Friday, September 10, 2010

Paris: The Last Course

To coin a phrase from Hemingway, Paris is indeed an "Immovable Feast" and here are a few words about our last course, our last five days in this wondrous city.  Moving about in her belly by Metro is so amazing. We can traverse the city in minutes taking in different "desserts" at each stop.  We've been taking full advantage of this, visiting many different "quartiers" or what we would call neighborhoods, each with its own flavor. 

One of our favorite delicacies is the Pompideau Center, the museum of contemporary art, located in the "beaubourg" or "beautiful burg," an old neighborhood on the right bank which used to be "Les Halles" the huge central farmers market of Paris.  Transformed in the 80's into a huge modern shopping mall, with its center being, the contraversial Centre Pompideau---controversial only because of the new architectural form.
All of the usual infrastructure of a building is exposed on the exterior and in bright primary colors (I hope to figure out how to upload photos into my blog soon---bear with me!).  So one beholds a colorful building of huge pipes twisting here and there and even forming the escalator by which one enters the edifice!  We find it quite a fun adventure.  The permanent collection consists of 20th-21st century French art: such as works by Picasso, the Delauneys,Modigliani, Brancusi, etc.  The temporary exhibitions are always food for thought. This month we had the pleasure of visiting the "Elle" (meaning "she") exhibit, the largest ever exhibit of Women artists represented in the huge collection.  It attempts to make up for the lack of credit women artists  have been given in the past in art history tomes, museums and galleries.  After two and half hours we were "full" and enjoyed stepping out into the fresh air and the charming big square where one sees mimes and musicians performing and tourists and locals taking photos.  The nearby Rambuteau square with its fountains and Nikki Saint Phalle sculptures is always fun to see there.  We met our friends on the square and all enjoyed strolling  along the rue Rambuteau walking street to one of our favorite restaurants, Leon de Bruxelles, for dinner.  Leon is known for it's Main Course, Moules avec Frites, Mussels with French fries and we always love returning to one in this chain of restaurants which extends throughout France.  Originally from Brussels, Leon's other specialty is Belgium beer of which I am no specialist but know it goes well with the moules and frits.  We sat outside under a colorful awning and enjoyed our meal and conversation with our friends, before heading back on the metro to our apartments.  Fortunately, R and J were staying near to our neighborhood so we could take the same metro and said our goodbye's as they got off at their stop, two stops before ours.  They had to leave the next day for England.

We were alerted by the news Monday night that Paris was to have a huge Greve, Strike, the next day by all the transportation workers: the metros and bus systems would be shut down and the city would come to a halt. Our friends had to hustle to make reservations to get to the airport by shuttle. Fortunately, we did not have to worry as we knew we could always walk to the places we wanted to go and this sort of thing happens notoriously in France---Vive la liberte and independence! The French have no problem expressing when they are unhappy with their government and they take to the streets "en masse".  This time it was about President Sarkozy's failure to support the working classes demand to keep retirement age at 60.  His government is attempting to cut back the financial drain on the country's budget and past generous social system, by upping the age of retirement of all workers to 62. There were several other issues as well and the next day we were to see the results of the anger.  As we got off the metro (still running by the way, at least from our neighborhood)on our way to the Gare de Lyon, one of the many big train stations in Paris, we walked out into huge crowds gathering at the Bastille, an historical landmark in Paris for the French Revolution and the place where many manifestations, demonstrations, take place.  We were swept up in the crowd and made our way to the huge square where thousands adorned with stickers which said "Je lutte des classes" indicating the ongoing "class struggle" which we in America tend to deny or ignore.  There were also banners and placards  representing the various political factions on the left, with lists of their complaints, etc. A defile, parade of marchers was making its way up the boulevards ending in the square and it was fun to be part of the luckily mostly jovial, not angry crowd.  Everyone in Paris seemed to be in solidarity with the wishes of the workers.  I'm sure we missed the many who were not. 

Once, we got through the crowds, we made our way to the Gare de Lyon to check into baggage lockers hoping to leave one of our two suitcases there while in Turkey to reclaim when we return to France, to go on by train to Claremont Ferrand, an area east of Paris, where we plan to visit our good friends Guy and Marie Oziol. Unfortunately, we learned it would be way too costly to leave our suitcase in a locker for two weeks so off we went to solve that dilemma later, and enjoy another sunny day exploring one of our favorite coins, the Marais.  Literally this word means "the Marsh" which evidently it once was many hundreds of years ago only to be transformed into a neighborhood of charming "hotels", the French name for the 17th and 18th century mansions that line the small cobblestoned streets of this quartier.  The street names such as "rue de Temple" also, give it away as the former Jewish quarter of Paris where the clever Jewish entrepreneurs, jewelers, and other tradespeople worked and lived.  One can find delicious "falaful and tabouli" in small restaurants here as well as yummy pita, matzah and other delicacies from the Yiddish bakeries and delicatessans.  It is also the neighborhood of the Picasso Museum and many other delightful centers of culture.  We enjoyed just being "flaneurs", strolling the streets, people watching and soaking up the warm sunshine in a small square where we stopped to picnic. We had discovered a new small park nearby a few days before, called the "Jardin de L'Hotel de Sens" a beautiful little jewel in front of a old mansion of the past Archbishop of Sens, and now a famous bibliotecque, library with a vast archive of books on the  fine and decorative arts.  The park is graced with flower beds combining colorful flora and vegetables such as huge burgundy leafed chard intermixed in the most creative ways.  Small gravel paths divide this parterre and one can sit and read, picnic or just muse on the park benches that line the paths.  We loved stopping at the end of the day to do just that for a short while before getting onto the metro with its flury of passengers coming home from work at the end of the day. .  The metro at rush hour is quite an adventure!

On Wednesday, we got up early, rushed to prepare our day's picnic lunch, stowed it away along with umbrella, water bottle and sweaters (in case we should have a change in weather as is frequently the case in Paris just like it is in Portland) and took off for the metro to travel across the city to Montmartre, the highest hills of Paris where the Sacre Coeur, the lovely old white Basilica graces the highest point of all.  We were going to join a walking tour we had learned about from a flyer we picked up at Shakespeare and Co. English bookstore a few days before.  It sounded fun and promised to fill our heads with more knowledge about this favored area of Paris. We arrived, a bit breathless, just in time to meet Chris, our Englishman tour guide who has lived in Paris for 14 years and possessed not only knowledge of the area but a wonderful sense of humor, two requirements for a tour guide.  We spent the next two hours Chris-crossing the neighborhood (no pun indended) and learning many fascinating details of life in the "Belle Epoch" of Paris' Montmartre, where artists such as Toulouse Lautrec, Van Gogh, Renoir and others frequented the many bistrots, cabarets and brothels.  Chris was full of interesting and humourous anecdotes and we enjoyed them all. We also got our exercise climbing the many hilly streets of the area all built up on gypsum a product which was natural to the area and formed a basis of a once successful industry in this otherwise poor and working class area.  It is also the home of the famous Moulin Rouge and the first nightclub of its nature, the Moulin de Gallette.  The story goes that the local mill owner wanted to increase his coffers a bit and began to offer wine to those who visited his mill (this being an agricultural area on the once, "outskirts" of the city, grain as well as gypsum were products of the economy).  The wine was so poor he offered "gallettes", small biscuits or what we would call "crackers" to wash it down, thus the name "Moulin des Galettes."  The famous "Moulin Rouge" with its cancan dancers followed.   We also learned the origin of the cancan---quite a fun story, too long to include here but we know those of you who are interested will probably find some form of explanation on the internet and we'll compare notes when we get home. 

After our tour we wound our way down some small narrow stairs to the street below where Chris had told us there was a good restaurant.  We stopped along the steps realizing it was another small hillside park where we found a sheltered bench and had our picnic lunch.  Picnicing is a good way to save money in Paris where "le lunch" can add up to astronomical bills.  Instead we opt for a coffee afterwards at a small salon de the or cafe, which is exactly what we did and I even ordered one of my favorite "crepes" for dessert. Poor Gary, with his gluten allergy,had to resist. .

We proceeded back towards the metro, only to turn the corner to find another delight, Les Halles de St. Pierre, a musee, I had read about and wanted to visit.  it had begun to shower lightly and this was the perfect time to slip indoors to see more treasures for the eyes.  The museum, housed in a former covered market with convex opaque glass ceiling and charming interior, is now the exhibitionn space for "Art Naif" or what we might call  "Primitive Art" known by the other name "Art Brut."  The current exhibition was of numerous works by Japanese "artists" who suffer from autism and other developemental abilities,  but are truly the most creative of society.  We were enthralled by the originally conceived works of art often made out of items recycled and representing many different media such as clay, paint, permanent marking pens, chalk, graphite and found objects.  Two hours later we walked out entirely "full" again from this experience.  Les Halles de St. Pierre also has a wonderful bookstore and we took the opportunity to buy a few interesting post cards of the show which we will share later. We stopped at the wine shop in our neighborhood once we descended the metro and bought one of Gary's favorite wines, "Cahors" from the region of Le Lot in southwestern France. I picked up a croissant at the Boulanger for the next morning and we walked back to our apartment for an evening of reminicing over dinner and wine about our nice day.  I made some ratatoulle, an easy dinner and we topped it off with fruit and our favorite French cheeses, "bleu d'auvernge, a yummy "chevre" (goats cheese) and a bit of Comte, a hard cheese something like a mild cheddar. 

Thursday, we got up and after petit dejeuner, took off for the far Northeast of Paris by metro to explore the huge 20 hectare park we had read about, called Les Buttes Chaumont. What a spectacular park, with its cascade, beautiful large lake and many winding paths lined with an amazing variety of flora and trees, pines, oaks, and giant chestnuts, leaves turning color now forwarning us that autumne is around the bend. We found some good photo ops and then the perfect spot for our picnic before the weather suddenly turned a bit breezy and cool, so we made our way by bus this time (we're still leaning the bus system ---sometimes it's nice to be above ground when exploring the city to see all of its many sights that we sometimes miss on the metro).  We got off near the Pont Neuf, the "new bridge" which is actually the oldest bridge in Paris and walked a ways before once again getting on the bus to continue to the Rive Gauch, the left bank also, known as the Latin Quarter.  From there we walked to the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens, crossed them and stopped just a half hour before closing at one of the many small "free" Paris museums, the Musee Zadkine.  Warning:  they are only free when there isn't a special temporary exhibition mixed in with the permanent collection.  We were chagrined that we had to pay 4 Euros for just a half an hour to see this sculpture collection but it was worth it.  The museum is the former home of a famous 20th century Russian emigre, Zadkine, who created in a kind of "cubist" style an amazing number of sculptures in wood, stone and clay, some which are now gracing cities such as Amsterdam and Berlin.  The guest artist was also an emigre, in this case from China, escaping the creative repression of the Cultural Revolution and counter revolution..  His large sculptures filling the small rooms of the museum were very interesting and reflected in many ways, the style of Zadkine. 

As we left the museum and headed towards a small hotel off the Boulevard Saint Michelle we had a cloud burst and got soaked having forgotten our umbrellas.  We slipped into a Monoprix (like a Fred Meyers at home) and purchased a 14 euro umbrella to add to our collection. Then we proceeded to the hotel where we hoped to book a reservation for our last night in Paris before leaving for home in October (we plan on returning to France at the end of our two week visit to Turkey and will visit with friends in Auvergne and in Poitiers where my dear French "sister" Michelle, lives).  We have to come back to Paris by train the day before our flight leaves DeGaulle airport as we cannot get an early enough train from Poitiers to make our connection---so this offers us an excuse for a last "hurrah" in Paris!  Plus, we finally figured out a place where we could leave our extra suitcase so we would not have to drag it along through Turkey.  The hotel graciously offered to store it for us until we come back to Paris.  Voila!  There's always a solution to a problem if you just look hard enough---and if you happen to be in the very kind and clever city of Paris!

We leave tomorrow, not totally satiated with Paris delights but having full tummies until the next visit and looking forward to our next adventures in Turkey.  Our flight to Istanbul is just 3.5 hours and we know we will uncover an amazing new world in the ancient crossroads of civilizations. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Paris:An Immovable Feast

Bonjour! Alas, we arrived in Paris last Wednesday night after a long day of airports and flights. Though the flights from Stockholm to Copenhagen and from Copenhagen to Paris, were only slightly over an hour each, the two hour waits between each and then the long wait at Charles DeGaulle airport for the shuttle made our day long and arduous. We dropped our stuff at the door of our apartment on the rue d'Italie and collapsed on the couch, happy to have finally arrived in Sher's favorite city of the world---well, Gary likes it very much, too. C'est magnifique, as they say.

It was so good to be back at what we term our "pied a terre" in Paris, a small but lovely apartment we rent from friends. It is ideally situated in Paris' 13th arrondissement (meaning neighborhood) southeast of the river Seine and quite near to everything we need, including a metro stop which can whisk us off to where ever we wish to go in this wondrous city.

We were starved having not eaten since our early breakfast in Stockholm, so we headed out at 9 pm in search of a local restaurant and bravo, three blocks from our apartment was a delightful Japanese restaurant packed with people, alerting us that it was a good one---the French are very selective about their food! Gary loves Japanese cuisine and so we were very happy with a delicious and quite reasonably priced meal. The walk back was pleasant, the weather balmy and the lights of Paris sparkling. We strolled along the Avenue d'Italie full of interesting things to see, others strolling, brightly lit sidewalk cafes where people were chatting over rich expresso coffee or late night drinks---lots to see and enjoy. When we got back, we climbed the building’s circular stairway to our 4th floor abode, walked in and dropped into our comfy bed to fall fast asleep. We awoke to the sound of the city coming awake, vehicles on the street below, neighbors opening their shutters (volets) to look out upon a new day and soft footsteps on the carpeted stairway as our neighbors went off to work. We quickly dressed as we knew it was market day on the Avenue and we wanted to stock up on provisions. Shopping in the neighborhood open markets is always a fun experience, watching people disputing the price with the clever marketers, friends running into each other and discussing the news of the day, chatting about the freshness of the legumes and fruits, vegetables and fruits. In our neighborhood it is especially interesting and colorful as we live in a very ethnic area with most of the sellers being of Arabic origin, clients being Asian, African and Middle Eastern as well as middleclass French caucasions. One hears not only French but a mélange of other tongues. We loved picking out fresh melons, delicious fresh strawberries, apples and a variety of fresh veggies. We stopped at the poisonerie, the fish market and bought some fresh dorade filets and then proceeded down the street to the Monoprix (France’s biggest supermarket chain) to buy our other needs such as dairy products, jam, a couple of canned goods, etc. Of course, we had to stop for a baguette and pain de siegle. Luckily later that day we found a “Bio” shop (health food shop) where we found a big variety of gluten free foods, breads and sweets for Gary.

We returned to the apartment to fill our cupboards and frig. Feeling quite hungry by that time, we prepared a delicious lunch of roasted chicken and potatoes, spinach salad with pears and walnuts and fresh strawberries for dessert. Quite satisfied, we left to explore the neighborhood called “La Mouff” not far from us where our friends, Rosalie and Jack, who we met in Mexico last year, were going to be staying. They rented a small apartment there and asked us to take a look. They arrived on Friday and we shared 4 fun days together. “La Mouff” is a fun neighborhood known for its excellent outside market which we found to be a bit higher priced than ours, and its charming small restaurants, shops and the La Place Contrascarp where we stopped for an afternoon aperitif ---Gary had a “martini”,not the kind you think but a popular liquer like aperitif and I had a glass of porto (like sherry). We sat there for an hour watching passers by and enjoying looking out to the center of the square where there was a lovely fountain and small garden as well as a fun view of 5 or 6 massage “artists” plying there trade, inviting passersby to stop for a 10 minute massage. They had small stools where the clients would sit and the masseuses would then stand behind giving them back, neck and head massages. We decided we’d maybe take advantage of that on another day when and if we felt more stressed. We were feeling quite relaxed enjoying the people watching and just ambling along the narrow cobblestoned streets lined with old 17th century beautiful buildings.

Friday morning Rosalie called and let us know that they had arrived and we arranged to meet up at the Place de Vosges, the oldest square n Paris and one of my favorites. We brought a picnic lunch and enjoyed sitting on the central park of the square surrounded by beautiful old arcades. Victor Hugo once lived in one of the apartments above this square as well as the female French writer, Colette. After lunch we visited the apartment of Victor Hugo, author of “Les Miserables” amongst other famous works. The house is now a museum dedicated to the memory of this great ecrivain.

We walked from there to the Louvre where Rosalie and Jack wanted to visit an exhibition. We opted out as we have been to the Louvre many times in the past. Instead we returned to our apartment by the metro and enjoyed a little rest and time to prepare a birthday dinner for Jack and Gary who both have late August birthdays. Our friends arrived at 8:30 and we proceeded to enjoy dinner together. We ended the evening with French chocolate and coffee. Tired, but glad as we are to be in Paris, Rosalie and Jack said bon nuit and set off for their apartment, just two metro stops away.

The next two days were fun filled with visits to the Institued de Monde Arab, a fascinating museum of the Arab culture informed by the richness of the Muslim culture and exhibiting many artifacts of great interest to us, since we will soon be leaving for Turkey. We walked along the Quais on the River Seine, took a boatride on the Seine, strolled in the Latin Quarter, stopping to peruse a few books at Shakespeare and Company, one of the original and most famous English language bookstores in Paris. We took photos of the scenes of everything beautiful and interesting and ate at a small café on the rue Moufftard near our friends’ apartment, coming home tired and satisfied each night.

Today Gary and I went to the Centre Pompidou, better known as “Beaubourg”, the center for contemporary art, famous not only for its collections of art but also for its once controversial architecture. After 3 and a half hours of visual stimulation we were happy to leave the museum and meet our friends for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, a chain, believe it or not, known as “Leon de Bruxelles,” specializing in mussels with French fries (moules and pommes frites). Topped off with a few glasses of good wine and we rolled home on the metro quite full and happy. When our underground train stopped at the point where Rosalie and Jack had to get off, we all hugged and said adieu and we wished them a continuing good journey. Rosalie’s father lives in England and they are going there to visit him.

We have enjoyed superb weather, ranging from 70F to 80F degrees every day. Today, for the first time, it was a bit overcast. Tomorrow showers are predicted but we are planning to take up the art of flanerie defined as strolling, even if it means pulling out our umbrellas. There is no other place better than Paris to practice aimless strolling, where virtually every district is beautiful, alluring and full of unsuspected delights. Then, of course, there are those delightful sidewalk cafes where we can stop for a coffee or a dubonnet. Au revoir for now. There is more to come.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Stockholm: city of islands

Stockholm, City of Islands

We arrived at the Bromma airport in Stockholm, on time at about 1:15. There was a power outage at the airport which held up the baggage carrousel and after much complaining by fellow passengers and a bit of frustration on our part as well, we finally retrieved our two suitcases. Thank goodness for “wheelies,” today’s wonderful suitcases with wheels. We had a long trek out of the airport, up a ramp to the bus stop only to learn that the bus into the city had left and a new one wouldn’t be there for another hour. We were feeling a bit anxious as we were to meet my friend, Lynn (old highschool chum, married to a Swede for the past 45 years) at 4 p.m. at afChapman, the hostel where we had booked our reservation. Luckily, the driver of another bus took pity on us and told us and other delayed passengers to jump aboard. All turned out well and we arrived at our destination on time. Lynn was there waiting for us and we were delighted to reunite. We have seen each other on many occasions over the years, with her trips to the U.S. but it had been 4 years since out last get together. She and her husband live very far north in Luleo, Sweden, so she was gracious to come down to Stockholm to meet us. She is the one who had suggested we stay at the hostel which is on an old schooner sitting in a beautiful inlet of the Baltic sea on the island of Skeppsholmen, a perfect location for seeing all the key sights of Stockholm. Our room was a small 6’x 8’ ships cabin with a port hole, sink, small desk and chair and a top and bottom bunk. The bathroom was just down the hall a short way. We had all that for a mere 80 SEK (Swedish Kroners), about $100 a night---imagine what a hotel room would have been. Not only are they much more expensive but it was nearly impossible to find one as there was a major international medical convention going on in Stockholm that week. We were delighted with our lodgings and also with the hearty Swedish breakfast we got each morning for about another $6, especially since we were able to pilfer extra rolls, cheese, tomatoes and ham for sandwiches for our picnic lunches. Gary was delighted to find they had Glutin free bread for toast and even offered him nice chewy rolls which were GF.

Lynn took us on a tour of the old town section of Stockholm, Gamla Stan . To get there we crossed a bridge and marveled at the many boats, beautiful old wood ones as well as sleek modern yachts lined up along the quais. Stockholm is a city of islands, 14 in all, on the Baltic Sea and on the biggest lake in Sweden, Melaren.. Walking past the royal Palace and the Swedish Parliament building to the the narrow cobbled streets of Gamla Stan, was like going back four hundred years in time. The quaint iron signs illustrating the shops’ specialty, the small alleyways and the turreted buildings surrounding us were all enticing reminders that we were in the old world though at the same time, in a very modern and progressive city. We began to call it the “land of beautiful people” for everywhere we looked the people seemed slim, fit and beautiful, walking briskly along the streets (that’s the key---like all Europeans they walk a lot, using public transportation, it sometimes seems, more than private cars---the bus system is easy to use as well as the tram and the underground.) Gary’s head was spinning admiring the tall and beautiful blue eyed blonds everywhere, and I didn’t find the men much less attractive!

We found a charming and small restaurant where we were glad to finally sit down and have dinner after our long day of walking and exploring. The meal was simple, fish and boiled potatoes but the final bill was shocking at more than $20 each. We realized we would have to watch our pocketbook and take advantage of picnic lunches. We walked back to our ship, afChapman and snuggled down in our bunks, feeling the soft listing of the boat as we drifted off into a deep sleep.

Our second day in Stockholm we met Lynn at the nearby museum where she had bought tickets for us to visit the Terra Cotta Soldiers of China, an exhibit we had seen years ago in Portland shortly after the unearthing of this ancient treasure trove. Seeing it now was twice as good, for two reasons: one, they have since unearthed and put on exhibit worldwide, many additional finds, and two, the exhibition was held in one of the many underground caves of Stockholm. The old medieval buildings often had a stone understory. Going underground to see the Chinese treasures created a great feeling of being there at the time when they were first discovered by archeologists in the 80’s . The most recent finds in the display were in the early 2000’s.

After viewing the exhibit we took a long, long walk to another park like island called Djurgarden where we visited Skansen, one of two must see sights recommended by my cousin, Torkel. Lynn agreed. Skansen is a model village of the past which occupies a huge area of the island. One can visit old craftsmen’s shops where the workers wear the clothing of the past and work with old tools to make furniture, saddles, iron works, glass, etc. Streets wind in and out and one sees houses and buildings, many of them originals moved here from other parts of Sweden. The four hours we spent there flew by and we stopped only for a fifteen minute picnic break on a park bench. By the time we left it was 6:00 and we headed back to Gamla Stan for dinner and then back to our schooner, tired but satisfied after a long day getting to know the beautiful city of Stockholm. The only negative thing was that for the first two days, the weather was overcast and very chilly, with a drizzle here and there, much like Portland weather in the fall. By our last day, the sun came out full force and we enjoyed seeing more sights, especially the Vasa Museum where we viewed a famous ship built in the1620’s, commissioned by King Gustave II Adolf for his royal fleet he was sending to fight the Poles over a land battle. Though Sweden has not been at war since the mid-1800’s her past is not one of the peaceful nation she is today. The Vasa is a fascinating icon of Swedish history, as after two years of being built to represent all the power and prowess of the Swedish empire with beautiful carvings and ornate decoration, this 60 meter long wooden sailing ship came to a fateful end. On 10 August 1648, Vasa set sail on her maiden voyage and sank in the Stockholm harbor. The wreck ws salvaged in 1961 after 333 years under the sea. The reconstructed vessel, 95 percent original, is magnificent to behold in the beautiful museum designed just to house her and looking like a huge metal vessel itself. It offers a unique insight into early 17th century Sweden.

Our last day in Stockholm, Lynn, Gary and I took a boat tour around the city under all it’s many bridges and crossing over from Baltic Sea to freshwater through a series of locks. Afterwards, we met my cousin’s 24 year old daughter, Sofia, who had not been able to join us for the party in Blekinge. She is a beautiful and smart young woman who works as an auditor of a big insurance firm in Stockholm. She was warm and vivacious and we enjoyed getting an opportunity to meet and talk with her. That night Michael, Lynn’s son who is an architect and designer in Stockholm, met us for dinner back at our hostel on the ship. We found the small café there to have the best meals we had tasted and enjoyed eating their “grilled char” a type of freshwater trout well prepared with boiled potatoes and vegetables. It was great to see Michael again. He had visited us in Portland 20 years ago when he was a young man of 2l. Now the father of an eight year old little girl, he is happily looking forward to his upcoming wedding. He and the mother of his daughter divorced a few years ago. We enjoyed hearing about his work, and his inventions. He is an ambitious inventor and has a strong creative streak. We also discussed Swedish politics, and the feelings of Swedes about their “socialist” system which means high taxes but brings many excellent benefits like outstanding health care, no homeless on the streets, and free higher education. Sweden is having an election in the next 2 weeks and most Swedes we talked to were hoping to reinstate the coalition government they have had for the past four years. They have fared well in spite of the economic bust of 2008 and have held unemployment at a low, compared to the US and other EU nations, of 6 %.

We ended our Stockholm visits with wine, beer and Swedish toasts, “Skol” and lots of hugs from Lynn and Michael. Our last night in our ship’s cabin was a restless one as we were excited about the next leg of our journey, Paris