Tag: Grave

A Great Day for the Dead

A Great Day for the Dead

La Paz, Bolivia – November 2, 2018

Today was the first time I ever saw Dia de los Muertos first-hand. I chose the La Paz Cementerio General for my visit. I was a little apprehensive because of the unknown and the fact that I was going by myself. Another reason for my apprehension was the odor. One of my work colleagues told me there was a foul odor at the cemetery because the tombs were not airtight. As an ex-cop, used to dealing with bodies that had, shall we say, “ripened,” I knew exactly what odor was being described. Spoiler alert – I did not encounter any noxious odors at the cemetery.

Dia de los Muertos (the day of the dead) is a traditional holiday in many Latin American countries. It is a day for remembering a family’s dead; but, more importantly, it is a time of celebrating the family members return from the afterlife for a visit. To that end, there are many offerings to entice the family member to visit and then to ease their return to the afterlife. The visits occur between noon on November 2 and noon on November 3; however, those times are not rigid.

A family can expect visits at either the tomb or grave of their loved one or at the family’s own home.  In either location, family members place photographs and other items that the dearly departed loved during life.  Additionally, things the loved one liked to eat or drink are also laid out as offerings.  Those items can include bread, cookies, sweets, food, soup, soft drinks, beer, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.; virtually anything the loved one enjoyed.

The bread used for the Dia de los Muertos is interesting because of its many variations. One of the more popular shapes is the t’antawawa, an Aymara word meaning baby bread. A t’antawawa is in the approximate form of a baby’s body with a painted, ceramic face/head. They can range in size from tiny bread or cookies to nearly adult life-size. The food can also be in the shape of animals such as horses. Other bread shapes include the traditional dinner roll size, round loaves, ladders (to aid with travel to and from the afterlife), and crosses. It appears the maker’s imagination only limits the shape.

A work colleague shared with me that when setting up the offerings at home, their place of choice; they receive as many as 150 family members (living) throughout the holiday. That is a lot of people just to have drop by a home.

With that bit of preface, allow me to share my experience of Dia de los Muertos.

I walked out of my front door at 07:00. Green, Sky Blue, White, Orange, and Red. Those colors have nothing to do with the holiday nor are they colors I saw when I walked outside. Those colors just happened to be the five; that is correct, five, Teleferico lines I had to ride to get to the Cementario General.

While on the Orange Line of the Teleferico, I passed over the “illegal” cemetery, Cementerio la Llamita. I do not know if it is, in fact, an illegal cemetery. If it is unlawful, by deduction, that means that the regulations for burial are less strictly enforced. Therefore, it is such “illegal” cemeteries that may be the cause of my colleague’s comment regarding odor. I quickly tried to take a photograph, which is why the focus is not quite right.

A partial view of the “illegal” cemetery as seen from the Orange Line of the Teleferico.

At the end of the Orange Line, I changed to the Red Line. I only had one stop to go to be at the Cementerio General. I got off the Red Line and walked out of the Teleferico building. I noticed right across the street was an entrance to the cemetery. I do not believe that entrance is generally in use, just on select days. Approaching the gate, I saw a few small flower stands. Many cemetery visitors stopped to buy some flowers before entering.

A secondary entry to the Cementerio General (General Cemetery) in the northwest portion of La Paz.

The Cementerio General is the main, and quite large, cemetery in La Paz. The exterior wall of the cemetery is nearly 1.5 kilometers long (4,389 feet or 0.83 miles). That means the area covered by the cemetery is almost 10 hectares (24 acres). On the grounds, there are dozens and dozens of columbaria, some with as many as three levels. The “population” of the cemetery must be in the tens of thousands.

At the gate, Bolivian National Police searched the bags of everyone entering. As soon as I made it past that checkpoint, I faced multiple columbaria. At the end of the columbarium closest to me, I saw a mural with two painted skulls. Then I noticed that almost every columbarium had a painting at the end, even those with three levels. Much of the art was stunning. I did not photograph every mural, but I did capture a lot. At this point, the narrative will cease so the reader can view all of the paintings I captured. At the end of the mural photographs, the story continues.

My first view of the artwork on the end of a columbarium at the Cementerio General. The artist is Ñatinta, completed in 2017. The other name appears to be Llukutter.
A skull mural at the end of a cuartel (barrack) 53. This one is also by Ñatinta, completed in 2016. The other name appears to be S. Cuello.
The artist of this mural appears to be Tuer. The work appears to have been completed in 2018.
An intricate design surrounding a skull. This was done by Osek. It appears to have been completed in 2018.
Psychedelic skulls by Nando Pantoja and Angela in 2018.
A skull of a cholita by Pez Dani, probably 2018.
A collection of colorful flowers and plants, possibly by Tekaz. It was probably completed in 2018.
This work shows singers serenading at the tomb of a young man. Note the t’antawawa’s below the young man’s face. The style seems reminiscent of Picasso’s Guernica. It is possibly by TViore in 2017.
A woman and a young child by an unknown artist.
Some of the largest artwork at the Cementerio General is logically located at the end of the three-story columbaria.
This cholita and skull appear to be done by JP Zdas.
This portrait is by Ricardo Akn in 2018.
She seems to be watching all those who approach.
This three-story piece is done by an unknown artist.
Another psychedelic skull by Ñatinta in 2017.
The banner reads, “no tears for the final rest.” At the very bottom, it reads, “for all of the saints who rest in La Paz.” The artist’s initials appear to be TZV.
Angels with skulls and barbed wire halos. The artist is unknown.
A young person with flowers. The artist is possibly Stfil.
An unusual design by Tekaz.
A stylistic skull surrounded by what appear to be cocoa leaves. The artist is Boos.
Flowers at the end of a columbarium by Ciclope.
A heart. The bottom reads, “the measure of life.” The artist is JP.
A skull at the end of a columbarium. The artist is Decoma.
A neon cholita. The artists are Huyllas and Natinta, done in 2018. The bottom left reads, “your voice will not be erased…my little soul.”
Another flower arrangement by Tekaz.
Some stylized coyotes. The artist is unknown because the name is partially obscured by the ladders.
Another view of the psychedelic skulls by Nando Pantoja and Angela in 2018.
Removing a mask by Mamo and Ñatinta from 2017.
Above this woman’s face are the words to a song often sung during the All Saints celebration. The artist is Willka in 2018.
Flowers growing from a bird held by a woman. The artist is Giova in 2018.
A skull with sunglasses and a hat. The word that continues from one columbarium to the other reads, “perpetual.” The artist is Ñatinta from 2016.
A child playing the violin. The artist is la Gabu.Z.
A zintangle woman? The artist is Nona.
A Bolivian astronaut skull. The artist is unknown.
A blue skull. The artist is Alme in 2018.
Birds and a stylized face. The artist is unknown.
A cholita skull complete with the traditional braids. The artist is BLK from 2015.
A cholita from 2017. The artist is unknown.
Three couples from 2016. The artist is unknown.
A contemporary view of children/teens from 2016. The artists are Bufón81 and Afta17.
A young person’s memories of La Paz from 2017. The artist is Bufón81.
Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The artist is unknown.
A stylized angel embracing a woman above a woman on a bed of skulls. The artist is unknown.
A landscape. The artist is unknown.
A blue skull and candles. The artist is unknown.
A mummy with an apple. The artist is unknown.

Some of the above photograph captions contain the word “cholita.” That deserves some explanation. Cholita refers to the women of the indigenous Aymara and Quechua tribes. In the not too distant past, cholita was a pejorative term. However, today, it has regained a particular popularity and resurgence in use. The cholitas are very distinctive with their bowler hats and long hair braids.

Looking down the aisles between the columbaria, I could see far into the distance. They seemed to go on forever. The columbaria here in La Paz look much different than those that one might see in the United States. In the U. S. each tomb is covered by an engraved headstone bearing the name and pertinent details of the person in the grave. In the Cementerio General, each monument has a glass door, usually with a small padlock. Behind the glass is a void of some eight to ten inches before the masonry seal on the tomb. On the masonry seals are the name and pertinent details of the person in the grave. Often the details include a photograph of the person. Filling the remainder of the void are offerings or representative items of things the person enjoyed in life. In some instances, there are metal holders on either side for vases of flowers.

Several very large columbaria vanish into the distance.
The inscription above this tomb reads “Dear Dad.” The offerings inside are things the deceased enjoyed; in this case, bread, cigarettes, Coca-Cola, and a clear beverage.
This father was obviously a huge Bolivar fan.  Bolivar is a professional footbol team in Bolivia.
A man on a ladder tending to the tomb of a loved one.

The tallest, single-story columbaria I saw contained tombs seven high. The visiting family must use ladders to reach the uppermost graves. With the aid of the ladder, family open the glass door, remove dead flowers and old offerings. Once clean, the family places new offerings into the tomb, and the glass door closed.

A view to the east from the Bolivian Police columbarium.
Several empty tombs at the Bolivian Police columbarium.
Looking to the west atop the Bolivian Police columbarium.
A unique cross placement on a columbaria.

There is an initial fee and then annual fees after that to place a loved one in a tomb at Cementerio General. If the annual fees are not paid, after about three years, the remains are removed, cremated, and dealt with by cemetery personnel.

I did see a few graves in the ground with headstones, but that was by far the exception, not the rule.  The columbaria were the norm within the Cementerio General.

I ultimately made my way to the main entrance of the cemetery. The church is there. The church was lovely inside, but it was not ornately decorated. Of particular note were the statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus and another area with a depiction of Jesus in the tomb.

View toward the altar of the church in the Cementerio General.
A statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus in the church at the Cementario General.  The statue is known as the Viren de Copacabana.
A stained glass cross on the west side of the church at the Cementario General.
A depiction of Jesus in the tomb in the church in the Cementerio General.

Leaving the church, I saw a display containing many of the items that families might bring to the tombs of their loved ones. I was immediately drawn to the t’antawawas, probably because I had been given a t’antawawa cookie the day before by a work colleague. Those on display ranged from cookie-size to some made of bread that was approaching three-feet in length. At the exhibition, there was even a t’antawawa made in the shape of a horse. There were other bread designs, including one that reminded me of a colossal pretzel, bread crosses, and bread ladders. Huge onion plants partially framed the display. The families often use those, and large sugar cane stalks as decorations at the tombs.

A display of some typical items brought to the tombs of the departed in the Cementerio General.
The display of offerings is located just outside the church in the Cementerio General.
A detail of some of the offerings typically brought to the cemetery. Note the t’antawawas on either side of the cross. Also, note the t’antawawa in the shape of a horse in the upper left.
The offerings can also include beverages and food.

I sat down at a bench near the display. I stayed there for quite a while, watching the people streaming into the cemetery. Many of them stopped to view the exhibition, some even taking photographs as I did. Others merely walked on by, destined for the family tomb. While I sat there, I saw a couple of men dressed in medium blue clothing wearing hard hats. One, in particular, made frequent eye contact with me. It dawned on me that they were probably masons, available for hire by the families to make any needed repairs to tombs. I ultimately approached one of the men. He confirmed he was, in fact, a mason, waiting to be hired by an incoming family. He was kind enough to allow me to take his photograph. Unfortunately, I was not thinking, so I failed to get his name. Regardless, he was very nice.

Since this was at the main entry point, many people stopped to view the display of offerings.
People looking at the display.
Some people simply walked by the display without stopping to look.
The Bolivian Police checked all packages at the entry points to the Cementerio General.
This mason was kind enough to allow me to take his photograph. I neglected to ask his name.

After my rest on the bench, I continued walking through the cemetery.  I did find a large map of the grounds.  It is truly astonishing just how many columbaria are at the cemetery.

A map of the Cementerio General.

In the eastern portion of the cemetery, I noticed several tombs that had QR codes. If one captures the code with a smartphone, information about the person buried there is displayed. I did not do that, but I did come across two vast tombs that were obviously of revered Bolivians. The first was the tomb of Carlos Palenque Avilés, 1944 – 1997, a famous Bolivian singer and politician. The second large tomb was that of Germán Busch Becerra, 1903 – 1939, a military officer and ultimately a President of Bolivia.

The tomb of Carlos Palenque Avilés in the Cementerio General.
The tomb and monument to Germán Busch Becerra.
A mausoleum in the Cementerio General.
A columbarium with an angel statue in the Cementerio General.
These columbaria do not seem to be so crowded.
The columbarium at the rear reads, “Union Workers Welfare Society, founded on the first of May, 1909.
Two people carrying a ladder while the Teleferico moves nonstop overhead.
An art deco styled angel in the Cementerio General.
Stained glass crosses at a mausoleum In the Cementerio General.
The oldest tomb I saw in the Cementerio General. Note the QR code in the lower right.
A columbarium with high-ranking Bolivian army officers in the Cementerio General.
Various sizes of ladders propped up beside a columbarium in the Cementerio General.
Ladders are strategically placed throughout the Cementerio General.

I found a mausoleum dedicated to those that had fought in the Acre Campaigns.  That was a border dispute between Bolivia and Brazil at the turn of the 20th Century.  Bolivia was the victor in the fighting.

The exterior of the columbarium for the Benefit Society of the Country for those in the Acre Campaigns.
The interior of the columbarium for the Benefit Society of the Country for those in the Acre Campaigns.
Stairs leading to more columbaria.
The columbaria seem to stretch on forever.
Ladders at the ready at the end of a columbarium.
A small, tiled columbarium.
The access alleys to the columbaria begin to fill up with people.
The sun coming over the edge of the roof of a columbarium seems to beckon one to heaven.
Looking through the ground floor level of a three-story columbarium.
The mausoleum of the Dr. Abigail Mendoza family.
The stained glass of Mary and Baby Jesus in the mausoleum of the Dr. Abigail Mendoza family.
Detail of the stained glass of Mary and Baby Jesus in the mausoleum of the Dr. Abigail Mendoza family.

In all of my wanderings in the cemetery, I never saw any sadness. I never saw any family members weeping. The Dia de los Muertos seemed to be more joyous than a sad occasion. I did find out that families can hire people to cry at the tomb. I did not personally witness that. However, I did see families that hired musicians to play and sing at the graves. One of the more noteworthy groups were about ten boys playing drums and Bolivian pan flutes. They did an excellent job and amassed quite a crowd of onlookers. I did come across another group of boys with drums, but they did not seem to be as polished. In fact, a woman walking by the group covered her ears.

A group of young boys performing at a tomb in the Cementerio General.
The group of boys performed in front of a tomb bedecked with offerings of bread, fruit, and drink.
One woman’s music is another woman’s noise.

During my walk, I stopped at one point when I saw a man and his young son.  The man was struggling with one of the ladders.  I asked him if he needed assistance.  He politely declined.

A man and his son renting a ladder.
A mausoleum in the Cementerio General.
One of the more narrow areas between columbaria.
There never seemed to be a shortage of ladders.
A young girl running around while musicians are playing in front of a tomb.
A woman taking a selfie atop the ladder in front of her loved one’s tomb.
Women working together to clean out a tomb in preparation for newly placed offerings.
The offerings consisted of bread, t’antawawas, onions, fruit, and a drink in a thermos.
Another of the endless aisles of columbaria.
A family preparing to go up the ladder with some offerings.

Strategically placed throughout the cemetery are sinks and water spigots. The visitors use these stations to clean items from their loved one’s tomb. Most often, the items cleaned are flower vases. Near each sink are rubbish bins in which the old flowers are placed. Workers come by periodically to police the area and take the rubbish to large 30-yard trash bins. In turn, those are removed from the cemetery by large trucks from the local trash service.

People washing vases while an employee collects the discarded flowers.
Discarded flowers were everywhere.
A man and a mason discussing needed repairs at a tomb.
Ladders at the ready.
A mason with his tools of the trade rounding the corner.
A woman waiting beside a ladder.
Walking to the tomb with offerings.
A woman walking with bags of offerings.
After all of my wanderings in the cemetery, I decided it was time to head home. I walked to the main entrance of the cemetery. Not far from there was an exit. As I stepped onto Avenida Baptista I noticed the street was closed for the holiday. There was a real carnival atmosphere. One of the first things I saw was an art deco building that reminded me of a building in Wellington, New Zealand (see the posting Wellington Museum).
This art deco style building is across the street from the Cementerio General.
Avenida Baptista on the front side of the Cementerio General.

There were a couple of zebras walking on the sidewalk. The zebras are people in costume. The La Paz Zebras were born as a way to help regulate traffic and avoid pedestrian/vehicle mishaps. The Zebras have been around since 2001. As I walked past, they both said buenas dias!

A rare sighting of two Zebras in front of the Cementerio General.

One of the streets heading off from Avenida Baptista had what seemed like dozens of stands of BBQ and other delicious smelling foods.  I wanted to try some, but I did not since Mr. E. Coli had just visited me.  While on that street, I ran into a shoe shiner.  Many of the shoe shiners keep their faces covered because they do not want their friends and family to know that is what they do to earn money.

Directly across from the main entrance to the cemetery is a small mall with nothing but flower shops. While I was there, it was doing a booming business.

A panorama of Avenida Baptista in front of the Cementerio General.
Two women walking toward the Cementerio General.
The young man in the light blue jacket is a shoe shiner.
Some flowers for sale across from some wonderful smelling BBQ.
The main entrance to the Cementerio General.
The church framed by the entry arch.
Part of the flower market directly across the street from the Cementerio General.
People walking by Rebecca’s Flower Shop.

I began walking east along Avenida Baptista. Luckily, it was all downhill, so I did not have to grapple with gravity very much. As I noted above, the street was closed to traffic. Instead of vehicles, the road was packed with vendors of every ilk; ladies’ lingerie, plasticware for children, handmade wooden items, DVDs, ice cream, fruit, etc. It was varied and noisy as some vendors shouted out what was available. Pedestrians choked the parts of the street that were not covered by vendors. I can only imagine the scene later in the day when it would no doubt be busier.

An interesting looking building on Avenida Baptista.
Selling colorful plasticware for children.
A woman selling watermelon slices.
A man and his ice cream cart.
A woman waiting to make an ice cream cone for the man and his daughter.
A cholita perusing the wares.
A girl in a red dress.
A cholita walking through the market.
A woman and a young girl in the market.
Strolling through the market.
A young woman donning her hat.

At the Garita de Lima park roundabout, I stopped to take in the sights.  That is where I saw the Evangelical Baptist Church and the Hospital La Paz.

Two artificial flower vendors at the street market.
View downhill from the roundabout at the Garita de Lima park on Avenida Baptista.
The Evangelical Baptist Church across from the Garita de Lima park on Avenida Baptista.

Departing the Garita de Lima park roundabout on Max Paredes, I saw something that very much reminded me of home, the kitchen gadget salesman. A man set up a portable table in the street. The edges of the tabletop held about four dozen oranges. In the middle of the table, there was a pile of different colored plastic gadgets. The salesman, speaking loudly and rapidly, demonstrated how one could insert the device into an orange and quickly obtain the juice. He had several people standing around watching his demonstration. I am not sure if he sold any to that crowd.

A juicing device salesman on Max Paredes.
The street market met vehicles just east of the Garita de Lima park on Max Paredes.
The mix of vehicles and pedestrians on Max Paredes. Note the van has the Cementerio General as one of its destinations.
It is tight quarters walking this section of Max Paredes.

Shortly after passing the kitchen gadget salesman, the street opened to traffic once again.  At that point of Max Paredes, there were still vendors; however, they were relegated to the sidewalk or curbside.  This area is where the food market begins.  It is set up in specific sections.  There are sections for vendors selling fruits, vegetables, cooking spices, lentils, fish, and meat.  There were even a couple of fabric vendors thrown in for good measure.  Between the vendors, pedestrians, and vehicles, one has to be careful while walking.

A vegetable stand on Max Paredes.
The vendor points and provides answers to a patron’s questions.
This woman was advertising in a loud voice what she had for sale.
Various cooking spices for sale.
A woman preparing a fish for a customer.
A woman at a meat stand along Max Paredes.
Another fish stand on Max Paredes.
Meat for the carnivore.
Yet more meat available near the Max Paredes roundabout.
Women selling lentils along Max Paredes.
Waiting for a customer.
The fruit section of the Max Paredes market.
A cholita walking through the fruit section.
All the bananas one could possibly want.
The vendor tried to entice the young girl with the dog to buy some bananas.
A cholita at a fruit stand on Max Paredes.
The fabric section of the market on Max Paredes.
One of the many Dodge buses operating in La Paz.
This bus is known as The Prince.
This bus is known as Crazy Boy.
The statue in the roundabout at Max Paredes.

After walking nearly a mile (1.3 kilometers), I found Sagarnaga, the street for which I had been searching. That street would take me to the Witches Market and the Basilica of San Francisco. I was quite happy that my walk from the cemetery to the Basilica was downhill.

In the Witches Market, I did a little shopping. I found several touristy items that I could not live without.

The point where Sagarnaga narrows.
The cobblestone Sagarnaga descends to the San Francisco Basilica.
An old building on Sagarnaga.
Sagarnaga continues downhill from the Witches Market.
Traffic and pedestrians share Linares.
A yarn covered light-pole in the Witches Market.
A taxi preparing to turn from Melchor Jimenez onto Linares in the Witches Market.
A newly completed mural on Melchor Jimenez in the Witches Market. The artist is Tikay Marsh Aner.
Searching for bargains in the Witches Market.
A llama mural in the Witches Market. The artists are Sebollin, Jonatan, Marbot, and Ahau Flamma.
A display of items for sale in the Witches Market.
A typical tourist shop in the Witches Market.
A mural in the Witches Market. The artist is unknown.

When I finished shopping, it was lunchtime. I was not that hungry, but I did want to sit down for a while. I found Luna’s Restaurant Coffee Pub. I asked the man that greeted me at the door if he had a cold beer. He said he did so I immediately sat down! I continued to talk to him as he came by my table intermittently. I discovered he was Tomas Luna, the owner. We had a pleasant conversation. He was kind enough to allow me to take his photograph.

While sitting at Luna’s, I received two unexpected “guests;” Hillary and Leslie. They called me. They were both anxious to hear about my Dia de los Muertos activities. I told them a little bit but added that they would have to wait for my blog to get the rest of the story.

An ice-cold Paceña cerveza at Luna’s Restaurant Coffee Pub.
Tomas Luna, the owner of Luna’s Restaurant Coffee Pub.
Luna’s Restaurant Coffee Pub.
Unexpected guests while I was having my beer.
Tomas Luna, the owner of Luna’s Restaurant Coffee Pub.
The owner at the door to his restaurant, Tomas Luna.
San Francisco Basilica is visible in the distance.
Street-level view of a passing van.
Sagarnaga was virtually empty because of the holiday.
From Luna’s, it was just a few blocks down to the Basilica San Francisco. The last time I was there, it was after my CLO walking tour (see the Witches Market post). That time, the Basilica was not open. This time, to my surprise, it was open. I walked inside. Immediately I saw some huge signs. I thought they said that one could not take photographs during mass. A mass was in progress, but I could tell it was at the very end. I heard the priest give the final blessing, and the people responded.

Soon the people were walking to the back of the Basilica to exit. That is when I began taking photographs of the very elaborate and beautiful altar. After about four or five clicks, I suddenly found myself in the company of a Bolivian National Policeman. He was not amused. He said something in Spanish and pointed furtively to one of the signs. In my best Spanish, I tried to tell him I thought I could take photos when mass was over. The officer impatiently pointed at the sign again. I said I was very sorry and beat a hasty retreat to the exit.

The altar at San Francisco Basilica.
The altar at the San Francisco Basilica.
The choir loft at the rear of the San Francisco Basilica.

The last portion of my journey was several blocks downhill from the Basilica to the Light Blue line of the Teleferico.  Between that line and the Green line, I made it back to my neck of the woods and ultimately home.  I arrived at my house at about 14:00.

A mural at the Mercado Camacho near the Celeste Line of the Teleferico.

Next year, I will return to the cemetery.  I will probably go at a different time to see how that may change my experience.  I thoroughly enjoyed my day.

A skull along via 33. The artist appears to be Zamir. The brilliant color indicates it was completed in 2018.
Tallinn

Tallinn

Tallinn, Estonia – January 5, 2015

Our flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Tallinn, Estonia took about two, uneventful hours. We landed around 16:30, but it was already quite dark, snowy, and cold. We walked from the gate to the baggage claim area and began our wait.
The various bags continued around and around on the carousel. I noticed the man I had met in Frankfurt standing at one end of the carousel. Shortly, he and his wife retrieved their bags and headed for the exit. Meanwhile, Leslie and I continued to wait. Finally, Leslie’s bag showed up, but mine did not emerge from the bowels of the airport. We took what bags we had and exited the terminal to meet our Embassy driver. We told him of the missing baggage. He went with us to the baggage counter to file a claim for the missing bags.
We left the warm confines of the terminal and braced against our first bout of winter in several years. It was freezing for two people that have spent the last couple of years in a Caribbean climate.
On the way to our apartment, the driver went by the Embassy. That was so I would have some idea of how to walk to work the next morning.
Another five minutes, and he dropped us at the apartment. It was only about one-half mile from the Embassy, at Tuvi 12/2. The apartment had three bedrooms and a commanding view of the Baltic Sea to the northwest. There were also two terraces, one off the breakfast area and one off the living room area. At the entry, there was a powder room. Just down the hall from the powder room in one direction was a full bathroom. Down the hall, the other way was a room with a Jacuzzi tub, shower enclosure, and sink. That room also opened on to the living room terrace. Beside the shower was the entry to the sauna.

The apartment building in which we lived.
To the north, one could see the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral from our apartment.
Panorama to the east from our apartment.
The icy and snow-covered park near our apartment.
Northwestern view from our apartment.
An interesting looking building on Tõnismägi, near our apartment.

All of the bathroom areas, as well as the front entry, had tile floors, all heated by in-floor hot water loops. The sauna became my morning coffee room, at least for my first cup.
When I arrived at the office the next morning, I got into my work email. It is worth noting at this point that we had been waiting for our Pakistan visas since March 24, 2014. When I opened my work email account, I saw an email that had the timestamp of 16:30 the previous day, stating I had my visa and Leslie’s would follow shortly. How ironic I finally received my Pakistan visa when we landed in Estonia!
After finishing the workweek, Leslie and I decided to take Saturday to explore Old Town Tallinn. We walked the three­ quarters of a mile from our apartment to Old Town. Since it had rained a little the previous night, some spots were very slick with ice. Just entering the Old Town area, we saw an outdoor ice-skating rink. I found it interesting that every song played was from the United States, circa the 1950s and 1960s.

Colorful buildings along Rüütli (Knight Street). The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is in the background.
Colorful buildings along Rüütli (Knight Street).
Bird-shaped barriers along Rüütli (Knight Street).
Approaching Old Town Tallinn.
The cafe building at Kullassepa and Kuninga.
A cafe at the corner of Kullassepa and Kuninga.
The view to the north along Kullassepa.

We made it to our destination, Town Hall Square, where a Christmas market was on its final day. I understand it ran into January because of the Russian Orthodox Church calendar. Regardless of why, the market held many sights and experiences. To begin our shopping experience, we bought some of the obligatory warm wine, known as Glögg. At about a 25% alcohol level, the wine packed a punch.

Glögg is a surprising potent, warm wine. It was for sale at nearly every booth at the Christmas market.
More glögg for sale!
One can also buy Christmas trees at the Christmas market.
This sign lists everything happening at the Tallinn Christmas Market.
The Christmas market with the steeple of Holy Spirit Church in the distance.
Looking to the west on Dunkri.
A nativity scene along the side of the Town Hall building.
This sign lists everything happening at the Tallinn Christmas Market.
Many Christmas items for sale in the market.
A wider view of the main plaza.
Two women and two children walking in the main plaza.
The Town Hall building with its tower.
Looking to the north along Mündi.
City Hall and a Christmas tree dominate the Christmas Market.

As we wandered around, we bought several trinkets and souvenirs to bring back with us. One of the items I purchased was wild boar sausage. Later that evening, it went quite well with our wine. It did not have a gamey taste. It had a somewhat summer sausage taste with a very definite smoky flavor.
The town hall building had some unique rain downspouts; they looked like a green dragon. They stick out from the building quite far. I would hate to walk under them during a shower because the spouts looked large in diameter. On the side of the building, I saw a religious painting surrounded by the masonry of the building, something one would not see in the United States on a public building. I saw a nativity scene on the side of the building too, but that was much less surprising. Lastly, an attractive young woman was sitting on the steps with a friend, just strumming a guitar. I thought that made a good photo.

A dragon downspout at the Town Hall building.
A young woman playing guitar on the steps of the Town Hall building.
People gathering outside the Town Hall building.
The artwork on the side of the Town Hall building.

The cityscape in and around Old Town is unique. The home and buildings sport a variety of pastel colors. That, combined with the sharply pitched, red tile roofs make for a quaint scene. Many of the refrigerator magnets sold in the tourist shops mimic those scenes.
At about noon, we finished our shopping and looked for a lunch spot. At random, we selected the “Old Estonia” restaurant, overlooking the Town Hall Square. Lunch started with smoked salmon rolls with a cream cheese filling. A little bit of lemon and fresh dill topped off the rich but delicious course. At the same time, Leslie ordered each of us a large mug of beer… a one-liter beer! At first, I could barely raise the glass containing Saku beer, a locally brewed variety.
Our main course consisted of roast pork with French fries (seapraad friikartuliga). That had to have been the best pork I have had in quite some time. The plate had a bed of large, flat French fries and four very thick and generous slices of pork. The accompanying reddish-clear sauce complemented the pork well. Neither of us could eat it all. We took a large portion home for dinner.

The Olde Estonia restaurant.
Taking a sip of the one-liter beer.
The first sip of the one-liter beer in the Olde Estonian restaurant.
Cheers from the Olde Estonian restaurant.
Leslie was dwarfed by the beers!
An Olde Estonian portrait.
Happy to be inside where it was warm.
Mirrors in the Olde Estonian restaurant.
Artwork above the bar in the Olde Estonian restaurant.
Artwork above the other side of the bar in the Olde Estonian restaurant.

After lunch, we stopped in the Town Hall Pharmacy, the oldest continuously operating pharmacy in all of Europe. I got in on the last of a tour, but I did not hear anything substantial about the shop other than the board game inlaid in the tile floor. They had copies of the game for sale. I opted not to buy one. Outside the pharmacy, mounted on the wall, is the iconic sign. It was a must for a photo.
Above the pharmacy was an antique store. I went up the stairs to check it out while Leslie waited below. In the antique store, I found an early 20th century Russian Orthodox crucifix, made entirely of brass. I bought it for Leslie to add to her cross collection.

A portion of the interior of the Revali Raeapteek, the pharmacy that dates from 1422.
A game on the floor of the Revali Raeapteek.
A coat of arms in the Revali Raeapteek.
The exterior of the Revali Raeapteek.
The sign hanging outside the Raeapteek pharmacy.
People at the arched entry to the small walkway to the smallest store.
The view to the north on Vene.
A group of people walking on Vene to or from an event.
Pedestrians on Apteegi coming from the direction of the pharmacy.
The flags are above the entrance to the Hotel Telegraaf on Vene.
Some graffiti in an alleyway off of Vene.
Several shops along the alleyway off of Vene.
A woman talking on her cell phone.

Essentially behind the pharmacy is the Holy Spirit Church. It is a Lutheran church dating to the 14th century. I wanted to see it because on the face of the church, just above the main entry door is a clock. It is the oldest timepiece in Tallinn. For one Euro each, we entered the church. Some of the woodcarvings inside are amazing — the altar, painted by Bernt Notke, dated from the 15th century.
At about 15:30, when we left the church, it was getting dark. As we walked through Freedom square, on the way back to our apartment, we came upon a candlelight vigil for the Charlie Hebda massacre in Paris. At the time, we did not know what was happening because we had yet to hear the news of the tragedy.

Tourists photographing the smallest store.
One of the smallest shops in Tallinn.
Artwork outside the Saiakangi kohvik (cafe) in Old Town Tallinn.
The yellow building is direct across the street from the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
The clock is just above and to the right of the main entry door to the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
The clock on the exterior of the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church) dates from the late 17th Century.
A stained glass window in the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
Carving on the side of the stairs to the pulpit in the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
I could not quite make out the words on this item in the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
A small piece of stained glass in the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
A stylized crucifix in the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
This ornamentation is directly above the pulpit in the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
A blue-themed stained glass in the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
Wider view of the altar in the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
The organ in the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
Another small piece of stained glass in the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
Paintings on the front of the balcony walkway in the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
A candle in front of the altar in the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
Detail of the altar in the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
An impressionist painting of Luke (left) and John (right) in the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
Carvings on the front of the pulpit in the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
Looking along the main aisle to the altar in the Püha Vaimu Kogudus (Holy Spirit Church).
A plaque for Balthasar Russow, a beloved Lutheran priest. Below his name reads, “From 1563 to 1600 the priest of the Holy Spirit Congregation.” Below that is, “Therefore, the Livonians may say with the Holy Prophet Daniel: You are fair and your judgment is right.”
A memorial for the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in Paris, France quickly formed at the Estonian Free Army site.

We made it back to our apartment that evening without any of the icy treacheries of the morning walk.
When we awoke on Sunday, we saw that it snowed overnight. From the apartment, it appeared that three or four inches had fallen. Regardless of the snow, we set out for the Russian Orthodox St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. A church we had a good view of from our bedroom window. On our way, we saw a bust of Johan Pitka in a small park. He was a Rear Admiral responsible for forming the Estonian Navy.

The Johan Pitka, 1872 – 1944, memorial.
A very stern looking and cold sculpture of Johan Pitka. He was a Rear Admiral responsible for forming the Estonian Navy.
A man walking his dog on Sunday morning. The Maiden’s Tower is on the left.
Outside the walls near the Maiden’s Tower, one could see the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
The Maiden’s Tower was closed.
Obviously, something is sold from the wagon, but not on cold, snowy Sundays.

Nearing the church, we saw dozens of people going inside. We figured it must be time for mass, so we decided to take a detour. We ended up at the Maiden’s Tower, hoping to have a coffee in the cafe. Unfortunately, it was closed. Near the tower, down several stairs, we saw a sign for the LT Kohvik-baar. We descended the steep stairs and went inside. When we entered, we found ourselves in an entryway with a couple of doors and a steep staircase leading down one more level. We could tell we needed to navigate those stairs to get to the coffee/bar. The handrail of the stairs consisted of a thick rope strung through several iron eyelets. A knot before each hole kept the rope from ending up in a heap of hemp at the bottom of the stairs. The handrail offered virtually no assistance on the descent. It seemed better suited as a lifeline with which to pull oneself back to the surface when exiting.
Nevertheless, we found ourselves in what may have been a cellar storage vault or a dungeon some 600 to 700 years prior. Before entering the vault, one passed by a small bar from which the served beverages emanated. We both had a coffee.
The only furnishings consisted of nine or ten tables with chairs. The vault had a half-round structure, built entirely of stone blocks. At its highest point, the ceiling could not have been more than eight feet high. One lone window poked through the stone wall. The windowsill, sides, and header tapered down through the two-foot thick wall to its final dimension of roughly ten inches square. The hand-rolled glass made it difficult to see well through the window. It all made for a very quaint an intimate space. Besides the server/bartender and us, no one else was in the establishment. I do not know if that was due to the storm or the fact that it was a Sunday morning.

The snow-covered walkway to the LT Kohvik-baar.
The dungeon-esque seating area of LT Kohvik-baar.
The lone server in the LT Kohvik-baar (the LT Cafe Bar) sat behind a computer screen.

Leaving the coffee bar, we carefully made our way back up to the cathedral. We found the front of the church faces the Estonian Parliament building. The stairs to the cathedral were very steep and, without handrails of any sort, rather treacherous in the continuing snowstorm. At the top of the stairs, we saw through the windows in the doors that everyone inside was standing. We assumed the mass was over, so we walked inside. I was instantly stunned by the ornate beauty of the church. While it dates from about 1900, it feels like a structure three or four times as old. My disappointment at not being able to take photos nearly left me grumpy.

The front of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
The art on the front of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
The detail on the front of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
The detail on the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

The church has no pews. Instead, nearly everyone stood in a large circle. The large circle of people surrounded another, smaller circle, which happened to be a choir. Boys and girls ranging in age from 10 to 16, all dressed in traditional Russian costumes, made up the choir. The songs appeared to be Russian Christmas carols.
Walking around the circle, we finally made it to a good vantage point. There, in the center of the ring, sitting on one of the only chairs in the church, sat the priest. He was lost in the enjoyment of the singing. As we stood watching him, the choir began to sing Silent Night, the first pass in Russian and the second in English. It was so beautiful and moving that it nearly brought tears to our eyes.
While the choir sang, we walked around just a little. The level of decoration was incredible, particularly on the screen separating the people from the altar. During the mass, the priests conduct much of the service from behind the screen, out of view of those gathered.
We noticed two beautiful icons as we wandered around, both depicted Mary and baby Jesus. They were each about two feet by three feet in size. The faces and hands were painted in oils, while the remainder of the figures and background were ornately done with silver. Those made each piece look quite impressive. In front of each piece, as well as maybe another dozen icons were brass stands. The stands had a circular bit on top, each with multiple small candleholders. The candles were about 3/8 of an inch in diameter and six to eight inches long. As we watched, many people approached the icons with a candle, made the sign of the cross several times, bowing each time, and lastly lighting the candle and placing it in a holder. The candle stands provided an ambiance I had never seen before.
The snow came down much harder as we left the cathedral. Just to the north of the church, we found a souvenir shop that seemed to specialize in amber jewelry. On the front door, I saw a sign; Kodak tooted. Being a male, I had to take a photograph. What could be better than international fart jokes?! I looked it up later. In Estonian, that phrase translates roughly to; Kodak sold here. Regardless, I thought it was funny. In the store, Leslie found an amber charm for her Pandora bracelet and an amber ring.

Walking along Toom-Kooli, we got our first glimpse of Toomkirik (Dome Cathedral).
Detail of the clock on the steeple of St. Mary’s Cathedral.
The door to a gift shop.
Even though it is sold here, it is no doubt embarrassing…

Another block or two north brought us to our final planned destination for the day, the Dome Church, located on the Kiriku Plats. It is also known as the Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin, currently the seat of the Lutheran Church in Estonia, dating from some time before 1233. Entering the church, one sees seemingly endless coats of arms hung on the walls and building columns.
We paid two Euros each to enter. The attendant said I could take all of the photos I wanted, with or without flash in small part, that made up for my disappointment in the Russian Orthodox cathedral. In years past, when noblemen died, the hand­ carved coats of arms accompanied the casket and procession through town to the church. Once at the church, a crypt in the floor received the coffin, while the coat of arms hung on a wall or building column as close as possible to the place of burial.
Both the altar and the pipe organ in the church were spectacular, but the coats of arms stole the show.

The main aisle leading to the altar in the Dome Cathedral (Toomkirik), also known as St. Mary’s Cathedral.
A panorama view of the altar in the Cathedral.
The main entry door to the Cathedral.
Some of the coats of arms funeral shields on display in the Cathedral.
Paintings on the gospel pulpit.
The organ in the Cathedral dates from 1878.
Detail of the top of the altar.
The bas reliefs and coats of arms funeral shields near the altar.
Marble bas reliefs near the altar.
The altar in the Cathedral. The painting is Christ on the Cross by Eduard von Gebhardt, circa 1866.
One of the coats of arms funeral shields in the Cathedral. The dates read 1808 – 1863. The shield is that of Georg Wolter Baron Stackelberg.
Trying to decide whether or not to come into the Cathedral.
The aisle to the main entry door.
The white marble sarcophagus of the Russian admiral, Samuel Greighi’s. The Roman numeral dates on the sarcophagus read 1735 – 1788.
Joseph Haier’s “Madonna with the Christ’s Father” (1861).
The rather smallish coat of arms funeral shield of General Adjutant Admiral Baron Ferdinand Wrangell, 1797 – 1870.
Flags and coats of arms funeral shields over the white marble sarcophagus of the Russian admiral, Samuel Greighi’s.
Detail of brass items in front of the name plaques in the Fersen Chapel inside St. Mary’s Cathedral.
The tomb in the Fersen Chapel and name plaques inside St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Coats of arms funeral shields were very abundant.
The coat of arms funeral shield of Baron Eduard von Mandell. The dates read 1830 – 1899. Note the seven loaves of bread and three fish.
The coat of arms funeral shield of Alexander Baron von der Pahlen. The dates read 1819 – 1895.

The snowstorm had increased in intensity yet again as we left the church. Walking along the sidewalk, we saw a small frontend loader scooping snow and dumping it in a small dump truck. That activity had to take place, or the roads in Old Town would quickly become impassible.

A souvenir shop across the street from St. Mary’s Cathedral. The domes of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral are visible in the background.
Two women walking on the icy Piiskopi (Bishop) Lane toward the back of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Removing the snow behind the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
The old building containing the Boga Pott Restaurant.

We continued to another set of steep stairs. At the top of the stairs, we found the LB bar. We decided to go in, have a glass of wine, and warm-up. We sat by a small fireplace; unfortunately, it was not lit, maybe because we were the only two in the bar.

Coming through a small arch to the top of the sidewalk known as Lühike Jalg (Short Leg).
The sign for the L8 (Late) Bar.
It was a cold and snowy Sunday.
Looking down the stairs of the sidewalk known as Lühike Jalg (Short Leg) from the landing in front of the L8 Bar.
The lone server at the L8 Bar.
Light through the Merlot.
Enjoying the warmth and a glass of wine in the L8 (Late) Bar. It is at the top of the sidewalk known as Lühike Jalg (Short Leg).

At the bottom of the stairs, after leaving L8, we entered Hindricus Pood – Galerii. I bought some beautiful handmade postcards done on handmade paper. The building, not the gallery, has been around since 1393.
When we left the gallery, the snowstorm was now a blizzard. We fought our way to the grocery store. After we purchased what we needed, we called a taxi and headed home to the warmth of our heated tiles and wonderful sauna.

The snow-covered sign for the Helina Tilk shop.
A woman on the sidewalk known as Lühike Jalg (Short Leg), passing by the Helina Tilk shop.
Leslie coming down the sidewalk known as Lühike Jalg (Short Leg).
Women walking up the sidewalk known as Lühike Jalg (Short Leg) in a bit of a snowstorm.

After my last Friday in the Embassy, I walked to the National Opera Theater. It has a unique parking arm that looks like a hand holding a baton. From a photographer standpoint, it was a must-see. Walking home from there, I took the opportunity to take some random photographs; including St. John’s church at Freedom Square, some of the street trolleys, a boutique sign, and an advertising sign. All had a definite Tallinn charm.

The Estonia National Opera building.
A memorial to the Estonian Free Army.
An office building in Tallinn.
BonBon Lingerie for women and men.
A different style of love seat at the optometrist…
The side of this trolley is advertising Farmi Yogurt.
The ER Boutique says it like it is, Forget the Rules if you Like it Wear it.
I believe the top sign reads, “Definitely Ahead!” The bottom sign reads, “For the Names!” It is an advertisement for the Socialist Democratic party. He is the Minister of the Interior.
One of the street trolleys during the evening commute.
A conductor’s baton is used as the barrier arm for the parking lot next to the Estonian National Opera building.
The conductor’s baton.
Back in the D.C. Area

Back in the D.C. Area

Washington, D. C. – December 8, 2014

My arrival back in the DC area was wet.

A rainy, wet return to Arlington.

During my stay, I worked at the headquarters of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO). I worked there while I continued my agonizing wait for a visa so I could fulfill my assignment to Islamabad, Pakistan.
On one of the clear weekends, I decided I would walk about the Washington, D.C. area. Since my profession deals with buildings, I thought it appropriate to travel to the National Building Museum. I clambered aboard the Metro, disembarking at the Gallery Place – Chinatown Station. Once I was back on the ground level, I opted to stop at a Starbucks for a coffee and blueberry muffin. After my coffee, I had to take a photo of the Friendship Archway that marks Chinatown.

A group of people at the Starbucks in Chinatown at H and 7th Streets NW in Washington, D.C.
The Friendship Archway in Chinatown in Washington, D.C.

With the preliminaries out of the way, it was time to walk to the National Building Museum. Within a couple of blocks, I was at my destination.
From the outside, the building appears as an immense redbrick structure. There is not much ornamentation on the exterior. Once inside, the sheer scale of the interior space overpowers one. There are massive marble and gold painted columns throughout the atrium area. Apparently, in addition to being built for the United States Pension Bureau, the space lent itself to political gatherings.

Looking along the center of the atrium in the National Building Museum.
A view of the seemingly endless columns in the atrium area of the National Building Museum.
The fountain in the center of the atrium.
Workers setting up for a holiday choir performance.
A man and his family traversing a hallway on the upper level of the National Building Museum.
A strange device in this day and age… This payphone was tucked away near the toilets in the National Building Museum.
A sign commemorating the completion of the building to house the United States Pension Bureau. It is now home to the National Building Museum.

While the museum was nicely done, it was not one of my favorites. After buying my perquisite refrigerator magnet from the gift shop, I exited the museum to the south. I found myself facing the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. That was a bit of luck.
As an ex-cop, I have a special place in my heart for the police; especially those who have fallen on duty. I can still vividly recall sergeants reading accounts of fallen officers to us during squad meetings. That seems so far away now. Regardless, the memorial is understated but tastefully done. The names of the fallen are engraved on a curved marble knee-wall. Throughout the grounds are bronze statues of lions and lionesses watching over the names. Probably due to the time of year, there were many colorful wreaths placed throughout the memorial. The walls at the monument hold more than 21,000 names of fallen officers. It was a poignant reminder having a couple of police cars parked near the memorial.

A lion sculpture at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
The curved wall holds the names of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
The emblem in the center of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
Another lioness sculpture watches over the names of the fallen, while, appropriately, a police car is parked nearby.
A lioness sculpture above the inscription, “In Valor There is Hope.”
A view of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. The National Building Museum is in the background.
The memorial and the museum side by side.
Looking back at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
A lioness sculpture and wreathes at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
Looking over the roof of patrol car 9510 to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

Near the end of my visit, I noticed a sign for the National Law Enforcement Memorial Visitors Center and Store. The location of the store is 400 7th Street NW. That was about three blocks away. I walked there, collected some souvenirs, and continued on my way.
Perchance, I stumbled across the Navy Memorial. Since my son is now a sailor, that was a unique find. Across the street to the east is the memorial to the Great Army of the Republic.

As seen from across the street, the Navy Memorial is very unassuming.
The bronze sculpture of a seaman at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The compass rose at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The memorial to the Grand Army of the Republic is at the Indiana Plaza in Washington, D.C.

Across the street to the south is the National Archives Museum. As I crossed the road, I saw a couple trying to entice a squirrel just a bit closer so they could get a photograph. I am not sure if they were successful or not because I continued to the front of the building. It was the first time I had ever visited the museum. I was awestruck by the founding documents of the United States. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are all on display. It was genuinely fascinating to see them in person. I liked this museum much more than the National Building Museum.

A couple trying to entice a squirrel into a photo op.
A sculpture at the National Archives above the inscription, “Study the Past.”
The pediment on the south side of the Archives of the United States of America.
A sculpture at the south side of the Archives building. The inscription reads, “The Heritage of the Past is the Seed that Brings Forth the Harvest of the Future.”

The following weekend I was back in Washington, D.C. Following a stunning sunrise, I returned to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Leslie, Hillary, Tyler, and I visited the Basilica in 2009 while we were stationed in the area for training with the Department of State. I found it every bit as impressive on this visit. That may be due in part to the Christmas decorations.

The stunning sunrise from my apartment. One can see an airplane on final approach to Reagan National Airport.
Stunning sunrise II.
Stunning sunrise III.

For those who have not visited the Basilica, it is difficult to get a sincere feeling for the scale and grandeur by merely looking at photographs. It is by far the largest church in which I have ever been. I shall cease the narrative now and try to let the pictures of this magnificent structure tell the story. The narration shall resume after the Basilica photographs.

The front of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The rosette over the main door to the Basilica.
The southern face of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
A similar view of the Basilica.
The main dome of the Basilica is visible just beyond the front rosette.
The tomb of Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan (1857 – 1932) in the Founder’s Chapel. His is the only burial in the Basilica.
Dozens and dozens of donors to the Basilica are listed in Memorial Hall.
The mosaic behind the altar in the Mary, Queen of Missions Chapel.
Detail of the mosaic behind the altar in the Mary, Queen of Missions Chapel.
Our Lady of La Vang.
The Crypt Church on the lower level of the Basilica.
Women placing poinsettias in the Crypt Church.
Detail of the mosaic at Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu.
The stained glass door to the lower level sacristy.
A mosaic depiction of Joseph in the North Apse of the lower level.
The mosaic of Jesus in the North Apse is just behind the tabernacle.
Our Lady of Vailankanni.
The Schudi Organ in the Crypt Church on the lower level.
A man cleaning the floor in front of the Nativity scene in the Crypt Church.
Our Lady of Hope Chapel.
Detail of the Our Lady of Hope Chapel.
Pope John Paul II?
The Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel.
A painted crucifix.
The Byzantine-Ruthenian Chapel.
A mosaic in the Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel.
Detail from behind the altar in the Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel.
Our Lady of Pompeii.
A sculpture of Mary and Jesus surrounded by Christmas trees.
The Mother of Divine Providence sculpture on the lower level.
Detail of the Mother of Divine Providence sculpture.
The Holy Family at Rest bronze. Note the stained glass reflection.
A sculpture of Saint Maria Goretti on the side of the pews in the upper church.
Part of the tour group listening to the guide while in the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel.
Detail of the mosaic behind the altar in the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel.
The painting behind the altar in the Our Lady of Czestochowa Chapel.
The mosaic of Christ on the ceiling of the North Apse.
Detail of Christ on the ceiling in the North Apse.
Wider view of Christ on the ceiling of the North Apse.
The tour group marveling at the West Apse.
A small mosaic of fishes and loaves of bread.
A mosaic of Joseph with Jesus on the ceiling of the East Apse.
In the Founder’s Chapel with our tour guide.
In the Memorial Hall.
A sculpture of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in the Hall of American Saints.
Our Mother of Africa.
A bas relief in the Hall of Our Mother of Africa.
The guide providing information in the Byzantine-Ruthenian Chapel.
Stained glass detail of Jesus in the Byzantine-Ruthenian Chapel.
Stained glass detail of Mary and Jesus in the Byzantine-Ruthenian Chapel.
A sculpture of Pope Saint Pius X.
The crucifix in the Founder’s Chapel.
Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel.
A mosaic of the Hail Mary prayer.
The Miraculous Medal Chapel.
Detail of a mosaic in the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel.
A man praying at the Our Lady of Czestochowa Chapel.
The Mother of Sorrows Chapel.
The Pieta in the Mother of Sorrows Chapel.
The Our Lady of Siluva Chapel.
Mary, Queen of All Hearts Chapel.