Archive for May, 2012

Память о подвиге

May 27th, 2012

With apologies to my non-Russian-speaking readers, the content of this post has little meaning to those who do not have ancestors or relatives who fought in the World War II in the Red Army. Because of that, I decided to write in Russian for once.

С подачи Наташиного брата Лёши, мы провели вчера несколько часов, изучая документы, представленные на сайте Подвиг Народа. Я даже и не подозревал, что эти документы могут когда-нибудь предстать перед моими глазами, и на меня это произвело глубочайший эффект.

Идёте на сайт, нажимаете “Поиск награждения” в левостороннем меню, на появившейся странице вводите фамилию, имя, отчество и год рождения человека, воевавшего в Великую Отечественную, жмёте на “Искать” – и получаете в ответ список наград, которых был удостоен этот человек.

Жмёте на любую награду в этом списке и на экран выводится проиндексированный документ, включающий в себя наградные листы и указы, где в оригинале от руки даётся описание заслуг, за которые человек был награждён.

Не все архивы Министерства Обороны РФ ещё проиндексированы, и не всех людей пока ещё можно там найти. Но Наташа нашла нескольких своих родственников, я нашёл ордена покойного деда Мони – и не мог оторваться от суховатых, и в то же время берущих за живое, слов о героизме, мужестве и самоотверженности.

Нам, родившимся через четверть века после войны, всегда было дано знать о ней только по кинофильмам и воспоминаниям. И не знаю, как у вас, а мои деды не очень охотно вспоминали свои личные заслуги во время войны, предпочитая рассказы о своих однополчанах. Да и расспрашивал я о наградах только когда был совсем маленьким… И вот теперь, когда их уже нет в живых, увидеть своими глазами строчки, увековечившие их героизм! Это не описать словами.

Поищите своих дедов – не пожалеете!


My favorite sights of Venice

May 26th, 2012
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A follow-up photo-essay from more recent trip can be found here.

Venice is among the best-photographed cities in our archives, and deservedly so. It is unique, beautiful and utterly amazing.

The view from Ponte dell’Accademia towards the church of Santa Maria della Salute and the mouth of the Grand Canal is a contender for my most favorite view anywhere in the world. There are only three bridges that span the Grand Canal, but the most famous of them, Ponte di Rialto, is too crowded day and night, and the least famous, Ponte degli Scalzi, is located in less attractive area near the train station. Accademia bridge gives me the near-perfect balance of manageable human traffic and gorgeous views.

View from Accademia Bridge, Venice

If you ever saw my Facebook timeline main picture, it is the shot of me on the Accademia bridge.

Hear the word “Venice” – and what is one of your first associations? The gondola, of course! There are plenty of “parking areas” for gondolas all along the Grand Canal, making for picturesque sights.

Gondolas on the Grand Canal, Venice

One of the must-do activities when you are in Venice, in our humble opinion, is getting up really early one day and taking a ride on the vaporetto along the entire length of the Grand Canal while the city awakens from its sleep. There will be remarkably fewer people to impose themselves on the serenity of Venice, and the morning light illuminates the palaces along the canal in a whole different light. Here’s a shot from a later portion of one such excursion, when the sun already rose pretty high, around 7am on a late-May morning.

Grand Canal, Venice

The view from water onto the Piazzetta San Marco (which is an appendix to the main famous square of the same name), with Palazzo Ducale and the dominating Campanile, is one of the most frequently overused views of Venice. Which does not diminish its exquisiteness in any way.

Palazzo Ducale and Campanile, Venice

The Grand Canal is lined by dozens of magnificent palazzi, and here are just a couple of samples.

Palazzi on Grand Canal, Venice


Palazzi on Grand Canal, Venice

Venice, of course, is a lot more than just the Grand Canal. Its narrow streets cross smaller canals via bridgesIn Venice or run along them, converging on enclosed squares and again diverging away from them. Venice is an ideal place to get lost and to wander aimlessly – after all, it is a bunch of islands; even if you truly work at not knowing where you are, eventually you will end up at the water edge with nowhere farther to go, likely within an easy reach of a vaporetto stop.

People who’ve never been to Venice – or those who did not bother to explore anything beyond major tourist sights – may not realize how many places like the arched passageway on the right can be found in the city center. In VeniceThis not-exactly-street-not-exactly-courtyard is actually connected to Piazza San Marco, leading away from it to a couple of destinations via the bridges seen beyond the arches. If you keep to the right bridge, upon stepping on it and turning to your left you will see the view depicted in the shot on the left. While the shots of the Grand Canal can be considered emblematic of the city, there is nothing that is more quintessential Venice than this simple view.

While there are other places in Europe that are literally built on archipelagos or have extensive canal systems, only in Venice the waterways serve as direct access points in and out of many buildings. You’ll come across a canal here or there that has a street running alongside (it would be called a rio in that case), but most of the canals do not have pedestrian embankments, lapping directly against the houses that line them, as seen in the shot below on the left. And some corners of the city may feel rather claustrophobic, with shoulders-wide alleyways running into the multi-story façades, as in the shot below on the right. I nonetheless find the view rather fetching.

In Venice      In Venice

And the parting shot does not depict anything special. A lamp on the Grand Canal embankment at the end of the narrow side street.

In Venice

La Serenissima, indeed!

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My favorite sights of Barcelona

May 11th, 2012
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Barcelona is competing with Paris for the title of “the city I know really well despite never having lived there”. But the lion’s share of my exploration of the cityPlaca Espanya, Barcelona occurred on a trip where I wanted to be as non-touristy as I could, so most of our photo archive consists of shots of famous locations.

Some of those shots are really impressive, such as this perspective across Plaça d’Espanya towards Palau Nacional (on the right), which takes in the elaborate fountain at the center of the grand square, one of the two Venetian towers that guard the entrance to Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina, and the palace itself on the slope of Montjuïc hill. What you cannot really see in this shot is the Font Màgica, directly on this line of sight but turned off during daylight hours, whose lighted musical performances at night are a real treat.

A more subdued shot on the left is of the towersSagrada Familia, Barcelona of the Basilica of Sagrada Família, one of the defining masterpieces of the Modernist giant Antoní Gaudí, which is finally nearing completion after over 130 years of construction. A church like no other in the world, its brightly-lit interior finally stopped being a perpetual construction site just a couple of years ago, but there is still remaining work on the spires, which should number 18 when finished, according to Gaudi’s designs.

If you are in Barcelona for the first time and your schedule allows only one visit to a famous landmark, it would be hard to choose anything over Sagrada Família.

Whenever I am in Barcelona, I always budget time for a stroll along the entire length of Las Ramblas. Yes, it gets incredibly crowded by tourist throngs; yes, you would be ill-advised to sit down at one of the sidewalk cafés (the food is mediocre and the prices are outlandish); yes, you have to constantly keep an eye on your belongings (pickpockets abound). But the circus-like atmosphere and the unparalleled people-watching opportunities are worth it.

The biggest traffic obstructions on Las Ramblas are the crowds near the live statues, of which you can find around two dozen at any given time along the boulevard. Here are a couple of examples.


Live statue on Ramblas, Barcelona      Live statue on Ramblas, Barcelona

Off Ramblas is located the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, commonly known by the last word of its long name. It is a large public market smack in the centre of the city which offers not only a variety of local products, but also several interesting foodie experiences at some of its stalls.Mercat St Josep, Barcelona We recall with fondness our lunch at Pinotxo, a tapas bar positioned near the market entrance that appears in the shot on the left, which happened almost a decade ago. The proprietor, Juan, looked each patron in the eye and offered his choice of dish. Nobody argued – we didn’t either – as it was well-known that everything Juan prepared was delicious. Our “choices” did not disappoint. It should be noted that while I abhor standing in line (the tiny bar had a dozen seats, and there were at least two dozen people desiring a meal)Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona I would gladly suffer that for another meal at Pinotxo. Unfortunately, on my last visit to La Boqueria, the stall was shuttered, but possibly that was due to August vacation time; internet search suggests that the bar – and Juan, who must be in his seventies by now – is still going strong.

One of the things I especially like about Barcelona is its wide boulevards in the Eixample district. The shot on the right is really nothing special, but it does convey the feeling of open space that I catch on these streets. It is the view along Passeig de Gràcia, the emblematic Eixample thoroughfare that houses several important Modernist buildings.

The buildings themselves are one of the biggest attractions in the city. And not just the famous ones such as Casa Milà or Palau Música Catalana (although, if you were in Barcelona for the first time and your schedule allowed for only two visits to the famous landmarks, the second after Sagrada Família, for me, would be the Palace of Music), but other less celebrated edifices as well. I’ll conclude this essay with a shot of one of such buildings on the Gràcia.

Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona

A brilliant city, Barcelona!

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Vacation pictures

May 7th, 2012
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Several dozen Cancun and Chichen Itza photos from the recent vacation have been added to our gallery. Use the Gallery link on the right or click here.

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My favorite sights of Budapest

May 1st, 2012
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Budapest is a beautiful city, often grand, occasionally quaint and charming, striving to outdo Vienna quite a bit, and reminiscent of Paris in its central Pest area. There are plenty of impressive sights on both banks of the Danube.

We’ll start with one of the emblematic sights of the Hungarian capital, the Parliament building.

Hungarian Parliament, Budapest

It often features in the “definitive” shots of the city, dominating the surroundings along the Pest riverbank. I like this perspective of it, taken from the deck of a river-cruise ship, the best of all – it feels all the more palatial from here.

The Heroes Square is a grand place adorned with monuments to Hungarian greats.

Heroes Square, Budapest

Located a handful of metro stops away from the river, the square is the gateway to the vast City Park, with several museums and tourist attractions nearby.

High up above the Buda Embankment, the Fisherman’s Bastion is a delightful architectural stylization that offers fantastic views over the city.

Fisherman Bastion, Budapest

St Stephen’s Basilica may not be as old as the Catholic shrines elsewhere, having been completed only about a hundred years ago, but is nonetheless architecturally imposing, especially when approached directly on Zrinyi St.

St Stephen Basilica, Budapest

It seems borderline blasphemous to use the term “favorite” for a sight that commemorates a great tragedy, but I find the memorial below to be one of the most evocative of the Holocaust victims anywhere.

Holocaust Memorial, Budapest

These cast iron shoes give remembrance to the Hungarian Jews who were ordered to take their shoes off before being executed on the banks of the Danube near the end of the Second World War. Profound in its simplicity and symbolism.

Budapest is full of architectural specimen of different styles. Our records did not capture what this next building is famous for, if anything, but the contrast with the neighboring late-20-century apartment building is quite interesting.

In Budapest

And here is one of the better-known examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Budapest, the Gresham Palace, a hotel nowadays.

Gresham Palace, Budapest

The palace sits in front of the Chain Bridge, another one of the symbolic sights of the city.

The Chain Bridge, Budapest

Ironically, I do not find the bridge especially breathtaking, while giving it props for being the first suspension bridge over Danube built in the middle of 19th century. Maybe, I’ve seen too many bridges.

But I surely have not seen enough of Budapest. To be corrected eventually.

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