Energized....connected...hopeful...yes we can....yes we did...yes we will again.
I have soared over clouds to distant shores filled with Tower of Babel conversations in my ears and indecipherable writing in front of my eyes.
This latest journey was one of time travel back to the last time I felt so disconnected from the government of my birth. Then a war on different color people with different shaped eyes was the etiology of my disaffected psyche. You need not agree with my disconnection ... It's my life journey.
The march on Washington, D.C. Was the most energizing and physically uncomfortable few hours of my existence. The first hint of the shared camaraderie was the rest stop on 95 .... The Mundane need to empty my bladder ... Enter the daylight lit interior .... The dreary drizzling day dissipated .... Their faces lit with anticipation of our shared unknown journey we eye contacted hundreds of mostly women .... Mostly youthful faces but many mapped with the lines of their long life journeys ... Their heads adorned with their knitted pussy hats ...heads full of their excitement as we were all to begin to awaken from our shared nightmare that began on November 8th.
Little could I anticipate the crush of humanity I would experience in the next 24 hours. We arrived at our hotel met by my Chicago cousins who shared their description of their airship similarly filled with a stream of pink that would join a million others with a shared burning desire to be counted against the suffering shrill screech of hatred and invective that had filled our ears and eyes but raised our bile and broken our hearts.
The dreary next morning .... The perseverating as to what to wear finally solved I entered a lobby of pink hats ... Excited faces ... Clip boarded leaders and their flocks ... Their busses lined the lot ... They departed and the room silenced and soon we departed leisurely (mistake) for our metro station.
Cars parked on sidewalks and driveways we circled finally located a spot to leave our vehicle. The line we joined continued to grow and grow beyond our view ... The good fortune of our Debbie and Don pre purchasing our metro cards saved us additional hours waiting for a train ... we find our seats (fortuitous) into the river of trains that would carry their cargo to create this wave of humanity that will potentially dissolve ...no knock down the wall of hatred that word by word we have watched rise separating us from our joy we felt over the last 8 years.
As we squeezed out of our train we entered union station to see our numbers increase logarithmically. Exiting the station the masses poured together to create a density of humanity of historical proportions.
Our hours in the human crush reinvigorated our hope in our country. The election may have been stolen by an archaic electoral kindergarten (it's no college) but the turnout on this grey January day by such multitudes demonstrates that our democracy still has legs....millions of them that will eventually march and register and vote and make me proud again of the great nation we are....for the people (that's not for the corporations), by the people, shall not perish from the earth. A. Lincoln
When we old people left steaming upstream against a continuing flow into the pool of people, we were awed to see how our teeming masses of hope were repeated all over the world. He may be president, but he has awakened a unity of purpose... a worldwide connection that will be heard. Hope.... be part of the solution... donate ... we must like worker bees support the common good to defend our hive of the worlds democratic experiment to survive.
May 24, 2017
How could that be only 4 months ago? The sneering petulant orange boy of which we incredulously scoffed watching making foolish word salads has devolved into a national embarrassment of deceit, ineptitude and repeated crow like screeches of "you’re fired".
As I begin my exciting excursion I reflect on previous trips and my mind set of those times. These angry turkey neck white men of privilege that we see each day regurgitating their spineless support of their sophomoric saint, have created in my mind a new focus of thought....WDDDT ... What did Donald do today.
The drum beat of his desire to defame has devolved into an attack on the downtrodden to the benefit of the .1%.
The disaffected for whom he was their hope are watching the dismantling of a safety net that changed this country to build the ladder of education, science, public investment and national goals to flourish...to dismantle the caste system that had prevented economic improvement for those born into poverty.
I am about to visit multiple countries where education and healthy food are standard for their nations because the common good takes precedence over 'tax reform'.
Monday, 2 days before our departure, I decided to check into our connecting flight from philly to Boston, prior to our scheduled 9:30 pm flight Wednesday to Reykjavik....(saved by spell check).
Monday's 6 pm flight left at 8:30arriving in Boston at 9:30 pm! Tuesday, I checked again to and it arrived at 10:30 pm . This set in motion a bit of stress on our group and subsequently our agent. The rule of catch 22 took effect. They initially would not reschedule Wednesday's flight since there was not a problem yet. We thought of driving to Boston but missing our connecting flight would cancel our Iceland flight.
It seems Boston is experiencing average 90 minute delays due to track work...gotcha...runway repairs. Fun summer in bean town.
We were able to reschedule Wednesday's flight but did not know until 11:30 pm Tuesday. All went well with the earlier flight arriving almost two hours later than scheduled but in plenty of time to catch Reykjavik flight.
However, if you calculate the brain cycles invested in the angst of Tuesday and the sleep deprivation of Wednesday's overnight flight you end up with zombie brained Ozzie on Thursday.
It is always amazing how one never knows how ones brain is not functioning until it has enough sleep and reboots.
Thursday found me sleeping it off on the bus (mistakenly reportedly snoring) hotel lobbies, and most of the afternoon. My view of Iceland so far has mostly been the inside of my eyelids.
I did post a picture of midnight in Reykjavik...we call that dusk. It is now midnight...I am refreshed and ready to start my day...but alas I must await Iceland to synchronize with me....I guess that narcissistic view will fail...call in the ambien to coordinate our cycles.
We did explore earlier today. Early observations:
? They are tall
? It looks like IKEA land.
? They exercise a lot. Biking, gym, soaking in a community pool seem to be common activities.
? They killed all the fat ones
? They sound like the Swedish chef
? They are as ethnically diverse as a colony of bees
? They look like a calm friendly lot though I can only view them from the ground.
? Their eggs are yellower (chicken that is)
? Their houses have small windows...it gets cold so you want small windows...in summer it never gets dark so you want small windows
Today we saw some of the natural formations of this volcanic, geysered, Teutonic plated, treeless, rocky, island.
First we visited where the plates of the earth’s crust rise up on each other. Great cracks in the earth expose where the forces of the continental plates grind open. Along the way steam vents connect to a labyrinth of volcanic activity, and underground water from melting glaciers and springs.
The landscape dotted with farms and small villages. We traveled thru a valley which was actually the ocean floor during last ice age. In the distance repeated views of snow covered and snow dotted mountains giving the relatively treeless landscape a picturesque backdrop.
Sheep and horse farms repetitively create interest in the otherwise rolling grassy plain.
We then saw off in the distance steam vents where we would visit the geyser area. Bubbling, steaming sulfurous and frequent old faithful like eruptions. People stand around the Geisers...cameras a ready waiting for the eventual eruption...there is a hush of concentration ... and suddenly without warning .... whoosh ... boiling water shoots into the sky...remember to not stand downwind.
We share a buffet lunch before returning to our coach.
We visit a waterfall....a wall of raging torrents carve its way through a crack in the earth. Yet, I also admire the civil engineering feat to allow us to get so close to hear and see its wonder.
On to a ancient volcano dome filled with a lake sized bowl of water. The see nature so close up...so raw in its natural formations... it's skins layers visibly torn asunder ... leaves one realizing that time travel is not science fiction but available to us all by simply studying the earth around us.
As city dwellers, even in the older east coast, we are blinded to time in millenniums ... before time was counted and documented. Seeing the earth torn apart by its crust shifting steadily to create enormous rifts, reminds one of the enormity of time the earth preceded human or even animal or even life on this planet.
This is one sparsely populated island. There is a whole of empty here. I tend to measure places I visit by their culture or history or luxuries of visual natural beauty. This landscape is stark and raw and so untouched. A spectacular beach or other falls I have seen dwarf this one...yet the sheer power and energy draws me in.
Traffic is nonexistent. Just over 300,000 people inhabit this island with 2/3 in Reykjavik.
In The evening we walked into Reykjavik to free some t shirts and sweat shirt from their imprisoning hangers. Then, by luck found a spectacular islandic restaurant. This meal was exceptional. A fish called Ling a flavorful relative of cod and lamb that was the texture of a filet with explosive tongue treating surrounded by root vegetables that rivaled meat in their density and layers of flavor finished off our first full day on Iceland.
NB CORRECTION: Eileen was not given credit for pressuring the travel agent to change our flight to Boston. Those who know Eileen know she would NEVER mention this slight on my part.
No pictures uploaded since day 2.
Morning a bust except to be reminded what an incredibly rich city and region we live in. They stretched out a tour of Reykjavik into 3 hours that was barely worth 3 minuets...oh well. We laughed a lot about how much nothing they showed us and how can one enjoy living in this 'city'.
There were whale watching and glacier walking in and under that would have been more enjoyable. Enough moaning about that. The afternoon was great.
45 minutes out of Reykjavik we enter a lava field that stretched for miles. The landscape looked other worldly....giant lava boulders covered with moss...and that's all we saw heading to the blue lagoon. My underwater camera failed .. so look up pictures...I have just a few.
The blue lagoon is a hot mineral bath the size of a small lake. Similar in sensation to the Dead Sea but not painful to orifices and you can walk in it. The bath is close to 100 F, feels luxurious in the 45 degree air. A mist of vapor rises from the blue tinged mineral bath. The sides are crusted with minerals. Algae mud and mineral mud facialed people add to the mysterious surroundings. Cliffs of lava rock serve as back drop and the lifeguards wear hooded parkas.
I am bothered by being told by staff with accents telling me to take a shower. We thoroughly enjoyed the once in a lifetime shared joyous experience with our traveling family.
I am getting into the flow of the only decision being what and where our next meal will be. Even that 'stress' will disappear once we embark on our ship tomorrow after awakening at 3:15 to catch a flight to Oslo Norway and the short hop to Bergen to embark on our cruise.
What will my take away be from Iceland? It's very white...lacks any significant ethnic diversity. It's unimaginable to live here when the sun disappears. The fish, lamb and root vegetables are spectacular. For the very active set, there are experiences not be missed.
Living among a physical environment so built by nature instead of our human construction does cause one to commune with a consciousness of a connection to an earth ravaged by volcanic explosions and the unimaginable passage of time that saw the earth move mountains. We live in minutes, hours and years and narcissistically imagine the importance of our thoughts having an effect.
As with the size of the universe, the passage of time on our planet defies comprehension.
Rough start...scary middle...great ending.
3:15 wake up call for 4:30 departure for 7:30 flight from Reykjavik to Oslo, Norway. Half the group lost luggage in Oslo...connection to Bergen, Norway... the luggage caught up.
Viking meets you at the airport....guides you every 10 feet...picks us up in a bus with butter leather new bus smell seats and drives us to harbor.
We went thru multiple tunnels beneath mountains....1-2 miles long...brand new spanking clean smooth as silk roads. No really, multiple tunnels each a couple miles long. As I ask every time I leave the US, what is wrong with us. Why is there even a conversation about lowering taxes...when you see what can be done with public works...the efficiency will pay for the investment.
If you are reading this you already know what I am saying and agree ... or you think continuing concentration of wealth at the expense of the public good will somehow make America great. Sad.
Well, leaving behind the barren uninteresting architectural Reykjavik and flying over Norway and staying overnight in Bergen was an amazing juxtaposition. From the scrubby lava covered treeless Iceland to the verdant forested flowering flowing Norway with quaint wooden houses lining the UNESCO old harbor.
We overnight on the ship after visiting the bar followed by dark local beer at dinner which was of course excellent.
This morning we took a tour of Bergen and a cable car ride up to the top of Mt. Uriken. Unfortunately, a foggy day and from the top we could only see our hands if we held them near our face. I included pictures of what we would have seen. An alternate truth! Or as we know it...a lie.
We learned about the Hanseatic League. This was a guild of German merchants who created great wealth by commercial trade in the Baltic region and for 100s of years controlled this area.
The town of Bergen is a lovely cluster of old wooden buildings surrounding the small harbor. Imagining the old wooden sailing ships needing a safe harbor to unload their cargo and you can picture how a specific area becomes important purely by the 'luck' of topography.
With a bit of imagination, one can picture the merchants bustling about negotiating with each other in this early center of capitalism and trade. They stored all their goods in these houses. On The tops of the houses, they left the hoists they used as an example of how they would store their inventory in upper floors due to the frequency of flooding.
Fire was a frequent and devastating event. The narrow streets of wooden buildings would allow fire to spread quickly. Eventually, by law (zoning) streets were made wider reduce that risk.
Houses were painted red as the least expensive since the red paint was cheapest because it was made from animal blood, yellow was made from whale oil and white I don't remember. Sad.
We left Bergen on our way north (thank you Mr. Burdo ... I was mistaken) to explore some fjords. As the ship left its berth, our group enjoyed our incredible gastronomic adventure. I will limit my food bragging since the description of the taste of food on someone else's palate, is like the description of bodily functions...words do not express its pleasure adequately. I will include images, since the visual can transmit to one’s own taste bud memories.
The 10 of us sat for over 3 hours...loudly enjoying the experience of silly verbal jousts, innuendo and the shared joy of camaraderie. As a child, I would never have imagined how silly old people can be. But we are. Our waiters were from India and Indonesia and conversations with them enriched our experienced. Happy.
Unlike crossing the Mediterranean to Crete, on the tiny toy boat of our Greek island Iliad, movement is minimal. Chamber music fills the main multiple floor central lobby...lectures and concert in the auditorium and Nordstrom like service thru out makes this an incredible experience. When treated with such deference, one starts to imagine increasing self-importance. Of course, my overwhelming humility protects me.
So fjords were formed 2.5 million of years ago...the continental plates ran into each other causing the bedrock to rise up as the crusts collided into mountains of rock...the combination of increased altitude and ice ages (see blizzard...lasting millenniums (see game of thrones 14 year winter)...caused great glaciers to form which cut and crushes chasms into the bedrock. The glaciers would follow the topography down to the sea. Layer upon layer of snow where it doesn't melt flows down at a 'glacial' pace.
When the ice ages (4) ended, the glaciers melted, and the ocean flowed in. These valleys created by the glaciers are fertile from once being sea bed. The fjord we sailed into is 180 miles long and 260 feet deep...so deep that the suspension bridge across it, has its abutments on the shore since it’s too deep to build in.
We are very far north...latitude of Alaska or Greenland, but due to the Gulf Stream, a much more moderate climate. The mountain tops framing the fjord are snow covered, but at sea level snow rarely falls. In fact this area is known for its fruit trees all due to the Gulf Stream.
Another boring fact: some roofs are covered with 7 layers of birch bark and then they plant grass. Imagine the commercials for lawn roof doctor.
Never knew anything about Norway ... never gave it a second thought....Sweden has IKEA and Saab... Denmark Hans Christian Anderson and the little mermaid ... but Norway???
It's a beautiful country of forests and mountains and tunnels. We saw that flying over and driving thru. . Of course, leaving Iceland makes it look like the Garden of Eden. It's so hard to digest a culture in a couple of vacation days but like the first taste... first impressions ... have some validity? They sure can build tunnels....their roads are amazing ... Bergen we probably saw more tourists than Norwegians ... living on a fjord is like living between a rock and a wet place.
Vacations are therapy sessions. The normal movie in my mind is images of teeth and gums....screws and bolts (implants) ... solutions to problems and problems to be solved... dozens of cases swirl in my head ... but now an empty page ... my mind so locked into my rigid life schedule and at times demanding days of procedures melts and flows at will.
First it rests ... then its synapses seeking solutions ... so....we shall see. So is my mind being remolded like a melting glacier carving new pathways? Will the vacation melt as the sunlight of the vacation build fjords of synaptical pathways thru my bedrock...my tightly structured life?
My fear is that without the exposure to the history of Greece and turkey or the emotion of Israel I will have nothing to say. Now that's synapses seeking a problem...but isn't that how you seek solutions....identify the problem?
What's the difference between people who choose to live in Iceland whose natural beauty is not quite majestic (think moon) vs people living along a fjord .... soaring peaks....ice capped mountains... roaring streams of melting glaciers and snow pack.
What a natural system of water purification. ...evaporation...elevation...frozen precipitation ... sunlight returns ... the juxtaposition of glacial movement to the frenetic pace of rushing rapids and waterfalls down the down the steep slopes.
Need to sleep
Day 7/ day 8
Stravenger, Norway / Aalborg , Denmark
Disappointing day 7. A beautiful boat tide down a fjord to view a sight called pulpit rock 2000 feet above created a comic scene as again a heavy fog, mist and rain limited visibility and we napped. We did see circular areas within the fjord where they grow farm raised salmon.
The town of stravenger where we berthed is the center of Norways"s North Sea oil industry. The highlight is the oil museum which we didn't go to (instead our fogged in boat ride) so our highlight was getting massages and mani and pedicure. Gail's manicure was performed in rough seas which was fun to watch but not so easy for the manicurist to perform.
The North Sea oil reserves, have allowed Norway to develop a strong social safety net of free medical care, retirement pensions and free higher education. (And lots of tunnels) They also have high tax rates which support the social contract with their citizens.
The next morning we arrived in Aalborg, Denmark. It's Denmark’s 4th largest city ... at the end of a long fjord many miles from the mouth of the fjord into the North Sea. Again a maritime center of wealth dating back 100s of years with lovely interesting architecture which I hope is being uploaded to the I iCloud link.
We walked around town with a guide who had just finished her masters in English. She explained the taxes are high, the medical care free, as is higher education with the added benefit of a stipend for students ... she got $1000/month for 6 years to complete her education. Their tax structure, highly graduated like ours was once, before government was viewed as the enemy.
Contrast that with the US where we have saddled our younger generations with billions of dollars of debt. Sad. So I have seen countries, where high taxes allow their citizens to reach their highest potential, and somehow their jobs don't flee nor their industries crumble. No wonder some of the worlds happiest people live in Scandinavia.
What happened to for the people, by the people and of the people? In my lifetime I have seen such a redistribution of wealth from the many and to the few that my parents and my grandparents would have been sickened by. Before it's too late (if you say it is... it is) we must with great effort swim out of this whirlpool of greed that now threatens to suck out any hope of future generations while lowering the governments discourse to lies and fake sound bites.
Since World War Two, We Americans have exported more death and destruction upon the rest of the world, than any other country concentrating our exports initially to south and Central America and then Southeast Asia and now Iraq and Afghanistan. And we borrowed the money to pay for those wars from our grandchildren. Concomitantly, we have allowed our cities to crumble, our industries to rust away and watched a once great public education system to whither and rot.
Those on the other side call this liberal main stream media rants. I have seen country after country where investment in infrastructure, education and high taxes coexist with successful economies. Instead of modern infrastructure, at home I see rusting bridges and potholed streets. Instead of a generation of educated future tax paying youth, I see an under educated, debt ridden population cohort, saddled with trillions of debt from taxes our generation did not pay, and now threats of more of the same.
EVEN IF YOU DISAGREE WITH MUCH OF THE ABOVE ... PLEASE READ THIS PARAGRAPH!
As my vacation freed mind wanders, I keep going back to how my grandparents who valued education above all else, would respond to current events especially threats against hard working immigrants and minorities. Jews were strong supporters of unions and were called communists because they saw unbridled capitalism as a threat. My grandparents would have watched CNN and MSNBC ...not Fox News though some never spoke English. I am so thankful...today my hardworking, non-English speaking grandparents would be threatened with deportation. Bubbie and Zayda...thanks for allowing my generation to escape the persecution of Nazis and czars so that your DNA could flourish instead Of going up in smoke.
Arriving in Germany triggers childhood memories of whispers of the killing of 6 million Jews, seeing people with tattoos on their arms which was more common 60 years ago, and images of people being shot trying to escape east Berlin. I vaguely remember the Berlin airlift when the soviets blockaded West Berlin.
Until the capture of Adolph Eichmann, we were only told about gas chambers and crematorium vaguely. I remember saying heil Hitler and being told I should never say it again. That was the level of ignorance we grew up with.
The Eichmann trial changed all that. The holocaust educational programs did not exist before that. Imagine the holocaust denier’s propaganda machine without that fateful decision. And successful capture of Eichmann. (David's cousin was pilot of the plane that brought him from Argentina).
Life magazine images of Eichmann in the bullet proof glass box at his trial and furtively reading (I felt too young to know) the testimonies of survivors. Bergen Belsen, Dachau, Auschwitz, Treblinka, these words of horror were not part of our vocabulary until then.
Though we have no names of cousins lost, our cousins were killed, gassed, shot, burned and otherwise disposed of by the Nazi killing machine. If you are a Jew, you most assuredly lost family.
On the train speeding thru the northern Germany countryside I of course first think of uncle al, who lost his father and sister. He and a friend at about the age of 11 decided that they would go to the movies. Jews were not permitted. They got on a train and went to a town where they were not known, took off their yellow stars of David, and went to the cinema.
While they were gone, the SS came and took his mother, father and sister.
When this young child returned his family was gone. A neighbor saw him, informed him what had happened, that the SS knew he was missing, and hid him for a few days in her cellar.
After a few days, she took him on a train (I sit on this train only imagining being 11 and ripped away from my parents and sibling) and showed up at her sister’s house in the country. His neighbor then informed her sister that she needed to hide this Jew. Righteous people.
He lived in their cellar...only coming out at night....only coming out at night. Her husband forced him to become educated, giving him lessons and homework. Imagine facing daily imminent death at that age and feeling why should I do that I could die tomorrow but this righteous man made him learn (he ended up working at the franklin institute, and Remington rand among other highly technical careers).
At one point when his 'family' became aware of Nazi sweeps for Jews he rode a train for days to hide from the SS.
After these years in hiding ended with the defeat of the Reich he thru the Red Cross was able to reconnect with his mother.
He found out his father and sister had been exterminated. His mother had somehow hidden after she escaped into a doorway while being matched to the cattle car which carried her husband and child to their death. She never recovered.
He wanted to emigrate to Palestine (Israel was not partitioned from trans Jordan until 1948. ). She told him she had lost her family and he needed to take her to the USA. He intended to settle her there and move to Israel, but met Gail's aunt Marilyn (my granddaughter Miriam is named for her and Gail's mother Mildred) and stayed in the US where they raised two children...Gail's cousin’s Jay and Aliza). This natural selection of survivors ... of refugees ... is what has made America great.
We have a 2 plus hour train ride to our destination. As with trains in Italy and France....non stop service covering hundreds of miles with welded rails. .... no clickity clack
This Germany ... the most industrialized country in Europe....we whiz past multiple wound electric turbines and solar energy farms.
So we have climate change deniers who ignore evidence like holocaust deniers. We in the us will be left behind if we indeed do not invest in alternative energy. We will be buying European and Chinese technologies.
America will never be great trying to relive the 18th and 19th centuries. Coal and oil versus renewables... which will be the future?
Today we traveled to sachsenhausen and Berlin.
A train was waiting for us at the dock. We soon traveled nearly two hours ...non stop to sachsenhausen concentration camp.
Our guide was born in East Germany and lived under the dictatorship of the USSR. Her knowledge and unique perspective made this a very meaningful and moving day.
Her personal stories of living in East Berlin and her childhood were informative.
Her father was a party member and she was studying in college. Her sisters defected to the west. That ended her father’s career and mother’s career. She was forced to change her major. What would we feel if a sibling escaped a repressive regime but caused our lives to change in a negative way?
She is a holocaust scholar... deep knowledge of all phases of the holocaust and the war.
Sachenhausen was the second concentration camp built. It has become a memorial museum and education center.
It was a training center for SS guards. The Nazis were so efficient. They trained their guards ... brainwashed to allow them to believe that the enemy was not human.
Initially, the camps were built as work camps (slave labor) and internment camps for Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and political prisoners.
In January 1942, the Nazi hierarchy met to discuss and plan the 'final solution'. Their plan was to kill 11 million European Jews. That's when they started retrofitting camps with gas chambers and crematoria.
The earlier killing techniques were hanging and convincing victims to stand along the wall to be measured... behind the wall a guard would have a slit to shoot them in the neck.
They also had tried using carbon monoxide truck chambers ... then they developed using zyclon B in gas chambers.
We saw carts that were used to carry corpses, tables with straps to hold down victims to be whipped and remnants of the ovens. And yet we have deniers.
Girl prisoners were sterilized and then used in the brothels. All camps had brothels.
At the camp There was a grave where they buried ashes of the ovens that were found in the camp. We said Kaddish.
All German children are given a strong education in the holocaust. They do not want to forget. We should be so lucky to learn from our mistakes.
Then we went on to Berlin. We had sausage; sauerkraut and pork roast in a Bavarian restaurant followed by a quick tour of the highlights of Berlin.
A visit to checkpoint Charlie the border crossing between East and West Berlin where we visited the remnants of the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg gate and the Reichstag.
There are a few remnants of damaged buildings from allied bombing but Berlin is a vibrant city with museums of the war and holocaust ... a city worth exploring in depth.
There is a holocaust memorial in the center of berlin. When the wall came down, the no man’s land ... the space on either side was now available...in the center of the city...that's where the memorial is!
Giant concrete blocks undulating in height and width on ground that slopes up and down to mimic the ocean....to represent the travels of the Jews over the world.
A train waits for us at the station in berlin and nonstop we are whisked back to our ship. There were several hundred on the train, all getting off at the pier for the ship. I turned back to look at the mass of humanity crowded around the train...it conjured up a view and thoughts of Jews entering cattle cars for their final destination.
Observations on cultural differences based on minimal experience in these countries
Icelandic....people that can somehow survive in months of darkness....natural beauty either glaciers or embryonic earth. They kept showing us summer cabins ...really isolated .... because I think Iceland attracts people who crave a desolate open space. There was no there there...loners
Norwegians....outdoors...open space...explorers..proud Viking heritage...ski...climb...mountains....proud of their heritage...strong..a can do spirit. The prettiest place we saw on trip...postcard views all over...happiest people....outdoorsy...accepting of high taxes in return for infrastructure and social safety net
Danish....proud of their social safety net...very small country .... less outdoorsy than Norway .... businessmen .... more city centered ... strong positive country self-image
Germans...the most industrialized and most like us with largest cities....richest country...proud of their country and its strength...proud of their successful reunification ...berlin energy palpable...the most like us...honest about their past glories and horrors... a can do and strongest spirit .... But they are strongly aware of their part in WW2 and vow not to forget and not to repeat
Polish...not a happy country...reasonably angry having been defeated by war and soviet occupation ... poorest of the countries we tasted ... a sense of innocence to any part they took in holocaust ... That is only having heard only one person’s description but she is a guide and represents her country
Russians....happy to be freed from communist rule... philosophical about the oligarchy concentrating their wealth with a few Putin cronies...so much evidence of haves and have nots...still strong sense of attachment to state ...their uniforms...their obedience to government ... entrepreneurship taking hold but a large older population cohort dour from years of government control...the young eager to explore their capitalistic competitive freedom .... There is a generational gap .... their east west reunification leaving some in the dust
Finns .... Helsinki...calm incredibly calm clean crisscrossed with trolleys ... a sense of relaxed confidence ...actually spending a day in an open air market and park probably allowed us much personal contact and cultural observation. Calmness and confidence seem to be the first flavors of my taste of the Finns.
Finland was invaded by Russia in 1939... They lost territory to Russia. But held them from running their country. Then to protect themselves joined with Germany to allow Germany's invasion of Russia....a country who shares a Long border with Russia yet withstood becoming a satellite state of USSR. Though they lost part of their territory to Russia they managed to stay an independent country post WW 2. They fought on both sides. Their WW 2 history is most complicated, but their own military and difficult terrain is the reason for their freedom.
Strong pride of social safety net...proud of a monarchy that lived in comparative poverty to Britain...Russia. Etc...a vibrant cafe and green park city ... friendly people ... churches not draped in gold while peasants and serfs live in muck and goo
RUSSIA. how strange to visit Russia. Though east Germany/berlin also was under strong soviet domination there was the west German democratic successful attitude that quickly has infiltrated the former soviet controlled areas and the historical German confidence only needed the realization that they are free of soviet domination to connect to their strong national pride and apparent reunification success.
Again the dichotomy of the older population cohort obedient to the state and the juxtaposition of a younger post iron curtain generations ready to take on capitalism and its potential....but the dour fabissina matrons of the museums make a mockery of the magical marvels they help maintain.
Morning trip Catherine's palace and garden; the afternoon to a visit to the Hermitage; then a quick dinner and turnaround and return to the Hermitage theatre for a Russian ballet performance with a full orchestra. The next day: continuing morning drive around St. Petersburg; a visit to the cathedral of Spilled Blood; afternoon drive to Peterhoff museum and gardens. Return to the palace embankment by hydrofoil across the Gulf of Finland.
Driving around St. Petersburg you cross over canals and pass giant apartments buildings some from soviet bloc concrete bloc blah...newer more modern and luxurious construction everywhere. The left over soviet apartments buildings look like they were ugly to start and have suffered from poor construction and harsh winters...they look like the windows drip and leak and drafty.
St. Petersburg is a massive city with a history to match. When you are a city built by a king/emperor/dictator you get to be planned with massive palaces as monuments to your greatness. That is St. Petersburg. Broad boulevards, massive open spaces, gilded onion domes...you sense the history and grandeur ... you picture horse drawn carriages with costumed aristocracy but instead of a Hollywood set; this is the actual ground these masters of history stood.
Like the pyramids, though not where they are buried these spectacular buildings memorialize these men and women (unlike the US, women were rulers of Russia...and Britain...and Germany ... and Israel and ....hmmm.. what's that say about our country). As with the castle in Poland, Nazi devastation was horrific. Due to amazing work since the war these monuments to Russian imperial greatness, have been saved and renewed.
This is a city not to be missed. We have seen rooms of such size they defy description. Such accumulations of art and furniture gilded ornamental decoration overwhelmed our senses. Until I can review and organize my pictures, I will not be able to truly appreciate what I saw.
Grand canals crisscross the city. Called the Venice of the north, with a scale of size that caused gasps as they were explored St. Petersburg is an experience that has left us totally amazed.
The pictures of these places are a better description than any words; I will focus on the sense of the place and my emotional state during and after.
But I need to return to our group digestion of seeing a concentration camp. Sachenhausen was destroyed by Nazi, Russians and time. This is a cerebral imagination needed holocaust memorial. No rooms of shoes or hair or luggage or dentures, but seeing walls and barracks .... I projected mental images from movies and newsreels and pictures previously seen at holocaust museums we've seen in Washington and Cape Town and Buenos Airies and Yad Vashem and books about life in these hells holes to imagine the fear, the suffering and deprivation, the shivering, the smells, the dry heaves of tears endured and for so many millions...last gasps taken on these sacred monuments of evil beyond comprehension.
As we devour vast quantities of food and drink, our every need catered to, we as a group emotionally shared this missing piece to our experience...standing on the ground ... the tortured killings at this exact place of horrors one of 2000 concentration camps built by Nazi’s.
This is why travel has been so important to me. Books, movies and documentaries give me the facts...the ground gives me the shivers.....my cousins want me not to forget...thanks Zaida for bringing my daddy here...
Last couple of days
Cruise over. Off of the ship ...long days of hurry up and wait ...the crowded marathon length walking airport distances ...buying food as if we were illiterates from airport take a ways (airlines get a cut from food service for the airport) ...exits that funnel you through the duty free shops maze like ...only two of ten maze columns direct you out of the shop ...the rest like cattle going to slaughter force you into checkout lanes.
Coming home we flew from Stockholm to Reykjavik....Reykjavik to Philadelphia. The Iceland airport though brand new is under expansion and reconstruction...big complaint....steps or elevator to get to bathroom ... whaa ... you have to walk down 2 flights of steps to get to bathroom!! too crowded....poor food choices since YOU GET NO FOOD IN STEERAGE.
Did a city tour with an insensitive guide. She talked at us...not to us. When told that people in the group have physical issues and cannot walk as fast as her...she said, "My feet hurt too"... she was the friendly prison camp type.
Clueless and then tipless. Confusing explanation of Finland’s part in WW2. In her defense it is confusing. They fought with and against both sides.
Went to an indoor winter park. We all struggle to put on parkas, then shots of vodka at ice bar and ice tables and in giant building built of ice and snow. Walked into ice houses, posed with ice sculptures and the highlight...riding in a dog sled.
Then we spent a couple of hours walking along water at a craft fair. Had a lot of interaction with Finns selling their wares and just observing people experiencing their long days in their short summers. Like so much of the trip .... summer days sunrise 3-4 AM and hardly ever get dark. A seagull saw Gail's skull as a bullseye and scored a direct hit. Glad I wear a hat. A very relaxing fun afternoon and then like the other days, looking forward to delicious food and excessive laughter with our nightly lubricated village.
Last stop...Stockholm Sweden. We spent the morning sleeping in and then playing the packing, jettisoning excess weight, picturing home a distant memory and preparing for our last tour .... driving around Stockholm and a visit to residence of the royal family and still in use hundreds of year old theatre.
The Swedish royal family were never fabulously wealthy like the Russians and British and French. Their king is never crowned but appears with his crown and not on his head. The simplicity and lack of excessive wealth show was refreshing just not as photographically striking.
So different kinds of countries we visited:
Iceland: rocky, treeless, empty, unimaginatively dull in winter...they have as a communal activity....soaking in public pools/baths. So no other place we they congregate in or out.
Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark: strong social safety net, less of ostentatious flagrant show of wealth by aristocracy historically ...are these related? World’s happiest people are where concentration of wealth has not destroyed/destroying life for the citizens. Medical care, 12-18 month maternity leave with pay; required father leave for new baby. Societies that are willing to invest in their next generation not mortgage their future with tax cuts.
Germany. Way too developed, multi cultural, complicated historically to simply describe. Historically had social safety net but then reparations from WW2 set up rise of populist, scapegoating, demagogue that nearly destroyed all democracy. History repeats itself and we are too close to the edge.
Poland. They just have lost a lot in the recent past. They have no glories in centuries and you feel it and see it and sense it.
As whenever I travel and return I appreciate the differences...wish for some things I saw in my own country and appreciate the vastness, wealth and melting pot multi cultural multi ethnic part of the USA where I live. This country is at its best when immigration instead of being viewed as a dilution of our greatness and to be feared but as evidence of our singular place in the world where the words:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest test to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
....Caused our country to be the magnet to attract from the rest of the world the most entrepreneurial, adventurous, least risk adverse successful DNA from other locations around this enormous globe of which I have been blessed to see from 38,000 feet. We live on one planet and that message someday will supersede the xenophobia and hatred of others religions that artificially separate humans. If a species from another planet wanted to destroy the earth it would introduce countries and religions first.
And to end my current exploitation of your attention...John Lennon .. read it
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world, you
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one