Saturday, August 30, 2014

My New Wheels - Yes, It Is a Girl's Bike!

Just got a 7-speed Schwinn 700c (27") to replace my Bike Friday fold-up that had a chain slip problem due to worn-out gears.

Like many an "old dog", I can't swing my foot as high as I used to, so I really appreciate the step-thru feature of a girl's bicycle. (Thanks to my good friend Herb for suggesting that I get a girl's bike.) 

My Schwinn is a lovely powder blue (they were out of the pink ones :^).
The new bike was $150 (plus tax) at Walmart, which is only a bit more than it would have cost to replace the gears and chain on my old bike, and I no longer need the folding feature. I gave my old bike to my good friend Garf whose son is in the bicycle business so he can fix it up for someone who wants a fold-up.

I've been riding a fold-up for decades, including a trip to England as well as several places in the US and Canada. The one I discarded was my third Bike Friday, and I will miss it, but I no longer take my bicycle on trips to distant places, so the folding aspect is not of value to me anymore.

At 75 years old, I still do 30-40 miles a week on the relatively flat streets and recreation paths of The Villages, FL, and hope I can keep it up for a few more years at least.

Ira Glickstein

Sunday, August 17, 2014


Vi and Ira Glickstein were married 50 years ago, in 1964.

The following postings include highlights of our life together and of our 50th anniversary family Baltic cruise.

  1. Wedding and Farm Days 
  2. Passing the Genes and Memes
  3. Computers R Us (Ira and Vi's careers)
  4. Retirement in The Villages, FL
  5. Our 50th Anniversary Baltic Cruise (Air Travel and Shipboard activities)
  6. Our 50th Anniversary Baltic Cruise (Land-Tours)

50th-1 Wedding and Farm Days

50 YEARS OF MARRIAGE - FLAG DAY, JUNE 14th 1964 to 2014

TOP: We were young and foolish when we got married on June 14th 1964. 
BOTTOM: But look at what 50 years together has done! Lower middle photos are distorted using iPad "twisted" camera feature, but that is how we really feel! Ira (and Vi)

Fifty years ago, a few days after our wedding, I rented a Cessna 152 and flew my new wife from Chatham Airport in NJ up to Niagara Falls, NY, stopping in Binghamton, NY for fuel. (Little did we know that less than two years later I would accept a job at IBM Owego, in the Binghamton area, and we would live and work there for nearly 40 years!)

TOP LEFT: Vi and Ira, Co-Pilot and Pilot for life, prepare to depart from Chatham Airport in Morristown, NJ. 

MIDDLE: We stopped in Binghamton, NY to refuel.
TOP RIGHT: Inflight on our  "Honeymoon Special" adventure! 
BOTTOM: We rented a car and spent the night at the aptly named "Honeymoon Motel"on the Canadian side. 

We flew home the following day but the weather got bad so we had to spend the night at a hotel in Binghamton, returning the rented airplane in NJ the following morning.


Early in our marriage, I took a job at IBM Federal Systems, Owego, NY, not far from Binghamton!
We purchased an old farm house with three barns and 88 acres of land in Newark Valley, NY, about 12 miles north of Owego.

TOP LEFT: Vi's parents, Gilbert and Clara Stark, visit our farm where we raised sheep. We had a kerosene heater in the kitchen and propane heaters in two other rooms. Our bedroom lacked any heater at all. I can still imagine what they were thinking "What have you done to our daughter?"
BOTTOM LEFT: Ira's parents, Morris and Ruth Glickstein, visit our farm. With the help of the New York State Agricultural Extension Service, we built a 1/4 acre pond on our land above the house and barns. We sometimes camped there.
RIGHT: Vi and Lisa get close and personal with one of our Angus beef cattle.
Some more views of our "Green Acres" FARM DAYS (1965-1973). 

TOP: In addition to the very old house and barns, the purchase included Trixie, our loyal dog. We built a dirt road up to the pond we put on the land above the house and barns.

BOTTOM LEFT: Me with my Dad Morris on road overlooking house and barns. Dad enclosed the front porch and made major improvements inside the house.

BOTTOM RIGHT: I'm in the middle, shoveling the chicken manure left over from the hens raised for eggs by the previous owners. Steamy and pungent, but great fertilizer!

  1. Wedding and Farm Days 
  2. Passing the Genes and Memes
  3. Computers R Us (Ira and Vi's careers)
  4. Retirement in The Villages, FL
  5. Our 50th Anniversary Baltic Cruise (Air Travel and Shipboard activities)
  6. Our 50th Anniversary Baltic Cruise (Land-Tours)

50th-2 Passing the Genes and Memes

We successfully passed our genes and memes to the third and fourth generations.


TOP LEFT: Ruth and Morris Glickstein, Ira's parents.
MIDDLE: Clara and Gilbert Stark, Vi's parents.
TOP RIGHT: Ira and Vi as children.
BOTTOM RIGHT: At our wedding reception and dinner.
LEFT: Our daughters Lisa, Rena, and Sara as youngsters
MIDDLE: As newlyweds with Jerry, David, and Avi, respectively.
RIGHT: Our grandchildren, Samantha, Michaela, Alexia, ... and Isaac (Emerson not pictured)


LEFT: Ira's Father, Morris, holds his great grandchildren Alexia, Michaela, and Samantha. Ira is Morris's son, and Lisa is the mother of Morris's great-grandchildren.
RIGHT TOP: Vi's grandmother Julia (and her husband, Chaim), with her great-grandchildren, Lisa, Rena, and Sara. Clara is Julia's daughter, Vi's mother, and grandmother of the children. Vi is the mother of Julia's great-grandchildren.
RIGHT BOTTOM: Julia with her great-grandchildren. Man at right is Gilbert, Vi's father.


LEFT: Ira's Bar Mitzvah (1952). Vi & Ira's Jewish wedding (1964)

MIDDLE: Lisa, Rena and Sara's Bat Mitzvahs (1978, 1980, 1982)

RIGHT: Alexia, Michaela, and Samantha's Bat Mitzvahs (2011) 

  1. Wedding and Farm Days 
  2. Passing the Genes and Memes
  3. Computers R Us (Ira and Vi's careers)
  4. Retirement in The Villages, FL
  5. Our 50th Anniversary Baltic Cruise (Air Travel and Shipboard activities)
  6. Our 50th Anniversary Baltic Cruise (Land-Tours)

50th-3 Computers R Us (Ira and Vi's careers)

Both Ira and Vi had great careers involving computers. In 1978, we purchased one of the first 3000 Apple II home computers and introduced our children to it, well before most Americans ever considered the idea of owning a computer.  We also purchased one of the first IBM Personal Computers when they became available in 1981.


Our children's knowledge of computers was big news at the time, and the subject of two stories in the Binghamton newspaper.

LEFT: Lisa demonstrates a computer at her school in Owego, NY.
RIGHT: Rena and Sara demonstrate our Apple II at home.
BOTTOM: Vi, Rena, and Sara were interviewed about our computer.


Ira joined IBM-Owego in 1965. In 1994, IBM Federal Systems Division was sold to Loral, and then, a year later, to Lockheed-Martin. Ira was 55 years old and had 28 years with IBM when our facility was sold, so he took early retirement from IBM keeping his job and seniority at the new company. Seven years later, in 2001, he retired from Lockheed-Martin.

Ira lugged our Apple II into the IBM facility to teach a course on Artificial Intelligence. When IBM came out with the PC-1, Ira was assigned the job of teaching engineers how to use this new tool and was the first person at the facility to have a PC in his office.  We also purchased one of the first IBM PC's for home use.

TOP LEFT: Ira used the PC to develop and demonstrate Advanced Visionics concepts for helicopter pilots.
RIGHT: Ira's innovative use of the IBM PC to develop and demonstrate Multi-Purpose Computer Display concepts, and his role as the Lead Engineer for IBM's HH-60 Technical Proposal, resulted in an IBM Federal Systems Division Golden Circle Award that included a trip for Vi and Ira to Hawaii.
BOTTOM LEFT: In 1984, an issue of the IBM Federal Systems Division "Technical Directions" magazine was devoted to "The Rational Cockpit and Advanced Automation" based partly on Ira's work.

TOP: Vi & Ira in HH-60 lab at IBM (1986) 
BOTTOM: Pave Low Night Training Mission (1986). Ira, Blake, & Murchie ("IBM" - get it?) used night vision goggles to experience low level flight over Dobbins AFB. The second night we witnessed an in-air refueling from a C-130. IMPRESSIVE!
RIGHT: Five US Patents, issued 2001-2007, with Ira's name on them.

LEFT: Ira's retirement plaque (2001). 
MIDDLE: Suspended in air at SF Science Museum.
RIGHT: Ira's first two jobs were in NJ & CT. Ira designed and hooked this small rug in 1976, based on a US postage stamp issued for the 200th birthday of the USA.


Vi got a job at IBM-Owego in 1984 and retired from Lockheed-Martin in 1999.

TOP LEFT: As a result of our getting an Apple II home computer, Vi earned her Masters Degree in Computer Science from Binghamton University, taught there, and then got a job at IBM Owego. (Keeping up with Vi, Ira earned his Masters Degree in System Science in 1990 and his PhD in System Science from Binghamton University in 1996.)
BOTTOM LEFT: IBM Marketing award.
MIDDLE: Vi was the Lead Software Engineer for the Army Special Operations Project, and received an Appreciation Award.
TOP RIGHT: Ira and Vi on vacation in Tahiti.
BOTTOM RIGHT: Lockheed-Martin Recognition Award.

LEFT; Vi and Ira in the Owego Artificial Intelligence laboratory in 1986.
TOP RIGHT: An issue of IBM FSD's "Technical Directions" included an article by Ira about "AI Aids for the Pilot".
BOTTOM RIGHT: Ira taught a course on "Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Life" at the Brandeis University (Boston) "Summer Odyssey" in 2000 and 2001.
(No Photo) While working and after retirement, we each taught online graduate courses for the University of Maryland University College up until 2013. (Ira in System Engineering and Vi in Software Engineering).
  1. Wedding and Farm Days 
  2. Passing the Genes and Memes
  3. Computers R Us (Ira and Vi's careers)
  4. Retirement in The Villages, FL
  5. Our 50th Anniversary Baltic Cruise (Air Travel and Shipboard activities)
  6. Our 50th Anniversary Baltic Cruise (Land-Tours)

50th-4 Retirement in The Villages, FL

In 2003, after some 38 years in upstate New York, most of it in Apalachin, we moved to The Villages, FL, known as "America's Favorite Retirement Home Town". There must be something in the water or the air, because, like almost all of our neighbors, we can't help saying "It's a beautiful day in The Villages" every chance we get. The photo montage below depicts our active retirement.


RIGHT: We built a house in a wonderful location on a golf course pond. Our view, from the rear of our home, faces the north and the golf cart paths are on the other side of the pond so we get very few golf balls intruding on our property. We installed a hot tub we enjoyed with our grandchildren and other visitors.

TOP LEFT and MIDDLE:  I (Ira) joined the wonderful bicycle club and participated in weekly rides. I also went on two bike/barge trips, the first to the Loire River area of France and the second from Brussels to Bruges in Belgium. About 20 of us lived on a barge for a week. After a night's sleep in a small but comfortable room, we had breakfast on the barge and packed a lunch to take along on a bicycle ride to the next port. A tour guide led us along excellent routes with stops at historic towns and other sights of interest. We usually arrived at the location of the barge by 3 or 4 PM, for sight-seeing there or, in my case, a nice nap before a wonderful dinner, served by the crew. After dinner we would take a walk and socialize with our friends.

TOP: Vi was active in photography, giving talks about the then-new topic of digital photography to the photography and computer clubs. She also joined a knitting group.

BOTTOM LEFT: We were founding members of Temple Shalom, a Reform congregation.

We both enjoy other activities in The Villages, such as water aerobics and visiting the town centers, dining at restaurants, and going to the movies. 


In 2012, we made the latest major change in our Active Retirement - Our move to Freedom Pointe, an excellent Independent Living facility in The Villages, FL.
LEFT: After years of rural life in New York and a private home in Florida,we've moved to an apartment house, reminiscent of our roots back in Brooklyn, over 70 years ago! We live on the fourth floor, with a view of a major road intersection, a shopping plaza, The Villages Hospital, and the sight and sounds of ambulances, helicopters, and fire engines. Of course, our current digs are a major "mov'in on-up" in lifestyle, see We enjoy monthly parties at Freedom Point, a daily restaurant-style meal, and other amenities.
MIDDLE: We are still in The Villages, thus have access to all amenities, remain close to most of our old friends, be it for dinner or water aerobics. Photo shows Vi on a zip-line in Ketchikan, Alaska, on a cruise we shared with most of our children and grands. Up till 2013, we both taught online grad courses for the University of Maryland (Vi-Software Requirements, Ira-System Engineering). 
RIGHT: I (Ira) remain intellectually and physically active, giving talks at the Philosophy Club, Science-Tech Club, and others. I made a popular YouTube video based on a link a granddaughter sent me, see In preparation for kayaking with my granddaughter and son-in-law during our Baltic cruise, I took a few friends from Freedom Point on an 8-mile kayak paddle on the Rainbow River, near Dunellon, FL. 

  1. Wedding and Farm Days 
  2. Passing the Genes and Memes
  3. Computers R Us (Ira and Vi's careers)
  4. Retirement in The Villages, FL
  5. Our 50th Anniversary Baltic Cruise (Air Travel and Shipboard activities)
  6. Our 50th Anniversary Baltic Cruise (Land-Tours)

50th-5 Our 50th Anniversary Baltic Cruise (Air Travel and Shipboard activities)


We flew Delta "Business Class" overnight from Atlanta to Amsterdam on our way to our 50th anniversary Baltic Cruise. It was a special treat to have a personal entertainment system and a seat that converted to a lay-flat bed. As you can see, Vi, our daughter Rena, and son-in-law David had a complete row to ourselves.

I've flown First Class a few times, and enjoyed the extra legroom, better meal, and free alcoholic drink, but, at least in the olden days when many flights were only 3/4 full, I used to prefer to get three seats in a row so I could lift the seat separators and lay down flat. However, I must admit, this semi-private arrangement is pretty neat.


Vi and Ira Celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary on a Baltic cruise with two of our daughters and sons-in-law and our three 16-year old granddaughters. 

Photo is from first dress-up dinner. 
LEFT to RIGHT: Standing- Vi, Ira (Open your eyes!), Jerry, David, Lisa, Alexia; 
Seated- Samantha, Rena, Michaela.

Photo is from our second dress-up dinner, where our children ordered an anniversary cake.
TOP CENTER: Our grandaughter Michaels reacts.


We visited St. Petersburg, Russia, as the highlight of our 50th anniversary cruise, which also included Helsinki, Finland; Tallinn, Estonia; and Riga, Latvia, starting and ending in Stockholm, Sweden.
LEFT to RIGHT: Ira, Samantha, Alexia,Lisa, Michaela, Vi, Jerry.


We were too busy or it was cool for swimming for most of the Baltic cruise. However, Alexia, Samantha and Ira were able to use the spectacular pool on our day at sea. 

INSETS: After too many museum tours, Ira has "the agony of the feet" (photo by Samantha, based on her idea :^) A nice young man from Mexico caught the three of us simultaneously underwater.

  1. Wedding and Farm Days 
  2. Passing the Genes and Memes
  3. Computers R Us (Ira and Vi's careers)
  4. Retirement in The Villages, FL
  5. Our 50th Anniversary Baltic Cruise (Air Travel and Shipboard activities)
  6. Our 50th Anniversary Baltic Cruise (Land-Tours)

50th-6 Our 50th Anniversary Baltic Cruise (Land-tours)

Family members participated in a variety of land-tours, usually in separate groups. Here are some of the highlights from Helsinki, Finland; St. Petersburg, Russia, and Riga, Latvia.



The first stop on our 50th wedding anniversary Baltic cruise with most of the members of our family was Helsinki, Finland.

Our 16-year-old granddaughter, Samantha, is a bird expert who loves the outdoors. She expressed interest in a kayak adventure to the eastern archipelago of Helsinki that was available as a land tour during the Baltic cruise we had scheduled to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. Her dad, Jerry, and I agreed to join her and it turned out, for me, to be the most worthwhile tour of a wonderful cruise!

The photos above capture some highlights of our paddle, including our wearing of kayak skirts (more about that below :^).


Ira, Lorin, and Bill
My kayaking started relatively late in life, in the 1990's in New York where I purchased a kayak and did some mildly white water. I brought my kayak with me when Vi and I moved to Florida and continued paddling here where the waters are calm (except for the occasional street sign or alligator :^)

I sold my kayak when we moved from our private home in The Villages, FL to our current digs in an Independent Living facility, where storage space is at a premium.

I had not been in a kayak for over two years when I accepted Samantha's invitation.

Lorin, Bill, and Frank
Naturally, I was concerned that I might make a fool of myself in front of my granddaughter in Finland, so, a couple weeks before our Baltic cruise I invited a few friends from Freedom Pointe to join me in a refresher paddle. We had a great time on the Rainbow river, as the photos indicate!

In over a decade of kayaking, I've never wanted to do an "eskimo roll" and so have never worn a sprayskirt that seals the cockpit opening. 

So, I was totally unprepared to wear a skirt on our Helsinki adventure!


On the Helsinki paddle, we didn't do any rolls, but we did wear skirts. The lower right inset in the top photo shows our group that consisted of Claudia and Tanya (from Australia), along with Ira, Samantha, and Jerry.

We highly recommend the outfitter, NATURA VIVA, and the able leader of our tour, Outi, for their high quality equipment and enjoyable adventure. (See

Outi and Anna and the others at Natura Viva made us comfortable and were highly professional in helping us don the skirts and life vests and rain gear.

At a stop at an island, we enjoyed some amazing refreshments, including the juice of the "Sea buckthorn".
Samantha, Jerry, and Tanya drink        --   Our leader, Outi, pours   --         Jerry and Samantha enjoy the view !
"Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) ... known as nature's most balanced fruit. ... The Sea buckthorn fruit is also known throughout the world as Sandthorn, Sandorn, and the "Wonder Berry". Consider sea buckthorn's nutritional profile: Sea buckthorn contains more than 190 biologically active compounds and with its full range of omega fatty acids in perfect balance. Sea buckthorn contains more than 60 antioxidants and high ORAC value. The fruit of sea buckthorn is very rich in vitamin C (300-1600 mg/100 g), which is 4 - l00 times higher than any vegetable and fruit."

Outi told us they had diluted the highly concentrated sea buckthorne with pineapple juice to make it palatable for us. REFRESHING !!!

Oh, and Samantha pointed out a hooded crow (grey except for black head) and a muted swan, among other birds we saw.



The second stop on our 50th wedding anniversary Baltic cruise with members of our family was St. Petersburg, Russia. My maternal grandparents came to the US from Russia. My grandfather Louis Leibowitz was from Ekaterinoslav (now Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, virtually at the current line of demarcation between the Ukrainian-nationalists and Russian-speaking separatists). My grandmother Lena was from Baku, Azerbaijan.

Furthermore, our daughter Lisa has been studying the Russian language at Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, where her husband, Jerry, is a member of the faculty, and our 16-year-old granddaughters just completed their second year. Her knowledge of Russian and research into sightseeing and museum highlights in St. Petersburg helped make our visit most effective and enjoyable.

Our visit began with mass confusion at the customs checkpoint. As we debarked the ship we were swept into long lines of our fellow cruise-members who all seemed to have numbered stickers on their shirts denoting the land-tours for which they had signed up. They told us they had obtained the stickers at the theater on the ship, but we had somehow missed that part of the instruction! We attempted to re-board, but could not, so we joined a line and, quite fortunately, ran into our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughters who informed us that our particular tour would get our stickers as we boarded the bus.

The lines at customs moved slowly, and, when it was our turn, we discovered why. The customs agents were translating our names and personal information into Cyrillic characters. Thus, my name "IRA GLICKSTEIN" had to be converted to the Cyrillic "ИРА ГЛУКШТЕИN" and so on for all of our information. Although this should have been an easy computer task, the customs agents seemed to be doing it manually, which is why it took so long. So our tour was delayed about an hour.

On to ride into town, our tour leader, who spoke good English, told us that, "in Soviet times" multiple families shared communal state-owned apartments, but that the Khrushchev reforms had changed that, with a goal of separate apartments for each family. Starting in the 1960's, many new concrete-block apartments were erected and, although it took up to ten years, depending upon their position and political connections, most families eventually obtained their own apartments.

Then, in the 1990's under Yeltsin, as the old Soviet Union disintegrated, residents were essentially given ownership of their apartments for free. Now, she said, over 95% of the people had their own apartments. The average apartment was now worth about $40,000 and those who owned more than one, having inherited them from their deceased parents and transferred ownership for a few thousand dollars, would rent them out.

We drove through block after block of massive apartment buildings, some with obvious external deterioration, but generally clean.

The bus took us on a short tour of the major attractions of downtown St. Petersburg. Then, we were dropped off at a souvenir shop, where they had free tea, water, and restrooms, and we were given a few hours "at leisure" to explore the city on our own.

Downtown St. Petersburg is a bustling city, with lots of people hurrying down the streets, many stores of all kinds, and hot dog vendors with carts on the sidewalks. Just as a cat seeks mice*, I focus on fast food. So, I ogled the American fast food franchises, but, alas, was not able to dine there. The main photo above shows the popular golden arches and the inset photos on the right show two other favorites - can you read the Cyrillic characters and identify them?

With the help of daughter Lisa, and my familiarity with some Greek characters from my math and physics education, I got pretty good at sounding out Cyrillic. "Санкт-Петербург, Россия" is "Saint Petersburg, Russia".

Lisa had done her research and intended to walk to the Kunstkamera ("кунсткамера" which means "Cabinet of Curiosities")  Russia's first museum, created by Peter the Great and first opened around 1727.

The long walk was too much for Vi, who was dropped off at a nice park. The rest of us continued the walk. Along the way, as we were crossing a bridge over the Neva River, a Russian man spoke to me in good English, saying that all the bridges would be closed between midnight and 5 AM, a fact our tour leader had earlier conveyed to us, telling us that the bridges had to be raised during those hours to allow large transport ships to pass through.

There was further confusion as our daughter and son-in-law, who had earlier exchanged US dollars for Russian rubles, purchased tickets for the museum. Students and retirees were entitled to an 80% discount on the admission price, but only two of our three granddaughters happened to have their student ID cards, and I did not have my AARP card. However, not to worry. All our granddaughters got student discounts and somebody miscounted, so I got in for free!

Once in, I had to check my large backpack, which I left at the coat-check station in return for a very substantial numbered token. The museum reminded me of the New York Museum of Natural History as it was back when I was in elementary school.

Lisa led us on a beeline to the special section of "Oddities" where photography was prohibited, but, as we were told, there were plenty of images on the Internet (see photos below).

After our all-too-short visit to the Kunstkamera, we returned to the park where we had left Vi and she told us she had made friends with Russian woman who spoke adequate English.

We all walked further through the active streets, stopped to ogle some cathedral, and further tested our ability to sound out Cyrillic characters. ("кафе" is "Cafe", and so on.)  At this point, I too was pretty much "walked out" and Vi and I decided to walk back to the souvenir shop for some free tea and wait in that area until it was time to catch our tour bus back to the ship. Our granddaughter Alexia was nice enough to walk and wait with us.

There was a very comfortable park near the souvenir shop dedicated to the famous Russian writer Pushkin, and we happily waited there.

As we waited in the park, I noticed the pigeons had an unusual fondness for the famous Russian writer, see photos above. I tested my ability to sound out Cyrillic characters by reading the inscription on the Pushkin statue, "Алекса́ндр Серге́евич ПУШКИНУ" is "Alexander Sergevitch PUSHKIN". Hooray!


Our second day in St. Petersburg was a half-day tour to the impressive Hermitage museum. This time, we passed through customs rapidly.

As we waited to enter the Hermitage, street vendors plied us with novelties, such as Russian nested dolls and souvenir books, and so on. I was pleased that one vendor was selling anti-Communist t-shirts for $10 US currency (similar to the example shown in the lower left inset of the first image in this posting):

  • On the front of the t-shirt, the old Communist hammer and sickle on a field of red is replaced by "McLenin's" - the face of Vladimir Lenin, the (once) highly respected Communist revolutionary, politician and political theorist who served as the leader of the USSR 1917 through his death in 1922, surrounded by the now-universal symbol of western capitalism, the golden arches of McDonalds.
  • The back of the t-shirt shows the defeated hammer and sickle in a red star with the legend "The (Communist) Party is Over".

Indeed, Communism is over. The only people who still believe in it seem to be academics, teaching in western universities!

Our tour leader was a young woman who spoke excellent English. She guided us through the impressive exhibits and explained them to us. Our special tour included a visit to the "Gold Room" where an expert guide explained the exhibits in the Russian language which was translated and repeated by our guide.


Of course a bare two-day visit to one city in Russia is not a basis for any deep political analysis. First of all, St. Petersburg (Leningrad in Soviet times) has, even in the days of Peter the Great, been more western-oriented than the rest of Russia, and is probably far more prosperous than average. Furthermore, the only contact we had with Russian people was the customs agents, who said not a word to us; the tour guides, who spoke disparagingly of "Soviet times" but said nothing about the current situation or their leader Vladimir Putin, who happens to be a native of St. Petersburg, which I guess is understandable; and the guy on the street who told me about the bridges closing at night.

Never-the-less, I got the distinct impression that the policies and customs of the old "Soviet times" had deep roots that affected the current situation. My wife Vi thinks the long delay at customs was likely due to a need to increase employment of people in government jobs. It seems to me that security at their customs checkpoints and museums was more officious than effective.

The customs agents were behind high barriers such that we could see their hands only when they took our passports and gave them back. We could not see whether they transliterated our names to Cyrillic characters manually or with the aid of a computer, but I believe it was the former because of how long it took.

A slip of paper with our transliterated information was tucked into our passports when we left. When we returned from the tour, we had to go through a security checkpoint to get into the customs building. That included an x-ray screening for my backpack and passing through a metal detector. When my belt buckle caused the metal detector to beep, I took my belt off and tried to hand it to the guard, but he just waved me through as it beeped again. We again had to wait at customs, but all they seemed to do was remove that slip of paper from our passports and pass us on. (Upon entering the ship, we had to put our sea card into a machine that instantly brought up a stored photo so the attendant could confirm our identity, and then we had to go through some real security that included an x-ray scan of our belongings and a metal detector where we had to remove our belts.)

On the first day, at the Kunstkamera ("Odditiies") museum, they made me check my backpack, but they did not use a metal detector or inspect the contents of my pockets or jacket or purse-size containers, etc.

On the second day, at the Hermitage museum we were warned not to take any bottled water or other liquids because of an incident not long ago where a mentally disturbed man threw acid on a valuable painting and used a knife to slash it. Thus, I was not surprised to see a metal detector at the entrance. However, it was totally unmanned and beeped merrily as we walked through! I could have easily carried a bottle of acid and a knife without any serious chance of detection.

On the second day, we again had to go through the customs checkpoints, both leaving and returning. This time, however, they passed us through both ways without giving us that slip of paper or demanding it upon our return. Perhaps the customs agents scanned our passports with a computer, but it was hard to tell.

Once aboard the ship I looked more closely at a Russian language advertising leaflet I had picked up and was proud to recognize that "Эрмитаж магазин" sounded out as "Hermitage Magazine" and meant "Hermitage Store".

*As a cat is genetically drawn to see mice, I am ineffably drawn to focus on fast food joints. Recall the childhood poem:

"Pussy cat, pussy cat / where have you been? / 
I've been to London to visit the Queen. / 
Pussy cat, pussy cat / what saw you there? / 
I saw a little mouse, under a chair!"

Yes, the cat missed all the finery and luxury of the Queen's palace in favor of that lowly mouse under the chair! Perhaps we all miss some majestic sights as we are drawn to the familiar?



July 4th on the family cruise celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary was a very happy US Independence Day on the ship. However, our port of call that day was Riga, Latvia, where July 4th has a much sadder significance. They hang black ribbons on Latvian flags to remember the burning of most of the synagogues on July 4th, 1941, when the Nazis took over. 

Our granddaughter Michaela joined Vi and me on a Jewish-themed tour that took us to the ruins of the Great Choral Synagogue, but also to the now beautifully restored Pietavus Synagogue which survived the burning because it was adjacent to a church near the town center. Our guide told us the torah and prayer books were saved by the minister of the church.

A ghetto was set up in the "Moscow" area of Riga for the Jews who survived the initial burning of the synagogues. We visited the Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum ( that was established in memory of the thousands of Jews who did not survive the Nazi occupation.
One house from the ghetto has been restored. Some 30 people lived in this small two-story home.

Our Jewish-themed tour also took us to the Rumbala Woods, near Riga, where some 25,000 Jews, mostly from Latvia but including some from Germany and elsewhere, were slaughtered at the end of November and the beginning of December 1941.
The memorial at Rumbala Woods includes a menorah at the center of a jumble of rough gravestones, with the names of some of the families of Jews who were killed there. The paths through the gravestones are labeled with street names such as "EBREJU IELA" which means "HEBREW STREET"

  1. Wedding and Farm Days 
  2. Passing the Genes and Memes
  3. Computers R Us (Ira and Vi's careers)
  4. Retirement in The Villages, FL
  5. Our 50th Anniversary Baltic Cruise (Air Travel and Shipboard activities)
  6. Our 50th Anniversary Baltic Cruise (Land-Tours)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Open Your Eyes

Please click this image for a short video well worth watching.

"Over the last month, as world attention has focused on the conflict between Israel and Hamas, terror group ISIS has had free reign in Iraq… killing thousands,ethnically cleansing the country of its Christian and Yazidi communities, while raping and abducting their young girls. But these headlines are insignificant for the likes of Penélope Cruz and her husband, Javier Bardem..who were quick to condemn Israel for “genocide” while bringing attention to the vast difference in casualties. 64 for Israel, and over 1,800 for the Palestinians. But do these two numbers tell the whole story? Do they describe the way in which Hamas uses Palestinians children as shields or hide their operatives and weapons in schools and civilian areas hoping to increase the death toll?...They don’t."
Lisa Daftari

Israel uses weapons ("Iron Dome") to protect its children. Islamic terrorists use children (Gaza) to protect its weapons (thousands of rockets fired indiscriminately over Israel).

Ira Glickstein