Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Matanuska glacier features beautiful, spiky points of aquamarine-colored, Elsa-castle style ice.

Aren’t glaciers huge, blue-white, glimmering, blinding fields of ice? That’s what I thought, but the image of my mind was pretty far off the mark. First of all, the land-edge of a glacier simply looks like dirt. You go farther on and farther in to experience not flat fields, but beautiful, spiky points of aquamarine-colored, Elsa-castle style ice. Going farther is dangerous due to unpredictable sinkholes and crevasses, so you do need a guide. We were fortunate enough to visit the wonders of Alaska’s Matanuska glacier in both September 2021 and June 2022. Of course at 27 miles long and 4 miles wide, we only walked a tiny part of this glacier.

June 2022, view from the parking area

Matanuska is not a public park. It’s the largest glacier accessible by car in the United States and is only 100 miles from Anchorage. To get there you must drive through private land, over a couple of rickety bridges, then pay a fee to go on a tour (signing your life away on waiver forms of course). Strapping on a helmet and pulling a set of microspikes over your shoes is mandatory. This is all worth it for a view that most people don’t have an opportunity to see. And of course, it’s a view we can’t take for granted as climate change speeds up glacier melt.

Looks like dirt, but there’s ice under there. Step where the guide tells you.
June 2022

The guide led us carefully around sinkholes, beside running water and over narrow crevasses. Our microspikes allowed us to walk easily up and down steep slopes of ice. “Trust the spikes. Don’t try to walk sideways, just go straight up and straight down.” She was correct and the spikes thankfully held us upright. After a bit we came to the blue ice we had hoped to see.

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June 2022
September 2021
June 2022
My husband and myself take advantage of a photo op
Family explorers

Seeing the glacier twice under different weather conditions was interesting. And it was great to explore it with our family. It wasn’t very cold- a light jacket was plenty when we were there.

“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

Hebrews 11:3

Sometimes we travel to enjoy spending time with friends and family. Sometimes we travel simply to enjoy the vastness, diversity and intricacy of God’s creation. It’s a great day when we get to do both.

Gumption out the Wazoo

My husband just walked by and noticed the title of this blog post (which at the time was simply “Gumption.” He commented as he scurried past on his way to completing another Saturday project, “I’ve got gumption.” I answered back, “You’ve got gumption out the wazoo!” They say gumption is “Shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness. Enterprise. Initiative. Having the courage to get-up-and-go.” Some people have loads of it— like you-know-who and his wazoo. Others despair of having any at all.

What Saturday-Gumption-out-the-Wazoo looks like.

My two good friends are of the latter ilk. They want to want to get things done. Yet they can’t seem to be motivated to even begin. I have that problem myself sometimes. I mean, I haven’t blogged in four years even though I’ve wanted to start again many times. And that’s only one example.

There are lots of reasons to lack motivation: including physical ailments, insomnia, depression, being overwhelmed by circumstances, apathy, or fear of failure. The longer your wazoo ceases to emit gumption, the more hopeless things appear, and one doesn’t even know how or where to start. It becomes easier to just avoid the whole thing and spend time on your distraction of choice: games, shopping, social media, movies… even helping other people. Anything to help ignore that gnawing anxiety of the failure to accomplish what you know needs to be done.

What to do, what to do!?

For the overwhelmed person it makes sense to follow the old proverb of “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time.” Set a timer for 15 minutes and do something— anything remotely related to the Thing you need to do. Or if you don’t know how to start, call a trusted person and ask for help. I know, I know! It sounds like your wazoo would have to be full of gumption to even do that first 15 minutes. But if you can get up just the tiniest bit of gumption to start, the momentum might create more gumption. Right?

“Gumption begets gumption.”

Liza Jane Herself

For the “I just don’t care anymore” person. Hmm. I guess my question then is, why don’t you care? When did you stop caring? Do you think your life/self/property isn’t worth taking care of? Do you lack purpose? Are you fearful about something? We can get into deep spiritual and psychological waters at this point! All I know to do is to seek God (see my previous post), pray, pray, and pray some more asking God for insight. Maybe see a counselor or trusted spiritual advisor. Ask a couple of close friends for prayer and insight. Is there someone who can help you jump-start your gumption?

If you’re the one with gumption out your wazoo, take note of your gumption-less friends. Offer (gently, lovingly) what you can do to help them. They might turn you down, then again, maybe they’ll accept and you’ll have the joy of spreading that gumption around!

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves…. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.”

Romans 8:9, 13

In honor of this post I got up enough gumption to get on my bike and take a ride. It’s been a year since my last ride. It felt good! Can you and your wazoo muster up a little bit of gumption today? Let me know!

A “Morning Pages” Journal

The idea is to write three pages of … anything. There is no agenda, no rules, no right or wrong. You just write.

Journal three pages, by hand, first thing in the morning? Apparently that’s a thing some people are espousing these days. Since I like to journal, I thought I’d give a try. It’s been three days so far. I put on my soft, fuzzy robe, start the Keurig whirring, and write.

The idea is to write three pages of … anything. There is no agenda, no rules, no right or wrong. You just write. It’s not for anyone to see. You never even have to re-read it yourself. It’s a way to find out what you’re thinking about and can be a way to clear your head before you start your day.

A sunrise inspiration for Morning Pages

I’ve found that the first two pages can be rather mundane. I might write about what happened the day before and what is coming up for the current day. But then, something happens. I start thinking a little deeper. Questions come up. Answers come up. Dreams come up. Long-buried ideas start floating to the surface— things I had forgotten that I wanted to do— like write blog posts.

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”

William Wordsworth

Writing morning pages doesn’t take the place of devotions or spiritual meditation. It actually prepares the way for those endeavors. I think God can use this stream-of-consciousness type of writing to sift out things that need to be talked over with him in a prayerful, scripture-seeking way. Or maybe it’s just a way to be creative and to enjoy the first moments of the day in a new way.

I wonder if I will keep this up? I wonder where it will lead? If nothing else, it’s just fun for me because I like the process of putting pen to paper. So in those early moments of dawn when I’m still waiting groggily for the caffeine to kick in, I’ll see what flows onto the waiting page.

“Journaling is paying attention to the inside for the purpose of living well from the inside out.”

Lee Wise

Where, oh where can it be?

God’s not hiding. We’re not seeing.

I know it’s here somewhere. I just had it. Why can’t I see it? You know how the scissors and tape constantly disappear when you’re wrapping presents? Or the jacket you were going to wear today is suddenly… gone? But you know that you know that you know that those items are present, just out of view. Or sometimes right there in plain sight and you just can’t see them!

Seeking God is like that. God is always, always, always here. But stressful life circumstances can descend as a curtain of heavy fog between us and God at times. Our own mental/emotional/spiritual state interferes with our ability to feel or see him. That doesn’t mean God has gone anywhere. We might just have to work harder in our seeking. He’s not hiding. We’re not seeing.

Are you ready for some Bible study? Check out Psalm 21:7— “The king trusts in the Lord; through the unfailing love of the Most High he will not be shaken.” Note the words TRUST and UNFAILING LOVE. God loves me no matter what happens. My response needs to be trust. Not doubt. Not anger. Not accusation. Trust.

Next: 2 Chronicles 15 and 16. Yep, I’m wading through all those Judean and Israelite kings in my current scripture reading. These particular chapters highlight Asa, an exemplary king of Judah, and great grandson of Solomon. His highlight was that he sought the Lord and led his entire nation to do the same. As long as he sought and trusted God all was well. “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (Check out 2 Chron. 16:9. You just gotta read the whole passage to find out how that went for Asa. I could go on and on!)

And finally Romans 8. You may have heard of that one. The Spirit helps us in our weakness and even prays for us (verse 26). Jesus prays for us too (verse 34). If God is for us, who can be against us (verse 31). We are more than conquerors through him who loved us (verse 37). There’s that love thing again! Then in verses 35 – 39 there’s a whole list of horrific life circumstances which could make us think that God doesn’t love us— including terrible suffering, demonic oppression, and natural disasters. Nothing is sugar-coated here! But you know how this passage concludes, right? NOTHING WHATSOEVER “will be able to separate us from the love of God that in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (verse 39)

In the past year my brother and mom died within a month of each other. My aunt and uncle were killed together in a horrific car crash perpetrated by a drunk driver. Our dear friends’ college-age daughter was discovered to have a devastating disease. These aren’t minor inconveniences. These are the tragic stuff of Romans 8:35-39. But take heart, my friends! God hasn’t disappeared. Yes, there have been moments when, in a panic, our eyes dart around, unseeing and unknowing of the great love that was there the whole time. But courage, dear heart!

“They sought God eagerly, and he was found by them. So the Lord gave them rest on every side.”

2 Chronicles 15:15

I find this scripture to be absolutely, undeniably true. Always. I hope and pray that you do too.

Easy Choices

Life is hard they say. And we have a tendency to make it even harder. There are just so many choices to make each day! However, many of those choices are actually pretty easy if we just choose what we already know is the right thing. What are your Easy Choices?

Continue reading “Easy Choices”

Enchanting Ballymaloe

Enchanting, magical, tranquil, perfect, dreamy, romantic… Ballymaloe is tucked into rolling hills and lush farmland in Ireland’s County Cork. It is home to an inn, restaurant, shop, gardens and cooking school.

 

 

We got there just in time for our Sunday evening dinner buffet reservation. Friendly Seamus greeted us at check-in and told us to take our time in getting there, so we  were able to freshen up in our beautiful room before dinner.

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Multiple charming buildings lived on the property. Our room was upstairs in this ancient pink stuccoed house.

It had been mentioned to them that we were celebrating our 35th anniversary so this plate of cherries was waiting for us: how sweet!

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So much beauty was visible within and without.  We changed quickly with anticipation of what delicacies might be featured in their Sunday night buffet.  But first, drinks on the patio…

We sat for a while with our traveling companions just drinking in the view, the peaceful surroundings– and our delicious beverages.  It was one of those “it doesn’t get any better than this” kind of moments. Rural Ireland had exceeded every expectation.

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“Follow me to your table…”  Yes, please!

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The picture below is from just one of various dining rooms located throughout the main wisteria-covered building.

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The food, including the desserts was just extraordinary. This is where my fascination with a fluffy meringue dessert called pavlova began.

But, enough about the food, you’ve got to see the rest of the grounds. That’s where the true enchantment lives.

 

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Well, it’s time to have breakfast, then say goodbye to our new friend, Chuff.

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Farewell dear Ballymaloe! May the sun shine warm upon your face, and the rain fall softly on your fields… always.

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Andechs

The day we drove from Munich out into the lovely Bavarian countryside was a stunningly beautiful one. The atmosphere was crisp and clear, the sky was bright blue, the leaves sported golden leaves– all was right with the world.  Well, after we got started, that is. It didn’t start well at the rental car agency. They didn’t like the fact that we had made our reservation on Expedia rather than directly with them. They had no idea how to install a child seat in the van (and neither did we- it was a complicated affair none of us were familiar with).  But after an hour or two of figurative blood and literal sweat and tears (mostly from the 18-month old) we were on our way and eager to experience another part of Germany. Andechs Monastery was in our sights.

Something that continually impressed us about the rural landscape in this area of Germany, is how much it resembles Pennsylvania, where we live.  No wonder so many German settlers arriving in America in the 19th century chose to live in the rolling green hills of our fair state.

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Andechs is a town in Upper Bavaria which is home to a Benedictine monastery. Andechs has been a place of pilgrimage since 955 A.D., and the original monastery buildings were constructed in the 15th century.

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Climbing up the steep slope into Andechs. It’s also known as Heilige Berg or Holy Mountain.

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The monastery has also been brewing beer here since the 15th century. We decided to partake of their food and drink before exploring the Abbey itself.  After some minutes of “D, what does this word mean? Where should we go? Do they have a high chair? Where is the restroom? Do you have coins with you for the restroom? Are we considering this our lunch or what? Should I get a pretzel?” Eventually we figured out the logistics and settled in.

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According to the Andechs Brewery (Kloster Andechs) website, “the Andechs beer specialities provide a ‘taste’ of the successful meld of Benedictine hospitality, Baroque culture, and the Bavarian lifestyle.” The tagline on the glass is translated “A Delight for Body and Soul.” It was indeed rather delightful there. We joked about how they just called their German potato salad, Potato Salad, and left “German” out because– obviously…  It’s also fun to have delicious soft pretzels available to go with every meal. And it’s vacation, so you don’t have to consider how many calories are in a meal of pork, potatoes, pretzels and beer.

Soon we were ready to explore. And the Abbey Church and surrounding area did not disappoint. The church was renovated in the 18th century to approximately how it looks today.

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After a quick playground break for this little guy, we were ready to “ausfahrt” and head to our next destination, Linderhof Palace.

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We got a kick out of parking lot exit signs… we are not sophisticated people.

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Unexpectedly Stunning LOC

Our subject today is the U.S. Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington D.C.  I shall take a short break from Germany and inform and delight you with a vastly under-appreciated treasure right here in the U.S.A.

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The Library of Congress as graced by my lovely daughter.

The Library of Congress is located right across from the Capitol building.  We looked to our right and saw this:

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And to our left to see this:

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Library of Congress

And it’s next door to the Supreme Court building.

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My daughter likes to take me on excursions for my birthday or Christmas gifts, and when she asked where I wanted to go this year, the Library of Congress popped into my head.  Everyone to whom I mentioned this festive destination, seemed to scoff at my choice.  The Library of Congress!  Why are you going there?  Well, first of all, it’s a library.  So why wouldn’t you go?  Plus it’s the WORLD’S LARGEST LIBRARY with more than 164 million items on 838 miles of bookshelves!

Even if you’re not fond of reading, the stunning Italian Renaissance architecture and design of this place is magnificent.  Paintings, statuary, mosaics, stained glass… dating back to 1897 (prior to that time, the library had been located in the Capitol building across the street).  It was also the first public building in D.C. with electricity installed at the time of construction.  I bet when you see these pictures you’ll wonder why in the world you’ve never visited it!

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It’s hard to believe that at some point in time all this grandeur was covered up to create office space.  Mosaic floors were covered in linoleum, and the ornate walls were hidden as well as being blackened by coal soot and dinge from decades of cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke.  In the 1990s, the building underwent a 91 million dollar renovation to restore it to its original glory.  This building is now named for Thomas Jefferson since he sold a collection of 6,487 books to the Library of Congress in 1815 to replace the original 740 volume collection which was destroyed by fire in 1814 when the British set fire to Washington.  Jefferson’s original collection is gathered in one room of the LOC now –although many of those original books were destroyed in yet another fire.  Many of those destroyed volumes have since been replaced.

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The Jefferson Collection

Another great treasure of the LOC is one of only three original and complete vellum copies of the Gutenberg Bible which was printed in Mainz, Germany in the 1450s:  the first book printed using movable metal type (in the Western world) in a press invented by Johann Gutenberg.  This kind of press revolutionized the ease of producing printed material, eventually making books, etc. accessible to the common person for the first time in history.  The other two complete vellum Gutenberg Bibles are found at the British Library in London and Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.  In a side note, “our” Bible was acquired by a German industrialist named Otto Vollbehr who bought it from an Austrian Benedictine monastery in 1925 (it had somehow made its way there from a monastery in the Black Forest in Germany).  Apparently the monastery thought the Bible would end up with “an American church prince.”  Vollbehr had hoped the Archbishop of Chicago would buy the Bible with the help of some wealthy patrons, but that didn’t happen.  Although Herr Vollbehr was a world traveler, he quit working and devoted himself to his book collection after being seriously injured in a railway accident.  His collection was amassed over the following 20 years.  In the 1920s Vollbehr took much of his collection on tour in the U.S. for exhibition purposes and to look for buyers.  It took an act of Congress to purchase the Gutenberg Bible and 3,000 other works from Vollbehr for $1.5 million (a bargain as that collection was thought to be worth $3 million at the time), but then it was found that though Vollbehr owned the Bible, he did not even have it in his possession.  Herbert Putnam, the director of the Library of Congress, had to travel to Austria to negotiate the final acquisition of the Bible from the monastery.  Vollbehr had such significant debts at the time that he didn’t have much left from the $1.5 million that he didn’t realize much net benefit from the sale.  Though there was controversy over paying even $1.5 million for the Gutenberg Bible during the Great Depression, the Bible is now considered to be absolutely priceless.  A complete Gutenberg Bible printed on paper is now worth $25 – $35 million, so the pricetag for one of only three vellum copies is unimaginable.

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No flash photography please!

Our tour guide pointed out a lot of beautiful features of the building (when she wasn’t distracting us with personal stories).  The amount of detail is almost overwhelming.

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The reading room:  yes, anyone can obtain a pass to come in here and access materials for research.

The carvings on this staircase are called “putti”, meaning “a representation of a naked child, especially a cherub or cupid in Renaissance art.”  Each of these little guys represents a “work” or profession.  The putto on the left is a warrior and the one in the middle is a fisherman.  There are interactive screens placed unobtrusively around the room to help visitors figure out meanings of the art and sources for quotations.

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Putti

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Gorgeous stained glass ceiling

This next photo shows a quote by Sir Philip Sidney, whoever he is, under a painting by Weston Benson representing Summer.  “They are never alone that are accompanied with noble thoughts.”

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Yours truly in front of the LOC.

My sweet and amazing daughter also took me to lunch nearby at a cafe called the Bistro Cacao.  It was so charming!

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Profiteroles (cream puffs) filled with the most delectable cream and served with ice cream and rich chocolate sauce.  Oh. My. Word.

There you have it!  Get yourself to Washington D.C. asap.  There are so many things to do and see in easy walking distance from one another and the metro.  Thanks dear daughter for an amazing day!

Munich

We’d seen the modern yet steeped-in-painful-history Berlin for a few days, and it was time to travel south by train with Munich as our destination.  The train station in Berlin was spacious, spotless and full of eateries and shops.  After gobbling down some pastries accompanied by less satisfying coffee, we made our way to the platform to wait for our train to arrive.  Of course, it arrived in a timely manner because we are in Germany and they have a well-deserved reputation for order and attention to scheduling details.

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We kept busy amusing our little guy for the six hour trip.

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In Munich, we just had a short walk to our hotel– where we were meeting some family members who had been unable to join us in Berlin.  We were delighted to check into a beautiful, modern hotel and find our people before setting out to see the famous Glockenspiel in the Marianplatz just a few blocks away.

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It was as impressive as we had expected it to be even though we didn’t get to see it in action.  The fanciful clock with music and mechanical figures was added to the Rathaus (Town Hall) in 1907 when the building’s construction was completed.  But these two aunties were in their glory– who needs a Glockenspiel when you have an adorable nephew for entertainment?

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We sure were glad to add these two (below) to our group.

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Another German must-see, must-taste experience was going to happen at the Hofbrauhaus.  Beer, meat, potatoes, atmosphere.

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We only had a few hours in Munich, but they were lovely and memorable ones.  The next morning will find us driving out into the verdant Bavarian countryside!

Danke Schön Berlin

Flora, fauna, food, festivities, and former days of glory (I couldn’t think of a synonym for history that starts with “f”) were hallmarks of our next two days in Berlin.  Each day began with a search for coffee and pastries in the neighborhood around the Berlinerhof Hotel.  Many coffee shops didn’t open until 9 and early birds seemed to open at 8.  I stuck with cappuccino as I could order it and know what I was getting without figuring out what they meant by the various offerings on the menu.  Germans didn’t seem to be familiar with iced coffee, as they thought we crazy Americans wanted ice cream first thing in the morning.  The pastries were fantastic– I had no idea the Germans had serious pastry talents!

We wanted to take in more of the city, including some museums.  The U-bahn whisked us off to the vicinity of Museum Island via the Bebelplatz.  Bebelplatz is a plaza featuring grand and beautiful buildings such as St. Hedwigs Cathedral, the Humboldt University Library, and  the Berlin State Opera House.

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Bebelplatz, Berlin

As with most of Berlin, there is a lot to the story of this location.  Frederich II build St. Hedwig’s for the Catholic community as a sign of religious tolerance (in the 18th century).

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St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, Berlin

It was here in Bebelplatz that on May 10, 1933, some 20,000 books from the University Library (pictured below) were burned by the Nazi regime.  These books were said to be authored by degenerates and Nazi opponents.  The University was then known as Frederick William University and it was closed in 1945.

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Humboldt University Library, Berlin

During the Cold War, the University was located in communist East Berlin and was reopened and renamed Humboldt University while another University was established in West Berlin and named Free University (Freie Universitat) of Berlin, emphasizing that it was part of the “free world” as opposed to being under communist control.  After the German reunification, Humboldt University was “decommunized” and both Humboldt and Freie Universities continue in operation to this day.  As a matter of fact, the main reason for us traveling to Berlin was to attend a graduation event held by Freie University.  We, the proud family members of one of the graduates, were able to attend an evening celebration which was held at a unique art deco restaurant in a renovated former train station in Berlin.

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But I digress.  Our explorations of Berlin continued.

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View toward Berlin Cathedral and Fernsehturm, the futuristic TV tower

There was construction everywhere.  Has it been like this since the War?  I’m sure it has.  The above photo shows such a mix of ancient, modern and under construction.  The pointy tower is Fernsehturm, the 365 meter-tall TV tower was erected in 1965-69 in East Berlin and was intended to be the tallest tower in Europe.  I found a story online about the legend of “The Pope’s Revenge”:  “although it was intended to demonstrate technological advance it was doomed to an ironic fate. To the embarrassment of GDR authorities – the steel sphere below the antenna produced the reflection of a giant cross. Hence the popular joke, not appreciated by the SED government, that this was the Popes’s revenge on the secular socialist State for having removed crucifixes from churches.”  The awe-inspiring Berlin Cathedral peeks into the left side of the photo.

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The magnificent Berliner Dom:  The Berlin Cathedral

The Berliner Dom website merely points to the Cathedral as the “vital center for the Protestant church in Germany.”  The parish was established in 1613, though several church edifices have occupied the site, with the most modern one (before the present one) was completed in 1905.  The building suffered extreme damage and destruction in 1944 and the congregation and parish was split by the Berlin Wall.  The Cathedral was situated in East Berlin, and a new West Berlin parish center was subsequently built to serve the West Berliners.  Restoration and rebuilding work on the Cathedral from 1975 to 1980 at which time enough of the cathedral had been restored to hold services there.  After reunification in 1989, the East and West parishes came together again and the building restoration was completed in 1993.  We did not have time to tour the Cathedral, unfortunately.

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Close-up of details on the Berliner Dom

We moved on to see more amazing architecture and tour some museums.

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The impressive and brilliant blue Ishtar Gate displayed in the Pergamon Museum. These gates were built in Babylon during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II in about 575 BC.

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Ornate Charlottenburg Palace, named for Prussian Queen consort Sophie Charlotte (who lived from 1668-1705), constructed from 1695-1713.

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Rear view of Charlottenburg Palace

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I found these four beauties inside the palace.

We even worked in a visit to the famous zoo while we were in Berlin.

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Some penguins were swimming toward them, much to the little guy’s delight!

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Of course, while in Berlin, we sampled German fare and beer at a variety of biergartens: lots of pork and potatoes!

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Schlogl’s Biergarten

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A feast of curry wurst and schnitzel at Schlogl’s.

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Lemke’s

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A feast of pork, peas and potatoes at Lemke. 

And who could resist one more stop at Rausch Schokoladenhaus?  Not me!

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We were treated to a special light show in the evenings during our stay.

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They were holding a Light Festival in Berlin while we were there.  Music accompanied crazy media being projected onto the landmarks.

But, eventually our stay in Berlin was up and it was time to load ’em up and move ’em out.  To the train station!

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Everybody has their game faces on for travel day– or maybe they just didn’t have their coffee yet.