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Sunday, June 28, 2009, again in Warnemünde, Germany

Hi all. We’re back at the Hohe Düne Yachthafen in Warnemünde, Germany. Instead of continuing east towards Poland or Latvia, we followed the winds, which took us back where we’d just come from. Last week, we were in Stralsund, Germany, waiting for Dave and Patti to arrive on Monday.

We went to a place that specialized in chicken for lunch. Chicken isn’t routinely on the menu, though you can find it in the market. Germans eat a lot of pork, with bacon bits everywhere – in the sautéed potatoes (think hot German potato salad), in omelettes, even stuffed inside pork. We once ate a pork filet that was rolled around minced pork and sealed with butcher’s twine and a slice of bacon. At this chicken place, the TV was showing The Nanny.

Everything in Germany is dubbed. So this show was actually Die Nanny. I wished that the volume had been a little higher. I could just see Nanny Fine squealing ��Essen, kinder.” “Achtung, Herr Sheffield.” ��Oy vay.���

We were exploring why Art had a constant, low-grade headache for a few weeks. Art was wondering whether it was a good idea to get a new prescription for glasses. With Germany’s full-priced retail combined with a near-20% sales tax, this wasn’t a decision to take lightly. But he wondered whether a new pair could be made within a few days of an eye test. I wondered whether anyone in a shop might speak English well enough to give him what he needed, given that the cost of corrective glasses or incorrective glasses would be hundreds of dollars either way.

The tourist office directed us to four different shops within a few blocks of the main square. It was like conducting auditions. In the first shop, we asked, “Do you speak English?” The answer was “Not….” And then the guy trailed off because he couldn’t come up with “really” or much” or something that would finish the sentence. Art then spent a few more minutes trying to find out whether we could have glasses made in three days. I spent the whole time pulling on his arm to drag him out the door.

In the fourth shop, a young woman called over another young woman. She said to us, in that British manner that signifies lessons in school, “Is there something that I can help you with?” We sighed with relief. She nodded knowingly as she listened to Art’s explanation.

Art replied, “Yes. I’ve been having some headaches the last month. I haven’t had a new prescription in two years. I would like to get a test to see if my prescription has changed. Maybe that is the reason for the headaches. I need them in only a few days, though. Did you understand all of that?”

She said, “You want new glasses?”

Dave and Patti arrived in mid-afternoon. This was their first visit in two years, and we frittered away the afternoon just catching up. Our itinerary was in flux.

The original plan – or at least the most recent version of the original plan – was for us to sail on an overnight voyage to Latvia, which would position us for a leisurely sail back. The prevailing winds in the area should have pushed us to Latvia, but the forecast was for northeast winds – the completely wrong winds – for about a week. There weren’t a lot of great alternatives, but we knew that we didn’t want to sit in one place for most of our guests’ visit.

We spent our first full day in Stralsund, exploring the shopping streets and the Gothic brick architecture, appreciated with new eyes by our guests. The winds went from bad to worse for the next day, and we visited the Ozeaneum, the spanking-new and fabulous German Oceanographic Museum. Located inside an old Gothic monastery and covered outside with an ultra-modern white wave, the museum covers the Baltic and North Sea, describing the history, the ecosystems, and life in and near the water. The displays were explicitly marked in German and English, the routes through were logical and clearly outlined, and the descriptions were at a level of detail that was informative and just enough. The entrance foyer, with its monastery ceiling and suspended whale skeleton, dazzles immediately. The exhibit then takes a journey through the composition of the earth, the movement of the tectonic plates, the diversity of life, and eventually winds through dozens of aquariums, some small and others colossal, before the grand finale of great sea mammals suspended in a planetarium-shaped room. Modernistic lounge chairs offered the opportunity to contemplate the life-sized whales looming overhead. The blue whale, for example, is 26 meters (85 feet) long.

Oddly, all of that sea water put us in the mood for smoked fish, a provider of which was conveniently around the corner when we exited the museum.

When we got back to the boat, the wind was worse, about 25 knots in the harbor. Art’s forecast showed no change in the wind’s direction as far out as he could see. We’d already rolled through about six days of this unhelpful wind. The baby swans in the harbor, with their vigilant parents circling around them, had turned from ashy gray to white. The first day of summer had come and gone, and it was feeling a little fall-like. And we weren’t sure that we’d be going any farther east this season.

The big church on the main square sponsored an organ concert in the evening. The program included German composers Mendelssohn, Brahms, Liszt, Bach and mostly-German composer César Franck. This was an opportunity to listen to music in a grand Gothic setting.

Unlike so many post-reformation churches in Northern Europe, St. Nicholas is medieval and ornate, with glorious carvings and an unabashed tribute to pagan astrology in its astrological Easter clock and what looked like horoscope symbols. The unrestored sections of wall were covered with mottled, aged concrete and faded pastel paintings that either hadn’t yet been reclaimed or hadn’t dared. The nave ceiling and arches were trimmed in red and blue and gold. Charred wood trim framed somber-looking crypts. And the disembodied nineteenth-century organ from above sounded as though a mysterious and lonely phantom was playing his heart out.

The idea of new glasses hadn’t worked out for Art, so we decided that we’d get him a blood test to look for the likely culprit. The marina desk directed us to a medical center, and we walked there on a rainy, windy day and followed signs for an internist in the building.

I was very worried that the people in the doctor’s office would speak English as well as most of the workers we’d met, meaning not at all. The woman at the doctor’s reception desk was businesslike and courteous, but not bi-lingual. We’d arrived just as the office had closed for a three-and-a-half-hour break for the doctor to make her rounds. When we returned, the waiting room was filled with people with appointments.

It’s one thing for the waitress to get your order wrong and bring you one kind of potato when you wanted another kind of potato. A doctor is another story. I imagined that Art would launch into a thoughtful, detailed explanation of his symptoms, medical history, and theory about what might be wrong. The doctor would look at him, nod, and look attentive. Art would finish his story and say, “So, what do you think might be going on? Should we have a blood test? Do you have other ideas?” And then I imagined this doctor saying, “You don’t feel good?”

We were called into the doctor’s office after waiting for about a half hour. The doctor was in her thirties and beautiful, with long brown hair and friendly eyes. She listened to Art’s explanation and her answers were fluent and articulate. She gave us additional ideas that might explain his symptoms, solved his request for a prescription by giving him the pills instead, and called in the woman who’d received us in the office to do the blood test. She was capable, warm, and direct. I wanted to cry with happiness.

The test results were available in the morning. The tests were fine. This only meant that we didn’t know why Art was having this endless headache. We’d have to pursue the doctor’s other suggestions, and possibly see someone once we got back to Sweden. One of the possibilities she raised was that Art had some sort of neck injury, and that a massage might help reduce the headaches. Patti, who’s a nurse, had already suggested that.

Gales in the Baltic were keeping us in Stralsund. We’d been there for a week and the winds were getting worse, not better. We’d already abandoned our plan to go to Latvia and weren’t really sure we’d even make it to Poland. Patti lost her hat to the sea as she walked along the docks. The waves slapped against the back of the boat and the lines creaked constantly.

We’ve been weather-bound with Patti and Dave in the past. I met them all once after they’d sailed from Florida to Bermuda without me. The memory that lingers is that Dave and Art have long discussions about the most arcane of topics: whether something is turbo-charged and what effect it has on energy consumption, whether the flag on the stern is the right size for the boat, and always politics and the economy. Patti says that there were times on the Bermuda trip that she wished that she could just jump overboard to escape from the debate. My favorite discussion from this trip so far was on which, of green olives and black olives, is sourer and therefore more distasteful. Art voted for green olives, Dave for black olives. This discussion might have gone on for an hour if it hadn’t gotten laughed out of contention. It was like watching a discarded episode of Seinfeld.

It was Saturday. Our original plan had been for Patti and Dave to arrive on Monday and we’d leave on an overnight sail to Latvia on Tuesday. Now they’d been with us for five days, and we’d been in Stralsund for more than a week. The winds had abated enough for us to sail, but sailing east was out of the question. We decided to go west, back to Warnemünde.

With about twenty knots of wind behind us, the sail was quick and generally comfortable. We arrived at Hohe Düne Yachthafen, with its grand hotel and huge, barely populated marina in mid-afternoon. We checked in, arranged for Art to get a neck massage on Sunday, and sat at a bistro for a beer in the warm afternoon sun.

Sundays are quiet everywhere, and we’re a ferry ride away from the actual town. Whether we get there today or wait until tomorrow will depend on how lazy a Sunday we end up having. But it’s a relief just to be surrounded by a different scene from the one we’d been looking at eight days in a row.

Happy birthdays to Dori and the Poppa. We’ll be thinking about you both.

Love, Karen (and Art)