Yanks At Sea
by Jeffrey Scott Duly, Age 39
There have been great trilogies in the world of literature and film. If you have read my travelogues from my first two UK trips, you will know that this could never be confused with a great trilogy. You can skip the following travelogue by going directly to the pictures here, but that's no fun. I didn't write all this for my health. And as always, I give you hyperlinks to internet sites about places and things I saw and did. The central trio of yours truly, John and Margaret remains the same.
Prologue: I was supposed to have gone on a Caribbean cruise in April 2004 but my colon decided otherwise. This was only the latest in my succession of bad cruise experiences. The first (photos here) was marred by a severe sunburn. The second was shortened by a hurricane. Then a colonic episode kept me home instead of cruising to Mexico. So when my father mentioned a European cruise, I wasn't initially excited given my run of luck with ocean voyages. I had been planning a rail trip through Germany, France and the Low Countries but had not gotten so far as to actually book anything. A cruise would be a little easier. It's like traveling to Europe and staying in the same hotel every night. So I decided to go and put my cruise jinx to the test.
The flight left Atlanta on Wednesday evening. This time we were flying Delta instead of British Airways. There's a big difference between the two airlines. British Airlines is a lot nicer. Of course it was a long flight. There were no interesting movies playing, so I mostly read Dead Famous by Ben Elton. Dinner was some sort of meat and breakfast followed soon after. Between the meals I got about one hour of sleep. We landed in Gatwick Airport in the early morning hours and after clearing immigration we saw the NCL rep who would give us and several other folks a bus trip down to Dover. I got to listen a bit to BBC Radio Two on the way down.
Thursday, 5 August (Dover, England): We arrived at the Port of Dover several hours before we were to depart. With us getting to town so early, I was hoping that I'd get a chance to get into town for a little while. But that really wasn't in the cards. So we waited a bit at the port, which was quite nice, and then boarded the ship Norwegian Dream. There was a bit of light rain when we set sail. There would be little rain in the next twelve days. The first thing I noticed was that the average age of the passenger list was firmly in the mature category. This was a cruise of the old. Gray hair, wrinkles and canes all over the place. The national make-up of the cruisers was mostly American, with a smattering of British, French, Japanese and others I couldn't easily identify. It was like an elderly It's a Small World.
Friday, 6 August (Hamburg, Germany): The ship arrived at the entrance of the Kiel Canal in the morning. The canal is a long waterway cut through northern Germany south of Denmark as a faster passage from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea. It is fairly narrow but must be pretty deep as cruise ships regularly navigate the channel. We disembarked the ship for a coach trip down to Hamburg. We had arranged for tour excursions in the ports we would visit. I've always been of two minds regarding package tours. On the one hand, you don't have much freedom for individual exploration. I like that kind of traveling. But on the other hand, it is a way to get to see the most you can of a city in a short amount of time. And also you get a tour guide to tell you about places and things. German immigration officials boarded the ship and checked us all through before we disembarked. Ordinarily brown-shirted German officials checking papers would scare the hell out of me, but in this case it was okay.
Our tour guides in Hamburg were Katerine and Michael. After a coach ride across northern Germany, which was rather uninteresting except for the comments of the Katerine, we arrived at the port of Hamburg. We drove past some parks in which pasty white Germans were sunning themselves. Our first stop was at the St. Michael's Church. After a visit inside the church and to a little old alley lined with touristy shops it was back on the bus. We drove through the old red light district (which once had some of the clubs where the Beatles played during their time in Hamburg) and then around the Aussenalster, a big man-made lake around which there are many foreign embassies, and made a brief photo stop. Then we ended up at the Rathausmarkt, the public square in front of the city hall. Our stop here was a little longer than the others and we got to wander around a bit. There was a rock festival going on in the square. The first thing we needed to do was to find a pharmacy so my father could get some denture goop to replace the tube he lost somewhere. He got a tube of Platenstikum (not really the brand) and we wandered about a bit. We tried to find an ATM to get some Euro. This was not an easy task but we eventually did find a bank and a cashendispensenmashiner. (I like making up German words.) A short walk led us to our dinner at the Patriotische Gesellschaft building. Authentic German food? I guess. I skipped the sausages and kraut and opted for some pickled fish and mashed potatoes. More driving around town and back on the highway to rejoin the ship in Kiel. We got to stop off at a roadside plaza called Brokenland (I swear that's what the sign said.) on the way and I bought an apple Lift (like they have samples of in the Coca Cola Ice Station Cool at Epcot) and some sort of vanilla drink which may or may not have had any dairy in it.
Final thoughts: Hamburg seems like a nice town. I wouldn't mind returning there someday. Katerine and Michael were good guides. It was interesting to hear Katerine tell stories of her childhood and her family's move to the West after the war and Michael's opinion of tourists from other countries. (American and Brittons are good. French not so much.)
Saturday, 7 August (Berlin, Germany): It was an early morning departure from the port town of Warnemunde. We boarded a big red train that was chartered especially for our excursion down to Berlin. The trip down is pretty long. We sat in a small compartment with Bob and Marlene from New Hampshire. A cute German girl called Ulrika came around and brought us a little breakfast bag with juice, yoghurt and an apple and some other stuff I don't think I ate. After a few hours of fairly uninteresting east German countryside passing the windows, we arrived in the Lichtenberg Station in the old East Berlin part of town. Our tour guides met us at the rather neglected rail station and onto the busses we went. Our guide this day was called Volker. For those unfamiliar with German, it's not pronounced as you think. The "v" sounds like an "f". Think "mother Volker". Anyway, the name of the excursion we chose for the day was called "East Meets West", so we would get to visit East and West Berlin and see various things related to the separation of the city during the Cold War. The first stop was the Berlin Wall. Yes they tore it down, but there is still some of it left as a reminder. Then we traveled through the old East Berlin, including down a major thoroughfare named for Karl Marx, and ended up at the former location of Checkpoint Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie was one of the entry points from East to West (or West to East depending on which direction you are going, but who the hell would want to go from West Berlin to East Berlin?) There is a replica of the old guard station there now, but the modern office buildings that now surround it do not give the image that this place was once like during the Cold War. At one of the shops nearby I got a small metal replica of the "You are now leaving the American sector" sign that once stood at this point. A short drive south took us to the Tempelhof Airport, the focal point of the Berlin Airlift. On our drive back to the downtown area, we passed the place where President Kennedy delivered his brilliant "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech.
Then it was lunch at the Westin. More authentic German food? If dry fried chicken and mashed potatoes is authentic, then yes. There was strudel. And I had a glass of German beer called Radenberger. I'm not fond of pilsner, but when in Rome (or Berlin). After lunch we took a short walk to the Brandenburg Gate. It is probably one of the most recognizable symbols of Berlin. Built in 1791, it is the last of the old gates to the city of Berlin. And it was here that another U.S. President, Ronald Reagan, gave his landmark "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" speech. From the Gate it was time for a little shopping. We drove past the newly refurbished Reichstag and were dropped off at the Europacenter near the Kaiser Wilhelm Church at the start of the Kurfürstendamm. The church was mostly destroyed by the Allies in World War II, but there is still part of it standing. It was a Saturday and the whole area was bustling with Germans out for the afternoon. I found the fan shop for Bundesliga club Hertha Berlin and bought my nephew a replica jersey and my brother-in-law a cap. They played to a 2-2 draw with VfL Bochum that afternoon. I noticed some Hertha BSC fans around town during the day. I wish I could have gone to the game, but unlike past trips overseas we were part of a tour and did not have the free time to ourselves. The last stop of the day was at the Allied Museum where items from the Allied and Soviet occupation of the city are on display. There was a plane that participated in the Berlin Airlift and one of the old guard towers from the Berlin Wall. It had been a long tiring day, so I was glad to be heading back to the train and back to the ship. There was a carnival going on in Warnemunde when we left port. It made for a pretty sending off sight from Germany.
European beauty contest: This might sound piggish, but I'm going to give you my general impression of the beauty (or lack thereof) of the women in the countries we visited. Hey, I'm a man and that's what we do. Well, 98% or so of us anyway. With Germany being the first country visited, they started out in first place by default. German women aren't unattractive, but there's also no "ooh" factor there either. I'll put it this way. I didn't see the St. Pauli girl anywhere.
Native food consumed: Dinner in Hamburg and lunch in Berlin. Chicken, fish and mashed potatoes don't scream German, but it was in Germany so that makes it German food, right? Besides I did have that beer and strudel.
Final thoughts: Berlin has been around for a long time but it is not a very old city. Most of its history is concentrated in the 20th century with World War II, the Cold War and reunification. It is not a particularly picturesque town. With a good portion of it having recently come out of communism, there are part of it that aren't that nice looking.
Sunday, 8 August (Cruise the Baltic): I have absolutely nothing to report for this day. Actually I did get a little bit of sunburn on legs and arms. I had no intention of getting a ridiculous sunburn like on the cruise to the Virgin Islands, so I just kept clothed and I read more of Dead Famous. I got a little more sun than I expected but nothing terribly painful. Also I had inadvertently let my batteries run down on my portable stereo, so I had to replace them. But when I did the thing must have rebooted itself. I don't know how, but I went from having to choose from AM, FM, television and weather bands to now picking up AM, FM and MW. This was rather convenient because they do a fair bit of broadcasting on medium wave in Europe. I got to listen to radio from all the countries we visited and some of those we cruised past like Poland and Latvia. A lot of the music they play is American and British pop crap. I tried to listen mostly to music in their native languages, but it was not always possible.
The television on the ship was obviously limited. There were movie channels. I saw Just Married which wasn't too bad for a silly comedy. There was also Eurosport, which was broadcast in German. When the Olympics started, everything we saw of it was with German commentary. If you're going to watch overly muscular women do the snatch and the clean and jerk, you need to watch in German. We also had German MTV2. Most of the advertising on these channels were for mobile phone ring tones. Everyone over there has them, so it makes sense.
Monday, 9 August (Tallinn, Estonia): The Port of Tallinn is conveniently located close to the city. Today's tour would be a half-day affair. That meant that there would be time for independent exploration for several hours in the afternoon. Maia, the cutest guide on the trip, would show us around the capital of Estonia. The first destination of the day was the large amphitheatre in which the Estonians have their annual song festival. This place was freaking huge. The stage itself holds thousands of singers. Then we stopped at the Olympic Regatta Center where the sailing competition was held in for the Moscow Olympics in 1980. After the yacht club we ventured into the Old Town, the medieval center of town. It is on top of a hill with a wall around it, as important cities tended to be back in the olden days. The old buildings and the orange roofs give visitors a good look at what ancient Europe used to look like. We visited two churches, the beautiful Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and Toomkirik, a Lutheran cathedral founded in 1233. There was time for shopping in the Old Town, but nothing particularly interested me. They seem to sell a lot of amber to tourists. After spending a while in the Old Town, those of us who wanted to leave the tour before they headed back to the ship could do so. I did. The old folks went back. In my free time I walked around quite a bit amongst the locals. I went into a grocery store, through some shopping markets and generally up and down the streets of Tallinn. Since the port was so close to town, rather than catch the shuttle back I decided to walk. I stopped off at one of the passenger terminals before returning to the ship. I was thirsty so I bought some sort of Estonian pear-flavored soda and a few cans of Swedish beverages called cider. It wasn't really cider but more like a wine cooler. I bought apple, pear and strawberry. They were pretty good.
Native food consumed: There was no meal on the tour, but I did have that pear drink.
European beauty contest: I was impressed with the Estonian women. I had no idea what to expect, but walking around town I noticed quite a few cute young women. Therefore Estonia jumped into a early lead in the competition. When I order my eastern European bride, maybe I'll buy Estonian.
Final thoughts: Having absolutely no preconceived notions about Estonia, I was surprised by how Tallinn has progressed since the communist days. The Estonian people seem to have a hell of a sense of humor that has gotten them through times of foreign occupation. They used to make a lot of jokes about the Soviet leaders. And really why not? I mean Brezhnev alone is worth a thousand chuckles. I would definitely recommend a trip to Tallinn and Estonia.
Tuesday, 10 August (St. Petersburg, Russia): The most appealing part of this trip was the chance to visit places that only fifteen years ago would have been impossible to see. While East Germany and Estonia were interesting, jewel of these previously forbidden lands was Russia. We would be docked in St. Petersburg for two days. The cruise line offered an excursion down to Moscow on day one, but as much as I would have wanted to see that city the trip would have been a long one and rather expensive. So we managed two excursions in St. Petersburg. The first was a general tour of the highlights around town ending with a visit to the Hermitage Museum. It's interesting that I've never visited the Hermitage a few miles from my house in Nashville, but I have been to the one half a world away. The Port of St. Petersburg is a working cargo port with no real passenger facilities. The view from the deck of the ship is nothing to write poems about. The immigration in Russia is difficult, but as long as you were with a tour group you were part of that group visa. Get separated without your own visa (which is a pain in the ass to get) and you could find yourself in trouble. Our tour guide on day one was a plump stern-looking woman called Irina. Our first stop was along the Neva River. Across the river was the Winter Palace, now the Hermitage Museum. After a few photos it was back on the coach and a drive across the Neva to the St. Isaac's Cathedral, a mighty granite and marble building. After a brief stop at a souvenir shop where I bought Soviet Army and Navy hats for myself and a Russian nesting doll for my sister, we drove to the most beautifully ornate church I've ever seen. The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood is a magnificent Orthodox church with colorful onion domes and intricate doo-dads all over the outside. Lunch at a restaurant called Academy followed the church. The food reminded me of something Soviet political prisoners would have been fed. Rubbery chicken and some vegetable I don't remember. Dessert consisted of some sort of tart berry jelly on a shortcake concoction. We ate with an English family called Bennett. In the course of table conversation we explained the entire American governmental system. Mr. Bennett was amazed by it all. After lunch we spent several hours in the Hermitage Museum. It was terribly crowded. If you are interested in art you could spend several days in that place. I'm not, so the hours that we were there was enough. The history of the Winter Palace was more interesting to me than the art. Irina dragged us through very swiftly with a stop, a few words about some piece of art and then quickly on to the next thing. With the fast pace and the heavy crowd I'm surprised that we didn't lose anyone. Irena was not very tall so losing sight of her as she navigated through the sea of visitors was not difficult. It was another long day and dinner and bed awaited back on the ship.
Wednesday, 11 August (St. Petersburg, Russia): Our excursion on the second day was an afternoon half-day trip. This time our trip into the city featured a boat cruise on the Neva. Our guide was a woman called Marina. All along the river are colorful buildings that used to be palaces at one time. Most are now museums of some sort. From the boat we could see the Finland Station, the Winter Palace again, the building that used to be the local offices of the KGB, the Summer Garden, Peter and Paul Fortress, the cruiser Aurora, and a lot of Soviet era buildings. There were gypsies performing inside on the lower deck. I mostly stayed on the upper deck snapping photos and soaking in all the Russian atmosphere. Speaking of atmosphere, it started to sprinkle just a little bit while we were on the river. This was the first rain we'd seen since we left Dover. When we left the port, I noticed that there was still a sign at the entrance that said Leningrad. Oh well, it's only been thirteen years since they changed the name of the city back to St. Petersburg. Give them some time to get around to changing the sign.
Native food consumed: Well there was that lunch. I did have some Russian fruit juice on the river boat that tasted like V8 Splash. Oh, and was brave and took a shot of Russian vodka at the souvenir shop. Wow! It burns!
European beauty contest: Yikes! If St. Petersburg was an example of Russian woman as a whole, it's not a pretty picture. I guess once Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova emigrated, the cupboard was left bare. Based upon this opinion, Russia fell to dead last so far. So for those of you scoring at home, it is Estonia in front, Germany in second and Russia far behind.
Final thoughts: St. Petersburg is badly in need of a paint job. The city is only three hundred years old. There are cities in the U.S. that are older than that. The capital of Russia for about two hundred years, the history of Russian royalty is all over the place. I got quite good at figuring out the Cyrillic alphabet. Actually some of it is not hard if you are familiar with Greek letters. There were other letters that I figured out when I knew what the word was. All in all it was an interesting place to visit.
Thursday, 12 August (Helsinki, Finland): It's not often I spend my birthday in a foreign country, but that's exactly what happened this year. We pulled into Helsinki shortly after sunrise. It would be another half-day tour today, so that means more free time exploration for me. Jutta (pronounced Yootah) was our guide. She was okay, but Helsinki isn't a remarkable city. Don't get me wrong. There are some beautiful areas and some interesting things to see, but it lacks major attractions for tourists. The first stop for us was a park named for Jean Sibelius with an interesting monument to the famous composer. Then we stopped at the Temppeliaukio Church. It was not an old church, built in 1969, but it was built into a rock and has a large copper roof. There was a quick photo stop at the Olympic Stadium before the final stop at Senate Square. At that time I bid farewell to the tour and headed out on my own. The old folks again went back to the ship. I walked down the Esplanade to the large Stockmann department store. After lunch at Hesburger, I headed north past the train station and up to the Linnanmäki Amusement Park and the Wintergarden. I then walked back south to the Esplanade to catch the shuttle back to the ship. One the way I visited a grocery store where I picked up a Donald Duck comic in Finnish. I got it for my nephew, but I'm not sure my sister wouldn't want it more. The coach tour around town was rather uneventful, but walking around town (for about a total of four miles) made up for it. I like being able to experience other countries at a close distance that you can't always get from the window of a bus.
Native food consumed: I got to have lunch at Hesburger, a Finnish fast food restaurant. A burger, fries and a Coke. But it was a Finnish burger and fries. I also got some doughnut holes and a lemon soda at a Helsinki grocery store.
European beauty contest: I expected Scandinavian women to be knockouts, but my early impression of the Finns was not great. But thanks to a late day comeback, Finland jumped past Estonia in a squeaker to lead the pack. I never learned how to say "Kiss me. It's my birthday." in Finnish, but I also didn't get slapped in Finnish either.
Final thoughts: Helsinki is not a large city. There are no skyscrapers and no ancient buildings. But there are parts of it that are quite attractive. There are mostly the parks and waterways. The area around Senate Square is nice and the Eteläesplenadi is makes for a lovely stroll. I don't think there would be much to see in more than one day. I think much of the beauty of Finland can be found outside the city and in the countryside.
Friday, 13 August (Stockholm, Sweden): The morning we arrived in Sweden was a gloomy one. Gray clouds hung over the coast and stayed with us in the approach to Stockholm. We had two separate tours in this day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Kirstin, a rather funny little woman, was our guide for the morning excursion. The first destination in the morning was the Stadshuset, the City Hall. Then we drove all around the various islands that make up Stockholm. We spent about an hour at the Vasamuseet, a museum that holds the Vasa, a warship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. I was getting a little anxious about the time because we needed to get back to the ship in time to make our second tour. But despite the usual lateness of someone at every stop, we made it back in time for the afternoon trip to the Old City. Patrik would lead us on this tour. He was a young guy who knew just about everything. He was easily the most knowledgeable guide we had on the whole trip. The Old City resides on an island called Gamla Stan. We got a great tour through the Royal Palace with Patrik going into great detail about everything along the way. There were guards and a rolled carpet outside one of the doors in the palace. The king and queen don't live in the palace anymore, but they do have offices. To make the story more interesting, I'm going to believe that one of them was behind that door that day. I'd like to think I was that close to the king or queen of Sweden. After the palace tour we ventured out into the surrounding narrow streets. We got to walk about a bit for almost an hour on our own before having to board the bus to take us back to the ship. One of the highlights of the trip to Stockholm was sailing out of port through the Swedish archipelago. The little islands that lie off the coast with little houses and lots of sailboats are absolutely beautiful.
Native food consumed: Well I didn't get to eat or drink anything in Stockholm, but those ciders I bought in Tallinn were Swedish. That counts, right? Well I'm counting it anyway.
European beauty contest: The Swedes have a reputation for being the most beautiful people on the planet and they did not disappoint. The women were fabulous babes. Even the ugly women were sort of attractive. The men was all handsome. Those Swedes have some great genes. They easily leaped into first place in my stupid little competition.
Final thoughts: There is enough to see in Stockholm to take you a couple of days. The weather seems to change from minute to minute, not unlike Scotland in that respect. Must be the latitude. It is a terrific stop for tourists. The might of Sweden's past can be seen throughout the old capital city.
Saturday, 14 August (Copenhagen, Denmark): We would not arrive in Copenhagen until the afternoon, so much of the day was a cruise day. I wrapped up Dead Famous and was now working on The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie. On the approach to the city we went near the recently completed ten-mile long Øresund Bridge that now connects Denmark and Sweden. And we went past a row of windmills in the water off the coast. Once we docked we got off the ship and boarded busses that took us to the famous Tivoli Gardens. It opened in 1843 and was one of Walt Disney's inspirations for Disneyland. It started out with swings, carousels, slides, a concert pavilion, restaurants among its attractions. It now has some of those same things but also now has thrill rides you would find at any amusement park. The newest is the Dæmonen (Demon), but the queue was long and a rollercoaster is a rollercoaster. I opted for the Dragen (Dragon) which was ridiculously rough. After all the spinning and flipping, I'd never been so uncomfortable after a amusement park ride. Not to the point of tossing by Danish butter cookies, but it was some kind of dizzying and queasyating. (I know it's not a word, but it felt that way regardless.) We then decided to try an attraction called the Valhalla Borgen (Valhalla Castle). We had no idea what kind of thing this would be, but we had already bought tickets and we needed to use them. It was actually pretty cool. After a little pre-show that was cleverly bilingual, guests enter a hall that holds four benches, two on each side that face the center, that run the length of the room. The benches start to swing up and down. But it eventually flips upside down. Or so the illusion would have you believe. Actually the benches rock up and down, but the interior walls of the room start to revolve in the opposite direction. What you think is the floor eventually goes spinning over your head as the room seems like it rolls out of control. It was a neat effect that I've never seen before. After having explored the whole park, we left and the old folks got back on the shuttle. I wanted to explore a bit, so I stayed and walked around the town after dark for about an hour or so and caught a later shuttle.
Sunday, 15 August (Copenhagen, Denmark): Our morning tour would take us on a motor coach on the streets and a boat ride on the waterways of Copenhagen. Anne Marie, a funny little old lady, gave us the grand tour of her city. Not too far from where the ship was docked is the world renowned Little Mermaid statue. Picture taking is compulsory. We boarded little canal boats where the old fish market used to be. A young woman called Maria narrated our trip on the water. We saw churches, palaces, old government halls and colorful buildings as we slowly cruised past them in our little boat, ducking beneath low and sometimes narrow bridges all the way. When we returned to the land, we were bussed to the Amalienbourg Royal Palace. The queen and the crown prince have residences there, but neither were home. After a bit or wandering around the palace ground, we got back on the bus and went back to the ship. We left Copenhagen at noon. It would be the last city on our cruise. The rest of the trip would be at sea until we got back to Dover.
Native food consumed: There was no meal in Copenhagen either. While I was wandering around the city on Saturday night looking for a store that was open when I could get batteries for my camera, I found a gas station with a convenience store in it. I got batteries and a Danish lemon soda.
European beauty contest: The Danes sure give the Swedes a run for their money in the beauty category. The two nations are close to one another so it's not surprising. It was close but the Danes come in a close second. So to recap the competition, in first place is Sweden. Denmark places a close second. Finland just edges out Estonia for the bronze. Germany finishes fifth and Russia comes in a sad dead-last sixth.
Final thoughts: Copenhagen has been the capital of Denmark for six hundred years. It is a very cosmopolitan city with lots of things for locals and tourists to do. We got to spend too little time here. I could see returning here for more exploration.
Monday, 16 August (Cruise the North Sea): More nothing. It was cooler and more cloudy this day with a little spit of rain every now and again. We left the Baltic for the North Sea. We could see some oil or natural gas platforms off in the distance. I awoke that morning with the beginnings of a cold. At least it was on the last day of the trip instead the first.
Food on the ship was good. It usually is on a cruise ship. The difference between this cruise and others is what NCL calls freestyle cruising. That doesn't mean not wearing underwear. (God, with a ship full of old people I hope that's not what it means.) Actually it means there are no set seating for meals. Eat in the main dining rooms when you want to when they are open. You are not stuck at the same dining room at the same table with the same people every night. The dining rooms were more like restaurants. It was rather convenient. If you feel like an early dinner one night, that's okay. If you got back from an excursion a little late, that's fine too. I never got up early enough to eat a proper breakfast. I grabbed a danish some mornings before disembarking. And I didn't eat any lunches in the dining rooms. There was a pizza bar on deck and a sports bar at the stern that offered quick bites. Dinner sometimes included theme nights like Italian or meals from the White House chefs.
Tuesday, 17 August (Return Home): We were in Dover by the time I woke up. Sadly we were not able to to see the town before we left or when we returned. The best I could get were some photos of the town and the famous white cliffs. We disembarked at 7:30, got our luggage, boarded busses and drove back to London and Gatwick Airport. Our flight would not leave for many hours so we wasted time in the terminal. There are a lot of shops there so there are things to do while waiting. I needed cold medicine so I walked down to the Boots and pick up some Sinutab. When there's nothing to do but shop, people tend to shop. I picked up some of the cherry chocolate chip biscuits I like so much from the Harrod's shop along with a Harrod's tea beaker. I also got a beaker at another shop. It features pictures of England's 1966 World Cup win. And I had some British currency left after exchanging my Euro for pounds, so I got a mini English Premier League soccer ball for my nephew.
The flight home was longer than the flight over there. We had better seats this time. I watched three movies. First was Laws of Attraction, an uninspired romantic comedy. Then was Hidalgo which was quite a good adventure flick. Lastly I watched 13 Going On 30 with the lovely and talented Jennifer Garner. It's essentially the same movie as Big but for chicks. We got into Atlanta late. (Not that the flight was late, but it was late in the day.) And given the time changes, I finally got to sleep after being awake for about 22 hours. The Nyquil I bought at the store when we got back gave me a weird night's sleep.
Epilogue: One reason I wanted to travel to Europe was to see it before it implodes. I still firmly believe that there will be big trouble there in the coming years as the French and German economies collapse and they try to expand their power in Europe. Soon enough the other nations of Europe such as the UK and the former Soviet Bloc "new Europe" will come to the realization that hitching their wagon to the Franco-German axis will pull them down as well. Germany will end up like the Incredible Hulk, angry. You wouldn't like Germany when it's angry. We can already see the signs of a gathering storm in Germany as communists and neo-Nazis gain political strength in local governments and on the national scene. And as far as Russia goes, who really knows how that's going to end up. Russia has always been a pretty messed up place. Freedom needs to take hold, but a strong organized crime syndicate and too many citizens wishing back for the days they were taken care of (conveniently forgetting the oppression) could pull it all down. And as Russia figures out how to deal with terrorist threats, the government will surely consolidate power and reverse some of the democratic reforms of the past decade. Then there are the socialist nations of Scandinavia. Beautiful countries full of beautiful caring people. But they are sagging under an incredible tax burden to support their social programs. That's bound to have negative effects one of these days.
I would like to return to the continent again. Perhaps to the Low Countries or Eastern Europe. I just wouldn't want to get caught there at a bad time. Kind of like traveling to Poland in 1939.
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