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Friday, August 21, 2009

A Little Trip Across Another Pond: The Baltic

Tuesday we took the Silja Line Ferry to Helsinki, Finland. These ships run every day, overnight between the Finnish and Scandinavian capitals. It's a rather pleasant trip. You get a nice little cabin and you can leave your stuff on board while you tour the city the day you are in port. The ride out of Stockholm is simply gorgeous as you cruise through the entire archipelago, all 22,000 islands dotted with charming red stugas (summer houses) as well as some rather impressive properties as well. Just as we were departing Stockholm, the weather got threatening and we had to hustle inside. The upside was a lovely rainbow that appeared over the landscape. The wind was too cold to allow us to sit outside, but we found a nice perch behind a window and enjoyed the lovely landscape from behind glass.

The first night we decided to eat from the Swedish Smörgåsbord. Of course, there was loads of herring and caviar and salmon but we were also delighted to find other more yummy delicacies. Wine and beer were included in unlimited quantities so we made sure that we got our money's worth on that front. The best part of the meal when my dad discovered the candy on the dessert table. He returned to our table at one point with a plate that looked like a normal dinner plate. What we didn't realize at first was that he had candy buried underneath his regular food! That's the beauty of a Smörgåsbord buffet. Everyone can eat what they want, when they want!
We entertained ourselves that night by listening to some of the worst Karaoke ever and watched a mediocre at best show. But it was still relaxing and wonderful to be away for the evening.
We woke up to a beautiful morning as we pulled into Helsinki. We took the two hour bus tour that shows off the city highlights. It's a lovely little city, considerably smaller than Stockholm. Stockholm boasts a population of about 1.5 million while Helsinki is only 500,000 in the city and up towards a million including the surrounding areas. The city is populated with lovely green spaces and nice water front areas.

The major sites include the Protestant cathedral that sits in the center of the city as well as the Russian Orthodox cathedral that serves as a reminder of how far east we've traveled. The Rock Church is a beautiful church with rock walls and a copper ceiling. The International Church in Helsinki meets there on Sunday afternoons. The last major site is the Sibelius (famous Finnish composer) monument which is ambiguous in its meaning. Most think that it is clearly organ pipes being depicted and yet the artist adamantly claimed that it was absolutely not organ pipes. She never did explain what it was. I say it is organ pipes.

We had a beautiful afternoon departure with the sun shining brightly on the deck. As you depart from Helsinki you cruise past the fortress that was designed to make Helsinki invincible. Would've been fine except the water froze in the winter and the Russians were able to march right onto the island. Oops.

We cruised all night and woke up to the beauty of the Stockholm archipelago. The sun was shining and I enjoyed a quiet half hour on deck watching the islands go by as the sun slowly made its way onto the day. It was warm and mild as we pulled into port. Felt like summer which was such a gift given that autumn has really been bearing down on us.
The two night overnight to Helsinki is a nice, relaxing way to get out of town for a couple of days. And now my parents have added Finland to the many countries they've been able to visit during the time we've lived in Sweden. We've been living across the Atlantic pond for 11 years now. Hard to believe. I enjoyed Helsinki, but I have to admit...I am glad that we call Stockholm home.

My Parents are in Sweden

My folks arrived from California last Thursday and it has been a great visit. We are especially grateful since two years ago my mom's life hung in the balance and one year ago we were told that the cancer was terminal and there was nothing more that could be done. In the meantime, she went into remission and here my folks are in Sweden once again. It's so nice to have them here. They've been here often and so the sight seeing agenda is low. Mostly they like to hang out in our nice house, play with our crazy dog, and enjoy time with us. They have had a rough summer with their house flooding and the normal heat of Palm Springs. (45 degrees Celsius, 110 Fahrenheit). So for them, the cool days of the waning Swedish summer are a welcome respite. Their house is coming along and should be close to being finished by the time they return home on August 31.
While they are here we enjoy making good meals, playing cards (cribbage is our main game), and going fishing. The weather has been pretty good but we're definitely into a season change now with autumn really breathing down our necks. Still, today was our first attempt at fishing and my father kept us from getting blanked! It was beautiful when we started but by early afternoon we were racing to beat the rain and man did it get cold in a hurry!
Their visit with us this time is a great reminder of how precious our time with family is. My mom is doing remarkably well and it's just fun having them here while we do life. It's good for them as well and I am thankful for the ways in which they are able to relax and enjoy life while here with us.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Correction Regarding the Gates Incident

On July 31 I posted a blog called Race and Perspective. I mis-represented the police officer when I stated that he was the one who sent an email referring to Professor Gates as a banana eating monkey. It was NOT the police officer who sent that mail but rather his colleague Officer Paul Barrett. What he said was "If I was the officer he verbally assaulted like a banana eating jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC (pepper spray) deserving of his belligerent non-compliance."
While I still feel the incident illuminates some issues our nation still have with racial profiling and misunderstanding, it makes a big difference to realize the the police officer did not make this racist remark. In fact, in the coverage that has followed, I have found it refreshing that the professor and the police officer have seemingly made an effort to reconcile and come to a better place with one another. This is what needs to happen in order for us to improve our race relationships. We need to be honest about one another about how we feel and then be open to grow. My apologies for misrepresenting the police officer in the earlier post.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Up, Up and Away

Last Thursday evening Doug and I shared one of the most wonderful experiences we've ever had. We went on a hot air balloon ride over our beautiful city of Stockholm, Sweden. Stockholm is the only world capital that allows balloons to fly over the city center. We've decided that if you live here, you are a fool to pass up this great opportunity. Many people have expressed fear in taking a hot air balloon ride, but believe me...there's no fear. It's only beauty and joy and adventure.
Doug gave me this great gift for Christmas last year and after one cancellation, we finally scored a truly beautiful evening. The whole experience was very memorable. Upon arrival, you find your name on one of several lists and locate the vehicle to which you belong. Then you drive to an open field where you work as a team to unload the basket and the balloon. Everyone is given a special task and assigned their position in the balloon. We were to help with the line ballast as the balloon was inflated and we got prime spots on the end of the basket. All around us balloons were beginning to inflate and it was an awesome site to behold.

Finally we were ready for launch! When the pilot cranked up the flame, the heat was intense! And before we knew it, we were floating over the city!

Kids on their bikes chased after us and soon enough, we were high above
the houses, floating through mid-air, taking in the beauty that surrounded us. Stockholm is such a beautiful city and to see it from above was breathtaking. We flew right over Gamla Stan and City Hall. We were very close to our house at one point. We later learned that we flew very close to some friends' of ours and they were able to get a picture of our balloon in flight!

This is the photograph that Robert took of us from his balcony!

We just soared and soared and every new look was thrill. Eventually we knew that our ride was going to end, but our pilot overshot the field and we got to stay up for 20 more minutes! I was a little nervous on the landing but it went quite smoothly and before we knew it, we were safely back on the ground.
Upon landing, the entire team worked together again to get the balloon back into the bag and the basket loaded onto the truck. Then we gathered together for a little speech on the history of hot air ballooning all the while being eaten by the swarm of mosquitoes that have greeted us upon landing! Finally the pilot cracked open a bottle of champagne and poured a bit over each of our heads, officially christening our first hot air balloon ride. We were then invited to enjoy a glass alongside of some wonderful cheeses and of course, hard Swedish flat bread. It was all so very Swedish that I just had to chuckle and take it all in. It's actually very sweet.
As we were landing, we flew right into the sunset. Then after being on land for a bit, the full moon began to rise up opposite the setting sun. It was absolutely magical. The beauty of the evening, the peacefulness of the ride and the romance of sharing it with my husband are treasures I will cherish as I remember this great night with joy.