how the Schloss Mirabell was born – although the archbishop and his wife would not have recognized their beloved home as little as a hundred years later, when it was rebuilt into its current shape.

The gardens were said to be beautiful already in the 17th century – although the splendor that was created during the rebuilding is probably quite something else.

Schloss Mirabell is also the site where the children of von Trapp skipped around learning Do Re Mi, the true “sound” of music. In the movie of course. Today the only people skipping around are Japanese tourists donned in colorful raincoats and hats. And me, running around trying to find an angle that excludes all colorful Japanese rainwear.salzburg-2(Salzburg, Austria; July 2019)


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The Jackson Five (Two) of the 18th century

salzburg-4Today I learned that Mozart’s father was a tour manager for his two young child prodigies Wolfgang Amadeus and Nannerl. No school, no normal life, and years of touring around playing concerts in European courts. Wolfgang Amadeus was five years old when they started. I mentioned this to a friend who immediately retorted, “just like Michael Jackson’s father managing the Jackson Five.” Indeed, Mozart’s family was a Jackson Five of the 18th century. salzburg-3Perhaps father Leopold was a parent prodigy, too? How else do you have unwavering faith in your four-year-old to even think of teaching him minuets, and the basics of composing sheet music. Surely there must be potential in any child who is able to scrabble a composition down in scrawny hand with ink blobs galore at the age of five, when most children still learn how to write single letters. And surely there were hundreds of hours spent at the piano and with ink quill in hand, as even child prodigies need practice.

But what did little Wolfgang think of kids his own age who, growing up in a household with certain means, surely had time to play? What was it like to tour European courts and have to become popular with kids of royalty and servants, over and over again? How long and strange would little Wolfgang’s Facebook friends list have been, had he had one? The Cook’s son from a summer castle in Tuscany; the youngest prince of France, with lots of likes from his jealous friends who didn’t get to do a concert tour of three years before the age of ten.
salzburg-15(Salzburg, Austria; July 2019)


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Sightseeing at the cemetery

cphcemetery-2As with everything in society, there are cemeteries that are more trendy than others. Cemeteries that are elite and attract many notable people, and celebrities wishing to be notable. In the case of such cemeteries, to be cool one unfortunately has to be dead and buried. This is how it is at Assistens Cemetery in Copenhagen: the list of poets, philosophers, American jazz musicians (?!) and scientists buried here is long. cphcemetery-1If you are into grave-sightseeing (really!), two notable graves on your list should be Hans Christian Andersen, the man behind the fairytales The Little Mermaid and The Emperor’s New Clothes; and Soren Kierkegaard, the man behind existentialism. cphcemetery-4If you are just into strolling and picnics, a basket of delicious goodies and lots of time is recommended. And no, it is not morbid to have a picnic here – people do it all the time. When the cemetery was first built, 250 years ago, it was so far from the city center that people probably made a picnic out of the trip anyway.
cphcemetery-3(Assistens Cemetery, Copenhagen, Denmark; June 2019)