Europe '98

Well, Europe is interesting, but I'm afraid it doesn't inspire me to write like Kathmandu does - it's just too familiar. Compared to Kathmandu, Europe and America are identical. But I'll give you what I've got and since Europe and America actually are quite different, if you leave Kathmandu out of the equation, there might be something of interest here....

I awoke early on my last morning in Nepal - but of course wound up doing the usual things rather than meditating or sightseeing - read my email and made a few last minute changes to the programs. Caught a taxi to the airport and continued to be amazed by the passing show. I'm certain that no matter how long I spend in Kathmandu, I will never cease to be amazed by the things of ordinary life there.

Had an uneventful flight back to Bangkok - nothing but monsoon clouds out the window, no mountains. Hung out at the airport for 6 hours, entertaining myself by working on the programs. Boarded my flight to Stockholm and again had another uneventful flight - did manage 6 hours of sleep plus saw Russia out the window. But Russia before sunrise from 30,000 feet looks just like anywhere else - scattered lights, mostly darkness.

Arrived at the Stockholm airport about 6:30 AM - it was nice to be back in the First World. Cleared customs and boarded the bus for downtown. What a difference from riding on the Ring Road! It's really the change that makes the impact in every aspect of our lives - whether for good or bad. The Swedish freeways are very much like the California freeways, but that one sure looked different that morning.

At the railway station, I learned that I would have a three and a half hour wait for the next "regular" train, but there was an X2000 high speed train leaving in an hour and a half. When you've been traveling for over 24 hours, an extra $20 to arrive someplace 3 hours earlier is a no brainer. And the ride at 200 kph (120 mph) was very interesting. At that speed, just staring out the window for even a few minutes began to make me motion sick - the trees go whipping by so fast.

Åsa met me at the station in Katerineholm and I was back among friends again after just 29 hours on the road. I had a wonderful visit with Åsa and Gunnar. I first met them in Tonga in the South Pacific back in '79. I visited them for mid-summer - a big Swedish celebration - in '81 and have made several more trips to Sweden to see them. And I always have a great time there. They have 3 kids - Sophia, Johanna and Andreas. The two older girls speak English, but Andreas and I have to make do with gestures, tho he is starting to learn English this year. They live on a farm outside of a small town - there are horses, sheep and chickens. This farm has been in Gunnar's family for 5 generations now and it's a great place to relax and unwind from the Third World. Gunnar is a doctor in another small town about an hour's drive away and Åsa is a psychotherapist in yet another nearby town. These regular jobs plus the kids activities plus the horses, sheep and chickens keep them quite busy.

There were lots of things for me to do beside just unwind. The mid-summer's party I went to in '81 was with a large group of their friends from university. This same group still gets together twice a year to party - at mid-summer and for a crayfish party. And my timing was such that I was there for the crayfish party. We drove back north of Stockholm again with Åsa's brother and his wife (the freeway now looking quite ordinary). It was really neat seeing all these people I hadn't seen in 17 years - and to party with them again. And the crayfish were good, too.

Around the farm, I went for a couple of walks in the woods. They have had a miserable summer in Northern Europe - much rain, little sun. But that meant that the wood were full of mushrooms. It was not possible to step off the path with out stepping on mushrooms. Åsa and I collected more than a large shoebox full of chantrells in less than an hour one afternoon - oh, they were good. I also fed the chickens a few times, but mostly was quite lazy.

When I come to Sweden, I'm actually visiting an extended family - not just Gunnar and Åsa. His mom lives with them on the farm, so I got to see her again. I had lunch with Åsa's brother, Steffan, that first day in Sweden and, of course, partied with Steffan and Maria eating crayfish. I also took a small excursion to visit Åsa's parents. They live on a beautiful lake a couple of hours away by train and bus. They took me for a walk in an ancient oak forest - the largest in Europe. There were many huge oak trees over 500 years old - very nice. We were looking for the ruins of a 13th century castle, but all that is left is foundations stones and they were so overgrown that we never saw them. But the walk was great.

The next day we drove into the nearby large town where Steffan and Maria and their 3 kids live and I had a nice visit with them. Their middle son is very interested in Buddhism, so we had a nice long talk. How many young teenagers do you know that can discuss religion and philosophy for an hour and a half in a foreign language?! Åsa's parents are very interested in art and we also went to the cathedral in Linköpping. I had been in this very beautiful building before, but it was great to have someone explain the history, not only of the building itself, but of all the artwork in it.

But the best part was just seeing Gunnar and Åsa again. It's wonderful to be able reconnect like we do after these long absences. My heritage may be mostly English, but when I'm in Sweden, I do feel like I'm home again.

My week in Sweden flew by and last Thursday I flew out of the small airport at Norköpping to Copenhagen. There I visited Kim, a former co-worker. He has a friend who has an apartment in the same building as him, and his friend is in Moscow, so I even had my own place to stay. I really like Copenhagen - it's a beautiful, interesting city. It was great to just wander around re-exploring this city I liked instantly when I first visited in '81. Those of you who know Kim will not be surprised to learn that we ate very well. Copenhagen has great restaurants and we feasted each evening. The best was Saturday afternoon at an outdoor café. The weather was extremely nice for late September, the traditional Danish food was great, and watching the passing scenery kept us entertained for several hours.

There is a public gym and swimming pool a very short walk from Kim's building. I got to go swimming again for the first time in 2 months! I was very out of swimming shape that first time, but it came back quickly and I did a kilometer (1100 yards) by the 3rd day. And my shoulder was totally fine. It was interesting swimming there. The water had some saltwater mixed with it, so you floated a bit higher. The Danes, however, mostly swim breaststroke - too cold for them to have the tradition of speed swimming that we have. That meant that even on that first out of shape day, I was one of the fastest in the pool. They haven't quite figured out circle swimming - but they are close - i.e. they swim in circles in the lanes, but it's not segregated by speed. So I never could just get totally into the rhythm of swimming like at Mariner Square or the Hypr, but it was so wonderful just to be back in the water again, that I didn't really mind. And my back, which had been bothering me since late during my time in Nepal, is now much better.

After the gym on the weekend, Kim and I went to the bakery and loaded up on the most incredible pastries. In just a few minutes we managed to replace all the calories we had burned off.

I did manage a palace and a museum and the Round Tower, but once again the best part of the visit was hanging out with Kim. The Germans were having their elections, so we watched the BBC and discussed world politics, among many other topics. You might be interested in the European attitude on Zippergate: they are all disgusted - not with Bill or Monica, but with the Americans people for being so interested in such trivialities and especially with the American media for ramming every prurient detail at us. "First there was OJ, now this; when are you people going to get a life?"

And now I'm in Munich visiting Frank and Trixie and their two daughters, Jenny & Hannah. Frank and I first met in Bali in '80 and I visited him & Trixie here in Munich in '81. I had lost track of them over the years, but managed to reconnect last year when I was here. Once again I have my European friends to share conversations and ideas with.

It's Oktoberfest time and Munich is crawling with tourists. I even went out to the 'Fest today to check it out. For what it is, it's impressive. But it's just a big ol' carnival with extra food and lots of beer. I lasted an hour before heading over to an art museum which was much more interesting. Today was lots of sightseeing - Munich has many very beautiful churches and I checked out several of them. Sitting in a multi-hundreds year old cathedral and doing my meditation is not a bad way to go sightseeing.

Tomorrow (the 1st of October - where has this year gone?!) I head off to Metta Forest Monastery for the month long retreat. I definitely need some time to sit - it's really hard to meditate while on the road. Europe and seeing my friends has been fun, but it's time to recollect and do some serious work again.

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Leigh Brasington / / Revised 26 July 12