Tag: UNESCO World Heritage

Ancient Peoples or Aliens?

Ancient Peoples or Aliens?

Tiwanaku, Bolivia – May 24, 2019

Friday morning was cold and clear, 1-degree Celcius (34-degrees Fahrenheit).  The clear skies bode well for my photography at Tiwanaku, my destination that day.

Right at the appointed hour, 08:00, Mariela, and her driver, Nico, arrived to pick me up for my guided tour at my residence (3,407 meters (11,180 feet)).  As one will read, the altitude is a topic of interest throughout the blog.  Mariela is the owner of her tour company, Mariela’s Bolivia.  One can find her on Facebook by searching for Mariela’s Bolivia.  Homebase for her company is in La Paz, but she offers tours throughout the area.  I cannot recommend her highly enough.  I will use her for additional trips soon.

As I found out throughout the day, the tour was all-inclusive.  When I got into the van, she immediately gave me a fabric bag with her logo.  Inside the bag were a liter bottle of water, two snack bars, a bag of chocolate-covered puffed rice, and two tangerines.  She also took care of all Teleférico fares, Tiwanaku entry fees, and lunch.

Both Mariela and Nico were friendly and personable.  Since my Spanish skills are not that good, it is a bonus that they both speak perfect English.

Our first destination was the Irpawi station of the green line of the Teleférico.  The plan was for Mariela and me to ride the Teleférico to the last station of the blue line.  Nico would meet us at that stop.  Rush-hour traffic was heavy, but we made it to the green line station in good time.  Mariela and I jumped out of the van and entered the station.  Since it was rush-hour, there were a lot of people in the station.  When I usually ride the Teleférico in the morning, it is around 06:00…not as many people then!

We entered an empty gondola and sat by the far window.  Immediately, another six people came into the gondola.  The door closed and we began the ascent from Irpawi.  Mariela started to share all sorts of information with me about Bolivia and La Paz.  As a history buff, I found the information very interesting.

Arriving at the first intermediate station on the green line, the Teleférico attendant asked us all to scoot closer.  I could see a queue of people waiting to get into a gondola.  By getting closer, we were able to accommodate two additional passengers.

In about twenty minutes, we made it to the final station on the green line.  That is also the beginning of the yellow line, our next transport.  There were very few people going our direction on the yellow line, so only two other passengers joined us.  Mariela continued telling me about her city and country.  One fact I found startling; at last count, some 70,000 people rode the yellow line daily from El Alto to La Paz and back again.

My first venture onto the yellow line provided a spectacular view of the recent horrific landslide.  The civil engineering teams working there accomplished a lot, but there is still a lot of work required.  Several homes and buildings continue to be at risk of slipping down the hillside.  The landslide impacted at least one hundred families.  Amazingly, there were only three casualties.

From the last mid-point station to the final station atop El Alto, the yellow line seems to go absolutely straight up!  I do not think the ride is for the squeamish.  Arriving at the Qhana Pata station in El Alto, we saw some of the 70,000 people queued up for the trip down to La Paz.

At the Qhana Pata station of the yellow line of the Teleférico people queue to ride into La Paz.

We switched to the silver line and ultimately to the blue line.  As we flew over El Alto, we saw dozens and dozens of people readying for the Friday markets.  At one point, the silver line crosses above a cliff.  As seems to be the norm in La Paz, structures hugged the edge.  I believe they were shops of some sort, not homes.

El Alto is at about 4,115 meters (13,500 feet) in altitude.  That is roughly 609 meters (2,000 feet) higher than my house.

The shadow of a Teleférico pylon seems to point well down the road.
A portion of the fruit and vegetable market in El Alto.
El Alto structures right on the edge.
Another view of the cliff structures.
A church in El Alto.

During the switch from silver to blue, I took the opportunity to photograph a map of all the Teleférico lines.  I had not previously seen that.

The blue line goes directly down the center of Avenida 16 de Julio.  It seems it will never end.  Along that avenue, one begins to see cholets.  The word cholet combines the word cholo, a pejorative term, and chalet, as in Swiss chalet.  Most buildings in La Paz and El Alto are unfinished, with the iconic exposed red bricks.  That meager finish allows the owner to escape some of the taxes imposed on a finished structure.  The cholets are finished, some to a fare-thee-well.  That brings on the mandatory taxes.

The ground floor is typically set aside for businesses.  The next couple of levels are event spaces available for rental.  The owner usually lives on the upper floors.  The embassy recently offered a cholita wrestling event, and the venue was a cholet.

A map of the Teleférico network in La Paz.
The blue line of the Teleférico heading east seems endless.
A cholet in El Alto.
A sign for a popular juice brand in Bolivia.
The Heroes of October Colesium in El Alto.
A cholet in El Alto.
A cholet in El Alto.
One of the midpoint blue line stations.
A cholet in El Alto.
A cholet in El Alto.

When Leslie and I recently visited the gallery of the artist Mamani Mamani, I remember seeing a photograph of some buildings on which he painted some murals (see the blog MAMAN!MAMANi).  Today I saw those buildings from the Teleférico.  I had no idea they were so far away.

Below the Teleférico, we saw nothing but gridlock!  I felt sorry for Nicco down there somewhere.  Regardless, we made it to the final station of the blue line.  There, an enormous Friday market was in full swing.  Nico was not there yet.  However, after just a few photographs, Nico arrived.  Mariela and I got back in the van.

Nico maneuvered the van through the crazy traffic until we got to Route 1.  From there, it was smooth sailing toward Tiwanaku, until we arrived at the village of Laja.  There is a tollbooth in that village.  After obtaining the toll-ticket, there is a police checkpoint.  The police officer looked at Nico’s driver’s license, asked where we were going, and quickly waved us through the checkpoint.

In the distance, high-rise public housing with murals courtesy of the artist, Mamani Mamani.
“Flying” over a street in El Alto.
The market seems to stretch to the horizon.
A bit of a traffic jam. This is why the Teleférico is the only way to travel.
The Friday market near the Waña Jawira station of the blue line, our final stop.
A man walking into the blue line station.
At the Friday market, women selling medicinal herbs.
The bustling Friday market.
Detail of a woman selling the medicinal herbs.

About 19 kilometers (12 miles) from Tiwanaku, Nico pulled off the road at an overlook.  The elevation is about 4,000 meters (13,123 feet).  This particular overlook affords one an epic view of the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes).  In this area of Bolivia, there is about 120-180 kilometers (74-112 miles) line of Andean peaks always covered in snow.  The difference in distance depends on the information source one uses.  Suffice it to say, the range at this overlook is stunning.  Even without the best light that morning, the mountain peaks are still a fantastic amazing sight.

A mountain in the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes).
Illimani, part of the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes).

After traveling a little more than two hours, we arrived at the village of Tiwanaku.  It is the site of two famous and ancient archaeological sites, Tiwanaku and Puma Punku.  I noticed train tracks in front of an old building that must have been the train depot at one time.  I believe there is a special train one can ride from the La Paz area to Tiwanaku periodically.  Schoolchildren visiting the sites most often use it.  A sign near the old building indicated the altitude at Tiwanaku is 3,870 meters (12,697 feet).  Mariela purchased the tickets for our tour at the depot building.

First on our itinerary was a visit to the two museums in Tiwanaku, the Museo Ceramico (Ceramic Museum) and the Museo Lítico (Lithic Museum – as in monolithic).  Mariela and I first entered the Museo Ceramico.  It was instantly evident that either the heat was not on or there was no heating system.  Regardless, the museum helps paint a picture of the history of the area.  The information offered by Mariela helped bring the culture into focus.  The museum is where one begins to encounter the mystery surrounding Tiwanaku and Puma Punku.  Tiwanaku became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.  According to the UNESCO site, Tiwanaku flourished as a city between 400 A.D. and 900 A.D.  However, some materials in the museum date the civilization as far back as 15,000 B.C.  That is quite a range!

The museum displays many types of ceramics used in both everyday life and ceremonial life.  Additionally, one can view some weaponry, jewelry, and even a mummy found at Tiwanaku.  Maybe one of the most controversial items on display is the distended human skull.  That one skull is the tip of the iceberg as the museum owns many others.  No one knows the methods used to distend the skulls.  No tools or records of the activity survived.  Some have said the skulls might not be human, but rather extra-terrestrial.  I certainly do not know, but I can say it was one of the oddest things I have seen.  The museum does not allow photography, so I have no images to share.

Departing the Museo Ceramico, we walked next door to the Museo Lítico which showcase the stone monoliths found at the Tiwanaku site.  The Bennett monolith is the star of the show.  Wendell C. Bennett, an American archaeologist from Indiana is credited with discovering the monolith in 1932; thus the name.  Relocated to the city of La Paz after its discovery, it took nearly 70-years to return the monolith to Tiwanaku.  The monolith is almost 7.6 meters (25 feet) tall.  One of its more unique features is the backward right hand.  More on this later in the blog.

Mariela, my guide, purchasing the tickets that will allow admittance to all of the sites at Tiwanaku.
Tickets in hand and ready to go!
The rail station and a snack shack at Tiwanaku or Tiahuanaco, elevation 3,870 meters (12,697 feet).

Exiting the museum, we headed to the archaeological site of Tiwanaku!  Directly across the street from the museum is the main entrance.  From the entry point to the site was roughly 335 meters (1,100 feet).  The benefit of being with a knowledgeable guide is that she knew the shortcut.  Nico picked us up and drove to the north side of the site.  From there, our walk to the site was a mere 33 meters (110 feet)!

Approaching the site, one sees the rock wall of the Kalasasaya Temple, but what catches the eye is the Templo Semisubterráneo (semi-subterranean temple).  That is a large, square temple excavated about 2.5 to 3 meters (8 to 10 feet) into the earth.  Stone blocks make up the walls.  The most significant blocks are maybe 30 by 60 centimeters (12 inches by 24 inches).  The stones are nicely carved and fit together very well without any visible type of mortar.  The seams are tight, but not microscopically tight.  The face of some of the stones show what appear to be tool marks, but overall, they are smooth.  Each of the corners of the walls appears to be very close to 90-degrees.  Interspersed throughout the walls are some much larger stones, some are monolithic.

On each of the four walls are carved heads, 170 to be exact.  The carved heads are much closer to the ground than to the top of the wall.  I thought that was odd.  However, what is even more curious is the shape and design of some of the heads.  I saw at least two that could pass for our current belief of the looks of extra-terrestrials.  Some of the carvings seem to have turbans, something not known in the area in ancient times.  At least one of the heads appeared to be a skull, much like the distended skull in the Museo Ceramico.  Some of the objects have small noses, while others have quite broad noses.  Likewise, there are thin lips and quite thick lips represented.  Some of these features were not common in the area in ancient times.

The massive monolith in the center of the temple is not without its controversy.  Known as the Bearded monolith, it sports a thick beard and mustache.  The indigenous peoples are not known for such hairy faces.  So, the question remains, after whom is the monolith fashioned?  Just another of the many Tiwanaku mysteries.

The east gateway to Kalasasaya (Stopped Stone) Temple. The tourist is admiring the Ponce monolith.
Detail of the gate, monolith, and tourist.
Mariela allowing me to check the focus of the camera before she kindly photographed the author. By the way, that is all of my “junk” draped on her left shoulder.
Standing just above the Templo Semisubterráneo (semi-subterranean temple). The Kalasasaya Temple is in the background.
A group of school children in the semi-subterranean temple.
The Bearded monolith is in the center of the semi-subterranean temple.
On the lower section of the wall of the semi-subterranean temple are 170 carved heads.
Some say the white carved head here is representative of an alien.
The Bearded monolith.
The white head seems to be yet another of our extra-terrestrial friends.
A very odd-looking carved head, possibly with a distended skull.
The head at the lower right seems to look like a skull, possibly with a distended upper skull.
This head appears to have a turban-style headdress; something unknown in the local culture millennia ago.
The head of the Bearded monolith. The beard is quite thick and pronounced, not the norm of people in the area millennia ago.
A snake carved on the side of the Bearded monolith.
The “squished” face at the lower-center is rather odd-looking.

Exiting the temple, one looks directly at the Akapana Pyramid, the third and tallest structure at Tiwanaku, although not exceedingly excavated.  Mariela offered to walk with me to the top.  I opted not to do that, which meant our attention turned to the Kalasasaya Temple.

The east wall of Kalasasaya Temple is roughly parallel to the west wall of the Templo Semisubterráneo.  An ancient set of seven stairs appears to have been the main entrance to the temple in ancient times.  The stairs lead to a gate and ultimately to the Ponce monolith.  Well worn, the stairs are not open to the public.  To enter the temple, we walked along the north wall until we arrived at a much smaller set of seven stairs.  Going up the stairs, we made it to the topmost level of the temple.

A group of school children at the very worn steps to the east entry to the Kalasasaya Temple.
Detail of the east wall of the Kalasasaya Temple.
The north wall of the Kalasasaya Temple.
Yours truly at a stair to the upper level of Kalasasaya Temple.

We walked directly to the Sun Gate.  This gate, though carved from stone, is not similar at all to the other rock at the temples.  The face of the gate is incredibly smooth.  One cannot see any tool marks.  Precisely cut 90-degree angles are on either side of and above the opening.  Just how was this stone carved?  How was the stone transported to this spot?  Since there are no signs of stone chips, where did the carving occur?  No one knows the answer to these questions.  There are many theories, but no proof to date.

At the very top of the stone, above the opening, is an intricate carving of what archaeologists think is the Sun God.  To either side and below the Sun God are four lines of figures.  The lower line may have been a calendar.  The other three lines contain 48 identical winged figures.  Lastly, one cannot miss the enormous crack at the upper part of the stone.  Some believe that the break is the result of a lightning strike.  I disagree with that theory.  If lightning is the cause of the crack, I think there would be much more significant damage on the top portion of the gate.

The backside of the gate is not as intricate, but it still has the characteristic 90-degree angles and smooth finishes.

The east face of the Sun Gate.
Detail of the Sun Gate at Kalasasaya Temple. The figure is the Sun God.
The west face of the Sun Gate.
A side view of the Sun Gate. Note how smooth are the surfaces.

Our next stop was the El Fraile (the Friar) monolith.  This monolith is well known for its contrasting colors of the stone.  At the monolith we stood near a group of school children, also touring the sites.  According to their jackets, the children hailed from the Villa Tunari neighborhood of El Alto.  While standing there, Mariela continued to speak to me in English.  Hearing the English and the fact that I was not Bolivian seemed to be of more interest to the children than the monolith.  Several of them smiled and said hello to me as they departed the monolith.

The El Fraile monolith, like several others, has a unique characteristic.  The right-hand is backward, and in the left, El Fraile holds a chalice.  The fingers on the left side look natural, holding the cup.  In the right hand is what appears to be a scepter; however, if one looks closely, the fingers of the right-hand point in the wrong direction.  Another question, why?  There may be theories, but no one seems to know for sure.

A panorama of the Kalasasaya Temple looking south toward the Akapana pyramid to the left of the frame.
A group of school children at the El Fraile (the Friar) monolith.
A less crowded view of the monolith.
Looking southwest from the Kalasasaya Temple toward the village of Tiwanaku.

Along the north and south walls of a portion of the temple are 14 structures, seven on each side.  They appear like tombs.  Archaeologists believe they may have housed the mummies of leaders or ancestors of the Tiwanaku society.  I wonder if that is where the mummy in the Museo Ceramico originated?

While I read a sign about the tombs, Mariela asked me to stay where I was.  She disappeared on the opposite side of the wall.  Suddenly I heard my name called, but no one was around me.  I finally realized it was Mariela speaking to me through a small hole in the wall.  Even though she whispered what she said, I heard it all very plainly.  The holes in the wall are not only round.  They have interior undulations that seem to mimic the inner ear.  The holes prompt more questions.  Why are the holes there?  How were they carved so precisely?  The answer appears to be that there are no answers.

The Cuartos Ceremoniales (Ceremonial Rooms) Kalasasaya along the south side of the temple.

In the center of the tombs stands the Ponce monolith.  In the bright sunlight, it is easy to see the detailed carvings on this monolith; including the backward right hand.  The “belt” of Ponce has a repeating pattern of what seems to be a crab.  Those are in addition to the intricate designs on the headdress, face, chest, and fingers.  The monolith has what looks like a mid-shin pair of shorts or breechclout, festooned with circles and what looks like peace signs.  One theory holds these tracked centuries of solar and lunar eclipses.

On the back of the head of Ponce, one sees what looks like braids or dreadlocks.  An unusual hairstyle for that part of the world in ancient times.  At the base of the neck on the right side, a large chunk of stone is missing.  Spanish explorers possibly tried to decapitate the monolith as they did with so many others at the Tiwanaku site.

The front of the Ponce monolith.
Detail of the front of the Ponce monolith.
The left side of the Ponce monolith.
Detail of one of the sides of the Ponce monolith.
The backside of the Ponce monolith.
Detail of the backside of the Ponce monolith. Note the large chip missing at the base of the right side of the neck.
Looking into the Semi-subterranean Temple from the Kalasasaya Temple.
An “ear” hole in the north wall of the Kalasasaya Temple.

Descending from the Kalasasaya Temple, the final monolith we saw was the Descabezado (Headless) monolith.  As the name implies, this monolith has no head.  The stone looks like the stone used for the Bearded monolith.  Archaeologists believe the monolith dates from 100 B.C. to 400 A.D.

We departed the Tiwanaku site and walked the 33 meters (110 feet) back toward the van.  At the parking area was a woman selling tourist souvenirs.  Of course, I had to buy something.  After I completed the transaction, she was kind enough to allow me to take her portrait.

The Descabezado (Headless) monolith.
A woman selling tourist souvenirs near the north entrance to the Tiwanaku complex.

Leaving the parking area, we began our drive to the lunch restaurant.  On the way, we passed a unique adobe structure.  It seemed like Bolivia adobe meets Hobbiton.  Nico was kind enough to stop to allow me to take a photograph.  Upon closer inspection, it was evident that if I tried to enter the low front door, I would undoubtedly bump my head on some of the even lower ceilings!  Because of that, I decided I would not go in!

An abandoned adobe structure alongside our route to lunch.

In a matter of minutes, Nico parked in front of the restaurant Taypi Uta.  That means “central house” in the Aymara language.  The owner built the restaurant and a sort of museum on the rest of the grounds.  The restaurant is modern, spacious, and very clean.

Our lunch, included in the price of the tour, was a Bolivian buffet.  It was delicious.  Our server, the owner’s daughter, brought our first course; sopa de trigo or wheat soup.  As soon as we finished our soup, the server placed a small table with a traditional cloth next to our dining table.  On the table, she placed three plates and ten small bowls.  The bowls contained the buffet.  I tried a little bit of everything.

One of the potato dishes was chuño.  They are a dark-colored potato, dried in some manner that allows them to be stored almost indefinitely.  They are not my favorite.  The potatoes lack taste.  My three favorite foods were the fried quinoa, the fried trucha (trout), and the llama.  The bowls may look small, but we were all sated by the end of our lunch.  That did not stop our server from bringing some yogurt for dessert.  It had some banana and quinoa on top.  I took a couple of bites, but yogurt is not one of my favorites.

Mariela noted that if we were working in a nearby field, the type of lunch we had would be brought to the area in the colorful fabric, for all to share.  After nearly ten months in Bolivia, this was my first genuinely Bolivian lunch.

Lastly, the server brought a basket with several keychains attached to business cards for the restaurant.  Each key chain had a small amulet.  I chose a chacha puma, a figure that is half-man and half-puma.

What an enjoyable lunch!

The interior of the Taypi Uta (Amayra for Central House) Restaurant.
For our lunch starter, sopa de trigo (wheat soup).
A true Bolivian lunch buffet. The two bowls at the top, from left to right are quinoa fritters and fried trout. The next line of bowls are chuño, uqa, quinoa, and fried chicken strips. The final row are potatoes, rice, lentils, and llama.
For dessert, yogurt, banana, nuts, and quinoa.
View to the south from the restaurant parking lot.

During lunch, we talked about our final tour of the day, Puma Punku.  Both Mariela and Nico spoke about people from the History Channel visiting the area a few years ago.  Those visitors were more interested in Puma Punku than Tiwanaku.  With that information in hand, when I got home, I looked up the episode in question.  I watched Ancient Aliens season 4, episode 6 entitled The Mystery of Puma Punku.  For anyone interested, it is well worth the investment of 44-minutes.

Following lunch, we drove the 600 meters (nearly 2,000 feet) to the Puma Punku archaeological site.  We all three walked into the site, toward the first set of H-stones.  As the name implies, these are stones formed in the shape of the letter H.  Looking at them from the front, they are approximately 1-meter (3.2-feet) square.  Many of the same questions come to mind.  Where did the stones come from?  How did they get here?  How were they carved with no trace of tool marks?  How were the precise 90-degree angles formed?  What was the purpose of the stones?  I am sure the list goes on and on.

Regarding where the stones originated, scientists are reasonably sure they came from a volcanic area, Kapia, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) away.  That fact makes the question of how the stones made it to the site all the more curious.  Some of the larger stones approach 100 tons.

Regarding usage, The Mystery of Puma Punku episode explores two theories; a door hinge system and a space vehicle launch system.  Watching the show, one can understand how the two individuals arrived at their opinions.  However, I question the validity of either theory based on what I observed at the site.  If the H-stones were part of an extensive door hinge system, where are the other hinge components or the door?  If the H-stones were part of a launch system, why are they presented in an upright position?  Why were the H-stones not aligned on the ground, parallel with the earth?  As one can see, the use of the word “mystery” is very appropriate for the Puma Punku site.

Some of the H-stones at Puma Punka.
Large blocks of red sandstone behind the H-stones.
The backside of the H-stones and another view of the sandstone block.
The I-shaped indentations were for metal connectors, some of which are in the Museo Ceramico.
Several precision-cut stones.
Some additional patterns with 90-degree angles.
A line of H-stones.
Detail of the H-stones.
A seam of two pieces of sandstone.
Squares and a circle cut in sandstone.
Note how flat the surface is and the absence of tool marks.

There are many other stones at the site, nearly all of which generate similar questions like those above.  However, there is one stone that is more perplexing than all the others combined.  At first glance, one might not even take notice of the stone.  It lies flat on the ground.  It is about 1.2-meters (4-feet) long by 0.5-meters (19-inches).  There is a large groove with two cylindrical holes on either end of the slot, roughly in the center of the stone, running lengthwise.  But the two most unexplained features are “drill” holes and parallel lines.

On the edge of the stone is a small ledge that is precisely at a 90-degrees angle.  On that small ledge are multiple small holes, apparently made with a drill.  They are roughly equidistant.  On the face of the stone, near one end, are two tiny, parallel lines carved into the rock.  The lines have the same precise 90-degree angles and equidistant drill holes.  I do not think I need to write all the questions here, but suffice it to say, there are a lot of questions about this stone.

In The Mystery of Puma Punku, scientists try to duplicate the cuts and finishes on a small stone taken from the site.  They used both a diamond wheel cutter and a laser cutter.  Neither even came close to matching the features found on the rocks at Puma Punku.  More questions…

This may have been the most interesting stone at Puma Punku. Along the front edge are equidistant holes that appear to be done with a drill. The two intricate parallel lines at the far right also contain “drill” holes that are equidistant.
Stones are strewn everywhere.
A partially excavated pit.
Looking west from the top of Puma Punka.
Detail of a nearby farm.

The structure at Puma Punku is a raised, pyramid-type structure.  At the west wall is a set of ancient stairs that were likely the main entry point.  Like the Tiwanaku site, they are well worn.  Other than the stairs, the construction at Puma Punku is much different.  Precisely cut, the stones at the walls fit together well.  The seams are so precise that one cannot insert a piece of paper between two rocks.  I saw no signs of visible mortar.  Again, questions…

The west steps to Puma Punku.
A wider view of the steps.
A portion of the west wall of Puma Punku.
The view east along the south wall of Puma Punku.
An example of the very tight seams along the walls.
This channel comes from the top of the temple.
Another example of the tight seams.
An inside corner.
Looking back across all of the various stones of Puma Punku.
More very smoothly cut stones.
A fallen gate.
Tourists on the other side of the largest, multi-ton stone at Puma Punku. It may approach 100-tons.
Smoothly cut stones.
Looking toward the upper H-stones.
The author at the some of the H-stones.

Near the end of our tour of Puma Punku, we saw some rodents living under the stones.  I believe they are called cui rabbits.  Regardless, they were cute and fun to watch.

A rodent under one of the rocks, possibly related to a chinchilla.
An adult and a youngster…
The den seemed to be up and under the huge stone.

After our walking tour of Puma Punku, we drove back into the village of Tiwanaku.  I wanted to take a few photographs of the town.  The Church of Saint Peter of Tiwanaku, built between 1580 and 1612, is on the east side of the central plaza.  Built with stones from the archaeological site, it also showcases two monoliths near the front entrance.  Above the main entry door is a stained-glass depiction of a man’s face, possibly Saint Peter.  Whoever it is, the man does not look happy at all.

Following the brief photography session, we drove back to the Museo Ceramico.  The primary purpose was to use the toilets before our two-hour drive back to town.  Emerging from the museum, we crossed the street to one of the souvenir stands.  I bought a couple of items there and photographed our charming vendor.

A sign in town for good beef.
The Church of Saint Peter of Tiwanaku.
The entry to the church.
The southeast entry to the main plaza area of Tiwanaku.
Colorful buildings along the east side of the plaza.
A sign for Torito cold-cuts.
The snack shacks near the Tiwanaku museums.
A very nice vendor in Tiwanaku.

At about 15:00, Nico turned the van toward El Alto, and we began our trek home.  We made one more stop at the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes) overlook.  Because of the lighting, the view was even more spectacular than it was in the morning.

This day was one of the most enjoyable tours I have ever taken.  I recommend Tiwanaku, and more importantly, Mariela’s Bolivia to anyone that visits the La Paz area of Bolivia!

A panoramic view of the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes).
Illimani in the distance. The city apparently at the base is El Alto.
Me at the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes) overlook.
Another view of Illimani closer to home.
In The Shadow of Ruapehu

In The Shadow of Ruapehu

Chateau Tongariro, Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand – March 28, 2018

What is it that makes a trip by train such a romantic venture? Maybe it is that it harkens back to days long gone. Perhaps it the ability to see the sights at essentially eye-level, not from 35,000 feet. Maybe it is simply the name of the train, The Northern Explorer. Whatever it is, we were both looking forward to our trip to the Chateau Tongariro.
Absolutely ready for the train trip!

It was a drizzly, and sometimes rainy, morning.  As soon as the taxi dropped us off at Platform 9, we got into the queue to check-in for the journey.  The woman at the ticket counter gave us our tickets; Carriage D, seats 12A and 12B.  We tagged our bags to our final destination, National Park, and delivered them to the baggage carriage.

Our seats faced two others with a table in between. Luckily our seats looked to the front of the train. It was the same configuration we had when we traveled on the Tranzalpine from Greymouth to Christchurch in February 2016. The seats are excellent except for the fact that it is impossible to stretch one’s legs if another passenger is sitting across.

I have always been fascinated with locomotives.  The 7000-series model that was preparing to pull our train is one of the largest of the KiwiRail fleet.  While it is impressive, it is nowhere near as aerodynamic as the locomotives used in Spain to pull the bullet trains.  Regardless, I knew it would do just fine for our journey.

Readying for the trip.
A 7000-series locomotive to pull our cars to National Park.

When I originally purchased the tickets for our trip, I also bought two breakfast wraps and two long-black coffees. Talking with the woman in the dining carriage, I discovered she would be able to serve as soon as the train departed. Since that was just a few minutes away, I decided to stand and wait.

While I was waiting, I noticed several KiwiRail workers outside the train pushing empty shopping carts.  They bring carts full of food and beverages from the storage area to the train to stock the dining carriage.  When I walk to work from the train station, I had often seen the workers coming from a small warehouse in the train station building along Featherston Street.  I had always thought they were stocking the restaurant in the train station building.  That morning, I discovered the true nature of their business.

Just as she had promised, the attendant provided the wraps as the train departed, 07:55.  The coffees were not quite ready.  She said she would bring them to our seats.

I went back to our seats. Leslie and I both tucked into a delicious breakfast wrap of scrambled eggs and ham. While it may not have been haute cuisine, it was delicious. When the coffee arrived, the circle of our happiness was complete!

Above the aisle in the carriage were several video screens. The screens displayed a view of the North Island. The route of the train was visible, stretching from Wellington to Auckland. Our stop, National Park, was roughly halfway. We were to reach our destination in just over five hours. Quite frankly, I was delighted we were not going to Auckland. I am not sure I could have lasted an additional five hours.

The Northern Explorer travels from Wellington to Auckland and back again.

Periodically, the video emitted a bell tone. That indicated an audio commentary was available. Each seat had a pair of headphones. One could plug in and listen to the explanation in a variety of languages. I listened a couple of times. While it was interesting, I spent most of the time talking with Leslie and watching New Zealand pass by the train.

By the time we reached the Tasman Sea coast, the rain had stopped. It was still cloudy, but not raining. I walked to the rear of the train to take photos. The last carriage is for observation. That carriage has no windows. That translates to photographs with no reflection from the glass. That said, it was very challenging to take photos while the train rumbled and bounced along at about 60 mph.

Kapiti Island under the clouds.

The good news is the observation carriage was nice and cool.  The passenger carriages were intolerably hot.  The internal temperature only got worse once the cloud cover cleared.

Even though the clouds were still quite low, Kapiti Island was easily visible. The dark, dreary photo I made sets the tone for what the weather we experienced. That lasted until we passed the Otaki stop. From then on, we had beautiful blue skies with a few clouds.

The Northern Explorer made two stops before our stop; Palmerston North and Ohakune. Other than that, awe-inspiring expansive sheep stations (ranches) and magnificent river gorges provided a visual treat. I am still amazed at how much of New Zealand is such a beautiful green.

The river gorge that was my favorite had to be Rangitikei. The white cliffs against the azure-green water were beautiful. The fact that the train crosses the canyon on a high viaduct adds to the stunning perspective.

Another view of the Rangitikei gorge.
Crossing the very deep Rangitikei gorge.
On the outskirts of Otiku is The Wool Company. The only reason I noticed it is because two people were standing in front, waving at the passing train.
The Wool Company headquarters.

As we rattled through Taihape, I caught a glimpse of the large gumboot sculpture.  Taihape is the home to the annual North Island championship gumboot throwing.  The competitors throw rubber boots as far as they can.  The best throw I could find for women was Kristen Churchward’s 34.35 meters (113 feet) in 2016.  The best throw I could find for men was Brent Newdick’s 48.5 meters (159 feet) in 2015. That is quite a distance for a rubber boot to travel!

Nearing Waiouru, we got our first glimpse of Mount Ruapehu, one of New Zealand’s active volcanos. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most active; Ruapehu rates a 1. That is the same level we encountered with White Island when we were at Ohope Beach. New Zealand lists twelve volcanos; Ruapehu and White Island are the only two considered currently active.

First view of Mount Ruapehu.

In addition to being an active volcano, Mount Ruapehu is the highest point on the North Island at 2,797 meters (9,177 feet).  In Maori, Ruapehu means “pit of noise” or “exploding pit.”  It last erupted on September 25, 2007.  Our destination, the Chateau Tongariro, lays at the base of Ruapehu.

After our stop at Ohakune, we crossed two spectacular viaducts; Hapuawhenua and Makatote.  Hapuawhenua dates from about 1907.  At its highest point, the 284-meter (932 feet) viaduct is 45 meters (148 feet) above the bottom of the gorge.  The Makatote is not quite as long, 262 meters (860 feet), but it is taller at 79 meters (259 feet).  They both demonstrate just how rugged the terrain can be in New Zealand.

It was about 13:15 when we arrived at National Park. I did not realize it until I wrote this blog, but National Park is the highest urban township in New Zealand (825 meters or 2,707 feet). Waimarino was the original name for National Park. In Maori, it translates to “calm waters.” In 1926, the railway changed the name to National Park.

A driver from ROAM (Rivers, Oceans, and Mountains) met a young woman at the train-side and us. It took about 20 minutes to get to the Chateau Tongariro. During the drive, we could see the clouds were gathering. What little bit of blue sky we had upon arrival was the last blue sky we saw until our return train trip.
Leslie at the Chateau.
I was there too!

Workers laid the foundation stone for the Chateau on February 16, 1929. As part of a government subsidy, the Chateau could not cost less than £40,000 nor more than £60,000. The other stipulation was that the project must be completed by March 31, 1930. The final cost was £88,000. It was a spectacular facility and setting for the time. To put those numbers into perspective today, it would be a range of £2,363,600 (US$3,312,569) to £3,545,400 (US$4,968,877). The final price equates to £5,199,920 (US$7,287,652).

Our room was nice.  It was spacious, but most importantly, it had a gas fireplace.  We placed our luggage in the room and went outside to explore.  We ended up at Tussock, a restaurant about 100 meters north of the Chateau.  We had a glass of wine on the front terrace, overlooking Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe.  They were beginning to be obscured by clouds.

The other side of our room at the Chateau Tongariro.
Our room at the Chateau Tongariro.
Our views during the stay got worse and worse. The center mountain with its top in the clouds is Mount Ngauruhoe. Just to the left is Mount Tongariro.

Mount Ngauruhoe is the taller of the two at 2,291 meters (7,516 feet). Ngauruhoe translates as “the peak of Uruhoe.” Mount Tongariro is a mere 1,978 meters (6,489 feet). Tongariro translates as “south wind borne away.” They are both volcanos. Ngauruhoe last erupted on February 19, 1975. On the other hand, Tongariro’s last eruption was much more recent, November 21, 2012.

All three mountains; Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro, played parts in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. They and the surrounding area were the shooting location for parts of the movie depicting Modor’s Gorgoroth region. Ngauruhoe, although digitally altered, played the role of Mount Doom. It seems that nearly anyplace one goes throughout New Zealand; parts of the films were made there.

The real draw to the area is the world-famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It is a one-way hike of about 19 kilometers (12 miles). Since parking at the trailhead is limited, shuttles take hikers to the start and then meet them on the other side. The trail begins at about 1,100 meters (3,609 feet), climbs to a high point of 1,900 meters (6,234 feet), and finally descends to the finish at a little more than 700 meters (2,297 feet). According to a brochure at the Chateau, the crossing takes six to eight hours. If Leslie and I had tried it, I am confident it would have been more like six to eight days, not counting the helicopter rescue!

After speaking with staff in the iSite, instead of the “long” walk, we opted for a couple of shorter walks; the ridge walk and the Whakapapa nature walk. It was a little drizzly while we walked, but it was not uncomfortable.

Just outside the iSite was a commemorative stone.  That is when I realized the Tongariro National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I can see why.  The park is beautiful, gifted to the people of New Zealand by a Maori chief in 1887.  Visiting the park makes the 20th World Heritage Site Leslie and I have been fortunate enough to visit.  Regardless, that is not much of a dent in the over 1,000 sites worldwide.

The Tongariro National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The ridge walk begins just beyond the iSite. The sign indicated it was a 1.2-kilometer return (roundtrip) walk, taking about 30 to 40 minutes. Nearly half of the trail goes through a forest. The remainder winds through alpine shrubland. On the way up, it is definitely up. We frequently stopped to gain our breath. Just after we began, a young man passed us, going up the trail. We were about one-third of the way up when he passed us again, going down the path. I assured him we would make the summit in time for dinner. The end of the trail offered a commanding view of the Chateau and the land around. The low cloud cover limited our sight.

The Chateau as seen from the overview.

Whakapapa nature walk was much, much more manageable. It is a sealed trail that winds through some of the beech forests. There were plaques near plants identifying many of the species and describing the plant. However, my favorite part was the two detour trails I took. Both led me down to the Whakapapanui Stream. I thought it provided some excellent photographic opportunities.

Many walks are available throughout the park.
Whakapapanui Stream

That evening we splurged, opting for dinner in the Ruapehu Room. We selected the Chateau Briand for two. I do not think I had ever had that before. I would definitely have it again. It was delicious.

The next morning, Leslie was not feeling well. I walked up the road to a small store to see if I could find something like Pepto-Bismol. They had nothing of the sort. On my way to the store, I saw the old building across from the Chateau was open. I had not previously seen it open. The sign out front touted “authentic Maori art.” I went inside. I immediately saw two massive logs lying on the floor. They were being carved for a display in the area. The wood had a diameter of nearly three feet, and each was about 12-feet long. The carving was very intricate, with numerous Maori themes. The man I talked with about the project said it takes them about four months to complete the two sculptures. There were some art objects for sale, but nothing interested me.

At about 12:15, a woman from ROAM picked us up at the chateau for our short ride to National Park to catch our train. When we arrived at the station, she explained that the station has absolutely nothing to do with the train. Instead, it is a restaurant. Our ticketing and baggage would be handled right at train-side.

The train was a few minutes late, but soon we were on our way south. At the start of this blog, I waxed poetically about the romance of riding the rails. Quite frankly, that had worn off for both of us. After all, with a plane ride of a similar duration, we could be in Tahiti. We were tired and ready to be home.

The train platform at National Park, New Zealand.

Our seats on the return journey were in Carriage D, 7C and 7D. These were much more comfortable than on our initial trip. These seats were akin to airline seats in that they all faced forward and they all had trays stored in the seatbacks. We were able to stretch our legs out with no problem.

The only problem we had to endure again was the heat in the carriage.  We were both amazed at the number of passengers wearing heavy jackets.  Regardless, the time seemed to pass quickly.  We were back in Wellington by 18:30.

KiwiRail, the national rail system of New Zealand.
Exterior view of our car for the next five-plus hours.
Did I mention she is absolutely ready for the train trip?!
A station outbuilding. The sign boasts “Backing Black Caps”, the New Zealand national cricket team.
One of the many ramparts along the way.
A very nice looking station house.
Crossing over the Rangitikei River.
A colorful paddock.
The Rangitikei River alongside the tracks.
Yet another view of the Rangitikei gorge.
A bend in the Rangitikei River.
A green paddock stretching to the far hills.
Sheep in the paddock.
The locomotive, the baggage carriage, and our passenger carriage.
Green hillside in sheep country.
A lonely stretch of road.
Rugged green hillside.
A station home.
On the edge of a town.
It appears the sheep shall never want for a paddock in which to graze!
Sheep dining near two Cabbage (ti kouka) trees.
Sheep seem to go anywhere in the paddocks.
The cornerstone of the Chateau.
Two of the older visitors.
A 1931 Rover.
Our views on during the stay got worse and worse. The center mountain with its top in the clouds is Mount Ngauruhoe. Just to the left is Mount Tongariro.
The Chateau.
Tiki carving detail outside of the iSite.
The path leading to the ridge overview.
Ferns on the floor of the forest.
The Chateau and points north.
Some of the moss-type plants in the area.
Whakapapanui Stream as seen from a pedestrian bridge near Whakapapa Holiday Park.
Whakapapanui Stream
Whakapapanui Stream
Moss growing on the trees.
A plant with small yellow leaves.
Moss on the trees near the stream.
Whakapapanui Stream
Whakapapanui Stream
Whakapapanui Stream
Small ferns growing on the trees.
Plants and moss near Whakapapanui Stream.
A typical directional sign.
Various foliage on the forest floor.
Some delicate purple flowers.
One, small, lone red berry (hint – near the center).
Small ferns on a tree.
The ferns extended all the way to the canopy.
Ferns on the forest floor.
Old building across from the Chateau.  This is where the Maori carvings were stored.
St. Petersburg (Санкт-Петербург)

St. Petersburg (Санкт-Петербург)

St. Petersburg, Russian Federation – July 13, 2015

We docked at St. Petersburg, Russia this morning. At breakfast, Leslie and I commented that we would never have guessed we would ever visit Russia, but here we are!
This morning, we were part of orange group #1, our tour group for our visit to the Hermitage Museum. Before we got on the bus, we all had to go through passport control. It was not necessarily a breeze. The immigration officer looked closely at us. She even motioned to my passport photo in which I sported a goatee and then pointed at my now clean-shaven face. In addition to our passports, she also demanded to see our ship excursion tickets. Those essentially acted as our Russian visas. Ultimately, even though she seemed a little cranky, she did stamp both of our passports. We thought it was cool getting that entry stamp.
Leslie, Lorraine, Arlene, and I boarded the tour bus. Leslie and I lucked out and got two of the front seats. That made it helpful for taking photos on the way. It was one of several buses lined up at the cruise depot. By 09:00, we began our journey to the museum. On the way, our guide told us St. Petersburg enjoys only about 60 days of sunshine each year. That is precisely the opposite of Colorado, which enjoys approximately 300 days of sun each year. Our day was nice. It was not until later in the day when we returned to the ship that we encountered some raindrops.

All of the buses…
Buses…buses…buses!
Color on the other side of the international border. The colors are beside the ship. Standing on this side of the barrier with the buses, one is in the Russian Federation.
The business end of our Russian tour bus.

After about 30 minutes on the bus, we arrived at the museum. The Louvre in Paris, France, has long been my favorite museum, but that may be in jeopardy now. At the Hermitage, in addition to the museum, one also walks through an awe-inspiring palace. The other fact that sways me is that one of my favorite paintings is at the Hermitage, The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt. The only downside is the size of the exhibit area does not comfortably allow for viewing when the museum is crowded.

The green building is our first glimpse of the State Hermitage Museum, also known as the Winter Palace.
The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt (1663-1669). I got this view as our tour group walked by the portrait on their way to another.
Just before we left the Rembrandt room, the guide gave some insight into my favorite painting by the artist.

When we arrived, our guide shared that we were in luck. We were entering the museum about an hour before it opened to the public. That meant we had many portions of the museum virtually to ourselves. That worked out well for my photography.

The worn, bilingual sign near the entrance.

The museum is just over 250 years old, founded by Catherine the Great. The palace consists of six different buildings. We walked through five of them; the Winter Palace, Small Palace, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and the Hermitage Theater. The buildings total over 2.5 million square feet of space. The ornate decorations in each building and the displayed artwork are just incredible.
We entered the museum through the main Winter Palace door facing the Neva River. It took a little while to get our entire group through the turnstiles; however, once we did, we met the very ornate staircase known as the Ambassadors’ Stairs. When an ambassador visited the Tsar or Empress, they ascended the Ambassador’s Stairs. I am unclear on whether the audience took place in the Peter the Great Throne Room or the St. George Hall. Regardless, they were both stunning spaces.

The Hermitage Museum seems to stretch on forever.
Detail of the pediment above the main entrance to the Hermitage Museum.
At the base of the Ambassadors Staircase, a name used in the 1700s.
A marble statue in a niche on the upper portion of the Ambassadors Staircase.
The columns at the top of the Ambassadors Staircase.
The second landing of the Ambassadors Staircase.
A ceiling fresco above the Ambassadors Staircase.
The tour group ascending the Ambassadors Staircase.
A marble statue in a niche along the Ambassadors Staircase.
The first landing of the Ambassadors Staircase.
Marble sculptures near the top of the Ambassadors Staircase.
Our guide explains many of the features of the Ambassadors Staircase.

Departing the upper landing of the Ambassadors Staircase, we entered the Field Marshal’s Room. While it was impressive, it may have been the least remarkable space we saw that day. One may come to that opinion simply because the decorations are quite muted, not so ornate, and over the top, as some of the other spaces in the museum.
Most notable in the Field Marshal’s Room is the massive chandeliers. They each weigh a jaw-dropping two tons; 4,000 pounds! Several members of our group stood under the lights until our guide related that the chandeliers did fall once. That was enough to get everyone to clear the space.

The Field Marshal’s Room.
A vase in the Field Marshal’s Room.
A portrait of Field Marshal-General His Serene Highness Prince Tavrichesky Count Grigory Alexandrovich Potemkin.

The Peter the Great Throne Room was a little more intimate than the vast expanse of the St. George Hall. The throne room had an intricate parquet and wood inlaid floor. The walls were a warm, but dark red. That red echoed in the throne dais carpet and the upholstery of the throne itself, displaying the double-headed imperial eagle on the back, an imposing figure. The ceiling consisted of arches and coffers with hints of gold leaf. It was elegant.

The throne in the small throne room of Peter the Great. The painting behind the throne chair is Peter I with Minerva dating between 1732 and 1734. The columns are made of jasper.
The parquet inlaid floor in the Small Throne Room.
The throne chair. I believe I prefer my recliner…

Leaving the Small Throne Room, we walked into the amazingly ornate Armorial Hall. The amount of gold in the hall defies description.  There was so much gold in the room that there was a gold hue throughout.
At one part of the hall, one could see through the doorway toward the throne in the St. George Hall. It is hard to imagine the numbers of staff that must have been required to make this Winter Palace a place to live and receive guests. Had I been alive in that era and in the St. Petersburg area, I am more than confident I would have never been able to set foot in the palace.
Comparing the Winter Palace living areas to the Napoleon Apartment in the Louvre in Paris is like comparing Versailles to a studio apartment in New York City. There is just no possible comparison between the two.

The Armorial Hall. By the way, all that glitters IS gold!
The Capture of Berlin on 28 September 1760 by Alexander Kotzebue (1849) in the Armorial Hall.
A very ornate lamp.
A view into the St. George Hall.
The aventurine lapidary in the Armorial Hall. Across the top of the lapidary, one can catch a glimpse of the throne in the St. George Hall.
Some of the golden columns of the Armorial Hall.
A marble sculpture in the Armorial Hall.

Even though we could see the throne in the St. George Hall, there was yet one more room to traverse; the Military Gallery. It is a long, narrow room. It is sometimes referred to as the War Gallery of 1812. The walls have dozens of paintings, all approximately the same size, of war heroes involved in the defeat of Napoleon. The entire tour group made quick work of the visit and moved on the hall.

Another tour guide leading her group through the Military Gallery.
Emperor Alexander I on his steed. The painting is in the Military Gallery. Equestrian Portrait of Alexander I by Franz Krüger (1837).
The bas relief above the door from the Military Gallery to St. George Hall.

The St. George Hall was an immense and massive space of approximately 800 square meters. That translates to about 8,500 square feet. That is more than three times the size of the average American home. A large dais, throne, and canopy dominated the east end of the hall. The throne seemed to be an exact duplicate of the throne in the Small Throne Room, including the imperial eagle. Behind the throne hung a large red banner from the canopy with an equally large imperial eagle. The ornate white and gilded ceiling soared two-stories above the floor.
Leaving St. George Hall, our group wound through some smaller spaces, ultimately stopping in Pavilion Hall. Intimate and two-stories do not necessarily go together, but this space was genuinely intimate. Dominating this hall is the 18th-Century Gold Peacock Clock. The clock is behind a glass covering. The peacock is life-size, as well as the cockerel and the owl. With such large creatures in the clock, one might think the clock face is large too, wrong. The hidden clock face is actually in a small mushroom. The automated birds originally went through a series of movements every hour. My understanding is that the clock now moves only a few times a year. That is to keep from wearing out the mechanical parts. Even though we did not see it move, it was an impressive piece.

The Peacock Clock in the Pavilion Hall dates from the 1770s.
One of our tour group members getting a closeup of the Peacock Clock.
Chandeliers in the Pavilion Hall.
The Peacock Clock.
Mosaic floor in the Pavilion Hall.
Detail of the mosaic floor in the Pavilion Hall.
Courtyard off the Pavilion Hall.
A sculpture in the courtyard titled “America.”
View from the Pavilion Hall across the Neva River to the Peter and Paul Fortress.

We ended up in the Old Dutch Masters area shortly after leaving Pavilion Hall. That is where we began seeing painters copying various paintings. They had easels, stools, and drop cloths set up. We quickly saw a dozen or more painters. Our guide shared that it was a big test for the art students through one of the local universities. I could barely take photographs of the paintings; I know there is no way I could copy one with a brush. Their talent was amazing.

This art student was copying Haman Recognizes His Fate by Rembrandt (circa 1665).
Ready to apply the paint at just the right spot.
Mixing paint.
Another view of the student copying Haman Recognizes His Fate by Rembrandt (circa 1665).
The unknown art student was copying Portrait of an Old Man in Red by Rembrandt (circa 1652-1654).
This view provides an idea of how each artist set up so as to not make a mess.
The tour group went from alcove to alcove, listening to our guide. We entered the display at the far end. That is where The Return of the Prodigal Son hangs, just out of view.
A closer view of the artist at work.
This art student is copying the Holy Family by Rembrandt (1645).

Our next viewing was the Italian Renaissance area of the museum.  Below are some of the works that caught my attention.  In this area of the museum, we found more art students copying paintings.

Madonna with Child and Two Angels by Paolo di Giovanni Fei (circa 1385).
A chandelier near the theater.
Another painting on the ceiling near the theater.
A painting on the roof near the theater.
Our guide describing an unknown painting.
This art student was copying The Madonna and Child (The Litta Madonna) by Leonardo da Vinci (circa 1495).
A stop in the Hall of Italian Renaissance Art.
This art student was copying a painting in the Hall of Italian Renaissance Art.
This art student is copying Portrait of a Lady by Lorenzo Costa (circa 1506).
The Nativity by Giovanni Della Robbia an example of 16th Century Italian majolica pottery.
An anteroom and chandelier near the theater.

Another unusual feature of the Hermitage is the Raphael Loggia. It is a relatively narrow hall, but it is around 20 feet tall. Some call the loggia Raphael’s Bible. That is because Raphael painted several stories from the Bible in this loggia.

The Raphael Loggia.
Detail over a door from the Raphael Loggia.
Detail of the ceiling from the Raphael Loggia.
Detail from the Raphael Loggia.
Our guide in the Raphael Loggia.
Detail from the Raphael Loggia.
Detail from the Raphael Loggia.

Below, in no particular order, are some of the other sights we saw in the Hermitage Museum.  The narrative continues well below the photos.

Another ornate ceiling.
A row of chairs in the Small Italian Skylight Room.
An art lover in the Small Italian Skylight Room.
Our guide imparting information in the Small Italian Skylight Room.
Martyrdom of St Peter by Caravaggio (circa 1601).
The beauty of the Small Italian Skylight Room.
The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine by Domenico Beccafumi (1521).
Madonna with Beardless St. Joseph by Raphael (1506).
An art student copying an unknown work in the Small Italian Skylight Room.
Death of Adonis by Giuseppe Mazzuola (1700-1709).
Portrait of Doña Antonia Zárate by Goya (1810-1811).
An unknown art student’s copy of Boy with a Dog by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (circa 1655-1659).
This art student is copying the Repentance of Saint Peter.
Our guide was very knowledgeable.
The base of a lamp.
An unknown art student’s copy in progress of the Battle Between the Lapiths and Centaurs by Luca Giordano (circa 1688).
Meeting of Joachim and Anne near the Golden Gate by Paolo de San Leocadio (circa 1500).
Another detailed ceiling.
The Doctor’s Visit by Jan Steen (Circa 1660).
Marriage Contract by Jan Steen (circa 1668).
Detail of the large vase.
A large vase.
A small, but beautiful chandelier.
Smokin’ !!
Fruit and a Vase of Flowers by Jan Davidsz de Heem (1655).
Esther in Front of Ahasuerus by Valentin Lefevre (circa 1675-1699).
Yet another chandelier.
This painting of Jesus entering Jerusalem caught my eye.
Inlays on the side of a table.
Some very ornate chairs.
Detail of a light fixture.
Adam and Eve (The Fall of Man) by Hendrick Goltzius (1608).
Laocoon by Paolo Andrea Triscornia (1798).
Three dancing women near the exit.

The Hermitage is just like the Louvre in one respect; there is no way one can see everything. We did see many more works of art. When we emerged from the Hermitage, we saw a sea of people waiting to enter. We were glad we went when we did. We walked across the street toward the Neva River, onto our bus, and then back to the ship.

Departing the Hermitage Museum.
A boat passes by the Rostral’naya Kolonna in the Neva River.
View across the Neva River.

Back on the bus, our guide greeted us all with a Russian chocolate bar.  That was very nice of her.

Our prized chocolate bar.

At the cruise terminal, several gift shops were dealing in items designed to catch the eye of tourists. As usual, we found some refrigerator magnets.

Returning to the cruise ship.

After dinner that evening, we all went to a show. The entertainment was a troupe of 14 Russian dancers/singers.  Seven  band members accompanied them, playing authentic Russian instruments. The entire performance in Russian did not deter us from understanding what was happening.  The eye-catching traditional costumes were colorful.

The following day, our canal tour was in the afternoon. After breakfast, it was the same drill through immigration and onto a bus. Our destination was close to the Hermitage Museum. It was very cloudy. The bus stopped so we could all get off. We faced about a two-block walk to the canal boat. Some of the walking was a little dicey, but we all made it safely. While walking, we saw a bride and groom stopping to take photos.  Our guide told us it is normal for newlyweds to travel around the city, taking photographs at their favorite locations.

The bride and groom.
The bride and groom walking.

As we finished our walk, it began to drizzle. That did not stop me from taking photos. I kept clicking from under my umbrella. Shortly after the boat pulled away from the mooring, one of the workers brought us a complimentary glass of champagne, my kind of cruise!
Our boat departed its mooring on Moyka Canal. After passing the Japan Consulate, we took a quick right turn onto the canal that is on the east side of the Hermitage Museum. That canal led us to the Neva River. On the Neva, we turned to the west toward the Bolshaya Neva. I believe that means “little Neva” River. We cruised under the Dvortzovyy Most (bridge) and then under Biagoveshchenskiy Most. We made a U-turn back to the east, ultimately going under the Troitskiy Most. One right turn and we were on the Fontanka Canal. Our final right turn took us back to the Moyka Canal and our original mooring.
The bridges over the canals were extremely low. Some only had a total clearance of two meters, about six feet. If one were to stand while passing under, one would definitely lose body parts.

The Round Market building alongside the Moyka River.
A sightseeing boat on the Moyka River.
View of buildings beside the Moyka River.
Yet another sightseeing boat on the Moyka River. The Japanese Consulate can be seen in the background.
A beautiful old building, the Menshikov Palace, on the Neva River. Today, the palace serves as a branch of the Hermitage Museum.
Buildings facing the Neva River.
A view of the Rostral’naya Kolonna column on the Neva River.
Heading toward the Neva River on the Reka Zimnyaya Kanavka. The Hermitage is on either side of the canal.
Pedestrians on a bridge.
Looking back toward the Japanese Consulate.
Pedestrian walking near the Amber Palace.
According to Mr. Google, this building is known as the Pediment Genius of Glory crowning science.
No anchorage here!
A dome on an unknown building as seen from the Neva River.
The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation.
Some of the more colorful buildings.
The buildings seem to never end.
Another view of the Hermitage Museum.
A fellow tourist capturing photographs from the sightseeing boat.
A view of part of the Peter and Paul Fortress from the Neva River.
Looking back at the Reka Zimnyaya Kanavka. The Hermitage is on either side of the canal.
A videographer filming to the right.
A videographer filming to the left.
Some of our fellow tourists on the sightseeing boat.
The main facade of the Hermitage Museum.
The detail on the Troitskiy Bridge over the Neva River.
A commercial building. The sign on the right seems to translate as Megaphone.
One sightseeing boat is entering the Fontanka River while the other is entering the Neva River.
A sightseeing boat preparing to enter the Fontanka River.
A closer view of the Noplasticfantastic building.
The building on the corner houses the Noplasticfantastic store.
Another sightseeing boat passing under the Troitskiy Bridge.
Pedestrians on the Troitskiy Bridge.
The entry to the Fontanka River from the Neva River.
Detail of a building across the Fontanka River from the Summer Garden.
The tree-lined walk of the Summer Garden.
The videographer at work.
A no anchorage sign.
The Tea House in the Summer Garden as seen from the Fontanka River.
Entering into the Fontanka River.
There is not a great deal of clearance under the bridge.
A view of St. Michael’s Castle from the Fontanka River.
A very colorful delivery truck as seen from the Moyka River.
A speedboat on the Moyka River.
Pedestrians on the Panteleymonovskiy Most.
The detail on the Panteleymonovskiy Most.
The tallest spire of the Savior on the Spilled Blood church was just visible from the Fontanka River.
The detail on the Panteleymonovskiy Most.
Pedestrians cross the Panteleymonovskiy Most in front of St. Michael’s Castle.
A not-so-speedy boat on the Moyka River.
The Savior on the Spilled Blood church.

Just as we docked, the downpour began. It did not let up until we were back on the bus, of course. On the way back to the ship, we stopped by the Red October souvenir shop. Surprise, we bought another refrigerator magnet. Since there was still time to burn at that stop, I took a few photographs nearby.

Teremok is a favorite Russian stop for pancake type treats.
Two young men meeting.
The top of the poster proclaims “Music of Maxim Aunaevsky.” I believe the name of the production is “Scarlet Sails.”
A nice Beemer.
I do not know what it is, but this building is at the northeast corner of Konnogvardeyskiy Bul’var and Ploshchad’ Truda. Mr. Google says it is Dvorets Velikogo Knyazya Nikolaya Nikolayevich. That doesn’t help me much…
Cars waiting for their left turn signal.
A food delivery truck.
The word at the top of the newsstand states “newspapers.”
The boys were flocking to the Teremok.
A bus stop near the newsstand.

When the bus arrived at the cruise terminal, it was about 17:00. Our seating time for dinner was 17:30. After exiting immigration, we discovered a very long line to board the ship. I think part of that was because the ship was due to depart at 17:30.  We might have been a few minutes late for dinner that night, but it was no big deal.

Waiting in line to get back on the cruise ships. Earlier in the morning, the buses were on the other side of the barrier on the left.
The dining room hostess on the ship.

Even though we spent a night on the ship in the port of St. Petersburg, we were only allowed off the boat if we were on a ship’s shore excursion. We wished we had been able to get off the ship and explore on our own, but it is what it is.
After dinner, I was able to stand on our balcony and take photographs of the Gulf of Finland. One of the highlights was the flood control dam. It is about 15 or 20 miles west of St. Petersburg. There are large motorized steel dams, which close in cases of flooding. At that location, a divided highway traverses under the water. The road is labeled KAO. I believe that is a ring road around the St. Petersburg area.
Just before the flood control dam, I saw a small island. There was a small humanmade harbor in the center. I found out later that this is Fort Kronshlot, built-in 1704 to fortify Russia from other Baltic states.
We watched a little TV in our room and then retired, ready to awake in Helsinki.

Multiple lighthouses.
Abandoned buildings at Fort Kronshlot.
Looking at Fort Kronshlot from the west. St. Petersburg is at the far distant horizon toward the left of the frame.
Another lighthouse.
The far western end of Fort Kronshlot.
A lighthouse at Fort Kronshlot.
An abandoned building at Fort Kronshlot.
Fort Kronshlot.
Passing a sailboat flying a Netherlands flag.
A tall, narrow lighthouse.
A barge coming toward the cruise ship.
Looking back toward an abandoned building on a small island. It is known as Emperor Paul I.
The barge, L’aigle.
A ship in the distance.
Another view of the odd-looking lighthouse.
An abandoned building on a small island. It is known as Emperor Paul I.
Fort Kronshlot with St. Petersburg in the distance.
The same barge.
Another view of highway A118.
One of two large flood control gates.
Looking south over one of the flood control gates along highway A118.
A sign on the building at the flood control gates. The top portion states, “The complex of protective structures protects the city of St. Petersburg from flooding.”
One of the protruding points at the flood control gates.
View of the barge with the lighthouse in the background.
As best I can tell, the name of the barge translates to “crops.”
A smaller barge.
A Russian ship. The name may be SIGULDA.
A wider view of the SIGULDA.
A Russian barge.
A point at the flood control gates departing St. Petersburg.
The Maersk Norwich on the Baltic Sea.
On the Baltic Sea.
Gathering storm clouds without the flare.
Gathering storm clouds at sunset.
The starboard side of the Maersk Norwich.

Lastly, below are random photographs I took as we rode around town on the bus going back and forth from the ship to our tours.

A woman crossing the street. I found it odd that there are two stopping areas for red lights, one on either side of the crosswalk.
The Bronze Horseman statue of Peter the Great in the Senate Square park.
Immediately to the left is the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library. Just ahead on the left is the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation.
Steadily making our way through traffic.
A side street in St. Petersburg.
Graffiti on an abandoned building.
The yellow sign reads “detour.”
The sign reads TRUBETSKA First Class Transport. Under the phone number, it reads “around the clock.”
The Church of the Assumption of Mary on the banks of the Neva River.
A trolley passes by the intersection.
Traffic must turn right.
It looks like this baby is ready to get out.
Crossing the intersection.
A typical street.
Submarine C189, a floating museum on the Neva River.
A billboard alongside the Leytenanta Shmidta embankment.
Detail of the church spires.
The spires of the Church of the Assumption of Mary soar above the traffic.
Heading southwest on Leytenanta Shmidta embankment toward the Church of the Assumption of Mary.
Approaching some colorful buildings.
Average Avenue street sign??
Fruit stand.
The cars seem to wind their way through the trolleys without a second thought.
Two passing trolleys.
Pedestrians on a corner.
Sometimes the mixing is rather close.
Trolleys and cars mixing on the road.
Everyone wants to turn right.
Pedestrians waiting to cross.