Philippines, Athens and Cyprus 2023

The Istanbul airport is probably the closest thing our current society has to the Egyptian pyramids. It is truly huge. The way I classify an object as “truly huge” is if during the attempt to walk the length of said object I experience knee pain then it is “truly huge”. The massive structure is like the letter “E” on its side, on a couple legs. All the vertical lines represent gate locations. The horizontal part, in addition to more gates, is almost a half-mile long packed pile of duty-free shops, cafes, restaurants, a large hotel and more; all of it making your average sprawling American outlet mall look like a newspaper stand by comparison. The other factors that made this airport so impressive are:

1) It’s not even done yet – 2028 is its projected completion date. It can handle 80 million passengers a year now and should be up to 200 million by 2028 which would dwarf the top spot held by Atlanta at 110 million.

2) When I flew through Istanbul four years ago, I had an 11-hour layover in their old airport that had all the charm and utility of a registry of motor vehicles. I wandered around this temple of decay and did my best to grab cat naps at empty gates before travelers filed in for the next flight. I believe 17 minutes was my nap record on this layover (you can read about that here).

This time, Pam and I reserved a room at Yotel which is a fairly large hotel located within the terminal. It was not cheap but since my impression is that Pam has recently decided that she is the “Pam” in “pampered”, she made it clear that she is worth it. I am of a mind to agree with her. I’m also glad I broke down and accepted her wisdom on this matter; after nearly ten hours of flight in an economy seat, a shower and 5.5 hours of sleep in a nice bed was erotic.

In the Philippines, we were picked up by Pam’s mother Andrea and her driver Carl. An hour later we arrived in Los Baños. The most fascinating element of this property is that it is also the location of a Montessori school that Andrea owns and operates. Things looked the same as six years ago except for the 25 or so chickens that have taken residence on the property.

UPLB campus

The following day I drove Pam and her mother to Patio Ysabelle, an attractive event space owned and managed by Andrea’s sister Odet and family. I always enjoy coming here. There are a handful of charming structures on the property with a pool. We were entertaining ourselves at the newest cottage with sensational Filipino fare catered by some local inspired cook. In attendance were some of Pam’s cousins, Andrea’s former classmates, Pam’s aunt Cora and her sister Nikki.

The women promptly went inside where they told stories and laughed a lot. The men congregated on the front porch where we laughed less and drank more. I brought a bottle of Jameson whiskey that was genuinely appreciated by Cora’s husband Jim. Also in attendance was Andrea’s brother Pete from Hawaii, making him the only brother in a great sea of sisters or Adam Sandler in the film Punch Drunk Love.

Pete went inside at one point to swap stories with his sisters. They told stories that had been told many times. One involved a fake treasure map drawn by Pete that actually fooled several residents in the neighborhood into thinking that a great treasure awaited them. But Pete didn’t just dish it out, he could also take it. By “it”, I mean a pail of urine that one of his sister’s dumped on his head in an act of revenge.

The next day Nikki and her three girls Bea (15), Kiara (12), and Siri (9) appeared at our doorstep. While Nikki, Pam, and Andrea ran errands in town, I read and wrote while this next generation of ladies learned from a distance on their respective devices.

Nikki returned and took the young ladies to purchase bathing suits. I instead purchased a small bottle of Jameson whiskey at a 7-11 like a burgeoning alcoholic. We all then hit Laguna Springs to surrender our bodies to the restorative waters of the main spring. The place is rundown but it’s cheap and great fun. If I had to guess, the first case of plantar warts in the Philippines happened in their shower but it’s best not to focus on that and instead enjoy the weird tilapia that nibble dead skin from your feet and legs as you sit in the hot spring area. I’m not sure these are the same fish that are served to us from the weathered kitchen that makes family dinners but the possibility did cause Nikki to refer to the process as the “Circle of Life”. If you really wanted to let your hair down, you could rent one of the bedrooms that surround the large rectangular pool connected to the hot spring. Something about the second floor of rooms that had a common hallway/balcony that overlooked the pool smacked of temporary housing for men that got kicked out of their houses. The only thing missing were low stakes poker matches.

On Friday, loud awful singing could be heard close by the house. Only 40 feet from the property is a tiny shop of sorts with tables. There is a tarp overhead for shade and the “floor” was a combination of broken concrete and dirt. Sitting at one table was a group of tricycle drivers that decided to fire up the karaoke at 11:45AM. I tossed around the idea of singing a few songs with some new friends but Andrea warned me not to go down there too late since they could get drunk and belligerent. I decided to sing in the shower instead.

Saturday the entire Aniban family (Nikki, her husband Jake, oldest child Diego; and daughters Bea, Kiara, and Siri) picked up Andrea, Pam, and I to head to the fascinating destination of Lake Caliraya. This high-altitude artificial lake was created in the 1930’s by Americans in effort to tap into hydroelectric power. Now it has become a sort of resort area. We were to spend one night here in two floating cottages. Once settled, Jake and I did it right with a couple cigars.

That night we dined on classic Filipino fare in the larger floating cottage that was cooked by the inn. The night turned downright social and luxurious when Nikki broke out a Spanish ham that came with a cutting board and metal clamp. Dark chocolates, wine, and Jameson whiskey also made their mark. Siri (who was adoringly turning into my shadow) then strong-armed us into some unicorn-themed card game that I failed to even remotely grasp. That and the fact that our young mentor and competitor had the accidental(?) tendency to tweak the functions of certain cards in her favor limited our chances of victory.

Nikki and Diego drunk on ham

I returned to my cottage around 11:30PM and fell asleep to the distant sound of karaoke.

After breakfast one of the staff untied our cottage from the dock and ignited the attached outboard motor and suddenly our cottage became a bizarre little cruise ship that slowly made its way through the immediate area of of this large lake. I’m still not sure what inspired somebody to create a cottage that turns into an absurdly slow boat but there was fun to be had. As we puttered along, Jake took out a surprising amount of apparatus to make coffee. There was an expensive and precise hand grinder, a digital weight scale, two Moka pots, a pot to heat milk in and an alcohol-fueled burner to heat this all. And yes, he also had an electric frother. The end result was more than impressive.

What makes this picture so great is that while a young lady sleeps, her father talks to a random peeping Tom who in fact is driving the cottage into the middle of a lake.
See what I mean?
A picture taken by the boat driver. He literally took 50 pictures of us in this same pose, making it fun and easy to select the only one picture needed to capture the moment. Bring back cameras that use expensive film that allows someone only 20 pictures per roll.

Siri continued to lead me into various activities like kayaking across the water to an island, reminding me I had no choice in the matter in accepting her companionship (and orders).

The following day Pam and I hired a driver to pick up Nikki and drive to Quezon City next to Manila to do some lady-banking. The traffic in metro Manila is unholy. It doesn’t seem to matter the time of day; the traffic will break you so plan your pee removal wisely. I learned this the hard way in 2016. Pam, the Anibans, and I were making a simple journey from Patio Ysabelle to the Aniban household, 30 miles away in Quezon City. I had enjoyed a few beers and, confidently and foolishly, boarded the Anivan (the Aniban’s customized van) without relieving myself right before departure. What should have taken 45-55 minutes on that seemingly relaxed Saturday afternoon turned into hours on the freeway. My overtaxed bladder nearly brought me to tears. Someone handed me a bottle to sort things out but as I was in the back of a van with a large nuclear family I met only a couple days previously, I suffered a debilitating stage fright. My takeaway from that experience was to never underestimate metro Manila traffic.

While the ladies banked, Jake and I drank chai tea and smoked cigars (inside the house!). The ladies returned and we all went to a swanky Manila mall and in the style of Genghis Khan dined, at Shabu Shabu which allows patrons to cook their own food in pots of boiling soup.

Later Pam and I took Nikki and the three young ladies to the slightly upscale family restaurant Nono’s for dinner.

Valentines Day. Learning from last year’s foul mistake, I remembered to secure flowers for Pam. Perhaps in an effort to overcompensate, I also bought flowers for Andrea and her teachers…but in a calculated manner: Pam got the largest bouquet, Andrea got a slightly smaller arrangement and her staff got smaller yet fully appreciated bouquets. To hide my intentions, I ran out of the house while Pam wasn’t looking and texted her that I was buying matches. Lame but it worked.

On my way to get the flowers, one of Andrea’s three-year old students looked at me and asked her teacher, “why is his hair missing?” Filipino men bald but less, I think, than whiteys. When our niece Siri sneezed around me, I told her she must be allergic to awesome people (me). She torched me by countering with, “you must be allergic to hair”. Little fart face.

A couple days later, Nikki came to Los Baños with the three dames. We hopped into a couple tricycles and went over to the train tracks where the trolleys are. We rode them on their customary ¾-mile journey and walked over to a vegetarian restaurant on the UPLB (University of the Philippines Los Baños) campus.

Would you please look at how devilish Siri looks in the lower left? Pam in the middle and me to the right. Bea, Kiara, and Nikki in the background.
The Los Banos Express

From where we sat, we could hear the variety of sound created by the fair, a mere 150 yards away, that had been expressing itself for the past few days. It was a large setup with children’s rides, games, a large stage with music, and stalls beyond counting filled with crafts, foods, and anything else you could imagine. Between sets, the band on stage got off and was replaced by a young energetic gentleman who voiced his distaste for the current president Bong Bong Marcos.

Pam, Siri, and I were walking together when we suddenly realized Nikki, Bea, and Kiara were nowhere to be found. I tried to find them but it was useless. The grounds were large and the thousands of people present turned my well-intentioned task into a fool’s errand. We did find them on the way home. Kiara had a small box of pizza that she bought at the fare shortly after we lost them, leading to our separation. I asked her how the pizza was and she said, “It was good, totally worth losing Siri for.” Mean but funny, young lady.

Before we knew it, Pam and I were on a 13-hour flight to Istanbul. We again went through the futuristic beast of an airport and then connected to Athens. Although sleepy, we stumbled our way up to the Acropolis to absorb the impressive ruins that were well over 2000 years old. Before going on our trip, my friend Matt the toy maker gave me one of his action figures to take with me so I could take pictures of it in random places. Boldly I decided to photograph “Pheyden” in front of what are among some of the most renowned archaeological ruins in the world. The grounds in the Acropolis were packed with visitors from all over the world, all wondering why I was taking pictures of a tiny orange toy in front of the Parthenon.

Pheyden in a banana tree in the Philippines
Pheyden owning the Parthenon
Way less interesting
Pheyden in front of what was probably once a hardware store in the Acropolis

Sunday we hired a driver named Stavros to take us out to the charming seaside town of Nafplio. On the way, Stavros stopped at the Corinth Canal, the village of Corinth, and the archaeological site from 350 BC known as Mycenae. The last mentioned is an imposing site perched on a rocky hill and hosts some impressive masonry work, especially when taking into account the age.

Corinth Canal
Baldy and his babe in Corinth

As impressive as the site was, it could not compete with the interest everyone on the site showed in a shepherd who was higher above us all on the neighboring mountain. What initially drew our attention to him was a loud explosion that seemed to be caused by a firearm or some other explosive device that created a small cloud of smoke above him. Frightened by this, the flock of sheep started to nervously find its way down the mountain. For the next ten minutes, the shepherd seemed to shout Greek obscenities at his flock while following them down. Had Jesus and the other patriarchal members of the Bible witnessed this event, I hardly imagine they would have compared themselves to shepherds. It is also fascinating how a top-notch 3000 plus year old archaeological site will never intrigue us like a pissed off shepherd.

Pheyden standing in front of the mountain where an angry shepherd cursed his flock
Pheyden searching for the ghost of Agamemnon in a cave in Mycenae

And this trend continued the following day at other profound sites in Athens known as the Roman Agora and Kerameikos. In both sites, for some bizarre reason, there were several tortoises walking around these ruins that were all surrounded by a very urban atmosphere. The ones in the Roman Agora were tame enough but at Kerameikos, they were angry or horny or a combination of the two. In two cases, there seemed to be an “aggressor” who was trying to bite the face (or perhaps kiss?) the face of another tortoise. One tortoise seemed to mount the other and made strange hissing noises which was great since I had no idea tortoises made sounds. Yet again, the tourists forgot about the ancient ruins in their midst once a more juvenile source of entertainment was provided. In this case, filthy exhibitionist tortoises putting on a show worthy of the seediest of red light districts would suffice.

Tortoises in the Agora
Get a room
Some decency, finally
Changing of the guard in Athens
Pam adding some Southeast Asian flourish to Athen’s swanky marina

The following day, Pam headed home and I flew over to Cyprus. A driver of few words picked me up from the Larnaca airport in a black Mercedes van and briskly drove me into the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Only Turkey recognizes the TRNC which was born after the 1974 war between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Before 1974, Turks and Greeks tensely shared the island in a more integrated fashion. After the 1974, Turks went north and Greeks went south and the “Green Line” was placed as a demilitarized zone between the two. Because the TRNC is not recognized by the US (or pretty much anyone else in the world), I had to enter a port in the south and then drive to the north. I could not enter from or exit to another country from the north or I would potentially have issues when I came back through Greece or the US.

After my four-day stay in the north, I will be brought south again where I will spend six days more. These first four nights are being spent at the five-star wine vineyard hotel known as Gillham Vineyard Hotel. I was brought to my room which came complete with a lovely balcony that looked north through a valley and into the Mediterranean Sea. The wine and food here are exquisite and the staff lovely and diverse. I had interesting conversations with staff members from the Philippines, Iran, Tajikistan, Israel (one of the owner’s sons), Nigeria, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Russia, Indonesia and India. Sixtos from Nigeria would love to visit the US but fears the violence he constantly hears about on the news. The same goes for Sai from India who became saddened to hear of the two Indians killed in Texas earlier this year. I assured them both that our violence-obsessed media should not govern their decisions when it comes to US travel.

The balcony off of my room
The breakfast I was expected to finish (an omelet was still enroute)

I asked how Nana from Iran and Riz from Tajikistan came to be Muslims working in a vineyard. They laughed and said they were laid back Muslims that drink. They both expressed frustration at the fundamentalism that exists in their country. I now see wine as the bringer of peace and understanding in our different cultures.

The following morning, two gentlemen dropped off a rental car for me. Three days cost $120, including drop off and pick up at the hotel. I thought this was low but when I saw the car, I saw why. It was nine years old with 85,000 miles on it and was filled with wear. Fortunately, it ran like a top and all things considered, I was happy to be driving a little shitbox since it allowed me to blend in a tad. Hysterically, right before the two men got in their car to leave, one of the guys said, “I’m not sure how much petrol is in the tank” and made a quick exit. I turned the car on and the low gas warning light came on. Ha. Well played you dirty turds. Thankfully my hotel is up high in the start of the Kyrenia mountains so if I ran out of gas, I guess I could put it in neutral and roll down to a gas station.

After filling up, I journeyed over to St. Hilarion Castle. St. Hilarion is described as an obscure saint who lived on the site as a hermit in the seventh century. In the 11th century, the Byzantines fortified it into a castle. After 15 minutes ascent by car, I spent another 30-40 minutes climbing a stone stairway, stopping at various watchtowers, religious quarters, and the most thrilling privies I’ve ever seen. The place was something out of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.

St. Hilarion Castle
Judging from the lower right corner of the picture, this was clearly the place where Byzantine knights would go on their smoking break.
Where folks would literally crap off the side of a mountain. My guess was this scary privy location was designed to overcome the lack of fiber in the resident’s diets.

After that, I visited the 13th century ruins of Bellapais Abbey. The Christians are gone from here and for the most part, all of the other Christian sites in northern Cyprus since the Turks are in charge here now. That said, it was fantastic to enter the refectory and see some older gent with longer hair, wearing sunglasses and holding a cane who pleasantly smacked of a retired roadie sitting next to his wife, singing a beautiful song. If you closed your eyes, you would think you were listening to the ghost of a monk that sang here often hundreds of years ago. I thanked him on the way out.

Bellapais Abbey

The following day I drove to the east coast city of Famagusta. Before entering the city I first visited the ancient ruins of the city Salamis. There is evidence of folks being here in the late Bronze Age but things seemed to get cooking by the ninth century BC. These folks in question are thought to be Greek. It was considered a place of power and wealth due to its importance in trade. But after a couple earthquakes, the silting of the harbor, and Arab invasions, the city declined and was eventually abandoned around 700 AD. Walking around it was surreal. Would New York City or London or Tokyo look like this someday? Of course but the ruins of our modern cities wouldn’t be anywhere near as classy as these. The artificial and toxic building materials employed today look foul as they age.

Pheyden kicking an alarming amount of ass in Salamis

I then went into Famagusta and walked around the old city. Fascinating was the Lala Mustafa Pasha mosque which was a medieval church that was converted to a mosque in 1571 after the Ottomans took over making a profoundly unique place of worship. In a small plaza, I purchased a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice from an experienced lady under a tent. After much effort of squeezing many oranges through an old manual device, I had an unbelievably gorgeous and generous glass of orange juice for only 20 Turkish Lira (about $1). Please bear in mind that it costs 50 Turkish Lira to use a public bathroom here. So if I have this correct, the Turkish Cypriots put a value on orange juice that is 150% higher on the way out of the body than on the way in.

Lala Mustafa Pasha mosque

I returned back to the hotel and had a massage from a small Indonesian woman named Putu. She began the session by cracking my back like a veteran street fighter would crack his knuckles before a brawl.

The following day I made the 90-mile and near three-hour drive to the very end of the Karpass peninsula, the long tail in the northeast that ultimately brings you within 60 miles of Syria. I visited the Golden Beach and the monastery located at the very end which is part of a large area that is fenced off from the rest of the peninsula. The purpose of this fenced off land is to contain the feral donkey population that came into existence when the technology of the tractor outmoded the donkey. Farmers abandoned theses creatures and they soon became wild. Many tourists purchase carrots and feed them to these wild donkeys, creating rather docile animals that stand in the middle of the road waiting for handouts, even approaching cars and sticking their heads through open car windows. One donkey saw it fit to drool all over my passenger side window.

Golden Beach
The sensitive side of Pheyden
They really are asking for it

Content and tired after the day’s activities and another great meal, I went to pursue sleep but sadly was unable due to two British couples in two rooms that were next to mine that were in full tilt drinking mode. I overheard they were military (probably up from one of the bases in south Cyprus) enjoying a rare night away from their kids. After a wine tasting in the afternoon, more wine in the early evening, wine with dinner, and a couple more bottles brought back to the room, they had music jamming, doors slamming, and loud voices for all to not enjoy. At 12:30AM, my patience expired. I entered the common hallway and approached an open door. Inside I found a woman staring at me and a guy in tiny underwear smoking or vaping or whatever. I asked politely if I could close their door. The man said, “yeah, sorry mate…”. They got the message and quieted down.

The following morning I was driven south to Larnaca. The border crossing took much longer this time; instead of one check point, there were two or three. For me, there were three. A Greek officer wanted to know if I bought any alcohol or tobacco. As we pulled away, my Turkish driver told me cigarettes are half the price in the north so naturally a real problem has emerged for the Greeks in the south since people like to buy them cheap in the north and sell them in the south.

After speaking with the Greeks in the south, I could see they were noticeably more irritated about the current divided state of their country than the Turks. “Their country doesn’t even exist!”, Nick from the car rental office said with force.

When I reached my Airbnb in Kalopanayiotis, I had a lovely conversation with my host’s mother but when I told her I had been north, she seemed to be biting her tongue. Because of this, I tried to smooth things over by saying my purpose there was to enjoy wine at a special vineyard hotel. She returned calmly but defensively, “but we have wine here in the south”. I was now seeing the wisdom of keeping my northern travels to myself.

The next day I did a semi-challenging six-mile hike through the mountains on the western edge of the village. The views were tasty and I sweat like a diabetic pig on a treadmill in a sauna. I was the only one on the trail which is a rare delight for any hike, especially one with beautiful views on a cloudless 67-degree day.

When I returned, I smoked a Cuban cigar, washed up and returned to Byzantine restaurant where the manager remembered me. He snapped his fingers, pointed to his best waiter and said, “Angelos! Bring Mr. Chris to a table by the window!” Moments later, a complimentary glass of wine landed on my table, clearly a reward for the patron who visited three or more times.

The following day I drove south and over to one of Cyprus’ most famous monasteries: Kykkos. The monastery was large and well kept. The sheer volume and craftsmanship of the religious mosaic tiled pictures was staggering. I can’t even begin to understand the time it took to create these complex images. The monks seemed crusty but I bought some of their honey anyways.

Driving away from the monastery, I passed by a large group of cats in front of one of the monastery buildings. Cyprus has a cat population that defies calculation. Two in this particular group stood out since they were having wild drunken frat party sex for all to see. I laughed since it’s downright silly and great how unabashed animals are when it comes to humping. They always choose the darnedest places to reproduce. In the Philippines, two stray dogs were getting it done in the breakdown lane of a highway. The number of spectators those morally bankrupt tarts achieved also defied computation. Maybe that’s why they chose that spot. These two freaky felines decided to sex it right in front of a monastery as if to ridicule the crusty monks and show them the joys they will never savor.

Monastery bells used to scare off the horny cats

After dinner I popped into a cafe for a glass of wine. I spoke at length with Dimitris the bartender. He was in his late twenties or so and had the full time job of a forest firefighter. He made a point to show his appreciation to the British for formalizing the forest fighting practices in Cyprus. The British take a bad rap for their colonizing practices (much of which are deserved) but it is interesting to hear about some of the positive things they leave behind.

What I found more intriguing was his take on the Turks. Born long after the events of 1974, Dimitris did not seem to harbor the same resentment that the older generations do. I guess this is understandable. Some of the acidic bitterness fades with the passing generations. That said, he could understand the anger of the older generations since they may have had relatives and friends die in the conflict.

Today was my last day in Kalopanayiotis. I rode the glass village elevator up to the main street and obnoxiously sipped a double espresso at a small table outside. I got in the car and headed south first to Pedhoulas where I visited an over 500-year old tiny church that oddly enough, ranks as my favorite among all the churches I’ve seen in Cyprus and Athens. The church of Archangel Michael was technically “Byzantine” but it felt like a much more small, humble, and pure version. You could have easily piled 20 to 30 of these little churches into your average Byzantine church. All of the churches I have seen thus far have a decadence and complexity that challenge the Las Vegas strip with their power to dazzle and overwhelm. This little one however was so down to earth that I literally walked by it twice, not realizing what it was. The main part of the church couldn’t have been more than 10 feet wide by 20 feet long. If I were to liken this church to all the possible grails that Indiana Jones had to choose from in the Last Crusade, this church would have been that final simple one he chose, “the cup of a carpenter”.

The church of a carpenter

After that, I ascended Mt. Olympus in my vehicle and stumbled upon a sloppy ski slope. The snow up here was melting and the skiers were gloriously awkward for the most part. People parked their cars, sauntered over to the ski area, suited up, grabbed on to a rope tow that elevated them to the top and hoped for the best. It was all so disorganized and informal and wonderful. I wanted to go out to get a closer look but was unsure so I asked a weathered gent sitting in front of a small shed if I could walk out there. “It’s up to you!” this crusty bum-hole answered in an irritated fashion for absolutely no reason. On the way down, I stopped at a viewpoint. I struck up a conversation with two Nepalese gentlemen. They were both working at a sushi restaurant in Limassol and decided to take a bus up to Cyprus’ highest peak for the day. I told them how much I enjoyed their country four years ago. It was starting to amaze me how many international workers Cyprus attracted. At a gas station, I encountered a chap from West Africa. I asked him how he liked Cyprus. “You just mind your business here” was his answer.

One of Mt. Olympus’ many triple black diamond trails

I arrived at my next destination around three or four in the afternoon. I foolishly drove right through the town center and again faced absurdly microscopic streets. The owner of my inn was undeniably a cat lover (and a nuclear scientist as it turned out). She adopted over ten cats and would even take them to the vet when needed. Lefkara is known famously for its lace but it seems to be the cat capital of the universe.

Olive tree in bloom at my inn
The mean streets of Lefkara

The next day I visited a nearby 700-acre olive farm owned by the mayor of Lefkara and his arguably eccentric wife whose spirit animal is likely an eagle. Her face was built for theater. When she saw me (I was the only one there) she treated me like a long lost nephew. She explained her property, showed me an 800-year old olive tree, and then gave me a blow by blow description of all the olive-centric products she sold. Her hands moved wildly to match the intensity of her eyes. If someone beyond earshot saw us talking, they would have thought I was being yelled at.

Gurl’s olive farm
An 800-year old fart of an olive tree

She then proceeded to place about 20 various olive products on a table before me to sample. It was impressive and I ended up buying olive oil, olives, olive lemon jam, and two delicious tapenades that would end being tossed by an airport security dink in Athens. He said it was a liquid but as I was explaining to him that tapenade is more of a paste, he unceremoniously dropped it in the bin. I do hate him.

From there I visited the nearby quaint village of Kato Dhrys and strolled around its quiet, tiny, picturesque streets.

The even meaner streets of Kato Dhrys
An example of some of the amazing tile work to be found in Cyprus

The following day I drove to the monastery of Machairas. At one end was an ominous 16-foot tall statue of a heavily armed militant chap with an eagle behind him. Later I discovered the man was a famous Greek Cypriot insurgent leader named Grigoris Afxentiou. I’m not sure who the eagle was. It seemed like a strange setting for such a statue, sort of like a chubby smiling statue of Santa on top of a mosque.

I can only imagine the things you need to do in life to have a statue like this made of you after you die.

Once inside, I roamed around the courtyard where the church was and started talking with one of the monks, Niktarios, who was far more friendlier and gentler than some of the other crustier monks I saw at Kykkos. I told him that when I married my wife, I “married up”. He laughed and said he never heard this expression. Niktarios followed by indicating that people are equals in a marriage and that we bring different talents and skills to bear in any good relationship. I agreed and told him that Pam may move mountains as a scientist and provide wonderful health coverage but I can hang a picture on the wall better than anyone. He smiled. I opened up the pictures in my phone and found one of the bed I built five years ago and he was impressed.

Church inside Machairas

On my way back I hit the charming little village of Vavatsinia. Here I enjoyed a traditional Cypriot meal at a charming restaurant that offered views of the surrounding valley. Inside a fire roared and the incredibly amiable owner told me how the fire warms the sleeping child. I asked him what he meant by that and he pointed behind the bar. To my surprise, a three-year old boy was fast asleep in a tiny cot right about where a keg of beer would normally be found.

From Vavatsinia I took the road to hell option to return to Lefkara through Opa. The first half was paved but littered with small rocks and debris. The second half would have been sensibly navigated with a 4X4 vehicle but I proceeded anyways in my meager economy sedan. Not a soul haunted these mountain roads that were constructed of dirt and sorrow. At one point I crossed through a stream and dodged tree branches as I climbed a hill that had little trenches carved out by previous rain water.

This month-long dream was now ending. On my way back to the states, I had to spend a night in Greece, near the airport. That evening I walked one mile down to the water to eat at a popular restaurant. I sat in a large covered tent that was filled with a buzzing Saturday night crowd. Two figures stood out while I sat there alone. The first was an older gentleman who approached me about seven times so that I might buy whatever it was he was selling from a bag slung over his shoulder. No matter how many times I or the other patrons politely but clearly indicated we had no intention of buying his wares, he would come back 10 minutes later as if we were new hot leads. Like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, the man was far beyond his prime and sadly courted some brand of senility.

At one point, a waiter tried to shoo him away like a feral cat but the old man persisted. This is ironic because the second figure of note was actually a cat that would beg occasionally for scraps at the tables. Judging by the cat’s fat appearance, it was clear this kitty was a superior salesman than the old man. It was like watching a scene from Glengarry Glen Ross where the old man was the down on his luck Shelley Levene portrayed by Jack Lemmon and the cat was the younger more successful top closer Richard Roma portrayed by Al Pacino.

I walked back up what felt like a perfectly consistent ramp to Peri’s Hotel. As I went, dogs made sure to bark at me the entire way. The next day the older owner, Peri himself, drove me to the airport in an old Volkswagon Passat. I sat in the front passenger seat while his Japanese breed of a dog tried to lick my face. Peri shared his philosophy of simplicity with me. He waved his hand and said, “Look at this old car! Why get a new one? It’s runs fine!” I laughed to myself as I lost count of the various lit warning lights sprinkled over his dashboard. At the airport I thanked Peri for the ride and he gladly accepted a tip I gave him.

Switzerland and Sweden 2002

May 3, 2002

Allow me to create the scene: a divine mixture of wicked good Boston accents, British vocal stylings and illogically delicious and fresh pint of Sam Adams – the likes of which, as I told the bartender, I have not witnessed since a high level keg party. Where else would this be but an airport bar next to a British Airway gate in Boston’s Logan international terminal. It was a fine beginning to a two-week sojourn in Europe that would expose me to Switzerland and Sweden. These geographical choices are the product of months of research, interviews, lab reports, fistfights, studying…not really. To be honest for a moment, they were selected because my former roommate Derik and his lovely wife Mary Ann are living in Zurich, Switzerland and some special friends known as the Fransens reside in Höör, Sweden. It should be noted that at one time, the Fransens used to play golf with Frieda of ABBA so please remain in a state of soft and dreamy awe as you read about them.

I boarded the large and what appeared to be recently built British Ariways 747 that would take me to London and then on to Switzerland.

May 4, 2002

I headed to Zurich and once in the airport, I searched around and finally found my good friends, current hosts, and Switzerland’s favorite expatriate married couple: Derik and Mary Ann. Hugs and kisses were the immediate order of the moment although somehow I found the strength to resist such forward acts of affection with Derik and settled for a much safer and masculine handshake.

We enjoyed Zurich’s finest in public transportation back to their apartment where I began to notice a dominating force of cleanliness and neatness around me. Yes, the city’s personality was becoming known to me slowly like the revealing of the romantic, passionate and mysterious secrets of a beautiful and perfectly engineered video game. I entered their apartment and enjoyed its simple yet spacious nature. The modern furniture in the family room warned me of its ability to double as the set of a George Michael music video so I sat in one of the chairs with caution and respect. Derik, Mary Ann and I chatted for some time which resulted in a nap, a nap caused by jetlag or boring conversation…we’ll never know.

The three of us again boarded a train or tram as they call it and made our way into the city where we involved ourselves in Italian cuisine. The conversation continued to follow us after the meal as we walked by the river and eventually to an interesting Moroccan bar by the name of Pur Pur. I did not realize this was name of the bar when I entered this mellow funky lounging atmosphere. When I saw these little glossy pieces of paper everywhere that said “Pur Pur” on them, I thought they were small advertisements for one that holds the position that the Swiss seem to have an affinity for: disc jockey. I couldn’t understand what the ad read but I imagined it was something like: “DJ Pur Pur will melt in your mouth like our country’s beloved chocolate as he creams you with special and 100% hit-ridden love sounds. Party! Enjoy the night and be healed by special DJ Pur Pur.”

As welcome as the discovery of an all day, five-dollar breakfast buffet, so was the meeting of our precious waitress Sandra. It was my first day in Zurich and her first day of employment at DJ Pur Pur’s eating and drinking saloon. As my Swiss German was rusty and non-existent, I delighted in the fact that Sandra was programmed to efficiently communicate in English. She was extremely lovely in her appearance, demeanor and conversation abilities. By the end of my Pur Pur experience, I found myself desperately giving her my email address in case she ever decided to travel to Boston.

After talking with Derik and Mary Ann and seeing it firsthand myself, a certain Swiss trait became clear to me. It can best be described as non-multitasking. You can be standing next to someone (let’s say a waitress) and trying to ask her for something (let’s call that a menu) and you won’t get the time of day until that person is completely finished with their current task at hand. You can use your most powerful, non-verbal body language and you still won’t get anywhere. You could be a gunshot victim bleeding to death and a Swiss nurse won’t tend to your lethal injuries until the grass she or he is watching grow has reached an acceptable height.

We moved on to another club called Andorra to meet up with Derik and Mary Ann’s friends. Three things I adored here: the jazz playing on the sound system, the Belgian beer Maredsous on tap and an airplane propeller that rotated from the ceiling. Sufficiently content with all of this, we returned to the apartment where I quickly jotted down some things of note from the day. While I did this, Mary Ann came in and said with a little sister smile, “Make sure you put something in there about how much of a beautiful and gracious hostess I am.” Mary Ann, you’ve taken the words from my mouth.

May 5, 2002

After waking, I enjoyed some pleasant conversation and breakfast in the kitchen with Mary Ann. It was then and there that I decided to go for a seven-mile run through Zurich so I did so along the river and Lake Zurich. While running through the lake, I paused for a moment to stare at this large metal, rusty structure that did its best to represent modern art. It was raised 12 feet in the air and contained many metal wheels. If you squinted at it, it looked like some cartoonish train so I lovingly named this piece “Mein Choo Choo”.

Upon my return, the three of us found ourselves heading to the town of Schaffhausen to view the mystical Rhine Falls. We stepped off the train and onto the bus that led us to this mighty spectacle of nature and gravity. We descended down the hill and came face to face with an aquatic disappointment of the 17 Swiss Franc nature. They resembled a hiccup in an North American white water rafting experience but the tourism literature we read built them up to something else that could only be approached by “Daredevil Boats”. Mary Ann half-heartedly tried to defend this meager attraction and Derik and I laughed our asses off as these “Daredevil Boats” gently bounced near the falling water amidst a danger that more closely resembled that of a boy peeing near his rubber ducky in the bathtub. Maybe it’s because I’m from the US. I don’t know but if something is natural and going to catch my attention, it’s got be bigger than my head.

Undaunted, we carried on to a small village by the name of Stein on Rheim. This beautiful, well-preserved medieval treasure was located on the Rhine River. We strolled carelessly through tight, perfect streets that felt more like corridors. We then ate a meal. How was the meal? Let’s just say that the high point of the meal was the fact that half of our table was in a bay window. No one else was in the restaurant so everything occurring was easily audible. Shortly after we ordered, the electronic beeping of a microwave keypad was heard followed by the trusty whirring noise. A final beep tone was heard and moments after, our food arrived. It’s like they were reading my mind, somehow figuring out that after traveling thousands of miles to Europe, all I really wanted was a meal cooked in a microwave.

Visually stimulated and fed, we took the train back to Zurich and began to discuss some funny Swiss nuances. One that came up was an observation I made the first day I landed in Zurich. This is the bizarre yet semi-popular trend of women dying their hair red or at least putting in some serious highlights. It approached the following level of insanity: imagine if all the women of the USA who add blonde highlights to their hair changed their minds and replaced their current highlights with a strong red dye. Some are subtle and some look like an extra in a Fire Marshall Bill sketch.

We then entered the apartment, we watched Rocky IV in French and went to bed.

May 6, 2002

This morning I woke up and ate some European breakfast of champions type cereal and I believe an egg also found its way into my being. Derik was already at work so Mary Ann and I headed to their gym. After one of my beloved vacation workouts, I illegally boarded a train to Uetliberg. Time was running short, I didn’t have the right bills for the ticket machine and I wasted precious minutes waiting in a post office line that I mistook for a ticket line. The Swiss public transportation model relies on the honor system. There’s only about a 10% chance (depending on the mode of transportation) that you will be asked to show your ticket. So with the ugly boldness of a Liza Manelli wedding, I jumped on the train and ascended the 800-meter hill/mountain that delivered some beautiful views of Zurich and the surrounding area.

After talking with a woman behind a tourist information window, I decided to run the six kilometers along a rolling path that traveled along the ridge of the mountain and through majestic fields of flowers and bright green grass. My plan was to run six kilometers, board a cable car that took me to another train station and travel home without using my own leg power.

The six kilometers was a bit challenging. The altitude was a bit higher than I’m used to and there were hills to contend with, leaving me worn out. I was not crushed but I was more than content to have performed these six kilometers and left it at that. But as a commander who has never held a gun lackadaisically sends his troops out to battle, so was the soft creature behind the tourist information window that told me to make my way to the cable car station. For when I got there, I found that the cable car was not running due to maintenance being performed on that day only. I stared at the sign that told me this and then the small station in silence. In silence because I knew no Swiss German curse words. What use would it serve if I swore at this non-operational cable car station in English? Where would that have gotten me?

So I turned around and ran all the way back to Uetliberg. I heard a train whistling as I drew near the station so with no time to spare, I once more mocked the Swiss public transportation honor system model. It felt naughty. It felt nice.

I stepped into the apartment and encountered an almost concerned Mary Ann and a curious Derik. I shared my adventures with them and ate half of their food supply. Mary Ann then left for work and Derik and I walked around the city. This gave me a chance to tend to the currently untended task of securing and smoking a Cuban cigar. I made it more so than any Number One I have met in a long time as we strolled through the old part of the city. We discussed much: our distaste with pants, our common dreams of becoming writers and Derik’s recent novel, “Where the Dark One Sleeps” that was published not long ago.

We ended up at a café on one of the main streets near the river where we tried to make sense of women via our personal experiences. Inwardly alluding to the pathetically drowning nature of this topic, we finished our drinks and watched the sun set from the Grossmunster. We then walked to Mary Ann’s place of work, made it back to the apartment and feasted upon chicken fajitas.

May 7, 2002

After Derik went to work, Mary Ann was gracious enough to assist in my adventure making. We decided to explore Schloss Kyburg which is a castle located in the small village of Kyburg. Kyburg is just about 17 km outside of Zurich. When we stepped off the bus, to our delight we found ourselves knee-deep in tiny, quaint, European village stuff. Not two minutes passed until we had a black and white cat following us through the village. I named our new friend “WC” which affectionately stands for “Water Closet”; the British and European way of saying “bathroom”. This favored feline received this name since we were looking for a bathroom at the time we met him and saw the “WC” sign. I’ll be sure to keep away from the same and other less desirable public institutions when I’m naming my children.

Mary Ann and I entered the courtyard of the castle and entered the first room. As we did, WC ran in before us and into an exhibit. We laughed and as we watched WC get Superbad, I said, “You just made the journal, pal!” I don’t remember too much about the castle except that it was old and built for small people. What did impress me was the lovely café that hosted our lunch and accompanying beers. The sun was out and the temperature was around 65 degrees. We both ordered the Fitness Salat (salad) which made us giggle as we ordered it. Unfortunately, they were fresh out of the Bench Press sandwich, the 100-Meter Dash salmon and the Clean and Jerk Potatoes.

With this, we took the bus and then the train back to Zurich where Mary Ann went to work and I headed to a track to perform a workout. Yes, a workout. Everyone thinks it’s so damn weird that I do this on vacation and they’re right. But please understand that I am smack dab in the middle of the spring/summer track season and I am 1.5 seconds away from breaking the 2:00 minute barrier in the 800m. So in case you were interested, I did five 800m intervals at about 2:28 pace. And the really crazy thing was that the track was 250 meters instead of the standard 200-meter indoor or 400-meter outdoor tracks we find in the states (I’m guessing because four laps brings you to a kilometer while four laps of our 400-meter track brings you to a mile).

I then ran back to the apartment, showered and waited for my friend Derik. The two of us headed to Mary Ann’s work and then to a fabulous Thai restaurant. We all enjoyed the green curry chicken over white rice dish. I delivered such an appetite-filled punishment on my large meal that it bordered unkind. I was pleased with the edible encounter but I still needed more. We took care of dessert at the Gran Café where I barely managed to communicate with our waitress on the topic of Queen. She previously made no attempt to talk with me but when she heard me talking to Derik and Mary Ann about the song “It’s a Kind of Magic”, she added, “I like this song. It was one of his last.”

“Yes” I replied, “Freddie Mercury was special.” I couldn’t help but reflect on Freddie’s amazing, beyond-the-grave ability to create a conversational space where people of many different tongues could effortlessly enjoy moments with each other. Time for bed.

May 8, 2002

It was Wednesday. Today I left for Sweden. I said my goodbye to Derik over the phone and proceeded to do some pushups, as I knew it may be the last time I would have the chance to do pushups on Swiss soil. I gathered my things, showered and left. Mary Ann was kind enough to go with me to the train station. Once there we said our good-byes and I soon found myself flying to Copenhagen. When I told Derik I was next going to Sweden but flying into Copenhagen, he said, “Chris, I hate to be the one to tell you this but Copenhagen isn’t in Sweden.” So to all my lovelies out there casting shadows on my ability to fly right, please not that Denmark and Sweden are connected by an eight-kilometer bridge.

I then landed and bought some gifts for the Fransens. I acquired an excellent bottle of Scotch for C.B. (the father), a nice bottle of red wine for Margaretha (the mother) and what I thought was a brilliant bottle of perfume for Pernilla (the daughter). With that, I boarded a train that was to take me over the bridge and into Sweden. During the second half of the trip, three natives sat down next to me. Soon I was talking with Stephen, Patric and a woman whose name was harder to understand than Bob Dylan’s singing. The best compliment I can pay these people is that they had the stunning ability to bring several bottles of beer on a train, drink them, and not look like white trash. My stop came. I said farewell to my new friends and told Patric to call me in Boston if he ever visited his sister there.

When I stepped off the train, I experienced something that most American men (and other sane men of the world) would be envious of. There waiting for me at the train station was a Swedish woman that knew my name. I had not seen Pernilla in over three years. The last time was in France when my friend Matt and I traveled to Ireland, Paris, and Belgium. Her hair was a bit different but her quiet, intense charm remained.

As we drove home, I began to recall similar drives when I used to visit the Fransens in a small village outside of Paris by the name of St. Leger. Their house was a quaint and cozy cottage-styled arrangement that made its visitors forget the outside world. When we pulled into the long, dirt drive way, I could already the same vibe. This authentic Swedish cottage was complete with a straw roof and red wooden beams that broke up the stone and white stucco walls. In the back was a garden that was obviously extremely diverse and well tended to. The car stopped and the couple was waiting for me at the front door. It was one of those half doors that allows you to stand in your front door, look around, soak up the fresh air, greet neighbors…all while not wearing pants. It’s ingenious. After embracing and greeting each other, I was lead through this unbelievably cozy and intimate environment that boasted of unfinished wood floors, exposed wood ceilings, exposed wood beams in the walls and an array of old relaxing antiques. I felt I was in a dream.

With the three of us in the kitchen, I began to pass out the gifts. To C.B. I gave the disturbingly decadent bottle of scotch. Margaretha received the red wine and and many packs of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I gave Pernilla a large bottle of Jergens lotion (there’s a good explanation for that) and a bottle of Hugo perfume. They were all happy so we moved on. A few hours later, I turned to Pernilla and asked, “How do you like the perfume?”

“Oh, actually it’s underarm deodorant, not perfume.”

I stared at her and asked, “Are you joking?”


The short of it is that in my haste, I quickly grabbed a small box that was behind a perfume sample, wildly thinking: The box behind the perfume sample contains perfume as well.

I then slapped my head, apologized, and savored that “I am less intelligent than a farmyard turd” feeling. How insulting can you be to a pretty young lady? “Hey smelly, your stench offends me. Here’s some deodorant.” To her credit, Pernilla convinced me she liked the gift but I still struggled with the mishap and told her I don’t normally give deodorant as gifts to special people.

I did my best to shrug off the awkwardness and soon was drinking a Carlsberg out of the same glass I always drink beer from when I stayed at their house in France. Moments later, the four of us were all eating a delicious, home-made Thai dish. We spent the next several hours catching up and enjoying the precious social inebriation caused by the evening in its entirety.

May 9, 2002

I somehow slept through the sounds of the Fransen’s feisty rooster that resided with a goose in their barn. I prepared a simple breakfast for myself and took part in a long and satisfying talk with Pernilla. During this time, she drew me a small map of the immediate area that would hopefully keep me from getting lost on my seven-mile run I planned. It was quite cute. She was like some sweet cartographer-crazy mother.

I thanked her and began my run that led me through beautiful fields and by the edge of a glorious lake. Everywhere I went, there were were the sweet and powerful smells of spring. I was officially blown away. The sun’s presence was prevalent.

I passed by fields of horses and flowers and eventually back to the 20-acre piece of heavenly land that surrounded the Fransen’s home. The air was fresh, you could smell the earth, the sun was shining and the sounds were peaceful.

The four of us gathered for a well-constructed salad. I then showered and went with C.B. And Pernilla to C.B.’s place of work where I had the chance to take an up close look at his composting machine that he helped design and is now trying to market with the help of some large firms. We were in the small laboratory part of his office space where he performed numerous tests on his composting products. He was like some mad, brilliant, evil scientist without the evil part.

While Dr. Compost made it so with his brilliant dirt, Pernilla grabbed a stethoscope from the wall and listened to her heartbeat. She could not hear her heartbeat so I listened to it and then my own. What we discovered on the young lady was a very quick heartbeat. She made a funny face and searched for an explanation. With calm, American reassurance, I put her fears to rest and told her that in my presence, many women experience an accelerated heart rate. It was quite normal. She was merely excited to be in the same room as I am. She glanced at me with a serious expression that contained about only 1% of humor and said with her Swedish/French accent, “I don’t think that is the case.” Damn it.

And what the hell was a stethoscope doing in a compost laboratory?

C.B. Finished his duties and we drove back home. He then continued work on his golf course and Pernilla and I took the dog for a walk through fields and forest located on their property. The manner of this walk was innocent although I could not help but feel I was in some sort of sappy Danielle Steele romance novel. Again, the scenery and smells demanded my attention. None of it felt real; not even the pile of rocks that was located on the edge of their land that had been used to build the 12th century cathedral in the nearby city of Lund.

A couple hours later we sat down to eat Tandori chicken and rice. Dessert was ice cream, these weird tube-shaped wafers filled with an almond paste, this bizarre jam made from berries only found in the tundra and lovely conversation. Moments later I was smoking a Cuban cigar and helping C.B. with his 15-year old scotch I had gifted him with. Unlike me, the scotch had aged in oak caskets that previously held Spanish sherry. I have no more to add to this perfect day except thank you God.

May 10, 2002

After the normal morning routine, Pernilla and I decided to journey to Copenhagen. Before we left, I lightly punished myself with a pseudo-track workout in the fields outside of their house. Let it be known that I was actually sprinting in the fairway of C.B.’s par five golf hole. Cleaned up and “Doug E.” fresh, we started south to our destination. On the train, Pernilla and I came face to face with Dusty Mustache Man. He was a gentle creature and said little. He was probably in his 20’s but his ninth-grade lip curtain betrayed him relentlessly. Dusty’s body looked like a piece of candy and his favorite pastime appeared to be fidgeting. But the one thing that caused Pernilla to fight back her laughter was Dusty’s constant caressing of his fragile porcelain mustache as if it were a pet. He had much love for those few precious hairs. It looked possible that at some point in his life he may acquire a true, Burt Reynolds, members-only mustache but for now, he was obligated to content himself with the small executive board meeting of Stache Inc. that was taking place right under his nose.

The train stopped and we began our tour of the city. Copenhagen was absolutely packed on this gorgeous Friday. Instead of parking lots filled with cars, there were large spaces crammed with more bicycles than Levis 501 jeans at a 1980’s rodeo. We found it difficult at times to navigate through the thick sticky masses. We walked down the main shopping street and ended up at a canal that led to the harbor. I don’t know if the city was always like this or if it was because of the previous day’s holiday but their were people drinking all along the canal’s edge. People were sitting everywhere, drinking and enjoying the sun.

Two young men dressed in nothing but black shorts saw it it fit to jump of the 15-foot ledge and into the dark, mysterious chilling waters below. They were part of a bigger group of other gents that wore no shirts and had some sort of symbol written on their shoulders. One of them had a huge and ridiculous Elvis wig on his head. He seemed to be the ringleader or commander. They enjoyed their beers and as they walked, they were constantly yelling and shouting in unison. The atmosphere in the city that day struck me as some large-scale organized high school party. I did my part by grabbing a beer and so the two of us walked carelessly through the city.

On the train home, we confronted yet another tricky mustache situation. This one I called the Hitler Negative with Accompanying Handlebars. Where Hitler had his mustache was shaved on this youth and where Hitler’s mustache ended began two patches of hair that had two toothpick-sized rods of hair that stuck out like TV antennas. It was quite clear that Hitler Negative was fond of his creation. Perhaps more so than Dusty Mustache Man. Perhaps they knew each other. Maybe they are two superheroes that form a duo like Batman and Robin and for the moment are on break as they take the train to the Hall of Mustache Injustice.

Back at the crib, we relaxed and ate hamburgers while savoring Swedish television programming. The show we watched had people trying to look and sing like well-known performers. There were then five finalists voted to an important stature by the audience. My favorite was a well-executed Bon Scott and ACDC rendition of Highway to Hell. He made it to the finals but placed third overall. The winner was some candy-ass, dough boy that, I am told, did a knockout impersonation of some dead and boring singer.

May 11, 2002

The morning was so meteorologically special that C.B., Pernilla and I ate outside on a stone table in their garden. As they finished their food and their reading, I continued on and wrote and lingered like a professional odor. The three of us then went to town to perform some errands, one of which was a stop at the liquor store that was, by American standards, strange. Before entering, C.B. told me that the government operates liquor stores in Sweden. C.B. led the way. Once inside, you had to take a number. Samples of all the various kinds of alcohol were behind a glass case with an identifying number and respective price below. Once your number was called, you proceeded to a register where you placed your order. It seems like no matter where you are in the world, once the government gets a hold of any type of establishment, they turn it into a registry of motor vehicles.

The people working there were nice but the whole experience was like being on a blind date. I wish to get to know and maybe touch and smell my potential purchase as I do in the US. Here, the process feels like, “You should meet this girl. My cousin’s dentist who is a 52-year old married woman thinks this girl may be attractive. I think she was on the golf team in high school and did archery in college so she’s most likely quite fit but who knows?”

We returned home for a while and C.B. offered to show me one of Hoor’s castles. This particular castle was owned by a count. I never really knew what a count was so for those of you that don’t either, a count is someone that is part of an aristocratic family that can date their family name back centuries. I like to think of them as a class of useless royalty. All of their current worth rests solely on the fact that one of their relatives long ago stabbed someone important at a crucial moment. Unless you’re out there making good cereal like Count Chocula, I’m not convinced the world has a need for counts.

The wacky thing about this count is that he didn’t have the money to buy and maintain his castle on his own so he opened the majority of it to the public, put up some exhibits, and charged them a fee. You are free to roam around his yard as well. Basically, this guy lives in a museum open to the public so that he can continue to embody his count role and brag to his friends about the sweet castle he lives in. That’s like me living in a tepee in Times Square, claiming the square belongs to me and charging people to walk through it.

In any case, the castle was nice to look at and the grounds around it along with the view of the lake were stunning. Nearby, there was also a 1000-year old oak tree that threatened to be larger than the Rhine Falls in Switzerland. Bordering the castle grounds was a shop that sold crafts and the like. I bought a few things and began to speak with the husband and wife that owned the shop and doubled as friends of the Fransens. The woman’s name was Lisbeth Ransjo-Shirley and she was the primary force that started the needlepoint movement in the 70’s. At that time she was known as Lisbeth Perrone and wrote several books on needlepoint in addition to other crafts. I’m not quite sure I am turned on by needlepoint but I respected Lisbeth for her dominance of the field.

One of the great things about the friendship C.B. maintains with these people is that once we were done speaking with them, it allowed us to sneak onto the grounds free of charge through the shop. It pleased us both to stick it to the count.

Relishing in our modest affront on quasi-royalty, the two of us left the castle. An hour or so later, C.B., Margaretha and I visited the local plant nursery to buy some items for their garden. The Fransens (the real Swedish royalty in my estimation) were also friends of the husband-wife team that owned this business. At this nursery, its patrons could not only enjoy a diverse collection of plants and flowers, but they could also savor baked goods, coffee, and tea. Moments later, who rolled in but the count and his mama, both in search for sweet cakes and caffeinated liquids. As I walked around this place, I passed by the count and tried to say hello to gauge his reaction but as I was a silly American dressed in running clothes, he had little to no use for me.

When I returned, I cleansed myself and left with Pernilla to dine in the Swedish coastal city of Malmo that is a mere five miles, I mean eight kilometers, from Denmark. On the way, we picked up her friend Andrea who was as charming as the evening the three of us spent together. We ate in a plaza teeming with restaurants. Ours was Mello Yello and proved to be of far greater quality than its American soda’s namesake.

May 12, 2002

I awoke and enjoyed freshly squeezed orange juice produced by a combination of Mother Nature and C.B.. Afterwards I ran into town to execute a track workout of modest proportions (3 x 800 meters and 2 x 400 meters).

Once back, I cleaned my dirty self and ate lunch with the mighty ones. While we ate, C.B. interpreted Swedish land and property laws for my amusement. Earlier that day, some moron and his son knowingly walked through the middle of one of his fairways. C.B. was concerned that in the future, he may actually hit this little turd with a golf ball which sounds funny on paper but lends itself to an ugly reality. The law says that strangers are allowed to walk on the property of others as long as they are not seen. If they are seen, the owner has the right to force them to wear underwear made of living fire ants.

The four of us then piled into a car and drove through a good deal of the countryside to view some old castles. Some were well kept and some were a step below a Motel Six operated by Sanford and Son.

When we returned, preparations for dinner began. Pernilla prepared a rhubarb pie who’s key ingredient originated from their back yard. The rest of the meal consisted of smoked and seasoned salmon that was served with either Margaretha’s spellbinding sauce or with Pernilla’s homemade billies (some sort of Russian pancake affair). Other options included smoked eel, shrimp, and herring. The meal was deadly but perhaps more so was Pernilla’s rhubarb pie served with fresh whipped cream and vanilla ice cream. Thoughts of marriage rushed into my brain as I realized the person who made this was female and unattached. She described her creation as orgasmic. I asked everyone to leave the room. Good night.

May 13, 2002

Before breakfast, I sweat out the previous day’s toxins introduced to my body by various forms of alcohol and mini cigars with a seven-mile run through delightful forests. Once again positive odors and peaceful visuals dominated the experience.

Pernilla and I then picked up our VW Golf rental that would take us to her aunt Eva’s house located north of us on Oland. This island close to the southeast coast of Sweden measures about 90 miles long by 12 miles wide. The drive up was visually precious, allowing us to gaze upon brilliant Swedish forests and your occasional big lake. We stopped at a few glass factories since this part of Sweden is often referred to as the Kingdom of Glass. We bought a nice blue piece of glass for our hostess Eva. I call it a piece because its one of those things that could be used to hold a broad spectrum of things that include peanuts, car keys, ashes from a smoking product, useless photos received at Christmas or other comparable holiday from people you struggle to care about, cherries, and so much more.

When we arrived to the house, we drove through a large opening in what felt like a castle wall made of barn-type buildings. We parked in a grassy courtyard that was surrounded by these rustic structures. On the opposite side of the entrance stood Eva’s house. Pernilla told me that her aunt is a teacher and an artist. Her artistic talents also translated very well to her unique decorating style and ability.

Being a former painter and carpenter, I became quite nervous looking around this place. Eva’s property was quite charming but it was also an immense black hole of projects. She was converting much of the various barn space into housing for potential borders, family, and art students. A large part of this transformation was by her design. All of the different projects, like Boston’s “Big Dig” were happening at once and were scaring the shit out of me. When you have been a painter or carpenter, you can’t help but experience all the possible sorrow associated with these seemingly infinite difficult tasks. A beer and several wines later, my nerves calmed down.

The three of us chatted a bit outside which was followed by a “make a man happy” caliber meal that was prepared by Pernilla and Eva. It was satisfying and delicious. After the meal, we walked in the fields behind the house while I continued to sip on my my apple brandy digestif. Even at 10:30 p.m., one could still see hints of faded daylight in the western sky.

May 14, 2002

In the morning I ate some breakfast and then decided to give a little help to Eva. Pernilla’s main purpose on this trip was to help her aunt so I did my part by first making quick work of a shelf that begged for American-styled demolition. I then went to the second story of the barn and helped Pernilla paint a room. With my blue-collar lust satiated, I boarded by small German cruiser for a solo mission.

My first stop was the Borgholm castle. Not wanting to spend time looking at stone-based ruins and being generally too cheap to spend 50 Swedish Krona, I moved on to the village center of Borgholm. Here I ate a nice lunch on a park bench that furnished me with a wonderful view of the harbor. From there I drove to the small seaside village of Sandvik. It was here I decided to pursue a nine-mile run that brought me through fields and eventually along some seaside quarries. I figured running would be the best way to witness this unique area since Eva told me that you were not allowed to park alongside the road. Doing so would damage the very thin and fragile layer of dirt/life that exists on top of much of the limestone.

But as I write this now and remember of all of this and the warnings Eva gave me, I now think that I did more damage on foot than I would have in the car since my running rarely remained on the road and instead took me across the limestone. Oh well, I think I have some sort of Ugly American Ecological Devastation insurance policy through my job for this kind of event. I mean hey, it’s just a thin layer of rock scum, right?

I finished my run, stretched, and liquidly relieved myself behind some shack that was close enough to the road that someone with good vision may have been able to see (I had to go…no WC’s in sight and I was merely trying to restore the fragile dirt layer I may have damaged by introducing a nourishing watering treatment). The horrifying thing with aging men is their increasing disregard for outdoor peeing camouflaging. This older a man gets, the less care is taken to hiding himself. Several months ago, my brother and I were running in some conservation land when we came upon a man whizzing erratically in plain view on the edge of a trail. He tried his best to look surprised and said, “oh”. I always try to at least look like I’m attempting to hide behind a tree or signpost.

My next destination was the small fishing village of Karehamn. Here I purchased some salmon from a small store and moved onto my next sight: Kappell-uden. This spot was once a thriving commercial port but now is little more than a place with a sign and some bumps in the ground. Reaching the full level of interest this site could provide in the time it takes Gilbert Gottfried to annoy anyone, I head back to Eva’s.

When I pulled in, I found two industrious women laboring with the work ethic of a Japanese employee. Eva took to the grass with her environmentally friendly Black and Decker electric mower while I sat and wrote. About every five minutes or so, the sounds of metal slashing into a rock or stump filled the air. This was immediately followed my Swedish cries of discontent.

The three of us cleaned up (separately) and enjoyed the salmon that was properly prepared by the ladies. Eva and Pernilla found it suitable to again make my day with such a fine edible offering. My stomach was thoroughly seduced. Good night.

May 15, 2002

Today I went into the kitchen and was greeted by Eva. She began to offer me a wide selection of breakfast possibilities that spanned from the normal to the abnormal. Of the second type, Eva opened up the refrigerator and whipped out a large slab of cheese and slapped it onto the counter. “Perhaps you want some cheese” she said to me and then left the kitchen.

I stared at the cheese curiously and after thinking about the five or six types of cheese I had been eating after every dinner in the past few days, I decided cheese in the morning was to be avoided like shots of grain alcohol for the doctor in the middle of performing heart surgery (which could lead to this in the operating room: “Nurse! Did you give me grain alcohol again instead of water? Hey…why is this red thing pumping?! It’s pumping and…Goldfinger, he’s the man, the man with the Midas touch, a spider’s butt. Moonfinger beckons you into his web of gin, but don’t drink gin! Moon River…”)

When Eva returned, she looked at the untouched block of cheese and said, “Ah! All you Americans are so healthy. You don’t smoke, you don’t eat cheese, no coffee!”

I then packed a few things and decided to tour the lower half of Oland. This plan was short-lived when I inadvertently drove over the long bridge back to the mainland. Because of my navigational error, I simply decided to tour the small city of Kalmar. My first site was the Kalmar Slott (castle) and then walked through the old part of the city. During my tourist tenure, I bought two Cuban cigars (one for me and the other for C.B.) and a pair of superbad sunglasses.

As I walked down one of the streets, a small van with no driver rolled out into the street from a small residential courtyard. I stopped for a closer look in search for the cause of this but found none. A man on roller blades looked at the scene and then at me and then said something in Swedish and rollerbladed away. Then a couple of guys came out into the street, one of which was the driver. The driver began to speak with his friend and to another man leaning out from the window of the building. Even though I don’t understand a lick of Swedish, I effectively translated the conversation: “Bjorn, Stephan…I am a complete chucklehead for stupidly not engaging the parking brake or simply putting the the vehicle in any one of the other available gears that could of stopped the vehicle from rolling out into the street. My actions have created many potential hazards, one of which is scaring this sexy American tourist. I should be tortured liberally for five days by someone that hates me.”

I left Kalmar and drove to the east coast of Oland to pick up some more fish for Eva at the tiny fishing village of Blasinge. I approached a fisherman on his boat and after a difficult yet productive exchange, I walked away with a large fresh fish by the name of Torsk for $4.

After I returned, the two ladies, the two lady dogs, and I walked back into the many fields and meadows behind Eva’s house. This sojourn became overwhelmingly botanical as Pernilla and Eva saw it fit to stop every two feet to classify and pick every living thing that had color and odor and was rooted in the earth. I kept silent and wished that Homer Simpson came dashing out of the woods so I had someone to talk to. I felt like the village flower idiot as I managed to somehow step on every flower accidentally.

We walked up a wide trail with twenty or so feet between each of us. I picked up a walking stick and decided to enjoy nature. My semi-trance was broken when I heard bursts of excited Swedish shout from Eva. She dove into the woods and frantically pulled back the leaves that rested on the ground. Eva had come across a patch of edible mushrooms. I tell you now that I never in my life had seen anyone generate such positive emotion over something I don’t think twice about nailing with a lawnmower. I tried like hell to respond in kind but they saw right through me. Their revenge came when they gravely compromised my manhood by making me hold the very dainty bouquet of flowers they had collected so the two women could have their hands free while mushroom harvesting. I thought it best to stand back from the whole scene since I was made to feel more evil than Lex Luther when it was brought to my attention that I was standing on a mushroom.

The three of us cut and cleaned the mushrooms back at the house. Soon after we were enjoying the mushrooms of our labor alongside some shrimp and pasta. Good night.

May 16, 2002

This morning I met Pernilla in the kitchen. We simultaneously enjoyed breakfast and two-way communication. She went to tackle her chores and I boarded my little silver German star ship. This time I managed to avoid the bridge back to the mainland and made it to the southernmost point of Oland which would be Ottenby.

This was a beautiful place shaped like a triangle with the height and base of five kilometers. There were interesting beaches along the edges with fields littered with intermittent boulders, vegetation, and farm animals throughout the western portion of this large triangle. The eastern area was more wooded.

Being a running square, I thought it best to soak up this land at a bolder pace. For kicks, I threw in eight 75-second sprints as I went. I even managed to run through a forbidden field so I could reach the beach. It was here that I absolutely scared the living shit out of an entire herd of sheep and cows. On my way back, I ran near a pack of about eight deer that also appeared to be doing their own sprint interval training. I think they were the first creatures besides myself that I have seen running in the past two weeks.

I drove north and then cut through the middle of the island to view the strange and somewhat desolate land that was mainly more of that thin layer of life or limestone rock dirt that I disgraced the other day. Back at Eva’s, Pernilla and I cleaned up, chatted with our energetic hostess and headed back to Hoor. On our way, I was confronted with Sweden’s motorist communication system. If someone is coming up fast behind me and I am a pleasant, thoughtful driver, I will move my car a bit to the right so the other motorist may pass me more easily. If this speedier motorist is also pleasant like I am, they will express their appreciation by putting their right blinker on for a second followed by their left. And if I am feeling still notably pleasant, I will thank this motorist for their thank you by flashing my headlights. The exchange is complicated and the roadway begins to resemble some sort of laser tag disco. My advice, buy stock in Swedish light bulb companies.

Three hours later we pulled into the Fransen’s home. We were greeted warmly by Candy the dog and Margaretha and C.B. the humans. That evening we savored a well-executed fondue and interesting stories about Eva. We then retired to the living room where alcohols, smoking products, and sweets of many varieties were enjoyed.

May 17, 2002

After securing breakfast and allowing ample time for digestion, I completed my last run of the trip. Afterwards, Pernilla and I took a train to the student city of Lund to walk around and observe the student carnival. We walked around and did some light shopping. I bought an interesting short-sleeved, button-up, collared affair to compliment my new sunglasses. I also attempted to purchase some jeans but I fell victim to a horribly designed crotch area. From what my mind can assemble, it may be a partially contained European phenomenon. I kept trying to pull these things up to where my waistline naturally resides but all I experienced was a self-induced denim wedgie.

The location of the waistline should be considered a set and unchangeable line by those that make pants. They should think of it like the equator. It’s highly unlikely that we will wake up someday to find that the equator has been moved 1500 miles north because those in central Africa are tired of hot weather.

If I had bought these pants, I would have been the first sub 170 pound American to have a case of civilian plumbers butt. As my good friend Sam said to me one day: “crack kills”. Indeed it does.

Pernilla and I entered the carnival. This is quite a big deal since it only happens once every four years. I don’t mean to bash Sweden in any way but this carnival sucked. You had to pay money to get into a fenced in area that only allowed you to do more things if you paid for them. The entrance got you absolutely nothing, not even a ticket or stamp on your hand. And if you got drunk (actually, this may be the one cool thing – you could drink inside) and stumbled outside, you had to pay to get back in. Imagine if you put another fence around Disney World and charged people at a gate in this new fence and then charged them again at the original gate. It felt as if they were simply charging us to be near this crappy carnival, like that was a thrilling experience in itself.

The inside of the carnival was full of drinking college students which could have been worth the entry fee alone but I soon realized only America college students become obnoxiously entertaining in this type of environment. When European college students get drunk, one of two things happen: they pass out or they actually smile.

Right outside the carnival on the grass was an orchestra of some sort. Conservatively speaking, about 80% of them were passed out in their little uniforms with their instruments and beer cans strewn all around them. I eagerly asked Pernilla to take a picture of this but she refused to waste her film. We left and came back 25 minutes later to find several of them stirring and playing their instruments. The sometimes vicious effects of alcohol made themselves clear as these physically dulled musicians produced butchered music that resembled the sound played when a contestant loses in “The Price Is Right”.

We left Lund with some precious memories. Back at the house that evening, we dined on masterfully prepared pork from the grill. We finished up and situated ourselves in the living room. C.B. and I smoked some lovely Cuban cigars by the name of Romeo and Juliet. At the same time we also sipped tenderly upon the fine scotch I gave to C.B. the previous week. Perfection.

May 18, 2002

Unfortunately, today is my final day in this divine atmosphere. After a brief breakfast, I once more walked around the serene environment and did my best to create vivid pictures of it in my mind. With difficulty, I said goodbye to Margaretha and drove to the train station with C.B. and Pernilla. They were kind enough to wait with me until I boarded the train. I expressed my appreciation to them for their time and generosity.

Through my various legs of travel that faced me in the next several hours, I read through all of my previous journal entries and began to envision certain friends and family members back home reading certain passages. I wondered what their reactions would be. I know some of them will be peppering me with questions of romance. Folks, I must kindly ask you to look elsewhere. I spend more time and effort articulating the subtle and hysterical elements of a full grown man that likes to obsessively pet his adolescent mustache than I do talking to women and I profoundly apologize for that. In fact, my romantic conquests were so pathetic that the only action I saw was when the Fransen’s dog Candy furiously tried to romance my hand while I watched television one evening.

Before I knew it, I landed in Boston. After securing my belongings, I was soon driving back to my apartment compliments of my sister Michelle and her fiance Rich. We enjoyed South Boston’s finest in food and drink at The Playwright bar on East Broadway. As luck would have it, we ran into my good friend Tom, or Thomas as he likes to be known as in certain circles, and his radiant wife Dia. After chatting like morning birds, Michelle, Richard, and I ate, talked and went our separate ways. I then walked to Tom and Dia’s apartment where Cuban cigars were smoked and beers were drank. A fitting end to a dynamic 15-day trip.