Friday, June 26, 2015



The highlight, or perhaps, the lowlight of our trip was our visit to Siberia.  The Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia is one of the more isolated places in the world.  We sailed through the fog enshrouded Kurile Islands and across the Sea of Okhotsk to get there.  The weather was foggy and cold.  As a kid, I used to pore over the globe, but I never really thought I'd ever get THERE.  It was early May, and the snow was still 10 feet high, with more in the forecast for the next day.  The sidewalks were mostly cleared of snow, but the streets were full of potholes.  Did I tell you the weather in Siberia sucks?

  They get rain or snow 188 days each year on the average.  The result is an average of 220 inches of snow annually.

Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky (my spell check is going crazy) is a city of 180,000 on the Bering Sea, backed up against 3 snow covered volcanoes.  Many of the inhabitants have headed for the exits in the last 25 years--in 1989, the city had almost 270,000 people.  The volcanoes are active, but not on the day we visited.  I got a good photo of the beautiful Koryaksky Volcano along with Avachinsky and Kozelsky Volcanoes which loom over the city.  Petropavlosk is translated as the "city of Peter and Paul", and it was named after Vitus Bering's boats, the St. Peter and the St. Paul.  It goes back to the day of Peter the Great who directed the explorations of the Dane, Bering, and ordered the city to be built. 

It is not easy to get there.  In fact, it is the second largest city in the world that is unreachable by road.  The largest is Iquitos, Peru, a city of 422,000, at the confluence of two rivers in the Amazon jungle, built to serve the rubber industry. 

The city is so exotic to me that I found it interesting.  There is no McDonald's, but they do have Coca Cola and several hot dog and other fast food stands.  "Hot dog" is spelled out in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet, with a gamma for the "g". 

Like every Russian city, the obligatory statue of Lenin guards the main square--called Lenin Square(!).  This city is the home to the largest Russian nuclear submarine base, the Rybachiy Nuclear Submarine Base, right across the bay, but within sight, with binoculars.  Russian troops are stationed in the city, and we watched them march in formation.  I even took photos, and nobody stopped me. 

We drove to the Shamsa supermarket down a street that looked like a minefield pockmarked with potholes filled with slush.  The bus almost broke an axle in getting there.   The market is a good sized mall.  In Soviet days, there were shortages of everything, except maybe beets.  Not anymore, at least not in Petropavlosk.   Like most buildings in Russia, the supermarket was supersized.  One copious room housed the fish department, the next room was the seafood, the next was meats, then other rooms and departments for canned goods, vegetables, etc.   Every room in the store was well lit and spacious.

The same building housed single room (15' X 15' approx.) shops, apparently leased by independent merchants selling clothing, hard goods, souvenirs, Matryoshka dolls and almost everything else. 

Every Russian city also has a Russian Orthodox Church, usually a magnificent structure.  The Church of the Holy Trinity is no exception.  It is white with blue trim.  I went inside and climbed up to the third level.  There was no elevator.  The icons and pictures went floor to ceiling.  Most Russian cities also extol St. Nikolai (Nicholas), and we visited his statue also.

We had time to visit the Kamchatka Museum to learn about the early settlers who appear to be related to most North American Indian tribes.  Many of them were nomadic.   They built yurts which are akin to prefab houses which the native can construct within an hour. 

The museum described the wheels that drive the prosperity of the city.  The real money comes, not from the Russian military, but rather the fishing industry.  There is a great demand worldwide for the salmon and the enormous Kamchatka king crab which can be 3 feet across. 

Upstairs is a whole floor devoted to the great accomplishments of the Soviet military, especially the Great Patriotic War which we know as World War II.    That wasn't part of our tour, but I sneaked up there anyway to see it.  Lots of pictures and weaponry.   I was photographed "firing" a Soviet machine gun. 

Historians are still talking about the biggest event in the history of Petropavlosk--the siege of 1854 during the Crimean War.  Crimea is located on the Black Sea, about 12 time zones away, but the French (still smarting from Napoleon's defeat 40 years earlier) and the British, who together outnumbered the Russian defenders by 3 to 1, attempted to take the city by siege.  They failed to do so and suffered huge losses.  The Russians erected the Monument of Glory to honor the defense of the city.


Our ship sailed across the Bering Sea from Kamchatka to the Aleutian Islands, headed for Vancouver, Canada.  It was a seven day trip.  We were racking up serious Frequent Floater Miles on Celebrity Cruise Lines.   The cruise director was kind enough to point out that the nearest Walmart was 5500 Frequent Floater miles away, but we had to pass through the foggy Aleutians first.. 

The Bering Sea is well known in the U.S. because of a TV show, The Deadliest Catch.  The fishermen in the Bering Sea have the most dangerous job in the world.       I asked the Captain if I could drop a fishing line in the water, but he said it was against the rules.   The weather wasn't too bad as Bering Sea weather goes.  It was overcast, sometimes foggy, and the temperature was in the low 30'sF (0-5C).  The seas were relatively calm. 


The Captain told us if you didn't like May 6th, we were going to try it again.  We REPEATED May 6th. This is crazy!  The International Date Line is the anti-meridian which is the opposite side of the world from the Greenwich Meridian in England.  The IDL was drawn at the International Conference in 1884.  Theoretically it is a straight line, the 180th Meridian, and it is.  However, the authorities decided to jog the IDL around the Aleutian Islands, Samoa, etc. so everyone in the neighborhood is on the same page--or the same day.  This solved the problem in some parts of Samoa where people on the same island were worshipping in church on different days. 


Speaking of time standing still, until relatively recently in our history, people didn't care about time except in relating to sunrise and sunset.  In the U.S., every city had its own time until 1883 when time became standardized--to be consistent with railroad schedules.  Other than sundials, the first clock was invented by Jost Burgi, a Swiss autodidact in about 1604.

Burgi was a well rounded guy.  His boss, William IV of Hesse described him as a "second Archimedes".  Burgi hung around with guys like Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe.  He was better known for inventing logarithms, and he also built mechanized globes as well as clocks. 

Clocks were especially important for astronomical reasons.  Astronomers needed some accuracy in predicting movements of stars and planets for adjusting their telescopes. 

A century later, in 1713, an Englishman, John Harrison built his first clock entirely of wood   He was only 20 years old.  Harrison made major improvements in pendulums, and his clocks are still accurate today. 

Harrison's main claim to fame was his invention of the marine chronometer which could determine the longitude of a ship at sea.  That was revolutionary.  You may recall that Columbus actually knew the world was round, but he didn't know how big it really was, or his location between East and West.

In 1707, the British Navy lost 4 warships on the rocks at Scilly because they couldn't  establish their correct position.  Parliament passed the Longitude Act in 1714, offering a huge 20,000 pound reward to whomever could come up with a device to determine longitude.  Harrison eventually arrived at the solution.  He built a "sea watch" which could compensate for the rolling of the ship as well as the temperature and humidity variations, which earlier devices could not do. 

Collecting the reward from Parliament turned out to be a big problem for Harrison.  I'm not saying they were deadbeats, but it took the assistance of King George III who tested Harrison's watch and found it accurate within 1/3 second each day.  The King leaned on Parliament, and Harrison eventually collected a reward of 8750 pounds in 1773.  By then he was 80 years old.  The official reward was never awarded to anyone. 

In a 2002 BBC poll of the 100 greatest Britons, Harrison ranked 39th.  He was behind Churchill, Darwin and Shakespeare, as well as Princess Diana, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  He was ahead of Sir Francis Drake, Chaucer, Walter Raleigh, King Arthur and George Harrison.  Incidentally, Ringo Starr didn't make the list. 


The cruise ended in Vancouver where we could get some good ol' Canadian food--poutine. This uniquely French Canadian dish is made with French fries, cheese curds and gravy.  Canadians gobble up this stuff, and cardiologists are doing a land office business.  The Canadians have ceded hockey to warm places like Tampa and Los Angeles, but they probably don't have to fear Americans co-opting their national dish.

Foodbeast lists 38 poutine dishes like ice cream poutine; curried lentil poutine; cheesy avocado bacon poutine; drunken Guinness gravy poutine; and foie gras poutine grilled cheese sandwich.   We lost our appetite.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poor Ringo

July 22, 2015 at 3:55 PM  

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