Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On the Road again - India and the UK

Here we are about to embark on a two month trip to India - Delhi, Lucknow, Kolkata, Chennai, Kerala, Bangalore and London (phew just writing this makes me tired!). I last blogged on our Baltic Cruise on Sept 2011 (yes over a year ago).
Now Dec 2011
Then Dec 9th 1961

The highlight of 2011 was the celebration of the golden jubilee of our marriage, surrounded by friends. We attended a 50th anniversary mass at the Newark Cathedral and then had a dinner dance with most of our friends, from the US (and Canada and the UK). It was a magical evening and we floated on the euphoria of love and good wishes. Ellen looked lovely and I again marveled at my good fortune in marrying this gentle, loving person, who has always been 'the wind beneath my wings'. Here are a couple of photos 'then and now'.

The highlight of 2012 was the publication of "More Voices on the Verandah" the seventh book on the culture of the Anglo-Indian community - launched in New York at the Indian consulate and in Toronto, Canada. Do check it out at our website 

The primary purpose of our trip to India is to attend an International Anglo-Indian reunion in Kolkata (and a smaller one in Chennai) in January 2013. We look forward to meeting and enjoying friends from around the world. We will also spend time visiting CTR's projects (the charity that helps
Anglo Indians in India) that provide pensions for seniors and help educate children.

So look out for our next blog from India. Till then stay well and happy and enjoy the holiday season.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Helsinki and Stockholm

Tuesday 31st Finland – Helsinki

We do our own thing here, buying a Helsinki travel card and taking buses and trams around the city. The Finns are a neat people, their city, building and artifacts seem to represent a sparse, efficient and functional style. The city itself is relatively young, bein
g built in the 19th C and has a heavy Russian influenced. We see an impressive Orthodox Uspensky Cathedral (the largest in
Northern Europe) and the Helsinki Cathedral. It is worth noting that neither of
these charged an admission fee (the only exception in all the countries we saw). We also visit the avant garde Rock church excavated out of the hillside and designed by Timo and Tuomo – quite spectacular. I find and enjoy the monument to Sibelius the famous Finnish composer. Of course I sample the local brew Lapin Kulta

Like the Danes the Finns seem a very contained and contented people, quietly confident. In 2010 the PISA scores (Program for International Student Assessment) found them placed second placed in Math, Science and Reading (in contrast the USA were 24th, 18th and 14th respectively). The culture is to have everyone at the same level, but to have a high level for all. They certainly have been able to educate their children !

Wednesday 1st Sweden – Stockholm

This is the last day our cruise and we take a conducted tour of a beautiful city cover 14 islands, built in the 16th C, full of bridges and waterways. We visit the VASA museum where a 1628 built royal ship sank after being in the water for 20 minutes and was excavated in 1961 and restored to its original grandeur and it is a grand ship
. Like the other cities there are majestic buildings – the Royal palace, Parliament and the Royal theatre. I of course visit a couple of churches - a Finnish church the site of all Royal burials and the Stockholm Cathedral with an amazing sculpture of St George slaying the dragon, some fine paintings and very opulent royal pews and pulpit.

Like the Danes and Finns, the Swedes reflect a quiet contentment – none of them have adopted the Euro and all have their individual currencies (Kronas) reflective of the confidence they have in themselves and their country. They also seem to have a more defined sense of being citizens of their country and their need to protect and preserve their culture. But like the other countries they re socialistic countries with cradle to grave care, heavy taxation and a seemingly exorbitant cost of living (we paid $ 30 for a soup and a pint of local beer). It will be very interesting to see if their model will prevail against the more capitalistic American version or the centrally controlled Chinese version. I cannot see them succeeding, but then I cannot see the USA model succeeding either! To me it seems the very aggressive, hard working and modest living Chinese will be the foremost economy in the 21st C. If this is so then the Europeans and Americans will have a reduced standard of living (much as Great Britain did after the end of their empire), and the Chinese and other Asians will dominate the world and impose their culture on it .

Who knows? Be that as it may these North European countries have majestic cities representative of the level of prosperity they achieved and their support of the arts.

It was a wonderful trip - both from the luxury of the cruise and the pleasure of seeing beautiful, historic cities.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

St Petersburg (aka Leningrad) Russia

Sunday 29th and Monday 30th St Petersburg

Since a visa is required to visit Russia, we take the ship’s city overview, with free time and the Hermitage museum tour. St Petersburg is a beautiful city, built along the Neva River with 66 canals and 300 bridges. Peter the Great built the city in 1703 and hired French and Italian designers to give the city a very un-Russian appearance. All the buildings are in stone and have majestic columns with grand stone carved facades. It is probably one of Europe's most artistic and beautifully built cities

In the free time we buy a few souvenirs and eat a nice Russian lunch (Borski soup, pork schnitzel and Hebckoe beer). We also visit the cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan (she is reputed to have miraculous powers) with a grand interior. To the Winter Palace and the Hermitage Russia’s premier collection of art (over 60, 000 exhibits). We spent two hours walking through about six of the more renowned galleries – Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci (a beautiful Madonna and child), Raphael, Spanish and Italian painting and 14 sections of French impressionists. The sensory input is stunning but overwhelming. To really appreciate this museum, one has to see it like we see the Metropolitan in NY, a few galleries at a time and again and again. Not only has the Hermitage spectacular paintings, but the rooms themselves are works of art with lavishly painted and decorated ceilings and walls

In the evening we attend a Russian folklore dancing and singing – heady stuff with an army choir and soloists and about 16 young men and women cavorting in rigorous Russian, Cossack and gypsy dances. The men particularly showed amazing leg and body strength, indulging in impossible gymnastic feats of athleticism

I spend the Monday in seeing the Cathedrals of St Petersburg. First we see the St Peter and Paul Cathedral, built by Peter the Great in the early 1700’s the official burial church of all the emperors of Russia. Then we visit the Church of the Spilled Blood (commemorating the assassination of Alexandria II who was canonized as a martyr) which has 7000 square meters of mosaic figures on its walls with alters of Iconostasis (an astounding sight that left me in open mouthed awe, muttering ‘My God’). It cannot be described and has to be seen to be believed .

Finally we visit St Isaacs Cathedral (relatively new 1818-58) a Greek orthodox church. It has innumerable columns of malachite and the entire surface and dome are covered in real gold (40 kilograms of gold - imagine the value at today’s $ 1800 an ounce – there being about 35 ounces to a Kilogram). The church was built and paid for by the Romanoff family, was badly damaged during the revolution and then restored at a cost of 17 million roubles ($ 5 million). An apocryphal story of Russians adopting a religion is they rejected being Muslim as it did not allow them to drink vodka; rejected Judaism as it would take too long to convert their people and the Greek orthodox was least intrusive (the names of Constantine and Nicholas are the remnants of the Greek connection)

St Petersburg was called Leningrad during the revolution, and had its name restored during perestroika. Many of the palaces and museums were also restored to their former glory instead of being used as barracks and hostels. I feel that the Russians were happy to have their city renamed and restored, but, other than the guides, we met none of the local people so cannot gauge their happiness. The guides seemed very pro new regime. St Petersburg is the most majestic and glamorous city that we have seen in Northern Europe. It also seems very affluent

An enjoyable evening show of trapeze and acrobatic performances by a young couple

Germany and Estonia

Thursday 25th Germany – Warnemunde and Rostock

We elect not to go to Berlin as it would have taken too much travel time, so instead we visit the local port town of Warnemunde and then take a train ride to Rostock. A good decision. Rostock is a wonderful medieval town with some very impressive buildings. We start with a visit to St Marien Kirche (St Mary’s Church) built in the 1550’s with a magnificent organ of 5700 pipes, a baptismal font from 1270 and an original Astronomical clock from 1472 that has a zodiac, an eternal calendar and a chime where the apostles rotate and are blessed by a central Jesus (which we hear and see at 12.00pm). There is also an incredible filigree tapestry of Mary’s life. We go on to see an impressive City Hall from 1270, St Nicholas church (now apartments) and St Pietri church. We end the day with a fischbroetchen sandwich and a Rostok beer.

The night’s entertainment is with four English violinists playing with incredible skill and with a lot of humor too

Friday 26th At sea

A day at sea - wonderful. Eat and drink whenever, with as much choice and variety as you could want. No picking up or cleaning. All the staff so polite, helpful and happy (they have been rigorously trained and it shows) and dozens of entertaining shows to choose from. No thinking, just being and enjoying. Ah that life could be one continuous cruise !

Saturday 27th Estonia – Tallinn

We tour this quaint walled city 1300 C on foot. We visit the Holy Ghost church 14C, the oldest church in Tallinn with a beautiful alter and nave; a 13C Town hall with a very high spire, St Nicholas 1350C (bombed and rebuilt) with beautiful medieval holy artifacts and a dance of death frieze painted by Bernt Norke; a very opulent Russian Cathedral and St Mary the Virgin 13C cathedral.

We end our excursion with a local beer having had a lovely day in a well preserved 13C town. One is overwhelmed by the profusion of impressive sculptures, monuments and statues and most of them religious (and Lutheran). The conversion from Catholic to Lutheran in these countries was amicable and so the catholic statues and other artifacts were retained

The night’s entertainment is a versatile instrument player – playing six different instruments

Monday, September 12, 2011

Copenhagen Denmark

Monday 22nd & Tuesday 23rd August – Denmark Wonderful Copenhagen (Kobenhavn)

We have an uneventful flight to Copenhagen and take a bus to our downtown hotel, a miniature room and bath, but very central. After a quick sleep we are picked up by our host Christian Hansen and make our way to Roskilde the site of the excavation of 8th Century Viking sailing ships. We are reinforced by a smorreboard (an open face sandwich made famous by the Danes) and a wheat lager. The Vikings had barbaric customs, like having a slave girl linked to the death ceremonies of a chief – she would be gang raped, decapitated and buried with the chief (and we thought suttee was outrageous). We then visit Roskilde cathedral (11C) the burial site of royalty, with a brick façade (no stonework, so different from the other European cathedrals).

Denmark has a population of 5 ½ million, and slaughter 22 million pigs (rearing 11 million for 6 months), so you can surmise that their bacon and ham are exported throughout the world. Christian tells me that a recent survey found them to be the happiest country in Europe (the world) and even thought they are taxed up to 70%, their benefits are incredible – university study is free, unemployment coverage is 4 years (they are thinking of reducing it to two) and of course medical is free and social security is handsome. But it is very expensive and an average family needs $ 100,000 to live comfortably. My question is what do the Danes do to maintain this standard of living and I never got that question satisfactorily answered. I wondered about this in Finland too.

We see other city sites – the #1 tourist attraction, the lovely Copenhagen mermaid (even though she is rather small); the Amelia Borg castle royal residence; the stock exchange with its spire of intricate dragon like tails; Parliament house and an imposing town hall.. This is a sophisticated city with elegant buildings decorated with beautiful stonework figures and arabesques. We finish the evening off in Tivoli gardens, a fun fare park with much to eat and drink.

We are up early next morning and out to Elsinore and the 16th C Kronberg castle of Hamlet fame (just to remind you that Hamlet was fiction and yet the castle's huge popularity is because Shakespeare associated the castle with him). The castle is authentic enough, controlling the straits of Denmark. The church is very impressive with a beautiful alabaster and marble alter. In the castle basement we see ‘Holger Danske’ (Ogier the Dane) a sleeping giant who will only awaken when Denmark is to be destroyed. On to the magnificent Fredericksborg Castle of Christian IV (1588 to 1648), with very ostentatious interior décor, and lots of gold in the church and the palace rooms. The church has a hundreds of coat of arms of every historical person, including Eisenhower and Churchill. Later in the evening we visit the 16C Marble Church and an 11C Our Saviors church with a distinct twisted spire. Denmark is Lutheran and Presbyterian, but has retained the saints and the Virgin Mary from pre reformation days

I make a presentation to the local chapter associated with operations and APICS on Supply Chain competitiveness. I enjoy meeting the professionals of a country and finding out how they run their businesses and their knowledge of manufacturing.

I am very impressed with the Danish culture - polite and gentle, but quietly confident . Hundreds ride on bicycles and they are very environment conscious (using a bicycle is a common form of transport in all the Baltic cities). I hope they will be able to retain their lifestyle in the coming decades of intense foreign competitiveness

Wednesday 24th Embarkation on Norwegian Sun for a 9 day Baltic cruise

The check in is remarkably efficient and smooth and within a half hour we are having a buffet lunch. We sail at 5.00 pm and I see the city lights, before settling down to a sumptuous meal of lobster tails and Heineken beer (we are now on a 9 day eating orgy!). It is a large ship with 2000 passengers and at least 1000 crew. I meet the chief chef, a Goan, and he promises to make us a special Xacuti meal. We end a long day with an incredible performance of a juggler – his ability to keep large numbers of pins, rings, and tennis racquets in the air while adopting numerous gymnastic postures is just mind boggling.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Here we go again

We are taking a Baltic cruise from August 21st to Sept 2nd. We fly to Copenhagen today and after two days in Copenhagen (during which Blair will make an APICS presentation) we will board the Norwegian Sun and steam out! Our tour will cover: Wandemunde (the port of Berlin), Tallinn (Estonia), St Petersburg (Russia), Helsinki (Finland) and Stockholm (Sweden)

Had a bad experience by being scammed by Priceline who promised us two free days of hotel stay if we booked the cruise with them and then sent us a voucher for $ 140 for two nights (reduced by their fees of $ 60+) with which you can probably rent a closet in Copenhagen! I have complained to various websites and publications - probably nothing will happen - and I now discover that Priceline has innumerable complaints of deceptive practices and scams. Sad I always thought Priceline was a honorable company. Oh well small stuff but annoying (I have booked a hotel on the retail market)

We have been reading up on all the cities. We are taking ship tours to St Petersburg (need visas in Russia) and Stockholm (distances). We do not plan to visit Berlin (too far) and will manage the other cites by small local excursions. All very exciting. I am taking my laptop so will try and blog as we go

So till Copenhagen...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

To England for a Wedding

We fly from Kolkata to Delhi to London and finally to Manchester, all in the same day, as we keep gaining time. Rent a car in Manchester and are met by two young friends, Maryanne and John Summerton and spend the night at their place. The next day we motor up to the Ribble Valley an extraordinary picturesque part of North Lancashire where our son Julian is to be married to Julie a Scottish girl living in England. Both are in the TV business, she as a sports event manager and he as a cameraman and editor. The met at Beijing and have done many sporting events together - Vancouver, South Africa and even the Delhi Commonwealth games.

The next few days are a whirl, with us meeting our Julie's parents and family. Spend every evening in some local pub, sampling the ales and lagers and eating pub grub. The wedding is on the 23rd Saturday in a small historic church, followed by a reception tea a local manor house, then dinner in three large modern tents and dancing in a glass house to a soul band. Every part of the wedding is choreographed carefully and exquisitely (mostly by Julie) and moves along without a flaw, with over 150 friends drinking, dancing and having a wonderful time. I leave when the party shuts down at 1.00am. I am quite pensive at the wedding, despite having a terrific time. Am reminded of the tradition of the Tu Ja Chinese community, that wedding are preceded by 15 days or crying. Ah well, I guess I am just getting old. The couple suggest that instead of presents, the guests give a donation to CTR our charity helping the less fortunate in India. - a lovely gesture.

We motor down to London the next day and leave for the USA on Monday. It is so good to be back home after being around the world in 60 days (beat Jules Verne by 20). Till our next excursion, stay well and take care.