I am back from ten days in Europe and it feels like I have been gone for a lifetime. I started out by meeting my parents at Heathrow and we flew together to Stockholm. We arrived happy and jet lagged. After getting situated at the hotel which was centrally located we went exploring. My parents and I went to the National Museum, wandered the bridges and cobbled streets of the Old City.
The weather was nice and everyone was eating ice cream. Biking around. We have friends in Stockholm, Aina and Arnold Barton, so we spent some time in the city with them.
Arnold was the Swedish-American of the year and is a professor in the United States, but he spends half of his time in Stockholm since he is retired. His wife, Aina, is eighty years old and seems 21. She is lovely and plucky, and tells many funny jokes. We went to the National Library where they study and it was a gorgeous building. I went to an H and M, the ur of shopping. We also took a day trip on the canals to the Summer palace of the King and Queen of Sweden which was pastoral and lovely. Being with Arnold is like taking a class in history, and he gave us a tour of the small village of the royal grounds called Canton. He has published articles about it, and Canton was built to create new trade skills in Sweden at the turn of the Century such as silkworm farming and metallurgy. The King and Queen would import people from other countries who knew these trades and give them a place to stay while they educated the people on their skills. We stopped by a family who is the renovation architect of the Palace grounds and we had the fun of sitting in a turn of the century summer house that sits ten people on a hill. It was very romantic, educational and beautiful.
After that, my parents and I packed up and went to St. Petersburg Russia. Winston Churchill said it best when commenting on Russia. It is, he says, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” There is a certain exotic thrill of going to Russia. As the plane came down I took pictures of the countryside out the window and felt sort of like a spy.
Arriving at the airport and making it thorugh customs was smooth, but very scary. The russians are serious to the point of appearing hateful. They look each person who gets off the plane over with a steely glare. We were met at the airport by Alexandr who drove us to the hotel. On the way I saw the one statue left of Lenin still standing. At the Grand Hotel Europe there was a metal detector on the way in through the entrance and security gaurds. We settled into our very european styled rooms and my father and I left to take a walk down the Nevsky Prospect.
No one bothered us as we strolled the wide streets and canals. Lots of American stores (Subway sandwiches are all over everywhere I went) Max mara and other fancy brands. Lots of passenger boats on the canals. My father and I walked to the Hermitage and St. Peter’s Square which is gigantic. Then we circled around and went past the Church of the Spilled Blood (yeah they don’t skirt the issue) which is a gigantic sight to see!
The next day in St. Petersburg my parents and I were supposed to meet up with Boris, a friend of my parent’s friends. There was a mixup, so my parents and I went to the Hermitage and got a lifetime’s worth of art viewing in.
Afterwards we went and had a russian lunch (borscht and beef stroganoff!!!!!) and as we were leaving I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It was a bear. There was a man in the square with a baby brown bear and for 100 rubles (about three dollars american) you could hold the bear. I couldn’t stop myself. I sat on a little chair and he put the bear on my lap, it was about the size of a medium dog like a retriever. He started licking my hand and I petted his back. Soon my hand was in his mouth and he nibbled gently on me and my parents took a photo. The man told me it was a circus bear. It was amazing and lovely. The minute I walked away my parents made me wash my hands, so if I start acting weird, you should know I might have a strange russian bear disease.
That night in St. Petersburg, we had a fancy dinner and then went to see the Kirov ballet at the Marianski theatre. It was a gorgeous and ornate theatre. The ballet was The Madness of Don Quixote and it mixed modern and traditional elements. The whole thing was just fantastic. The next day we left, my parents and I split up: I went to Helsinki and my parents went back to Stockholm.
I arrived in Helsinki, which I heard is, “So cool it hurts.” Luckily I had my friend Heidi to help brunt the pain. I took a bus from the airport to the end of the line and as soon as I got off there was Heidi. She led me through the city to the appartment she was staying in (a family appartment which is in a great part of town) and we had her cousin Sari over for dinner. Afterwards we went to a few bars, The Super Bar is all about comics and superheros. Then off to Corona and Muscova which are owner by the filmmaker Aki Kurismaki (Leningrad Cowboys, The Man Without a Past). At the bar we met a gentleman named Erno, who became our new friend. The next day he was kind enough to give us a tour of the Design Museum which had an exhibit on a famous Merimekko designer Maije Isola (those bright red poppies you see copied at Ikea are hers.)
Afterwards Erno took me to his painting studio where we drank coffee and he showed me his paintings. I found this afternoon to be one of the most lovely ones I have ever had.
Spending time with Heidi was so delightful. We are old friends from San Francisco and we clicked with the same affection we have always had. While together we took long walks around the harbor and the weather was moody and much like San Francisco. We laughed hysterically at our in jokes and generally talked about old and new times. We also took a long walk around a lake in Helsinki and just commented on life, love, and happiness. There is nothing more dear to my heart than old friends.
My last evening in Helsinki was spent with Heidi and I making a little Indian feast, and then we met Erno at his local bar, called “Bob’s.” I think that listening to some AC/DC on the juke box got me ready to go back to the States. I am back, and all is well here in SF, well actually, I don’t have my luggage so things are not perfect, but I am hopeful.
The journey is the destination is my trip in a tight little package.