Thursday, April 28, 2011

Russian seafood dishes and Kremlin stamps

My first postcard from Russia! Thanks, Gulnara :)

postcard of seafood dishes, RU-378050

I love shellfish and like fish more than I did when I was younger (when I pretty much disliked it!). I also adore seafood stew. The one in the postcard reminds me of cioppino and bouillabaise, which I'm more familiar with than Russian seafood soups. In fact, I haven't had the chance to try many Russian dishes apart from some home cooking (I once visited the country, thoroughly enjoyed it though it's tough not knowing the language!), blinis and cheap caviar (probably just regular fish roe!).

I looked up Russian fish soup and found ukha. It is a warm fish broth with some veggies.

Russian stamps of Kremlin. RU-378050

I love Russian stamps, I've seen some gorgeous ones at the Postcrossing website. My first ones didn't disappoint! The top two on the right are of the Kremlin in Moscow, the one of the left reads "Russian Kremlin" but I think it's also the one in Moscow, just a different view. The Kremlin is actually an old fortress with lots of buildings, palaces and churches. It is also the official residence of the President and a Unesco World Heritage site.

Related links
list of Russian seafood dishes (
Kremlin stamps (wikimedia commons)

by liberal sprinkles

Belgian chocolates and Elly Beinhorn

This card full of chocolaty goodness arrived last week from Germany. Thanks, Lilly.

chocolate postcard. Postcrossing DE - 891109

Must have been this card that got me stuffing my face with chocolates and sweets (and Nutella, heheh) the past week. I can't see which brand the chocolates on this card is but they are supposed to be from Belgium. You've probably eaten those seashell chocolates from Guylian and Côte-d'Or bars, but Belgian chocolates aren't all about these mass-produced goodies. There are quite a few Belgian gourmet chocolatiers, many of which are now exported worldwide. Among the better known names are Leonidas, Godiva and Neuhaus. More fancy ones include Wittamer and Marcolini, my personal favorite when I was living in Brussels 10 years ago :P. I remember going into Marcolini's and getting a rich hot chocolate while choosing my pralines. They have great modern lovely packaging and you can get more experimental, exotic flavors apart from the traditional favorites.

Belgium produces 172,000 tons of chocolate every year (many chocolatiers still make them by hand) and there are more than 2,000 specialty shops throughout the country. Prices can range from €30 to €58 per kilogram (2.2 pounds), according to the Antwerpt Tourist Guide. It says Belgians eat an annual average of 11.03 kilograms (24.3 pounds) of chocolates - making them the number two country in per capita consumption of chocolate, according to the International Cocoa Organization.

The history of Belgian chocolates dates back to the 19th century under King Leopold II's rule, during which Belgium colonized some parts of Africa. This gave it access to cocoa plants, which led to the development of a Belgian chocolate industry.

Chocolate is like a religion in Belgium. You see chocolate shops everywhere and there are numerous museums that detail the history of the confection, among them the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate. Here a link to a list of chocolate museums, tours, events and chocolatiers at the Visit Belgium website.

75 jahre rekardflug (Elly Beinhorn) and tulip stamps. Postcrossing DE - 891109

The yellow flowers are tulips. Nice! Reminds me of my drives through Belgium and Holland. The pink and black/white one is actually one stamp. Issued on August 12, 2010, it commemorates the intercontinental flight that German pilot Elly Beinhorn made in 1935 from Gliwice (now in Poland) to Ye ilköy in Istanbul and back to Berlin - all in one day. She flew 3,470 km (2155 miles) in 13.5 hours. Beinhorn made a trip around the world in 1931-32 but her plane was disassembled and shipped at certain points, so she didn't circle Earth at the controls of a plane. See a map of Elly Beinhorn's round-the-world journey.

The first woman to fly solo around the world was American Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock in 1964, in single-engine airplane The Spirit of Columbus. She made the 22,860 miles (36,790 km) journey in 29 days, with 21 stopovers.

Related links
Chocolate (wikipedia)

by liberal sprinkles

Monday, April 18, 2011

St Louis Gateway Arch, westward expansion of US, tallest structures and buildings

I received this postcard from my blog friend Lynn from Present Letters, a new Postcrossing member.
Thanks, Lynn!

postcard of St Louis' Gateway Memorial Arch
This is a very iconic structure, isn't it? The Gateway Memorial Arch in St Louis, Missouri, is also known as the Gateway to the West. It was built to commemorate the expansion of the United States to the west during the 19th century and symbolizes St Louis' role as the gateway to the Wild West.

It was designed by Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel, who won a design contest for the Arch, and was completed in 1965. At 630 feet (192 meters), it is the tallest man-made monument in the USA. It's height is equivalent to about 63 floors, if every floor is the average 10 feet high! If you dare, there is a tram system that can take up to 6,400 visitors to the observation room at the top every day when both trams are working in the summer.

Some interesting facts about the Gateway Arch from the National Park Service website:
Is the Arch moving?
The Arch is designed to sway as much as 18 inches, and can withstand an earthquake, however under normal conditions the Arch does not sway. It takes a 50-mile an hour wind to move the top 1 1/2 inches each side of center.
Has the Arch been hit by lightning?
The Arch has a series of lightning rods on the top which are grounded directly into bedrock, with a perfectly insulated interior. It is able to withstand hundreds of lightning bolts which hit it each year.

OK, I'm not sure I'd want to be up there in strong winds or nasty weather...

The steel Arch is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which includes a 91-acre (36.8-hectare) park along the Mississippi River park, the Old Courthouse and the Museum of Westward Expansion.

Lookeee, I found this interesting article on the Arch from 1964: Tallest U.S. Monument (Popular Science, April 1964) via Google Books. It details the construction and has a nice infographic on the tram to the top of the monument.

Something else interesting I learned while researching the Arch, St Louis city is in Missouri but the Great St Louis metropolitan area straddles 2 states: Missouri and Illinois.

USA stamp: Grand Teton National Park
This stamp on the card of the Grand Teton National Park is the same as the one on a card I received last week from North Carolina, you can read about it here.

Movenpick Hotels & Resorts
Related links
Tallest buildings in St Louis (Wikipedia)
Build the Gateway Arch ( something for kids. Adults can play too, I did ;0
Top 117 Tallest buildings in the U.S. (Wikipedia list)
Tallest buildings in the world (wikipedia)
Tallest buidings and structures in the world (Wikipedia)
Images/graphics on tallest buildings in the world (Google images)

by liberal sprinkles

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Langkawi, batik and bougainvillea

Postcard sent from Butterworth, Malaysia. 4th of 4 that I received in one day this week.
Thanks, Intan Alee

postcard of Langkawi Pantai Cenang beach, Postcrossing MY-58859
I've been to Langkawi a couple times. The island in northwest Malaysia, just off the coast near the border with Thailand,  is a lovely getaway. Actually I should say I've been to the main island because Langkawi is really an archipelago of about 100 islands in the Andaman Sea. The main island has nice beaches and holiday resorts, the interior is relatively undeveloped and many parts remain a tropical jungle. The postcard shows Pantai Cenang beach along the main beach strip on the island's west coast.

Langkawi and other coastal areas in the Andaman Sea were among the places affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004 which killed 230,000 people. Langkawi was was not as devastated as other places, thanks to its mangroves. Unfortunately, tourism and certain agricultural industries (shrimp-farming or instance) has harmed and destroyed many of the coral reefs and mangrove forests of South-east Asia, which used to be a natural defence against tsunamis. There is a link to an interesting article: Mangroves Stop Tsunami (Langkawi Magazine).

Malaysian stamps: bougainvillea and batik, Postcrossing MY-58859

Nice stamps depicting some South-east Asian staples: bougainvillea (bunga kertas in Malay, the national language of Malaysia) and batik. The bougainvillea plant is native to South America but it is now very common in South-east Asia.

Batik, cloth decorated in a specifc way wth wax and dye, is not just a traditional fabric in many countries in South-east Asia, it is also a common craft and an art form. An explanation of how batik is made from The Batik Guild (UK):
To make a batik, selected areas of the cloth are blocked out by brushing or drawing hot wax over them, and the cloth is then dyed. The parts covered in wax resist the dye and remain the original colour. This process of waxing and dyeing can be repeated to create more elaborate and colourful designs. After the final dyeing the wax is removed and the cloth is ready for wearing or showing.
To make modern batik, the artist might use different techniques (etching, discharge dyeing, stencils), tools and  wax recipes, as well as work with other fabrics (silk, cotton, wool) and materials (leather, paper, wood and ceramics).

The Indonesian batik was put on the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2009.

You can see some batik photos from Google images here, they are in the traditional style which is not my favorite. I've seen some gorgeous modern designs that are really beautiful. The aim of the Unesco list is to encourage local communities to protect their intangible cultural heritage and arts.

Related links
Mangrove forests protected areas from 2004 tsunami (
Facts about tsunamis (liberal sprinkles)
Bougainvillea Care (Plant-Care)
Tips on how to grow bougainvillea (
Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity (Wikipedia)

by liberal sprinkles

Lapland and Porvoo

Postcard from Porvoo, Finland. 3rd of four that arrived on the same day this week.
Thanks, Juho

campfire at Finnish Lapand, Postcrossing FI-1061662
You know, I love nature but I'm a total wimp when it comes to camping and being in the forests and the wilderness at night. I'm a city girl!

This is a photo of the Finnish Lapland, the largest and northmost region of Finland. I've sent a card to Lapland as well, and sent and received several to Finland (out of about 15). There must be a lot of Finnish Postcrossing members! If anyone from Finland is reading, I'd love a postcard of the northern lights!! Apparently you can see this in the Lapland. Look at some of the photos of Lapland and the northern lights from Google Images. It's amazing, one of the wonders of the world I hope to see one day.

The photo - Ilta Joella, a night at the river - is the work of photographer Jouni Törmänen (Taatsi Images), who specializes in nature, landscape, citylife and people. My card (dated April 3, 2011) was sent from porvoo by grandfather Juho, who says the lake is frozen this time of year.

I thought I'd look up Porvoo. It's a town in southern Finland, about 50 km (30 miles) from the capital Helsinki. It dates from the early 14th century and is one of only six mediaeval towns in Finland. It's old town has predominantly wooden houses (see some photos of Porvoo old town from Google), it reminds me of Swedish houses, not surprising since Finland used to be part of Sweden.

These  wooden storage buildings on the riverside are a proposed Unesco World Heritage site.

Porvoo riverside wooden houses, photo [ Wikipedia Commons ]

stamp of Finnish flag, Postcrossing FI-1061662
It's a stamp of  the Finnish flag. Look, it was not stamped!

Related links
Lapland Tourism info
Finnish Lapland travel guide (wikitravel)
Porvoo Tourism Office
History of Finland (Wikipedia)

by liberal sprinkles

Estonian Song Festival, national awakening and Tallinn

Postcard from Kirsti in Estonia, 2nd of four that came in one day this week...

Estonian Song Festival postcard, Postcrossing EE98144
Ever seen 18,000 people singing together? You can, at the Estonian Song Festival, a major open-air choral  concert held at the Song Festival Grounds every five years in Tallinn, the country's capital. The highlight is the performance of the joined choirs, with about 18,000 participants up on stage at the same time. There are usually up to 30,000 participants at each festival, which is a great showcase for Estonian music and culture.

The first song festival was held in 1869, coinciding with Estonian national awakening. The event was organised by Johann Voldemar Jannsen, a journalist and poet who played an important role in national awakening. In the 19th century, Estonia was a province of a Russian Empire with German upper class landlords ruling the locals, who were peasants. Estonia declared itself an independent republic on February 24, 1918.

Here's a video from the 2009 festival

Mu isamaa on minu arm (Estonian Song Celebration) 2009 from YouTube

Estonian stamp, Postcrossing EE98144
I'm not sure what these are, but they're cute, aren't they?

Incidentally, old and new coexist in the Estonian capital Tallinn. The old town is a World Heritage site and the city itself is is ranked as a global city, which means it is considered an important hub in the global economic system. Tallinn is also among the top 10 digital cities in the world (do you use Skype? It was born in Tallinn!) and is the European Capital of Culture for 2011, along with Turku, Finland.

Related links
Tallinn City Tourist Office website
Digital Tallinn (virtual guide to the city), very cool, you can download wallpapers and get take a virtual tour and get 360 degree views of various locations with its interactive map
Historic Centre, old town of Tallinn (Unesco World Heritage list)
Tallinn European Capital of Culture 2011 website
Turku Eurpean Capital of Culture 2011 website

Asheville, NC (USA) Ravenna Archiepiscopal Chapel

I received four cards in one day this week! This is the first, sent from Asheville, North Carolina.
Thanks, Kristy

Ravenna Cappella Arcivescovile postcard, Postcrossing US-1063101

This beautiful mosaic work is on the upper part of the vestibule of the Archbishop's Chapel (or Archiepiscopal Chapel) in Ravenna, Italy. It represents Christ as Victor, he is dressed in military wear, has a cross in his right hand and an open gospel in his left.

Ravenna Archbishop's Chapel mosaic,
photo by Madaki
from Wikipedia (CCA license)
You can see the mosaic wall a little more in perspective in the photo on the left.

The cross-shaped chapel, located in the Bishop's Palace, was built by Bishop Peter II around 495 and was the private oratory of the orthodox bishops. It is one of 8 locations in Ravenna that are collectively designated as a World Heritage site. The city was the capital of part of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and later became part of  the Byzantine Empire until the 8th century. Ravenna is well known for its Byzantine mosaics.

I once lived in Bologna, the gastronomic capital of Italy. It is only about 65 km (40 miles) from Ravenna, which I visited then. I probably saw the chapel and mosaic although to be honest, I don't remember. It was a long time ago. I traveled a lot in that year and I've been back to Italy many times since. It's one of my favorite countries in the world. More about that if I get an Italian postcard :) Suffice to say I always live and eat very well in Italy and it's a feast for the eyes anywhere you go. You literally walk into history at every corner.

Grand Teton National Park stamp, Postcrossing US-1063101

The stamp is of the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The website says it has a "spectacular landscape rich with majestic mountains, pristine lakes and extraordinary wildlife". It gets nearly 4 million visitors every year. I've never been, I would love to. I love national parks, my favorite is Death Valley in California. The colors you see there are breathtaking. Check out the photos of Death Valley from Google.

Related links
The Bishop's Palace: architecture and authority in medieval Italy by Maureen Catherine Miller (Google books)
Early Christian monuments of Ravenna (Unesco World Heritage list)
Mosaics in Bishop's Palace, Ravenna (

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bielefeld, Germany

Postcard from Brigitte in Bielefeld. Thanks!

Doris Haeussler Zusammenhänge, Postcrossing DE-873825
My first art postcard from Postcrossing. A lovely card of a painting called Zusammenhänge (Correlations) by Doris Häussler, an artist from Bielefeld in northwest Germany. Unfortunately I couldn't find much information about the artist in English but she has a German website Doris Häussler. You can see her artworks there, some of the portraits are a bit  Picasso-ish in color but without the Cubist distortions. Apologies for the amateur descriptions, I know nothing about art but there's lots of art I love ;)

German flower (tagetes) and Leuchtturm Falshöft stamp, Postcrossing DE-873825

The flower is a tagetes or marigold. The stamp of the Falshöft lighthouse was issued June 10, 2010. The lighthouse is in Pommerby, a resort on the Baltic Sea. Today, the lighthouse is used as a wedding location, how cool! Take a look at the Leuchtturm Falshöft website. There are wedding photos too! Looks like a museum is in the works.

Here's a photo of the lighthouse.

Leuchtturm Falshöft photo from Wikipedia

Related links
Art periods (Wikipedia)
German lighthouse stamps (German Wikipedia)
2010 German stamps, Briefmarken-jahrgang 2010 der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (German Wikipedia)

by liberal sprinkles

Monday, April 4, 2011

Switzerland, spices and milvus milvus stamp

Postcrossing CH-76049
French postcard of a spice rack. I love spices. I often overflavor my foods with spices, especially the hot stuff! Want to know more about spices? Click your way through the Encyclopedia of Spices (the Epicenter). I'm surprised watercress is classified as a spice, it is used as vegetable in Chinese cooking, often in soups. For some watercress soup recipes, take a look at Homemade Chinese Soups.

Soon, a World Spice Organization may pepper up the spice trade. It will be located in Kochi, India, which is a huge spice exporter. Read about it here.

Definition of "spicy" from The Free Dictionary
spic·y  (sps)
adj. spic·i·er, spic·i·est
1. Having the flavor, aroma, or quality of spice.
2. Piquant; zesty: a spicy tomato sauce.
3. Producing or abounding in spices.
4. High-spirited; lively.
5. Slightly scandalous; risqué: a spicy Hollywood romance.
Are you a spicy type?

Swiss stamp of Milvus Milvus, issued on April 1, 2009
info at Focus on Stamps by Swiss Post 2/2009, page 5

The Milvus Milvus (Red Kite) is a bird of prey of the milvus species. It is endemic to the western Palearctic region in Europe and northwest Africa. Its wings span nearly 2 meters (nearly 7 feet) but it is very light and weighs only about 1kg/2-3 pounds. The red kite is of a chestnut red color with white patches under its wings and a pale grey head.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sofia, Bulgaria

How cool is this card? It's in the shape of Bulgaria, sent from the capital Sofia, if I'm reading my Cyrillic right. I forgot to check the right angle for the country shape when I shot the photo, but it's roughly there :)

Bulgaria Land of Roses postcard. Postcrossing BG-8266
Bulgarian train stamp. I love it! but I'll be sitting here
for an hour if I try and read the Cyrillic on the stamp!
Thanks, Yana!

The Rose Valley (Rozova dolina) located in the middle of Bulgaria is famous for its rose-growing industry, which supplies 70 percent of the rose oil used in the perfume industry worldwide. Rose oil production comprises nearly 2 percent of the Bulgarian economy and provides more than 50,000 jobs.

comparison photo from 140 years ago!
Rose-picking in the Rose Valley near Kazanlak,
1870s engraving by F. Kanitz (from Wikipedia)

Many Bulgarians consider the rose part of the country's national identity. The history of essential oil production in Bulgaria dates back to the 17th century. The first roses were brought to the country by soldiers of Alexander the Great, long before distillation first started. These roses were from the region of the town of Kashan in Persia (Iran today).

The centre of the rose oil industry is Kazanlak, while other towns of importance include Karlovo, Sopot, Kalofer and Pavel banya. Every year, the Festival of Roses is held in June to coincide with the harvesting season. Activities include rose picking, ritualized boiling of the flowers to make rose oil, parades, folk dancing, performances of traditional songs, and the crowning of the rose queen.

Related links
Bulgarian culture and flowers (eHow)
Bulgarian festivals (Free Tourist Guide)
roses ( history, medicinal use, even recipes!
videos of Rose Valley at YouTube