Helsinki, with the highest urban standard of living in the world, is, not surprisingly, one of the most livable cities in the world. It is refreshingly clean; the architecture is magnificent; the city is very walkable and friendly to tourists. With its metropolitan area population of 1.25 million people it is the third largest municipality of the nordic countries after Stockholm and Oslo.
The city was the site of the negotiations that led to the signing of the Helsinki Accords by then President Jerry Ford. Initially thought to be a sop given to the Soviet bloc, the Helsinki Accords, with their emphasis on human rights, turned out to be a powerful weapon in the hands of Soviet reformers and dissidents.
Finland became a member of the European Union in 1995, and it is flirting with the idea of joining NATO in 2025.
Anyway, we went on a walking tour of the city, during which we wound up at the Rock Church, so called because it was built into solid rock by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen—brothers and architects. By denomination it is a Lutheran Church in the Toolo neighborhood of Helsinki. It opened in 1969.
Below here are some photos from our walk around, including photos of the Rock Church. JFB
The latest adventure is heading toward the closing chapter. After spending the last 2 days touring in Columbia, we will be heading out for Aruba, St. Bart’s and then Fort Lauderdale, where we will disembark. For some reason or other the cruise lines refer to this as “debarking” the ship rather than disembarking, but I refuse to go along with this construction.
While in Columbia we explored Cartagene on one day and then Santa Marta the next. They are both beautiful and very clean cities—at least the sections we visited—which included the old historical parts of these cities. And they are old—founded as they were in the 16th century, later gaining their independence from Spain during the 19th century under the leadership of Simon Bolivar, whose statues are everywhere. Makes George Washington look like a piker in the statue department. Around the same time (with leadership from Bolivar and General San Martin) Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela won their independence.
Speaking of Venezuela, the story doesn’t change much. Venezuelans have flooded into Columbia because food, medicines and other necessities are in short supply thanks to the wonders of Socialism. 20 years ago, Venezuela was the richest nation in South America. Now it’s a basket case. You can see Venezuelans on the streets in Columbia (and Ecuador) selling water and trinkets trying to get by.
Columbia has made great strides over the years, largely defeating the drug cartels and the FARC and other radical groups. There is still plenty of work to do, but Cartagena and Santa Marta are mostly safe, and economic growth has resumed. Medellin—past center of the drug trade and home to Pablo Escobar—saw its murder rate drop to its lowest level in 40 years although it is still high at 20.17 per 100,000. By comparison, the homicide rate in Chicago jumped to 18.6 per 100,000 by the end of 2015. New York City had a homicide rate under half that at 7 per 100,000.
Anyway, Columbia is a fascinating place with lots to see. Some photos are below.
Located on the western bank of the Guayas River, Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city (pop 2.7 million) and its main port. It was founded in 1538 by Spanish Conquistador Francisco de Orellana. The city suffered a series of attacks and looting by French and English pirates over the years. By the 19th century Ecuador won its independence from Spain and became a sovereign country.
Ecuador is currently on a drive to attract tourism and international business—just like everybody else. Part of the project involves the apparently successful creation of a waterfront promenade in Guayaquil complete with restaurants, offices and hotels. Guayaquil also has a thriving arts community with an Arts district in the city that houses and galleries. We visited both places–some photos are below.
One of the problems Ecuador is attempting to deal with is the flow—becoming a flood—of refugees from Venezuela. To no one’s surprise (excepting Noam Chomsky) the worker’s paradise founded by Chavez, now presided over by Maduro, has been a crashing failure just like all the others. And so people are exiting for Ecuador, Columbia and Peru in an attempt to find food and medicine and other necessities. Venezuela’s neighbors have now shut their borders. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Lima, is a coastal city and the capital of Peru. It is home to over 10 million people and is the 3rd largest city in the Americas, behind only Sao Paulo and Mexico City. About one third of Peru’s population lives in the Lima Metropolitan area. And like much of South America, the population is differentiated by where they live. People who are partly of European descent are more likely to live in the coastal and more prosperous cities. Indigenous people are more likely to live in the highlands or the Amazon.
Part of the differentiation is the result of the colonial past that still has an extraordinarily powerful influence on contemporary South American societies. Another (related) reason is that desert and the Andes mountains separate the two. The Andes mountains stop the rain from reaching the coastal areas, the result being vast desert areas that extend from near, and sometimes all the way to, the Pacific Coast. It is a bit of a strange sight to see the desert right up against the Pacific shoreline.
We spent two days in Peru, mostly in Lima. While there we visited the Barranco District, a bohemian section of town that is home many of Peru’s most famous artists, including nobel prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, one of my personal favorites. It is a beautiful section of town, with beautiful museums and architecture, and a spectacular view of the Pacific. It’s well worth a visit.
Iquique, a town of 181,000 people, is located in northern Chile on the Pacific coast. Originally part of Peru, it had a large Chilean population. But as a result of the War of the Pacific (1879—1883) Peru ceded it to Chile where is has remained since.
The town developed rapidly with the discovery of mineral riches in the Atacama Desert during the 19th century. Mining saltpeter was particularly lucrative for a while, but eventually a way was discovered to make it synthetically, and that spelled doom for many mining towns, the remnants of which can be seen today in the desert—which is the driest hot desert on the planet.
After docking at Iquique, we went out to see Humberstone, about 30 miles away. It is one of the abandoned “ghost towns” that dot the landscape. Actually, desert scape is probably a better way to describe the town, which was designated a UNESCO cultural heritage sight in 2005.
After making our way back to Iquique proper we went to an opulent club off the town square to have some Pisco sours, after which we looked around the very attractive town square, saw a demonstration, and headed back to the ship.
Iquique is the last port if call in Chile for us, so we are now headed off for Peru to see what awaits is there. Some photos from Iquique and Humberstone are below.
We got the chance to take a quick trip over to Paris including a side trip to Lyon to celebrate the 21st birthday of our niece who is studying in Lyon. Paris is as beautiful and cosmopolitan as ever, with its classic architecture, museums, cafes and restaurants. We stayed at the Brighton Hotel on the Rue de Rivoli where our room overlooked the Tuilerie Gardens. From our room we could see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night and the Tuileries in the morning as the sun came up.
Soon—beginning early in January—we are headed out to Cape Town South Africa, where we will board Crystal Cruise’s Symphony Cruise liner to go on an extended trip that will take us through South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Columbia, Panama, St. Bart’s and from there, back to Florida. We will be posting all along the way, so stay tuned.
Thursday was a fine day in New York. The weather was great and the city was full of people taking in the sights. There is an excellent retrospective of the photographs (like the one shown below) of Irving Penn at the Met to mark the centennial of his birth. The exhibit includes a guided tour by people who put it together. The exhibit will be open through July 30, 2017.
More information about the exhibit is available here.
Below are some photos from New York taken Thursday.
Just back from a quick trip to New York, where we went to see the show “Beautiful” about Carole King. Just tremendous.
The Christmas Tree is lit up; getting around 5th Avenue is a nightmare now that Trump tower is serving as the White House North. Speaking of Trump, we had lunch with friends from the Serenity Crystal cruise at the Jean-George Nougatine Restaurant at 1 Central Park West. Just spectacular.