How Long Can We Do This?

by Bob Sparrow

masthead_4_copy.png   While Suzanne was enjoying the cooler environs of Nipomo and I was trying to sneak into Russia, this past August marked a small blog milestone – our 4-year anniversary. Those of you who have been with us for the entire ride may remember that our blog started in August 2011 – we certainly don’t remember back that far! Initially it was a way to use social media to drive visitors to our ill-fated tribute poem writing business, Red Posey. The blog was then entitled Morning News in Verse and we would follow a USA Today newspaper format by writing four rhyming stanzas about topical news – one stanza each about Headlines, Business, Sports and Entertainment. Suzanne and I would alternate publishing a poem EVERYDAY!   That everyday thing lasted for about two months, when we realized that it was occupying way too much of our life – like all of it; so we cut back to twice a week. Every once in a while we would deviate from the poetic format, as deviates are wont to do, and write prose about various subjects. An example of this occurred in September of 2011, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, when Suzanne wrote a moving piece entitled, Small Moments – A 9/11 Tribute, World Trade Center 9/11/01which received a large number of hits and many great comments – it is still to this day, probably the most visited blog in our archives. We eventually noticed that our number of blog hits and comments would increase when we scrapped the iambic pentameter and just wrote prose, not like pros, but prose nonetheless. While we immediately noticed the increase in interest when we scraped the poetry format, it took us until March of the next year to officially change our content and format to what it is currently. And since we weren’t rhyming any more we changed our name – not to Morning News Without Verse, but to ‘From A Bird’s Eye View’, a name borrowed from a newspaper column our mother wrote for the Novato Advance back when our dad was owner, editor and publisher of that paper in the 1940 and 50s.

We continued to post a blog twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, until July 2012. Then, either sensing that we were running out of ideas or audience, or both, we switched to our current schedule of every Monday morning. Whether the deadline was everyday, twice a week or once a week, I am happy to report that we have not missed a scheduled posting since starting this back in August 2011; I guess that’s due in part to our father’s newspaper blood coursing through our veins, where missing a deadline just isn’t an option.

Novato Advance

Dad & Mom in front of the Novato Advance

Over these past four years we have published over 300 blogs, which have generated over 25,000 ‘views’ and nearly 1,000 comments (A special thank you to those who comment and let us know that our words don’t just fly off into cyber space). Our biggest day came last December when 388 people clicked on Suzanne’s ‘A TRIBUTE TO MY FIRST BEST FRIEND’ about her friend Leslie Sherman.  And if you Google ‘From a Bird’s Eye View blog’, you will find about 530 results over 12 pages – we are fortunate enough to be found . . . on the first page!!!

I’ve been lucky enough to visit a lot of remarkable places and meet a number of interesting people; and I am thankful for staying awake in English class long enough to understand how to put a sentence together without dangling a modifier . . . most of the time. But the best part of all this is working with my sister, Suzanne. While our styles are a bit different, we enjoy reading and editing each other’s posts prior to publishing (OK, she edits mine a whole lot more than I edit hers!), discussing subject matter, travel schedules and just plain catching up with each other on a much more regular basis than before we started writing together.

So as we try to avoid breaking our arms from patting ourselves on the back, we’d mostly like to thank you loyal ‘bird watchers’ for tuning in. As you know, we have written about everything from the ridiculous to the sublime (mostly me the ridiculous and Suzanne the sublime), so thank you for tolerating the expression of our thoughts, opinions and experiences.

How long can we do this? As long as you keep reading, we’ll keep writing.

Suz-Bob

Thank you!!

 

Baltic Cruizin’ – Day 5 Estonia and Getting Through the ‘Iron Curtain’

by Bob Sparrow

Day 5 – Estonia   In the morning we find ourselves docked in the city of Tallinn, capital of Estonia where we can get off the ship and walk into town for the day. I must admit that, prior to this trip, if someone had asked me to locate Tallinn on a map, I might have been looking around Saudi Arabia. Fortunately I wasn’t driving the ship. Because it is strategically located on the Baltic; countries like Russia, Germany, Sweden and Denmark have all had their turn at occupying this country. We walk past the gates in the wall that once encircled the entire city and walk the streets of ‘Old Town’. John Billham, the Canadian member of our group has done his homework and guides us through the history of this picturesque town with the help of his Rick Steves guidebook. Lunch is in an Irish Pub; yes, the Irish seemed to have occupied every county we visit – thank goodness!

Getting In   With my soon-to-be-expired passport in hand, I sheepishly disembark in the port of St. Petersburg and head to customs and get in line. I check out the Russian immigration officer who is working the line I’m in. I walk up and hand him my passport – he gives me a stare that could chill beer; he says nothing and doesn’t smile; it appears to me that he’s having a bad day, but as I look at the other immigration officers, they all look like they’re having a bad day. They’re Russians for crying out loud! Contrary to popular belief, being an immigration officer in Russia is not all kicks and giggles. I fear that he’s going to take one look at my passport, see that it doesn’t have the required six months on it before it expires, blow his whistle and have me thrown back on the ship or who knows where. My heart is beating out of my chest, I feel like I’m reenacting the scene from Midnight Express, trying to smuggle drugs out of Turkey.

I search his face for a clue as to what’s going through his mind. He looks at my passport again then looks back at me, then looks back at my passport again. Oh shit, I knew it; I’ve been caught! I try to look exactly like the picture in my passport, but it was taken ten years ago, so that’s not happening. I’m sweating and I’m sure he can hear my heart beating from inside his little glass box. These guys are highly trained to notice people who are nervous. I know he knows I’m hiding something. Again, he looks back and forth between my passport and me several times, expressionless. I put on an encouraging smile as I start to wonder what they will do to me if I’m in violation of their passport/visa laws. Will they just send me back to the ship, or will they make an example out of me and let everyone know that I was trying to get into the country on an invalid passport and . . . OK, I can’t think about what they’d do. The inspector now seems to be studying my passport in depth. How long have I been standing here, twenty minutes? An hour? I wonder if I should run, I look for an escape route. I consider the possibility that perhaps I’m over-reacting. No, I know I’m breaking some Russian law and they are not going to just let it slide; these people don’t let anything just slide. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my vacation is going to end with me breaking rocks in some Siberian gulag. Then I hear the word, “Next” and my passport is stamped and passed back through the window to me. I try to act casual, but I’m frozen in place, I’m pale white and the sweat rings under my arms are now down to my waist. “Next”, he repeats giving me a stare that was colder by several degrees from the one he first gave me. I smugly walk through customs – nothin’ to it!

As I finally walk onto Russian soil, the first question to myself is, will St. Petersburg be worth all the anguish I went through? Absolutely!

Next: Day 6-7   St. Petersburg, Russia

Baltic Cruzin’ – Day 1&2 – Passports to Nowhere

by Bob Sparrow

The Golden Tickets

Will they get us in?

Day 1 – History is rampant with examples of people struggling to get out of Russia; ironically this journey begins with a struggle to get in. The day before we are scheduled to start our Baltic vacation, I discover that Linda and my passports expire Feb 5, 2016, which at the time we booked this trip seemed like the next millennium. It did, in fact, cover the extent of our stay, however, unlike other Baltic countries, which require traveler’s passports to have at least three months before they expire, Russia requires six. To my horror, I discover that we’re two weeks and a couple of rubles short of six months. The stressful exercises I went through for the next 24 hours are too long and painful to recount; suffice it to say that they included, but were not limited to: a) talking to all the ‘express’ passport renewal companies that are only too willing to charge exorbitant prices to take advantage of distressed travelers like us, b) sending pleading emails to ambassadors at the Russian, American and Denmark Embassies, c) asking our cruise line if there was some sort of ‘work-around’, and d) calling our St. Petersburg tour company and begging and pleading for a remedy to my stupidity. As it turns out they did say they might be able to help us get into Russia, but as for my stupidity, they said they couldn’t help me with that. Clearly it was the wrong day to quit my crack cocaine habit!

As of this writing, while we are still in Copenhagen, we’ve been told by our Russian tour company, Alla, that our tour tickets will act as a temporary visa and will get us into St. Petersburg. Praise be to Alla.

Palace Guard - told us to "back off"

Palace Guard – told us to “back off”

This next event comes under the heading of ‘It’s a Small World After All’. After arriving in Copenhagen and resting up from hours of sitting, which seems like an oxymoron, and meeting up with our travel partners, the Budds, the VanBoxmeers (heretofore to be referred to as the ‘Boxes’ and the Billhams, we have an enjoyable walk through and dinner in ‘Old Town’ Copenhagen and are heading back to our hotel, when, on a crowded sidewalk in this foreign city that is 5,590 miles from home, we run smack into good friends, Mark & Barbara Houston, who, along with other friends Denise & Shirley Despie have just completed the same tour we are about to begin. We spend the next several hours in our hotel bar grilling them about their trip.

Little mermaid - back view

Little mermaid – back view

Little Mermaid - front view

Little Mermaid – front view

Not-so-little "R" rated mermaid

Not-so-little “R” rated mermaid

Day 2 – The forecast was for rain, but we had beautiful weather in the low 70s; our itinerary for the day reads like a Rick Steves ‘Copenhagen in a Day’ Guide Book – we visit the shops and restaurants of Old Town, take a canal cruise (see the Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid sculpture from the back), see the royal family palace, see the capital building,

Segway Riders - half of these people would fall and be injured before the day was over

Segway Riders – half of these people would fall and be injured before the day was over

take a Segway tour (see the Little Mermaid from the front), see a military fort, administer First Aid to the three who fell off their Segways, have a beer, go to dinner in a quaint Old Town restaurant, then finish with an evening stroll through Tivoli Gardens. Throughout it all, as all our tour guides spoke 3-4 languages, we were reminded of how lazy we Americans are by not even learning our own language so good

Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens

. . . er, well.

Tomorrow: Baltic Cruizin’ Day 3-4 On Board & Berlin

 

Barnstorming the Baltic

Calke

Suzanne ‘into’ her chocolate cake

(Editor’s Aside: Suzanne & Alan, Jack & Sharon and Linda and I were all on the ‘Central Coast’ last weekend. California’s Central Coast is known for producing a lot of wine, and last weekend we were known for drinking much of it. The occasion? Suzanne’s birthday! I’ll let her tell you which one, although I can tell you that the old Beatle lyric, ‘Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?’ has become moot. But I’m here to say, she hasn’t lost a step, although after last weekend there may be a few brain cells missing.)

by Bob Sparrow

Norwegian Cruise Line Star

Norwegian Cruise Line  – Star

After being released from the Betty Ford detox program after Tahoe and sweeping out my underwear, it was time to ready myself for another ‘road trip’. This time the ‘road’ is a bit salty, or at least brackish – the Baltic Sea, more accurately the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea.  No, I won’t be hiking it, but rather enjoying the trip from the deck of the Norwegian Cruise Line ship, the Star. Linda and I have never been to any of these destinations, so we’re looking forward to checking off these countries from our ‘Visit Every Country in the World’ list. Just kidding about the list – it doesn’t include Iraq, North Korea or Syria.

Our travel companions for this excursion include Jack & JJ Budd (previous travel companions to Ireland, South Africa and Charleston/Savannah), John & Judy VanBoxmeer (Ireland and Charleston/Savannah) and new additions from Canada, John’s sister Mary and her husband, John. I guess it’s always good to have two Johns on board. Come to think of it I guess we actually have three Johns, since Jack’s name is really John. Can you ever really have too many Johns? I’ll let you know in about three weeks!

Copenhagen

Copenhagen

We will all meet up in Copenhagen; some will get there via ‘1st Class’, some via ‘Business Class’ and then there’s Linda and me, in . . . ‘No Class’. On the leg from Chicago to Brussels I believe we have to serve coffee, make one trash pick up and prior to landing, remind passengers to return their tray tables to their fully upright and locked position; but those chores will give us some relief from our two middle seats in the rear that don’t recline.

Once in Copenhagen, we will have a couple of days to see that fair city, which we will do in part on Segways, a vehicle that the group practiced on recently in Newport Beach – the injuries should be fully healed by the time we get there. We also plan on sampling and rating ‘Beers of the Baltic’, ideally not while we’re still riding the Segways. We’ll start with some of Denmark’s most popular beers, Carlsberg and Tuborg, but we hope to get into some of their more interesting beers such as their top-rated, Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel; say that three times fast . . . after you’ve had a few.

Baltic Ports-of-Call

Baltic Ports-of-Call

After departing Copenhagen, our first port-of-call is in Warnemunde, Germany, where we will take a train to a Concentration Camp in Berlin, which is not known for serving beer, but somewhere along the way we’d like to try Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, a beer that is said to have a smoky flavor that tastes like beef jerky or leather – yeah, that’s what I looking for, a beer I can get my teeth into. Next stop is Estonia’s capitol, Tallinn, a city and country that has had a long history of German and Soviet domination. Then it’s time to move on to the happier countries. Oops! Our next port is St. Petersburg, Russia, that is if Mr. Putin has not annexed anything before then or declared war on someone. If we mysteriously disappear on this trip, this would be the first place I’d look for us.

Our final two ports are the Scandinavian cities of Helsinki and Stockholm, before we return to Copenhagen, where we will undoubtably spend time trying to find all the items we left there the previous week.

I know our ship will have ‘connectivity’, but the frequency of my blog submissions may be determined by just how much they’ll be charging me to use their precious cyber space. I’m sure I’ll figure out a way to ‘bring you along’ on this adventure. We look forward to you joining us.