Friday, June 23, 2017

It’s My 73rd Birthday--So Cut Me Some Slack!

I must ask your forgiveness; I started writing with great vigor about our 10 day voyage from London to Oslo, only to suddenly disappear from the scene. In truth, after I last wrote, our ship spent the day transiting the Kiel Canal, and after that, every day was another port until suddenly-the-cruise-was-over! I really did intend to write about our activities, but by the time we returned to the ship, had lunch, and took a quick nap, it was time for dinner. It just didn’t seem there was any time to write!

So now, I am sitting in a magnificent hotel room in Oslo, Norway trying to look back and make some sense of what we saw, and the best I can hope for is that since today is my 73rd birthday, you will cut me some slack, and allow me to give you just a brief overview. I might also point out that in truth, I think by photographs do as good a job of telling the story of our trip as if I were writing.

I last wrote to you after visiting Bruges in Belgium. The next day our ship transited the Kiel Canal. I am surprised at how few people are aware of this very important waterway. It is only 61 miles long, but it was completed way back in 1895. It connects the North Sea with the Baltic Sea, and saves shipping between the two bodies of water which would be over 300 miles. There is a lock at either end of the canal, but they are mainly to regulate tidal flow since the two bodies of water connected are basically at the same level. The canal can handle up to 130 vessels per day, and a normal transit time is 7 to 8 hours. The cruise ships are generally given priority for a daytime transit, however, when we arrived one of the locks in the canal had malfunctioned, and we were forced to spend many hours waiting for an opportunity to finally enter the canal late in the day. All was not lost in terms of our being able to view the beautiful countryside because we were in a part of the world which was enjoying almost 24 hours of sunlight per day.

In fact, let me talk about that; yesterday, June 21, was the “summer solstice.” Where we live, I doubt most people even pay much attention to that date. But in the northern latitudes of the world, it is a cause for celebration, and is generally a big event. Yesterday, here in Oslo, they enjoyed 22 ½ hours of sunlight which also means that six months from now they will endure the same amount of darkness. As Lisa and I travel north from here, we will get into the realm of the world where there is light 24 hours a day this time of year.

After the canal, our first port of call was Wismar, Germany. For most of our passengers, this was to be the Gateway City for visiting the German Capital City, Berlin. However, because of our delayed transit through the canal, the full day trips to Berlin had to be canceled. Having been to Berlin many times, Lisa and I had already planned a day excursion in the area to the city of Schwerin. The primary reason that someone visits this city is to view the Sherwin Castle. This is a palatial estate that was built in the 1850’s. Today it houses the administrative offices for the local government, but parts of the interior have been restored to their formal elegance and can be toured. Since we had been here once before, we opted for a walk around the palatial grounds. One interesting little story involves our driver. Realizing that we were not able to walk very far, he drove our limousine right up to the very gates of the castle and parked. When we left for our walk, he was approached by the guards and told to move on, but he told them confidentially that we were relatives of the U.S. President Trump here on a private visit, and the guards immediately told him to stay where he was. Following our walk around the palace, we visited the famous Cathedral that dates from the 1300’s. Afterwards we returned to our ship, and before we knew it the day was gone.

The next morning we opened our curtains to find ourselves in the heart of Copenhagen, Denmark. This is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but sadly that day, in my opinion, the city was literally overrun with tourists. Lisa and I tried to reach the world famous statue of the Little Mermaid, but the crowds were so deep, that we gave up in frustration and moved on. We did manage to make the “changing of the guard ceremony” at the Royal Palace, but here again we were virtually unable to even get pictures so large were the crowds. Since neither of us were able to walk any significant distance for the most part, our tour of Copenhagen was by car, and once again, we returned to the ship where before you knew it, time for dinner.

One of the wonderful things about cruising is that each morning you throw open the window, and potentially you are in yet another world. So it was this day that we found ourselves at Aarhus, Denmark. Neither of us had ever been to this city before, so this was a special treat. The city is home to an extensive open air museum where old houses throughout Denmark have been brought together. It is also home to a wonderful botanical garden, but both of these attractions required some considerable walking which we simply were not up to. We did enjoy our visit to the Cathedral which dated from the 12th century, and later we did walk through parts of the city that were quite old, but also quite well-preserved. People still live in these small, 17th century homes, and as our guide told us, they are also “some of the most, pricey real estate” in the city. Once again, we continued to be impressed every time that we visit Denmark with its cleanliness, and with the friendliness of its people.

By now, I know you realize what’s coming – the next morning we opened our door and we were in Gothenburg, Sweden. The highlight of this day was without question our ability to spend the morning touring with my son, Jay, and his family. Best of all we got to spend the day with our charming and adorable 20-year-old granddaughter, Jennifer. Along the way, we did visit one of their historic churches, which was located at the top of the hill with panoramic views of the city. We also visited the area of the city known as Haga which is a historic walking area. Finally we did go to their botanical garden, and even though Lisa and I could not walk very much, we did get some excellent photographs of flowers in this most beautiful of locations.

Of course, as you might guess, what came next is that we through open our window the next morning, and found ourselves in Arendal, Norway. This is a small and scenic Norwegian coastal town, without any special or unique attractions that we are aware of. Lisa and I were going to take a short morning bus tour offered by the ship, but both of us at that point were quite apprehensive about all that we had to do to prepare to leave the ship the following morning. So, we gave our tickets to the kids. When they returned from their excursion, they said that they spent almost 3 hours in a bus driving around, with only two short 10 minute stops. They were not very happy with the experience, and they had what I have been known to call a “spam in a can tour.” What was concerning Lisa and me was the necessity for getting ready for our big North Pole adventure. We had made arrangements with the cruise line to send one of our bags home by FedEx, and we were going to put into that bag all of our fancy clothes and shoes, and only take with us into Russia those things that we absolutely needed. Once we got that accomplished, which took some time, we had a quick lunch on board the ship, and then went for a walk around the small town. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful place to just find a bench in order to people watch. You might find it of some interest, but the bag we left on board ship the following day has already been delivered to our home in Kansas City. Indeed it got there just about as fast as we could have ourselves.

And so on opening the window the next morning, we found ourselves in Oslo, Norway being politely invited to depart the ship early so that they could prepare it for the next voyage. We went to our lovely hotel where we had been offered early check-in, only to find that there would be a “slight delay in getting our room.” As it turns out, we did not get to our room until after 4 PM that day, and needless to say Lisa and I were bone tired. What we decided to do while we had all that time to spare, was to make the short walk to the nearby national Gallery. It was only three blocks away so we thought we could walk it on our own. While we made the journey, it was extremely difficult on both of us, and we were exhausted by the time we arrived at the museum. The museum itself looked so unimpressive, that we hesitated to even go inside since it required that we climb stairs to get in. However, having made the effort, in the end, we decided to see what it had to offer. Boy, would it have been a tragedy had we not gone into that Museum!

It appeared that the only way up to the exhibits was to climb two very long flights of stairs. However, the guards were very accommodating to take us way into the back to a service elevator that took us upstairs. When we exited, “I asked the guard “where is the Impressionist Gallery?” and he pointed ahead to the left, and said the important pictures are “there.” Well “there” turned out to be a large gallery that had only one way “in” and “out,” and on either side of the doorway stood a guard, and within the gallery itself, I counted five guards constantly circulating amongst the people. The gallery was home to a small, but important collection of the works by Edvard Munch, a famous Norwegian artist. Several of the artworks were protected by cleverly designed bulletproof shields. The most famous painting that I recognized was called “The Scream.” I would say that every one of the works in the gallery was totally outstanding, and if the gallery was all this unimpressive Museum had to offer, it would have been well worth the visit. But wait, this was only a small portion of the gallery. So after leaving the Munch collection, we turned the corner to find several large rooms of Impressionist paintings. Virtually every famous painter of that era was represented in those rooms. There were Renoir’s, Monet’s, Manet’s, and more, much more. What they did not have in those rooms was the presence of guards. In any other museum in the world, these paintings would have been considered an invaluable treasure. But here in Norway, the paintings of their local artists deserve the most security while the rest of the museum was sort of an afterthought – but what an afterthought it was.

For the next two days, we had a private car drive us for several hours each morning around the area. Our driver turned out to be a recently retired police Captain from the Immigration Offices, and who was also rather well known for his activities in many high profile charitable organizations. I must tell you that in a blitz of activity, we literally saw everything that Oslo had to offer. If we couldn’t walk it, he made sure that we got as close as possible so that we could see and photograph it. Today on my birthday, he arrived at the hotel with a small Norwegian flag! Early in the morning he had attempted to find an American flag, but failing to do so he brought the Norwegian one. He then required me to carry the flag for the entire day that we were together in order to show everyone that I was celebrating my 73rd birthday. I’m sure you can catch a sense of just how much fun we had with this gentleman.

For now I would like to share with you my new website for photographs. It is a long story as to how my photographs have ended up at this location, but I am very pleased with this website. I have not had a great deal of time to organize all of the historical pictures, but at least the gallery entitled “Best of Best” is current, and the last several years have been organized and listed by year. If you just wish to see the pictures from this trip, you may skip directly there by going to

So what happens now? For one thing Lisa and I are going to disappear for two weeks. Tomorrow, we will spend the entire day making our way to the very northern coast of the Russian Arctic to the city of Murmansk. We have been told that we will be met at the airport, but I’m not 100% sure that. We have also been told that if we are met, do not expect that our driver will speak English, but he will know where we are to be taken. The following morning I think that we may have arranged for a tour of the city, but again I’m not certain. Neither the company that sponsors this trip, nor our travel agent were able to arrange a sightseeing trip. I bravely got online and found a Russian company which offered a trip, and after about 16 emails I finally received some official looking piece of paper that bears a stamp and signature that appears to indicate we will be met by someone at our hotel. If they don’t show up, then I’m out the money because they have already charged my credit card. The following day we will meet our fellow passengers as we spend the day going through security in order to board the most powerful nuclear icebreaker in the world. It is housed within the Russian naval base at Murmansk, and it will be our home for the next two weeks. The brochure says that we can expect to reach the North Pole, and along the way to explore some of the beautiful sites of the northern Arctic. There will be no cell service, nor will there be internet. The good news is that our room will have a private toilet, and that is just about all I know of what we are getting ourselves into!

I do plan to write during what I consider the journey of a lifetime for us, but obviously I will not be able to share these until we return home. So keep your fingers crossed and hope that we come out the other end.

I hope everyone is well,

Please take care,


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