Paul's Countdown to Berlin,
Helsinki and St Petersburg

After Alf's Countdown and Before Berlin

Silverdale, Washington - May, 2002

Friday, May 17, 2002 (Norwegian Constitution Day1)

This is an auspicious day to be starting a new journal: It's Norway's most important national holiday. Since Alf and I both trace our roots to that beautiful land, we both get a little misty on this day. Syttende MaiWhile the holiday is formally "Constitution Day," it is most frequently called Syttende Mai ... just as our "new world" holiday of "Independence Day" is best known as The Fourth of July.

In Norway, my "daughter" Pauline is spending the long holiday weekend in the lovely city of Bergen, on Norway's west coast.2 She phoned me late this afternoon (at 2:30 am Norway time) to report that she had enjoyed a spectacular Syttende Mai. I wish I could have been there! I remember watching the big parade on Karl Johans Gate in Oslo when I was a young boy; it was great.

I had intended to have a little celebration of my own here in Washington. Somewhere, I have a large Norwegian flag that I bought in Oslo in 1975, and I thought I might run it up a pole or otherwise put it on display for my neighbors. I view this particular flag as being very special, as it was royally authenticated: I lent it to St Olaf College in 1976 at a time when Norway's King Olav V was visiting, and it flew at the football field landing site of the royal chopper out of which the King stepped.3

There are also formal celebrations taking place locally. Up in Poulsbo,4 12 miles away, this is the weekend of the 35th Annual Viking Fest. It is a very busy weekend, with many exciting events scheduled. One of these is the Lutefisk Eating Contest,5 to be held Sunday at 2:00 pm.

At one time, Norway was on our itinerary for our upcoming trip ... but there were just too many places to go, and something had to be cut out. Since we visited Oslo fairly recently, this time it suffered the knife. We do have a busy agenda, however, and in the few remaining days before we depart, I'll provide some previews. Beginning on Thursday, our adventure will be underway!

1 On May 17, 1814, the Norwegian Constitution was signed, giving Norway independence from its 500 year union with Denmark. This constitution came about when, following the Napoleonic War, a defeated Denmark ceded Norway to Sweden without consent of the Norwegian people. This led to a group of Norwegian delegates, who met in Eidsvoll, to create a constitution creating an independent Norway. The delegates elected Prince Kristian Frederik to be King of Norway. As a result of their action, war with Sweden commenced. After 6 months of hostility, a peace treaty established Norway and Sweden as separate kingdoms under a common monarch, King Charles XIII, who consented to recognize the Constitution of May 17. But the Norwegian people remained unhappy with this arrangement and sought full independence. In 1905 all ties between Norway and Sweden were peacefully dissolved.

2 Bergen is the birthplace (on March 28, 1882) of my maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Marie Ericksen. ... Wait, "Ericksen"??? Hey Alf, maybe we're related!

3 In return for my bailment of the flag, I was invited to lunch with the King. There were a lot of people there, however, and I didn't have a chance to speak with him. As far as I can recall, this is the only time I have shared a room with a head of state.

4 Poulsbo is a little town that was founded by Norwegian immigrants in the 1880s. In 1886, Ivar Moe felt that the settlement at Dogfish Bay had become sufficiently populous to warrant the creation of a United States Post Office. He filled out an application for Paulsbo, Washington (naming the new town after his native Paulsbo, Norway.) The Postmaster General had trouble with Ivar's handwriting, however, and designated a new post office for Poulsbo. The local residents, being fairly laid-back and not wanting to cause trouble, decided they could live with the misspelling, and the town has thus always been "Poulsbo."

5 A good friend of mine is the municipal court judge for Poulsbo. Because of his judicial standing, he was asked a few years ago to be the judge of the Lutefisk Eating Contest at Viking Fest. As in most "quantity eating" contests, one of the requirements for winning is that the full amount consumed by the contestant "remains consumed." In the event, there was a claim that the winner needed to be disqualified because of some material that came out of his mouth. The verdict turned on just what that material was. After a close inspection (which is definitely required to distinguish between the two possibilities), my friend determined that the substance was not chewed lutefisk, but merely a large quantity of phlegm. Thus, there was no disqualification, and the winner was the winner. My friend has declined subsequent invitations to judge this event again.

Saturday, May 18, 2002

The trip that begins in a few days will involve several places I have never previously visited: Berlin, Helsinki, and St. Petersburg. While the sights will be new, however, the faces in our group will all be familiar as they all belong to veterans of several previous Alf trips.

The cast of characters includes: Alf and Watcharee, Alf's daughter Annie; our "Minister of Transportation," Cindy; Cindy's fellow Floridians Stephani and Robin; and Hermann Sieger. I haven't seen Stephani or Robin in over a year, but the rest of the group were all in attendance at the Château d'Oex balloon festival in January. It will certainly be great to see everyone, as we trickle into Berlin over the course of a few days.1

As it happens, we are not the only people heading to Berlin in a few days. President George W. is planning a 19-hour stopover in the city on his way to Moscow ... and, because of his visit, tens of thousands of people with various messages will also be converging on Berlin.

The hoopla surrounding the coincident Bush visit to Berlin offers just one of the opportunities for "something eventful" to happen on this trip:

First, there is Scandinavian Airlines System Flight 938, which Annie and I will be taking on separate days. SAS Flight DivertedWe took this flight together almost exactly a year ago, and I had a personal "unfortunate incident" when I left several DVDs on the plane in Copenhagen.2 More recently - just ten days ago, in fact - SAS Flight 938 was substantially delayed when the incoming flight (numbered 937) was diverted to a lonely runway in Greenland because of two bomb threats, one scrawled in a Jack-in-the-Box restaurant near the Seattle airport and another in an airport restroom. As a result of the aircraft diversion, all of the people in Seattle who were waiting to fly to Copenhagen had to wait substantially longer: They spent the night at the airport.

Second, assuming transportation is uneventful, there is the Bush Visit to Berlin. Bush Alarm!First Lady Laura and First Party Girl Jenna are already in Europe, and they will be joined by Our Leader in Berlin on Wednesday night ... the day before we arrive. Apparently, hundreds of protests are planned, and thousands of people will be participating.4 Berlin is going to have 10,000 police on duty. The largest protest seems to be some sort of "western themed" rally scheduled for 4:00 pm on Thursday ... which is almost exactly when my flight is supposed to land. It could be an adventure! The mayor of Berlin has decided not to stick around to see what happens, although the Frankfurter Allgemeine is quite critical of this "caving":

Third, if we make it through our stay in Berlin without incident, we will have two ferry voyages on our transfer to Helsinki. Princess of ScandinaviaFerries so frequently seem to sink and/or burn; they are always a risk! Indeed, just today CNN is reporting on the rescue of a ferry called The Princess of Scandinavia, which was on fire and adrift. It has now been safely rerouted to Kristiansand, Norway.3 It is also worth noting that the last Scandinavian ferry we took, the Prinsesse Ragnhild, also had a fire in its past (although we did not know of this history when we boarded).

Surprisingly, the parts of our trip that might sound the most dangerous are probably the safest. When one hears of Zeppelin flights, the first thoughts are usually of The Hindenburg and its fiery end. But the new Zeppelin NT dirigibles are very safe, and there is no cause to be concerned about our one or two flights taking off in Berlin (at least as long as the protesters on the ground don't cause trouble). Our visit to Russia might also have seemed to be troubling in previous years, but now Russian is our new best friend: In fact, the reason George Bush is passing through Berlin is that he is on his way to Russia to sign a new disarmament treaty.5

Of course, the various possibilities for adventures and misadventures are what make these trips so much fun!

1 Alf and Watcharee will arrive first, on Thursday; I will arrive later that same day. Friday we will greet Cindy and then Annie; and on Saturday, Stephani, Robin, and Hermann will touch down at Tegel Airport.

2 Despite my visits to various offices, several international phone calls, and a fax to the Copenhagen police, these discs were not recovered.

3 On another personal note, Kristiansand was the emigration embarcation point for my 12-year-old great grandfather and his family in 1861. Here is how I happened to be born in America and named Fjelstad:

Susanne Vibeke Olavsdaughter Syftestad (1824-1891) married Knut Rolleivson Reine (1826-1897) in Nissedal, Telemark, Norway in 1848. Knut's grandfather had owned a farm called Reine. This was a part of "upper" Fjalestad (the steep slopes), of the large land area that lies between the Nisser and Fyres Lakes, and forming an "island." Even today, with modern automobile highways, much of the "island" can only be reached directly with boats or ferries unless one resorts to driving 50 miles or more out of the way to avoid these lakes and mountains. There are no bridges.

Knut's grandfather, also named Knud, decided to split Reine between his sons, Ingvald and Rolleiv, in 1831. Knut's father Rolleiv was given the "split" piece of Reine, so he had to have a new name, "Oygarden," or "island farm." But neither Oygarden nor Reine were satisfactory names to the proud Telemarkings, for the main name of this land area for many hundreds of years was Fjalestad. So when Susanne and Knut emigrated to America in 1861, they took the name Fjalestad. (In America, it was usually spelled 'Fjelstad.')

4 The protest organizers have set up a web site to sound the "Bush Alarm" and to coordinate their efforts. "Let us use varied and diverse forms of resistance to make his visit a fiasco!"

5 By the way, the First Family is also visiting St. Petersburg after Berlin ... but we will arrive in that city long after they have left.

Sunday, May 19, 2002

The Travel Section in this morning's New York Times contains a nice feature on the Oslo-Bergen Railway. As you may recall, Pauline is spending this holiday weekend in Bergen. No wonder she sounds so happy: This looks like a beautiful excursion indeed.

Speaking of the New York Times: I didn't have the chance to read Friday's edition, and I just now happened to glance at its front page. Here is the remarkable story of a young Frenchman and his mom. In the Times, it ran with the headline "Your Stolen Art? I Threw It Away, Dear." This is the version that ran in the Times's affiliate, the International Herald Tribune.

Art Trove in French Canal Points to 1.4 Billion in Thefts
The International Herald Tribune

PARIS - In a case unprecedented even in the shadowy underworld of art theft, the French police have arrested a French woman who has admitted destroying or throwing into a canal

Soldiers search a canal in eastern France for $1.4 billion in paintings and other art objects discarded by the mother of a French art theft suspect.
an estimated $1.4 billion worth of paintings and art objects that her son had stolen from dozens of museums in France and five neighboring countries over the last eight years.

The case has stunned art experts because paintings destroyed by Mireille Breitwieser, 51, include works by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Corneille de la Haye and Watteau. No less puzzling, Breitwieser's son, Stephane, 31, who is in jail in Switzerland, made no effort to resell the 60 paintings and 112 art objects that he has admitted stealing.

"I have never heard of anything like this before," said Alexandra Smith, operation manager at the London-based Art Loss Register, which records and tracks stolen art.

"I think he was just an eccentric kleptomaniac who loved 17th and 18th century art. A lot of people expect works of art to be well protected with alarms and clamps, but he clearly worked out that most are not, so he took what he wanted."

Stephane Breitwieser kept his stolen artworks in a bedroom at his mother's house in Mulhouse, in eastern France. After he was arrested last November while trying to steal a bugle from a museum in Lucerne, Switzerland, his mother immediately decided to rid herself of the incriminating evidence. She has told the police that she did so because she was angry with her son.

The countdown to Berlin continues, with just a few days remaining. I need to finalize my packing plans. How many cameras to bring? How many computers? While I could probably get along all right with just a toothbrush and a Coolpix, it's always nice to have everything at hand.

Monday, May 20, 2002

I've made my "getting to the airport" reservations, and I have my tickets and my passport nuzzled up against each other. I'm laundering various Corkscrew Ballooning outfits, to make sure I have a sufficient wardrobe for the trip. I'm taking film out of the refrigerator and trying to determine how much b+w, how much color to take ... how much of which format. My battery charger is running full-time, preparing dozens of AA cells for their impending chores.

I'm still working on the packing: I had seriously considered acquiring an additional rollaboard bag, but I think I'm going to opt instead for dangling lots of stuff over my shoulders. A couple of cameras, a long lens in its case, a computer bag ... all of these things would fill up an entire 22" carry-on bag. But if they're strapped around me like Christmas tinsel, I won't have to lug an extra bag, plus maybe I'll escape those fiendish charges for excessive luggage kilograms. I know SAS is out to get me.1

Today, a package from Annie arrived containing some great custom apparel for this trip. In just a few days, you'll be seeing us wearing these! I may bring some commemorative attire from earlier trips, too.

Berlin continues to brace for U.S. visitors. From today's Frankfurter Allgemeine:

Tourists crowd in front of the German parliament on Monday. The building's dome will be closed from Tuesday to Sunday due to security measures related to this week's visit by President George W. Bush. The streets around the Reichstag, where Mr. Bush is scheduled to speak on Thursday, are to be cordoned off starting at 6 a.m. The area around the president's hotel near Brandenburg Gate will also be off limits.2

1 I was just watching The Beach, and I was briefly heartened when I saw that Virginie Ledoyen was able to swim to the little Thai island with all her things contained in a half-filled inflated Hefty bag. Perhaps the rollaboards should be forgone in favor of plastic? Later on, however, it became clear that Virginie had left her Hasselblad behind, so this turned out not be such an attractive option after all.

2 Except to us: In deference to Presidential security, I have been refraining from mentioning that the President is staying in the same hotel as our ballooning troupe. (The hotel provided us with advance notification of the enhanced security measures that would be in effect.) The Frankfurter Allgemeine today mentioned the name of the hotel, however, so I guess the lid is off.

The BBC reports that "a large section of the city and the airspace above it will be closed during Mr Bush's 19-hour visit." Of course, this might affect aircraft approaches for some of us who are arriving on Thursday.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

In the course of cleaning out some clutter (in order to make sure I found everything I needed to pack) I found a photo that I clipped back in March.

Regular readers will recall the sinking of The Oriental Queen. It happened in Bangkok during the early morning hours of Friday, March 29. Well, at almost exactly the same time, when it was still 1:20 Thursday afternoon on the west coast of the United States, the last Boeing S-307 Stratoliner slipped under the waves in Seattle after a forced water landing.

Sunken Stratoliner

Nicknamed the Clipper Flying Cloud, the Silver Stratoliners were the world's first pressurized commercial airliners and were based on the airframe and wings of the World War II B-17 Flying Fortress.

The one that went down Thursday is the last in existence. It was first delivered to Pan American Airways in 1940 and later used as the presidential aircraft of Haitian dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier.

It flew at an altitude of about 20,000 feet, figher than the 5,000-to-10,000-foot altitudes of unpressurized airplanes. It carried five crew members and 38 passengers.

Boeing employees came across the plane at the Prima Air Museum in Tucson, Ariz. They learned it belong to the Smithsonian, which had obtained it from a private owner who converted it into a crop duster.

Boeing offered to restore the plane, flew it back to Seattle in June 1994, and after six years of work, it was rolled out of the factory last summer.

The plane was the anticipated centerpiece of the new National Air and Space Museum near Washington, D.C., scheduled to open in 2003.

Was there some strange worldwide underwater sucking thing during that brief period on Thursday/Friday that preyed on both the Stratoliner and the Queen? Perhaps some kind of non-localized Bermuda Triangle-like phenomenon? I don't know. But if it had the strength to pull down planes as well as boats ...

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

It's departure day! George Bush left early this morning. Alf should be leaving ... hmmm, all the time zone changes are confusing me, but it has to be sometime before I do. Probably in just a couple of hours. And I'll be leaving home this afternoon and from the airport tonight. No bed until Thursday night in Berlin.

In Berlin, protesters are already encouraging our President to "Eat More Prezels!" The Voice of America notes: "Streets are cordoned off in the center of the city; two water cannon are stationed ready for trouble outside the Adlon Hotel where the president will be staying and close to the historic Reichstag building where he will address parliament on Thursday."

This just in: Scientists have created "pre-plucked" chickens that are more healthful and easier to process.

My ride to the airport was a local shuttle. It picked me up at the Silverdale Hotel. Alf stayed here once, but today the place is filled with dogs ... specifically, 150 Belgian Tervurens. They were in town for some kind of doggie convention.

I arrived at the airport with about three hours to spare. This was a definite improvement over January, when I arrived at Sea-Tac with approximately -10 minutes to spare.

I had been worried about weight restrictions on luggage, and my concerns were heigntened as I waited in line at the SAS counter. Ahead of me, two elderly ladies were apparently having some difficulty; as I understood it, the gate agent was limiting their carry-on materials to 8 kilos and requiring them to move some of their items from their purses to checked baggage. This particular agent seemed to be more zealous than the others, and I was fervently hoping that he would not be the next agent available. The advantage to me of his thoroughness was that he took practically forever to finish with the elderly ladies, and another agent called me over to check in with him.

Everything went very smoothly! I presented my single large bag to be checked. It was 19 kilos. The agent did not even ask about my carry-on items (which consist of a regulation-size 22" rollaboard and a canvas briefcase-like computer bag). I'm only guessing, but between them, these two probably weigh about 25 kilos ... and I really didn't want any of their fragile contents to be tossed around by baggage handlers. One potential disaster was thus averted!

Security, as usual, was an issue. I emptied everything from my pockets, and for once not even my shoes set off the metal detector. (I almost always have to be "wanded"at airports.) On the other hand, my rollaboard drew its usual furrowed brow from the x-ray operator. I hadn't brought my flatbed scanner along this time; that's confused them before. This time, I suspect it was the presence of 70 foil-wrapped cylinders, each about 2½" long, containing film. The battery-operated light meter and the PC power transformer also contain electronic components that probably look "interesting" when x-rayed. In any event, bomb residue detection swabs were wiped all over the outside and the inside of my luggage. (It's nice to have three hours to spare.)

After taking the subway to the "south satellite" terminal, I settled in and waited`until boarding time. Television monitors carrying CNN reported the confirmation that a skeleton found in Rock Creek Park was indeed Chandra Levy; I did a wireless check of the CNN website for further details.

The SAS plane that flies between Seattle and Copenhagen every day is an Airbus 340. Airbus 340This is not the Boeing 767 that Annie and I took 364 days ago. It is not even the plane that was diverted to Greenland two weeks ago. Rather, it is brand new: I believe it was only just put into service last week, on May 14.

While the seats on the new plane aren't especially roomy, the amenities are nice: Every seat in the plane has its own personal video unit, and there are choices of several simultaneous films to watch. Also, the food was pretty good: Although I had been expecting "classic Scandinavian fare" (based on some materials I read at the SAS web site), the main course was chicken with rice, bok choy and oriental garlic sauce ... bok choy is something that is not generally found in the pantries containing lefse.

After watching most of "The Shipping News" (with Kevin Spacey and Julianne Moore), I dozed for a few hours.

Next: Berlin!

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