Brand new book that arrived in the mailbox got me thinking once again about exploring certain countries and fulfilling the dreams of writing/filming/photographing everything encountered along the way.
I found an old photo in the pile of Russian trip snaps and decided to share a brief post today. This is the Kazan Cathedral of St Petersburg, which caught my eye for plain simple reason that it so closely resembles St Peter’s Basilica in Rome! Imagine what I felt when I saw a Catholic-influenced building in a country known for its Russian Orthodox Church?!
Religion and politics aside, this building is impressive to look at and was ironically used in 1932 as a pro-Marxist museum that highlights the history of atheism. It has thereafter been returned to the Orthodox Church.
A visit to St Petersburg warrants a trip to the Russian Cruisor Aurora. It might not sound like an exciting journey, but for those interested in military history, the Aurora is a protected/preserved cruisor moored at St Petersburg, now acting as a museum ship.
This ship was one of the Pallada class of cruisors to serve in the Pacific Far East; its main foray was in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 and the Baltic Seas during WWI, The Aurora was used as a training ship thereafter and had even suffered damage and sunk during WWII. After extensive repairs, it was harboured at Leningrad and still is today (what we know of as St Petersburg).
The Russian Cruisor Aurora is the oldest commissioned ship of the Russian Navy and is still manned by an active service crew. The little bits of history that sustains til today deserve a lot more focus and respect than we bother to give today. If you do make a trip to St Petersburg, remember to board and explore this cruisor!
A recent read of Lenin, Stalin and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe (Vintage), by Robert Gellately, brought my interest back to a statue I’d once seen years back during my stay in Russia.
I took residence in The Park Inn Pulkovskaya at St Petersburg, which stood behind the great Ploshchad Pobedy (known more to the West as Victory Square). The Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad features a sleek obelisk that reaches into the sky, surrounded by a sculptural ensemble at the pedestal of the obelisk. Sculptures representing soldiers, sailors and civilians who did not surrender despite hunger, cold and constant bombardment were featured. Beneath the elaborate Soviet monumental art dedicated to WWII housed a museum which held maps of Leningrad defense plans beneath. My fascination of the details in each sculpture and wild imaginations of them springing into action, as if the past still lingered, cannot be better expressed than by the two pictures below.
It has been a long time since my visit to Russia; at times I wonder how much has changed in this country so rich in its history…
The best part of my trip was up at Portsea, Point Nepean National Park, located at the tip of the Mornington Peninsula. History junkie as I am, exploring Fort Nepean’s history was an unforgettable experience – there was so much to find out about the fort – it’s tunnels, cannons, disappearance of Prime Minister Harold Holt, and simply to take in the panoramic views of the Rip and Port Philip Bay.
I arrived at the Information Centre just in time to hop on to the bus up to Fort Nepean, where numerous fortifications dating back to 1880s stood. Once I got off the bus and up a flight of steps I some stunning sights.
A strategic location for a fort, indeed. Two Mark VII guns sat at the Parade Grounds – the only two guns that had fired shots at Port Philip’s defences. I made my way towards the ruins of the Engine Room, which held short descriptions of the history of the barracks, embankments and some posters about unique characters that once served at the Fort.
Despite a sudden downpour that made the trip up the slippery steps a little tougher than usual, I found my way to the Battery Observation Post, which held the Depression Range Finder (equipment used to find the range and bearing of enemy ships). Fully absorbed in the little write-ups, the rain soon stopped.
I made my way back towards the underground tunnels and was halted in my tracks when I heard a strange eerie whistling. I didn’t quite dare to enter the dark narrow walkways until I realised that the whistling was none other than a sound recording that tells a tale! Oh my!
There’s so much more to see at the Fort I couldn’t cover all of it here. For the history or the scenic views, I’ll recommend a personal visit when you next go to Melbourne!
I decided to take a drive out of Melbourne City towards Hobsons Bay – Williamstown, a peaceful suburb with vast waters around it.
It first began with an interest in the name Williamstown. A quick chat with the folks at the Visitor Centre gave a better understanding – Governer Bourke and Captain Lonsdale had named the settlement area after the English monarch King William IV with intentions to create a capital city at Williamstown. However, the lack of adequate water supply resulted in the use of Melbourne as government centre instead. Today you’ll find a Bourke Street and Lonsdale Street in the CBD too.
I took a short walk from where I left the car towards Point Gellibrand, the first landing place of Victoria’s white settlers and also a first burial ground of Williamstown. Most iconic was the Timeball Tower; it had a history as a wooden lighthouse, then a bluestone lighthouse in 1849, and finally its current state as a timeball tower from 1861 to 1926. I’ll admit that this was the first time I learnt the use of a Timeball Tower – at 1pm daily the ball would descend down its shaft. This allowed ships to reset their chronometers (the ship’s timepiece).
If you’re lucky like I was and visited on a Sunday some time between 11am – 3pm, you’ll find a hidden treasure somewhere amidst the ship-building sheds – an amazing Maritime Museum at Seaworks! I was pleasantly surprised with my find as I wandered around the city’s nooks and crannies. You wouldn’t be expecting a grand location with lots of beautiful ceilings, but there’s a trove of historical items and ship models for viewing in a small cosy place, and all it takes is a gold coin donation. The nice folks there told me much about the maritime history at Williamstown, including the evolution of boat-repair processes and more!
That’s not all there is to Williamstown – if you’ll like to check out the site of the ‘Shenandoah’ Incident, look at the Armstrong cannons that stand dutifully on The Strand to guard against the Tsar’s warships, or simply take a walk round the city’s pubs and churches, make sure you plan a day or two at the home of the Victorian Navy of Williamstown!
In my usual fascination of history, I found out about the gold rush that happened in Victoria, and went in search of the its past…
Sovereign Hill is an open-air museum that recreates life at Ballarat during the years of gold discovery in 1851. Mining camps, huge poppet heads, 19th century hotels, schools, blacksmiths and printing houses stood within Sovereign Hill; and an awesome bakery and confectionery offered old-styled pastries and boiled sweets. PS: those stuff they have at the Hope Bakery were so good you could smell it from miles away when someone opened the door!
Immersed in what seemed like a blast to the past, I loved every minute I was at Sovereign Hill. I was like a kid in a theme-park, reading every detail and entering each establishment to relive the 1850s. You’ll see costumed ladies and gentlemen going about their daily lives as you walk amongst them to check out the town. I happened to be there at a good hour, fortunately in time to see the Redcoats fire their muskets!
There were also horse-drawn carriage rides, which I skipped; but I took the time to pan for some gold at the Red Hill Gully Diggings and took a tour in the underground mines. Unfortunately it was too dark for decent photos, but I’ll suggest you pop in and have a feel of getting lowered deep into the mines; a highly educational and intriguing experience not to be missed.
Despite this being a re-creation of the past, you might be interested to know that the Post Office is real and in operation here at Sovereign Hill! I bought a postcard for myself and mailed it home, and now it has a beautiful stamp of Ballarat’s Sovereign Hill on it! Do that too if you visit!
For those who are keen to read more about Ballarat and its people, history, rise and fall – be sure to check out the Gold Museum that stands right opposite Sovereign Hill’s entrance.
I’d decided to start off my stay in Melbourne with a little bit of history, hence took a trip down to the Shrine of Remembrance which was situated right opposite the Royal Botanic Gardens.
The tall structure stands grandly at an elevated location as Victoria’s memorial to those who have served Australia and sacrificed during conflicts and peace operations, amidst its surrounding greenery provided by the Botanic Gardens and against a vibrant city skyline. One can take a self-guided tour from the entry courtyard of the Shrine, up a flight of steps towards the Doric Columns, then further in and up to the balcony. The Shrine overlooks the Shrine Reserve, the bay and a clear line of view back into Melbourne city. Four statues stand at its corners, representing peace, justice, patriotism and sacrifice; these statues complement the East and West walls, with two distinct messages on each.
Of particular interest to me were two areas in the shrine – the Crypt, which held the Father and Son sculpture, representing two generations who had fought in WWI and WWII; and the Sanctuary, at the heart of the Shrine, with an engraved marble sunken into the ground stating “Great love hath no man”. Most amazing would be the effort taken to create a small opening in the ceiling that allows sunlight to shine upon the inscriptions at 11am every Remembrance Day; it had supposedly taken extensive astronomical and mathematical measures to ensure that the opening was positioned to allow sunlight to pass at the right time on the right spot for the next 5000 years!
As a war history buff, I was impressed, saddened and respectful of the messages the shrine shared. Maybe some day we will realise that war is never a solution; and as Bertrand Russell says, “War does not determine who is right – only who is left”.
Hello again! I’m finally back!
A story follows the title – I used to spend a significant amount of time in Hong Kong and suddenly things changed. It has been 4 years since my last trip to the bustling city. Everything used to be so mundane, so common, so uncool.
This time, I’d learnt that photos could be beneficial for me to remember what used to be and what not. I’d decided to take a few shots of places we’d often taken for granted.
Hong Kong has a superb public transport system. The airport provides an “Airport Express” that leads you into the inner islands of the country (i.e. Kowloon or Hong Kong island), all at only HKD100. Stopping at these stations, you can either hop onto their main trains or if you are a visitor staying at a hotel, bus shuttles are also available, often for free.
The Hong Kong train system is one thing to rave about. High speed public transport at extremely cheap fares can bring you across the city in less than an hour. Superb ventilation and ease of transfer makes this the best mode of travelling. Trains come in intervals of 2 – 3 minutes. Here’s a picture of a less-populated train station – far out from the town centre. This isn’t representative of the advanced stations they have around the main city area, but even as I abandon the throngs of people in the city-centre, the transport system is still as amazing as ever!
A short walk out of the station, I passed by a Che Kung Temple. I started to realise the impeccable directional signages they’ve put up to lead anyone from a train station to their desired location. One could almost never get lost in the country. A quick read of the history showed that this temple was built in honour of a military commander from the Song dynasty. Legend has it that an epidemic was halted upon completion of this temple. Some also believe that spinning a golden fan-blade in the altar can bring good luck.
The beauty of Hong Kong is in its ability to strike a balance between its advancements as a financial hub and retaining the traditional elements of its culture – all within the vast mountains and natural landscape. Definitely worth at least a 4-day visit instead of just stopping by for flight transit!
Today we discuss a grand metro station that boasts heavy Baroque influence, elaborate chandeliers and intricate political medallions decorating its yellow ceilings – Komsomolskaya metro. Komsomolskaya lies on the Koltsevaya Line; this line is dedicated to the record of victory over Nazi Germany and post-war labour efforts. Yet Komsomolskaya stands out from the overarching themes with its main focus as a speech conducted by Lenin. Regardless of political views, one will be able to feel strongly for the struggle for independence portrayed in this station that looks more like a museum than a subway (or more like a museum than a museum does!) There’s more to the station than I can share here – you might want to walk through a passage (much like a bunker!) to an adjacent station (on Sokolnicheskaya line), and emerge in a modern-looking station starkly different from Komsomolskaya station! Make sure you’ll spend some time visiting the
museum stations of Russia on your visit!
Note: Some other stations of interest are:
- Novoslobodskaya Metro Station (stained glass decorations)
- Mayakovskaya Metro Station (strong pre-WWII influence, brightly lit and wide)
- Elektrozavodskaya Metro Station (homage to pioneers of electricity and ceilings are lined with millions of lights)
- Prospekt Mira Metro Station (agricultural theme and situated near the Botanical Gardens)