Among the Ruins

The ferry ride across the Baltic dropped us off in Visby. Everywhere I turned there was beauty. This medieval town charmed with its cobblestone streets, quaint structures and immense ruins. In 1995, Visby was designated a World Heritage site.

“Visby is an outstanding example of a north European medieval walled trading town which preserves with remarkable completeness a townscape and assemblage of high-quality ancient buildings …” (UNESCO)

Striking features in Visby:

  • A town plan with an ancient street network.
  • Medieval warehouses, serving as sales premises and storerooms for the merchants of the town.
  • The town wall, built in the 13th and 14th centuries, is 3.4 kms long. 27 ground towers and 9 hanging towers have been preserved.
  • The 12 church ruins … remains of churches erected in the 13th and 14th centuries.
  • Well-preserved wooden buildings … (Gotland Municipality)

One of many church ruins inside the medieval walls.

Drotten Church was built in the 13th Century and dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Drotten Church is an old Norse word for “ruler” and “God.” (Swedish National Heritage Board)

Drotten Church Ruins 1

Drotten Church Window

The summer tourist season was over. They say Visby is beautiful in the summer. I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than the vibrant fall colors – all shades of reds, yellows and greens.

Fall in Visby 1

Fall in Visby 2

Fall in Visby 3

Fall in Visby - 11 Hästgatan

Imagine stepping into this rose garden from the back door of your home.

Visby Rose Garden

More sheep statues along the cobblestone streets.

Sheep Statues in Visby 1

Sheep Statues in Visby 2

Taking center stage on Stora Torget (Main Square) was S:ta Karin Kyrka (St. Catherine’s Church).

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As far back as 5,500 years ago, Stora Torget (The Main Square) was populated by Stone Age fishermen and seal hunters. Many artisans had their workshops here: comb-makers, shoemakers and tanners.

The Franciscan brethren were granted land on the south side of the square in the 1230s. They erected the church of St. Catherine with adjoining monastery buildings on this ground. (Gotland Municipality)

S:ta Karin Kyrka 1

S:ta Karin Kyrka 2

Looking up at the ceiling. Man-made brick by brick.

S:ta Karin Kyrka Stone Roof

S:ta Karin Kyrka Arched Hallway

S:ta Karin Kyrka Roof Arches

Next to Hotell St. Clemens where we stayed (and which we highly recommend), was its namesake,  S:t Clemens Kyrkoruin.

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S:t Clemens Kyrkoruin Arch

I could not resist this narrow stairway.

S:t Clemens Kyrkoruin Stone Stairway

At the top, I had this lovely view of the nearby homes.

S:t Clemens Kyrkoruin Top of Stone Stairway

Across the road from S:t Clemens were the Botanical Gardens (which I’ve written about in my previous post). At one end of the gardens was a large stone wall.

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More glorious fall foliage covered large portions of the medieval wall.

Visby's Medieval Wall with Foliage

I could almost envision viking warriors positioned inside the wall looking out to the sea for possible invaders.

Visby Medieval Wall Lookout

The Powder Tower was a defensive tower and is one of the oldest surviving secular buildings in Scandinavia, dating probably from the mid-12th century.

The tower acquired its name in the 18th century when the Crown had a powder magazine here.There are ancient inscriptions on doors and walls. There was no heating and the tower was never lived in, though it did serve for a time as a prison. (Swedish National Heritage Board)

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The Gotland flag. What is not to like about this place?!

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An Island in the Middle of the Baltic Sea

I understand why long ago people thought the earth was flat. Looking to the horizon, a pang of fear spread across my heart. If we kept going, surely we would fall off the edge…

Baltic Sea

From Stockholm, we took a bus from the central station to Nynäshamn, about an hour and twenty minutes’ ride. At Nynäshamn, we boarded a ferry to Gotland, a Swedish island in the middle of the Baltic Sea. The ferry ride took just over three hours. We rented a car and drove north. When the land ran out, we boarded another ferry for a seven minute ride to Fårö, our destination.

Tiny Fårö has expansive views of the sea. From its shores, the Baltic Sea is black and deep and cold. Ingmar Bergman, the famed Swedish director, lived and died on Fårö. Bergman also directed some of his films against the austere backdrop of the island.

Liv Ullman in Personal
Liv Ullman in Persona by Ingmar Berman (Source)
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Scene from Through a Glass Darkly (Source)

We drove straight to the shore to see the “rauks,” giant limestone formations molded over time by the sea. They stood there, towering in the distance.

Sea stacks at Langhammars
Sea stacks at Langhammars.

Here and there, we could see man’s attempts to create their own stacks.

Rock pile at Langhammars

To give you some perspective, I took this photograph of my husband walking toward the sea. It’s difficult to express the impact of the scene on my senses. How tiny I felt against the raw power of rock and water and wind. So beautifully breathtaking and alarming at the same time.

Man vs. Nature @ Langhammars

The seawater is clear and cold.

Pool of cold sea water @ Langhammars

At times, I felt like an astronaut staring at a moonscape – eerily barren but very much alive.

Moonscape @ Langhammars

Topology @ Langhammars

This man-made stack was over six feet high. I wonder how long it will stand against the winds?

Man interferes @ Langhammars

The rocks were cold but soft from the constant beating from the sea.

Close-up of limestone rock @ Digerhuvud
Close-up of limestone rock at Digerhuvud

Our last stop was at Gamla Hamn. Gamla Hamn stands for “ancient harbor” as this area is thought to have been used for fishing and trading in the Middle Ages. (Source)

Sea stacks @ Gamla Hamn

As we walked further down the beach, we saw the sea arch known as both “The Coffee Pot” and “The Dog.” In the distance, I guess it does look like a dog standing at attention.
"The Dog" sea stack @ Gamlahamn Close-up of "The Dog" sea stack @ Gamlahamn

There was no one besides us out there, which made it that much more magical and melancholy. Then we spotted two swans swimming in the bitterly cold sea.

Swans swimming in the cold Baltic Sea

For some reason, the landscape made me sad. I was somehow insignificant against its raw immensity. But still I marveled at its beauty.

View to the sea @ Gamlahamn

 

The Stars Above

It was my last weekend in Beijing. There were only a couple of sights left on my list and this was my last opportunity. Unfortunately, the air quality was not in my favor. The AQI had vacillated between “Unhealthy” and “Very Unhealthy” since Friday. One could almost touch the air, it was so thick.

Azimuth Theodolite

On the daily commute, we would pass by the star-gazing equipment at the Ancient Observatory. This was my destination.

According to the brochure, the Beijing Ancient Observatory was built in 1442 during the Ming Dynasty.

Sextant

As I walked around the grounds, I felt both sadness and anticipation. I would miss this city.

Sundial - Detail

I would miss its history and its splendor, but most of all I would miss my new colleagues and friends.

During those last two weeks, every time I said good-bye to someone, it was with the knowledge that I might never see them again.

Chinese Moondial

Even though my sadness was tempered with the anticipation of being home with my family and friends, it would be hard leaving.

Armilla Sphere Replica - Dragon Detail (facing right)

My only comfort was that the stars above would somehow guide us back together someday.

Armillary

Zaìjiàn. 在见。

Crocheting at the Long Corridor

One hazy day, we went to the Temple of Heaven Park. The air quality index was very high at 347 (hazardous) and reached a high of 477 (more hazardous) by evening. I’ve noticed that the worse the air quality, the cooler it gets, so overall it was a pleasant afternoon.

We gravitated toward a long passageway where many locals had congregated. There were countless groups of men and women playing lively games of cards.

Men Playing Cards - Long Corridor

Women Playing Cards - Long Corridor

As we continued, I was immediately drawn to a woman working with her hands. From afar I could tell she was crocheting! She had several of her handmade items for sale and even let me add a few triple crochet stitches.

Crocheting Along the Long Corridor

Crocheted Handbags - Long Corridor

The Long Corridor consists of covered passages connecting the Animal Killing Pavilion to the Divine Kitchen and the Divine Warehouse. From what I read, the night before a ceremony, the Long Corridor would be lit up with lanterns. Offerings of jade, silk, grains, and fruit would be stored there.

Beams along the Long Corridor

The Temple of Heaven is actually the name of the entire park covering 2.7 million square meters. During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, the emperors held worship ceremonies here.

Route to Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

Detail en route to Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is perhaps the most associated with the Temple of Heaven. Worship ceremonies were held here to pray for good weather and good harvests.

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

Inside Views - Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

Water Drainage - Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

View from Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

Near the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, there is a Seventy-Year-Old Door. According to the sign, it is so named because it was built for Emperor Qianlong as a shortcut to the ceremony when he was 70 years old and in failing health. Out of concern that his sons would abuse the convenience, he decreed that only his offspring who had reached the age of 70 could use the door. No other emperor in the Qing Dynasty reached that age so he was the only person to ever use the door.

70 Year Old Door

Near the Seventy-Year Old Door.

Detail of Water Drainage - Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

Annex - Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

Colorful Beams - Temple of Heaven Park

Flower Detail Water Drainage - Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

The Nine Dragon Juniper is over 500 years old. The trunk is covered with grooves that resemble nine dragons twisting around the tree, hence the name.

Nine-Dragon Juniper

The next stop was the Imperial Vault of Heaven. The surrounding wall is called Echo Wall because of the acoustics.

The Imperial Vault of Heaven

Sculpted Stone - Temple of Heaven Park

Roof Detail - Imperial Vault of Heaven

The last stop was through these gates to the Circular Mound Altar, which is the actual temple of heaven as this is where the emperors sacrificed to Heaven. By then, there were many visitors and it was impossible to get a good photo of the Heavenly Center Stone.

En Route to the Circular Mound Altar

After walking the length of the park, we were ready for a nap.

Saturday Afternoon at the Lama Temple

Walking the grounds of the Lama Temple offered a respite from the busy week. Known as the “Palace of Peace and Harmony,” the Lama Temple (Yonghegong) was originally the home of an emperor. It is a Mongolian-Tibetan temple and monastery dating back to the late 16th century.

Click on any image for a large-screen view.

The Lama Temple is located at 12 Yonghegong Dajie, Beixinqiao, Dongcheng District, Beijing, Yonghegong Lama Temple subway stop on Line 2.