Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lisbon, Summer 2008

Portugal is one of those places I have always wanted to visit, but I knew I would never plan a trip there. It was just too far down the list of travel priorities. A wise man once told me that one could go anywhere in life they want, but they can't go everywhere. Fortunately for me circumstances landed me in Lisbon and I took a look around. What I found, I fell in love with.

Lisbon is great. The weather report in summer seems to always read: 81F day and 64F night, clear skies, light wind. The food is good, especially if you like seafood or beef and they have great sangria and Port. Things in general are relatively inexpensive, compared to other places in Europe.

Having a proud seafaring history that stretches way back to the earliest days of the Age of Discovery, the Museu de Marinha in Lisbon is a must see for those of us with penchant for all things nautical. In Lisbon you can see a towering aquaduct, constructed by the Romans, passing between modern apartment buildings. But the best part of travel is not seeing all the things you expect to see and experience when you get there. It is the things you discover once you have arrived that make the lasting impressions.

I once read that it is determined at or around the time of birth whether one will be a night person or a morning person. I am a night person. I don't like getting up early and I like staying up late. Unfortunately, society was engineered by morning people. So people like me are doomed to a life of dealing with morning people early in the mornings until we retire, or maybe not.

I first noticed something was amiss when there was absolutely no traffic on the roads at 7:30 AM on a weekday. Was everybody sleeping late? I quickly found out that dinner time starts around 9:00 PM and a 10:00 PM dinner time is not unusual. A trip to the Columbo Mall in Lisbon at 11:30 at night confirmed my suspicions. I was in a country full of night people.

And it was abeautiful thing.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Berlin, Summer 2008

I once had the opportunity to travel to Berlin in 1988 but decided against it for the usual reasons we don't do things we should. Besides, my thoughts were that Berlin was not going to change anytime soon and the Berlin Wall would still be there when I returned for another visit at some yet to be determined date in the future. I was wrong. Of course, it was the summer before my seventeenth birthday, so I was often wrong about lots of things.

In 1998 I finally made it back to Germany, but did not go to Berlin. In fact, it never crossed my mind. Instead, I traveled north into Denmark and Sweden. After all, what was there to do and see in Berlin? The wall was down and everybody was living happily ever after.

In 2008 I went to Berlin for work. What I found was a place where the Cold War was both forgotten and lived everyday. Capitalism and the German work ethic have allowed the former West Berlin to absorb the eastern part of the city. In fact, one would have trouble distinguishing where the border between east and west actually was, were in not for the various landmarks, tourist attractions and bits and pieces of the wall to remind you.

Potsdamer Platz, formerly a barren spot on the east side adjacent to the wall, is now home to the ultra modern new train station (Bahnhof) and numerous modern office buildings. If you want to see a long stretch of the Berlin Wall in all its sinister glory, you have to do some exploring further into the former East Berlin. As you go deeper you see that the East has still not fully recovered from its previous life under communism. It just looks a little more dilapidated and, for lack of a better word, poorer.

As always, people, not sights, left the greatest impression upon me. Sitting beside a Berliner of the same age as me on the flight to Berlin, reminded me how the past lives in the present. He was a boxer living in East Berlin during the Cold War. He told how, in 1988, he was allowed to go to Finland for a fight. He subsequently defected to West Germany via Finland, leaving his family behind. Luckily, the wall came down a year later and he was reunited with his family. None-the-less, he had committed, at the age of seventeen, to risk it all and leave everyone behind simply for the opportunity to live a better life.

My reasons for not getting to Berlin in 1988 now seem even sillier.