Thursday, July 31, 2008

#324 The Great Library Redux

Alexandria seemed to be waiting for us as we pulled into the dock before sunrise on Wednesday morning. Our friend Aree was there to see it.
And though we'd visited the great library of Alexandria on our last voyage, it was again on the top of our list. (You realize by now that I have an obsession.) It's a little over 2 miles from the ship to the library, but to best experience Alexandria, we set off on foot. Our friends Aree and Summer beat us there, but they cheated. They took the bus.
These SAS students are eagerly looking through Art in History, a book by one of our faculty members. (I'm sure their eagerness has nothing to do with seeing that jacket photo taken a couple of decades earlier.)
You may also realize by now that I'm not the only one in our family with an obsession. Here Kelly enjoys the map collection.
And finally, to answer the question you all are asking... No. The great library of Alexandria still does not have a copy of "Oh! The Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss.

See my comments on the Library of Alexandria on the UVA Today blog.

Yours in believing some things are worth seeing twice,

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

#323 Living on the side of a volcano

We've arrived safely in Egypt, but here's one last look back across the Mediterranean to Italy.

In southern Italy, three million people live within a stone's throw of one of the world's most historically explosive volcanoes, Mt. Vesuvius. The volcanic mountain looms near the port in Naples and was clearly visible from the MV Explorer during our stay.
Photo credit: Dominque
While others climbed to the top of the cauldera to see steam spewing from active vents, we visited Pompeii, the site most famously impacted by the 79 AD eruption. Earlier we'd seen beautiful Pompeii mosaics at the National Archeological Museum in Naples.
Quite a contrast to the rutted stone streets, deserted homes, and desolation of the excavated city of Pompeii.
Pompeii was never resettled, but millions of people still choose to live nearby making this the most densely populated volcanic region on earth.

Yours in keeping one eye on the cone,

Monday, July 28, 2008

#322 Changing Course

We're having a good voyage. The faculty are inspiring. Our student assistants provide us with a helpful and positive presence in the library from 0800 to 2300. The ports have been nothing less than brilliant. And I'm addicted to some amazing strawberry smoothies served 7th deck aft.

And tonight, our executive dean announced we are changing our itinerary for safety reasons. Instead of Istanbul, our next port is Alexandria. The students who gathered in the Union for the announcement endorsed this plan with a rousing cheer.

So Captain Jeremy pointed the ship toward Africa. I'm already planning our return trip to Alexandria and the great library there. In 2006, Erika and I enjoyed a behind-the-scenes, secret-librarian-handshake tour from our guide Sherine. I wonder if she remembers me.
Yours in changing course,

#321 The Most Popular Maps on Earth?

Having just experienced the Vatican Museums in Rome, I nominate the works in the Gallery of Maps there as the most viewed (and photographed) maps on earth.
In 2007, 4.3 million visitors walked through this 400-foot-long gallery where 40 detailed maps of Italy were painted on the walls in the 16th century. On the day of our visit in 2008, I'm guessing about 4.2 million people, all with cameras pointed mapward, joined us there.

Yours in mass map appreciation,

Saturday, July 26, 2008

#320 Our Roman Holiday

Have you seen Roman Holiday, the 1953 film starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn? One of the many good things about this Oscar winner is that it was filmed in Rome. We didn't have long in Italy, only 4 days, so we rushed to see all the filming locations of Roman Holiday. Saint Peter's Square - featured in the film's opening sequence
Saint Peter's Basilica - not featured in the film's opening sequence, but when in Rome...
Ponte Sant'Angelo - the pedestrian bridge over the Tiber River near where Greg and Audrey danced on a river barge
Trevi Fountain - near where something romantic happenedt
the Colosseum - near where something funny happened
the Pantheon - our night-time photo doesn't show it, but this looks a lot like the Rotunda at UVA.
and the Spanish Steps at the top of Via Condotti - where Greg 'accidentally' bumps into Audrey eating gelato!
Yours in wondering if we should design all our city explorations around film,

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

#319 Change is Good

I asked a student about the meaning of a tattoo I'd noticed on her wrist. She said the small drawing was intended to remind her that change is good. On this voyage, we've noticed a number of good changes around the MV Explorer since our Fall 2006 trip. The SAS logo now adorns the deck 7 swimming pool thanks to the work of Staff Captain Kostas and his crew.
And while you're on the pool deck, look up toward the ship's funnel to see the new 2nd antenna (the golf-ball-shaped structure on the left) that increased our internet capacity.
From deck 7 forward, climb the new stairs to access the observation deck. It's become one of the most popular places to watch our port arrivals and it's completely the work of Chief Engineer Mario and his crew.
But from the librarians' point of view, the best change since 2006 was removing the counter top that created "limbo-only" access to the reference desk.
Yours in appreciating change,

Saturday, July 19, 2008

#318 Mercator's maps

Although Gerardus Mercator was not much of a traveler, never roaming far from his birthplace near Antwerp, his unique maps "corrected for the use of navigation" changed travel forever. In the village of Sint-Niklaas just a few kilometers from Antwerp, we visited the Mercator Museum and saw his 1569 world map, the first to use the direction-preserving projection that would later bear his name. It's printed on 18 sheets and covers most of a wall.
Nearby sat two Mercator globes, also from the 16th century, along with a bound volume of maps which Mercator was the first to call an "atlas".
Back in Antwerp we spent a good deal of time in the "Geography Room" at the Plantin-Moretus Museum (the only museum on the UNESCO World Heritage list) where Mercator's maps hang alongside works by his contemporary and Antwerp native Abraham Ortelius.

Yours in appreciating maps as art,

Thursday, July 17, 2008

#317 Tour of Flanders

When it comes to bicycle races, most Americans know about the Tour de France. But worldwide, Belgium's annual Tour of Flanders race is also among the most prestigious. The hilly cobblestone roads of the Flanders region in the Belgian Ardennes have lured bicycle racers since 1913. So from our port in Antwerp, I joined an enthusiastic group of SAS cyclers for a short bus ride to Oudenaarde where we strapped on our helmets, adjusted our saddles, and hit the streets.
The Tour of Flanders route always passes through Oudenaarde and the Tour of Flanders museum there documents the race history. It's a bicycle-friendly city in a bicycle-crazy country. Our first climb was across the bridge over the River Scheldt where about 50 miles downstream the MV Explorer was docked in Antwerp. It would not be our last climb. Shortly, we were away from town and climbing a hill so steep, a good number of us chose to walk. Past windmills, watermills, and fields of corn, wheat, and potatoes we rode.
We covered more than 18 miles, a good part of it on bone-jarring cobblestones.
In the end, I gained a new respect for those professional cyclists who take the Tour of Flanders challenge.

Yours in appreciating the pleasure of bicycling on smooth asphalt,

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

#316 Belgian specialties

Belgium has a few delectable specialties: Belgian chocolate, Belgian waffles, Kriek beer, and Belgian fries with all kinds of toppings. Yum! While we've been docked in Antwerp, we've enjoyed all these fine local delicacies.
And despite all evidence to the contrary, the Semester at Sea visit with 600 students arriving in Belgium has nothing to do with the fact that the Belgian government collapsed today or that Budweiser, the king of beers, is now a Belgian product.

Yours in enjoying all things Belgian,

Sunday, July 13, 2008

#315 Shortcut through Germany

It's a quiz. Which canal is longer than the Panama Canal, has more ship traffic than the Suez Canal, and shares two letters of its four-letter name with the Erie Canal? That's right, Kiel Canal in Germany. Today we saved over 200 nautical miles and many tons of fuel on our way from Denmark to Belgium by traversing the Kiel through northern Germany.
And the views were a bonus. Lush rolling hills dotted with small farms, orchards, and fields of grain, bicyclists with packs on long journeys, and families camping, fishing, and constant waving - a delightful day. After nine hours of canal boating, we exited through a lock into the River Elbe.
We waved to the crowds gathered to watch the busy ship traffic. They smiled and waved. We smiled and waved back.
Yours in enjoying tired arms from canal waving,

Saturday, July 12, 2008

#314 Tak Korsor!

For the first time ever, SAS visited Denmark. And in what may be another first, the entire shipboard community - students, faculty, staff, lifelong learners - all seem to agree that Denmark has been the perfect host.
It was Tuesday morning at 0800 that we arrived in Korsor (55°20'24"N 11°7'48"E) - a town of about 12,000 about an hour west of Copenhagen by train. The town, based on notices in the Korsor newspaper and fliers at the public library (shown below), was prepared for our visit.
The townspeople were waving from the dock, the band was playing, and the red carpet was rolled out at the gangway for our arrival. We were welcomed from the start. And in what may be another first, the townspeople came back again to say goodbye on Friday night at 2100 - our scheduled departure time. The band was playing again. We were applauding. Students were waving home-made thank you signs. The townspeople were encouraging us to stay another day and inviting us to come over for coffee.
Seriously, it's enough to bring a tear to one's eye.

Yours in sadly leaving Denmark,

Friday, July 11, 2008

#313 Library visits in NO, RU, DK

Our SAS library tour continues. So far, we've enjoyed some terrific libraries and we've had a couple of disappointments. I could not schedule a tour for either the National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg or the Royal Library in Copenhagen, aka The Black Diamond. The librarians at each institution proved to be - dare I say it? - less than helpful. So, sadly, I missed out on my secret-librarian-handshake-required, behind-the-scenes tour of each. We snapped these photos of The Black Diamond as we walked around on our regular, non-password-protected, self-guided tour.
It looks like the Danish Museum of Art and Design has a cool library too. I didn't know about this one until the day we arrived and unfortunately, the library was closed on the day of our visit. (I peeked through the door to snap this photo.)
Other libraries have excelled in helpfulness along the way - particularly the Bergen Public Library in Norway,...
the University of Bergen library...
and the small public library in Korsor, Denmark where our ship has been docked the last 4 days. When I introduced myself to a librarian in Korsor, she made sure to compliment the students who had visited - saying they were polite, respectful, and very appreciative of the free internet access!
Yours in library review,

Thursday, July 10, 2008

#312 Sticker Shocked by Danish Design

When we stepped off the bus in the rain in front of the Danish Museum of Art and Design in Copenhagen, we didn't know the work of Hans Wegner, Poul Henningsen, Thorvald Bindesboll, and Arne Jacobsen was waiting inside. But our excellent guide took us room-by-room explaining the techniques and impacts of these and other Danish designers as we inspected their work. We came away with a better understanding of how artists and craftsmen built the Danish design tradition.
Later in our hotel room we used a clever serving trolley by Danish designer Hans Bolling. Since this piece is still in production and we liked its simple lines and practical function, we sought out a local source. Ouch! Seems authentic Danish furniture comes at a high price...well over 3000 Danish Kroner for the trolley. That's more than $700 US Dollars.
So although we're not bringing an authentic Danish serving trolley back to Virginia, we are bringing a newly expanded appreciation for Danish design.

Yours in making plans to fire up the table saw,

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

#311 Flying high

Kite flying from the decks of the MV Explorer. It doesn't get any better.
Two people brought kites on our voyage and I know you're shocked to learn that Kelly was one. ;-) Here our adopted family turns out to cheer on the kite flyer.
Yours in flying high into Denmark,

Monday, July 07, 2008

#310 Introducing the Library Staff

The SAS summer 2008 library staff (Stephanie, Mary, Helena, Tanya, Liz, Sam, and Natalie) enjoy a smoothie on the pool deck.
[Photo credit: Nick Wheeler, UVA]

The library is open from 8 am to 11 pm (or nautically, 0800 to 2300) each day at sea. On past voyages, the library has closed for an hour and a half each day in order to allow everyone to attend the required global studies course. But on our voyage, we are lucky to have 2 sections (one morning, one afternoon) of the global studies course, so the library is open throughout. The 5 students help staff the desk each day and help us with a variety of special library projects. They are up for anything and are a delight to work with. With all this experience, it's just a matter of time before some of our students express an interest in library school!

Yours in staff development, retention, and appreciation,

Sunday, July 06, 2008

#309 Visiting a Russian home

For our Russia capstone event, Mary and I escorted twelve students to the home of a local family.
751 RU Home visit
Mom was home to greet us at her fourth-floor, walk-up apartment near downtown Saint Petersburg. Dad was away at sea working as a merchant marine and their son who attends college at Saint Petersburg State University was out on a date. After a tour of their three-room apartment, mom treated us to tea, coffee, cookies, and conversation through an interpreter.

Away from the tourist sites and general SAS hubbub, we came face-to-face with everyday Russian life...paying bills, juggling family time with work, relying on public transportation, exercising the right to vote, cold winters, short summers, the influence of television, and differing views of gay lifestyles.

In many ways, Saint Petersburg was not an easy port. Our home visit gave us a reality check to end our short stay.

Yours in leaving Russia,

Saturday, July 05, 2008

#308 Peter's Palace

I grew up not far from the Missouri town of Versailles, pronounced "ver-SALES". Yesterday we visited the Russian version of Versailles, Peter the Great's summer palace Peterhof overlooking the Gulf of Finland.
Gardens and fountains surround the gilded palace, all listed as part of this UNESCO World Heritage site. The water features (over 140 of them) work by pumps required.
The Russians think Peter topped his inspiration, the French Versailles, but comparisons with the Missouri Versailles are glaringly omitted.

Yours in promoting Missouri tourism,