Ship Signature Wall, Skagway, AK

Just yards from where cruise ships dock in Skagway, Alaska, there’s a unique “guest book”.  Beginning in 1928, ship crews began “signing” the granite wall across from the ship dock with the ship’s name, the date of the visit and the name of the ship’s captain. The idea caught on and the wall is now covered with the names and logos of visiting ships.

One of the most famous paintings on the cliff face is “Soapy Smith’s Skull”, which was painted on the wall in 1926.  Alexander “Soapy” Smith was a con-man and a crime boss who had earned his nickname through a con involving soap bars that supposedly gave buyers the chance to buy a bar with a $100 bill inside the wrapper.  Unfortunately for purchasers, the only people who ever “discovered” the money were Smith’s cohorts.

Smith had moved to Skagway in 1897 when the Klondike Gold Rush began.  He quickly set himself up as head of the gambling syndicate in Skagway as a means of taking the hard earned gold from miners.  Several efforts were made to expel Smith from Skagway, culminating, eventually, in a shootout between Smith and vigilante Frank Reid which left both men dead.  Reid was buried in the city cemetery, but citizens refused to allow Smith to be interred in the cemetery.  His grave is a few yards outside the cemetery and is a popular tourist stop.

The skull became a landmark in Skagway and the space around the painting prime real estate for the ship signatures.  Today the painting, quite faded but still visible, is still slightly creepy and is a popular draw for visitors to Skagway.

Soapy Smith's Skull
The Ship Signature Wall.  Soapy Smith’s Skull can be seen in the upper right.

Plastic Maverick, NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher

There are two things that the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher does well.  The first is educate people about the various kinds of animals- land, sea and air- that inhabit North Carolina’s coastal region.  The second thing they do well is educate people about the effects of pollution, especially trash and chemicals, on the wildlife.

Meet Plastic Maverick.  This sculpture, by teen volunteer Adilene Trujillo Garcia, is made entirely out of trash found on the local beach during  beach sweeps and cleanups.  The feathers are made of discarded plastic water bottles and cigarette butts.  Plastic Maverick is also entangled in plastic twine and is surrounded by trash.

There’s been a lot of news lately about plastic found in the stomachs of whales and about animals who have become entangled in discarded trash.  The stories and videos are quite heartbreaking but usually end well, with a passing human saving the animal.  Here’s the deal, though.  For each of these videos or stories that end well, there are many more where the animal isn’t so lucky.

We can help by NOT discarding of our trash on the beach, the river or the woods, but holding onto it until we have access to trash can.  Also, you can opt for paper bags rather than plastic or, even better, you can use a reusable cloth bag.

When I was a child, the Bald Eagle was virtually extinct.  Conservation efforts have brought this magnificent bird back from the brink and we now have the opportunity to see the bird outside of zoos.  I’ve seen several in North Carolina and Virginia over the last few years and it’s always a thrill.  I would urge you to help in the conservation and protection of all wildlife by not polluting their environment.

img_2043

Now, for those interested, here’s the real Maverick.  He was found injured alongside a Wisconsin road in 2013.  Despite medical attention and rehabilitation, Maverick’s wing was too badly damaged and he would never fly again.  He found a permanent home at the aquarium and is a great ambassador for wildlife conservation.  He’s about six years old.

img_2042

Quite handsome, isn’t he?

São Bento Railway Station, Porto

The São Bento Railway Station is one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world. While the azulejos in the São Bento Railway Station are the stars of the show, I love the floor to ceiling windows on the front face of the building.  The yellow tinted glass ties in nicely with the multicolored azulejos that top the walls and adds a warmth to the interior while the windows provide plenty of light to help display the wonderful blue tiles on the walls.

Sao Bento Windows

São Francisco Catacombs, Porto

Porto’s São Francisco Church is best known for its ornate interior, which is virtually covered with gold.  Below the church, though, is a interesting part of Porto’s history.

Cemeteries are a relatively new way of handling the dead.  The original method, according to one of the docents at the church, was to simply throw the body in the river.  This went on for many years.  Obviously, it’s a great way to spread disease among the surviving community.

Eventually the churches discovered that the wealthier members of the community would pay to be interred under the watchful eye of the church. This is where the catacombs comes in.

There are three distinct sections of the catacombs.  The first, where the wealthiest are interred, are the private tombs.  Each tomb displays the the name of the individual lying inside.  This section, to me, was made especially creepy by the stylized skulls at the top of each row of tombs.

Sao Francisco Catacombs 2

A step down from the personal tombs was to be interred in the floor, where each wood section was a tomb.  It took a few minutes for us to realize that we could potentially be walking on the dead, but a docent came to the rescue and said there were no longer bodies in the floor, so we no longer had to worry about where we stepped.

Sao Francisco Catacombs 4

According to the docent, the floor tombs were basically rented by the family, and after a period of time the body was removed to make room for the next paying occupant. So what happened to the occupant whose lease was up?  Around the corner, towards the back of the catacombs, lies the answer.

Sao Francisco Catacombs 5

Located in the floor is a glass and grate covered opening, a window if you will.  If you look through the window you’ll see the prior occupants of the floor tombs as well as those who could not afford private interment.  I’ve seen ossuaries before, most notably the one at the Verdun battlefield in France, but it’s still a bit of a shock to see.

While the gold covered main chapel at São Francisco is the undisputed highlight of a visit to the church, the catacombs and museum are well worth a look.  Just watch where you step.

Saint Saviour’s Church, Carcross, Yukon

This cute little church is one of the highlights of Carcross, a small unincorporated community is home to about 300 of those people.

The influence of Christianity was introduced to the Tagish people of the Yukon but early Russian explorers.  Christian missionaries had been visiting the small communities of the Yukon since around 1899 and, in 1901, Bishop Bumpas moved to Carcross.  The first person baptised in Carcross was Daisy Mason, daughter of Skookum Jim, a member of the Tagish First Nation and a legend of the Klondike Gold Rush.  This church, founded by Bishop Bumpas, was consecrated in 1904.

Although the church was relocated to Nares River and remains active, this building remains an early symbol of the influence of Christianity in the First Nations of Canada.

St Saviors

 

 

 

Nazaré, Portugal

There are two beaches in Nazaré, Portugal separated only by a promontory jutting into the Altantic Ocean.  The two beaches, Praia da Nazaré and Praia do Norte, could not be more different. The two photos show just how different the two beaches are. Both photos were taken, on the same visit, from the road leading to the fortress located on the promontory.

The first photo shows Praia da Nazaré, the popular beach resort. The beach is wide with a gentle surf. Like most beach resorts, Nazaré’s beach is fronted by hotels, restaurants, shops of all kinds.  It’s a fun little town, especially during the off season when the beach is empty. It’s beautiful, is it not?

Nazare from Sitio

Turn 180 degrees from where this photo was taken and you see Praia do Norte. This beach, one of the most famous surfing spots in the world, looks wild.  There are no buildings lining North Beach; instead, the beach is dotted with rocks and caves and the trees grow right up to the beach.

Praia Norte

There’s a reason the beach is missing the hotels and restaurants that populate the other beach. Waves up to one hundred feet high are common here, and man-made structures wouldn’t stand a chance against these giant walls of water. Local fishermen avoided the area because of the huge waves and several people have been swept to their deaths while walking on the beach.

That doesn’t stop the surfers, though. Each Winter, Praia do Norte is host to the Nazaré Challenge, a stop on the World Surf League’s Big Wave Tour. In 2011, Garrett McNamara set the world record by surfing a 78-foot wave and in 2017 Brazilian Rodrigo Koxa broke the record when he surfed an 80-foot wave.

Nazaré is a great little town and has plenty to offer visitors.  My suggestion, though, is unless you like to live life on the edge of a surfboard, stick to Praia da Nazaré  or watch the world class surfing from the fortress.

 

City Hall, Lisbon

This beautiful structure, located on , is the Lisbon City Hall.  The City Hall has a troubled past.  The original City Hall, built after the earthquake that devastated Lisbon in 1755, was razed by a fire in 1863.   That building’s replacement, which you see here, was seriously damaged by a fire in 1993.  After the fire, the current City Hall underwent major restoration to repair the damage caused by the fire and to bring this building, which has gone through several modifications since it’s construction, closer to the original plan.

There are three things of interest here.  First, I’m a big fan of Portuguese pavement and the pavement in City Square is especially beautiful.  Second, the monument in front of the City Hall is topped by an armillary sphere which I knew nothing about until last week.  If you didn’t see that post, an armillary sphere is a spherical framework of rings representing longitude and latitude and was used by Portuguese navigators during the Age of Discovery.  Finally, the four round windows above the second floor are called oculi, which were a common feature of Neoclassical architecture.

Lisbon City Hall

Mumadona Dias, Guimarães

In honor of International Women’s Day, I present Momadona Dias, who ruled the county of Portugal first jointly with her husband then, after his death, on her own.  She was the most powerful woman in northwest Iberian Peninsula during the 19th century.

During her reign, she founded the Mosteiro of São Mamede in Vimaranes.  To protect the monastery from Viking raids, she had the Castle of Guimarães built.  Vimaranes eventually became Guimarães and the castle became, a century and a half later, the birthplace of the Kingdom of Portugal.

In the statue pictured below, Mumadona Dias holds a cross in her right hand and what appears to be the Castle of Guimarães in her left.  I love how Portugal honors their heroes- men and women- with beautiful works of art that are not displayed in museums but in public where everyone can enjoy the art and remember their history.

Mumadona- Guimaraes

Tower of the University of Coimbra

The Tower of the University of Coimbra is one of the most photographed structures in Coimbra, and with good reason.  The tower, built in the 18th century to replace the old tower, is stunningly beautiful.

The tower’s bells and clocks regulate life at the University.  Ringing a quarter hour behind the town’s clock so as not to confuse students and citizens alike, the tower’s bells signal the start and end of classes and is also used to toll for the death of a teacher and to call the academic community to official acts performed in the Great Hall.

The top of the tower has a platform that was used as an observatory.  You can climb the 180 steps to the top  of the tower.  We chose to forego the climb to allow more time to explore the palace.  Maybe on our next visit we’ll make the climb.

Goat Tower

42nd Street at Dusk, NYC

In 2004, my wife and I took a trip to New York to visit her dad.  While we were there, we took a couple days to explore Manhattan.  My wife, growing up on Long Island, had been to NYC many times.  It was my first trip.

This photo was taken at dusk from the corner of 8th Avenue and 42nd Street as we made our way back to catch the train to Long Island.  I like the colors and the hustle and bustle of 42nd Street.

Much has changed in the fifteen years since our visit.  Loew’s Theatre, the left, and Empire Theater, on the right, are now Regency and AMC Theaters.  Villa Pizza, under the Chevy’s sign, is still there, as is Madame Toussaud’s.  Personally, I’m not a fan of the consolidation of small independent businesses into huge corporations.  I value individuality over chain stores.

I’d love to visit Manhattan again, but we’ll just have to wait and see what the future has in store.

42nd Street At Night 3