Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Had I known I could do my house in Teal & Gold....

I promised I wouldn't slack on my usual Wednesday Stories...and here it is, 6.19pm and oops...nada.  So we'll try to squeeze one in real quick - tomorrow's the 'official' end of third quarter...and in my world, that means a good 18 hour day.  And when I say good...well, I don't really mean it.

And back to the trip.  So far you've revisited Stockholm and Helsinki with me.  Today, we'll be headed to St. Petersburg, Russia. 

It was on this part of the cruise that I realized I was getting RIPPED OFF.  For every night when we came back from the show...there seemed to be a cute little reminder note that, as we were traveling further west, we need to go ahead and set our clocks ahead an hour before we went to bed.

Come again??  I mean, I'd already given up 30 degrees just by coming all the way from North Cackalacky to the Baltics region.  Now I was going to have to start giving up an hour a night? 

Has no one realized the trauma that can be 'Living with Jyl when she's Underslept?"

Alright.  There was a pay off.

We were in Russia at daybreak - yeah, Russia.  THAT Russia.  The one that we've all read about and had fears about and then felt pride for when they broke up the USSR.

First stop of the day was Catherine's Summer Palace.  Now...for those of you unhistoried peeps.  Catherine was married to Peter the Great.  He was a Tsar way back in the day.  I dig Catherine.  She believed that a gal didn't need to be too skinny.  She believed that it was okay to have a husband and some special male friends.  She believed in not just having her own space at the palace - but in having her own actual palace.

Walking up Pushkin Drive to her palace...I at first got the feeling that it was going to be not nearly as glamorous as in my schoolbooks. 

Although, I immediately realized that, yes, there should be a band to greet me everywhere I go. 

As we came up Pushkin Drive - the palace was in shadows and the side you come up is the chapel side - so you don't know that you aren't really seeing the 'big picture.'

And then you kind of turn the corner and there's a long iron fence...and you sort of turn towards the gate in the fence and...holy gilded gold.

This place was huge.  And shiny as can be.

I can only imagine how much money the city spends on cleaning this place - inside and out.  Thank you city. a lawn mower.

I doubt we saw an eighth of the palace.  I mean, we saw a lot - room after room - but I'm pretty sure we really only hit a minuscule fraction of it. 

Seeing places like that always make me wonder if folks that live there ever get lost.  Or just totally annoyed because they'd rather be on the complete opposite side of the estate. 

Like sometimes I get annoyed because I'm upstairs and meant to do something else downstairs. 

I have left the house sockless just because I was too annoyed to run back upstairs and get a pair.  As my dad said...I'm guessing Catherine probably had 'people' to run back and retrieve her forgotten socks.

Another spot we visited was the Peter & Paul Cathedral - this is actually nearer to Catherine's Winter Palace and is essentially a church/graveyard-for-all-but-two-tsars. 

The crypts were all done in white marble with a simple gold cross on top.  But my favorite part was the annex that held Tsar Nicholas and his family - the group that was assassinated in the Russian Revolution in 1917. 

Their bodies were only recently found and identified.  It was one of those great love stories that ended so tragically.

Did that story just totally bring the mood down?  My bad.  There are quite a few 'unhappy' endings in Russian it's not really my fault... the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.  Which refers to the blood of Tsar Alexander II. Who was assassinated on that site in 1881.  Okay, another unhappy ending.

But look at those crazy spires! 

Yes, very similar to the spires in Red Square.  Copy Cat.

All in all our day in St. Petersburg was a hit - except the part where we thought we were coming back in two days after our jaunt to Moscow...but ended up having to skip it...

More about that next time...

What I will say about my first day in Russia ~

1. Immigration was exactly what I expected.  Completely stone faces and no room for jokes.  You cannot enter the country without paperwork showing that you have a reason. 
2. There was sunshine.  Everything I pictured about Russia involved gloomy skies.  Had I known that this would be the only day we saw sunshine in Russia, I would have paid better attention.
3. While a lot of the history is quite sad - they are proud of it.  It makes the country what it is.  
4. Capitalism lives. There was shopping available geared towards tourism - which showed me that entrepreneurialism is working.  I'm curious as to what another couple of decades will change in the country.

So all in all - it was a much brighter place than I expected - both in weather and in personality.  Super glad I got to see it for a day - because the monsoon was a'coming...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Say it with me...Suomenlinna.

I know, I know...Blog Slacker this's end of quarter at work though, so things are a little sporty.  What with a whole lot of sales people living in fear of missing their number.  While the rest of us snicker at their sweat beads, wink, smile and think, "I still get paid the same..." 

Back to the trip - first stop was Stockholm - where we boarded the Voyager with all it's luxury...choice of pillows...choice of breads...choice of tasty beverages...all included.  Yes, please.

We left Stockholm and made our way to our first stop ~ Helsinki, Finland.
We were still a little sleepy from the time change - but ready to start the excursion marathon. 

For those of you who haven't cruised...excursions are ship-arranged tours...when you sign up for your trip, you have the option of signing up for excursions as well.  You usually get three or four choices and they differ in the 'what people like to do' category and the difficulty level.

It's one of the toughest parts of cruising - the day you have to lock down what you are going to want to do several months in the future.  Will I want to take the metro to downtown St. Petersburg for a day of shopping?  Will I want to take a nature walk along the Thames?  Will I want to spend eight hours trekking up ancient ruins?  Should I opt for a bus tour with photo op stops?

On this day - we decided on a fortress that sits in front of Helsinki.  Who goes to see a fortress, you might ask?  We do.  It's part of a forty year old contract between my parents that goes something like this ~ "For every x-hours of shopping Mom does, Dad gets to go see a fort." The number of shopping hours is the only variable - changing based on location and availability of stores.

Off we went to Suomenlinna - which means sea fortress.  Named by someone with a severe lack of creativity.

To get to the fortress - you have to take a ferry from the harbor - only about a fifteen minute ride.  But...obviously too far away for this little guy...    

I love when birds hitch rides.  It's like they are trying to equalize us.  "Hey - I could totally do my thang with these wings and all - but I want to hang out with you for a bit."

The fortress was very cool - built into the rocks over five separate islands.  It was very well preserved - having been passed from country to country as the region shook out who would own what.

Our guide was a bit of a go-getter.  I don't remember picking an excursion that involved sprinting across cobbles and through tunnels with no lighting, but she seemed to feel confident in our skill levels, so there we went. 

 Now, sometimes I get tired of my home owners association.  Actually, at the moment I can't stand them.  We are having actual, literal turf wars.  The HOA things we should pay to have our yards re-sodded at our cost...despite our living in maintenance free town homes with a contract indicating that landscaping is something the HOA covers.  I have yet to lay down a square of sod.  We do have the option of doing something else with the dead grass...would a field of poison ivy be inappropriate?

The fortress is inhabited - and it would be an amazing place to live. Surrounded by beautiful water, a quick boat ride to downtown Helsinki...access to all the salmon you can eat. 

The only real stipulation seems to be...Paint Your House Burnt Orange.

Now, I was never in the military so maybe my views of concealment are limited to pimples and muffin tops - guess is that if you have five islands on a fortress made up of burnt orange houses...people are going to see it.

And, yes, I realize that probably hundreds of years ago...before Benjamin Moore was a paint store...the houses on the fortress were probably not burnt orange.  Maybe they were grass green or stone gray so that incoming water traffic thought they were just seeing uninhabited land.

On the other hand, if you're trying to have an authentic fortress...

Well, I'm just saying.

And on the other, other hand, the houses were really pretty.  So, color choice forgiven.

Here is where we started a new vacation trend.  And I'm actually not even sure my dad realized it until pretty late in the trip.  Like the second to last day when I beaned him in the head for his misbehavior.

So.  Here we go:
 Doesn't look so bad right?  A picture of Bo on the fortress?  Note that this is only the third day of the trip and we have knocked out the fortress visit, thus opening the door for many shopping increments.

But here's how this picture really happened.  I bought a kick ass Canon Rebel XSI in May - and was so excited to use it. 

So, I'm lining up what is going to be a great picture looking through the walls and out onto the fields...and I'm just getting comfortable...and...what?

Something is sort of bobbing towards me.

And climbing.

And up pops my dad from the other side of the wall where he'd been out exploring.  And, obviously realized that I'd been waiting to take a picture of him. 

I could have done a whole series on countries where my dad's fingers, feet, head or elbow trickled into my frame. 

It's good to know he still wants to hang out with me.  Really, really closely.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Stockholm Syndrome

Well, I'm back.

Which you knew already if you've been paying attention at all to FB and my amazing ability to have all 800 pictures loaded up a mere two days after arriving back in the states.  I also had all the laundry done prior to going to bed on the night we got back (pulled into the driveway at about 5.30pm.  I really have no idea what's wrong with me - most people would give themselves a week or so to decompress and unpack...but I feel the need to just knock it out. was it...?

It was amazing, of course!  As a review - we hit Sweden, Finland, Russia, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands and England.  We did not hit Estonia - but we tried.

Obviously covering all that in one story would be we'll stretch this out as long as possible.

As of about an hour from will have been five days since we arrived back in Raleigh.  And yet at about 8.30pm every night - my body goes into shut down.  Evidently, it's still on London Time.

Which is surprising - usually I work the other way jet lag usually means being fine until bedtime, but then waking up at 3am, wide-awake so my brain can tip me off to the fact that it's 10am in some other country.

This kind of sucks - especially since I have a whole slew of television to catch up on. 

Although, in fairness to my DVR...I spent the day on Sunday watching all missed episodes of The Real Housewives (NJ and DC), The Rachel Zoe Project, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Real World, Teen Mom and Kate Plus 8.  Which is linked directly to how I got my pictures done so quickly.

Okay, back to the trip.

Stockholm.  This is where we started - eventually.  Our flight from Raleigh was a bit late (barely) - got to JFK in New York and prepped for a five hour layover by signing up for the Delta Sky Miles Club.  We'd planned to hang there with my dad's travel agency clients - but we'd forgotten...these are folks that have to be first EVERYWHERE.  So, by the time we got off the plane from the coach section - they had dusted us from First Class and disappeared.  We later found out they were at another DSM Club.  

You know what's worse than a five hour layover?

A five hour layover that suddenly becomes six and then more because there's a delay.

The summary is that our initial plane had 'mechanical' issues.  Which, personally - when I hear this I automatically think, "New plane please." 

Which, after I-have-no-idea-how-many-hours is exactly what we got.  The only downer?  This plane was super small - it was like a pretend plane.  And I had opted to sit between my mother and father.  Which I wouldn't have done had I known that my dad would immediately pull up the arm rest so he could billow out onto my seat...which including him falling asleep before the door was even closed. 

Basically it was an eight hour overnight flight in which I was wide awake for six hours of it.  Which was fortunate - because we had the Keystone Kops serving our meals. 

Now, the first signal of things to come was back when our flight crew showed up (an hour late).  We'd watched the five of them share one crumpled piece of paper to type in the security code to Gate 4.  They typed, it didn't work.  They passed around the paper - someone else typed.  No dice.  And this went on.

Finally...a security officer showed up on the other side of the door to Gate 4.  And was kind enough to point out what we all knew...that the flight they were trying to get to was at Gate 5 and its doors were on the opposite side of the waiting area.

Now, I wouldn't say I fly a LOT - but I do know that only one food cart fit though the aisle at once.  I also know that you should generally start one in the middle and one on the end....thus keeping a nice distance for passengers who might have to make their way to the potty. 

Our group failed that lesson.  And the one where meals are served prior to midnight.  And the one where meals are cleaned up prior to 1.30am.  And the one where the folks in the three very middle rows of the plane count - and if you HAVE forgotten don't debate who is 'covering' those rows while standing there with the drink cart like a big tease.

But - my motto continues to be the same - a good flight is one that lands safely.  So a good flight it was.

And we arrived in Stockholm, Sweden - tired, dirty and cranky.  We made it to the hotel - did some debating and opted for a walk downtown.  Dad took control on the map (where everything looked really close by) and off we went.

An hour later we'd made it to the Icebar - one of our goals.  It was about 1.30pm as we triumphantly charged the counter.  Only to find out that they had no openings until 3.45pm.  Did they not know what we'd just gone through?  Clearly not.

Fortunately, we were able to find a nearby pub and work through our first round of Fish & Chips and foreign beer - thus reenergizing the pep in our step.  Back to the Icebar.

Success! Delicious! 

All grouchiness slipped away as the Vodka laced drinks came on board...enough so that we threw caution to the wind and decided to just re-walk the 2.5 miles back to the hotel instead of hailing a taxi. 

Plus no taxis would take us. 

Strange.  I think we look like a trustworthy group: