All posts by Corey Sandler

Corey Sandler has been a storyteller all of this life. He worked as a newsman for Gannett Newspapers and later as a correspondent for The Associated Press before entering the worlds of magazine and book publishing. He has written more than 200 books on history, travel, sports, technology, and business. He currently is a destination and special interest lecturer for Silversea Cruises, one of the world's best luxury cruise lines. If you'd like to contact him, please send an e-mail to this address: corey[AT]sandlerbooks.com (Replace the [AT] with the @ symbol, please.)

26 June 2013. Honningsvåg, Norway: Almost All the Way North

26 June 2013. Honningsvåg, Norway: Almost All the Way North 

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Honningsvåg is the northernmost city on the mainland of Norway.

There are a few gotchas in that description. Mainland, not on an island.

A city, not a town or village or settlement.

That said, Honningsvag has only about 2,436 inhabitants which is below the Norwegian definition of a city as a place with at least 5,000 residents.

But its status as a city was grandfathered in place.

A CAPTAIN EARNS HIS PAY

We arrived to face a stiff wind coming out of the north, and blowing across the dock where Silver Cloud was due to tie up.

It took us three tries, the last one with the help of a boat that came out from shore to take our lines and pull them to mooring points in the harbor. We winched ourselves alongside.

There are times when a ship’s captain earns his keep in ways other than shaking hands at a formal reception line; this was one of those days.

A MEAGER PLACE

Honningsvåg is within a bay on the southeastern side of the large island of Magerøya. That name speaks volumes about the fruitfulness of the land: it means “meager.”

All that seems to grow on Magerøya is lichen, huge numbers of fish, reindeer (only when they visit on summer vacation), and cloudberries.

I’ll pass on the lichen, but I have tried reindeer (and caribou, the same creature) and I’m sorry to report that Rudolph is rather tasty. It reminds me of a mix between beef and calf’s liver.

Cloudberries, which grow only at very high latitudes—in places like Norway and Scotland—are delicious, delicate fruit and very high in Vitamin C.

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HOW FAR NORTH?

Searching for a northeast passage to India in 1553, British navigator Richard Chancellor came upon a crag 1,007 feet (307 meters) above the Barents Sea.

Chancellor named the jut of rock North Cape.

The Norwegians would later adjust that to Nordkapp.

It certainly is far north, but first of all, it is not the North Pole, and secondly it is not actually the farthest north piece of land in Europe.

The neighboring Knivskjellodden Point, just to the west, extends about a mile further north.

It’s a lot harder to get to, though, and so the more convenient North Cape gets the glory. And the visitor’s center, gift shop, and restaurant. The northernmost gift shop in Europe, of course.

But actually, since both of these points are situated on an island, some purists will maintain that neither is on the mainland of Europe. Instead they point to Cape Nordkinn (Kinnarodden)  about 70 kilometers or 43 miles to the east. It’s not quite as far north, but it is on the mainland.

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The marker at North Cape, near the gift shop

And just to put things in perspective, the steep cliff of North Cape at 71 degrees 10 minutes North latitude is about 2,102 kilometers or 1,306 miles from the geographic North Pole.

In any case, the North Cape on the northern side of Magerøya island, is a dramatic place, a rite of passage for many visitors to the far north.

The drive from Honningsvåg—a city in name alone—is about a 40-minute trip across a slightly green moon-like landscape that is mostly empty. There are not that many settled places in the world above 71 degrees North, and the geography shows why.

In Finnmark County at the top of Norway, an area about the size of Switzerland, there are about 1.5 humans per square kilometer; reindeer outnumber people two-to-one.

THE SAMI

All through this region of Norway, and then across the border into Finland, are the Sami people.

They are also known in some languages as Lap or Laplanders, although modern Sami may reject that term.

Traditionally, the Sami have pursued a variety of livelihoods, including coastal fishing, fur trapping, and sheep herding.

Their best-known livelihood is semi-nomadic reindeer herding.

Since prehistoric times, the Sami people of Arctic Europe lived and worked in an area that stretches over parts of what is now northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Russian Kola Peninsula.

On our way to the North Cape we visited the remote home of a Sami couple. The man, who spoke little Norwegian and no English, posed with one of his favorite reindeer. His wife worked inside at the gift shop counter.

Changes in latitude, changes in attitude.

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Text and photos copyright 2013 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to obtain a copy of a photo from this blog, please visit the tab Order a Photo.

 

25 June 2013: Tromsø: Good day, sunshine, and never mind the clock

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Greetings from the Land of the Midnight Sun.

Also the 3 a.m. sun and the noontime sun and cocktail hour sun.

This is also one of the best places in the world to experience the Aurora Borealis.

Except, of course, when the light is on all day. Midnight Sun means the Northern Lights are out of sight.

That doesn’t mean the sky is always blue. We have been in and out of the mists and rain for the past few days as we headed north up the west coast of Norway.

But this morning—morning by the clock—dawned bright and sunny and we happily headed into town.

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Silver Cloud at the dock, along with an ocean-going tug

Tromsø is the largest city and the largest urban area in Northern Norway, and the second largest city and urban area north of the Arctic Circle, second only to Murmansk.

But please don’t expect Paris.

Even though at one time this small settlement did lay claim to the nickname of “The Paris of the North.”

Tromsø has very much the feel of a place near the end of the world. The shops and houses are painted in brilliant hues and modern structures feature mirrored glass to extend the views all around.

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It has a lot more color and liveliness than Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, which lie ahead of us on our journey.

Most of Tromsø is located on the small island of Tromsøya, 350 kilometers or 217 miles north of the Arctic Circle, at 69 degrees 40 minutes north.

Among its civic claims to fame: the world’s northernmost university, botanical garden, cathedral, and most importantly, the northernmost brewery in the world.

Despite only being home to around 80 people, Tromsø was issued its city charter in 1794 by King Christian VII. The city quickly rose in importance with trading, fishing, churches, and a bit of culture.

Arctic hunting, from Novaya Zemlya to Canada, started up around 1820. By 1850, Tromsø was the major center of Arctic hunting, and the city was trading from Arkhangelsk to Bordeaux.

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Polar Museum

It was at this time that the small settlement bestowed upon itself the nickname “Paris of the North.”

The Macks Brewery was opened in 1877, and still maintains a presence.

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Macks Brewery, the northernmost brewery in the world, or so they say

By the end of the 19th century, Tromsø had become a major Arctic trade center from which many Arctic expeditions originated.

Explorers like Roald Amundsen, Umberto Nobile, and Fridtjof Nansen made use of the know-how in Tromsø on Arctic conditions, and often recruited their crew in the city.

It was in Trondheim, about 100 miles from Tromsø, that the Germans parked their prize battleship Tirpitz during World War II.

Its presence—if not its use—diverted the efforts of dozens of Allied ships, thousands of Allied airmen, and became a five-year obsession of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

By the end of the intense cat-and-mouse game in the North, the Tirpitz had been moved to a cove right outside of Tromsø, and it was there the battleship was finally sunk.

We enjoyed our morning in the sun, even when it began raining again. Later in the all-day morning, about 2 pm, blue skies returned.

IF YOU CAN’T BEAT ‘EM, EAT ‘EM

In town, as we usually do, we visited a supermarket to learn about the real way of life in a foreign port. There we saw some things we expected–like whale meat–but one thing that caught us by surprise.

At the seafood counter was a basket of extra- extra-large brown speckled eggs, about two- to three-times the size of chicken eggs. They were, we learned, from seagulls. The price, about $4 each.

This is a great delicacy in northern Norway, despite the fact that here–like many places around the world–seagulls are referred to as “flying rats.” They are said to have a mild flavor, usually boiled and served on a piece of flatbread with melted butter atop them. (I can’t help imagining they actually taste like garbage bags and soda pop tops, but I did not put my theory to the test.)

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Here’s the way we experience Sun Shock here on board the beautiful Silver Cloud: we come back to our suite from an extended dinner at the end of the day, perhaps at 9:30 or 10 pm, and find the curtains tightly closed.

But a few beams of brightness leak through, and it’s all but impossible to resist opening the curtain:

Good morning, Tromsø, whatever the clock says.

Text and photos Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler. To obtain a copy of any photo, please visit the Order a Photo tab of this blog.

 

24 June 2013 Harstad, Norway: An Ancient Church, A Recent Horror, and Weirdness in Pink

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant, Silversea Cruises

Harstad may not be quite what you imagine when you think of a visit within the Arctic Circle.

Yes, it feels Scandinavian.

And yes, even on Midsummer Day in late June you can see the memory of winter past up on the mountains and feel in the air the hint of winter to come.

The Northern Lights are spectacular, and this is one of the best places in the world to see them. Except, of course, at this time of the year because the sun never sets.

For the next eight days we will not see true darkness.

Harstad developed as a herring and fishing port in the 19th century.

Today, the oil industry of North Norway—a major operation—is headquartered here. That brings jobs: shipbuilding, provisioning, and management.

Population about 24,000, Harstad is located on Hinnoya, the largest island in Norway.

AN ANCIENT CHURCH

One of its more famous sights is the Trondenes Church, the northernmost medieval stone church of Norway.

There is a bit of uncertainty about exactly how old it is; some call it a 13th century structure while modern scientists date its construction to about 1434.

Either way, it’s old.

This relatively small parish church was the main religious center of Northern Norway for a period during Medieval times.

The church is especially known for its rich decorations, including three gothic triptychs, one of which was made by the German Hanseatic artist Bernt Notke or by his workshop.

If you’ve traveled in Scandinavia or the Baltic you’ve likely seen other works by Notke, not nearly as hidden-away as this one.

Notke’s most famous work is his sculpture of Saint George and the Dragon) for the Storkyrkan in Stockholm. There’s a copy in Lübeck.

Parts of his Danse Macabre for Reval are on display at Saint Nicholas’ Church in Tallinn, Estonia.

The baroque pulpit is equipped with an hourglass to allow the minister to time long sermons, or perhaps to enforce a limit.

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Trondenes Church was closed when we arrived, but our guide went to the secret hiding place to retrive the 600-year-old key to the 600-year-old lock on the door.

She allowed me to hold it for a moment, but not to stray. Apparently there is only one key still in existence.

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Harstad was another obscure battle site of World War II.

British and Free French naval forces battled German occupiers who were holding the port of Narvik in early 1940.

And from Harstad, Norwegian General Carl Gustav Fleischer led the Norwegian Armed Forces in a successful retaking of Narvik in May of that year.

However, Norway would eventually fall fully under control of the Nazis.

As part of the Axis defenses, Germany installed four of its huge Schnelladekanone guns, also known as the Adolfkanone or Adolf Gun.

The gun’s barrel was about 20 meters or 66 feet long. Mounted on land, they could fire a 600-kilogram or 1,300-pound shell about 56 kilometers or 35 miles.

After 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union and pushed Russia back onto the side of the Allies, Harstad became the seemingly unlikely place for a prisoner-of-war camp.

A RECENT HORROR

Some 3,000 Soviet soldiers were held in a very difficult and unsanitary compound near the Trondenes Church.

They were forced to work on the construction of the massive platforms for the huge guns. And 800 of them died in the process.

The Russians were at first buried in the churchyard, but later moved elsewhere in Norway—never returned home. A few decades ago, the Soviet Union erected a monument in their memory here.

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THE YOUNGEST MARCHING BAND

Back in Harstad, we happened upon the Festival of the Norwegian North, which coincides with Midsummer Week.

There were melancholy rock bands (Goths in the land of the Vikings?).

We were also entertained by the youngest marching band I have ever seen. They were, uh, enthusiastic.

And I believe I saw Professor Harold Hill of The Music Man at the front of the somewhat ragged march.

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And then for something completely different: the Pink Invasion.

I’ll let my pictures speak for themselves, except to say that they made Cirque du Soleil seem quite tame.

They were a different Mood of Norway.

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All photos Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler. If you would like a copy, please contact me through the Order a Print tab on this blog.

 

 

22 June 2013 Hellesylt and Geiranger: A Midsummer’s Ascent Back to Winter

COREY SANDLER, Destination Consultant, Silversea Cruises

It was a day of clouds and cloudberries, of mist and fog and a glimpse of one of the stranger stories of World War II.

We saw more waterfalls and lakes and peaks than I could count, and there were also long stretches where all we saw was a whiter shade of pale.

Silversea Silver Cloud entered into the great Storfjord north of Bergen early in the morning and then pulled into a dock at the tiny town of Helleysylt. There about 90 guests (about one-third of the passengers on our small luxury ship) debarked for a journey to the Roof of Norway.

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We were heading for Honningsdalen Lake—said to be the deepest lake in all of Europe—and then on to the town of Stryn and then Grottli before ascending up the impossible road to Dalsnibba.

For us, though, we would rise 1,500 meters or more than 4,700 feet to a world of rivers and waterfalls and massive glaciers including the huge Jostedal Glacier which helped carve the Storfjord and still is the source of much of the water that was almost everywhere as we traveled.

On this day before Midsummer, we would even pass through a summer downhill skiing station.

Norway—and especially the central fjords and glaciers—is the land of the trolls. Speaking for myself, I could not see them, although our guide tried his best to convince us that they were all around.

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A Royal summer house in Stryn. The King was expected later in the day, but we had to leave our regrets

We saw mostly fog and mist; for all we knew, we were indeed surrounded by trolls. These fearsome but ultimately rather slow creatures are said to be thick in these mountains. Why are there troll stories? My best explanation is this: in the cold and dark winters up here near the Arctic Circle, momma and grandma had a lot of time on their hands to entertain—or frighten—the kids. And the landscape is so rocky and craggy. The stories they created brought the rocks and waterfalls to life.

At Stryn we saw a sudden glimpse of pink. Pink tractors to be precise. This town up in the mountains above the fjord was the birthplace of what is now an international retail fashion empire: Moods of Norway. Two locals founded the company there and it has now spread through Scandinavia, Europe, and to the United States. I believe they employ trolls in their knitting factories.

Jostedal Glacier still is huge, but the snows of yesterday seem to have gone away. At the Stryn Summer Ski area, thirty years ago a typical winter would bring as much as 19 meters or 60 feet of snow to the base. This past winter: only about half a meter, or 20 inches fell.

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When we stopped at the ski hill, we saw skiers loading onto the bottommost chairlift from a field that was mostly mud. There were two more chairlifts to take, far above us and hidden in the clouds, before skiers could make runs on the snow above the glacier.

I wish we had time to make a few runs; my knees were aching in anticipation. But we pressed on.

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We arrived in Grotli, near the end of a long valley that runs hundreds of miles up the spine of Norway. And there we found, crunched against a snowbank, a reminder of the odd events that happen in war.

On April 27, 1940, a German Luftwaffe medium bomber (a Heinkel He 111) was shot down near Grotli by an RAF Fleet Air Arm Blackburn Skua fighter (a carrier-based dive bomber.)

The German plane made a crash landing near where it still stands.

The British plane also fell to earth, landing in the cold water of Breidalsvatnet Lake.

Both pilots somehow survived, and once on land began shooting at each other with sidearms. But they also needed to find a way to survive the harsh conditions and they ended up sharing the same mountain cabin in what began as a tense standoff but ended up as an unlikely friendship that continued after the war.

If all this sounds like the plot of a movie, well you’re right. The 2012 film, “Into the White” was based on the true story and partly made at Grotli.

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After Grotli, we rose up on the Dalsnibba Road to the actual Roof of Norway, or at least the highest point of Norway that can be reached on a tourist motor coach. The Dalsnibba Road is an unpaved, vertiginous set of switchbacks with no guardrails.

Our driver deftly navigated the bus up the road, we reached 1,500 feet above fjord and sea level where there was an observation platform with a spectacular view of Geirangerfjord below and the glaciers all around. Except of course, on a day like we were experiencing.

“Welcome to the Roof of Norway,” our guide announced, “where we can see absolutely nothing.”

That was not technically true. All around we could see trolls…or at least rocks that look a bit like trolls. The legend says that trolls live below bridges, emerging only to collect tolls from passersby. Or to eat them if they are not paid or if there are bad little girls or boys in the vicinity.

The other thing we saw were thousands upon thousands of rock piles. They look sorta-kinda like the Inukshuks of the Inuit and other Arctic tribes. Inukshuks are erected to mark pathways or hunting grounds; the word means “something that acts as if it were a person.”

But the rock piles in Norway have nothing to do with Norwegian culture, I was told. Instead they have all been created by tourists passing through. “I have been here,” they say. The Norwegians just shrug.

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And then we carefully descended on the Geiranger Road, one of the engineering wonders of the 19th century. It was completed in 1889, after 11 years of construction. (The workers could only dig in the short summer.) It has 78 curves in 20 kilometers or 12.5 miles, including 22 bends of 180 degrees.

When we finally descended to near the level of the fjord, we caught a glimpse of Silver Cloud, which had gone on ahead of us to put down an anchor in Geirangerfjord. We took the tender back to the ship, and back into the crystal-clear world of high luxury. Champagne and lobster, thank you very much. No trolls aboard.

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All photos Copyright 2013 Corey Sandler. To obtain a copy, please visit the Order a Photo tab.

 

21 June 2013 Bergen, Norway. Mood swings and guilt trips

COREY SANDLER, Destination Consultant, Silversea Silver Cloud

We’re embarked on an extraordinary journey, from Copenhagen in the Baltic Sea through the Kattegat and into the North Sea.

Silversea Silver Cloud is headed up the coast of Norway with stops at some impressive harbors and spectacular fjords, then above Lapland to an historically important but still-relatively hidden corner of ancient, then Czarist, and then Soviet Russia. 

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Moody weather in Bergen

MOODY BERGEN

Our first port of call on this latest voyage on Silversea Silver Cloud is Moody Bergen.

Why moody? Well, the people here are almost always unfailingly pleasant and accommodating.

The weather: not so much.

I told our guests in my lecture about Bergen that this is a place where you can experience all of the seasons. All in one day, that is.

Right on schedule, we arrived at our parking spot very close to the heart of town…and it began raining. It changed from a drizzle to steadier rain and then a peek of bright sky before moving toward a hint of winter.

BRYGGEN

Bryggen, on the north side of the bay, was used as a dock and warehouse area by the Hansa between 1350 and 1750.

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Bryggen

AN ANTIQUE MUSEUM

I am a big fan of the Natural History Museum at the University of Bergen.

It is a very old-fashioned museum—think wooden cabinets with specimens pinned in place, stuffed animals of all sort, and huge whale and other skeletons hanging overhead.

Some of the creatures—and the design of the museum—are extinct.

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Bergen Natural History Museum

ABOUT BERGEN

Bergen is home to about 268,000 people in the city itself and 394,000 in the surrounding area.

It is thus the second-largest city in Norway, behind only Oslo, although the capital city is much more populous: 1.4 million.

Oh, and a whole bunch of fish.

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Scenes about town, including back alleys of Bryggen and an extraordinary vessel that is part of the service fleet for the North Sea oil fields

FISH MARKET

The great fish market occupies the center of the horseshoe-shaped harbor; the market has recently been extended from outdoor stalls to a handsome indoor building.

The fish is about as fresh and tasty as you’ll find anywhere, and all you need to do is look hungry to be offered a sample of smoked salmon or boiled crab or fish chowder.

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King Crab at the Bergen Fish Market

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This guy looks quite surprised at the situation he has found himself in. It’s an Ure fish, which means red fish, similar to red snapper.

MY GUILTY SNACK

One other point worth noting: Norway is one of the few countries that still hunts whales for meat.

(The others include Iceland, Japan, and a few tiny island nations.)

Norways catches a few hundred Minke whales, mostly in waters at the northern end of the nation.

Minke whales are not considered an endangered species, although their numbers—like all other varieties of whales—are greatly reduced.

My wife and I live on Nantucket Island, which for a period of time in the 19th century was the whaling capital of the world.

It way the Saudi Arabia of whale oil.

But the whalers who left from our island on voyages of as much as three or four years did not eat the whale meat. All they wanted was the oil as well as baleen and whale bone.

And today, although Nantucket celebrates its heritage as a whaling port (including the fine Nantucket Whaling Museum), it is at the forefront of a nearly-universal boycott against the harvesting of whale for meat today.

Although I have been to Norway and Japan and Arctic Canada many times, I had never tried whale meat.

Reason 1: Political correctness.

Reason 2: Have you ever seen whale meat? It is enough to make you seriously consider vegetarianism.

Well, today, I have a confession.

I went on a market tour with David Bilsland, the leader of the Ecole des Chefs of Silversea.

And we were offered samples of king crab (wonderful…and only about $50 per pound and that includes the shells.

Also, gravlax and codfish caviar and fish chowder.

And then, a platter of small pieces of smoked whale.

I hesitated…and then took a bite.

It tasted a bit like beef or caribou. Not bad.

But I felt guilty about it. And I promise never to do it again.

There are other foods to explore without the worry of losing my credentials in the upright citizens brigade.

All photos Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler. To obtain copies, please visit the Order a Photo tab on this blog.

 

 

19June 2013 Copenhagen, Denmark: What Disney Didn’t Tell You About the Little Mermaid

COREY SANDLER. Destination Consultant, Silversea Cruises

Our ship, Silversea Silver Cloud arrived in Copenhagen about 6pm last night and we enjoyed a long, slow descent into darkness. It was a gorgeous evening, with a photographer’s light: low and orange.

Many of our guests from the previous cruise (Southampton to France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Sweden) debarked this morning in Copenhagen.

A new group, including many old friends from previous cruises got on board here.

Tonight we sail out of Copenhagen and begin to head north…all the way up the coastline of Norway, along the top of Finland’s Lapland, and then to the attic of Russia with calls at Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, and Solovetsky Island.

For the middle eight or nine days of the trip, we will be in the land of the Midnight Sun: no sunset at all.

I’m excited aboard this itinerary: it is not the usual suspects in Europe.

I’ll be posting blogs from each of the ports of call over the next 17 days.

Aside from Hamlet, not all that much is melancholy in Denmark.

The streets are lively, the shops seem to be doing a good business, and the classic century-old amusement park of Tivoli Gardens in city center was whirling by noon.

One of the most famous symbols of the city is The Little Mermaid, and this is something that existed way, way before Disney became involved.

The Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s story about Den lille havfrue (the little sea lady), was written in 1836. It became a global hit.

In 1909, Carl Jacobsen, son of the founder of the Carlsberg brewery and namesake to the beer, commissioned a statue of the mermaid.

He had become fascinated by a ballet based on the fairytale and presented at Copenhagen’s Royal Theatre. Jacobsen asked prima ballerina Ellen Price to model for the statue.

The statue’s head was indeed modelled after Price, but the ballerina refused to model in the nude.

And so Sculptor Edvard Eriksen prevailed on his wife, Eline Eriksen, to pose for the body in 1913.

That’s a little kinky: someone else’s head on your wife’s body. Or maybe not.

It made me think of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and the Statue of Liberty in New York: that work is said to be the sculptor’s mother’s face atop the body of the sculptor’s mistress. That is definitely kinky.

Anyhow, in 1989 Disney made a movie sort-of-kind-of based on the Hans Christian Andersen fable. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that amounts to desecration or homage.

But the Little Mermaid—and she is littler and more vulnerable than most people imagine—sits on a rock just a few hundred feet away from our ship, docked at Langelinie.

And the other thing: when you go to visit The Little Mermaid, you will almost certainly not be alone.

The girl receives almost no privacy.

Photos copyright 2013, Corey Sandler. To obtain a copy please contact me through the “Order a Photo” tab on this blog.

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The Little Mermaid gets no privacy at all.

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Swans in Churchill Park near our ship

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The Anglican Church in Copenhagen, the only one of its kind in Denmark

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.The setting sun accentuates the colors of old military structures along the harbor

 

18 June 2013 Helsingborg, Sweden: Lighter and Brighter than Hamlet

As our voyage on Silversea Silver Cloud nears an end, we made a call at Helsingborg, Sweden, at the north end of the Øresund Strai between this country and Denmark.

Tonight we arrive in Copenhagen. To those guests leaving us here, Janice and I wish you safe travels. For the rest of you–and new friends coming aboard–we look forward to the next leg: up the coast of Norway to the top and then on to Murmansk and Arkhangelsk in Russia.

Here in Helsingborg, it was a beautiful sunny and clear day, as light as a feather. It was clear enough to see across the strait to Elsinore Castle, the setting for William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. That great play is a masterpiece of murder, revenge, incest, and other themes no at all light on the mind.

But we enjoyed the sun, feasted on fresh strawberries and lemonade, and girded ourselves for the voyage to the attic of Russia next week.

As a reminder, if you want copies of any of my photographs, please click on the tab marked Order a Photo, or send me an e-mail at    corey[at]sandlerbooks.com    (Substitute an @ for [at] please.)

And please don’t hesitate to keep in touch. We look forward to sailing with you again.

COREY and JANICE

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17June 2013 Rostock and Warnemunde, Germany. Out from Under

Warnemünde, the beach resort at the mouth of the Warnow River, like much of this part of Europe, has risen and fallen with the tides of war and economic upheaval.

It dates back, as a mere fishing village, to about 1200.

Rostock would rise to great importance as one of the ports of the Hanseatic League.

And then it would become the home of some of the industrial might of Nazi Germany, including a major aircraft factory and port. Heinkel and Arado Flugzeugwerke grew out of the earlier aviation factories in the area.The Arado Ar 66 became one of the standard Luftwaffe trainers.

The firm also produced some of the Luftwaffe’s first fighter aircraft. Near the end of the war, Arado came up with the Ar-234, the first jet-powered bomber. Only a small number of the single-seat twin-engine plane were built, which was a good thing.

In their few sorties as bombers they proved to be nearly impossible to intercept. Not that they would have altered the outcome of the war, but they might have delayed its conclusion.

The jet, nicknamed Blitz or Lightning, was the last Luftwaffe plane to fly over England, in April 1945.

Until their liberation in April 1945 by the Soviet army, 1,012 slave laborers from Freiburg, a sub-camp of the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Bavaria, worked at the Arado factory.

That made it a major target of Allied bombing, and it was seriously damaged in the war.

Warnemunde and Rostock were severely damaged in raids in 1942 and 1943 and again in 1945.

The attacks on Rostock, and more importantly the historic Hanseatic city of Lübeck not far away, enraged Hitler—if such a thing was possible and led in April 1942 to a series of German raids on historic cities in Britain beginning with Exeter and continuing to Bath, Norwich, York, and later Canterbury.

The bombings became known as the Baedeker raids because the Germans supposedly chose them by thumbing through a Baedeker travel guide book about England.

Following that, the Soviets swept in…stealing what they could and then bringing the drab grayness that landed throughout East Germany.

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 WARNEMÜNDE

Warnemünde’s broad, sandy beaches are the largest on the German Baltic Sea coast, stretching about three kilometers or two miles.

It also has some pretty beachside homes, and all of the basic elements of a seaside resort including a promenade, outdoor restaurants, and tourist attractions.

There are three notable sights in Warnemünde:

Undressed bodies on the beach—some of whom you might wish would put on winter clothing or otherwise make themselves less apparent.

An historic lighthouse near the beach promenade, built in 1897.

And the Teepott, the nickname for one of the resorts most famous landmarks. It was built in the 1960s and is an appropriately odd example of East German architecture.

Today the Teepott holds a few restaurants and an exhibition hall.

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Among the many to invade this area in earlier times were the French under Napoleon, who occupied the town for about a decade until 1813.

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher surrendered to the French after furious street fighting.

Von Blücher, who rose to the level of Prussian Generalfeldmarschall (field marshal) would live to fight another day, leading his army against Napoleon at the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig in 1813 and at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 with the Duke of Wellington.

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Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher

Any Mel Brooks fans out there? There have to be.

In the film Young Frankenstein, the great actress Cloris Leachman, a household servant in the home of Doctor Frankenstein…or should I say, Franken-steen.

Brooks never explained the joke, but everytime Frau Blucher appeared on screen we would hear the whinney of the Marshal’s horse.

Rostock Frau Blucher

Cloris Leachman as Frau Blucher

SAINT MARY’S

Saint Mary’s Church Marienkirche, on Ziegenmarkt, is an imposing Brick Gothic structure that was first built in the 13th century.

Behind the high altar on the apse is an astronomical clock built in 1472 by a Nuremberg clockmaker.

It is the only Medieval clock of its kind still in working condition with its original clockworks.

The clock has three sections.

Every hour, the apostles circle around Jesus for a blessing; the last, Judas, is shut out by a clanging door.

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15June 2013 Hamburg and Lübeck, Germany: Hello, Goodbye

Moin moin.

That’s “hello” or…later on, “good bye” in Frisian and Low German dialect or lingo.

That’s the local greeting Hamburg, where Silversea Silver Cloud arrived today.

Actually, there’s a wonderful musical coincidence here: “Hello, Goodbye” was the name of one of the many hits by a rough-and-tumble rock-and-roll band from Liverpool.

You know them as The Beatles, but they went by a number of names from 1960 to 1962 when they underwent an intensive round of hardscrabble engagements in the Red Light District of Hamburg.

They played the Star-Club, Kaiserkeller, Top Ten, and Indra.

The Reeperbahn—the word means ropewalk, a place where ropes are made—is also sometimes described as die sündige meile, the sinful mile.

The Beatles: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stu Sutcliffe, and Pete Best played at strip clubs and dank beer joints in Hamburg. (Sutcliffe would leave the band to pursue a career in art, and Best would be replaced by Ringo Starr once the group began iuts ascendancy to the Rock Pantheon.)

“Liverpool was where I was born,” said John Lennon, “but Hamburg was where I grew up.”

The clubs (and the “sex workers”) are still there, joined by a modern sculpture immortalizing the band, at Beatlesplaatz.

The symbolic heart of the city is the Rathaus or Town Hall.

It is a substantial, in-your-face neo-Renaissance structure completed in 1897. Like much of central Hamburg, the Rathaus was heavily damaged in World War II air raids, but was restored by 1957.

It still holds the office of the Mayor and the meeting places for Hamburg’s parliament and senate.

The immense building has about 647 rooms (six more than Buckingham Palace). I say “about” 647 rooms because it’s apparently hard to keep count.

In 1971 a room in the tower was discovered accidentally during a search for a document that had fallen behind a filing cabinet.

SHADES OF GRAY

Hamburg was nearly flattened by bombing by the Allies seeking to destroy the industrial facilities including shipbuilding and submarine pens, as well as other industries.

And there was also the Neuengamme concentration camp, about 15 kilometers or 10 miles southeast of the center of the city.

By the end of the war, more than half of its estimated 106,000 prisoners had died: about 50,000 dead. The camp served the needs of the German war machine and also carried out exterminations through labor.

As if that was not enough, consider this: on April 26, 1945, about 10,000 surviving prisoners from Neuengamme were loaded into four ships: the passenger liners Deutschland and Cap Arcona and two large steamers, SS Thielbek and Athen.

The prisoners were in the ships’ holds for several days without food or water.

Hamburg Gauleiter Karl Kaufmann later claimed during a war crimes tribunal that the prisoners were destined for Sweden. However, at the same trial, the head of the Hamburg Gestapo said that the prisoners were in fact slated to be killed, with one plan calling for scuttling the ships with the prisoners still aboard.

On May 3, 1945, the ships were attacked by three squadrons of Royal Air Force Hawker Typhoons. The RAF believed the ships carried SS personnel who were being transferred to Norway.

Intelligence that the ships carried concentration camp prisoners did not reach the squadrons in time to halt the attack.

About 5,000 of the prisoners died.

On May 8, 1945—five days later—most German forces surrendered and the war in Europe was over.

LUBECK

I spent the day on a shore excursion in Lübeck, about an hour from Hamburg up the Elbe River.

The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with nearly 2,000 landmark buildings including St. Mary’s Church from the late 12th century and home to the world’s largest mechanical organ.

It is a handsome place, the City of Seven Spires. There are many more churches than that–some dating back five hundred or more years–but seven steeples remain.

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Around town in Lubeck

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Inside the shell of St. Petri Church

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St. Mary’s Church was the pride of the town. It was all but destroyed in an air rad in 1942–those big clumps of metal above are the remains of the original bells, preserved within a chapel.

The stained glass windows are a modern version of the Dance of Death or the Danse Macabre of Bernt Nottke. At the bottom were added two scenes of St. Mary’s in flames.

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Lovers’ Locks mounted on a pedestrian bridge in Lubeck. The idea is for a couple to get a lock, paint or chisel their names on it, and then toss the key in the river. I imagine there has to be an occasional re-visit with a jeweler’s saw or mechanical cutter for good love, gone bad.

Hello, Goodbye.

(And I also thought of the bridges in Venice, I was there a few weeks ago, and the locks are weighing down the ancient bridges.)

 

 

13June 2013 Amsterdam: Where Something Old is New Again

There’s a lot going on in the Lowlands of Europe: the Netherlands. First of all, there’s a new King in town:

28-year-old King Willem-Alexander took the throne on April 30 of this year. This followed the abdication of his mother Queen Beatrix, who in retirement has taken the name Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrix.

Somewhere, Prince Charles stifles a sob.

The other big news, which also came in April of this year, was the reopening of the spectacular Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The art gallery has been closed for the past ten years.

Any homeowner will sympathize with this: what started as a relatively modest renovation turned up all sorts of other problems that needed fixing.

And then there were political issues involving the route of a bicycle path.Trust me, along with the Royalty, Rembrandt, and a dedication to most sorts of personal liberty, the Dutch will not stand idly by when bike paths are threatened.

The Rijksmuseum opened in 1885 as the treasure house of the Dutch Golden Age, filled with paintings by masters like Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen and Franz Hals.

The building itself is massive and hulking—nowhere near as delicate or uplifting as most of the work within. It is an odd mixture of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, expanded upon and modified over the years in a rather haphazard way.

The Rijksmuseum closed its doors in 2003, with plans for a five-year restoration. In April 2013, after ten years of work and 375 million Euros or $500 million dollars, it has reopened right on time in a government project sort of way.

Where did the extra five years go?

Workers found asbestos, which had to be removed.

And they ran into an unanticipated protest from Amsterdam’s hundreds of thousands of bicycle riders who did not want a popular bike path re-routed, even if it ran through one of the country’s greatest cultural treasures.

The museum was officially reopened by Queen Beatrix, in one of her last official acts before her abdication.

I had been to the Rijkmuseum in its older, dark and heavy incarnation. I was happy to return to see it reborn.

Silversea Silver Cloud docked in the morning at the base of Amsterdam and we jogged over to Central Station and hopped on a tram to the museum. We had prepurchased our tickets on the Internet, although lines were short when we arrived about 9:45. By early afternoon, though, there was a serious line for tickets–and this is still early June. Visitors in July and August be forewarned.

The entrance from Museumplein is well decorated, and the interior atrium has been spruced up–and opened to the light–in a way never seen before. The atrium will be used for public events, and you can visit without a ticket–but why come all this way without seeing a bit of Rembrandt, Vermeer, van Gogh and so much more?

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Here are some works that caught my eye. I’ll start with the museum’s most famous piece, The Night Watch by Rembrandt. It is now beautifully displayed in a hall that can be seen from many points in the museum. We got there early enough to reacquaint ourselves with the work, and came back later to marvel at the crowds.

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The Night Watch is watched.

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A beautiful 1/12th scale model of the Dutch Warship William Rex. The model was made about 1698 at the dockyards of Vlissingen (Flushing), where real warships were being constructed.

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Carvings and tryptychs

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The restored library, some impressive furniture and trompe l’oeil painting that looks like sculpture, and a set of noblemen.

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Upstairs, Downstairs. A dollhouse from about 1700 of wood, tortoise shell, and pewter.

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The Tree of Jesse, attributed to the school of Geertgen tot Sint-jans from about 1500. It is said to show Christ’s family tree, growing out of the sleeping figure of Jesse, forefather of a line of kings that gave rise to Solomon, David, and Jesus. Who knew?

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The Merry Fiddler by Gerard van Honthorst, completed in 1623. A happy fellow in extravagant clothing seeming to lean out of the frame to clink glasses with us. I loved the painting…and it reminded me of a very different place. A few weeks ago we were in Valletta, Malta and re-visited the spectacular Co-Cathedral of St. John. There we saw the work of Mattia Pretti who drew dozens of figures who lean out from the ceiling and walls.

Those sorts of connections are why we love to travel.

If you’re interested in obtaining any of my photos, please send me an e-mail at corey@sandlerbooks.com   You can also visit my websites of www.sandlerbooks.com  and www.sandlephotos.com

 

12Jun2013 Antwerp, Belgium: Pulling Back the Curtain

The Stadhus or City Hall of Antwerp is one of the most dramatic structures in this beautiful city. Built between 1561 and 1565 in a pleasingly off-kilter mix of Renaissance with Flemish and Italian influences, and decorated originally with female figures representing Justice, Prudence, and the Virgin Mary today it is festooned with flags of the European Union, NATO, the United Nations, and any number of other organizations.

In an ancient form of flattery,the Green Gate in Gdansk, Poland is obviously modeled after the same building,

According to folklore, and as celebrated by the statue in front of the town hall, Antwerp got its name from a mythical giant called Antigoon who lived near the river Scheldt.

He exacted a toll from those crossing the river, and for those who refused, he severed one of their hands and threw it into the river Scheldt.

Eventually, the giant was slain by a young hero named Brabo, who cut off the giant’s own hand and flung it into the river.

Hence the name Antwerpen, from the Dutch hand werpen, roughly translated as To throw a hand.

There are other theories for the name, including the meaning “On the Wharf” or “At the Wharf” but I prefer to give a hand to Antigoon.

Out front of the City Hall on the Grote Markt (Great Market Squareis a statue of Brabo and Antigoon, and no tour (or tourist) can come to town without pausing there.

But very few get to pull back the curtain and see the interior of the City Hall.

On our visit to Antwerp this time, we had a private appointment to enter the huge building, and it was a trip back in time. Here is some of what I saw:

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Antwerp City Hall with the statue of Brabo

ALL PHOTOS Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler. If you would like to obtain a copy of these or any other photos from my collection, please contact me by e-mail, at: corey@sandlerbooks.com

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A side street off the Great Market Square

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Inside the main hall of Antwerp City Hall

Antwerp Belgium 12Jun2013-4318 Antwerp Belgium 12Jun2013-4315 Antwerp Belgium 12Jun2013-4311 Antwerp Belgium 12Jun2013-4309 Antwerp Belgium 12Jun2013-4305    Interior Scenes of Antwerp City Hall

11June2013 Silversea Silver Cloud YPRES, BELGIUM: Where Everything New is Old Again

Belgium has a grand history, not all of it glorious. Much of Flanders, including the once-great city of Ypres. was flattened in World War I or World War II.

Oostende, where Silver Cloud docked this morning, was leveled by Allied air raids against the German occupiers in World War II and was rebuilt–but the result is mostly a city of the 1950s and 1960s, which is not my favorite architectural period.

The trick in Oostende is to look carefully between the featureless box buildings for the relatively few surviving old facades.

In Ypres, the city was reduced to rubble by shelling in the awful Great War. But here, the core of the medieval city was painstakingly recreated. It is quite easy to forget that the spectacular Gothic structures–some from the 15th century–were reconstructed less than 100 years ago.

And there is beautiful Bruges, one of the most magnificent cities of the world. It is very much a veritcal town; visitors who keep their eyes at street level miss half of the sights.

 BLOG Bruges1 BLOG Bruges2

BLOG Bruges3 

Oostende is a place where you need to look between to see history. The Belgian port was heavily bombed in World War II by the Allies, and also by the retreating German forces. It was not rebuilt in its old style, and so you must instead look for vestiges sandwiched between modern (and undistinguished) structures of the 1950s and later.

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Parking lot in Oostende outside the Central Station. Trains run to Bruges and Ghent. There’s also a coastal tram that does north and south to the Netherlands and France.

I made a visit to Ypres in the Flanders region of Belgium. These were the almost indescribaly horrific killing fields of World War I.

Just as one example, more than 400,000 soldiers were killed in 100 days in fighting over a few miles of mud near the insignificant village of Passchendaele (now known as Passendale). 

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Part of the Tyne Cot cemetery near Passendale, where more than 11,500 soldiers from Commonweath nations are buried.

After the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, when German forces unleased a lethal barrage of explosive and gas weapons, the Canadian doctor John McCare wrote a poem that has lived on as a truly evocative memorial to World War I. The poem was, “In Flanders Fields.”

In Flanders fields the poppies blow,

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky,

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

Ypres itself is an astounding place. About five million British and Commonwealth soldiers pased through Ypres on their way to the Salient–a wrinkle in the front line that the Allies were determined to straighten while the German Forces were trying to encircle and cut off the troops who were there.

The city, home of some great structures that date back to the 14th and 15th century, was almost completely destroyed by German shelling. And yet, today, it is there to be seen.

It is hard not to forget that nearly everything in Ypres has been reconstructed in the last hundred years. Some buildings were not completed until the late 1960s. And even today, hundreds of tons of century-old weapons are still being found in the fields of Flanders; every few years an unfortunate farmer or a misguided collector becomes yet another victim of the truly misnamed Great War.

Here are parts of Ypers today.

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Silversea Silver Cloud 10June2013 HONFLEUR, FRANCE

We’re off on a voyage from London to Copenhagen, with stops in France, Belgium, Germany, and Sweden.

Silver Cloud glided across La Manche (The Sleeve) or as Anglophones may know it better, the English Channel from Southampton to Honfleur in the Calvados region of France.

Honfleur is an extraordinary place, one of the best-preserved old towns of the region. It survived both world wars nearly intact, with heavy wooden beam and decorated plaster walls.

For me, I walk the streets of Honfleur with the hypnotic music of Erik Satie in my head. That may have been his intent, and he almost certainly wrote his best-known pieces while stoned on absinthe. Satie was born in Honfleur, as was the painter Eugene Boudin. Both of them were important influences on later impressionists including Corbet and Monet.

Here are a few photos from Honfleur…

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Le Vieux Bassin in Honfleur

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Inside Ste. Catherine’s

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The birthplace of another quirky Honfleurais, the 19th century humorist Alphonse Allais. He wrote poetry that specialized in auditory puns (homophonous verse) and also is semi-famous for the earliest known example of a completely silent musical composition. His Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man of 1897 consists of nine blank measures. Satie would approve.

 

When I’m away, I don’t want to feel at home

Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler (3494)
Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler (3494)
Kusadasi, Turkey. Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler (2579)
Kusadasi, Turkey. Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler (2579)
Cisterns of Istanbul. April 2013. Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler (2396)
Cisterns of Istanbul. April 2013. Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler (2396)
Fanning Island (Tabueran) in the Republic of Kiribati, January 2013. Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler  (1565)
Fanning Island (Tabueran) in the Republic of Kiribati, January 2013. Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler (1565)

Welcome to my blog

I’m an author and photographer, and I carry my notepad and my cameras with me everywhere I go.

I’ve been asked, “Is there anywhere in the world you have not visited?” And my answer: “I hope so.” I’ve been to more than 100 countries, in nearly every corner of the world, with no intention of putting away my suitcases.

And so, I will be posting here photos and stories as I travel. I’ll begin here with some recent pictures and then I intend to update the blog on a regular basis.

I’d love to hear from you with comments about the photos and stories.

One more thing: all of my photos are COPYRIGHT 2013 by Corey Sandler. What does that mean?

You are free to look at my photos here on the blog. Feel free to recommend the blog to friends and acquaintances.

But you are NOT given permission to make copies or prints of my photos. If there is a picture that you would like to hang on your wall, please contact me to arrange to purchase a high-resolution photographic print of almost any size.

You can contact me at: photos[at]sandlerbooks.com  (Replace the [at] with the @ symbol to send me mail.)

Dog Island, in Ungava Bay, northern Canada. Copyright 2013 Corey Sandler
Dog Island, in Ungava Bay, northern Canada. Copyright 2013 Corey Sandler
Street vendor in Antigua, Guatemala. Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler
Street vendor in Antigua, Guatemala. Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler
Isle of Capri, Italy. Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler
Isle of Capri, Italy. Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Athens. Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Athens. Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler

The Big Race. Halifax, Canada. Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler