Hello my friends! I spent my summer vacation in Europe!

September, 2013
I traveled with my friend Georgia, from Peoria.

It is all so exciting! We are through security (and they did not stop me) and we are waiting for our plane to load. Ooops, there is something wrong with Georgia’s camera chip. No problem, we will just get another. Alas, none of the shops here at O’Hare carry them. But they have everything one needs to service a computer. After a looong flight we find one in Heathrow. Pounds? The price is in pounds? Sigh, guess we have no choice. More flight and we are in Finland, called Suomi by the residents. Tonight we will get a good night’s sleep and tomorrow start our first tour.

On the bus, first stop, Georgia loses her breakfast in the gutter. She spent the rest of the tour with her face over a BIG plastic bag. I only get to look out the window, but when we get back to the hotel, I hold the bucket for her.

The next day we catch a ferry to go across the Gulf of Finland to Estonia.

Our day is free and we are off to explore the walled city of Talinn.

The knitting is really beautiful, and there is so much! Georgia says the prices are reasonable, but I don’t see anything my size.

There seem to be lots of other dolls in the windows, we even find one sitting on a bench. She also has red hair!

Somehow I have lost one shoe, so now I can be carried and go barefoot!

We are all hungry, so I check out the menu.

After a yummy meal, we go back to the room, for a big day tomorrow. The restaurant is built inside a store dating back to the 15th century.

The bus takes us to a music shell. They have a big festival here, with choirs from all over the country. None here now, but the area is nice.

Our big stop today is at an open museum of farming. There are lots of various buildings of the type used in the past. We are lucky to not have rain; this is the time of year for it here. At the first building, a lady is making dolls of little pieces of cloth.

Here the buildings were around what was a pasture.

We keep walking, and come to a windmill. It is windy, but there are no sails on it so it’s not working. I like it!

Just before we leave, we stop by the blacksmith’s shop. I get a good view!

From here we are going to Narva, a town near the Russian border. It is also right on the Baltic. So upon arrival we all go down to the shore.

I know it is chilly, but I’d like to go wading. It is not chilly, it is COLD!

But it was fun, and now we must get the sand off.

Today we go to Russia, and the crossing is slow. At the border… it took an hour.

We will just keep going to St. Petersburg, and our home for the rest of the trip, the ship Russia. (Rue cia)

At last, and the nice lady is welcoming us with some bread and salt.

Out cabin is ok, at least the mirror is big - but I think that I need to comb my hair.

I really like my new sarafan, a traditional Russian dress. Too bad I didn’t get a kokoshnik, but that would hide my hair. Georgia takes me down to the coffee bar. She likes coffee, I don’t drink it. On the way down the hall, there are shelves and shelves of dolls. They are pretty, but they don’t have growing hair, I asked.

Oh, cookies, I like those better than coffee!

I am wearing my Sarafan, a historic Russian dress.

Right away we are starting our tour in St. Petersburg. The first stop is St Isaac’s Cathedral. It was lovely inside, but flash was not allowed -- and it was dark!

We didn’t go in this church, it was built by one of the Czarinas for the neighborhood, but it was just so pretty! Igor, our guide called it the wedding cake church.

Tomorrow we visit the Hermitage, built as a retreat now one of the major museums of the world. There are more than 8 million pieces of art there, I don’t think we will see them all.

Here we are. Since this was first a palace, some of the rooms are really big. All are elaborate with inlay on the floors and gold leaf over everything.

No flash here, either, but here I am by one of the sculptures.

We saw pieces by many famous artists, pictures didn’t turn out but I was told that all of them are on the WWW. Like me! There were no elevators built here originally, so we had to go up and down a lot of stairs. The hermitage is huge and we are very tired.

Many of the buildings here in St. Petersburg in the historic area are painted pretty colors, the Hermitage is turquoise.

Lunch today is in a Russian style restaurant, and they are serving us vodka.

Most of us at our table didn’t like it, but I am glad we tried it. The guides said that later in the trip the crew would host a vodka tasting party. We will THINK about going.

The schedule was changed to accommodate the 2013 G-20 Summit. On the day the delegates left they just closed the airport for everyone else.

Catherine’s palace is our next stop. The style is very like the Hermitage, also pretty turquoise.

Again no flash, but the grounds were very pretty.

These guys knew how to live. During WWII, through the siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) even the palace gardens were turned into vegetable gardens. Even a turnip might have meant one more day of not starving for a family.

For our last day in St. Peterburg, we are going out of town to the Peterhof. Luckily the buses are comfortable, no one on our bus wants to ever drive in Russia. Traffic is terrible; sometimes the cars just zag onto the sidewalk and zoom down there.

Too bad… they don’t wave back at me. Don't they know who I am? Maybe it is just as well no one waved to me.

Here we are at the Peterhof.

The grounds are the thing to see here, they have numerous fountains, none of which use pumps. Water is held in the hills above and gravity pulls it down so the pressure makes it flow in fancy displays.

Can you see the gold on the fountain behind me? The whole of Peterhof was rebuilt after WWII, it had been destroyed by the Nazi soldiers stationed there. Even the trees were cut down for firewood. This area is on the Baltic Sea and winters here are cold and dark. It was a matter of national pride to rebuild and replant. They used 220 pounds of gold in the reconstruction!

From the palace a waterway drains the fountains to the sea, and when the nobility spent summers here, they would have spectacular shows with fancy boats for the audience to ride. I really like this one!

The trip is over 900 miles long, so I plan to get some reading done. There are lounge chairs on the deck and a library for book loans.

There are no doll books here… and we have 900 miles to sail.

Since the computers won’t be on line except in cities, a book will be a good idea.

There will be 16 locks, many we will traverse at night. Even with our speedy ship, Russia, we will be spending a lot of time moving. I will not be getting off at many of the stops, Georgia has acquired a terrible cough and is just staying in bed. We will watch the forest along the banks slide by and stay warm and dry -- the rain has started.

Along the way, we do see some of the result from the construction of the waterway to Moscow, flooded villages with only church towers left.

I am happy to say that Georgia is starting to feel better. Today we have one of our village stops at Uglich, oldest town we see on the rivers.

As we walk into town we get a peek at the beautiful Church of St. Demetrius on the Blood, built on the site of the murder of the 7-year-old Demetry. Since he was a child, he was considered an innocent and a saint.

Uglich is a little bigger than the other stops, and has a number of interesting shops. Also street performers; we are getting our picture with Sophia. She teaches music, but Sundays she sings for the visitors.

One darling yellow building, decorated with traditional scrollwork is an artist’s co-op. Katja, asked to hold me for a picture.

OK we did go look at the cathedral, now let’s shop! Fur is popular here, since Russian winters can be VERY cold. Lee tried on some hats.

Georgia bought me a balalaika (a guitarlike musical instrument with a triangular body and two, three, or four strings, popular in Russia), just my size. What a fun souvenir!

Today we arrived in Moscow. Traffic is even worse here than it was in St. Petersburg. Rush hour starts at 5AM and doesn’t clear at all until midnight. People are more prosperous after the fall of communism and getting a car is a status symbol, so there are lots of cars and each seems to have only the driver. I am glad to be on a bus!

The first stop is Red Square. The “red” is not after communism, but means “beautiful”. St Basil’s Cathedral is one side...

…the Kremlin is another and G.U.M. is the third (that is pronounced 'goom’ not ‘gum'). The fourth side is kind of open and goes downhill. We went into G.U.M., not to shop, all the stores are very high end and expensive, but to both use and see the rest rooms. After going in the Kremlin Armory, (no flash again) we head back to the boat for dinner and rest.

Today we start with the subway, since we cannot visit Moscow and not ride it. It is considered the best in the world. The stops were very, very clean, and each place we stopped had a different style of décor and different artwork, and no graffiti!

Each subway stop has different art.

For lunch we are going to the Hard Rock Café. They were the only reasonable restaurant that would accommodate our rather large group (over 200). Georgia had never been to a Hard Rock, so Moscow was her first. By the time our special lunch came I was really hungry!

Free time after lunch, so we went to several stores looking for a samovar in doll size but had no luck at all.

Today we visited another museum, again no flash, and drove around the city for views. Then at night we attended the circus. There was really no view at night, since fog had rolled in. Overcast and rain has followed us much of the way on the river, and has not left us alone since.

Our last day: we are going to what was a monastery and is now a cemetery.

Only notable and famous people are allowed to be buried here, some of the monuments are unique. The monument to the ballerina was my favorite.

Very early the last day, we catch our plane to go home. I can’t wait to get back and tell Beth about my trip!

I had so much fun seeing Europe with my friends Georgia and Lee, but it is time to say good bye and go home to Atlanta. I can't thank them enough for letting me tag along.
Till next time,