Category Archives: Travel

Cuba

Cuba is so near and yet so far away.  Cuba and the United States are very close to one another, and yet, the two countries have been separated by mutual suspicion and animosity for so many years that Cuba almost seems like a different world.

Our family had the good fortune to travel to Cuba during June and July 2017.  Because we live in Florida, we were able to visit Cuba relatively inexpensively and very easily.  We drove to Tampa, boarded a ship, and the next day, found ourselves in Havana.  Between the time we booked our tickets and left Tampa, the United States President announced his intention to tighten travel restrictions for Americans traveling to Cuba.  Thankfully, our trip happened before restrictions are implemented.

 

Ministry of the Interior Building with Che Guevara’s image and the words, “Ever onward to victory.”

We spent our time in Cuba learning about Cuban history, seeing architecture, and interacting with wonderful Cuban people.  Thanks to Amanda, our incredible guide from Havana Journeys, our trip followed the guidelines for a People-to-People exchange, which currently is a legal way for Americans to travel in Havana.

While, like many Americans, I tend to focus on recent events in Cuban history following the Communist revolution in the twentieth century, Cuba has a long and rich history.  Of course, Cuba was vibrant with indigenous peoples long before Columbus arrived.  Following the arrival of Europeans, Cuba remained an important part of the Caribbean because of its location, size, and natural and human resources.

Plaza de la Revolucion

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like many visitors, we saw the Plaza de la Revolucion, where Fidel Castro made speeches lasting many hours.  We saw Miramar, the area of Havana that wealthy people called home in the early part of the twentieth century.

 

 

We drove around Havana in classic American cars.  Yank Tanks, as they are sometimes called, have been meticulously maintained by Cubans.  We traveled with my parents, and our ride in these cars reminded them of their youth!

 

 

 

 

 

 

When our family travels, we try to go beyond the comfort of the usual tourist spots.  While in Havana, we asked our guide to take us to a place where Cubans enjoy ice cream.  Amanda took us to Coppelia, a wonderful place in Havana, where Cubans line up at different signs advertising the flavors available.  Chocolate seems to be the most popular!  After waiting, they are seated in outdoor pavilions and then enjoy ice cream.  Each scoop costs about the same as ten cents in American currency.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were many highlights of our time in Havana.  One was following in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway.  We visited Hemingway’s room and the roof-top bar of the Hotel Ambos Mundos.  We felt the humid air and could imagine Hemingway sitting over his typewriter.

Hemingway’s View

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another highlight was seeing the world through the lens of Cubans.  While walking through the National Hotel, where Castro directed Cuba’s response to the Cuban Missile Crisis from underground caves, I saw pictures of famous visitors.  Yes, there were American film stars and political leaders such as Jimmy Carter.  But, there were other people Americans tend to view as villains.  There was a large portrait of Hugo Chavez and many pictures of current Russian leaders.  I was able to ask someone about John Kennedy, and not surprisingly, Kennedy is still viewed with suspicion given the Bay of Pigs invasion and missile crisis.

My experience in Cuba was similar to my experience in every other country I have visited.  The vast majority of people are kind, helpful, and open to relationship.  They want to live in a world where people can relate to one another with respect.  Despite differences of history and language, religion and culture, people are people, and we can find things in common to unite us.

Dear Friends

Just before leaving Cuba, we had the wonderful pleasure of visiting with Rev. Santiago Conrado Delgado Castillo and his family.  Santiago is Secretario Ejecutivo of the Fraternidad de Iglesia Bautista de Cuba (the Fraternity of Baptist Churches of Cuba).  We shared coffee and conversation, and we discussed our hopes for a world of freedom.

I am grateful we were able to see Cuba and interact with many wonderful people.  If you have an opportunity to visit Cuba, do it!

Joyeux Noël de Genève

Joyeux Noël de Genève– Merry Christmas from Geneva. 

Our family’s Christmas Eve in Geneva, Switzerland, began with a trip to the top of Europe where we visited Chamonix to see Mont Blanc. 

From the town of Chamonix, we rode the Aiguille du Midi cable car up the mountain for a view of Mont Blanc. The ride is pricey, but the views of the Alps are beautiful and worth the splurge.  The crowd on Christmas Eve was small and wait times short.  Our time at the top was breathtaking. In fact, there is an exhibit on the physiological effects of high altitude, which is worth exploring. 


Our next stop was La Calèche restaurant in Chamonix for fondue. The waitstaff was warm and helpful, and they graciously spoke to us in English even as we ordered in French. The cheese was fantastic, and dessert was a great surprise. We enjoyed profiteroles, which had delicious vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and hot chocolate sauce.  We will try to recreate them when we return home. 


We returned to Geneva as the sun set, just in time for an organ concert and Service of Lessons and Carols at St. Pierre Cathedral. 


The cathedral is the place where Protestant Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) preached during the sixteenth century. Worshippers filled the nave for the multilingual service. 


We returned home to share a Bûche de Nöel and wish one another Joyeux Noël, Merry Christmas. 


It was a special day and a celebration of Christmas that we will cherish for years to come. 

Joyeux Noël de Genève — Merry Christmas from Geneva. 

On the Road Again – In the Alps

Eighteen months have passed since our family of four completed our round-the-world adventure.  Being home is wonderful, but our family also loves being on the road together.

One of the delights of traveling together is the sense that the four of us — my wife, son, daughter, and I — are on a special adventure.  We encounter new places and new people, we get lost and find our way, and most importantly, we do it together.

Our wonderful home in Geneva

Our wonderful home in Geneva

After a year-and-a-half at home, we are on the road again.  This time, we are in the Alps.  We are house-sitting for a wonderful family as they take a holiday to Lapland.  They live in Geneva, Switzerland, in a beautiful home with great views of Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc.

 

 

 

 

And, we are about an hour from ski slopes in the Alps.

My wife and daughter at the ski lift

My wife and daughter at the ski lift

We hit the slopes on a beautiful day in Avoriaz, France.  The day started out with foggy weather, but by the time our skis touched the snow, the sky was clear and blue.  The snow has not been plentiful this season, and many locals have kindly expressed their concern that our experience may be less than optimal.  For us, though, it was a grand day.

 

 

 

 

Ah!  It is wonderful to be on the road again!

My son, daughter, and me in the Alps

My son, daughter, and me in the Alps

To Kill a Mockingbird

Outside Courthouse

Courthouse Museum, Monroeville, Alabama

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books.  I read it many years ago as a teenager, and growing up in a small Southern town, I could relate to many of the characters Harper Lee created.

After reading the book, I saw the movie, and my admiration for Atticus Finch, so ably portrayed by Gregory Peck, increased after seeing the screen adaptation.  As a young adult, I listened to the book on tape while commuting to my first job after graduate school.  Even though I knew the story well, still I cried when the jury found Tom Robinson guilty.  I remember blinking away tears as I drove the streets of Boston after hearing the verdict.  This school year, my son read the book during his English class, and I enjoyed talking with him as he discovered this treasure.

Act One

Act One

One of the highlights of moving to Northwest Florida’s Gulf coast is that I can drive to Monroeville, Alabama, Harper Lee’s hometown, in about two and a half hours.  A few days ago, our family joined the small crowd making the pilgrimage to Monroeville.  We watched the Mockingbird Players perform the stage version at the Old Courthouse Museum, which this all-volunteer cast has done for twenty-seven years.

The first act took place outside the courthouse, and we were introduced to Scout, Jem, Dill, Calpurnia, Atticus, and their neighbors.  We saw racism grow among the residents.  I was startled to hear the N word used so freely by the characters, and looking around the audience, I wondered how others felt when hearing this offensive term.  We watched fear fester as neighbors talk about Boo Radley.  During the first act, Scout and Jem were amazed by their father’s skill when he shot a rabid dog, and as the act ended, Atticus calmly but courageously faced the lynch mob outside the jail where Tom Robinson was awaiting trial.

Inside Courtroom

Inside Courtroom, which was used from 1904-1962

The second act took place in the courtroom.  Twelve white men were selected to sit on the jury, and the remaining seats were open for the audience.  Our family sat in the grand jury box between the judge’s chair and the prosecutor’s table.  We were able to see the faces of Tom Robinson and his accuser, Mayella Ewell, as the proceedings developed.  We were so close to Atticus Finch as he defended Tom that we could have touched him.  And, of course, we were very close when the jury found Tom guilty.

Grand Jury Box

View from the Grand Jury Box

The second act included Boo Radley saving Scout and Jem, and it concluded with Scout’s growing understanding of life in her town and her father’s courage through it all.  Atticus Finch said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”  Thankfully, sitting in the grand jury box gave us a wonderful view to consider things from the perspectives of Atticus Finch, Mayella Ewell, her father Bob Ewell, and Tom Robinson.

The play runs during April and May of each year, and the quality of the acting is amazing considering that all of the actors volunteer their time and energy.  The cast begins rehearsing in February each year, and they give of themselves until the final performance in late May.

Outside NightWitnessing the play was a highlight of Spring for me, and I especially was delighted to share the experience with my wife and children.  Stuart Richeson played Judge Taylor the night we watched the play.  In the playbill, he said, “The message is timeless – one man determined to do what is right, even though society resists him.”  I agree, and I recommend the play to anyone.

Mary and Elizabeth

This Sunday in worship we will hear the familiar words of the Magnificat, the song of Mary found in the first chapter of the gospel of Luke.  “My soul magnifies the Lord,” the young and pregnant Mary sings after visiting with her older and also pregnant relative, Elizabeth.  Mary has traveled to Elizabeth’s home, and she hears God’s blessing from Elizabeth’s lips. In response, Mary sings. 

Rolf Jacobson, Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, suggests that the Magnificat was a song shared by many people.  When Mary experienced deep need and deeply needed blessing, she responded by singing a song she and her community had known for years.

I find this possibility especially meaningful because there have been times when I’ve faced challenges and found myself singing a hymn with sustaining words and tune.  During a particularly stressful episode, I heard the words of “It Is Well” crossing my lips, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll…”

  
This week, while thinking of Mary and Elizabeth, I looked out my office window and saw these two women.  I wondered where they came from and how long they had been there.  What were they talking about?  Were they happy or sad, grieving or celebrating?  Were they simply living through another day?

Almost as quickly as they came, they were gone.  Since I saw them, I have wondered:  if they sang a song, what might it be?  And, would I know any songs they might sing?

Thanksgiving for Connections

A year ago, our family was in the midst of a round-the-world adventure that took us to six continents. We experienced wonderful places along the way and, most of all, developed relationships with cherished friends across the globe.  Now, we have returned home to the United States, and we are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving.  As we give thanks this year, we think of the beloved friends we made and the connections we continue to feel to these people and places. 

During the past several days, events have occurred in two countries to which we feel especially connected: France and Myanmar. 

  
In France, terrorists attacked people gathered in Paris to enjoy sporting, dining, and cultural events. We felt connected immediately because we remembered walking Parisian streets to our apartment. We thought of the cafe on the corner and the people we saw gathered there sharing coffee, wine, and conversation. 

  
We were in Paris during the Charlie Hebdo shootings, and seeing the recent scenes on television reminded us of the heavy police presence in January. And our thoughts went to our friends in France, Heather and Vic. Although St. Pois, their village in Normandy, is far removed from Paris and St. Denis, we wonder how shaken they are by the attacks and reverberations across the country. 

  
On a brighter note, we have felt intensely connected to Myanmar following the historic elections that saw Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy win a sweeping victory. We have thought of our dear friends with whom we have shared laughs and tears. We have thought of hugs and hopes shared in their homes.  And we have rejoiced to receive reports from them during the past few days. 

A friend from Myanmar shared these words:

Breaking News: “The Winner is…. NLD!!!”

Just now at noon, according to UEC’s announcement of the winning seats in both lower and upper house, NLD has won 348 seats, far more that it needs to form a new government 329. Incredible! Surely, it will be more when the counting is over, hopefully, in a few days’ time. It’s so exciting! Please continue to keep an eye on our country and make sure that you and your respective democratic governments would continue to support us as we have to build Myanmar’s future toward restoration, reconciliation and democracy without any violence. We do hope, pray and work so that genuine peace and justice would prevail, human rights and human dignity would be honored and flourish, prosperity would come to exist and all kinds of fear would disappear when the new and clean government and good governance started to take place.

  
Travel has connected my family and me to people and places far away from our home. Despite the miles, on this Thanksgiving, I give thanks for deep connections that remain.  And although we are apart, somehow we are very much related. 

I am thankful, indeed. 

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther

In 1483, Martin Luther was born on this day, November 10, in the town of Eisleben.  He is well known for posting his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg in 1517 and sparking the Protestant Reformation.  He was a leader both revered and reviled, and in his wake the trajectory of history was altered in ways that still resonate nearly 500 years later. 

  
Many times, I have joined with other Protestant Christians to sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” as we have celebrated Reformation Sunday.  On such occasions, it is easy to forget that, in addition to his leadership in the Reformation, Luther also was deeply human and filled with fears, joys, and frustrations. 

I resonate most with Luther as the person who mixed hope with struggle, challenge with delight. 

Luther’s decision to enter the monastery was made in fear. Caught in a severe thunderstorm, Luther called to St. Anne for help and promised to become a monk if he survived. True to his word, born of fear, Luther entered the monastery in Erfurt in 1505.  Many of Luther’s days were consumed with fearful self flagellation and longing for salvation.  
  
Beyond his fears, however, Luther also knew joy. Perhaps his source of greatest joy was his family. He married Katharina von Bora, a former nun, and together they had six children.  By all accounts, they had a loving and happy marriage.  Though finances often were tight, Luther said, “My Katie is in all things so obliging and pleasing to me that I would not exchange my poverty for the riches of Croesus.”

As a husband and father, I share Luther’s delight in his spouse and children. A few years ago, our family visited Luther’s home. I could picture him sitting around the table filling the room with music and talk. 

  
While I love Luther the happy husband and doting father, I also am honest to say that I can relate to Luther at his points of frustration. 

Just a few days before his death in February 1546, Luther traveled from Wittenberg to his hometown, Eisleben, to mediate a dispute. While in Eisleben, Luther preached his final sermon. 

  
It is estimated that Luther preached 7,000 sermons during his lifetime, but for what became his last sermon, only five people were present.  Luther was mightily frustrated.  He wrote to a friend despairing that he had been part of a failed Reformation.  In the bitter winter of February 1546, the great preacher preached in a nearly empty church building. 

Just a few days later, Luther went to bed with chest pains.  He prayed the  prayer found in Psalm 31:5, “Into your hand, I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me O Lord, faithful God.”  

In the hours after midnight, Luther’s pain increased, and the hour of his death was near. He was asked, “Reverend father, are you ready to die trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and to confess the doctrine you have taught in His name?”

“Yes,” he replied.