Thursday, July 24, 2014

New Places, Familiar Faces

On June 21, we started our crazy, whirlwind itinerary of holiday travel. Yes, yes, I know I said "July is Holiday Month" in my last post, but we started early. We like to overachieve like that.

The crazy itinerary went like this (I'll write more about each later, in separate blog posts):

Norway: June 21 - June 29

We stayed with Suresh's cousin Srividya and her husband Karthik, whom we had not seen in seven years since we attended their wedding in Madras. When they moved to Oslo from London earlier this year, we latched onto the fact that we were now in Scandanavia together, and we had, absolutely had, to meet up somehow.  Getting together to see Oslo, a new city for us, and tour a famous Norwegian fjord, a new experience for us all, seemed just the ticket.

Despite choosing to start our journey with the most expensive city in Europe, the fjord tour was breathtaking, the weather was brisk and enlivening, and of course to be with family in such surroundings was magnificent.

Greece: July 1 - July 13

We had but one day in Aarhus to wash our travel clothes before we set off again, this time to the lovely isle of Crete.  This was a trip twenty years in the making, when two computer science students named Vasilis and Suresh met in grad school, became fast friends, and upon parting promised to meet up again someday in Vasilis' home country of Greece. There was a definite culture and climate shock as we readjusted from the chilly winds of Oslo to the lovely coastal town of Chania, where we stayed in a luxurious air-bnb home within walking distance of the beach. Vasilis and his lovely partner Stavrianna joined us in Rethymnon and then traveled with us to Heraklion, and later to Athens, where reaching across thousands of years to another time and ancient culture was both magical and tangible. The fresh sea air, the delicious food (and free raki and dessert that came with every restaurant meal!), and the reunion with friends made it joyous.  The children were delighted to call Papa's friend, "Theos Vasili," and get to know their Greek uncle and auntie.

Copenhagen: July 17 - July 20

Of course no stay in Denmark would be complete without a visit to the nation's capital, so three days after returning from Crete, we hopped on a bus which in turn hopped on a ferry, to arrive in Copenhagen three hours later.  There, we toured the city by canal, metro, bus, and (as the boys will tell you), by swan boat best of all.

In keeping with our travel theme of meeting up with long-time friends and dear family, on our last day in Copenhagen we joined up with my friend of thirty-five years, Blaze Stancampiano.  It turned out that this year his company has him based in Mainz, and when we discovered through Facebook we'd actually be in Europe at the same time together, we thought it would just be too cool to meet up after all these years in Denmark.  So, as per our plan, we traveled back with him to Aarhus, where the boys were delighted to show "Uncle Blaze" our favorite sights, including the Rainbow Panorama of the ARoS Museum, and introduce him to the local fauna (as in, goats, cows, horses and this rather unlikely whale (helicopter?)).

Coming back "home" to Aarhus, and realizing that it really did feel like coming home, impressed upon me how much we've grown to love our Danish town, its people, and the life we are living here. We have shed our awkward "newness," that tourist sheen that encourages native Danes to start off conversations with us in English for our benefit.  Using the bike routes, the buses, and our "Klippekort" passes are second nature for us now, as is going to the grocery store, and even making simple requests in Danish (and being understood!).  Now with this opportunity to play the role of hosts in Aarhus, the feeling of really knowing the place solidified.

Just as this was a trip of contrasts, from Norway to Greece to Copenhagen and back again, I am struck, too, by the contrasts involved in meeting up again with long-time friends and family, of the many juxtapositions of "then" and "now" that arise from stirring up such longstanding relationships, and by the recognition of how far we've come against a backdrop of a past long gone.  It is a welcome contrast, for there is comfort in the realization that, although we have grown and changed, the essence of familiarity and fondness remains.

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