Travel brings many rewards and pleasures too obvious to mention. But it also contains a danger: too many miles covered too quickly can all blur at the beginning and fade at the end. That’s one reason to take pictures.

At the Peterhof in St. Petersberg, Russia. A magical moment.

At the Petergof Gardens in St. Petersburg, Russia. A magical moment. Suddenly, a fountain erupted over the walkway. Then this lavender umbrella created an impressionist painting. My iPhone was ready.

Looking back over the entire set of 340 photos taken over 24 days of travel, some stand out because they were brief “moments” like the one above, never to be repeated. Here’s another, taken just a few minutes after we left the gardens, right before we entered the hydrofoil boat that took us back to the city.

Russian children playing freely -- just like children across the world.

Russian children playing freely — just like children across the world. I immediately thought of my grandchildren in New Jersey who also love to climb trees.

Both difference and sameness stand out when one travels, especially, in this case, to Russia, the country that stirred fear in American hearts during the Cold War — and still seems like an alien, dangerous, place under President Putin.

Which brings me to another moving moment — the idea that love of country is a good thing. And that other people, all around the world, have the same right as we do to love their countries.

Two of our favorite tourist spots were actually live concerts in honor of composers. In Helsinki, Finland, we heard a beautiful rendition of “Finlandia,” which I recorded here, with its amusing and inspiring introduction. It’s 14 minutes long but well worth it if you would like to be transported to another country or if you love this particular piece of music.

My favorite line from the introduction: “The most beautiful things in life you don’t shout, you whisper. . . . I love my country.”

On our way to hear this polished performance, we heard another, unpolished but moving song. Our tour guide told us she was no singer and then proceeded to sing Joan Baez’s version of Finlandia to us, using just the bus microphone. She brought tears to my eyes also.

Another highlight was a live concert close to Bergen, Norway, at the Edvard Grieg Museum. Recordings weren’t allowed, but you can enjoy the amazing performance venue that overlooks the same scenery that prompted Grieg to pour his soul into music.

The concert hall at the Grieg museum -- the home of the composer in the setting of his "hut."

The concert hall at the Grieg museum — the home of the musician in the setting of his composition “hut.”

The first 16 days of our trip were devoted to a cruise on the Zuiderdam ship of the Holland America line. If you are interested in the entire itinerary with journal entries, here it is.

From July 16 to 24 we toured Norway, starting at Bergen, then taking a boat ride to Flåm, another boat ride through the most scenic fjords, and two train rides, ending up in Oslo.

I’ve selected just one fjord photo for you to enjoy.

We wanted to see breathtaking natural wonders like the ones above, but we knew, from past experience that the impressions that last the longest from travels have to do with people more than places.

First, our traveling companions:

Nordic Cruise group: Marty, Shirley, Sadie, Harley, Stuart, Hollis

Nordic Cruise group: Marty, Shirley, Sadie, Harley, Stuart, Hollis. We were celebrating Harley and Sadie’s fifty years of marriage.

Norway tour group: Jake, Anne, Janet, Domi, Mark, Stuart

Secondly, the people we met along the way. The best encounter by far was arranged by Janet, our guide to all things Scandinavian. Janet’s former colleagues Kjetil and Penny invited all seven of us to their home for dinner and conversation. The weather was perfect, allowing us to eat outdoors and enjoy the gorgeous flowers. Kjetil had looked up information on all of us and guided the conversation from his position as host and grill chef.

Penny, an artist, grew up in the U.S. but has lived in Norway many years.

Penny, an artist, grew up in the U.S. but has lived in Norway many years.

Norwegian strawberries. So cool and so sweet.

Norwegian strawberries. Delicious. So sweet and so cold.

That night we talked and ate and drank well into the night. I was reminded of the movie Babette’s Feast, especially since the memory of visiting author Karin Blixen’s Danish house was still vivid. This meal joins a handful of memorable others in my life. They share four characteristics:

  1. the location is faraway from home and beautiful
  2. the food is simple, fresh, and prepared with love and attention
  3. the conversation meanders over a wide range of topics, among people who are curious about each other and the world
  4. the people at the table come from more than one culture. The more the merrier.

Thus endeth the lessons gleaned from this trip — which, of course, is just a bit of cream skimmed off the top. That’s what I did on my summer vacation.

Then, here are the highlights from the three weeks since we returned:

  • we packed up our car, readied our house for renters, and moved to Pittsburgh Aug. 1
  • we played with our granddaughter Lydia
  • we attended the 300th anniversary of the Brubaker family coming to America, where I gave the keynote address, and co-taught three workshops on writing and was able to visit with my mother
  • I spent a day with my three closest college friends
  • we played with our granddaughter Lydia some more
  • we began exploring downtown Pittsburgh and our new neighborhood, Garfield
  • we attended the visitation and funeral of my mentor and friend, Max DePree in Holland, Michigan

I have opened a new private Instagram account called grannynannydiaries. I only have two photos there now but will add one each day.If you want to follow along on daily adventures, just click “follow,” and I will add you. I’ll be reflecting, once a month or so, here on the blog about the experiences in Pittsburgh while holding down the best of all possible jobs — grannynanny. Which, of course, is all a continuation of the theme begun last year: jubilación.

Whether one travels the world or dives deeply into one place, the best response is wonder.

What has brought wonder into your world? I hope you’ll share your thoughts below. Or ask a question. 

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