One of the highlights of my life was a 23-day tour of Northern Europe with Sandy and our very good friends Marc & Traci. I have to give credit where credit is due (sorry, Marc—Hahahaha!), but Marc’s ex-wife Traci planned this excursion out to the last detail for months and did a great job of it! The rest of us were along for the ride, and what an interesting ride it was! The itinerary was a direct flight to London where we spent 4 days; a 13-day Baltic Sea cruise (it was July of course!), and we ended with 2 days in Amsterdam (duh!) and 4 days in Paris. The cruise stopped in Copenhagen, Berlin, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, and Tallinn, Estonia.
I’ll tell this story mostly in pictures with the exception of a few “interesting” incidents, and I’ll say that I really loved the trip because we got to experience so many different cultures and a ton of art museums, including the Lourve and the Hermitage (St. Petersburg’s version of the Louvre and a very apt description!). Marc and Traci weren’t into the art thing as much, so they would explore the city while Sandy and I were exploring the art. Then they would have amazing dinner and evening plans ready to go when we got out of the art gallery. Talk about a win-win situation!
Let’s go to Europe and see what happens next…
One of the major differences between Europe and the US is that the Europeans aren’t nearly as fond of either fat or guns anywhere on their bodies (or more accurately, guns anywhere except for a few in the hands of the police.) Now I certainly appreciated the European attitude toward physical health, but we had a lot of fun messing with their views on guns throughout our travels! Now before anyone jumps to conclusions regarding we ‘ugly Americans” with big mouths obnoxiously pushing our views on the “more civilized” residents of our host countries, I can honestly say that at least 80% of the time it was the Europeans who brought up the gun issue when they found out we were Americans! We seemed like normal, friendly, outgoing people to them, and they naturally assumed that we weren’t part of the “crazy, extremist” (or libertarian!) crowd who believed in gun ownership for the peons. Or at the very least, they were nosy and self-righteous enough that they wanted to give the “ugly Americans” a bunch of shit if they didn’t agree with the European view of things! We had at least a half dozen or so fun debates about this issue, and it was definitely an unexpected pleasure as anyone who knows me will understand–Hahahaha!
Those of you who don’t know Marc need to know that he’s a criminal defense attorney (and one of the best in the state!), so when ex-wife Traci wanted to bring her weed stash with her to Europe, Marc put the kibosh on that idea in a nanosecond or less. But after a couple of days had passed and we adjusted to the time change, Traci decided she wanted to score some weed in London. Marc wouldn’t have anything to do with it, but given my past history, she talked me into helping her. After a detour to a guy who tried to sell us oregano (I’m not kidding—He still thought it was 1975 apparently!), we ended up making Traci happy, and that was a good thing considering we still had 20 more days in Europe together!
Christinana was a very unique part of the Netherlands because it was technically about 800 acres of its own country and not part of the EU either. I’m not going to go into it’s interesting history here, but you can tell from the pics that it’s a different place altogether. Weed is actually legal there and they grow it and sell it openly, but hard drugs are strictly verboten. We met some very interesting characters there, and although photos are forbidden, the most interesting character of all let us photograph him! Ironically, he was the only European we met that agreed with gun ownership for civilians. As you can see from his tattoo, he didn’t trust the police–Hahahaha!!!
We spent part of a day in Helsinki, Finland, and then it was off to Russkieville for two days. St. Petersberg was an interesting place and much different than the rest of Europe. Almost nobody speaks English there, and you can’t read the signs in the Cyrillic alphabet! The Russian government requires you to have an approved tour guide with you at all times, and that’s the guy in the pics. He wasn’t too happy with us when Marc & Traci ditched him at the Hermitage museum and wandered around town by themselves–Hahahaha!! I did manage to talk him down off the ledge and convince him that they wouldn’t get into trouble and to continue the Hermitage tour which Sandy & I traveled literally halfway around the world to see! (I think St. Petersburg is actually 11 or 12 time zones east of Phoenix.) We had an awesome tour, and to say the Hermitage rivals the Louvre is no exaggeration at all. The Russkies claim it is superior to the Louvre, and they could be right.
Next Stop–Tallinn, Estonia (I never thought I would get to go there in my life!
Last stop–4 days in Paris!
Of course, no trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower, and and we arrived in the large park around the tower about an hour before sunset. It started out harmlessly enough with Traci & I sneaking a couple of hits while strolling through the Eiffel Tower Park with our non-smoking mates (somebody had to remember the way back to the hotel—Hahahaha!!) We checked out the tower for a while, took a few pics, and then strolled across the park again to chill a little bit more.
Traci and I wanted to enjoy the rest of our herbage, so we had a seat on the lawn in a pretty remote part of the park (I chose the spot, so what comes next is largely on me!), and fired up the rest of our “smoky treat.” Sandy (very wisely in hindsight!) stood about 50 yards away from us and was waiting for us to do our thing. Marc, being the Mr. Social that he is, sat down with Traci & I so we could all talk for a few. Traci & I passed the smoky treat between us a few times, and just as I was enjoying a big puff of the treat, four French police officers rode out of the woods on the bike path and stopped right in front of me! The main officer was a woman, and I exhaled a bunch of smoke she asked me in French what I was holding in my hand. (I don’t speak a word of French, but I was pretty sure that’s what she was asking!) I was speechless for a variety of reasons: First, I don’t speak French and don’t know the correct word for “weed”; second, I was scared shitless at being possibly busted for weed in a foreign country, and third, I could hear the words of a very good criminal defense attorney friend of mind echoing through the canyons of my admittedly altered mind. Those words were: “Never talk to the police!!!” Of course, the person who had said this to me 100 times happened to be my good friend Marc, who was sitting right next to me!
Just as I am thinking all of this (with a racing heart and feeling a little breathless to say the least), Marc leans in toward me with a shit-eating grin on his face and says (no, I’m not kidding!): “This is going to be an interesting conversation.” Seriously. That is exactly what he said and oddly enough, Marc turned out to be exactly right in the end. But at that moment all I could think was: “Easy for you to say—I’m the one sitting here holding a burning doobie with a French cop and her three friends talking to me in French!!! I did reply I English that I didn’t speak French, and she gave me a look of disdain as if to say, “Oh—A dumb American smoking weed in our park, and then proceeded to ask me in English what I was holding in my hand (as though she didn’t know!) I didn’t say a word because I knew if I said the wrong thing I might hurt my cause, but more importantly I knew I would never hear the end of it from Marc who was sitting right next to me. After a very long and awkward pregnant pause, Marc finally spoke up (it’s a good thing when your friend and criminal defense attorney is already there when the cops have questions for you—Hahahaha!!) and said something to the effect of: “I think we all know what that is officer.” There was a bit more of an exchange between them and I think he did finally admit it was weed (which I honestly can’t remember because I was high as all hell, scared shitless and still holding a joint in my hand!), and the French police officer told me to put the joint out and shred it up into the grass!! I was quite surprised and quickly did exactly that before she changed her mind. Imagine being told by the cops to destroy the evidence—Things were definitely looking up!! She asked where we had been before we came to France, and then told us that we weren’t in Amsterdam anymore and that weed wasn’t legal in France. At that point I mumbled an apology and thanked her, and Marc started into profusely complimenting the French police for their sanity and reason, pointing out that things would have gone quite badly for us in the US, and launching into a libertarian diatribe of sorts praising Europe in general.
At some point, they noticed Sandy standing in the wings and asked if she was with us, invited her to join the group, and we all talked for about another half hour or so about the differences between Europe and America, and a bunch of other stuff that Marc brought up. Mr. Social Libertarian was definitely leading the conversation after the first few minutes. The upshot of the situation was that their “search” of me consisted of asking me if I had anymore weed (I truthfully replied that I didn’t), a very cursory pat down of my pockets (“that’s just my wallet, officer”), and at the end of the day, they didn’t even kick us out of the park!!! Marc tried to talk them into an iPhone photo with us so we could add it to our collection of European police officers (see the British police at the beginning of this piece), but I think by then they had heard enough from Marc (who was doing almost all the talking by now), and politely backed away and rode off on their bikes.
Thanks so much, man!!! I owe you one. Talk about good luck that your close friend and criminal defense attorney just happens to be sitting right next to you when the cops catch you with weed in a foreign country!!! Am I seriously lucky, blessed, leading a charmed life or whatever words you choose to describe it? I am truly grateful for that experience indeed!!!
We spent another day or so in Paris, and I had my final meal in France—Steak tartare, of course—Yum!!! Sorry to all you veegie-weegies out there, Marc—Hahahaha!!! I just had to celebrate my freedom in a truly French way…