The changes in Eastern Europe over the past 25 years have opened up so many excellent travel destinations. I remember vividly how my kindergarten teacher, circa 1985, pointed out how big the Soviet Union was on a map. She told us it was evil and they were against us. I also remember hearing stories about Communism: bread lines, one-child policy, travel restrictions. Much was true, but it was tainted with Western propaganda. In fact, I was astounded when I first met someone who grew up in East Germany and she told me her childhood was happy.
I find it incredibly unsettling to revisit a place after a long time. Faded details are filled in again, something isn’t quite as bright and shiny or taste as good as you remember, and subtle things have changed, all giving a disenchanting feel. One of my first trips on my year abroad was to Brussels. I had some time on my own in the city and remember turning a corner onto the narrow Rue des Bouchers and being overwhelmed by the small cafés and the sight and smell of the seafood displays. It was straight out of the travel guides or a Rick Steves special.
I returned to Brussel 14 years later. With much more experience living in Europe, traveling, and with life in general, the street seemed tacky. I knew that most locals would never eat on this street and the seafood displays aren’t as fresh as they seem. And if they are fresh they are overpriced. Typical tourist trap. I really enjoyed the second visit to Brussels – in fact more than I did my first trip. But I wish my initial naive impression of Rue des Bouchers had remained.
Modern German history has fascinated me for a long time. The country has been through so much turmoil, so much change in such a short time. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Berlin, where the scars of the World Wars and Cold War division are still visible – even if they are disappearing. Whenever I am in Berlin near where the Wall stood, I find it hard to fathom that I would have been shot for standing there and taking a picture. Pariser Platz, where this picture was taken, was in the death strip, where the East German border guards had a shoot-to-kill order. A no man’s land after the war, Pariser Platz is now a symbol of a unified and revitalized Berlin, even if a bit of a tourist trap. Continue reading “I Would Have Been Shot”
Cold, quirky, clean…Scandinavia is an amazing place. Of the Scandinavian countries, Finland stands out as a bit quirkier than the rest – you don’t have to look any further than the Finnish language to notice this. Helsinki is a small city. There are neither major skyscrapers nor the hustle and bustle of New York. But it is worth a visit to see gems like Kauppatori and Suomenlinna. The Helsinki Cathedral dominates the city skyline, raised on stairs and is white. This picture was taken at the foot of the cathedral stairs. I like the sense of solitude. Despite one of the busiest squares in Helsinki, people are still in their own world like the couple sitting on the stairs or the man taking a solitary stroll. This picture is peaceful. I like the fact that you may not be able to tell immediately that these are stairs, giving the picture a slightly unsetting feel. I also like the contrast of the smiling young couple and the peaceful old man.
Continue reading “Wall of Stairs”