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A quick stopover in Munich

I did not choose Munich, rather Munich chose me. Let me explain. I had airline miles to burn. With only one week to spare, my plan was to get to Austria. However,my search for mile redemption was unsuccessful. The only availability was into Munich and home from Vienna. I grabbed it, and needless to say I am pleasantly surprised with this experience.

A late morning arrival at the hotel afforded us with an afternoon to explore. Our first stop was the Viktualienmarkt, an open air market filled with fresh flowers, food, and beer. A rather large patio complete with long tables for enjoying a pint or two of local German beer.  Surrounding this market are plenty of shops.  Back home, Americans are always in such a hurry to get somewhere. But here, I was amazed at the enjoyment of the people sipping their beer and conversing with one another. No one was checking their phones, or planning where to go. Only real people having real interactions…a rarity for sure in my world.

From the market we walked to the nearby Marienplatz which is the center of the town. The hustle and bustle of people everywhere is similar to nearly any big city. Lots of shopping, food, beer, and sites to see. After all this walking and before our jet lag set in, we stopped at the Hofbrauhaus beer hall. Wow! I was immediately thrown into a sensory overload! Hundreds of people packed into long tables, laughing, drinking, talking. From half pints to full pints, to me in Leiderhosen and feather caps galore!  We find a seat and join a table already occupied. The menu was in German so we asked our table mates for assistance in ordering. The bratwurst and spätzle were delicious! We had 2 beers, one a ‘white” beer the other a dunkel (dark beer with higher alcohol content). The German man who helped us order explained how his mother used to make her own sauerkraut and how it smelled up the house for weeks!  After they left 3 other people sat down and told us more about German beer customs and even toasted us with a robust “Prost” as we all clinked our beer mugs together!

The next day we joined a tour by train to the dachau concentration camp. A very solemn day trip for sure. But a necessary trip to memorialize the victims and learn more about this tragic time in history. We used Sandemans new Europe tours. Our guide matt met us at the Munich hauptbahnoff train station for a 30 minute ride. His knowledge about the war, Hitlers rise to power and the encampment of anti-political sentiment that originated in the camps. By 1938, Jews began to arrive at this camp. Even though this was not a ‘death camp,” it does house a gas chamber which was not utilized. At one point this camp housed as many as 78,000 prisoners. Walking through the barracks and seeing many bunks piled three high is quite an eerie feeling. One cannot comprehend what these pioneers went throu with little to any food, no heat in the winter, humiliation, and the typhus epidemic. To survive  until liberation in 1945 took much mental and physical stamina. Hitler created much anti-semitism which lingered in Germany for years.  What followed was Nazi desensitization. Prior to this tour it never occurred to me how those Jews felt returning home, if anything was left, and still being treated as second class citizens. Now, more than ever our world needs to be compassionate and accepting towards others for a peaceful existence.

Upon our return to the city we took the local S-train to the Residenz palace. The palace is similar to many European palaces in that it is over the top in regards to its ornateness. I find it hard to imagine the vast amount of wealth one would have had to have in those days to be able  to build and furnish such a lavish lifestyle.

We reluctantly walked back to our hotel for the last night before departing for Salzburg.

To be continued….

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Reykjavik: a not so sleepy town

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when u think about Iceland? Perhaps some might say cold, remote or even never heard of it. After experiencing Iceland for the second time, what comes to mind for me is a serene, beautiful land. While somewhat small in size and inhabitants (approximately on 320,00), it is big on ambience and adventure.

Reykjavik is quite diverse in that it has a great deal to offer visitors. It has everything from history, museums, fine dining, shopping, culture, nightlife, adventure, and health and wellness.

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The settlement museum as depicted in this sign is an interesting way to start your visit. Archaeologists dug up remains from the first settlers of the land. This exhibit not only explains in detail the beginning, it also visually displays the first house that was found in this site. In the end, one leaves knowing and feeling what it was like to have been an early settler.

Another great vantage point from which to see the entire city of Reykjavik is from the tower at the top of Hallgrimskirkja. On a clear day you can see the entire city from the top of this church tower. While the church itself is architecturally unique , there is nothing ornate about it.

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There is an abundance of eateries, cafes, and coffee shops to try.  One of my favorite fine dining establishments is the Grill Market. On the lower level, my table was positioned such that I felt as if I had walked through a forest. My favorite dish is the fish sampler which comes with Icelandic cod, salmon, and snapper. It was served with fresh bread, roasted vegetables and potatoes.

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In downtown, the main shopping street is Laugarvegur. Wool sweaters, hats, gloves and scarves are abundant. A variety of souvenir and jewelry shops as well as a variety of other goods can be found here.

For the adventure seekers there are plenty of activities. The other night I went on a northern lights tour. One can walk on a glacier, take the golden circle tour, see the Icelandic horses, or even go whale watching.

 

The icelandic people are warm,  and quite friendly towards visitors. The weather changes rapidly. It is often said, if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes, it will change! Last year when I visited it was quite snowy. This year quite rainy, with brief periods of sunshine.

Reykjavik has so much to offer that one can return several times and not have the same experienc twice!!

Safe journeys, Debbie

Categories: adventure, iceland, reykjavik, Travel, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A day in Helsinki

Woke up early with great anticipation for our walking tour of Helsinki. We were met promptly at the cathedral by our guide Ansie (forgive my Americanized spelling!). Ansie greeted each one of us in the group. According to Ansie, Helsinki does not get many tourists due to its physical location being far away from the rest of the European nation and its close proximity to Russia. (Www.walkingtourshelsinki.com)

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Our tour began promptly at noon from the Cathedral. Ansie said that as a whole, most Finns are not religious. 78% being Lutheran, 1% Russian orthodox, and 26% have separated from the church. Since most Finns do not support the church, 1.5% of each paycheck goes directly to the church. Some Finns have chosen to separate from the church by going online to separatechurch.com and declaring their separation.  By doing so, it allows them to keep the 1.5% on their check!!

One perk Finns do enjoy is the law that says an employee must receive 5 weeks vacation each year. They work approximately 6 hours per day allowing for time off for other activities as well as family time. It is mandatory to receive 2 days off per month.

Speaking of perks, the Finns are the originators of the sauna. There is one sauna for every two Finns. Not only is the sauna beneficial for ones health, it is also used for socialization aspects. It is not uncommon to visit the sauna, drink a beer or two, and talk. Ansie said the Finns love getting naked in the sauna and it is quite normal. He said it is one of the few places say a common person can be sitting across from a CEO or someone important, and yet when naked in the sauna you are their equal.

Speaking of naked, we visited a statue known as the naked lady!

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This statue is  a symbol of Helsinki. Back when Helsinki had a conservative government theirs statue was commissioned from an artist. However the government decided they did not want to pay for it after all. So the artist pointed the lady’s ass facing towards city hall!! Quite a clever artist!!

 

Russia and Finland share a 150km border between the 2 countries.  Russia takes care of the border. Ansie  said men only are required to serve , 6, 9, or 12 months in the Finnish army. This is determined by an aptitude test. Finns are very peaceful people and do not get involved in war. They are confident they can beat the Russians as they already have twice before.  Upon completion of your service, you are free to resume normal life. Some join the U.N. And go serve in the Peace Corp.

While eating lunch, I gave this further thought. In the U.S. We are always putting our nose in other countries business and fighting their battles. This creates great strain on the country and forces us to have allies as well as enemies. And let’s not forget the economical strain and resources it takes to manage an army and fight. My curiosity go the best of me so I struck up a conversation with a couple next to me. They explained that Finland continues to remain politically neutral and mind their own business. The woman said they are always conscious of “big brother” (Russia) watching them. For this reason they do not wish to makes friends with other countries because it does not put them in a favorable light with Russia. They depend on Russia for oil, wood, gas and electricity. The Fnns need Russia, but Russia does not no them for anything. As a matter of fact, the Finns are upset that The U.S. Is bringing troops to Finland next week for training. They feel this will put them in a bad light to Russia as if they were trying to become an ally, while they wish to remain neutral.  As this couple were leaving, the man said to me he had one piece of advice “never trust a Russian!”

At the close of my day, I felt knowledgable about the people and their beliefs. Finns are a very mild mannered, kind people and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit!

Next stop Reykjavik Iceland! Safe journey,

Debbie

 

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From here (Helsinki) to Estonia

I have arrived!! No one ever said traveling to another country is easy, however I have to say I had very smooth flights. I once heard it said that if you are a pilot for Icelandair you have experience flying in all weather conditions. So without hesitation, I felt good in their hands. A mere 5 hour flight and we arrived early in Keflavik. This gave me time to get a look at the recent improvements to the terminal since I last visited a year ago. I quickly found my fav cafe and ordered a delicious smoked salmon sandwich. It was prepared exactly as I remembered it. A nice piece of bread piled high with fresh Lox. Delicious every time!

It is quite impressive to me how icelandair can move luggage so fast in an hours time. But that they did, and it was indeed waiting for us when we landed in Helsinki. We found our way to the train station, bought the tickets at a kiosk then headed for the platform. About a 25 minute ride later we arrived in city center. Using our google maps app we walked the 10 minutes to Hotel Kamp where we were warmly greeted. Our room is beautiful, and newly renovated. We even have our own library of books!  The room is spacious and pleasantly appealing. The marble bathroom is complete with my very own rubber ducky in the bathtub. I love the nightly turndown service with chocolate, a white towel on the floor, and my very own slippers laid out!

Yesterday, we walked down the harbor front to the Viking line express ferry. This ferry carries passengers from Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia in 2.5 hours. The ship was a mini cruise line with staterooms aboard, shows, cafes, and even a buffet restaurant.  The staff was friendly, and the ship clean. We made our way to the cafe to watch the scenery and drink coffee on our short ride. 

Upon arrival in Tallin, we took the number 2 bus to the upper old town area. We walked up to Toompea, then crisis-crossed our way down most of the little streets. From the  medieval looking wall  and all the way down through the town was spectacular! We stopped along the way at a cart selling fresh roasted candy almonds, and even found ourselves exploring several antique stores looking for hidden treasures. All in all a fantastic way to spend the day.

I was quite interested in watching the Finn’s at embarkation as many had small suitcase and some luggage racks. On the journey home I soon found out why.  I originally thought some would be staying in Estonia but I was wrong! A lovely lady onboard told me it was cheaper for Finn’s to buy alcohol in Estonia as there is no tax. Here in Finland alcohol can only be bought in state run monopoly called Alko. On the ferry back people were loaded down with cases upon cases of beer and other goods! 

I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to a lady and her daughter onboard and learned a great deal about Finland, social medicine, and the school system. After all, Finland is known for having the most highly educated people. Today I look forward to learning more about Finland on our walking tour so that I will leave with a better understanding of the culture, it’s history, and people.

Until then, safe journeys,

Debbie

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Sight Seeing

tourist-group-cartoon-illustration-funny-vacation-34498732 I am a frequent visitor to Orlando.  The mighty mouse (Mickey) draws more visitors from all over the world than most any tourist destination in Florida.  It does not take a rocket scientist to spot a tourist.  For one thing, most visitors from outside the U.S. dress differently than most Americans.  Of course, once they speak, it is easy to surmise they do not live here by their accent.  Second, as in the picture above, it can be quite apparent when one carries a map, a camera, an i-pod, or even a cell phone!  Yep, a tourist!

Whatever your mode of operandi as a tourist, one should always be mindful of the customs and cultures of the land one visits.  Shouting out “hey lady” to one of the hotel maids in France may not get you what you want!  Or even saying ‘mercy’ for ‘merci’ is definitely frowned upon!

It’s not always possible to learn all the customs and cultures of the places we travel.  However, one should be mindful of the people we encounter and have respect for their customs and culture just the same.  Be aware that you are the visitor on their home turf, and one should always follow their lead.  Be cognizant of their personal space and habits.  For example, here in the U.S. it is common when crossing the street to walk before the walk symbol appears green.  In some countries such as Denmark, it is taboo to cross the street until the ‘walking’ man sign turns green.  In other words, don’t do something just because that is the way you do it at home, rather keep in mind this may not be the way it is done someplace else.  Being an observer before being a doer will help you fit in and become acculturated and less standoffish as a foreigner.

Which brings me to the next part.  There is more than one way to be a tourist and sight see.  How we observe as humans, and what our experiences are when we are in new places is a very personal experience that no two people experience the same.  For some of us, becoming aware of our surroundings, meeting new people, and conversing with locals can be an enlightening experience that changes ones view of the world.  For others, the smells that go along with the sights often reveal people and things that we are attracted to most.  And then of course there are those that none of this appeals to and only see the outside world of nature and how one relates to the beauty of the land.  Whatever your style of ‘sightseeing’ is, learn to step outside your comfort zone.  Explore each and every sight and how you relate to it.  Some things will appeal to you, while some will appall you!  However you relate, embrace your experiences, learn from them and be carried away by the beauty of other people and foreign lands.

I am without a doubt a people person.  I love to talk to strangers and meet new people who bring to light other ways of thinking and living that I may never have encountered before.  I find the culture and lifestyle in foreign lands appeals to me, and I come to be more of a well-rounded person from these experiences.  I also enjoy the culture, and discovering new sights.  Learning about my destination and the people is engaging to me and I hope when I go home to have a better understanding of where I have been and how I related to my new experiences.

What is your favorite way to ‘sight see?’  What have you learned from your adventures?

Safe journeys,

Debbie

 

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All work, no play makes Jack a dull boy

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Americans are known for giving priority to work above play.  A typical American works 40 plus hours each week to accrue a one to two week vacation per year.  America is built on an individualistic class system,whereby those who have money are given higher respect and priority in life than those who have none.  Materialism with an expectation that those who earn more, spend more is the way of life.   Further,  most Americans are judgmental towards those who have less than they do.  This country has more homeless people living on the streets than most other countries.  We view the homeless as helpless individuals and give them no respect as a human being.  Our country does little if anything to help the poverty stricken in our country to have a better life.  Moral of the story: those who have do, those who don’t have do not.

As part of our ongoing effort to achieve more and have more, Americans take very little time off.  As a passenger on an airplane, one of the first things the flight attendant tells us as part of the safety talk is should the oxygen mask appear, please take care of putting it on yourself first before helping others.  Why?  This is not meant as a selfish save yourself first move, rather it is for you to provide the self care you need most at a critical time so that you have the strength and oxygen left to help others.

Why don’t we apply this same tip to our daily life?  How can we expect to function with all 4 cylinders 100% of the time if we work so hard that we wear ourselves down?  When we lose steam, how effective are we really at our job, or even at home with our significant other and children?  One cannot expect to give 100% of ourselves 24/7 without some kind of inevitable breakdown forthcoming.  As worker bees, it can be challenging to find some down time to make this happen.  One must be willing to compromise and change one’s schedule to take better care of ourselves on a daily basis.

It’s important not only to practice self-care on a daily basis, but it is also important to take the time to enjoy life.  Life is not meant to be lived running from one treadmill to another, rather it is meant to find a balance in one’s life to work as well as have a life we love.

Everyone has different priorities in life.  Some work extra hard to support ones lifestyle, family, and self.  While others work hard just to make ends meet.  Whatever your priority in life, there needs to be a balance so that one can work hard, and have time for extra activities.

Finding the balance and changing one’s priorities is the first step.  Make a list of what is important to you in life.  Break down the time involved so that you can find at least 30 minutes each day for leisure activity.  Create a time line that allows you to ‘have it all’ in the course of a week.  Some days, you may have more time than other days.  Whatever your priorities are, make them happen weekly.

Funding one’s vacation or leisure activities may be harder than finding the time to make it happen.  I am a huge fan of Starbucks latte’s, however, I know that if I buy a latte 5 days per week I will have spent approximately $25.  If I cut back and only treat myself to a latte once per week, then I have an extra $20 to put away into my vacation/leisure fund.  Find ways to make it happen, commit yourself, and you will soon have a growing fund.  Enlist the help of your children into this game.  Show them the power of putting pennies in a jar to then take it to your bank for hard cash.  Let your children do something fun with all their penny saving money!

Finally, find time for yourself each and every day.  Finding the time to relax or take a nap helps soothe the soul and allow you to mentally and physically unwind.  The less depleted you are daily, the more you have to give to your job, your family, and yourself.  We all deserve and need a mental break to keep our momentum going.  Look in the mirror, and tell yourself daily that you deserve a break, and then do something nice for yourself!

Safe journey!

Debbie

 

 

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Baggage

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As I have mentioned in previous posts, traveling today has many variables that make flying stressful.  For one, choosing one particular flight over another, how many stops, as well as what time and price are all important things to consider when booking a flight.

Secondly, class of service has changed considerably.  Do I prefer to fly in economy in the back of the plane, or should I pay extra for ‘comfort’ in a larger seat near the front?  Or am I better off taking my ‘upgrade offer’ that the carriers sometimes give you when they are overbooked in economy?

Third, baggage has become a big business and money maker for the airline carriers.  In the newspaper this morning I read that Delta Airlines has issued an employee share of the profit for the first time in many years.  Last year alone, Delta made $2 billion dollars in profits.  Thanks in part to our baggage fees, as well as paying extra for seats near the front of the plane.  Some carriers have even started charging customers for carry-on and overhead space.

Recently I have gotten in the habit of doing carry-on simply because I do not want to pay for my luggage.  Call me old-fashioned but I am of the mind-set that I am the customer and they should treat me as such and provide the service as part of the price I paid for my ticket.  After all, ticket prices have not gotten lower to account for baggage fees or the inconvenience of having to cram everything into overhead bins.  Nor have ticket prices been adjusted lower since fuel is also on the decline recently.  I admit I have a few airline credit cards that allow me free checked bags if I choose.  However, what I dislike most about this habit of charging for bags is how full the overhead bins have gotten, and just how much stuff people cram in there!  It also takes longer to board the plane when most passengers have carry-on than it did in the days before all this started.  I consider it a hassle of flying that I accept and simply deal with it.

It has gotten very difficult to travel with carry on luggage since no two airlines share the same recommended size restrictions.  International carriers typically allow greater allowances than domestic, however, there is no one-size-fits all.  In one of my travel journals last fall, there was mention that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) was supposed to come up with a regulated size carry-on that would be applicable to all carriers.  I have not yet seen this, but hope it makes its way to the luggage racks soon.

There is one more type of baggage to reflect on when traveling.  And that baggage is what I refer to as personal baggage.  Often, we as humans have a pre-conceived notion regarding our destination and the people that live there.  As Americans I have heard it said that the French do not like Americans.  Yet, when I visited France, they were very personable and helpful.

Having a pre-conceived notion about people in other countries can prohibit one from engaging in conversation with foreigners simply because of what one has heard.  In my opinion, someone who travels to foreign countries needs to have an open mind as to the people one will meet and the experiences one will have.  Traveling with one’s eyes widevintageluggage5 open will provide for the most enriching experience.  To gain from our experiences, we need to take in all the sights, smells and feelings that our journey has in store for us.  It is only when we travel with our eyes wide open will we come home having learned from our experiences and become more accepting of the diversification of our world.  Becoming a diversified individual will help break down worldwide barriers that has our world so shaken up today.

How will you become more open to new adventures, people, places and things on your next journey?

Safe journeys,

Debbie

 

 

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Airplane Food: Whats a person got to do to eat around here?

airplane food

I have been flying for a really long time.  Used to be that all airlines served meals in economy class, while first class got their upgraded meal served on china.  Those were the days when getting a meal meant you would get ‘real’ food and enjoy what was served.  Eating while flying was an experience, good or bad.  Yet, it was something to look forward to while passing the time en-route.  Airlines used to appeal to consumers of flight by their service with a smile motto.  Along with deregulation and mergers, came a new way of flying that appeals to some palates and not to others.

Today, eating while flying has taken on a different dimension.  One can no longer fly and expect something to be served.  There are choices.  Many, many choices and options to consider before boarding a flight.

What happened?  If we look back to 1978 when the Airline Deregulation Act took place, the government imposed price restrictions were removed.  Airlines were freed of their boundaries and given the opportunity to change the way consumers purchase flights.  With this important change, airlines discovered they could set the prices, and have complete control over their own profits and losses.  And losses there were.  One of the first to go bankrupt if I recall, was Eastern Airlines.  Following 9-11 airlines took a big hit and profits declined rapidly.  The government had to bail out some of the airlines to help them stay alive.  Airline merger after merger helped the airline stay afloat.

Profits began to soar!  Most in part thanks to baggage fees!  Yep, by charging fees for things such as checked luggage, carry-on,sitting near the front of the plane vs the back, and fuel surcharges the airlines are finally turning a huge profit.  At this point the air carriers became less service oriented and more profit oriented.  As a consumer, we lost all perks of flying and soon fell to the mercy of the carriers new rules.  Food, was no longer a perk, overhead bins were filled to capacity, and service with a smile is now just, well, service with a lack of effort.  We now fly according to what the airlines dictate.

Food on-board the airplane has suffered the most.  Snacks are gone for the most part, and so are economy meals.  I will be flying economy on Icelandair next month.  I soon discovered Icelandair has a 3-tier flying class.  Economy, free non-alcoholic beverages only, no snack, no meals.  One has to pay significantly more to fly ‘economy comfort’ in order to receive a free meal.  While Saga Class has more perks such as bigger seats, meal and lounge access.

I chose economy because it was such a good round-trip fare that it allowed me to travel twice overseas rather than once.  I don’t really care whether I eat on-board or not because I will eat at the airport prior to the 9 PM overnight flight.  I do however, have the option to purchase snacks, food and alcoholic beverages on-board should I choose to.  Because I have flown Icelandair in the past, I am a Saga club member.  I have points which I can use to purchase these items en-route if I choose.  I cant say I have had a bad ‘meal’ onboard Icelandair, however it was nothing I care to brag about. I much rather prefer to grab my favorite open-faced salmon sandwich at the Keflavik airport before my next flight than to eat what the airline serves anyway.

As a travel agent, I would prefer to see the airlines return to the days when the consumer mattered, and service on-board was a flying perk that everyone received and not just the select few.  Airlines should be happy that we chose their company to get to our destination and thank us by providing more consumer oriented service.  I want to get back to the days of flying when I was not stressed out over whether I had to pay for a ‘comfort’ seat or not; whether my overhead bin would be filled, or even whether I needed to bring my own meal or not.  Flying should be flying, and consumers of flight should be rewarded for being loyal to continuing to do so!

Safe journeys,  Debbie

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Icelandic winter wonderland

imageimageAs a Floridian,  I consider  myself a die-hard Icelandic fan. After all, who else would choose to come to Iceland in the heart of A winter “slizzard” (sleet, blind rolled into one)??!!

Reykjavik is on my bucket list. I have never had so much fun and enjoyment as I did today. Playing in the snow with child-like enthusiasm was without a double the highlight of my trip. After all,how often does one let go of all concerns, and be in the throws of genuine happiness and peace??

Icelandic people live here because they love the land and the lifestyle.  Iceland in my opinion is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I feel as if I have left the world as I know it and have entered an entirely different space   A world of peace, happiness and contentment unlike any I have ever experienced in my lifetime.

As  I wander up Laugavegur I am transported to a time when Vikings ruled this land and I am just a visitor to a settlement from long ago.  I visit the settlement museum and see first hand the discovery of a land of opportunity, and self-sufficiency.

I stop to eat at the fish market and savor the Icelandic fresh fish, and savor every bite.  I am enamoured by the flavors of the land and the warmth of the people who welcome me.  I can only hope I am as good a visitor as they are a host.

I am immersed in their love of land and hospitality. I will never forget the beauty, and serenity.

safe journey, Debbie

 

 

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Secret to Danish happiness revealed

During my visit to Copenhagen I made a point of asking everyone I met why? What is this big secret to Danish happiness that everyone talks about?

i am about to reveal the big secret….here goes. The secret is that they have no worries, no stress, no pressure in life.  While sitting in a local coffee shop in Vesterbro, I spoke to a young couple. They tell me the tax rate is 70 percent of their wages.  As an American I am shocked. As I listen further, the gentleman tells me he ” is happy to give the government his money” and know that he is taken care of for life.  No worries.   Should his job ever fail, no problem, the government takes care of its citizens no matter what the circumstances in life what they have rather than .

I think about this long after I leave the coffee shop.  I think about the pressures of life in America and how everyone is out for themselves.   I think long and hard about big corporations, the greed in America and how Americans live by what they have .rather than by their experiences in life. I recognize that the Danish lifestyle is more easy going, and stresses living a good happy life, while Americans stress having bigger and better possessions as a way of expressing ones success or happiness.

I walk away from this experience with a greater appreciation for experiences over possessions and am thankful for being able to personally be where I am right get now.

Safe journeys, Debbie

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