Tuesday, June 30, 2009


This is my favorite photo. It really shows the mood of all of us on this trip. Alan did get in the next photo but I neglected to get back to the photo shop to get it...so, minus Alan in only this photo, we are here in a very cold, windy Russia. Unbelievable!

Stark, drab and dark. A lot of dirt rather than grass in places.

I never dreamed in my lifetime that I would be in Russia, nor did I desire to be. There is a fear attached to being in Russia that I did not know I had.

Our tour guide was a young woman with long red hair and she was very nice. That wasn't the case with all Russians I encountered. Most looked sad to me.

St Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia, next to Moscow. It is supposed to be the most westernized, planned city. This port city was founded by Tsar Peter the Great and is considered one of the most romantic and beautiful cities in Russia. That was a revelation to me once I toured the city because it did not seem beautiful or romantic. I did see museums and buildings that were really elaborate, but they were all in different states of disrepair.The over all feel of the place was pallor and a depressed state. The buildings were old, peeling and dirty looking. I came to find later in Estonia that it was a particular Russian style building that the Russians also built there when they controlled Estonia. (So they made them to look like this?) I'd say more like no style; putty colored cement buildings with no design to them and several commented that they looked like projects.

The tour guide told us on a couple of occasions to make note of the colorful buildings and we would look outside at dull yellow and drab pink buildings among the gray ones. This girl had not been out of Russia so to her the buildings probably were colorful. She said it might be depressing there if it were not for all the beautiful buildings.

Russia is located on forty-two islands. The majority of Russians live in the apartment buildings that lined the street in Saint Petersburg as we drove in. There were rows and rows of gray, stark, dirty white, carbon copies apartment buildings everywhere. We were told that the apartments were very small and the only ones that have homes are the very rich.

Downtown someone spotted a Gucci store and asked the guide who could afford some of those stores. She replied that the “Golden Youth” were the ones who shopped in places like that. In the early 90’s after Soviet rule ended, gangs and organized crime proliferated and they became rich. The children of these people are rich and spend the money now in stores that most can’t afford.

Saint Petersburg used to be called Leningrad.

The city was called “The Venice of the North” because there were so many canals. Most of the canals were later filled in and are now roads.

There are only 30 sunny days a year in Russia. It also rains a lot. It poured while were were there, would clear up,then rain some more. It was very cold and windy. We were told that was normal but that we were having a good day because the day before we got there it was 9 degrees!

We had lunch at a restaurant in town and we, the tourists, were the only ones there. It was in a huge building with off white walls and absolutely no decorations. No pictures, photos, nothing on the walls. We were entertained by a Russian Folkloric group and were able to see some of the beautiful costumes and instruments used. The act seemed to be a comedy but I really didn’t understand it. It was either the accents or the sound system at fault or both. We were served Vodka with our lunch along with our water. We weren’t asked if we wanted it, we were just served. We understand that is normal to drink vodka with every meal. We expected the vodka to burn our throats or be really vile tasting. It was, in fact, very good. We had caviar on our salad. The meal was mediocre, chicken stroganoff with salad and desert of ice cream. One thing about the food in Scandinavia and Russia is that it was all rather bland. The potato and sausages was the only local foods that I could really note as local dishes.

We went to the Hermitage (Her-ma-TAGE) Museum. There was a huge crowd and the museum was incredible. The Hermitage is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world. We saw a very small section of the museums and were duly impressed by the architecture and paintings of the greats. Six buildings make up the Hermitage and one is the Winter Palace of the Russian Tsars. There are 3 million pieces of art in the buildings. The art works in the museum were owned by the Russian Tsars and were only opened to the public in the 19th century.

The guide told us that in Russia if you see five brides in a day, you will have good luck. I thought that was an impossible happening until I found out the traditions for brides and grooms on their wedding day. They go to be photographed by as many monuments or famous buildings that they can reach on that day. We saw more than five in wedding gowns and their entourage with them getting photos taken. They all looked very tired and with all the monuments I imagine they are on the go all day! It was fun to see so many brides and grooms on their special day.

There are 200 museums in Saint Petersburg. There is a museum for everything. A museum for vodka, one for bread; then there is the museum of chocolate. I think I would have tried to see the latter if I’d been free to do so. You can’t go into Russia on your own like we could the other places. We have to be on sanctioned tours. I went through a check point on my way back to the ship at one point, thinking that we only had to check in on the way into Russia. Not so. The woman started yelling at me in Russian and started slamming her fist down on the desk. Shades of Kruschev and his shoe floated through my mind. I could not say anything to appease her or explain myself so I sat through a lecture in Russian and kept nodding my head and she finally let me through. Whew. I was glad to be on that ship again but was also looking forward to being out of that port.

The minimum wage in Russia is equal to $200 in American dollars. $500-$700 is a good wage. $1,000 a month is excellent pay and made by The more experienced doctors, etc. The very small apartments are expensive. $10,000 per square meter or $3,000 per square meter for the very old tiny apartments with one bed. Land is extremely expensive and only the very rich have land and houses. Few people have cars. Almost all Russians smoke cigarettes and a lot of them drink. In comparison to the states, Russian cigarettes are inexpensive and they can afford them.

Here are Dave and Chris, George and Chris standing at the Neva River. Across the river is the Peter and Paul fortress and Cathedral. Part of the fortress was once a political jail that held people like Dostoyevsky and many well known people. The Peter and Paul Orthodox Cathedral is filled with caskets of royalty buried there. There were no seats, people had to stand during the services. The Cathedral spire is the highest building in St. Petersburg and the weather vane at the top (angel holding a cross) is a symbol of St. Petersburg.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Stockholm Sweden

June 17 - Today we went to an Ice Bar in downtown Stockholm. What an experience. We had to don heavy coats with hoods and put on insulated gloves. We went into the bar where the walls, tables, bar, seats, and sculptures were all made of ice. We were served Vodka with passion fruit juice in cups that were…ice. How unique and the Vodka drinks tasted like wonderful fruit juices. Yum.

So much of down town seems to be dedicated to or surrounds Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Prize. We saw where the banquet was held each year.

Alfred Nobel’s invention of dynamite was instrumental in building roads and by-ways through the Scandinavian countries. There are many tunnels in Stockholm and the tunnels are thanks to Nobel’s invention. Each of the Scandinavian countries were full of canals and reminded me a bit of Venice.

Stockholm is situated on 14 islands so there are also many bridges. Fifty bridges connect Stockholm!

One difficult situation for us was the inability to make out the names on so many buildings and places like bathrooms and drugstores and groceries, etc. The names are just so different than anything we have seen and the words just don't look pronounceable.

I thought it was cool that in Stockholm, artists and writers got the apartments by the sea because it is believed that they will get more inspiration there. I mean, what a beautiful thing to be taken seriously and treated so well as an artist and writer.

Lutheran is the official religion of not only Sweden but also the other Scandinavian countries we visited. The second denomination was the Orthodox church. We were able to see several beautiful churches of both denomination. We went to one church that was carved out of huge rock. This is a functioning Lutheran Church today.

There was one hotel in Stockholm that you can stay at that used to be a jail. They still have cells and for a price, you can go into the cell stay for the night. We weren’t even tempted. LOL

The Royal family lives on Queen’s Island and the Queen’s daughter, Victoria, will marry next June. That is going to be an incredible event and we saw the church where she will be married. Should be fun to see the event next year. The Queen has lost some satisfaction with the monarchy points when she asked the Swedes to help pay for the wedding. We saw the changing of the guard there and I was awe struck at these young men and their jobs.

It only takes a few minutes to marry in Sweden and only seconds to get a divorce. You don't have to have a good reason, just that you don't want to be married any longer. Fewer people get married in Sweden per capita then Americans but the divorce rate for those that do marry is considerably lower. Same sex marriage is legal here.

We were there for the holiday, Midsummer. Everyone celebrates by cooking out and drinking. All the stores and many businesses were closed. We were told that there are so few summer days that they are celebrated heartily with food and drink.

The outfit for women seemed to be long blouses or dresses and black tights with boots. It was cold and rainy there so add to that coats and umbrellas of every description.

Doctor visits and hospitalizations are free there but dentist is not free and in fact they are VERY expensive. A lot of Swedes go without dental care. The Swedes pay 33% in taxes and closer to 60% if they are rich.

Back to the dance lessons. We have two a day when we are at sea. Dancing is hard work and that's even if you are just taking a stab at it. We tried not to stand out in our ineptitude but were never successful in that endeavor. We stuck out like sore thumbs but we got all the kudos we needed from Kay, Alan, and the rest of the group to keep at it and feel good if we learned one step each day. Kay and Alan have taught dancing for maybe 20 years and it shows. They are not only wonderful dancers but good teachers as well. We had fun doing the line dances even if it was a waltz line dance at the end of the lesson. I think the waltz was my favorite as a matter of fact. The most fun was watching the others dance at events and when Kay and Alan danced the whole dance floor stopped to watch. They were amazing. I can't imagine being able to dance so well. I have a better idea of how much practice and work it is to be that good.

Before our first formal night on the ship, we had drinks in Kay and Alan's room. It turned out that the drink was champagne and they drank a toast to Bill and me for our 39th wedding anniversary. We had ran into Kay and Alan that morning decorating our door with wedding bells. That night at dinner was incredible. We had champagne and a wonderful chocolate cake for everyone at the three tables that we took up. What a memory. We felt so fortunate to be there to celebrate these years together and we couldn't have found better people to celebrate with. They gave us a Lenox candy rose bowl that is just beautiful and we will cherish it as a momento of that time.

Bill and I were amazed by the similarities in looks of the three sisters that were there. Kay has five sisters, one passed away not long ago. I have five brothers and one passed away a couple of years ago. Here is a photo of the three sisters that were on the cruise looking gorgeous on formal night.

I admitted before we ever started the cruise that the thought of being on a ship made us wince after our one experience with cruise ships; “the cruise from hell”. Well, if that was hell then we just experienced heaven. What fun. Advantage of cruises: you take your hotel with you. You don’t have to carry your suitcase into each country, you leave it and go back to your bed each night on the ship. You just relax, enjoy your family and new friends, go to sleep at night and wake up to a new country, a new adventure. That’s not even considering the way you are totally pampered. We are still worried about our reentry into the real world where we don’t eat gourmet dinners each night and where our bed and room are not cleaned up for us each time we leave it. What an experience that was 180 degree change from our first experience. The obvious difference to us was going with Kay and Alan and meeting some more of Tom's family and getting to know them all better. Add to that fact was the meeting of so many of Kay and Alan's friends on board as well. Knowing someone on the ship or going with someone is definitely a help but going with these people was a total treat for both of us.


Monday, June 15, 2009

I Can Rumba

Hey family and friends! I can Rumba. I won't say I'm good (because I'm not)but it's the closest I've come to dancing. These dance lessons will be considered a success from this day forward even if we never learn. The feel of Bill and me dancing was good enough. I still can't believe us. Learning this stuff is even harder than we thought and I realize we won't learn that much because we aren't good studies, but it is fun and when we learn how, I can see how it would be a lot of fun.

We have seen Kay and Alan ( our Consuegras) in a whole new light. They are not only incredible dancers but they are wonderful teachers as well; very patient and easy to learn from. They have so many on board the ship that know them and appreciate what they do. Believe me, there aren't many people that could teach me or Bill how to Rumba. What fun. I am amazed about how beautiful Kay is in this venue and how handsome Alan is and how well they do together. This is definitely their calling. I did not look on them as the gurus that they are. :) This has been so much fun already just getting to know them and meeting more of their family and friends. Everyone is having a great time and getting to know each other is the best part of all.

Amsterdam was quite a treat and different than anything I can relate to. The red light district was incredible. I couldn't help but feel sorry for these girls but they all seemed so sure of themselves. They stand in the windows selling their wares and althought it sickened me (truthfully), it also intrigued me. How these women could stand so brave and "out there" and not flinch or think anything about it. Or so it would seem. The guys figured out pretty quickly that all the women were not women(by seeing their adam's apple of course!).

There are so many young people in Amsterdam and oh, my the bikes.
There must be more bikes than any mode of transportation. Bikes have their own stop light system but not a whole lot of them pay attentionto signs. We had to watch out for cars, bikes, skaters,and each other because we didn't know which direction they would come from. Bicycles have the right of way. Our cab driver told us there was at least one biker death a week because they don't stop or use the signals or slow down for anyone.The bikes are rigged to accommodate any amount of passengers. There are baby seats that will carry several children, carts attached for carrying products. Most of the bikes are very old and rusty looking but there are decorated ones, rusty ones, and some that don't even resemble bikes any longer. I saw bikes carrying whole families.

Some coffee shops sell marijuana cigarettes or hash (I'll have to research, I thought they were the same thing).They also sell dessert...hash brownies. You can also get a cup of coffee if you wish.Darrell, your post cracked me up but honestly, I think I talk like you suggested anyway, so people probably wouldn't be able to tell I was happy after a cigarette at the coffee shop. LOL

What surprised me: It is cold, rains most of the time, and the flowers that are planted in window ledges, apartment building sides and every available spot. They are beautiful...every color, every hue. They have canals that they traverse by boats and there are so many house boats where families live.You can take a canal boat and get on and off whereever you want in the city. I wonder how they keep the houseboats warm. There are S shaped metal buildings along the city sidewalks. These are for men to go to the bathroom in. They are quite open and you can see the men standing inside and they come out zipping up their pants. I guess it's better than going on the sidewalks as I know some do in places like NYC and New Orleans. I guess the metal potties would be an improvement. There is a six hour time difference. We know this because Jeni called back to say we called her at 2, 4, and 6 a.m. to share some interesting tidbit with her. She couldn't have been too happy with her traveling parents. LOL

The place we stayed (The Kap hotel)was so tiny and that seems to be the way places are there...very tiny. That prepared us for our ship room which seems very roomyin comparison. There was no lift at The Kap so we lugged four suitcases up stairs that looked like a joke at first. That was the roughest part of the trip, getting the suitcases up and down those very narrow stairs and then walking over them in our room. The place was very clean and reasonably priced compared to other places and the location was perfect for getting around. Another big pay off was the quaint little garden in the back of the building where we had our breakfast. A lesson learned here is that if a person from Scandanavia say, "oh, you can walk it easily", you know that means that if you have trained for years you might be able to walk. Scandanavians seem to be very healthy. I think it's all that bike riding. Their food seems a lot healthier as well.

We went to a place to eat in town where you could get a $10 Argentina steak and sit at tables outside. I loved the atmosphere. We learned from this experience to be wise about what's happening at dinner. Mario served us each bread and butter before the meal came out. Later we found out that he was charging us five dollars for that bread. To make a long sad story short and sad, we were taken and that was the most expensive $10 steak we ever had. We were charmed by Mario throughout though and we we were thankful that at least we had such a charming waiter who made us laugh before he stiffed us. LOL

We saw the place where Anne Frank and her family hid out in 42-44 in Amsterdam. Her father, Otto, was the only survivor of the concentration camp and he talked via video of Anne Frank and his family. He said he talked to Anne a lot but he never knew she was thinking the things she put down in her diary. I guess that shows that we really never do know our children (or they us). He is the one that was instrumental in getting her diary published. I didn't know the diary was red plaid and it was a good feeling to see it and see her writing. We talked to a woman who hid, as Anne Frank did, (but she didn't write a diary. She was there visiting and Bill struck up a conversation. The most interesting part was listening to her stories I think. To think of all the people who were hiding just as Anne Frank was is truly mind boggling. What a horendous time for the world. I understand what our exchange student from Germany was telling us when she talked of the deep shame she had, that Germans had still over the atrocities. It's something Germany will never outlive she said. I felt shame while I was there that human beings could do that to other human beings. Well, the visit to Anne Frank's hiding place was certainly something that touched us deeply. I'm glad I went.

As we headed home one night after being downtown, I shared a tram seat after a day on the town with Thor (I don't make these things up) and his dog, Urk. The dog and he had been to the beach all day and were very tired but Thor picked Urk (Benji like dog) up and put him in his lap so I could sit down. What a handsome man AND dog! Both blonde, disheveled, and gorgeous blue eyes. sigh Ok. I admit to being a bit jealous of Urk.

The sun rises around 4 a.m and sets around 10:30 p.m. We will be onboard on the longest day of the year so I'm ready to see what that will feel like since there seems to be so many daylight hours as it is. Often I have thought it was about 6pm and it will be 10pm.

Food here is different. (Amsterdam at least) We had pancakes that were the size of car wheel and I made the mistake of ordering a hamburger which we found out was not exactly beef. The x-meat inspector that was with us said it was horse meat but the woman showed us the package that said half of it was pork. They don't have the same stringent rules and regulations about their food that we do. We were trying to figure out what parts of the cow and pig they added to make ground beef. I refuse to labor the point any longer, I will not order beef in Holland. Good to know -since we will be staying in Amsterdam on the return trip as well.

We boarded the ship, the Celebrity Century, yesterday and it's been 'pampered, spoiled, taught and shown beauty every minute so far. The food has been incredible and getting to know our friends and fammily in the dance class has been incredibile.

I can't begin to tell you how different this cruise in from the one that we took previously. I have a room with flowers (even a pink rose in the bath room), champaign that we haven't even opened yet, and our bed turned down each night and chocolates put on our pillows. If that first trip was from hell, this must be heaven. Someone just knocked on my door and delivered appetizers..tiny little pates and crackers. I know it's heaven now.
One last thing. sigh Admitting here that I really can't Rumba but I did learn a few steps and it feels a lot like the Rumba to me.
I must return to my life here on board the Celebrity cruiseship.
Tomorrow: Sweden. Ja Ja

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I Can't Believe It

This is my last day to get ready for the cruise. I'm almost packed and almost ready so today will be a finish up day. Since I can't sleep tonight, it might be a rough day!
I can't believe that Bill and I have been married thirty-nine years (May 2) and that we are celebrating with a cruise.
I can't believe we are actually going on a cruise again after swearing we'd never get on a ship again after our first one. LOL
I can't believe that I will see Holland, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Denmark and Russia. I've never been to any of those places so this will be exciting just to see something so different.
I can't believe we are going on a dance cruise when we don't dance. We will be taking lessons on board, I can't believe that either.
I can not believe that we are going on a cruise with my daughter's new in-laws (our consuegras) and some of their family and friends. I should be a bit nervous about this and perhaps I will be later but right now I'm just excited.
I can't believe our total travel time to get to Amsterdam is 15 hours and 10 minutes. Yikes. I will make sure I have sound reduction ear phones and maybe some Tylenol PM. I want to make sure I sleep some of that 15 hours. Actually I'd like to be knocked out until we arrive there but that's not going to happen. LOL
We will have computer access on the ship. That is comforting. :) I think if we had had communication to the land on our first cruise from hell, we would have faired much better. That, and the hurricanes, and frigid weather, a bizillion kids on board, not being able to get off the ship in port, and everyone's short tempers did not make for good cruising.
Bill is reading up on the places we will be seeing and has been filling me in on some things. For instance, I can't believe that in Amsterdam you can go into a coffees shop and order a coffee and a marihuana cigarette. No lie! It gets more interesting after that.
I can't believe the art museums I will be able to visit on this trip and whodathunk I'd ever see Russia. Not me. Just the name invokes a bit of fear in me, probably in my generation.
I'll have lots to talk about I'm sure so stay tuned if you dare.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dinner with Bill, Jeni, Tom and Father Mike

Father Mike wanted to meet Tom, our son-in-law and so we all met at Outback for dinner last night. It's always so nice being together and spending time with Jeni and feeling the joy of having Tom for a son-in-law. In the photo above: Father Mike, Me, Jeni, and Tom.
The dinner was very good. We haven't been in so long and the menu has changed quite a bit. Just a wonderful evening, catching up with Jeni and Tom since I left for NC a month ago.

Florida or Bust

I came back to Florida by way of Mom's in SC. Mom and I went shopping at Wal-mart, Dollar Store and Piggly Wiggly (where they asked me if I had my pig card and I was offended! LOL) She loves to be out and about and she was appreciative of me running her around.
Alvin has the soul responsibility of taking her to all these places, plus so many others like her Dr., the pharmacy, etc. He is amazing really. It's not easy and he does it every week. The rest of us are always SO thankful for him and Brenda. What a big responsibility and they take it in stride after many adjustments at first. I have to say that Brenda is even more amazing because she goes along and it's not her mom. (She did have to give over the tasks to Al to save her sanity eventually but Al just doesn't put up with or listen to her "stuff" and it all works out somehow. I'm so thankful that it does. Thanks Al and BB! I really don't think any of the rest of us would be up to the task (Mom, not the shopping - going part). I love her dearly but she's not easy to get along with and I know that.
I had a wonderful visit though and Al and Brenda came over so we could spend a little time together as well. I miss visiting with Al and BB when I go through there but Mom gets very jealous. She's like a child sometimes I think.

I had such a nice, relaxing trip home. I stopped at the Harley Davidson dealership in Daytona Beach to get a jacket for Bill and got a photo of Lexi with Elvis there. :) Bill loves his new jacket. I tried to get over to see Harley (our dog to be) but they weren't home so I missed that opportunity.
It was SOOOOOOOO nice getting back home into the arms of my husband and in my home. I feel so fickle about houses. I love getting to NC and home there and just bask in the magic of being back home here in Florida again. I guess I shouldn't question it. They are two such different and amazing places and I love them both.