Birthday Card Series: Part VI

In October of ’17, around five months after I severally fractured my tailbone and pelvic bone, we traveled to Russia. By October I was able to walk fairly well but not for long periods of time.  As we found out October is not the best time to visit Moscow, St. Petersburg nor the Golden Ring.  The day-time temperatures hovered around 50 degrees and rain was the order of the day.  Then why October for the visit?  Mike had made contact with an ex-pat American wine writer who lived in Moscow who was willing to show us around the Russian wine country  on the Black Sea, some 800 miles south of Moscow.  October fit his schedule.   Stepping off our plane in Anapa (on the Black Sea) that we took from St. Petersburg we were happily surprised. It was sunny and around 75 degrees!  Ah, a great relief from the gray, rainy, cold days of the north.

The ’17 birthday card depicts the Intercession Convent in Suzdal, one of the string of towns (we visited three) northeast of Moscow that form the Golden Ring.  The convent was founded in 1364 and was originally a place of exile for the unwanted wives of tsars.  This string of towns, some of Russia’s oldest,  have been largely untouched by industrialization–think onion-shaped domes, kremlins and gingerbread cottages. These towns formed the core of 9th-16th century eastern Kyivan Rus and were formative to the centrality of the Russian Orthodox Church. All things considered the trip was a good one–very eye opening.  The people were friendly (even though our two governments may not be), the cities (particularly St. Petersburg) and sites were very interesting.  Next time: Spring!

In the Spring of ’17 we once again traveled to Spain with a few days in tiny Andorra.

Our Fall ’18 journey was to Cyprus, with a three day side trip to Beirut and the vineyards of the Bekka Valley in Lebanon (Beirut is only a forty minute flight from Cyprus). With its location in the far eastern Mediterranean the island of Cyprus has a slew of occupiers over the centuries.  The Phoenicians were here as were the Crusaders and about seven other “guests”–among them were the Ottomans who had a 300 year hold before Britain took administrative rights to Cyprus in 1878– these rights lasted until 1960 when Cyprus established independence. However, animosity between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots soon surfaced and in 1974  the Turkish government sent troops to Cyprus to put down an Athens encouraged coup d’etat. Since that time the island has been partitioned into the ethnically Greek south Republic of Cyprus and the northern Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (recognized only by Turkey). Passport control and customs are established at the few border crossings that exist. One island, two cultures, two languages, two currencies (Euros, south/ Turkish Lira north).  After 40+ years the island is resolutely divided!
Today the “invaders” are sun-seeking tourists to the beautiful beaches–more visitors in the south than the north.  Brits and Russians lead the pack followed by Middle East folks from Israel and the Arab countries.

The 2018 birthday card is a sketch of the St. Hilarion Castle, a 11th century stronghold–well preserved at that– in North Cyprus that overlooks the Mediterranean and port city of Kyrenia.  The magnificent castles bristles with turrets on its walls built on sheer rock.  While Mike managed to climb the castles stairs and visit a few of the castle’s chapels and other chambers I casually sipped coffee at the entrance’s cafe. He did tell me about the amazing views though.
Our Spring ’18 trip was to the Midwest for a family wedding and visiting with friends and relatives.

In the Spring of ’19 we ventured on a road trip to the far northeastern part of California an area we previously only traveled through to somewhere else.  The sparely populated area is heavily wooded and sprinkled with high elevation lakes, rivers, meandering creeks and volcanic uprisings–truly beautiful and serene.  Smouldering under  this magnificent scenery is the State of Jefferson–a decades old proposal for the rural counties of southern Oregon and northern California to secede from their respective states and  set up their own state –the State of Jefferson.  The argument is that they get no respect from their own state–that they are overtaxed and under served.  Most locals take the State of Jefferson with a grin but there is a cranky and vocal group that see it as a reality. After a few relaxing days in a lake side cabin in Mount Shasta we headed to Eureka via a leisurely drive through the Trinity Alps.  Eureka’s claim to fame is its lumber -shipping harbor.  Which brings us to the ’19 birthday card which depicts the Carson Mansion in Eureka. 

The Mansion was built between 1884-1886 by the lumber magnet William Carson and designed by San Francisco architectural firm of Newsom & Newsom.  This 16,000 square foot, three story house with a 100′ tower is considered one of the best examples of Victorian architecture in the U.S.  The entire complex, including its finely detailed redwood exterior and vast lawn and gardens, are meticulously maintained by the long time current owners, the private Ingomar Club.  No visitors are permitted inside so we had to admire the Mansion from the sidewalk.  We’ll have to join the Club–whoever the Ingomars are.

In the Spring of ’19 we once again traveled to Florida and the Midwest to visit with friends and relatives.

Of course, no traveling for us in 2020 (our arranged Spring cruise to southeast Alaska was cancelled early on). Consequently, Mike’s 2020 birthday card is based on the last trip we took–to Cuba in December 2019–our first  group tour; this one with the education oriented Road Scholar organization. The card shows the Havana Cathedral on the Cathedral Plaza, which was built in the years 1748-1777 –roughly  250 years after the founding of Havana in 1519.  The Jesuits started the construction but did not see its completion since King Carlos III expelled the Jesuits from Cuba in 1767–pity.  The building is constructed from blocks of local coral–a soft building material that has shown some deterioration over the centuries.  However, the Cathedral remains handsome and imposing.  As an aside, the body of Christopher Columbus was displayed here from 1796 to 1898 when it was finally moved to the Seville Cathedral.  In fact his body has seen many “resting places”:  first in Valladolid, Spain, where he died, then to Seville–initially to a monastery there then to the Cathedral–on to the Caribbean: Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic and Havana.  Wow!  This boy traveled far and wide even when he was dead.

Let’s hope that 2021 brings us back to the travel sphere and to a “fresh” birthday card.


About carolinebotwin

Caroline Botwin and her husband Mike are retired educators who have always had a yen for travelling: he with a PH.D and teaching Architectural Engineering plus California wine education, and she having taught high school English, speech and drama. Both wanted to learn first hand about other cultures. While Mike predominately studied buildings and structures and met with winemakers, Caroline hunted for ancient sites and peoples. And kept journals of all their travels.
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