Skip to content
22 January 2018 / leggypeggy

Sculpture in the snow and a magnificent church

Sculpture by Ásmundur Sveinsson

I missed getting the name of this sculpture by Ásmundur Sveinsson, but it looks like a couple dancing or maybe boxing

Washing the floor by Ásmundur Sveinsson

Washing the floor by Ásmundur Sveinsson

Siggi, one of our wonderful hosts in Iceland, surprised us when he suggested that we visit a couple of Reykjavik’s outdoor sculpture gardens. It was cold, grey, windy, icy and had been snowing, but what the heck. Let’s go!

I’m so glad we did.

The first garden introduced us to the work of Ásmundur Sveinsson, a pioneer of Icelandic sculpture. I was surprised to learn that his early work was fiercely opposed and criticised. That early work is large, chunky and captivating, especially covered in snow.

Poor John and I wandered around the entire garden, and never minded the fact that we had to wade through ankle-deep snow. The garden wraps around Ásmundarsafn, the distinctive home and studio that Sveinsson designed with a Mediterranean theme.

As a young man, Sveinsson studied at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, mostly under the guidance of sculptor, Carl Milles. In the late 1920s, he lived in Paris for three years and travelled around Italy and Greece.

In Ásmundur Sveinsson's annexe

In Ásmundur Sveinsson’s annexe

Religions by Ásmundur Sveinsson

Religions by Ásmundur Sveinsson

Sveinsson returned to Iceland in 1929 and began producing a series of abstracted figurative works. His themes were often men and women at work. During the 1940s, his work moved away from the human and animal forms that had been his mainstay, and he began producing work that was much lighter and almost entirely abstract.

Throughout his life, Sveinsson believed that art was relevant to the people and belonged to the masses. Not surprisingly, he has been called Iceland’s ‘folk poet’ of visual art, and many of his works are displayed in Reykjavík’s public places.

Studio of Ásmundur Sveinsson

A small part of Sveinsson’s studio

Sveinsson died in 1982 (aged 89), and bequeathed all his work and his home/studio to the City of Reykjavík. Please scroll down to the comments. One of my faithful followers, efge63, has posted a short video about Sveinsson and his work and studio. 

After visiting Ásmundarsafn, we had a bonus stop at Reykjavík’s famous Lutheran church—Hallgrímskirkja—and one of the city’s most important landmarks.

Interior of Hallgrímskirkja church

A choir performs in front of the magnificent pipe organ in Reykjavik’s massive Lutheran church

Iceland's Hallgrímskirkja church, exterior

The tower at Hallgrímskirkja is 74.5 metres

At 74.5 metres (244 ft) high, it is the largest church in Iceland and one of the tallest structures in the country. The church is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman, Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614–74), author of the Passion Hymns.

Guðjón Samúelsson, who was inspired by the shapes created when lava cools into basalt rock, designed the church in 1937. Construction lasted from 1945 to 1986, with the tower completed long before the rest of the building.

Another impressive part of the church is its pipe organ, designed and constructed by the German organ builder, Johannes Klais of Bonn. The organ stands 15 metres tall and weighs 25 tons. I was interested to see that there was a organ appeal going. They want money to get the organ’s 5275 pipes cleaned. 

A choir was performing when we arrived, so we had a quick look before moving on to the Einar Jónsson Museum, another distinctive building that also served as the sculptor’s home and studio.

Christmas (Jol) by Einar Jónsson

Christmas (Jol) by Einar Jónsson

The sun had set and the museum had closed by the time we arrived, but we were still able to admire a few of Jónsson’s pieces in the garden.

Jónsson was another sculpture pioneer in Iceland. In fact, he was many years ahead of Sveinsson. He lived abroad for more than 20 years before returning to his home country.

Unlike most other sculptors, Jónsson worked almost entirely in plaster. This had to do partly with the lack of good modeling clay in Iceland, but it allowed Jónsson to work on his individual sculptures for years. He sometimes spent more than a decade on a particular piece.

Heimir by Einar Jónsson

He had a hand in the design of his home, gallery and studio, which is where the museum is now located. His penthouse apartment there is considered to have one of the best views of Reykjavík.

Jónsson donated the premises and his work to the Einar Jónsson Museum in Reykjavík, which opened in 1923.

Einar Jónsson Museum, Reykjavik

Wish we could have visited the penthouse at the Einar Jónsson Museum. See the Hallgrímskirkja church tower at the right

Having seen some of the various sculptures—just a small representation—do you have a favourite?

Note on naming
I was interested to read that the Icelandic names of Sveinsson and Jónsson are patronymic, meaning they are not family names. What I read said that both should be referred to by their ‘first names’ of Ásmundur and Einar.

Icelanders don’t always follow that. Both museums/gardens had plaques that used the ‘apparent’ surnames of Sveinsson and Jónsson, when mentioning either man for the second time. There’s an example below.

Plaque about Ásmundur Sveinsson

A bit of evidence

13 January 2018 / leggypeggy

More fashion in the Hermitage Museum

Court ceremonial dress, Hermitage Museum

A lavish court ceremonial dress from the 1880s that belonged to Empress Maria Feodorovna

Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

Two of Peter the Great’s full dress garments displayed in an elaborate hall

I spend most of my waking life in camping clothes. Black merino wool tops and khaki camping shorts or trousers (weather dictates length and weight). All the shorts and trousers, plus some of the tops, have zippered pockets. I carry a lightweight wallet, mobile phone and keys, but no handbag.

Our daughters badger me about always wearing black tops, so last time I shopped at the camping store, I bought two tops in dark charcoal grey. I told the salesperson I was trying to move away from black and she nodded sympathetically and said ‘ah, baby steps’.

Formal court dress, Hermitage Museum

Formal court dress belonging to Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna

A couple of weeks ago I wore a skirt (green, black, white and grey) with a black merino top. My hand was forced. I was staying in Yass with my dear friend, Maggie, and we were dining at the rather posh golf club. I even wore shoes—not runners or thongs (yeah, Australians call THAT footwear thongs).

All this explanation is a lead-up to the fact that, even though I dress like a hobo, I appreciate fine clothing. And the dresses and uniforms on display in the Hermitage Museum (Winter Palace) in St Petersburg in Russia were divine.

gowns, Hermitage Museum

The blue gown on the left belonged to Empress Maria Feodorovna. The pink one to the right belonged to Princess Zinaida Yusupova

Not that you’ll catch me wearing any of them.

So let’s have a look at some of the finery.

The dress pictured at the very top belonged to Empress Maria Feodorovna. It’s a court ceremonial dress made by the Izambard Chanceau workshop in St Petersburg in the 1880s. It includes velvet, satin, lace, gold thread, spangles, bronze and much more. I wonder how much it weighs?

Directly below that dress is a pic of the elaborate room where some of the garments are displayed. In the centre is a case with two of Peter the Great’s full dress garments from the early 18th century. The light blue one was made in Berlin and the darker one was crafted by Russian and European makers. The latter is styled like the uniform of a Life Guards Preobrazhensky Regiment Officer.

There was an array of highly decorative liturgical vestments made of velvet, silk, satin, cotton and gold threads. The apricot one is sprinkled with pearls, silver, emeralds, rubies, spinel, beryls and crystals. Then there’s the armour and the glitzy saddles and harnesses for horses. I guess everyone had to dress up to step out.

I can’t really pick a favourite although I was especially intrigued by the shape of the dress directly below. Surely it’s for a child or perhaps for a cardboard cutout? Do you have a favourite?

Dress with a watteau pleat

Silk dress with a watteau pleat. Made in France in the mid-1700s




5 January 2018 / leggypeggy

Touring Iceland’s Golden Circle

Strokkur geyser, Golden Circle, Iceland

Strokkur—such a show-off

It’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere so it’s time to head back to our recent travels in Iceland. According to my weather oracle (an app on my mobile phone), it’s going to snow there this weekend, so that fits in with our snowy travels around Iceland’s famous Golden Circle.

We were super lucky to be able to stay with friends in Reykjavik—Mary Pat and Siggi—and even luckier that Siggi had four days off while we were there.

So he set aside one of those days to squire us around the 300-kilometre Golden Circle loop that starts and ends in Reykjavik. The circuit has three main stops.

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Looking out over Þingvellir National Park. The buildings are part of a farm. We also stopped here the night we went chasing the Northern Lights

Þingvellir National Park
Our first stop was at Þingvellir National Park, Iceland’s first national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This park is also a huge part of Iceland’s history and folklore, and the scene of unique geology.

Þingvellir is situated directly between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, in the rift valley that runs all the way through Iceland. This is the only country where this valley, called the Mid Atlantic Ridge, can be seen above sea level. And nowhere is it more visible than in Þingvellir.

But the UNESCO status has more to do with the park’s importance in Iceland’s human history. The country’s first permanent settlers came in the 800s and were mostly vagabond clans who refused to bow to the new High King of Norway.

Nevertheless, by 930 AD they decided some sort of collective government might help to resolve disputes on the island. So each of 30 or so groups in residence on the island sent someone to represent them. They called their meeting place ‘the fields of parliament’, which translates to Þingvellir.

Þingvallavatn, Iceland's largest natural lake

Looking out over Þingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest natural lake

That first parliament was such a success that the tradition continued every summer for centuries. In fact, parliament didn’t move to Reykjavik until the mid-1800s.

We arrived at a high point in the park and looked out over just a fraction of the wintry landscape. The area has long stretches of lava rock, and many volcanoes surround the park, rising above Þingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest natural lake. There are regular earthquakes in Iceland, and volcanos perform too. You might remember that Bárðarbunga caused a lot of aviation problems when it erupted in 2015.

We walked down a busy tourist pathway and Siggi picked us up at the bottom. We sneaked down a side road he knew to have a look at a section of the rift.

Then back in the car to our next stop—the geysers, 50 kilometres away.

Strokkur geyser, Golden Circle, Iceland

Strokkur belches every 10 minutes or so

Geyser geothermal area
Geothermal activity in the Haukadalur valley is visible long before you get there, with steam rising on the horizon in many places. The area is dotted with hot pools, clay pots and fumaroles, and the hills and soil are vividly coloured by the minerals of the earth. And then there are the two geysers that make the site famous.

Geysir (from which we get the word geyser) is the grand old geyser that is mostly dormant today. That’s because of the tectonic activity in the area, as well as intrusive human intervention. Studies show that it has existed for about 10,000 years and that it tends to erupt in cycles. Usually, a large earthquake will trigger it to start off, then it will slowly peter out. It’s last big blast was in 2000, when it shot water 122 metres (almost 400 feet) in the air.

Geyser geothermal area, Iceland

Approaching the geothermal area

Geyser geothermal area, Iceland

Waiting for Strokkur to perform

Strokkur is the star now. It goes off every five to 10 minutes, throwing steam and water from 20 to 40 metres (66 to 132 feet) into the air. We saw her (are geysers female?) perform four or five times while we were there. A word of warning: pay attention to the signs. The whole area is bubbling with activity. Don’t stray from the paths or you could get burned. The water temperature ranges from 80°–90°C (or 176°–194°F).

Our third and last stop was another place to take care—the Gullfoss waterfall.

Gullfoss waterfall, Iceland

The impressive two-tiered Gullfoss waterfall is on the Hvita river. See the people up on the ridge at the left?

Gullfoss waterfall
Gullfoss, which means golden waterfall, is an amazing two-tiered waterfall on the Hvita River. It was our third and final stop of the day. 

Gullfoss cascades down 32 metres (the first tier is an 11-metre drop and the second is 21). In summer at its heaviest flow, Gullfoss dumps an average of 140 cubic metres of water over the edge every second, which then spills into a 2.5-kilometre long crevasse. This crevasse was created at the end of the Ice Age by catastrophic floods. The constant bombardment of water means the crevasse lengthens each year by 25 centimetres (or almost 10 inches). 

Gullfoss waterfall, Iceland

No one was silly enough to jump the fence and follow the path to the edge

There’s a walkway down to the edge of the falls, but wild weather meant it was closed the day we were there.

Now here’s an interesting aspect. Not long ago, when the walkway was closed, a couple of people jumped the fence and ended up being swept away. Yeah, they died. Perhaps people have paid attention to the news! The same do-not-enter sign was up the day we were there and not a single soul had ventured over the fence.

Sometimes common sense kicks in.

Gullfoss waterfall, Iceland

You get a hint of a rainbow from this angle. See the people on the ridge in the upper right and no one on the path

Iceland’s countryside and happy new year
This post is already long enough so I’ll do another post on some of the gorgeous countryside we saw as Siggi drove us around the Golden Circle.

Wishing you all a wonderful new year. Here’s hoping that 2018 is good for all of us.

P.S. It’s been crazy busy here, but I hope it’s calmed down and I can post more regularly. Also hope to tidy up the categories and tags. Fingers crossed.

Gullfoss waterfall, Iceland

The viewing platform gave us a great look at the falls

26 December 2017 / leggypeggy

My dog doesn’t have fleas—she’s just obsessed with things on TV

Dog watching cartoons

Cartoons are popular

After the glitz and glamour of some treasures at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia, I feel the need to add a bit of the ridiculous. Consider it holiday cheer.

My dog, Indi the standard schnauzer, watches television. She’s especially keen on watching animals of any kind (including cartoons). She even knows the music and voices for certain programs and advertisements. When an ad comes on for the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), she tears in to the family room so fast that you have to jump out of the way or get knocked over. 

Dog watching TV

I wish Indi would learn more from the dog training programs

When she first started watching television, she was rather puzzled when the horse that trotted across (and off) the screen to the right didn’t appear behind the curtains and chair.

She’s branched out lately and now shows an interest in programs on gardening, science, the weather, cooking and more. David Attenborough is a favourite too.

Over the years, I’ve owned or minded more than 20 different dogs. Indi is the only one to have ever shown an interest in television. That said, I had a cat that liked to sit on top of the television (an old bulky one) and bat at the sportspeople who ran around the field—any field.

Dog watching TV

Gardening is popular too

So what quirks do your pets have?

P.S. Yes, our television screen is huge. It’s one of Poor John’s guilty pleasures. I can watch TV from the backyard if necessary. And all those books you see in the pics are cookbooks. They are about a tenth of the cookbooks I use for the other blog. Check it out if you like to cook.

Dog watching TV

I don’t think she knows what a spider is

Dog watching TV

Now the weather report

24 December 2017 / leggypeggy

Hermitage Museum includes a church

The Great Church of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg

Walking into the Great Church of the Winter Palace

Looking back at the entrance the Great Church of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg

Looking back at the entrance the Great Church of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg

The Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia, is mind-boggling. So much so, that I’ve been trying to figure out how to share it all with you.

The Peacock Clock has already had its own post and now I reckon I’ll share most of the rest by room or topic—one at a time. So you can look forward to posts on the church, the artwork, the malachite room, clothing and more.

Seriously, the museum is so vast and so varied that we found it hard to take it all in. We had only two half days there (anything more gives you museum overload). So not to overload you, I’ll be interspersing the posts with other destinations.

So given that it’s Christmas, let’s start with the church with three names.

In 1753, Empress Elizabeth ordered the construction of a new Winter Palace with a single-altar church dedicated to the Resurrection of Our Lord (the first name). The list of sculptors, gilders, model makers and painters is as long as your arm—I could name them, but you wouldn’t remember them—and included Russians, Italian and French craftsmen. 

Oh wow, did they do amazing work. The church was consecrated in 1762, after Elizabeth had died. Pity she never saw the finished product.

The following year, Empress Catherine the Great ordered that the icon of Christ the Saviour on the Sudarium be moved from Moscow to the new Winter Palace. After that, the church was re-consecrated in the name of—are you ready for it—the Image of the Saviour Not Made by Hands (second name).

It acquired its third name—Court Cathedral—in 1807.

Thirty years later fire struck. The palace and church were greatly damaged in 1837, but some important items were saved.

In the last five years, the church has undergone massive restorations to recreate the original design of the Court Cathedral. To that end, many of the saved items—the icons, candelabra, lamps, pulpit, lamps and the altar canopy—have been returned to their original places.

As for us, we entered and just stood in awe of the amazing work and the amount of gold. We spent about 20 minutes in this room alone, so you can see why a day or two is not enough to see the Hermitage. 

Wishing everyone happy holidays
People from all over the world visit my blog, and I appreciate you all. Regardless of what you do or don’t celebrate or believe, I hope your days ahead are filled with joy, and that 2018 is a rewarding year for you.

Pulpit, Great Church of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg

The pulpit

20 December 2017 / leggypeggy

Peacock Clock is a true show-stopper

Peacock Clock

Peacock Clock with tail fully opened. Photo from museum video

Male peacocks are one of the world’s showiest birds. They love to show their colours, strut their stuff and display their magnificent tails.

And just when we thought we’d seen the flashiest and showiest of all peacocks in Australia and India, we toured the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia, and encountered the Peacock Clock.

This magnificent bird takes clockwork, sculpture, gold work and innovation to a whole new level. Just after 1pm on the day we visited, I followed the museum’s map to find the larger-than-life bird sitting majestically in its glass case.

As the photos show, I examined this automaton from every angle and read all the information about it.

Here’s some of what I learned.

Peacock Clock

The main attraction—the peacock

A bit about the clock’s history
Although unsigned, the clock is believed to be the work of James Cox, English clock maker, mechanic, jeweller and the most celebrated manufacturer of curiosities of this sort. Recent research confirms this as being his work.

The clock originally belonged to Prince Potemkin, who bought it disassembled. In 1791, he asked a gifted Russian mechanic, Ivan Kulibin, to assemble it and put it in motion. The mechanic took a year to get around to the job (obviously you couldn’t get reliable help back then either). By then, Potemkin had died, and Empress Catherine II bought the clock. In turn, the mechanism passed to her son and successor, Emperor Paul I.

The clock had a major restoration in 1995.

Peacock Clock, Russia

The peacock in its cage

The challenge to restore
Back in 1995, this poor bird might as well have been on the chopping block for a holiday meal. The entire clock was filthy, rollers and gears were worn out, organ pipes couldn’t produce a sound, chains were torn, the pendulum suspension was broken, and many parts had been wrongly assembled on previous restorations.

Once they figured out the clock’s construction was based on modules, the restorers were able to focus on the independent parts. But the clock still presented a challenge, with many of the fixes requiring novel and unusual approaches.

Today the clock’s mechanism is regularly attended to and, if I read the slightly disjointed English right, it is wound weekly.

Peacock clock with mushroom

The control mushroom is in the middle of the pic. Look closely and you can just see the dragonfly

What the clock does
The movement of the clock is hidden inside the large mushroom in the centre of the setting. The mushroom has two dials—one shows the hour in Roman numerals and the other shows the minutes in Arabic numerals.

A dragonfly on top of the mushroom plays the part of the second hand. A carillon (a train of bells) chimes the hours and the quarters. Three coiled spring movements control the owl, the peacock and the cock.

The owl moves first, twitching its eyes and raising a wing (the English translation says it raises a ‘paw’). The bells on the cage around it tinkle. Then the peacock raises its head regally and opens its tail for a moment. Then the cock crows several times. 

Cock on the Peacock Clock

Cock on the Peacock Clock

What I saw
Cripes, I wish I could say I saw the clock perform its whole routine. I was there around 1pm and saw nothing. I figured I’d missed it, so I went back about 1:50pm and waited patiently. I even managed to get a great close-up position and some good close-up photos.

But 2pm came and went with nothing. Darn. I found a guide and used hand signals and raised eyebrows to ask about the clock. Her return hand signals (tapping the number 7 on my watch and holding up one finger) told me that the clock would perform once at 7pm (the museum was open until 9). I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean 2:35 or 1:07!

But I did see a video of what happens when the clock does its magic. It’s a looping video and I watched it several times. Completely magical and magnificent.  One of the pics here is a still I took from the video. Maybe someday I’ll see the clock perform in real-time. Maybe someday you’ll see it too.

Stay tuned for a full post on this amazing museum.

The caged owl on the Peacock Clock

The caged owl on the Peacock Clock (you can see the cock’s tail on the right)

2 December 2017 / leggypeggy

Enjoying Iceland’s glacier lagoon

Jökulsárlón lagoon

On the shores of Jökulsárlón lagoon

Icebergs in Jökulsárlón lagoon

Icebergs in Jökulsárlón lagoon

This post is for Francesca, with many thanks for her delightful comment on my post about seeing the Northern Lights last month in Iceland. She said she thought my pics of the lights looked similar to hers and realised that we were on the same bus tour. (I have no idea where you’re from Francesca, but your comment made my day).

Our joint jaunt—all 14 hours of it—took us to the picturesque Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in the southeastern part of Iceland and on the edge of the Vatnajökull National Park.

The lagoon (or lake as it is sometimes called) began to be created in the 1930s when the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier started to recede from the Atlantic Ocean.

Cruise on Jökulsárlón lagoon

The cruise boat heads out onto the lagoon

We arrived at the lagoon not too long after lunch. There were two options—take a 45-minute boat cruise around the lagoon, or walk along the shore and the shallow channel that connects the lagoon to the ocean.

Complaint (whinge) alert. As we boarded the bus in Reykjavik, passengers were told whether or not they had paid for the boat cruise. If you wanted to take the cruise, it was an extra A$63.50 per person (or A$127 for the two of us).

We booked our tour online and there was nothing on the website that said anything about a cruise being available and at what cost. I’ve rechecked the website and there’s still no mention of a cruise option. I think that’s a sneaky way to deliver a travel offering.

Not surprisingly, we decided that a last-minute charge of $127 was not value for money, so we opted to walk along the shore and admire the icebergs floating in the lagoon.

Channel from Jökulsárlón lagoon

Icebergs heading to sea

There were plenty more bergs in the channel. Some were bobbing along on their way to the Atlantic and other, larger, ones were stranded in the shallow water. Still others had drifted onto the black sand.

I reckon the stranded ones won’t be moving this year. The lagoon freezes over in winter.

The guide on the bus said the bridge over the channel was often washed out. I’ve since read that the bridge’s pillars have been reinforced to protect them from icebergs, so I guess it’s only spring floods that cause damage.

on the shore at Jökulsárlón lagoon

Walking the shores

on the shore at Jökulsárlón lagoon

On the edge of the lagoon

A bit more about the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
At 248 metres (or 814 feet), this is Iceland’s deepest lake. Today the glacier is 1.5 kilometres from the ocean and the lagoon covers 18-square kilometres. Apparently it’s quadrupled in size since the 1970s.

The setting is popular. Jökulsárlón has been featured in two James Bond movies—A View to a Kill and Die Another Day—as well as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Batman Begins. It’s also been a destination for the reality TV series, The Amazing Race.

Icebergs from Jökulsárlón lagoon

Icebergs from Jökulsárlón lagoon

A side comment on the bus trip
We enjoyed the bus trip, but a quick comment about the lunch stop. Several other buses arrived about the same time as ours. We were allowed 40 minutes or so for lunch and many of our passengers waited for ages in a huge line for the hot meal.

Poor John and I stood in that line for quite some time until we inched past the refrigerator cases and realised we could buy sandwiches. So we did.

That option didn’t dawn on everyone and quite a few people were shuffling along the line and then late returning to the bus.

The guide told them it wasn’t their fault that they were late. He said he’d called ahead to say we were arriving and was told everything was okay.

I reckon that if I’d been the guide and noticed three extra buses arriving about the same time as us that I would have suggested that everyone buy sandwiches from the fridge.

As an aside, we were in line with people from other buses (we had some nice chats) and their meal was included in their price, so no way they were getting out of line. Our meal was at our own expense.

Jökulsárlón lagoon

A musician performs at Jökulsárlón lagoon

Shore at Jökulsárlón lagoon

Icebergs on the sand at Jökulsárlón lagoon