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.

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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

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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 (