Saturday, June 30, 2018

Travel Reflections (first published in 2016)

I recently returned from an intense, marvelous trip to Iceland and the countries around the Baltic. Result: my body is tired and my brain is scrambled. Not quite sure what time zone I'm in, or what I'm supposed to be doing yet. But, as my husband says, "it's good to have traveled," and it certainly shakes up the routine.

Iceland was amazing: spectacular geology and bizarre landscapes, from a continental divide (where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet) to geysers reminiscent of Yellowstone and the eerie Blue Lagoon. I particularly loved the Lagoon: where strangers meet, coming out of the steam, with white clay masks (good for the skin!) and the hot, geothermal water is the perfect cure for jet lag.

Scandinavia is stunning in all its varied cityscapes, gorgeous fjords, and way of living. I asked lots of questions about health care, and the response from the locals was uniformly positive: we don't mind paying such high taxes when we get cradle-to-grave care and free university attendance.

                                  Bergen, Norway (on a rainy day)

 (my watercolor of Bergen)

The trip's effect on me is something that is still being sorted out, on many levels. I understand now why Scandinavian mysteries are so dark and the settings gray--that's really how it is, even in high summer, with frequent rain and low clouds. No wonder people celebrate the return of the sun near the Arctic Circle!

As for cruise travel, and ocean boat is a great way to visit multiple ports with a companion who has walking issues, but it's too much, too fast. Today, Estonia and tomorrow, St. Petersburg--no, wait, the ship can't leave port because the wind is holding the boat against the pier and not even a big tug can shift it! And when we finally arrived in the great Russian port after a day's delay, the dramatic contrast between the original grand palaces and wide boulevards with leftover Communist apartment blocks was decidedly creepy. So were the multiple passport checks: twice every time you got on or off the boat, and no straying from the tour group allowed unless you'd purchased a very expensive Russian visa. Sayings that stuck in my mind, "You don't want to be stopped in Russia without papers," (still!!) and "Russians dress like cabbages," (meaning layers). And, "there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."

                                      St. Petersburg apartment blocks

After I sort out my many and mixed impressions, I'll be able to write again. Next up: the third mystery, "The Botticelli Caper," set in Italy, and a research trip with my daughter to Florence! That trip will be "slow" travel: lots of time in one place, with frequent pauses for sitting in cafes and inhaling Italian food:)

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