Page 63

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DAYS 219-220 

Helsinki Layover Days

Some people were up first thing the morning after our return from St. Petersburg, ready to take the ferry to Estonia for the day. But not me, I was too tired. I spent the morning resting and napping, finally going for a walk in Helsinki in the afternoon. There are some attractive walking streets where  people are shopping or chatting with friends and buskars are providing music and entertainment. There was an especially fine small brass band playing. It was tempting to just sit and enjoy their talent. But I kept going and walked to Stockman’s which is a big and popular department store. I had seen people flocking in there on my way to and from the railroad station which caused me to be curious about it. Once inside I could see why people liked it. I toured the food section, my favorite part of any store! It was gorgeous. A specialty in Finland is fish. There were beautiful displays of fileted salmon and other fish, every kind of fish smoked and/or peppered, and displays of more unusual fishy things like octopus. In season now are crayfish and there were mounds of them, bright red against the shaved ice. Adjacent to the crayfish was a display of crayfish decorated paper products, the perfect paper plates and napkins for a crayfishy picnic.

In the produce section were every exotic fruit and vegetable you could dream of, each labeled with point of origin. Nearby was a magazine display of cooking magazines, with a chair beside it so that the uninspired shopper could have a peek at the latest recipes and find one to suit the occasion. What a splendid marketing idea!

I found some snacks for a movie party we were having in the evening and 5 small bottles of beer, one of each kind made in Finland. I think every country produces beer (except Saudi Arabia of course). Then it was time to return to the hotel for dinner. The meals here in the Grand Marina Hotel have been excellent.

After dinner we watched two movies for which we had to pay the equivalent of $11. Actually Judy B. paid for the movies because I had bought the beer and snacks. We didn’t have many guests, only Kaye and Shirl came, and we were so engrossed in “The Other Sister” (and so full from dinner) that we forgot about the beer and snacks. Shirl and Kaye left after that movie and it was bedtime but before we knew it “The Beach” was on and we were engrossed in it. It was action-packed and entertaining I suppose, but the other movie was much more to my taste. Nevertheless I stayed awake for the whole thing while my roommates, Sharon and Judy, fell fast asleep.

By the time I awoke the next morning they had already been to breakfast and I had to hurry to get to my haircut appointment on time.

In the afternoon I went on a cruise of the islands around Helsinki which was relaxing and picturesque, but not very informative as there was no guide, only a very minimal recording about the sights. I was amazed to see all those islands, having no idea that there were so many or that they would be populated. If I lived in Helsinki I’d want to be on one of the islands too. There are some very well to do people out there judging from their homes, float planes and yachts. One interesting fact I learned from the  canned commentary was that the islands are slowly rising, in 1000 years they will have risen one meter.

At last this was the day for the Checkpoint tee-shirts. It seemed like I’d been waiting for mine forever. It was Maryke’s idea way back in Baja and  that was six months ago. She had them made in bright orange with a big black check mark in the middle of the back and a smaller one on the left upper side in the front. They are way cool. A bunch of us wore them to dinner tonight and immediately everyone wanted one. We’re a select bunch though, Maryke had only 30 made. Why Checkpoint tee-shirts? Because Checkpoint is often like the light at the end of the tunnel and always a welcome sight. There are two Checkpoints a day, one is about halfway through the ride, always a good feeling and the other is at the end of the day, time to quit and rest and relax. The Checkpoint sign is bright orange with a big black checkmark.

This is one of those days that is going to go on forever. We’re at the Helsinki airport now waiting for a flight to Berlin that has already been delayed. We have one thing in our favor though, in Berlin we’ll get to set our watches back an hour.

Goodbye, Alice

DAYS 221-222 

Berlin Layover Days 

We landed with a startling thump at the Berlin airport but apparently no damage was done. It had been a short flight, only two hours, but they had served dinner that I ate even though I’d already had dinner in Helsinki.

It was my turn to be lucky. My bag just happened to be one of the first to arrive on the conveyor belt, and even though I stood in line at the airport ATM, I just happened to get a good seat (one near the door) on the first bus. The first bus was first for once, actually arriving at the hostel before the others, and then making a beeline into the hostel and up the stairs, I was second in the singles line for room assignments, right behind Priscilla. I got a single room! There were only a few, Priscilla took the first one. I have no roommates, which makes my room as lovely a refuge as my tent. And of course I have the bottom bunk - there is no top bunk! Not only that, but there is a sink and a shower. Wow! We are staying in this hostel for 3 nights and I have the royal suite. The Berlin Youth Hostel is an enormous facility, the 200 plus that we are is a mere drop in the bucket.

First thing the first morning I joined a group heading for the Zoo Station to take a walking tour of Berlin. With me were Larry and Joan Dolinsky, Judy B. Brenda and Roma. We found the right bus stop only a couple of blocks from our hostel and arrived on bus 129 at the Zoo Station with time to spare. Our guide was Fiona, an English woman who is an opera singer during the season. Her knowledge of German history was amazing and because of her strong voice she was able to make herself heard. The 3.5 hour Insider Tour was described as a leisurely stroll but Fiona set a fast pace that kept us hustling and listening for five hours. It was way too much for me to learn and remember. Too late it occurred to me that I could have repeated the tour on the second layover day. An opportunity lost.

Naomi led us to the main sights of Berlin and explained the historical significance of each one. My favorite was the famous Checkpoint Charlie. Like much of what was Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie has nearly disappeared. Only one guardhouse remains standing and its future is uncertain. A U.S. soldier’s portrait hangs above the street there, apparently it is changed often, and there is a Checkpoint Charlie Museum that I didn’t get to visit. Just a couple of blocks from there is a short section of the Berlin Wall that still stands. That is awesome and sobering to see. It doesn’t look like a mean wall, a thing of terror, there are not jagged broken glass shards stuck on the top for example, but there is a curved concrete cap on the fence, like half of a pipe, so that it would not be possible to get a handhold if one were trying to climb the fence. Naomi told us that the fence went up literally overnight. In the beginning it must have been a wire fence because she said that some people, realizing the implications of the fence, threw their babies over the barbed wire to people on the other side. There are two other places in Berlin where portions of the Wall still stand. Elsewhere, where the wall once stood, a strip of bricks two bricks wide has been laid into the pavement of the streets.

Also on the eastern side of the former wall was the Reichstag, which I at least associate with the Nazis so that it doesn’t sound like a good place to me, but Reichstag actually means the House of Parliament. The Nazi’s used it, and then burned it. It has been restored now and altered, there is a glass dome with a spiral ramp inside so that people can walk to the top for the view or watch the proceedings in the Parliament below. I did not get to go inside.

Berlin was renamed the capital city of a reunited Germany in 1991. That meant that all the government stuff and staff had to be moved from Bonn to Berlin. Fiona explained that those people didn’t want to make the move and perks had to be found. One of the perks is a free trip home (to Bonn) every other weekend. The largest construction project in the world is under way in Berlin to build housing and other buildings for the Bonners. They would not send their children to school with Berliners so separate schools have had to be built. Fiona gave the impression that the Bonners think they are a step above the Berliners.

Just behind the short section of the Wall near Checkpoint Charlie was an open-air exhibit titled the Topography of Terror. We noticed it while on the tour and went back to it afterwards. Through photographs and text the exhibit detailed the work of the Nazi’s in Berlin between 1933 and 1945. The buildings the Nazi’s used were in an area called the “Prinz Albrecht Terrain”. They were severely damaged by air strikes at the end of the war and eventually all the buildings were removed, the historical significance of the site forgotten until the 70’s. Eventually the exhibit will be housed in a building still under construction.

The exhibit was absorbing and informative but required two hours of hard work to read and understand. I rather wish we had gone to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum instead.

We saw so much on that tour! The Brandenburg Gate, of course, which had been on the Eastern side of the Wall and stood in the Death Strip for 28 years, the Prussian Victory Column with the four horses on top which Napolean had once stolen, Bebelplatz where the Nazi’s burned 20,000 books, the Soviet built TV-Tower, Humboldt University where Einstein for one studied, and the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtniskirche. As far as I could see anyway, this church is the only severely bomb damaged building still standing. The city wanted to raze it but the people said no so it has been saved and stands today as a memorial. It was a beautiful church and makes a moving memorial.

I was curious to see the former East Berlin. I wondered if it would look impoverished and shabby compared to what was West Berlin. The good news is that I could not see much of a difference. It’s there if one works at it, in the style of architecture for example, but since I don’t know which style is which I could not distinguish between the two areas that way. I am happy to say that it was impossible for me to discern which was which.

In the evening I was again lucky, in the right place at the right time. It was after dinner, I had just stopped to chat with Shirl when she learned that the friend going with her that evening couldn’t go after all. So she invited me to go with her to the Winter Garten for a Burlesque show. It was so fun! The theatre was near and we walked there in just minutes. It was lavishly decorated in red velvet with gleaming brass fixtures, there were doormen and ‘cigarette girls’ all in elaborate costume. The ceiling was a dark blue with twinkling lights for stars. We had excellent seats and we really enjoyed the spectacular acts, certainly the best of their kind that I’ve ever seen.

The second layover day in Berlin I spent doing mending, laundry, repacking and resting. Tomorrow is a 100-mile day. My bike is ready for the ride and locked among half a dozen others with four or five locks. The staff here has warned us that thieves may come in the night. Men in a van were seen ‘casing the joint’ today, the prediction is that they will be back tonight. Not a happy thought.

Goodbye, Alice 

DAY 223

Berlin to Senftenberg 

The thieves in the night did not come, every bike was still there. We were up early, no one wanting to be the last one to get her own lock off the set of bikes. My bike and five others were locked with multiple chains and locks hoping to discourage or at least delay any thieves.

Everyone wanted an early start because it was to be a long day, 158 km., a hundred miles or so, but as it turned out the route was even longer. A bridge was out and the detour added 11 km., my odometer read 184 km. at the end of the day. It was too much! (The actual mileage always differs from the DRG because of the estimates used on the DRG.) Joan and I were enroute for 12 hours, actually pedaling for 9 hours. Our average went down to 18 kph.

We weren’t far from Berlin when we found ourselves in what had been East Germany, still clearly not recovered. The houses were in a dilapidated condition, the roads were the worst since Baja, and the air smelled of sewage. The difference between east and west really has to be seen to be believed. The roads were the worst part, cobblestones or half bricks, they were pulverizing! We sure took a beating.

When we weren’t on cobblestones, we were in construction. Or it was raining. It was a hard cycling day. But it wasn’t all bad. We saw storks, one landing, one walking in a field close to the road - what bright red legs and beak it had, and two flying very low overhead. They made the long hard day worthwhile. So did the cemeteries. The cemeteries are beautiful, every grave is planted wth bright flowers, without exception. I suppose in America that that would be considered a nuisance by the lawn care people, but what a shame because our cemeteries are forlorn places by comparison.

Lunch was a treat too. We stopped at a little restaurant on a canal near Schlepzig. I ordered a sandwich which was four slices of very thin bread spread with something grey and greasy and served on two plates and here comes the good part - garnished with slices of dill pickle. Awesome dill pickle! I had noticed that a man in the cafe was putting pickles into plastic tubs so I thought pickles must be their specialty. (There were even little dill pickle key chains on the counter for sale.) I went back inside to tell them that the pickles were delicious - in sign language since I don’t have a word of German - and they were so tickled that they put one of each of four kinds of dill pickles on a plate for me. That was a lot of dill pickle! I tried to share them with Joan and then Linda who came along a little later but I had to eat most of the pickles myself. I didn’t dare leave any on the plate.

When we finally arrived at camp it was 7:35, dinner was to end at 7:30. We went straight there and found that they were still serving. It was not a good meal and people were complaining that a second glass of water or Coke had to be paid for, and there wasn’t a dessert and if you wanted ice cream you had to buy it. I didn’t tarry at dinner, I still had to pitch my tent and take a shower. Putting up that tent seemed like very hard work but finally it was done. I had to put it on hard packed stony soil as there were no better options. The DRG said, ‘We will have to spread out a little to make camping a reality in this campground.’ Then I went to the shower room with my token for a four minute shower. When the shower shut off I could hear a loud noise but couldn’t place what it was. After dressing I stepped into the corridor and saw what it was, a driving rainstorm! Other people were there, also caught by surprise, and with little choice but to wait for a break in the downpour.!

I hadn’t even seen it coming! I guess I was too tired to notice. When the lull came I decided to make a run for it but I couldn’t find my tent! Then it started raining again, increasing in intensity, and my tent was not to be seen! I found three other tents just like mine but not mine. It was dark by this time too and that didn’t help. Finally I spotted it, behind a car that had parked there while I was in the shower, completely hiding my tent. I tried to unzip the tent fly but the zipper stuck! While I struggled with the zipper I got wetter and wetter but finally succeeded and escaped into my tent. It was dry in there. The tent had not leaked but to be safe I put the foil emergency blanket under my mattress. Then I took off my pajamas because they were too wet to wear inside my sleeping bag. Later in the middle of the night I had to put them on again to make a trip to the WC, and there I discovered a hot air hand dryer so I just stood under it first this way and then that, until the pajamas were dry. 

Goodbye, Alice

Today's Music 





Norway Day 195 (Page 57)   Flam tour, Spassen Falls with Muse singing in Center

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