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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Flying Across


I began writing this post 7 hours into my 12 hour flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Los Angeles, California. I started this morning with a 10.15 flight from Stockholm after being stuck in traffic and arriving to the airport a little too close for my comfort level. Everything worked out fine but it's not a good feeling to be sitting on the airport bus and not moving. That's when you wish you would've just paid the extra money and gotten on the fast train to the airport!
Half on a dare from my book club, half out of my own curiosity, I did a little experiment while taking this long flight this time around. The reason we are going to the US right now is because we were invited to do a wedding by a couple who met in our church! She is American, he Malawian and they are getting married in Fort Wayne, Indiana on 22 June and will then live in the US. So, of course, once you make the trans Atlantic hop, it's silly to not make a vacation out of it. So, because we are doing this wedding and because they want us to wear our high church attire, I decided to travel while wearing my priest collar to see if it made a difference in the way I was treated. (That's code for, will they give me a free upgrade!?). Let me assure you that it made no difference whatsoever in getting a better seat. But I did get many different looks from people. Some would see me and look away, others smiled, while most just went about their business. I felt a little odd at points, exposing my profession in this way. All in all, it was an interesting experience but clearly, clergy get no privilege whilst flying.
Upon check-in, I was disappointed to learn that no, there was no upgrade possibility, even through using points, and no, there were no seats with an empty next to them. (Always an essential question when checking in for a long haul flight.) Instead, they said it was packed to the gills (well, not really.  A German would not use that expression, but they did say there were no empty seats) and thus I was dismayed to see that the Lufthansa plane we were on was an oldie. No inflight entertainment center at your seat but rather still using overhead monitors for the day's entertainment. And a seat configuration that is killer any way you slice it. 3 4 3. I am on the side, in a 3, next to the window with two men occupying the middle and aisle seats. It is not an easy task for me to get up so I'm just kind of hunkered down in my little seat. Oh, and I'm also in the back row of our section which is actually OK because no one is kicking me from behind or pulling on the seat as they get up. The Italian man sitting next to me is taking up a bit too much space.  I have to gently nudge his leg now and again to remind him that I am sitting next to him in a cramped space!  He had pretty bad breath too, which I learned when he fell fast sleep with his mouth open thus breathing out hot, stinky air with every breath.  Oh well, such is the bizarre intimacy you share with total strangers on a plane!
But a hysterical thing happened mid-flight that I've never seen before. Of course, on a 12 hour flight it is good to keep moving and do some exercises of your arms and legs, even in your seat. I try to move a bit, but with the two big guys blocking my way to the aisle, I'm know I'm going to be incredibly stiff later. But I digress. Out of no where, an older gentlemen gets up out of his seat and starts doing arm lifts! He just stood there getting some exercise and I thought, well, good for him. He knows how to handle the long haul. But then I started seeing arms shooting up all over the place! People all around him caught onto the fun and started doing arm lifts from the comfort of their own seat. No one else stood but it was quite a sight seeing all these hands and arms popping up and down around me!  Always good to have a little unexpected inflight entertainment!
I'm finishing this blog post the next morning at 5:32 a.m. pacific time.  I've been awake since 3.45 after getting some much needed rest.  The rest of the journey was fairly uneventful.  I got on earlier flight out of LAX to Palm Springs which was delightful.  I ate some tacos, enjoyed seeing my parents, watched the Angels win in the bottom of the 9th with a walk off homer, and sat in the jacuzzi before I collapsed into bed.  I'll be jet-lagged for awhile but that's OK...I can always take a nap.  I'm on vacation!  I did Skype with Doug so that was an added bonus of being awake at 4.00 a.m.  It was only 1.00 p.m. in Stockholm and he was home on his lunch break!  


Sunday Afternoon


The last day before I departed for the US we had the graduating seniors over for a bbq.  There is a great tradition in Sweden of the graduates taking part in something called Utspring: literally, running out! On their final day of school, they gather together and burst through the front doors of their school, wearing their graduation caps and shouting with joy in having accomplished this milestone. We often attend the Utspring and subsequent receptions that are held, but this year due to our travel schedule, we will miss all of the festivities. It feels a bit sad to me that we won't be around to celebrate these students so that's why we decided to have them to us!
It was a glorious day and we were able to be outside in our backyard. Doug grilled chicken and we enjoyed some fine conversation around the table. We ate this yummy cake afterwards!  Some of the students are going to university in the US next year. Some are staying here and working or studying in a Swedish university while, others are looking at the UK. Like many kids who finish high school, some are not quite sure yet what next year will hold them. Its a big time of decision making for them and it is important to us that they feel that Immanuel church is their church, even if they decide to move somewhere else for a season of life! They are bright, articulate, wonderful kids and some of them we have known for a very long time. Most of the graduates this year have been through confirmation with us as well so they are special group, one who we feel we know quite well. We wish them all the joy and success they deserve!
Afterwards we took the dog for a walk down to his favorite swimming hole.  It was as hot as a middle of summer day and if I had had my swimsuit, I would've jumped right in with Tanner.  It was the first time we had been down to this beautiful park this season and it too holds great promise for us as the summer months begin to unfold.
Beautiful boats gliding by, the sunlight sparkling off the shining sea, a crazy labrador swimming after sticks and shaking water all over us...ahh, it must summer in Stockholm.  An added bonus right now is beautiful lilac in full bloom casting its intoxicating scent all over the city.

Adventures At Sea

May has been an incredibly beautiful month in Stockholm. We have had a few occasions already to be out on the water in our trusty little Finnmaster. Tanner is delighted to be near the water and relishes ever opportunity that he has to swim.  At times, this creates a bit of a tricky situation on the boat as he would rather be in the water than in the boat! But he is also like his mama and finds great contentment in basking in the sunshine. Sometimes it's a battle for who gets the better place in the sun!
Saturday was lovely but proved to be a bit windy on the water. None the less, it was our last chance to get out before our month long stay in the US so we loaded up lunch and the dog and headed out. 
We have a favorite little island that we enjoy tying up to. It has a great perch from which you can enjoy lunch and is often deserted so Tanner has free reign of the place. He can run, swim, and sniff around to his little canine heart's content.
Once there, Tanner and I jumped off the boat while Doug stayed on board and tried to get a good anchoring spot. I tied off on a nearby tree but the water proved too rough and the wind too strong. Suddenly, we were faced with a bit of a dilemma. Tanner and I couldn't get the right footing for getting back on the boat that was being tossed to and fro by the choppy water. After a bit of drama and a few attempts at different boarding spots, we finally got everyone back on board! Tanner was barking like crazy whilst we were attempting to re-board and all in all, total chaos ensued. I am happy to not still be stuck on that island! 
Adding to our adventures that day was the stop for gasoline. For some reason, whenever we stop, Tanner starts barking like a crazed banshee and creates all kinds of idiotic chaos. He just gets so excited to get off the boat and just can hardly contain himself. This time, the inevitable occurred. Whilst trying to jump from the boat to the dock, the boat swayed away from the dock and Tanner landed squarely in the water. Fortunately, we still had hold of the leash so he did not swim away and even more fortunately, the young guys working at the gas station were very cool and did not mind hauling a soaking wet labrador out of the water! Oj. The adventures we have sometimes. I have found that speaking English in these situations proves more helpful. For some reason, I think the Swedes are far more patient with a “dumb American tourist” than someone who actually lives in Sweden and should know how to behave in all situations involving boats! The kicker was when one of the guys asked me how old Tanner was, and when I said, 7, they said months? I said, no, years! They laughed a little and shook their heads. I know, right? He acts like a 1 year old. Oh well. His energy is mostly appreciated! He was exhausted by the end of the ride!  He had experienced lots of new and exciting and unplanned adventures that day!
Once situated with plenty of fuel and the knowledge that stopping and getting off was going to be difficult, we contented ourselves with just puttering through the beautiful waterways. As luck would have it on this adventurous outing, we happened upon a practice sea rescue!  We were very glad it was just practice but it was very cool to see.  One helicopter was circling the area where we were, landing and taking off right in front of us. Then another stormed in and Doug could see that it was a search and rescue vehicle. We stopped and watched the show. Rescuers jumped out of the chopper and were lowered to the sea where the “victims” were waiting for them. Once secured, they were both lifted out of the water back into the helicopter.  It was really neat to see how this worked, but seriously, I hope I never find myself in that situation. 
On our way back to the marina, we enjoyed an afternoon fika.  Fika is the Swedish word for a coffee break and a little something and it is one of the more wonderful aspects of life in Sweden! The day was just gorgeous and the little harbor where we motor out to the sea from our marina was sparkling in all its beautiful glory.  I look forward to many more days of puttering on the sea, successfully tying off on various islands and good times with Tanner safely in the boat, or swimming in the open!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Late Night Light Shows

One of the real treats of cruising the Baltic at this time of year is the dazzling light that the long day casts.  
About 9.30 p.m.
Every night I was out on the deck, wondering what the sky was looking like!  
A big cargo ship was floating by late one evening: I pretended it was a Russian battle ship!
Time stamp: 22.26, somewhere between Stockholm and Tallin, Estonia

I started to time stamp some of the photos which was pretty great.  
This late night was quite a dazzler with the clouds and the horizon against the sea.
Somewhere between Stockholm and Tallin.
Just a couple of minutes later.
The photos taken as we sailed from St. Petersburg are actually an hour LATER than the stamp because I forgot to set the camera clock one hour forward when we entered Russian waters.
Was actually 22.19, somewhere between St. Petersburg, Russia and
Helsinki, Finland
Time stamp says 20.58 but it is actually 21.58. Surrounded by Russian military outpost islands.
Somewhere between St. Petersburg, Russia and Helsinki, Finland
We almost saw the midnight sun.  It was just lurking beneath the horizon.
All winter long we bemoan the short days and the darkness that hovers around us.  
Time stamp says 22.15, was actually 23.15 Russian time.
Somewhere between St. Petersburg, Russia and
Helsinki, Finland
When the season of light bursts onto the scene, we love to take in every moment of daylight with which we are graced.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Cruisin' the Baltic: St. Petersburg, Russia

When you arrive in St. Petersburg, Russia, via a cruise ship, with limited time on land, you are allowed to enter Russia without a visa, which is no small thing, given that visas to visit Russia are expensive and kind of hard to get.  So this being able to visit St. Petersburg was one of the main reasons for our giving this cruise a try.  This was actually Doug's 3rd visit to this town, his first being when it was still Leningrad.  The first time we visited together was back in 2001 with a friend who spoke Russian and was able to help us fix our visas.  So it was lovely to have yet another chance on a gorgeous spring day to see this amazing place.
Not much English is spoken here even today the signs are written in Cyrillic so it was kind of challenging at times figuring out where we were and upon what street we were standing! 
The architecture of this town is breathtaking.  One gorgeous building after another adorn every inch of this city.  The color scheme of soft pastels was kept throughout.  Green, yellow, pink and light blue were seen everywhere!  An architectural highlight is Orthodox church, Church of the Spilled Blood.  It's a dazzling church with it's multi-colored facade.  A small market place was just down the street and here we literally saw east meeting west as we saw the Matryoshka dolls in all manner of American sports team!
While we didn't go over to the island that houses the fortress of St. Peter and Paul, the gleaming gold spires are a sight to behold and we enjoyed seeing the locals using the beach that surrounded the fortress walls as a swimming hole.  The water of the Neva must surely be quite chilly at this time of year however.  Gold domes do abound in this town! 
A visit to St. Petersburg would not be complete without a visit to the bronze horseman.  Peter the Great sits proudly upon his horse ready to conquer the world!  The huge, looming dome of St. Isak's cathedral sits behind him.  
After walking for miles and miles through this dazzling city, we decided that the very best way to experience the full essence of St. Petersburg was by boat.  We were not wrong.  One part Venice, one part Stockholm, a boat ride through the city gives you a wonderfully close look at all of its dazzling features.  The commentary was only in Russia so we had to make up our own story as we floated along.
One a way day stop, you cannot do everything and we did not return to Peterhof, the summer palace that Peter built as a tribute to victory over Sweden!  We did get there on our previous trip and I would say that trying to figure out how to see it should be a priority.  It is a crazy, opulent, fantastic place filled with playful fountains and more frills that thrill.
All in all we had a wonderful day in this Russian jewel of a city.  One day is not long enough but it's till better than never at all.

Cruisin' The Baltic: St. Petersburg's Hermitage

I have no idea where to begin with my comments regarding the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.  Upon arrival at the grand Dvortsovaya Ploshchad, Palace Square, you are immediately transported to another era.  The green and white Baroque exterior of the Hermitage greets you on one side of the Alexander column, while the former Imperial Army general guard more classical yellow and white buildings adorn the other side.  The square is huge and grand. 
Since we had been to the Hermitage back in 2001 on our first visit to Russia, I was a bit ambivalent about spending time there given that we only had one day in the city.  But Doug convinced me that this was THE HERMITAGE for goodness sake and that it would be a huge mistake to not go in.  He was right!  I had forgotten what opulence surrounds you upon entering the once winter palace of the Czars.  For the first 45 minutes all you are doing is wandering around one amazing room after another.  You actually forget that there is great art to be seen here!  The throne rooms are fit for, well, a king!  The floors also boasted incredible wood inlays.  We had a wonderful time stumbling upon the grand room that houses the famous peacock clock.  Quite by accident we also found the Knight's room, complete with real stuffed horses.  The ceiling work was simply magnificent and it was easy to understand why Czarist Russia was a grand 'ol time for those with money and power.
We did eventually find our way to some of the great paintings of all time.  The photographs distort the paintings due to light reflections. We especially enjoyed Rembrandt's Prodigal Son, the van Gogh's, Pisarro and Picasso.  We ended up staying about 1.5 hours and enjoyed the splendor of every moment.  The Hermitage is quite a place.  I am very happy we returned and took it in once again.