Friday, July 9, 2010

Home again, home again

Got back on Wednesday, actually, but Thursday was rather a blur. Was up for 23 hours then somehow managed to sleep only three or four hours, one hour at a time, then went to work. Productivity has been better! But I'm more clear-headed today, even though the ol' circadian is still working on his rhythm.

I'm starting to sort through photos. We have over a thousand (no, that's not a threat). I don't think I'll update this blog with anything because this was intended for play-by-play and that didn't pan out. I've ordered a replacement cable; that should arrive next week, at which time I can pull still more photos off the netbook. Then put everything in some semblance of order. Meanwhile, I'm typing up my handwritten notes and should finish those around the same time. Also, Deb has a couple hours of video that she's working on.

After that, my plan is to put it into some form that people can read/view. One format may be a printable book; another may be a web site. Not sure about all that yet.

Meanwhile, I'm in that odd place one finds oneself after an adventure. Some people want to hear about it in detail, but others, such as co-workers, only want the five minute or even one minute version. So one starts abstracting, choosing highlights, summarizing, giving overviews. In short, one begins to write history.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Off the coast of Finland

Just left Estonia a few hours ago. Had a great time there, visiting a ruined castle, a city fortress, and driving through some countryside that looks very much like Minnesota--pine and birch forests with farms growing barley and rye. Not much Soviet architecture in Minnesota, though!

Updating the blog because the Net connection is so flaky I have to grab time when I can.

Day before yesterday was a full--and I do mean full--day in St Petersburg. We spent about three hours in the Hermitage, saw only a fifth of what's there, and still only scratched the surface of that. One entire room of Rembrandt. Multiple rooms of Picasso (some of it on loan). More than I can even begin to describe. We left that city wondering if we had the gumption for Tallinn but today was more relaxed.

Tomorrow is Stockholm, then two days at sea. The weather is still unusually calm and downright hot. With the white nights it means that we have about sixteen or eighteen hours of light. The sunset lasts for hours. I think I'm starting to get used to looking out a window and seeing movement. On the main decks they have large portholes, like round floor-ceiling windows, that give a great view of the water sliding and sliding past.

Supper in a few minutes so I'm signing off. Shout out from the high seas to Kate and her LWD (little white dog).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Am Ostsee

Today we are sailing across the Baltic Sea (called the East Sea, in German), so I have time to update the blog today. We have visited Oslo, Copenhagen, and Rostock. I'll try to give a brief idea of each.

The first thing to say, though, is how incredibly fortunate we've been in our weather. We've had nothing but calm seas and clear weather with temperatures in the 70s. The crew keeps talking about how nasty the weather was on the previous voyage, so we know we're lucky here.

We wandered this city on our own. It's a pleasant town, not at all crowded and not very large. There are few old buildings and many modern ones. We where here on a Saturday and most of Oslo was closed until around 11am. We got to see some Viking stuff in the historical museum, then we went to the city hall. This is sort of the pride of the town, built some time in the 1950s. It consists of two large towers with shorter arms sticking out back to form a plaza between them. There are some big bas-relief illustrations from Nordic mythology on the way in. The real treat, though, is inside. There is a central hall with a ceiling that's about three stories high. Marble floors, and murals on the walls, one wall of which illustrates scenes from the Nazi occupation and the Norwegian resistance. Upstairs most of the rooms are ceremonial, but one is the actual city council room. Oslo has no mayor; instead, it's run by a sort of city parliament at which any citizen may come forward to speak. I think they call it democracy or something.
The meals on board have been excellent, as you might have guessed. We've been eating all sorts of dishes, with multiple courses. One of many nice things is that the portions are reasonable, so that it's possible to have an appetizer and a main course and still honestly have room for dessert.


Upon leaving Copenhagen we reversed course and went back north again; not sure why. Anyway we went around the northern tip of Zealand and sailed south again between there and Jutland. At the tip of the island is Elsinore, the castle that was the scene for Shakespeare's Hamlet. Got some good pictures of that.

In the middle of the night we passed underneath a bridge. I didn't get up but Deb said it was really dramatic to be on a ship going under such a structure. Earlier we saw the full moon. This was dramatic enough -- with the utterly smooth water it was like a giant lighthouse shining its light across the sea -- but what made it really memorable was that you could turn 180 degrees and see the light of the sunset. Deb got some good video on her Flip. All taken from our balcony of course, la-de-da.

Today was the only disappointment of the trip so far. Had a lousy tour guide. I mean really poor. I didn't mind too much because I already know Rostock's history and anyway it was only a half day so not much was lost. Felt sorry for other folks on the bus.

Afternoon was spent in Warnemunde, a seaside resort town. 'Sfunny but it was very much like going to Seaside or any other resort town, with the paved walk and the innumerable shops all selling the same things. Same, just a hundred or two years older.

And so to today. Utterly relaxing. Read a book, watched TV, wandered the decks, slept in, and updated this blog. Exhausting *pant*. Tomorrow is St Petersburg. We are all very much looking forward to that.

We're all thinking of you. Today's post includes a shout-out to Karla and all her homies at WW. Yo! Not to mention yo ho ho.

Okay, I'm clicking Post before this miserable IE crashes on me again. Will post at least once more from shipboard but probably not until after Russia.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Totally at sea

Somewhere in the middle of the North Sea. Happy because we're here, sad because I left the frakkin' power cord to the netbook in the hotel. Plugged into the wall. Never packed it.  [palm -> forehead | whack!]

So I'm in the shipboard Internet cafe dealing with firewalls and time limits and I'm not going to be able to update the blog in loving detail as I'd planned. Instead there will be short, furtive posts with no pictures and I'll wait until we return to narrate the whole circus. *sigh*

A quick catch-up.

The next day after the British Museum we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which turned out to be the favorite of London, aside from the city itself. The V&A is every bit as huge as the British, but much more varied. We spent most of the day there seeing everything from the expected statues and paintings to the unexpected massive collection of jewels, gold and silver work, tapestries, lace work, theatre costumes (including ones worn by the likes of Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton), and even gowns and accessories of Grace Kelly.

The next day was the train ride through the rolling hills of Kent down to the white cliffs of Dover and onto the Disney Magic. Our second vacation begins!

The North Sea has been smooth as silk, which is unusual if not exactly rare. The crew said the previous sailing had had rough seas. We've been out of sight of land all day and will be until we cruise into the Skaggerak this evening around 9pm (site of the Battle of Jutland in WWI). We enter the long waterway leading to Oslo around 3am and so won't get to view the islands there, arriving dockside about 6:30. Perhaps we'll get to see the islands on the cruise out the following day.

There is no way to upload pictures to the blog from here, as they provide only a terminal. I'll probably not update here for a couple of days, maybe three. Tomorrow is Oslo, the next day is Copenhagen, then comes Warnemunde / Rostock. At latest I'll update after Rostock, as we'll be crossing the Baltic after that. Meanwhile I'm writing it all down in my physical journal (thanks Rachel!) and will type up all when we return.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

British Museum

I've got like ten minutes left on my Internet access.

Today was the British Museum. It's every bit as extraordinary as you've heard. Most striking: how complete are the artifacts. Where in most museums you get sections of Greek vases, here you get entire halls filled with Greek vases and every one of them whole. The same goes for all the areas. Half the famous statues from the ancient world you've seen in picture books are likely here: the Elgin marbles from the Parthenon, the Rosetta Stone, busts of Augustus and Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, even artifacts from the Mausoleum of Halikarnassus. It's endless. There's no way to see everything in a day, and there's no way a visitor can walk in without wanting to try anyway.

Back in the hotel, footsore and content. This really is the last post until we get shipboard on the 24th, so probably I won't update until the 25th, somewhere on the North Sea. !!!

Will do a better picture update then, too.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday, June 21

Today was the Original Tour Bus, about a two hour drive around London with some narration. The weather was perfect, neither too hot nor too cold and we had a merrie olde time.
Next we went to the Tower of London, which occupied is for much of the afternoon. I took pictures only at the Tower, since taking photos from a moving bus is pretty much an exercise in frustration. The Tower shots are all outside and are somewhat random, as if I want good pictures I'll buy the tour book (which I did not). But I do think I got enough material to add to an online essay somewhere along the line. Maybe my Late Middle Ages one.
It is now afternoon. I'm updating the blog and uploading pictures, then we get dressed and go out for our big evening: we'll be seeing "Love Never Dies".

Sunday, June 20

We went to a variety of places today, the first of which was Harrads. I don't know if it was because today was Sunday or what, but the place was packed. The interior space is designed oddly, as if it were a great many small shops. Each had its own theme or central product.
We never got off the main floor, except to go into one lower level that had wine and spirits. The main floor was nothing but food and a number of perfume sections. All in all it was crowded and we ate a bit and got out of there.
The main attraction was the National Gallery but we got there well before it opened, so we walked down to Big Ben and the Parliament buildings and 10 Downing Street. Just around the block is the War Room Museum, which was British headquarters during WWII. It's been preserved or restored to very accurate conditions. Several of the various rooms not only have the original furnishings but also have wax figures of officers. The rooms include the sleeping quarters for Churchill and for his wife, as well as the Churchills' kitchen. All in all one comes away with at least a vague sense of what it must have been like, especially when one comes back out, into the fresh air directly across from St James park.
We then walked back to the National Gallery. It's a good museum with some notable works and is laid out well. It left me a little cold but that's perhaps unfair as we spent only 1.5 hours there. Perhaps, too, I've seen one too many Great Art museums. We walked back to the hotel after that, which was quite a long walk, by way of Hyde Park. We saw Speakers Corner which was, as the guidebooks say, much fallen from its glory days. All that were there were six or seven advocates of this or that religion.
The walk back, though long, was pleasant as we got to see a goodly portion of the city. I was struck again by how much of the buildings look to be 18th or 19thc. Along the way we saw a very nice BBC building that looked mid-20thc. Ate in a local restaurant; decent food, nothing memorable. It's 9:30 now and everyone is falling asleep.

Saturday, June 19

First day in London. A long drive from Heathrow to the Waldorf Hilton right in the heart of the old city, just off the Strand. We unpacked and went out for a stroll.
The first thing that strikes one is that London is goofy for statues. They're everywhere, not only as free-standing statues but also as decorative elements on buildings. One literally can't walk a single block without seeing them (remember, though, we're in the old town; things are probably different further out). They even have statues (dragons) that mark the boundaries of the City of London proper. Most of the statues seem to have been erected between 1800 and 1950 so it must have been something of a public fad. Indeed, much of the city here dates to that era, giving a certain architectural unity to London. The main exception isn't buildings that are older but buildings that are much newer--I'd say 1970 and later. We don't see really old buildings in old London because the whole thing burned down in 1665 and also was heavily bombed during the Blitz.
Which brings up a second striking visual feature, the impact of the two world wars, seen mainly in the form of war memorials. We saw several on our walk, including ones for marines, for soldiers of various types, and for the navy. Most striking, though, was a church sitting on a little block, heavy downtown traffic all around it, like a little island. On it were some statues, of course. At the head, very prominent and grandiose, a statue of Gladstone. At the stern, more modest and human, one of Samuel Johnson. The chief element on this island is the church, St Dunstan's. It got our attention at first because its bells were ringing incessantly and elaborately. We walked across to see the statues, for at the Gladstone end were two modern military statues, clearly of WWII vintage. I don't recall the names, but both were fliers and one of them was the chief of bomber command during the war. The plaque recorded that 55,000 aviators lost their lives in bomber command, a truly terrifying statistic. The statue caused me to look more closely at the church itself, which had various other references to fliers on it, including at least two wreaths of flowers recently placed.
A plaque on the stern explained the place. On this site, it said, the Danes built a church in the 9th century. The church was later rebuilt by William the Conqueror. It was rebuilt again by Christopher Wren (probably the medieval version was destroyed in the Great Fire). Destroyed by German bombs in WWII, the church was rebuilt yet again in the 1950s when it became the official church of the R.A.F.
That's but a taste of the density of historical references around here. We literally crossed the street from the church and I noticed a Twinings tea shop. Look closer and no, it's not *a* Twinings shop it's *the* Twinings shop. The original, built in 1705.
It's like that for block after block.
We walked from the Strand to Fleet Street, then down to the river, and back again. Found a place to eat which was nothing special. Now back in the hotel again and updating this journal.

Slight Technical Glitch

Somewhat to my surprise, there's no free wifi in this hotel. So I'm paying once for an Internet connection, will post updates through today, then I'll wait until we're on the cruise ship. We should be daily thereafter.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Wait for it...

Last day of work. Most of the preparation is done, including the critical Test Pack (everything appears to fit, mirabile dictu).This will be followed by a flurry of Last Minute Decisions tonight and tomorrow. Everyone take a deep breath. There, doesn't that feel better?

(hmm...this was written on 6/17 not 6/16 as the above would imply. I revised a previous post. *shrug*)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Let's Make a List of Lists

We go through this every time we travel.

The excitement over the trip looms large when the trip is comfortably in the distant future. As the event nears, however, excited anticipation is replaced by a darker sentiment stalking every conversation. That sentiment is anxiety over All the Things As What Needs Doing.

So we make lists. These lists go into various convenient locations, including notebooks, *online* notebooks, sticky pads and that perennial favorite, mental lists. By this point, days before leaving, the lists lurk in various places around the household and glower from urls, laughing at our attempts to be organized, to cling to a methodology, and to remember that thing we were supposed to take care of ... something about the back yard or was it the air conditioner?

Cancel this, but don't cancel that. Weed mow water unplug bring leave print send call write check (write check) rewrite email update sign shop copy ... and of course, pack.

Relief is coming soon, though. There comes a magical moment in any wandering. Its exact moment can never be predicted, but it generally happens somewhere between the Day Before and the Day Of. The anxiety and busy-ness ramps up relentlessly, threatening to suck dry any hope of enjoyment from the whole damned trip, the hours tick by, and then it happens. One by one those nasty lists curl up and blow away in the face of the one force they cannot evade or avert: Time. At some point, you see, it is time.

Time to go.

And somewhere in there, waiting for the taxi, getting in the car and pulling out of the driveway, lifting off the runway, somewhere in there we look at each other and realize that it's too late. Nothing on those lists matter any more because It's Time.

Time to go.

Time to let go.

Time to vacate.

And the very moment is when we exhale. Instead of looking around, we find ourselves looking forward. And suddenly, we have all the time in the world.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Wandering DeSk

Here you will find the record of the wanderings of Deb and Skip.

We have wandered before, but I've always written it into physical books. This time it goes into a blog. I have typed up accounts of earlier travels and may post those older trips further on down the road.

For now, though, this will be the record of our trip to the Baltic Sea in 2010.