This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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An asylum by the sea

If the inhabitants of Lapinlahti mental hospital would have been well, I had envied them for their backyard views. Sitting there by my own free will, sipping my café-bought kombucha, I hope it gave them at least a tiny millimeter of peace and hope every day.

The Emperor of Russia gave an order to build an asylum for those needing psychiatric care, and Lapinlahti opened its doors in 1841, among the first mental hospitals in Europe. Until 2008 it has housed patients, and so so many individual destinies, hopes, fears, illusions, and disillusions.

The house is nestled in the nook of a shallow bay, surrounded landside by lush green parkland. Such a lovely place to find oneself when one is lost. Unfortunately it is never quite that simple.

(Helsinki, Finland; July 2020)


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At the older border to Russia

Pyhtää used to be at the border between Sweden and Russia in the 18th century. It is odd to think how far into modern Finland the border stretched: by car the journey to the current border crossing is 80 kilometers.

The church of Saint Henry was built around 1460, when Finland was part of Sweden. Elsewhere, this was the time of the War of the Roses, Aztecs, Renaissance, the “discovery” of America, and the Spanish inquisition. I doubt many here in Finland cared, though – the life here has always been relatively down-to-earth and simple. But this one masterpiece got built and it still stands today – very beautifully so.

(Pyhtää, Finland; July 2020)


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The missing point of the largest Baltic Sea naval battle

Kotka-1Right out there, outside of Kotka, a huge sea battle raged in 1790. Swedish forces sank 80 Russian ships, even if Sweden was severely outnumbered. It was the largest naval battle in the history of the Baltic Sea. It was also caused by a king who wanted to prove himself to be as great as the past kings he admired so much – and to shift the attention away from the problems he had in his own country.

In order to reclaim Finnish territories now in the hands of Russia, king Gustav III decided to go to war against his own cousin, Catherine the Great of Russia. Why not? Surely kings of the past used to do that all the time. Well, Catherine beat the poop out of Gustav’s army outside of Kotka the first time around, in 1789. Kotka-3In 1790, Catherine was probably furious, preparing to put down her cousin for good. But the wind blew up from the wrong direction, the waters were shallow and underwater rocks were strewn everywhere. Over 7,000 men died for her, compared to the much smaller loss of around 600 Swedish men. 

As I am not a historian, I cannot quite understand what was gained by any party in this battle. The borders were returned as they were, and even after this great victory, Gustav III’s grand plans never advanced far enough to recapture the lost Finnish territories. His few small attempts were beat down by his cousin. Perhaps both parties were reeling from shock so much that they gave up?Kotka-2The tip of Kotka is now a beautiful maritime park, with gardens, sheep, picnic grounds, and an ice cream stand which always has a long line during sunny days. And it is difficult to imagine the countless ships, cannons, and human bones lying on the bottom of the sea, where it not for the soldier-like ship timber erected by the waterfront as a memorial for the (arguably quite meaningless) great battle.Kotka-4(Kotka, Finland; July 2020)


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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)