Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Denmark: I'm no great shakes at Shakespeare

and had no idea where Elsinor, the setting for "Hamlet" was prior to last Wednesdays arrival in Denmark.  During a weekend break from my work in Copenhagen, we visited Elsinor and its Kronberg castle and became instant Shakespearians! In case you don't already know, Elsinor (Helsingor in Danish) is on the Northeastern Coast of Zealand -- just a few miles across the Oeresund channel from Helsingborg, Sweden.  The Danes consider the coast between Copenhagen and Helsingor as their Riviera with beautiful towns, large villas, yacht harbors, galleries, museums and several castles.  It also has many inlets where the Danes cut through the ice in winter to take their famous plunges which they believe is good for the heart!  I guess we could try that in Salt Lake City too but it would probably be the end of me.

Kronborg Castle (setting for Hamlet)
I won't bore you with a discussion of the many interesting tourist activites available in Copenhagen because one can easily find them on the Internet. However I would definitely encourage visits to other Danish castles on the North Coast and  to Rothskilde, an hour's train ride from Copenhagen which is home to an impressive Viking Ship Museum as well as the cathedral where the Danish kings and queens are buried. (

at Viking Ship Museum, Rothskilde

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Geneva - the UN City

Our stay in Geneva has turned out to be much nicer and more interesting than expected.  After a stimulating week in Rome we thought we would suffer withdrawel systems, but great weather, Geneva's beautiful lakeside location and distant views of Mount Blanc and the Alps have made for a very enjoyable few days.

This is the first time I've worked at a US Mission (as opposed to a US Embassy).  The Embassy to Switzerland is in Bern whereas the US Mission in Geneva, with three resident Ambassadors, is fully oriented towards US interests in the UN's specialized agencies.  Despite the fact that the UN Headquarters is in New York, most of the organization's real work is done in Geneva where there are 45,000 employees of the various agencies and their many international delegations.  One of the pleasure of being in Geneva is to observe alls of the beautiful young, well-dressed bureaucrats and diplomats from the UN member countries.   Due to the great weather and the fact that it now stays light until after 9, these young people gather along Lake Geneva after work where they sit on the lawns in droves with wine in hand engaged in long conversations over politics or whatever!  Oh to be young again and living in Geneva

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rome - la Dolca Vita

Greetings from our hotel on Rome's Via Vittorio Veneto where we are living "La Dolce Vita" for a few days.

click below:  

This movie actually made this area famous.  The plaque shown in the following link is just across the street.

Our hotel is also right outside the entrance to the fabulousVilla Borghese park and about two blocks from the Palazzo Margherita, formerly the home of Queen Margherita of Savoy and now the American Embassy.

Marriott roof garden on Via Veneto - overlooking Bourghese Park

We are having a great time here, with me working and Gertrud playing tourist - LOL!  Actually we were able to visit several famous Roman sites together on the weekend but there are simply too many sites as well as too many tourists.  And since we have been in Rome several times before, I don't feel a need to see everything again. 

The food in Italy really is fantastic (No Olive Gardens, Chef Boyardee nor Pizza Huts here!)  We have especially enjoyed the wonderful vegetables, the Parma ham, the fish and the thin pizzas which are so delicious without being filling.  We no longer regard Italian-American food as having much to do with real Italian food.  

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Malta: Cross, Falcon, Knights

Gertrud and I have just spent 5 wonderful days in Malta.  Of all of the world's islands, we consider Malta the most interesting due to its fascinating history spanning about 7,000 years and due to such UNESCO world heritage sites as the Megalithic Temples and the Hypogeum -- among the oldest man-made structures in existence. 

Malta's incredible history is due to its strategic location in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.  It  has been desired by all of the surrounding powers and occupied by many including the Greeks, the Phoenicians,  the Romans, the Egyptian Fatimids, the Sicilians, the Knights of St. John, the French and the British. It must also be the word's most heavily fortified island with tremendous fortresses and high walls covering most of Valletta and the other cities surrounding the Grand Harbour.  During World War II both the Allied and the Axis forces fought to control Malta with the German Luftwaffe and the Italian Air Force conducting more than 3,000 bombing raids over the island during a two-year period.  Malta became  independent in 1964 and joined the European Union a couple of years ago.

Here are a couple of pictures to illustrate the extent of Malta's fortifications.

Maltese Harbor Overlook
Fortress walls in Malta

Malta is definitely worth a visit. For more details, click on the following:

Friday, May 1, 2009

It's no longer Constantinople

Click below:

I've been in Turkey for much of the last week -- three days in Istanbul and 3 in Ankara.  The weather has been lousy in both places and I've had a cold so didn't do much, which is a shame because I really do like Istanbul.  Ankara is less interesting.  Gertrud and I spent 5 days in Istanbul in the 90s and I was also here one other time so at least I've seen the highlights.  The Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazzar, Topkapi and many of the historical sites really are incredible.  We want to come back to Turkey again, but next time it would be to Anatolya, Capadocia and the Turkish Islands.

Barak Obama was here about a week before me and made a generally good impression on the Turks.  It looks like he has the Turks and the Armenians considering reestabishing relations after many years which would be a real feather in his cap.  He avoided mentioning the "G" word - - meaning Armenian Genocide although he described it in enough detail that many Turks are saying he might as well have said it.

I visited Armenia two years ago and was amazed at how close Yerevan, the Capital, is to the Turkish Border (about 20 miles).  From my desk in the Embassy I could see snow covered Mount Ararat, one of the holiest sites in Armenian history and religion which sits completely in modern Turkey.  And the Turks have closed the border which prevents the Armenians from being able to visit it.   Many Armenian brands are named after Mount Ararat (e.g. their most popular rum which has a picture of the snow-covered mountain on the label). And as you all probably know, Mount Ararat is said to be where Noah's Ark came to rest when the flood subsided.   So I guess the dilema for the Armenians now is whether they are willing to renew diplomatic relations with the Turks to be able to climb on Mount Ararat or whether they will hold out until the Turks own up to the Armenian Genocide (

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Do you know the way to San Jose?

Yes,  I found the way to San Jose -- but the one in Costa Rica, not Silicon Valley!  And what a beautiful small country Costa Rica is -- blessed with gorgeous beaches, beautiful high mountains with lots of volcanos, extensive rain forest, exotic animals and birds and a very pleasant climate.  No wonder so many Gringos have retired here! Colombus was the first European to visit the country which he did in 1502.  He also named it Costa Rica.

Did you know that Costa Rica is:
-- the world's first country to abolish its army,
--no. 4 in Latin America on on the Human Development Index,
--5th in the world and 1st in the Americas on the Environmental Performance Index,
--striving to be the first country to be carbon neutral,
--one of the few countres that didn't import forced labor which therefore required settlers to develop the county pretty much by themselves. 

Quite Impressive!

Here's a summary of what Costa Rica offers the tourist:

I spent Satuday touring a few national parks and visiting the Pacific coast.  I  definitely plan to come back with Gertrud.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hoi van Paramaribo

that's hi from Paramaribo in Dutch as spoken here in Suriname.  Perhaps you thought that only Spanish and Portuguese were spoken on the South American mainland:  well it's not true!   Under colonialism there were three Guianas -- English, French and Dutch -- which are just below Venezuela on the continent's Atlantic Coast.  French Guiana is still French and is where the French launch their satellites.  The British divested themselves of their former colony in 1970 when it became an unacceptable burden on her Majesty's Exchequer and which is today the independent country of Guyana.  The Dutch followed in 1975, setting their former colony free to become Suriname which lies just north of the equator and consists mainly of undeveloped rain forest. 

Surname's current population is about 470,000 of which only about one percent are white.  The largest ethnic groups are from India, Java and Africa which the Dutch brought into the area to work their plantations under various conditions of servitude, including slavery for the Africans. Suriname has the largest Muslim minority of any country in the Western Hemisphere and they are undoubted the most secular Muslims I've run across in all my travels.  They love to celebrate Muslim holidays when the women wear traditional Muslim dress, including head scarves.  However few wear them the rest of the year when they wear jeans and other western dress just like the rest of the country's inhabitants. They also celebrate Christmas or whatever other holiday comes along and they drink! Suriname's religious mix is quite equally balanced between Muslims, Hindus, Catholics and Protestants. The oldest Jewish community in the Americas thrived here for nearly 350 years but has dwindled down to about 200 in the last decade due to Suriname's religious diversity, its tolerance and high rates of intermarriage.  One of the most commonly known facts about Paramaribo is that the Neve Shalom Synagogue stands next to the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha'at Islam Mosque on Keiserstraat and that there has been almost no religious strife.  Suriname is rightly proud that everyone gets along religiously even when having their differences with their politicians and their government.  This morning my taxi driver drove me past these two house of worship en route to the embassy.  He had an Islamic crescent hanging from his mirror and said that he was Muslim.  When passing the Synagogue, he indicated he thought Judaism was some form of Christianity and said that he personally also believes in Jesus.  This goes along with what embassy colleagues told me that religious identification in Suriname is quite muddled which may explain the peaceful coexistence.

Despite the harsh conditions under colonial rule, the Surinamese have enthusiastically embraced Dutch culture and language.  Paramaribo has a beautiful city center filled with very attractive white Dutch colonial buildings which is a UNESCO world heritage site. I spent Sunday visiting several Dutch historic sites along the Suriname River which were also heavily visited by Surinamese.  

Example of Dutch architecture in Paramaribo
 Here are a few related websites you might find interesting:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Greetings from "Holy Sunday"

which is English for Santo Domingo (in the Domican Republic)! Why does it sounds so much better in Spanish?

Since I haven't had to work on this President's Day, I decided to use the time to do a little research on Columbus who founded Santo Domingo -- the oldest European city in the Americas.  It's really embarrassing how little I know about Columbus and I'm sure you all know a lot more.   Now you can prove it to yourselves by answering the following questions.  The answers are at the bottom but no cheating!

1.  How many voyages did Columbus make to the New World?

2.  Did his contemporaries in science believe the prevailing view that the earth was flat?

3.  Where did he first make landfall in the New World?

4.  What was the name of his first settlement he founded and what happened to the crew members he left there?

5.  Which are some of the islands Columbus named that still retain essentially these names today?

6. What major modern-day city did he found?

7. Did he ever set foot in North America, and if so where?

8. What happened to the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria?

9. Which islands did he claim were China and Japan when he reported back to the Spanish Throne?

10.  Did these voyages pay for themselves?

11. What disease did Columbus' crew likely bring back to Europe from the New World?

12. Which of the products that Columbus introduced to Europe had the biggest economic impact?

13. Did Columbus ever know that he had not reached Asia and that he had reached the New World instead?

14.  What is Columbus' legacy?

15.  Where did Columbus die and where are his remains?


1. Four

2. Many scientists knew that the earth had a curvature but they had little idea as to its circumference.

3. At an island he named San Salvador, which is generally thought to be in the Bahamas.

4.  La Navidad in today's Haiti.  Thirty-nine crew members were left there and all were killed. 

5.  Some of the better know islands he named are Dominica, Montserrat, Marie-Galante, Antigua, Nevis, St. Kitts, Tabago, Saba, St. Martin, St. Croix, Virgin Gorda and Tortola.

6. Santo Domingo, the oldest city in the Americas, founded in 1496.  It's population now exceeds 2 million.

7. No, but he did reach Central America on his fourth voyage.

8. The Santa Maria ran aground and was completely destroyed.  The Pinta disappeared in a strong wind in November 1492 but was later found.  Columbus returned to Spain on the Nina and the Pinta returned soon thereafter. 

9. He thought that the Bahamanian island that he named San Salvador was Japan and that Cuba was China.

10.  Not in the short run?

11.  Syphilis

12. Probably tobacco

13. No.

14. Despite what many of us learned in school, Columbus wasn't really the first person to discover America. His real legacy was that he undertook 4 voyages to the Americas, that he established settlements and that many other Europeans followed (for good or ill).

15. Columbus died in Valladolid, Spain at age 55, apparently of a heart attack.  He was initially buried in Valladolid, but his remains have been exhumed and reburied a couple of times.  The current location is in dispute, but is probably either Santo Domingo, Seville or possibly Havana.  The  authorities in Santo Domingo refuse to let DNA samples be taken on what are claimed to be his remains.


I had intended to provide more information on Santo Domingo but it has gotten late and I have gotten lazy.  However you may find the following wikipedia link on Santo Domingo interesting.