Monthly Archives: May 2014

What’s a 47-Letter Word For ‘Up’?

Winter Street Scene, Helsinki, Finland

Winter Street Scene, Helsinki, Finland

I’ve got nothing against the Finns. During my brief sojourn in Finland they were nothing if not polite, helpful and friendly. Their language however, is a different story. I have never seen so many characters in one paragraph than I did in Helsinki during December of 2011. Considering I arrived in the morning after an overnight flight from JFK, it is conceivable that my impressions were tainted by the effects of jet lag. But there’s no way around it: Finnish is a difficult language with an abundance of letters in seemingly every word. And don’t even get me started on the double vowels. For the rest of the trip, any time a waiter or customs official seemed to be taking a long time to do whatever it is they were doing, it inevitably led to one of us saying, “He’s probably doing a Finnish crossword puzzle,” which would likely use up the majority of daylight hours your average Finn has available in the winter months. I shudder to think at what a classified ad would cost. Probably $100 just to say: For Sale.

 

IMG_6536Linguistics aside, the rest of my Finnish experience was rather uncomplicated and simple. A 20-30 minute bus ride from Vantaa Airport brings you to the heart of Helsinki. Cable cars compete with other traffic through an architectural mix of modern and classic buildings all with that hard to describe Scandinavian look. The subway is clean and easy to navigate, with underground shopping venues that seemed a particularly wise location in December.

 

A Quiet Corner of Soumenlinna Fortress

A Quiet Corner of Soumenlinna Fortress

Just a short ferry ride from the harbor is a cluster of islands that make up one of the world’s largest maritime forts, the Soumenlinna Fortress. This World Heritage Site was good for a few hours of meandering the ramparts, giant cannons and support buildings, and if there were a few extraneous vowels, no one seemed to mind. When I left for India later that evening, I drifted off to sleep imagining what Wheel of Fortune would be like in Finland. (Contestant: I’d like to buy an ‘A’. Pat Sajack: There are 29 A’s)

 

My return voyage also brought me through Helsinki for one night, allowing me some time to do some shopping and walk the amazingly orderly streets, leading us to muse at how ironic it would be to navigate the traffic chaos of India only to get run over in a Finnish crosswalk. It also allowed me to participate in the quintessential Finnish experience of a hot sauna, which basically consisted of me sitting in a steamy wood-paneled room with five naked Finnish men. To combat the absurdity of the scene, I directed my eyes to the floor and my mind to trying to decipher what they were saying along with trying to conceive exactly what sound thirteen consecutive ‘A’s’ would make. When I felt my pores had released enough toxins, I politely gathered up the damp complimentary butt napkin you take in with you, and bid them all good night.

 

It’s been several years since my jitney to Helsinki, and while I don’t see a particular reason to return, I am glad that I saw it. I’m sure it is even better in the spring and summer months when the weather is warm and the days are as long as the words. There might even be enough time for a crossword puzzle or two. Just please…no more vowels!

Categories: Anecdotes, Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Death, Taxes & The Pyramids

Pyramid Perfection

Pyramid Perfection

It’s been nearly 19 years since I’ve visited the Pyramids at Giza, and at first I was hesitant about writing about them. After all, a lot can change in 19 years. Unless of course, you’re the Pyramids, where 19 years would barely be a drop in the bucket if only they saw any rain.

Yes, in an ever-changing world there are few constants that you can count on these days. Death and taxes hog the top two spots on that list, but the Pyramids are a close third when it comes to things that will not change while this world exists. Of the three, I like the Pyramids the best.

The land of Egypt, where they’ve resided for some five thousand years is sadly a hotbed of political unrest at the time of my writing. It’s a shame, because seeing these icons firsthand–arguably among the most recognizable structures on the planet–still counts as one of my most thrilling travel moments.

It was a stupidly hot afternoon in October 1995, and despite the air conditioned bus, the heat and fatigue were getting to me. I remember being in a mental haze as we made our way through the urban sprawl of Cairo when abruptly, from behind a building I saw them, looking exactly as they appeared in photographs I had seen my entire life. A surge of adrenaline cleared my stupor, forcing me to sit up in my seat and just stare out the window until it was time to get off the bus for lunch.

I remember feeling impatient as our tour group took their time eating and then shopping in one of many prearranged souvenir stops such tours inevitably make. Next we had to sit through our guide’s spiel at a museum housing an ancient funeral barge where the floors were extra slippery. Sure it all was interesting, but what I really wanted to see was just outside.

Sunset over Giza

Sunset over Giza

Finally it was time for a camel ride out to the Pyramids, and I enjoyed it as much as anyone could with a camel jockey hounding me incessantly for an extra tip. I would have paid him twice as much earlier just to shut up had I known what I was in for. Up close, I was struck at how much larger they were than I had imagined, never quite perceiving the sense of scale until I was standing next to one feeling dwarfed by the massive blocks baking in the sun. I recall climbing up a few levels and marveling at the thought that at 20 years old I had already scratched off a huge item from my bucket list even before the term bucket list was in common usage.

Leveling Up Egyptian Style

Leveling Up Egyptian Style

When it was time to go inside, I really didn’t know what to expect. We descended a very short tunnel requiring non-little people to bend at the waist, then ascended a similar distance before emerging into a surprisingly small chamber, rather plain and empty aside from a sarcophagus notch at the far end. Considering the majesty of the edifice around it, it felt a bit anticlimactic that there were none of the intricate hieroglyphs adorning almost every flat surface elsewhere in the country. But still, I was in the Great Pyramid. I could see ancient wall treatments another time.

Back outside we were taken to a lookout point for some great photo ops and a chance to check out the nearby Sphinx, which as opposed to the pyramids, seemed distinctly smaller than I had envisioned. As the sun set behind these most famous landmarks, the way it had for innumerable times before that (and since), I’m glad I had the wherewithal back then to appreciate that this scene was something special. The fact that I’m writing about it 19 years later just serves to prove my point.

I image there must be some changes since I visited. I imagine the gritty neighborhoods that surrounded the area back then have expanded. I suppose the camel jockeys are hawking their clients for tips with an even greater sense of urgency. And I imagine the throngs that came to see them each day have waned in the current political instability. But I am quite certain that what has not changed, are the Pyramids themselves, standing at their posts like sentinels of the desert the same as they have for thousands of years. And I’m sure they will continue to do just that until the world ends. Death and taxes can go suck an egg.

Have you been to the Pyramids? Leave a comment about your first impression.

Categories: Anecdotes, Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , ,

And the Nominees For Best Travel Blog That (Almost) Nobody Has Heard of Are . . .

In what appears through preliminary Google research to be a rite of passage for new-ish bloggers, I have been nominated to receive the ethereal Liebster Award, courtesy of not just one but two fellow bloggers: Sarah Virginia at http://svdeaner.wordpress.com/ and the well-written blog at http://loudthoughtsvoicedout.wordpress.com/. Much obliged for the honor and consideration.

For my readers, this post is a bit different than the normal travel-themed shtick I share, as there are some rules that must be observed for nominees. They are, and I quote:

“The Liebster Award is awarded to bloggers with under 200 followers to try to promote their blog a little and also bring together a community of bloggers. The rules of the competition are as follows:

The nominated user must provide a link back to the person who nominated them (me). Provide 11 facts about yourself. Answer 11 question set by the person who nominated you. Choose 11 more people and ask them 11 questions!”

I will do my best to satisfy these requirements, and any of you wishing to know more about the man behind the map should now receive more than you’ve bargained for. So, without further ado, my 11 facts that might not be evident from my writings:

1) In addition to my expertise in the travel field, I have been a full-time volunteer minister for 20 years and know what it means to enjoy the ‘greater joy of giving’.

2) Despite a childhood of abundant clumsiness, I’ve never broken a bone in my body (and wish to keep it that way).

3) I married a girl who is my perfect compliment–meaning she’s my complete opposite and that’s why it has worked for the past 15 years

4) When I was 21 I wrote and published a novel called The Gardens of Sir Verity. which I later revised and published in eBook and Kindle (mobi) format to even less commercial success than the first time!

5) My relationships are my most important possessions.

6) Every material item that means something to me can fit into a backpack.

7) I love making people laugh. I’m still working toward my lifetime goal of making someone laugh so hard that they pee themselves.

8) Also at 21 I wrote, produced, starred in, and edited an amateur movie called J.P. Chance and the Case of the Black Widows.

9) I wrote a second and as-yet unpublished novel called The Pontine Riddles, set on the Italian island my wife’s family is from.

10) I was completely retarded when it came to home improvement until I got a house. Now I handle most renovations myself.

11) Though my travel writing is a labor of love, I wish I had more followers to share it with. Still hoping for my ‘big break’…

Now to answer the obligatory questions. Sarah first:

1) Who is your favorite author? Tie between Jack McDevitt and Orson Scott Card.

2. Are you a dog or a cat person? Both and then some

3. If you could have one movie on a desert island, what would it be? Hoosiers. I’m not even a basketball fan but I just love the characters,story and soundtrack.

4. Where would your dream vacation be? Tough question since I’ve already taken most of my ‘dream’ vacations. On my short list is Angor Wat in Cambodia, Petra in Jordan, and Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania. Madagascar & Reunion Island would be pretty cool as well.

5. If you could write for any magazine in the world, which would you choose? National Geographic Traveler, obviously.

6. Someone hands you $1,000. What would you do with it? Hand it to my wife if I know what’s good for me.

7. What comes to mind when you think of homeless people? The injustice of this world’s system of things.

8. If you could go back in time and meet anyone, who would you want to meet and why? Jesus, because, well, its Jesus and I’d like to hear things from the source.

9. What is your favorite past time? Scuba Diving

10. What kind of music do you love? I love all kinds but have a special yen for movie and TV original scores

11. If you could be really incredibly amazing at just one thing, what would you choose? The most amazing husband, because my wife deserves it.

And now questions from LoudThoughtsVoicedOut:

1. Why do you blog? For me, an experience cannot be fully appreciated unless it is shared. Blogging is my platform.

2. What’s your favorite book, ever? For non-fiction, the Bible. For fiction, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

3. If you could choose between a private island and the most expensive house/apartment in New York, what would you pick? Hands down, the private island.

4. Your dream job would be..? Travel writer on assignment oversees.

5. If you were given a publishing deal, what would you write a book about? I’d probably just have my as-yet unpublished novel The Pontine Riddles published. And then write sequels using the characters.

6. Your favorite color? Don’t have one. All depends on the context.

7. One thing you want to do before the year ends? Visit more countries.

8. If you were given a billion dollars with only one day to spend it all and no sign or trace of it to be left behind, what would you? Fly everyone I care about first class to the Seychelles and rent an island for a huge party. With the time zone changes I just might be able to do it.

9. A movie you believe every person should watch at least once in their lifetime? The Princess Bride. Next question.

10. Your favorite author? As mentioned in the last set, a tie between Jack McDevitt and Orson Scott Card.

11. Your childhood hero? No real heroes, but plenty of great role models.

It is at this point that I must nominate other blogs I follow. Since I don’t follow that many with under 200 followers, I will spread the love to some that I’ve been fortunate enough to chance upon:

http://maiainplaya.com/

http://inkytavern.wordpress.com/

http://strangelybloggd.wordpress.com/

http://traveltalesandstuff.com/

The questions for those I have nominated:

1) What do you picture yourself doing 5 years from now?

2) Who is the person that has had the greatest influence on your life?

3) If you were given a blank ticket good on any airline, where would you go and why?

4) What makes you sadder than anything else?

5) What was the last kind act you did for someone?

6) Do you consider yourself a person open to new ideas?

7) What was the single coolest experience in your life?

8) Would you still write if no one else could see what you wrote?

9) To your mind, what would you need to accomplish to consider yourself successful in life?

10) Who is the best ‘unknown’ author that you’ve read?

11) Would you be willing to change your thoughts and behavior if your life were in the balance?

As a nominee the rules are that you post your own facts/answers/nominees/questions on your blog and leave a link in my comments so I check on what you wrote.

This concludes the soul-bearing portion of our program. I want to take this opportunity to thank my small core of loyal readers. Sure my numbers are pathetic, but the fact that someone reads what I write is incentive to press on. More to come shortly…

Categories: Anecdotes | Tags:

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