Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Finland – Heroes

Earlier on in my planning – there were a handful of groups and individuals the displayed an interest in my project and provided me the motivation to push forward with my plans and even expand my goals.  Timo Montonen and the members of the Finish Parkinson Association are among those that played this vital role in making “Run-the-World” what it has become for me and those that have been involved.  Therefore, I was particularly excited to see friendly faces waiting for me when my ferry arrived at the terminal in Helsinki

As usual, I was on a tight schedule after arriving in Tallinn, Estonia from Riga, Latvia that afternoon.  I was able to squeeze in my 4 mile run in Tallinn and still get to the ferry terminal 20 minute before the scheduled departure of the ferry I planned to take to Helsinki.  What I didn’t know is that I needed to check in 20 minutes before departure and when I got to the ticket counter it was 18 minutes before departure.  Given that I had very limited time in Helsinki, I was immediately hit with a sense of panic. There are multiple ferry companies operating the route between Tallinn and Helsinki, but they each operate from different terminals and there is no central booking office.  I switched to survival mode, logged onto the internet and luckily the first company I found had a high-speed crossing that departed 30 minutes later than the ship I planned to take.  I scrambled, caught a taxi, bought my ticket 5 minutes before they closed and a little later our smaller passenger-only catamaran was passing the huge car ferry that I was supposed to be on.

The patient support group in Helsinki was very inspiring.  The have established a strong social group and their work to increase Parkinson’s awareness is impressive.  As an example, to address workplace difficulties for those with Parkinson’s, they have a campaign to increase the understanding of those that employ people with Parkinson’s.  This campaign has included creating handbooks to educate the employers.

My run in Finland was great.  The route had been carefully planned to take me to some special sites in Helsinki and it was a great opportunity for conversation with my fellow runners, Timo and Petri.

Thanks the choices of some particular landmarks monuments to include in the route and the discussions with my running partners, I was able to learn a lit bit about some of Finland heroes. One was the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius (1865-1957).  The Sibelius monument was particularly beautiful given the natural setting and the fortune of seeing it near sunset.

Given my fascination for the Olympics, I had requested that we include the stadium from the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 on the running route and it was great to run around the old stadium and the surrounding park. It also gave me the opportunity to see the statue of another Finnish hero, Paavo Nurmi (1897-1973). The Flying Fin set 22 word records and won 9 Olympic gold medals in middle and long distance running. 

In the world of Parkinson’s we have many who are considered heroes, as well.  Most were public figures prior to their diagnosis, such as Michael J. Fox.  The list also includes many athletes: Muhammad Ali, John Walker, Davis Phinney, Ben Petrick and Ray Kennedy to name a few.  However, through my travels I have met many people working on the local level that I would consider heroes and who clearly don’t get enough credit for what they are doing.  These are people who have dedicated their time to help those with Parkinson’s.  They are people with Parkinson’s, their spouses and their children.  Not recognized by awards and statues, but hopefully they know how important they are to bettering the lives of those with Parkinson’s.

Country Sponsor

In addition to being great hosts, I would like to thank OIVA (support group for working age people with Parkinson's) for their generous donation to Team Fox to advance research to find a cure for Parkinson's.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Name that Finish Line - Quiz #2

So the correct answer in the first quiz was D.   Which also is your grade, since 66% of you got it right.

Here is round 2...


A. Israel, Egypt, Qatar, Armenia, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates,  Jordan, Turkey, Georgia

B. Israel, Qatar, Georgia. Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, Turkey, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Armenia, Egypt

C. Israel, Qatar, Georgia, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Turkey, Armenia, Egypt

D.  Israel, United Arab Emirates, Georgia, Maldives, Armenia , Sri Lanka, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, Nepal, Egypt

E.  Israel, Qatar, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, United Arab Emirates,  Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Armenia

Announcements and Layover in Belgrade

#1.  I want to say Happy Birthday to my wife, Lila, and thank her for all the sacrifices that she has made while I was planning and am now traveling around the world

#2.  I want to let everyone know about some changes in my schedule and some upcoming events in Las Vegas.

- I've decided to not make up the Thailand run in Europe.  Instead I am going to fly to Iceland a day early, so I can spend 2 days with my parents, who should have arrived there today.

- I also changed my flight home, to arrive a day earlier and therefore, will be doing run #44 in Las Vegas.

- For anyone that might be in Vegas in the coming weeks, please join us for:
           6 May, tentatively at 7 PM  - 4 mile run on Las Vegas Blvd
           16 May evening - dinner and presentation to recapture "Run-the-World"
                     **I will post more information on these events in the coming days**

#3.  Here are photos from my latest "Layover Run".  I was thinking about not running and working this one into the schedule later, but when I couldn't get wifi in the airport and found luggage storage in the old train station...I started running.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Armenia and Georgia - Full of Surprises

     I got into Yerevan, Armenia before 4 AM.  My original plan was to hang out in the airport until my city tour started in the morning, but being so tired I decided to try to check into the hotel early.  I fought my way through the usual unofficial taxi drivers with my strategy to take the first taxi what looks like an official taxi line. The problem was that the first taxi, was also the only taxi in the line and there was no driver.  When the taxi drivers seemed to be saying that the "office" was in the parking structure across the street, I was skeptical,  but followed one guy to see his taxi.  Before entering the garage his car was visible, and unless the taxi standard with extremely low in Armenia, it was not an official. Much to his agitation, I turned back to toward the official taxi, where a young taxi driver was now standing by the lone car.  

     On the way to the hotel the driver let me know that this was his last day driving taxi and I was his last customer.  Unfortunately for him, I turned out to be a difficult customer.  He stopped four times to ask directions to the "14th Floor Hotel".  Once we finally found it - the hotel entrance was located in a very sketchy back alley.

     When I got to the elevator, it had only 2 buttons "2"  and "14".  I am not sure what the first 13 floors are used for, but surprisingly the 14th is a very nice hotel.  I immediately felt asleep and when I woke up in a couple hours, I step outside my door to the rooftop terrace and had my next surprise - I felt so close to Mt. Ararat that I half expected to discover the Ark while lounging outside my hotel room.

     Given that I had a full day in Yerevan and have an interest in the old USSR, I had booked the Soviet-era Armenia city tour through Envoy Hostel.  A couple young girls from Finland and I were the only ones scheduled for time travel this day and it turned out to be one of my favorite tours ever. Trying to imagine life 20-30 years ago in Yerevan was fascinating.

     We traveled a Soviet-era van and our tour guide was very entertaining, particularly her long list of Soviet jokes such as:
     President Reagan invited President Gorbachev to a $2M dinner at the White House and Gorbachev was so impressed he asked, "How do you afford this?"  Reagan said, "Come look out this window.  Do you see that building?"  Gorbachev replied "Yes."  Reagan then stated, "Well it was planned to cost $10M, but we built it for $8M and that is how we can afford this dinner".  A year later Gorbachev invited Reagan to a dinner that cost $3M.  Reagan then asked Gorbachev, "How do you afford this?"  Gorbachev said " Come look at out the window.  Do you see the bridge?"  Reagan replied, "No."  Gorbachev then stated, "That is how we afford this dinner."

     The tour ended with the special surprise...the only remaining Lenin statue in Yerevan, which is located just outside of the work shop of the artist who created it.  Although he had no particular affinity for Lenin, he wanted to preserve a piece of his work.

     That evening I had another surprise as I returned to the hotel after my run.  Despite having walked through the park by the hotel 3 times earlier in the day, this was the first tine that I noticed the park was planted with tulips - the symbol of Parkinson's.

     The next day I was to travel to Tbilisi, Georgia and there were 3 transportation options for this trip.  First, an overnight train that takes 11 hours.  Next, a private taxi that takes 5 hours.  Finally, the option that I chose -a minivan. The choice was made because of the price and I expected an uncomfortable 6+ hour ride. However, it turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable.

     I was joined in the backseat by a couple around my age from Germany. The man had been to 101 countries and was full of interesting stories.  The middle two seats taken by a slightly older man and woman - who were not romantically connected, but looked as though the could be.  As we started on our way and those of us in the back seat wer getting to know each other over the blaring music, the woman made the strange choice to scold us from speaking so loud, rather than asking the driver to turn to radio volume down from "10".

     The front seat was were the real entertainment was.  The driver's role seemed to be putting us a little on edge, by traveling at a high rate of speed, braking suddenly and most importantly serving from time to time.  The sudden changes of direction meant that those of us in the backseat had an experience resembling a mosh pit, while the lady in the middle (whose seat was not anchored down and would slide 6-8 inches with each turn) was essentially on a 6 hour amusement park ride.  The man riding shot guy was the real treat.  Appearing to be in his 80s and a bit frail, he moved was surprisingly quick with his walking can when we made sudden stops a local stores.  During the first couple hours there were at least 3 stops and the driver and the old man seemed to have their own agreed upon itinerary for these stops.  At first I thought the guy was collecting his favorite brews that he couldn't get back home, but when we finally made a stop where we could all get out and I was offered a swig of his beer, I realized he was actually purchasing for immediate consumption.  After awhile he took to getting rid of the empties by tossing them out the window as when sped through through the country-side.  

     At one point half-way through the drive we pulled over to side of the street, so the poor lady in the middle could get out and vomit (having been overcome by motion sickness caused by the Tilt-a-Whirl experience) and the old man used this as an opportunity to smoke a cigarette (while the driver was okay with alcohol consumption, he did not approve of smoking in his vehicle) and the whole image was so ridiculous that those of us in the backseat couldn't help but just laugh.


     The view during the drive was most remarkable for the uniform character of the buildings.  Although we moved from agricultural land to mountain canyons - from the time we left Yerevan until just before we entered Tbilisi, it was as if not a single building was newly constructed in the past 30 or 40 years.  Those buildings that were present looked as if they were dying a slow agonizing death.  Meanwhile most of the industrial buildings - immense factory complexes in every major town we past - had already met their demise and were slowly decaying.  

The road itself was not much of a highway, but more of  a country road struggling to survive under the strain of serving as the main thorough-fare linking two capital cities.

     Once we finally arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia their could be nothing more surprising than my first sight of the Georgia 444 Hotel.  Although I had seen photos on the internet when I booked the place, seeing it in person was something else. Something along the lines of seeing Mt.Everest and Petra, but more personal.  However, I don't think I want to be too attached.  When I asked the manager on duty what the significance of the name was, he had trouble translating the meaning of three-4s into English, but came up with "it is something like a good place to go when you die".  When I asked him if he meant "heaven", he only replied "something like that".



Saturday, April 26, 2014

Dividing Lines

I don't profess to have an understanding of Israel and Middle East politics, comparative religion, or the origins of nationalism.  However, the initial and lasting images of my stop in Israel  are all related to dividing lines, both visible and invisible.

After leaving Amman for the Ben Gurion Bridge border crossing, at first the the drive was very similar to the drive south to Petra the day prior.  However, within a few miles of the border the landscape suddenly changes.  The rolling hills and agricultural land of Jordan is replaced by large mounds with fortifications and lookouts.

The border crossing itself is tedious and it took over 3 hours in all.
- Get out of taxi on the Jordan side
- Walk 100 yards to Jordan passport control
- Purchase exit coupon
- Wait for 20 minutes for immigration windows to open
- Once clearing immigration, board a bus and wait 30 minutes for the bus to fill and start the short trip across the bridge - again an obviously highly secure area.

- Remain on the bus for approximately 45 minutes while bus slowly drives across bridge, go through initial check point and wait for our turn to be unloaded into the lines at immigration and customs.

- Once in the line it takes another 45 minutes to have your passport checked, bags screened, passport checked again and bags screened again. In the end you are left with a yellow sticker on the outside of your passport and a border control pass. On exit from Israel you receive and Exit Permit.  Thus avoiding the passport stamp that will exclude you from entry into several countries around the world.  (I will add that these photos above were taken with great attention to being certain that I wasn't detected taking them - detection would have certainly meant giving up my memory card, if not the camera itself).

The drive from the border to Jerusalem was marked by two distinct memories. First, the pictures of economic division.  It seemed as though there were only two forms of housing  Hilltop modern building, usually with security fencing or rambling shacks seemingly made of any leftover building materials available that sit at the base of the hills.  Second is the stunning first views of the old city.

Once in the city I was excited to feel the atmosphere of such a historic city, but soon I was face-to-face with lines of division again.  I had to wait 2 hours to get to my hotel because it was in an area blocked off for religious celebrations.  This blockade was not just an inconvenience for those of us unsuspecting tourists. The security detail struggled to maintain the barrier against agitated locals.

The next morning, it was great to be able to run through the narrow alleys of old Jerusalem , especially on Easter Sunday.  

However, just as I was taking videos and photos of the Temple Mount there were a couple dozen explosions? gun fire? celebrations?  It wasn't clear what the source of explosions was and locals seemed to go about their business without concern, but it was unnerving to see armed forces running along the city walls in the direction of the sounds and a reminder of what the explosions could represent.

Although the divisions may be more evident in Israel and Old Jerusalem, divisions exist everywhere in life.  When it comes to Parkinson's one of the divisions that has struck me as I move from the perspective of the physician to that of the patient is the dividing lines between patient and physicians.  Most commonly physicians and patient spend their time in two separate spheres only meeting where the circles intersect - the exam room.  Those patients that are supported best and those patient support groups with the greatest impact seem to be those in which the patients and physicians have opportunities to interact in multiple settings.  

In closing, I would like to emphasize that despite any inconvenience that might be present, being in Jerusalem on Easter morning was a special experience.  In addition, I would like to thank Ilana and Dan for taking the time to meet me for a brief discussion regarding Parkinson's, particularly as it applies to those living in Israel.