Sunday, August 24, 2008

Springfield, Illinois

I love how traveling abroad suddenly inspires me to travel locally. Yesterday I traveled down to Springfield, Illinois to see Barack Obama and his new running mate, Joe Biden. I decided late in the week that I wanted to be part of this event, and so I booked an Amtrak ticket leaving at 7am and returning at 11pm. Since Amtrak does not run with the precision of European trains, I somewhat expected that my train would be very late and I'd have to find another way of getting down there.

At 7am, on time, the train started moving and we were off. 187 people on that train were heading down to Springfield. I had my small bag all packed for the day: camera, batteries, hat, sunscreen, enough food for the day, journal and a few pens, and a book just in case. The train was full of excitement, except for the guy who sat down next to me and wanted to read his New Yorker the entire time (I was bursting to meet new people, which is why I went on my own). People were talking about Biden as the choice for VP, and someone said there was a hot debate in the cafe car line. At 10:15am we rolled into Springfield right on time (what? on time?).

The day already felt hot and sticky, so I applied my sunblock, sunglasses, and the dorky hat that's seen me through many adventures. Doors were opening at noon, so you had to join the line and wait. By the time I stepped in line at 10:30am, it already snaked up and down 5 blocks, and it soon curved behind me further than I could see. Campaign volunteers were walking up and down getting people to sign up for road trips to woo voters in swing states. People were walking around selling buttons and t-shirts. Even an Obama look-alike all dressed up in suit and tie and nice cufflinks was walking around taking photos with people (and inching his way up in the line so that we eventually saw him go through way at the begining). People were talking about their excitement and hope.

Then they opened the gate. After security where you had to dump all your water bottles, you could buy water for $2 in open cups and make your way (if you could fit) into the area around the old capital building to wait 2 hours for the event to begin. You can imagine the heat with people standing under the hot summer sun for two hours. People tried to move in and out of the area to buy water and bring it back. I happened to be standing right where the traffic seemed to be moving in and out, and the crowd of us in the situation had nowhere to move. Eventually, security were busy as people were passing out, getting dehydrated, caustrophobic, heat stroke, etc. I stood there overhearing everyone apologize for their crankiness to each other.

Then it was 1:45pm. The energy level of all the sun soaked crowed rose up a notch as Obama / Biden signs were passed around. Then campaign people took the stage and told us how we could volunteer. Then the Mayor of Springfield. Then a former Marine and father of a son lost in the Iraq war who said the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag draped from a building. Then a priest for the invocation (asking for the safety of the Obama and Biden families). Then the music.

As I held up my camera to catch Obama coming on stage, my eyes started to water then immediately to sting as the tears and sweat caught in sunblock. What an hour that followed. Obama gave a fantastic introduction to Biden and then Biden came onstage. For over a half hour, we listened to the two of them talk about what they plan to do and how they will succeed. People were taking photos and videos, shouting, and listening attentively (except when someone near them started to feel the effects of heat stroke). I think poor Obama is so used to hearing the phrase "the next President of the United States" that he found himself slipping and calling Biden "the next president." Not much I can say about their speeches that you can't read and watch yourselves, so I'll just give you the photos.

After the speech and many photos of the stage once I could get close to it, I made my way back to Amtrak to change my ticket for an earlier train. Sitting down in the station, I started talking with five women who met on the train that morning from Bloomington, Illinois. We all talked for over an hour about the day, our excitement, the heat, and our individual lives. Talking with them was a highlight of the day and fulfilled my hope of meeting interesting people. The train was 25 min late this time, but we were told it was because the tracks were shut down while Obama's motorcade crossed over. We all (except one) were taking the same train, so I sat in the car with them (and the conductor gave me some well-humored trouble about that, as Chicago passengers were supposed to be in front--oh what a rebel I am!). A few of them were sick during the speeches, so I showed them some photos and videos I took. When they left at Springfield, I was sad to see them go, having really enjoyed the conversation.

What a day! I can say I witnessed a part of history with the photos and videos to remind me when I forget.

Enjoy the photos! Barack the Vote!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Arhus, Denmark

July 27-31, 2008

Upon arriving in Denmark, we took a train straight west to Arhus, leaving Copenhagen for the end. We had a nice quiet 4 days in our little cottage. We went to a few museums, saw Peat Bog Man, went to the beach, canoed, ate peanut butter and sandwiches for lunch and great meals on the town in Arhus. A nicely balanced 4 days.

The white house with the red door. For us tall women, especially Claire, we had to watch out for the heads, but what a great way to wakeup every morning with flowers and a warm sun and breakfast in our little garden. Call me crazy, but that's vacation.

My birthday started with a trip to Den Gamble By, an outdoor museum of traditional Danish buildings--complete with people in costume acting their roles. He took his really seriously.

One of my artsy fartsy shots of a fountain. I have lots of artsy shots of benches and windows and architecture. My photographic tastes are fairly set in stone.

A bit of Chicago in Copenhagen (The Blues Brothers for those of you not in the know).

Canoeing in Silkeborg. Claire is hard at work while I sneak a photo. We had to find somewhere out of the strong current to eat lunch. So we sat in the canoe and ate our...pb & j sandwiches! Three hours to canoe one way and one hour to canoe back. That's a strong current. It was great to be out and about and doing something in nature, until these guys passed us with ease:

This is along the canal in Arhus, where we ate most of our dinners. A quiet, relaxing end to every evening.

Copenhagen, Denmark

July 31-August 3, 2008

After four days in Arhus, we made our way to Copenhagen for museums and lots of food (our lunches of peanut butter and jam sandwiches behind us). I really enjoyed Copenhagen, especially the double-decker bus tour and boat cruise. With only a few days to take in the city, we did a pretty good job going from here to there and sitting in gardens in between cultural excursions.

The view of Nyhavn right outside our door. We ate most of our lunches and dinners along this street, watching people and chatting. Copenhagen is not quiet Arhus.

We passed by her everyday. I can't put my finger on why we loved her so much, but we did.

A trip to Copenhagen must include a visit to The Little Mermiad. Since I adored the Disney film in my teens (Hans Christian Andersen? Who's he?), I especially liked this statue. Beheaded twice by pranksters. Truly worthy of a Brothers Grimm take on her story.

The street where we stayed, Nyhavn, from the canal tour.

mmmm... Mango Salad. What else do you need to know? Don't we look happy!

If you visit Copenhagen, not only should you go to the small but lovely Den Hirschsprungske Samling Museum, you should also go to the Frihedsmuseet (Danish Resistance Museum) about Denmark in World War II. The photo above is from outside the museum.

On our evening stroll through Christianhaven and Christiana, a couple invited us to see the communal courtyard. Another great traveling moment.

A city isn't a city withoug graffiti.

And Denmark isn't Denmark without a statue of Hans Christian Andersen.

Outside Copenhagen, Karen Blixen Museum and Helsingor Castle

August 2, 2008

Our last full day in Denmark we took trains north to the Karen Blixen Museum and Kronborg Slot, the Hamlet castle. Museum: fantastic. Castle: disappointing.

On the steps of the Karen Blixen Museum. The staff looked at me a bit crazy when I wanted my book stamped. They didn't even notice my Nairobi stamp. They keep her house full of fresh flowers from her garden, and her study is just as she left it--full of her mementos and books from Kenya. Another literary pilgrimage fulfilled.

Karen Blixen's grave. You walk a short way into the gardens and forest behind her house and find her under this quiet tree. It makes me think of the beautiful resting place she gave Denis Fynch-Hatton in Kenya and how hers is so far from him. Yet, here she rests in the place where she was born and died. Such an interesting life.

The Hamlet castle. I took lots of photos of the architecture of the castle because I just couldn't find much inspiration elsewhere. Here are two:

I really like taking photographs of nature seeping through buildings, especially old ones like castles. I think it's rooted in my love for the poem "Ozymandias" by Shelley. Or I just like evidence of mother nature taking back her land.

Hi, Claire! We almost walked right past the Shakespeare tablet. The only darn Hamlet thing in the castle (except for one room with placards telling us who Shakespeare was). I really am feeling snarky about this castle...

If we hadn't gone out the side entrance, we might have missed a chance to stand with Hamlet and Ophelia. Perhaps not the most cheerful statues (they both look suitably crazy), but we had our small Shakespeare fix.

Simris, Sweden and area Photos

August 3-August 11, 2008

During my week in southeast Sweden in and around Simris, I took over 300 photographs. The mix of the beautiful countryside and colorful houses kept my camera very busy. Then, of course, I kept trying to catch Martina, Jouni, Abbe and Vyda in fun family moments. I loved my week in Sweden, mostly because I could spend time with Martina and family, living with them as they went about their day. When I Sweden on a map, I see how little I saw of the country. Well, as I like to say (and mean), “next time.” Enjoy!

Martina and Abbe, Jouni and Vyda

My first day in Sweden (a beach near Simrishamn)

Glimmingehus Castle

The castles and churches in Sweden shared the architecture of the zig-zag roof. A castle isn't a castle without a moat and an overcast day.

Inside the Castle. Cold stone seats, holes in the walls that used to balance guns, and fresh flowers. There's something about the flowers that makes me "feel" the history of the castle.

Wheat. Why is it so beautiful?

Wind Power. Is it so hard to get it, America?

Simrishamn Church. The Zig Zag, the stone, the brick, the ships hanging from the ceilings.

Martina and I enjoying lunch and a cup of tea while the twins nap (and they stayed napping the whole time!) at the old school cafe in Brantevik.

The sun begins to set. The view from Martina and Jouni's garden.

The stones at Ales stenar. Stranger included for perspective.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Simrishamn, Sweden Final

Hi everyone,

It seems strange that I haven't written the past four days of activities. I'm not quite sure I can keep them straight in my head.

It's 12:05am here, and I leave in 13 hours. The house is quiet, and I'm already feeling sad to leave here. Not only will I miss talking to Martina and Jouni everyday, but the twins really have made an impression on me: trying to find new ways to hear them laugh, making silly faces to stop them from crying, seeing them fall asleep in the back of the car. Anyways, on to the travelogue... Sweden is still chilly and overcast, though I had a chance to use up the last of my sunblock yesterday (more on that in a minute).

Thursday we had a busy morning of keeping the kids busy and in good spirits. For some reason I was reading the kids a board book called "Deck the Halls," so all afternoon they would randomly sing, "la la la" and we'd break out in song. In the afternoon, we went to Kyls Strandbad, a beach down the coast from Simrishamn. The water was certainly chilly, and first I chased waves with Abbe and post-snack I went out with Vyda. I love how they cling to you in both fear and excitement as the little waves hit. I've never been much of a beach person (sunblock woes and fear of deep water, I suppose), but it´s fun to experience the water with them.

On Friday Martina, the kids, and I went to Brantevik, a town just south where the kids were christened in an old school. It's another quiet fishing village, and the houses and gardens could keep any photographer busy. Such a play of colors. The old school is a lovely cafe and bed & breakfast. We ate great soup and drank tea while the kids slept nice and long. We even enjoyed a bit of a walk before they woke up. We took a walk along the coast where local horses roam, so the kids kept running up to each pile of horse manure and shouting "bajs," the Swedish equivalent of "poop." The coast here really is as lovely as the guidebooks say--great light and vivid greens. We made our way around the streets, me stopping every few feet to take yet another photo, and back to Simris. Martina's sister came out for dinner, and we had a nice social evening of getting to know each other and hearing stories.

On Saturday morning, we were all up to see Johanna off to the train station and then I crashed for a good solid two hours. After the kids napped, we went off to the ecovillage school where the twins will start day care in September. It was a work day, so we raked up weeds, kept the kids out of trouble, and just helped spiffy up the grounds. Martina and I were eventually put in charge of digging square grooves where we could slide in the rabbit pen--presumable so the little critters couldn't escape when they were running about during the day. In a feat of engineering by the poet and the psychologist, we finished (me wondering how I fit it into my vegan anti-zoo, anti-caged animals theory--but heck, it's an ecovillage school, so I stopped thinking). After my last day of vacation sunblock, we came back to the house where Martina and I attempted to wash off dirt for the big farm party.

Jouni drove us to the party 20 minutes away, and we arrived with other guests coming for an early picnic. We sat with the kids outside eating snacks before Jouni went back with the kids sand left us to our own devices. I really don't know where to start in describing this party. First, the age range: 18 to 60ish. The barn was all decked out with a stage and sound equipment. The bar, which looked very permanent, decorated with old posters of American movies and a Bruce Springsteen poster back from his "Born in the USA" days. Outside people sat and picnic tables and benches eating and drinking, laughing and chatting. The crowd of people seemed like all sorts, hippies and fashionistas, laid back and casual to, well, everyone was pretty casual. And not a stereotypical plaid shirt in sight, as if I expected it for some reason. Anways, when the band eventually played they sounded like a funky mix of reggae and pop, which sounded fantastic and had the whole crowd jumping and dancing and singing along (this must be a local band made good). By the time Jouni picked us up at 1am, the band was finished and Springsteen's "My Home Town" played in the background. Not quite as wierd as listening to Sinatra in the Masai Mara--but close. With the kids snuggled up and sleeping, I crawled in between them and tried to keep their heads from bobbing up an down like I myself do so well.

Today we all slept late (the kids and Martina until 7am and me until a shocking 10am and Jouni until 11am). The rain was not enough to keep us indoors because there was one last tourist tick on Maureen´s list (I only had 2: the castle and the stones). So, off we went to Ales stenar, a circle of stones on the south coast about a half hourish away. On the way we stopped off at a few places and eventually made it to the nearby town of Kaseberga for lunch. By the time we were done with lunch the skies decided to drop again. So, off we trekked up the hill to the stones, me trying to finagle an umbrella so that I could take photos of them. By the time we were back to the car, we were all soaked (except the kids who were nice and protected under their rain tarp). The stones were really cool. Not as tall as the Stonehenge stones but many more of them. You could go up to the stones and touch them and you didn't even have to pay (i.e. Stonehenge). The rainy, blustery day provided the perfect backdrop for the stones, but I do wish I could have sat there in the middle under a dry sky and enjoyed the breeze off the sea. I was very appreciative of the family trek to this stop, and I tried to put on my circus act for the kids in the backseat as they were perhaps not so thrilled about being a bit wet and dragged about. We've had a nice quiet last night at home, and I'm not even going to think about packing my bag. There will be a few hours in the morning.

Two weeks. Two countries. Two good friends. I've know Claire for 14 years and Martina for 10, and it's so wonderful to see them in person instead of talking to them over the phone. I do love my life. Yet, all vacations come to an end, and I must make my way back to Chicago and the life I'm still creating there. In two days I'll be back at work and in two weeks back to both studying, writing, and teaching. I'll be thinking and writing about this trip for months and months, and this makes the good-byes a little less sad.

This is my last official "on trip" blog entry, but I will post photos within the next week so please check back and let me know what you think. Thanks for reading.



Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Simrishamn, Sweden Part 2

Hello everyone!

The twins are going to bed after a cranky day, so here I am blogging. I'm happy to report that I proudly took them on a walk this afternoon and got them sleeping at nap time. I'm off duty now!

It's still overcast in Sweden, but that hasn't stopped us. Yesterday, we drove north to the Kivik Art Center where Antony Gormley (sculptor) and David Chipperfield (architect) have a few instillations. The adults walked up this tower one at a time to experience the dark, windy staircase, just enough out of one's comfort zone. I saw Gormley's instillation along the beach just north of Liverpool in 2006 (thanks to Claire), so it was a fun surprise to see his work again here in the east of Sweden. We then drove around and through some fishing villages where Martina and Jouni looked for some lamps for their house. This is the Catch-22 of living in a cute, over 100 year old house--you choose things with care to fit into the aesthetic.

Today I woke up to voices outside my door, so I got a little dose of cute baby first thing this morning. When they were cranky for their nap, I walked them in the buggy, and brought them back asleep (much to everyone's relief and surprise!). Then, we made our way into Simrishamn where Martina and Jouni ordered some frames for our late night decorating brainstorm. As I was walking the kids outside, a man with his walker said something to me in Swedish. I of course said that I didn't speak Swedish, and we started talking in English. He knew of Chicago's slaughterhouses and iron works, and we walked up the street--his walker and my double stroller taking up the whole sidewalk. When we got to the frame store, he started talking to Jouni as if he was from Chicago, and Jouni had to tell him that in fact, he was from Simrishamn. He asked me my name (can you really not give it to a man with a walker?), and his first response was, "Oh, the Ewing oil family." Ah, Dallas still follows me around!

Simrishamn is quite a busy town with tourists walking up and down looking at maps and getting some history on this fishing village. The church has models of large ships hanging from the ceilings, right alongside the chandeliers and religious icons. There's no doubt that you are in a fishing village here. The houses come in all colors, side by side, all leading down to the waterfront.

While the twins and parents were napping and catching up on house stuff, I took a meander down into the fields to photograph the wheat, the tall modern windmills, the horses, and the sea. There's something about the color of wheat that appeals to me for some reason--the history of it, the human reliance on it, the graceful folds of the stalks in the wind? Anyway, I took a lot of photographs of the wheat fields.

Martina and Jouni have monster size zucchini from their garden, and we've just dined on wonderful roasted zucchini with pine nuts. Makes me wish I had a garden (and a gardener).

Hope you are all well and happy.


Monday, August 04, 2008

Simrishamn, Sweden Part 1

After saying goodbye to Claire and Denmark, I boarded a train for Sweden. I arrived in Simrishamn on a bright, sunny day, and I made my way to an open kiosk to buy something so I could have change to call Martina and Jouni to say I arrived (no telephone at the station). Thankfully, the woman at the kiosk spoke English, so I could ask her where the nearest phone was. Unfortunately, her answer was, "I have no idea." So, off I rolled my little suitcase down the cobbled streets laughing at how I tell my Girl Scouts they are not allowed to bring rolly suitcases-only backpacks. Such a travel hypocrite! With change in my pocket and a juice box in my hand, I walked a block and dead in the middle of the little village is a phone box. I felt a bit like Harry Potter going into the Ministry of Magic or Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, but I made it to the phonebox and called them. Jouni answered, said Martina was at the station and talking to him on her cell phone, so off I went and met her. Ah, what would we do without technology?

Martina and Jouni live in the small village of Simris just outside Simrishamn. The have a lovely little house that overlooks a field and down the field the sea. Last night for dinner I picked us Cilantro from the garden and tasted a fresh tomato. I really am a disgraceful vegan. I should be trying not to kill plants in a garden. I met the 20 month old twins-Abbe and Vida-when they woke up from their naps. They are two blond haired blue eyed Swede-Finnish babies! They laugh and giggle and cry with equal abandon. We went for a walk out and around their village then drove to a nearby village so the kids could paddle in the sea. They kept squatting their bare bottoms in the sea, then up, and down into the water and sand again. As I slept last night it poured rain, the first of the trip. I like when it rains and I don't have to tromp around in it with a backpack and suitcase (especially since I optimistically didn't bring my umbrella...).

This morning I woke up to Martina playing lullabies on the piano to Vida and Abbe pounding around. It was quite a fun way to wake up. Seriously. I wouldn't want to do it long term, but it's the first day so it seems cute! We ate breakfast, then second breakfast, and the rain kept coming down. We decided to head to the nearby medieval castle of Glimmingehus. With stormy clouds but no rain, we enjoyed a perfect castle day. It's a small castle, but it dates from 1499 and full of interesting little details. The castle isn't furnished, but the passageways were lit with candles and there were three people walking around in costume. (Yes, Claire, this small little rinky dink castle in Skäne, Sweden trumps Kronborg Slot by three costumes and a heck of a lot more character). After the castle, we traipsed around to a few local antique shops, making it home just in time for the rain to pummel down again.

Martina and Jouni are putting the twins to bed, so the crying has stopped for the moment. I'll wait until tomorrow for more shouts of "Maweeeeeen" (followed by a giggle as I'm still a novely). So, until the next Sweden entry and tales of the blond twins, I leave you all to a pleasant day wherever this finds you!



Saturday, August 02, 2008


Well, it's the last night in Copenhagen, so I should catch up on the past few days and quickly!

Claire and I arrived on Thursday around 2pm at our hotel and then went on a mass museum rush. The thing about Denmark is that all the museums and churches have short hours (open at 10am or noon and close at 4pm or 5pm). So, we ran to two museums, Den Hirschsprungske Samling and Statens Museum for Kunst. The Den museum (let's avoid spelling that second word, shall we?) was small but really interesting with only Danish artists with names too difficult for me to spell successfully in a short time. We only had an hour, and that is all we needed. We ran to the Kunst museum becaust it closed at 5pm and was free (yeah!), and it was the wierdest art museum I've seen with 300 yr old art next to new art. Then there was the room with at least 400 paintings in one really large room. We were swiftly ushered out at 4:50pm and then went to the garden for a little sit and to plot our evening dinner plans. One mediterranean buffet later we were stuffed and heading back to the hotel.

Friday was a great deal of fun. We started with an open top bus and canal tour, which was great fun. We took the obligatory pictures at the Little Mermaid statue, of course. After the tour we made our way to two churches before they closed at 4pm. Then we went to the Frihedsmuseet, the Museum of Danish Resistance during WWII. Very interersting and educational, as I know so little (read nothing) about Danish history. Then we made our way to the hotel, dolled up (actually made it to the dolling up part this time) and went to Christiania-the free town in Copenhagen. Wow. So much to say. We walked around the larger part, Christianhaven and then went into Chrisiania. As soon as we stepped in, it was like going back to the 60s (I think)-the smell of pot, lots of dreadlocks, bright colors, dirt road, and people just sitting back and loving the free life. We were highly overdressed but not much out of place. We ate at the vegetarian restaurant and then made our way out (buying myself a birthday bracelet on the way from a nice Afghanistan man). As we were on our way off the island (no longer in Christiania), a couple saw us taking photos of the buildings and offered to show us their backyard. What a lovely experience.

Today we went up to the Karen Blixen Museum (Out of Africa), which was inspiring. I got my book stamped (also stamped from her home in Nairobi). We really enjoyed our morning there. Then we got up to Helsinger, where the "Hamlet" castle was a big ole disappointment. The castle is just not very interesting with few rooms full of furniture. We did take obligatory pictures at the Shakespeare plaque and at the Hamlet and Ophelia statues. Quite a wierd castle experience. They should take some notes from the British who do their castles and living history (people in costumes) really well. Well, we went, and that's good.

So, we're off to have our last meal here before Claire heads back to Liverpool tomorrow and I go off to Sweden. There are lots more stories, but Claire is patiently waiting for me outside.

Hope you are all well.