Back from the Baltic

My body is back from our Baltic cruise (and has been since about midnight Friday) but neither it nor my mind are fully readjusted. I am (blissfully) behind on much of anything that happened over the last couple weeks. Catching up with personal items, work and attending the excellent O.A.R. concert last night with my 17-year-old daughter took priority over updating things here.

For what it’s worth, a few random observations and comments from the trip:

  • St. Petersburg were clearly the highlight. We did a three-day private tour with a couple from Australia, a couple from North Carolina and our top-notch guide Angie, a St. Petersburg native. For example, thanks to an early admission at the Winter Palace (part of the Hermitage), we were at times among very few (if not the only) people on the main staircase or in the large throne room.
  • I read War and Peace on the trip, finishing it on the plane on the way back). I would have enjoyed it in any event but it certainly made various sites in St. Petersburg more interesting and relevant.
  • Our love of St. Petersburg did not lessen the enjoyment of any of the other cities and regions we visited. Between historic sites, structures that are centuries old and seeing original works by artists such as da Vinci and Michaelangelo, the value truly was virtually priceless.
  • I managed to lose my wallet/have it stolen in Helsinki about a week into the trip. It, of course, had the debit card and two credit cards, leading to hurried calls back to the US. Fortunately, we still had one of my wife’s credit cards to rely upon.
  • For 95 percent of the trip the weather was absolutely gorgeous. The temps rarely got above 75 degrees so the local weather has been a shock.
  • Between the value of the dollar (a real budget breaker in London and painful in countries using the Euro) and dealing with air travel, it may be a while before we head back overseas. The trip back was a killer: a 3:20 pm flight from Heathrow to O’Hare left before our 12:20 pm flight, we caught the last flight into Sioux Falls and sat on the tarmac at O’Hare for more than a hour and while we arrived, not a single piece of our luggage did.
  • We only did organized tours in two of the 10 countries we visited, otherwise walking or relying on taxis or public transportation to get into the cities and explore on our own (with suggestions from various guide-books). Although “we’ve been lost here before” was heard a couple times, we never encountered any real difficulties.
  • It was intriguing to see the heavy usage of bicycles and the dedicated bike lanes on the streets in many of the cities we visited. I’ve never seen as many bikes as I did in Amsterdam, including a packed multi-level bicycle parking ramp near the central train station. That and our use of public transportation reinforced just how far this country has to go in public and alternative transportation.

Wealth and poverty, fame and obscurity, power and subordination, strength and weakness, health and disease, culture and ignorance, work and leisure, repletion and hunger, virtue and vice, are only greater or lesser degrees of freedom.

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

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