Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The gorgeous Sable (Sobol), or Zibelin, from around Baikal, Siberia

A Barguzin sable

The Sable (Martes zibellina) is a species which inhabits dense taïga forest areas, primarily in Russia from the Ural Mountains throughout Siberia.

Sables build burrows disguised among the roots of cedar, larch, pine, spruce or birch trees, and in lowlands they build the burrows by the riverbanks. They birth in tree hollows, where they build nests using moss, leaves, and dried grass.

Fallen hollow logs, empty tree stumps, brushwood piles and exposed tree roots are sable's favorite dwelling.

The name sable appears to be of Slavic origin and to have entered most Western European languages via the early medieval fur trade. Thus the Russian соболь (sobol) became Mediaeval Latin zibellina and French zibeline.

Dark brown fur, except for the ears and an orange patch under the chin.

Sables are fast and agile, they jump nimbly between trees and avoid direct sunlight. They are primarily crepuscular, hunting during the hours of twilight.

Their winter fur is thicker and longer.

Sables have been historically hunted for their highly valued silky fur. At least since the 9th century, swedish Vikings traded skins around Lake Ladoga with siberian hunters. 

Sable furs first arrived in western Europe through the norse old town of Birka, on the trading route from the East through the Baltic sea.

Their habitat extends northward to the treeline (limit of trees), and southward to 55–60° latitude in western Siberia, and 42° in the mountainous areas of eastern Asia.

Their western distribution encompasses the Ural mountains, where they share pine forest territory with European martens.

The Barguzin Reserve

The most beautiful and famous of all, the queen sable, is the darker brown/grey sable from Barguzin, the pine forested area around Barguzin river and its mouth at the east shore of Lake Baikal. The 'Barguzin reserve' was the first National Park in Russia.

Note: 'Sable painting brushes' are really not from sable, but from a close cousin, the siberian Kolonok.


Thursday, 16 October 2014

Dunedin, New Zeeland - a historic town with a scottish touch.

No other place in the world is so closely connected to Scotland as the town of Dunedin in New Zealand.

Founded by Scottish immigrants in 1848, Dunedin was born a humble settlement until it started prospering with the discovery, in 1861, of a gold mine in the vicinity. The gold rush made Dunedin's fortune.

Since then the town became the country's leader as an economic, commercial and industrial centre: there were born many of the largest companies in the areas of manufacturing, transportation and  trade in New Zealand. The University is the most prestigious in the country, and being an University city is one of the strongest values of Dunedin.

Dunedin is located in the south-east of the main island.

Coordinates: 45.9° S, 170.5° E
Population:   ~ 125 000

Dunedin became a cosmopolitan and sophisticated vitality that you would hardly expect in such a place, away from the rest of the world. And probably it's also the most elegant in the country, with many buildings of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

The Octagon, central square and lively meeting place.

The Scottish founders wanted to make of Dunedin the 'Edinburgh of the South'. Its name, in fact, was inspired by the castle of Edinburgh (in Gaelic 'Dun Eideann', Mount Odin). Moreover, there is an annual Dunedin Fringe Festival !

Stuart Street, the main street of the city centre, with the buildings of the Court and the station.

The traditions of the colony's founders homeland and the pride of parenting with Scotland remain so alive that the main statue in the central square is the locally venerated poet Robert Burns.

The world's southernmost statue of Robbie Burns, in front of St. Paul's Cathedral (from 1919).

One of the most interesting things in Dunedin is the  architectural unity. Many buildings - especially institutional ones - are constructed in local basalt (volcanic breccia) and white limestone, plus lush decoration and wrought-iron work.

The famous Railway Station:

A 1907 masterpiece, built without budget (" just build the best ! "). The Scottish architect George Troup sent Italian mosaic and granite columns from Europe by boat. The Flemish Renaissance-style façade alternates dark basalt and limestone, creating an wedding-cake like effect, common to other buildings in town.

Gold fever has its demands; the station was needed to connect the nearby port with the rest of the country and guarantee an effective transport of cargo and personnel. But new money goes with luxury, the station was to be special.

Now the building is an icon of the city.
I can't help but wonder how the British exported to the other end of the world the best they had learned in terms of railroad building architecture.

The 'Taieri Gorge Railway' is one of the scenic train journeys departing from Dunedin's Railway Station (see below).

Some other examples:

The Cathedral of St. Joseph, a Catholic, completed in 1886.

The Fortune Theater  occupyies presently a deactivated church built in victorian revivalist gothic style, in bluish basalt and limestone. One of the most active and frequented cultural venues, with a resident company.

OBHS, Otago Boys High School, gothic revival of 1855.

The entrance to the Otago University.

The Law Courts, from 1899.

Perhaps the most accomplished of the Gothic Revival buildings in the city.

Larnach Castle, New Zealand's only one, erected between 1871 and 1887 for the Minister of Mines (gold, of course), who had an unfortunate end of life.

Larnach Castle, a Scottish baronial style mansion, open to the public.

One of the most prestigious institutions is the huge Cadbury factory:

In the shopping streets, George Street and Princes Street, there are colourful façades, with cast or wrought-iron work.


Cafés, Europe's mark, are also present.

Good Earth Café, Cumberland St.

An originality that no visitor misses is the steepest street in the world (Guinness Book), Baldwin Street, with an inclination of 1 to 2.8, i.e. 36% :

Levelled house, sloping street...

...levelled street, sloping house.

Some images inside the Station :

Italian mosaic floors.

Art Nouveau stain-glass window.

The Railway Station is the departing point for the most amazing scenic journey around Dunedin:

The Taieri Gorge Railway

Departing from Dunedin’s unique railway station, the Taieri Gorge Railway travels through the Taieri Plains and then climbs into the Taieri Gorge, a narrow and deep gorge carved out over aeons by the ancient Taieri River.

The railroad connects Dunedin to Middlemarch, a distance of some 60 kilometres.

The train negotiates the gorge with ease as it travels through ten tunnels and over countless bridges and viaducts.
The natural wonders combined with the challenge of man made engineering are truly amazing.

Some spectacular scenery along the banks of the Taieri River.

Crossing the Deep Stream viaduct.

Most of the carriages are fully restored heritage carriages of the 1920s.

The gorge as seen from the train.

The trip is worth in any season.
Even in winter !

Dunedin is situated in a coastal area of great beauty; therefore another railway line - the 'Seasider' - from the central station runs south through magnificent shoreline landscape.