Showing posts with label Jeremy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jeremy. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Remembering Jeremy

In spite of knowing it was coming, no one is prepared for the news of the death of a close friend.  Jeremy Geelan succumbed to pancreatic cancer on April 12 on the eve of his 59th birthday after a five year struggle fought with dignity and courage.  He was the middle son of my close colleague, Peter Geelan, who also died of cancer, when he was 63. 

In his short 59 years Jeremy lived at least two lifetimes.  He was a person with titanic energy and vision.  With his wife Kirsten, his constant soul mate, they raised four beautiful children, Torsten, Sebastian, Christian and Anne-Sofie.  He loved them deeply and our hearts go out to them, and to Jeremy's brothers, Michael and Christopher.

Jeremy flourished in the world of the future, and I worked with him copublishing his “very” 20th century printed book program in the 1990s.  It met with modest success but that was only because it was before its time.  The Internet’s rise corresponded with Jeremy’s business metamorphosis, going way beyond the printed word, becoming the guru of the “Internet of Things.”  Kirsten too was having a challenging professional life representing Denmark as an Ambassador to a number of countries, most recently Nepal (and thus Jeremy’s love of Katmandu). 

On his LinkedIn profile Jeremy describes himself as being “British by birth, upbeat by nature, intercontinental commuter by choice, anthropologist and exponent of Internet co-technologies by trade.”  I can testify to the veracity of those words, each and every one of them, particularly his temperament which was always so optimistic that I sometimes wondered whether he was acquainted with the real world.   But visionaries are that way.  If nothing is impossible, well nothing is.

When his terrible illness was diagnosed five years ago, Jeremy seized Whipple surgery --a literally gut-retching procedure, with a long, difficult recovery.  Right afterward he wrote to me unchecked, pancreatic cancer is quite the Silent Killer, with a quite spectacular mortality rate. Whereas I have a ton of things still to get done, ten or fifteen years more of flat-out work. So I figured there was no way I was ready yet to throw in the towel just because of some miscreant neoplasm! ;-)  That truly encapsulates his attitude, toward the disease and toward life itself.  The photo here shows Jeremy after the surgery in one of his more precarious strategies to achieve business as usual.

The survival rate drops off sharply after five years but Jeremy made it to those outer fringes and I think during that time he accomplished what it would have taken us mere mortals those ten to fifteen years to achieve.  

He wrote publicly about his illness, most recently on Medium on Jan. 26, 2016 A Love Letter To Life and and earlier one on Oct. 26, 2015 'Man Plans and God Laughs’ — How a single day can change your life.

Before those entries, he had given me a “heads up” email about their contents and we wrote soul-searching exchanges, too personal to post here. I had written about Jeremy’s illness before in my blog, particularly commenting on his own blog entry from 2014, a milestone marking his third anniversary after Whipple surgery.  It seems like only yesterday. Before that entry there was one describing a Baltic cruise we had taken in the Fall of 2011 which was only six months after Jeremy’s life-saving surgery and ironically about the same after my difficult open heart surgery

We both were recuperating simultaneously, having gone down similar, but different life-threatening rabbit holes.  This was yet another bond in our lives.  Shortly afterward, Ann and I were on that Baltic cruise visiting Copenhagen for only one day but unfortunately Jeremy was in Norway on business already.  However we were able to enjoy a typical Danish luncheon with Kirsten and two of their children.

I think of Jeremy as a comet, gloriously, inexplicably appearing and then disappearing for months on end, but when streaking across my sky, our email was deeply personal, rewarding, and we both knew it.  It is unthinkable to me that Jeremy’s Comet is now off, never to return.

As I said at the beginning of this entry, our relationship goes back to the time of the printed book.  Jeremy was a 21st Century man caught in a 20th Century world.  In 1993 he had visited my publishing offices in Westport, Connecticut for a couple of days and we had talked about co-publishing arrangements.  This was in the day when the publishing world was still segregated by geographic territories.  His Adamantine Press was to publish “Adamantine Studies of the 21st Century” in the UK and Europe and my company in the rest of the world.  Mind you, scholarly books at the time sold in the thousands or merely the hundreds.  This was not the audience Jeremy imagined.  How couldn’t EVERYONE be concerned about the future?

His enthusiasm was contagious.  After all day and all night discussing forms of cooperation, I arrived at my office and found a hand-written letter waiting for me, delivered by Jeremy before the office had opened and he had departed for home (wherever that was at the time having lived in different places all over the world). It was 12 pages dated March 17, 1993 on the stationary of the Westport Inn, probably hastily written in the wee hours of the morning.  It gives a sense of the man before he became an “Internet of Things” guru.  Jeremy was unique.  Why I took that letter with me when I retired I now know.  I thought he was an exceptional human being, great things to become of him, and here were twelve pages in his own hand for me to cherish.

The first part of his letter was to thank me for spending that time with him and my wife Ann for hosting cocktails and then for our dinner at the Cobbs Mill Inn, a restaurant near our home in Weston, CT at the time. The second part of the letter I quote in part as it shows the vision which would carry him to his destiny:

Strategy is what makes me buzz, what makes me feel I am on the verge of Understanding, on the fine line where passive –going-with-life’s flow becomes proactive management of life’s flow: containment of it, at least, harnessing of it, manipulation of it.

Which (early-morning) stream-of--consciousness brings me to a general observation about all these darned books that I’ve worked so hard to bring to your attention which I can see making a viable – perhaps even, in time, a substantial – contribution to your publishing program. The observation is this:  that “21st Century” books are not about prediction, they are not even (save tangentially) even foresight.  They are about scholarship – and vision.

The whole point of harvesting these demonstrably forward-looking books is not to enable prediction but to enable understanding of alternatives.  “Simply to be a human being is to be a futurist of sorts.” (I employ this useful statement in a little descriptive blurb!)  “For human freedom is largely a matter of imagining alternative futures and then choosing among them.”

North America contains not 2,500 futurists but 250 million!   Two hundred and fifty million choosers, making choices in a variety of areas on a variety of timescales – strategizing as best they can, which, in these headlong, accelerating times ain’t no cakewalk.

Now we can’t expect to sell 250 million copies of every title!  Some of our “futurists” – our human beings who job is to surmount The Challenge of Choice (bankers, economists, CEOs, urban planners, environmental strategists, designers, public servants; practical men and women of action – some of them, I say, aren’t yet turned twenty).  But from 25 onwards – to 45, 55, and maybe right through till 95 – there is our target audience.  Typically, s/he has already “flagged” this interest in choosing – through an organisational or professional affiliation: and the scale of these organizations can be reassuringly large.

These are the core consumer of “21st Century Studies” – of books which challenge, stimulate, and help to provide a sense of perspective and hope about the future.  These are the strategizes, for those heading up organisations as dynamically as today’s fast-changing circumstances allows – thirsty for insight from whichever source, always provided the insight is captured, kept lucid, and brought to them in some value-added way.

Maybe books, as we discussed at breakfast, and maybe CD-ROM.  But “insight capture” remains our business, our stock-in-trade: and forward-looking, interdisciplinary insight capture is going to be at a premium over the coming years, an opportunity to stake this thirst for insight aimed at helping strategies.  By God, I think that you and I might have to read the titles and not just to publish them.  For strategy is all: and how can those with responsibilities formulate good choices without involving themselves in informed choices?  “The best possible choices, in the best possible order” – that is what you’re paid to make for your publishing organization, in nine simple words.  And there are choosers in the hundreds of thousands in this land of yours.  So Let’s Go For It, let’s get that sector synonymous with the “21st Century” branding and then keep it that way.  Whether in time we supply the sector via printed page, or fax modem, by CD-ROM or “video magazine” that will be a judgment call on the way through.

[The letter continues about proposed financial terms. We did copublish but not on the scale Jeremy envisioned.  By then the next challenge, the Internet, had reached critical mass.  Jeremy concludes his letter with the following thought]:

“…And what about your 5-year plan, …more challenges and choices.  Simply to be Robert Hagelstein is to be a futurist of sorts.  Oh, yes.

See if you can include me in your future, Bob, I would aim to make it one of the shrewdest investments you ever made (and god knows you’ve by all accounts made a goodly few).  Because in some way, for better or for worse,

I am the future.

Fondly --- Jeremy

The last email I had from him was only weeks ago.  It was long, detailed, somehow still intrinsically optimistic, but accepting the inevitable, knowing these days must be spent with his loving family.  It concluded:

Sorry for waylaying you like this on a Sunday morning with so much (too much?) info...but how much is too much when it comes to possibly being one if the last emails I get to write to you who have brought so much love and wisdom to my blessed, if too-short, life?

THANK YOU, Bob - from the very bottom of my heart. For everything.

J xxxxx

I was stunned by it.  I sent him a tearful, heartfelt reply, expressing my regrets that we hadn’t actually seen each other since 2001, but grateful we’ve always been there for one another in cyberspace. I can’t imagine my world without him and it is hard to do justice to such a human being in mere words.  Jeremy, I will always remember you.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Jeremy -- A Smart(er) Cancer Survivor

A dear friend of mine, Jeremy Geelan, a colleague from my working days, the son of another colleague, Peter, who sold our books in Europe, celebrated a significant milestone this month, the three year anniversary of his radical surgery to deal with pancreatic cancer.  From all signs it was a complete success and Jeremy is now in full bloom as Chief Marketing Officer & Conference Chair at KAAZING Corporation.  He morphed into all things Internet from his humble beginnings as an analog publisher, but true to his nature even then he was looking to the future being founder and publisher of the "21st Century Studies" series (back in the good ole' 20th century) and some of those I co-published in US (Jeremy at the time was in the UK).

He confronted the lethal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer head on and entrusted his Doctors in Denmark to perform Whipple surgery, not an option for all forms of pancreatic cancer but, in his case (and probably Steve Jobs had he not pursued naturopathic options), a hopeful means of addressing this dreaded disease.  My father died of pancreatic cancer and I can attest, it is among the most terrible ways to pass into nothingness. 

This radical surgery is a nightmare and it is hard to imagine what Jeremy had to endure, during, after (I recall he was on his back for a very long period of time, trying to type in compromised positions to get on with his work) and then the dreaded follow-up chemotherapy.  As he describes the surgery: "The Whipple procedure cost me the lion's share of my pancreas, all of my gall bladder, a goodly portion of my stomach, and a portion too of my duodenum (small intestine)."  Yes, it is that radical, but Jeremy has his life back.

Soon after his Dad died -- of cancer as well (he was a mentor to me as I would like to think I've been to Jeremy), Jeremy presented me with a bound edition of the 1979 edition of Logophile, The Cambridge University Journal of Words and Language of which (naturally) Jeremy was the editor.  It is inscribed "To Bob from Jeremy 18 iii 1993.  Like books "words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts upon the unthinking" (John Maynard Keynes).  This day in loving memory of Dad, I'd like to present you with a volume of wildness.  It's where it all (for me) began -- in a garret undergraduate room at Cambridge belonging to an Open Exhibitioner in English called Jeremy Geelan."

From there Jeremy threw the gauntlet down and never looked back -- in spite of such health adversity.

I commend any reader to visit Jeremy's blog.  He doesn't post there very often, although he Twitters regularly.  But in response to his latest post, I responded,

Dear Jeremy,

I don't know what led me to your blog today. Call it an instinct. You don't post here very often, but I felt I ought to visit, and there it was, your fairly recent post. Brilliant. True. Very Jeremy. But ever since I've known you -- how many years, at least thirty? -- you've always been "smart." But you were "bucking bronco smart" -- undisciplined, your mind wondering everywhere. I would say your terrible, but successful bout with pancreatic cancer has made you more focused. You are now more smart in a focused way, about your career, and about the things that matter in life. I feel privileged to have known you so long, and to say congratulations on passing the third year landmark of your successful surgery. You did it bravely, trusting your doctors, and embracing your loved ones and your friends and colleagues. On to the future! Yours, Bob

I am copying his complete post below:

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Smarter
In ten days' time it will be three years to the day since I was successfully operated on for pancreatic cancer.  Some of you reading this may be unaware of the prior story; worry not, this is not a post about cancer. It is, though, a post about survival.

There's a saying about how 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger' that many undergoing chemo- and/or radiation therapy often hear, or even use themselves, to make light of the unpleasantness of the process and to remind themselves that there is a flip side to the nastiness of the "planned poisoning" that they are enduring: it may extend their lives and is therefore “better than the alternative” (as in, death).

My purpled Twitter avatar, to mark World Cancer Day last month (Feb 4)

But recently a colleague of mine in the world of the Internet, Guy Kawasaki, hit upon a headline - I have yet to check whether it was Guy's own or whether he was passing on something from elsewhere - that, for me, is much more pregnant with meaning and possibility, in terms of viewing cancer in the first place, and chemotherapy/radiation treatment in the second, as a potential inflexion point for anyone who survives one or both:

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Smarter

This, for me, is the much more honest and uplifting statement. Do I feel stronger, having dodged the bullet - thanks to radical Whipple surgery - of the deadliest of all the cancers? Not really. If I could restore my strength to pre-diagnosis levels or above I'd be happy as a clam; realistically speaking, it is not especially likely, as there remain one or two challenges associated with Whipple surgery which tend to linger no matter how hard one tries - a surgically rearranged digestive system is plain not as effective as one that's been left intact.

On the other hand, do I feel smarter? Most emphatically, yes. The things that addressing and overcoming adversity teaches you - about yourself, about those who love you and are loved by you, about your professional colleagues both direct and indirect, about total strangers and/or long-lost friends; about nutrition, about the Internet, about the healing power of music and above all of love, about cognitive mysteries such as "chemo brain" and the reassurances increasingly offered by brain science; about physical capacity, about mental agility, about emotion, about faith…

In truth there isn't a single aspect of the human condition about which you do not, on being confronted with an early departure from the game of life, end up a tad smarter if on the contrary you have the good fortune to survive.

"Survival" and "survivor" remain the metaphors of choice when dealing with people like me but, speaking here only for myself, I am not sure how useful those words are. We are *all* survivors, after all; we all survive, daily, onslaughts of inconsiderateness or even plain cruelty, of injustice either direct or indirect, of disappointment and/or even despair. We all survive week in, week out the challenges of work and play, of life and love, of learning and of teaching, and of the eternal search for meaning in which we are all, to greater or lesser extents of awareness, engaged.

So the human being who "survives" cancer, of whatever variety, is no different from one who survives any other of life's curve-balls: bereavement, for example, or financial ruin. There is a commonality, and it is that of the bounceback or comeback. We humans are resilient. We have mastered endurance. We are *all* survivors. Of something. Of life itself, perhaps.

But the Kawasaki headline offers a more nuanced perspective.

Just as travel broadens the mind, or university, so pancreatic cancer it turns out is a hugely enriching life-phase that does, no doubt about it, leave you smarter. That it might just as easily have left you dead is not I think the point; many things kill us, from traffic accidents to natural disasters. But how many things actually make us smarter? We learn about humility - that is a given when quite literally your life (in the form of your innards) is for multiple hours in the hands of a surgeon. We learn about the irrefutable power of positivity. We learn about the boundaries of medicine and the central role of self-healing. We learn about the perils of certainty, and the corresponding importance of flexibility and agile modification of behavior and/or treatment. We learn about the often neglected importance of hydration. We learn about what truly makes us, and those around us, tick.

Now don't get me wrong. There are other ways to become wiser in this world, all of them less painful, less intrusive, and less detrimental and disruptive to the routine of yourself and your family. But that does not detract from this one, enduring truth, and I can vouch for it first-hand: What Doesn't Kill You - really, truly madly, deeply...take it from me - Leaves You Smarter.

Indeed, very Jeremy.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Baltic Cruise

Continuing a prior entry, this is the port description of our September Baltic cruise. Ann wrote a very detailed email on the subject to some friends and family and I borrow heavily from her excellent write up. Figure half of this entry is mine and the other half is hers. In fact, I've depended more and more on her for editing as this blog has evolved over the years. She is both a good writer and an excellent editor. My tendency is to write stream of consciousness, just to get all that is buzzing around in my brain down on virtual paper. In the process I sometimes step all over the English language and she corrects my inevitable gaffes.

So for a change, I've now edited and amplified on what she wrote, but for much of this entry I am grateful to her -- it saved me a lot of work!

We arrived in Amsterdam and were bused to Rotterdam where appropriately we boarded the ms Rotterdam for the nearly two week cruise to the Baltic region. We had very rough seas on our departure the first evening and the next full day and night under way, which I never mind mainly because I've been impervious to mal de mer unlike others who rush to the medical center for meclizine. But those were the roughest seas of the entire cruise, caused by the low pressure remnants of Hurricane Irene which we battled a couple of weeks earlier in Norwalk Ct.

Entering the harbor of Copenhagen one is struck by the extent of their effort to harness alternative energy, with some 22% coming from wind turbines. So many US east coast cities have blocked such efforts due to the NIMBY (not in my backyard) syndrome. Those turbines abound in the Copenhagen harbor, in peaceful coexistence with boats and presumably most birds (at least we didn't see any dead ones floating nearby).

We were particularly looking forward to our Copenhagen visit as we were scheduled to meet the wife of our friend, Jeremy, one of the three sons of my dear friend Peter who died nearly twenty years ago now. It is hard to believe that it has been that long.

Jeremy is the middle son and I am also close to the older son, Michael. Jeremy is one of the most interesting people I've ever met, someone who multitasks as he is thinking, a writer of prodigious emails (when he gets around to writing) and a brilliant professional as President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. But Jeremy and I share another marker in our lives, one that happened almost at the same time, he having to battle cancer which involved radical surgery and I having open heart surgery from which, happily, we have both fully recovered. We had hoped to see Jeremy during this trip but he was on a business trip to Oslo.

First, though, after a leisurely two mile stroll from our ship into the center of town (and back again, which nearly killed Ann), passing the famous Little Mermaid sculpture along the way, we strolled around the main square in front of the concert hall (where we were to meet) and serendipitously encountered the changing of the guard ceremony. Unfortunately, Ann's feet were giving out and she complained bitterly about her walking shoes so we ducked into a shoe store only to find an American brand (but made in China of course) and having to buy them to save her feet. Good planning, currency conversions both ways not to mention duty.

When Jeremy's wife, Kirsten, came into view, she delighted us by bringing along two of her four children, all of whom we hosted some fifteen years ago in our home, then on the Norwalk River. Suffice it to say, we certainly did not recognize Torsten or Sebastien who are now grown into fine young men from the children we remembered playing soccer on our lawn. The oldest, Christian, works in Hong Kong and the baby, Annasophia, a sophisticated sixteen year old was away at boarding school. Their intrepid mother, Kirsten, is currently the Danish Ambassador to Cyprus and in fact was completely packed up and ready to be shipped off to her new posting in Nicosia, having just returned from two years as Ambassador in Sarajevo, which she and the family loved. We ate in the open courtyard of one of their favorite restaurants (it was very chilly), but every chair was draped with a blanket and with heat bulbs blasting overhead, we sat down to a very typical Danish luncheon, varieties of herring and lots of delicious black bread playing a major role. Ann opted for a dark Danish beer with her lunch consisting of a plate with two open faced sandwiches: shrimp and roast beef. I had herring prepared three different ways. We enjoyed catching up with this wonderful family and were only sorry to miss Jeremy.

Warnemünde, Germany was the next stop, where Ann and I parted company. Warnemünde is the port for Berlin which is a very long bus or train ride one way. I dislike six hour round trips on buses, so I chose to spend the day in the seaside resort community and take photographs, and admire the boats and town. Ann was showered, dressed and breakfasted and off the ship by 7 AM waiting with a small group for her bus ride into Berlin where they were meeting a private guide for a full day of sightseeing which included all the major sights, the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall or what is left of it, the controversial Holocaust Memorial which is an outdoor
exhibit of 2,711 rectangular concrete pillars of varying heights and can be considered to be a starkly moving monument to the horrors of Nazi Germany or an irresistible playground for children who love jumping from one to the other at great risk of serious injury. She walked through this Museum and pondered the gravitas of the architect’s design and the intent behind it and had a lively discussion sharing her thoughts with her companions.
They drove past Checkpoint Charlie, which is now a mock up of the original hut with actors dressed as guards -- sort of a travesty -- the Reichstag, Potsdamer Platz, the New Synagogue and eventually stopped for a wonderful luncheon of sausages as the German’s call them (Wursts to us) along with a very tasty sauerkraut and potatoes. And naturally, she had a typical German dark wheat beer that really hit the spot!

The next day at sea was a blessing as we needed to recover a little from the two prior ones. Next morning we arrived in Tallinn in Estonia, a charming medieval town built on a very steep incline, which finally won their independence from the Soviet Union, aided by the famous "singing revolution, when from 1987 to independence in 1991 there were a number of mass demonstrations of Estonians singing national songs that were forbidden by the Soviets.
We strolled around admiring all the charm of this cobblestoned city, very reminiscent of Dubrovnik with its old city walls and fortresses. There is a quirkiness about the city too, drainpipes that become sculptures and behind the medieval facade is a vibrant high-tech society with software development and in fact the birthplace of Skype! Our friend Kristen also was once the Danish Ambassador to Tallinn, had lived there for four years, and loved it. We can see why. The Estonians are lovely, friendly people but still with deep roots to the tsarist Russian empire. We were privileged to attend a Russian Orthodox service that was underway in Tallinn, all participants standing up, bowing on cue.

We explored many of the nooks and crannies of Tallinn, the alleys and small passageways, winding our way to the central square, packed with tourists such as ourselves and many restaurants. As it was lunch time we debated over the choices. Internet service is very expensive and slow on the ship and we were both carrying our iTouches so that became my sole criteria for a "good" restaurant: where we could get email and catch up. It turned out that the only dependable Wifi outfitted restaurant was an Irish Pub. Ann was not too happy, but we had great soup and bread there and Ann imbibed Estonian beer, emailing and getting in touch with the world, especially for me: baseball, the economy and politics (pretty much in that order -- hey, the playoffs were upcoming). Although the ship was technically in walking distance, after a day in Tallinn we were ready to rest, hailed a cab and returned to get ready for what we expected to be the trip's highlight: St. Petersburg. That expectation was more than realized.

Before passing through immigration control in the terminal, just stepping onto Russian soil was a thrilling moment, this after nearly a lifetime of dealing with the rhetoric of "the Red Menace." As a child and as an adolescent we were subjected to regular air raid drills of hiding under our desks in school and pulling the shades down, the laughable objective of which was to save our lives in the event of a nuclear war with Russia. In retrospect I think it was a form of indoctrination, to fear the Soviet Union and comply (as adults) with any and all demands of the Defense Department for our own nuclear build up. All this anxiety culminated in the Cuban Missile Crisis while in college, the rumor quickly circulating that we were all being drafted to fight the Russians. I never thought that, in my lifetime, I would be visiting Russia as a tourist and for that I am grateful. The people were wonderful although the immigration officials need to lighten up a little.

We spent the next two exhausting, but thrilling days in St. Petersburg with our private guide, Anna. She and her driver met us at 8 in the morning where we spent the next ten hours the first day and the same on the following attempting to absorb centuries of Russian history, art and culture. She is a graduate of St. Petersburg University with a degree in Art History, so there was no doubt we were in very capable hands. It didn’t hurt that she was stunningly beautiful and drew admiring looks wherever we went.

What a handsome city, filled with extraordinary palaces, cathedrals, gardens and waterways, not to mention the stunning private homes which were built along the University Embankment by the wealthiest friends of the Tsars. No surprise that St. Petersburg is called the Venice of the North with all the rivers, canals, bridges and breathtaking vistas. We had early admission for the Peterhof Palace our first morning, the grand summer palace of Peter I with its magnificent fountains and lush gardens and views of the sea beyond. The fountains were all designed by Peter I, gravity fed with no pumps, more than 150 of them. It is an incredible engineering feat and at 11 each morning there is an opening ceremony for the fountains, choreographed to very nationalistic music by Shostakovich, the great 20th century Russian composer. I was able to capture about a minute of this ceremony before my memory card became dangerously filled but, nonetheless, I posted this truncated version on YouTube.

After three or four hours of exhaustive touring of the grounds and Palace, we boarded a hydrofoil for our return to the city for a very typical Russian luncheon with our guide, tasty pies: meat, mushroom, cabbage, etc., and of course fruit and sweet pies.

And without cataloging every single monument or fortress or cathedral we visited, I’ll simply say the highlight of our trip in St. Petersburg had to be the Hermitage, the Baroque Winter Palace built in the mid 18th Century which we visited after lunch…….…no doubt one of the world’s greatest museums, if not the most wondrous we’ve ever been in. There is no way to adequately describe the gloriousness of this building, let alone begin to do justice to the 2 ½ million pieces of artwork from all over the world housed in the 365 rooms. We tried to see as many of the undisputed ”masterpieces” as we could - given the crowds, our stamina and time constraints, but even that was a herculean task almost beyond us. We were advised in advance that there is no way to see even a small fraction of the art work -- that would take years -- and so we tried to concentrate on and admire the architecture.

After this we were not yet quite done with our day. We boarded a small boat and cruised for an hour on many of the canals leading out to the Neva River, with close views of the Peter and Paul Fortress, the famous burial place of many Russian tsars.

Day two was just as overwhelming, beginning with early admittance to Catherine’s Palace with its ornate furnishings and breathtaking splendor and unimaginably reconstructed Amber Room, all beautifully restored to its original grandeur after being almost totally destroyed by the Germans during their 900 day occupation on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. This day, we also visited the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood Cathedral with its richly colored onion domes and magnificent mosaics. Every inch of every wall of this church is covered in beautiful mosaic pictures, depicting Biblical themes. This church was built on the very spot where Tsar Alexander II was murdered in 1881.

From there we went to Trinity Cathedral, the church of one of the imperial guards of Russia, explaining the cannons at its entrance. But the Cathedral left me in awe as I was standing where the wedding of the famous Russian writer Feodor Dostoyevsky took place.

Lunch that day was at a more international restaurant, but Ann had the traditional borscht soup. I think I opted for something along international lines. Our slim guide Anna, as the day before, ate heartily, potatoes and meat, Ann and I wondering where she puts it all.
We drank a toast to such a wonderful tour, Ann with her glass of wine and Anna and I drinking. kvass, an east European drink that has been around since ancient times, made from fermented bread. Anna dared me to drink it instead of my usual diet Coke. It had its own distinctive taste, one that I could probably get used to if I had to, although its visual resemblance to Coca Cola can be off-putting, expecting the latter by just looking at it, but having the tart taste of kvass. Today kvass challenges American soft drinks in the Russian market.

We ended this two day journey on the subway, something I was anxious to see and one Anna said was an unusual request on a private tour. She took us down the steepest escalator we’ve ever been on (beating London’s by a mile!) and enjoyed seeing the average Russian looking just like his New York counterpart, distracted and overworked, but surely enjoying one of the most beautiful underground systems in the world, spotless and full of priceless art.

That evening we were scheduled to leave St. Petersburg and cross over to Helsinki, but high winds prevented us from being able to maneuver the ship through the narrow passageway from our dock and by midnight, we were stuck and in lockdown for the night and next day until we were finally given clearance to leave late in the afternoon. The wind actually blew the water out of the passageway making it dangerously shallow on each side for two ships to pass. Consequently, ships had to go in one way convoys. So goodbye Helsinki and hello a full day of rest for us weary passengers.

Our last port day was in Stockholm which is a beautiful city built on island after island after island. We crossed and crisscrossed so many waterways in our day of sightseeing, we lost track completely. Unfortunately, that day I had come down with a chest infection so we had to opt for the less stressful bus tour and gave up our planned walking tour. I always prefer to be among the people of any city we visit to get a real sense of their culture.

We departed and cruised the archipelagos, thousands of islands, some so close we felt we could touch them. Many had cottages or small homes on them.

And then at the end, two whole blissful days of cruising in the North Sea on our way back to Rotterdam. Time to rest and regroup, think about packing and enjoying the one entertainment we loved every single night, a truly talented jazz trio in the Ocean Bar. They could play anything, and took requests all evening long. We even managed a dance or two!

The flight back was uneventful but long -- we didn't sleep for about 24 hours, returning to our boat in Norwalk, saying our goodbyes to friends every night of the week we returned, and finally headed back to our Florida home.