Cruising by Helsinke, Finland

We didn’t spend long Helsinke today. In fact, we stayed in bed until Noon before deciding to go into town. We knew that most places would be closed because it’s Sunday, and we were still pretty worn out from the 2-day-marathon tour of Russia.

We grabbed a cab and had him drive us to two camera shops we were hoping were open – no go. Jake had bought a 35mm film camera in Russia and we were looking for film for it. He’s particular about his film, Kodak won’t do. The driver dropped us off in a large shopping district.


It was supposed to be mostly cloudy and a high of 61F today and I’m very glad we brought our rain coats. We ended up getting rained on for much of the walk, but the cool air felt great.

We managed to find some film for the camera. Bruce was very excited! He was going to be using it. He has taken so many digital pictures, but hearing Jake talk about film has made him interested in trying it. He wanted to use black and white film, but we got him color too.  Black and white was loaded before we left the store.  So we continued to walk randomly and let him take pictures.


We happened upon a train station and grabbed a cab back to the boat, then spent the next several hours lounging around.

Today was pretty relaxing. 🙂

Tomorrow we’ll be in Stockholm. I sure hope the Ice Bar is open!

Day two in St. Petersburg

Note: I wrote this and didn’t have time to post it, so it’s a day late. But hey, I’m on vacation. 🙂

We didn’t have to get up as early, which was nice. We were meeting our guide and driver at 9am and immigration/customs was going to be quicker. We had a new guide as our other guide was requested by a group of art historians (which she knows a ton about) but our new guide was just as friendly.  Christina was a little easier to understand, too.

We went to a church (no pictures) and took a ride on the world-famous Metro. No pictures are allowed on the metro either, as it’s still considered a state secret. Kinda funny, if you think about it — it’s public.

Our next stop was at the Church of St. Paul on the way to the Peterhof. Bruce got his Russian hat that he had been asking for from a vendor next to it, and it was camouflage (his emphasis).


We drove to the palace and got our tickets.  The “tickets” looked like a certificate, it was kind of cute.  We wandered into the palace grounds towards the fountains and waited for them to turn on. They were scheduled to come on at 11. I wondered what all the fuss was about, but when they were turned on, it was quite fabulous!

IMG_1109 We saw a few more fountains, including a “trick” fountain (which apparently there were a lot of) that Peter the Great built to play tricks on his guests. A hidden rock or something would make the fountain come on.

We toured the bath house, which is the first that was ever built in Russia. Again, no pictures allowed in here –  not sure why.

Next to the bath house was a Japanese garden that was quite beautiful. The vases in the picture are Japanese porcelain and are from the 17th century.

IMG_1133Then we rode a boat (hydrofoil) back to St. Petersburg and were going to the highlight of our trip (okay, one of them!) – lunch with a Russian family.

It wasn’t an actual family, it was a Russian woman. Her apartment was on the fourth floor and was just as I imagined it would be. She had lived there her entire life (she’s probably in her late 50’s) and her mother had lived there since she was seven. She was also born in the house, as was her son and daughter.

She made an incredible lunch for us: appetizers of crab salad (delicious!), vegetables, salami, borscht for a soup, chicken and boiled potatoes for the main, and cookies  and tea for dessert. We were stuffed. Oh, and candies with dessert too. Bruce tried one and it was chocolate covered marmalade…hahahaha! He doesn’t like marmalade. 😉 He had ice cream though, always a crowd pleaser.

Jake did most of the talking and our guide interpreted for us. When asked about what it was like to live during Soviet times, she said she actually preferred it to how it is now because she never really wanted for anything. She had a job in manufacturing and could get or do anything she wanted. Now, not so much. Our guide thinks the opposite – it’s better now for her family than it was back then.

There is also quite a rivalry between Moscow and St. Petersburg. Each city inhabitants think theirs is the best, and the best AT everything too.  The best theater, the best chocolates, the best cookies, the best buildings, etc. It was really interesting to talk to them about the history of their city – it’s a perspective you just can’t get from a history book! Too soon, we had to go.

We stopped at a souvenir shop. We had actually asked to go shopping, so I guess that’s what they thought we meant. We were pressed for time however, so probably couldn’t SHOP shop. I got an absolutely gorgeous jewelry box. It’s hand painted and truly amazing.

Jake and Bruce toured the Cruiser Aurora. We didn’t have much time and it was raining and very windy so I stayed in the car. I picked the wrong day to wear a skirt – yesterday was much warmer! Bruce was thrilled, however, and thought it was the coolest.  🙂


We had just enough time to stop at the mosque that Jake wanted to take pictures of. It’s the (second?) largest in the world. We made it back to the boat in plenty of time.

Bruce and I grabbed a bite to eat and hung out for a while. Then Jake and I hit the tables at the casino. We played some blackjack and got decimated, so he went to play poker and I played Pai Gow.

Oh, and I made a cruise-friend, Carolina. We went up to the Spinnaker lounge and danced for a while before chatting on the deck. She’s on the cruise with her family.

Tomorrow, Helsinke!

I risked my life to save a zoom lens at Websters Falls, Ontario

I got a few new lenses for my 20D over the last few weeks. I got a Sigma 28-70mm f2.8 at Henry’s in downtown Toronto for a really good price. Jake also bought me a macro lens and a 50mm f1.8 as a surprise last week. I’ve always liked macro photography, so I was going to give the macro lens a try and return it and the 50mm if I didn’t like it and get a 50mm f1.4.

I set out Saturday morning with my 3 lenses prepared to seek out some of the waterfalls in the Hamilton area. I had one in particular I wanted to see, and I figured I would just wander my way around until I had to head out to the airport to pick up Jake. The first place I visited was by accident. I’ll have to go back and find out what the name of it is. I stopped and took some pics with all 3 lenses…and I found I didn’t like the macro so much. Maybe just because it was cold, and I had no patience, but I was having a lot more fun with the other two. I even got out my Gorillapod and used it! 🙂

I packed up and headed toward Dundas and ended up at Webster’s Falls. I was surprised at how big it was!

Webster’s Falls, Ontario

I started walking down the path and found a small clearing where I could probably get a good shot. I climbed down a bit and reached a tree that was really gnarly (dude) and thought I could get a really cool picture of it with the waterfall in the background using the 50mm. I thought it was a good idea at the time. Turns out it wasn’t.

I sat down next to the tree trunk and took the zoom lens off and put on the 50mm. I had the zoom lens in my hand and I had just put the cap (on the end that goes on the camera) and it slid out of my hand. Down the slope about 7 feet, across the ledge clearing about 2 feet as it slowed down….then hit another trunk and bounced over the ledge. I was yelling, “Please stop! Please stop!” but obviously to no avail. I scrambled down the slope to the ledge and held on to the bleeping tree stump and peered over the side. It was a good 25 foot drop down to the next place I could stand, and from there it sloped about 40 feet to the water at about a 70 degree angle.

My favorite four-letter word started streaming out of my mouth over and over again. I saw a Dasani bottle lying on the ground and I put it on top of the bleeping stump so I could identify it from down below. I felt like doing a CSI trick and bouncing something off the trunk to see where it would land hoping it would tell me where the lens was too.

I walked around the falls, hoping for a way to get down on the side I was on, but that was impossible. The other side was accessible using steps so I went down them, cursing the whole way, looking at my watch because I now had 25 minutes to find my lens before I had to head to the airport. I got down to the other side and surveyed the water for a way across it without getting wet. Did I mention it was snowing by now? Only a little, but it was cold. After about 10 minutes I gave in, there was no way across without walking through the water.

I found the shallowest and shortest distance and waded through the water. OMFG it was COLD. My feet stiffened up right away. Thankfully the water was below the knees. I don’t think I could or would have done it otherwise. I made it to the other side and was patting myself on the back for putting the Dasani bottle on top of the stump on the ledge. There’s no way I would have been able to identify it without that. Wow, it was up really far!!

I climbed up the slope, which was really muddy and slippery. There were a lot of leaves and sticks and I kept sliding down, but I was making progress. I made it up to the top and looked up — I was to the right of the stump. Not bad. It only took me about 5 minutes to find it. I went directly under the stump and looked up. It likely bounced off the stump and hit a big tree and then in a pile of leaves.

And there it was.

Found my lens!

“Thank goodness.” was all I could muster. It was a little dirty, and there was a small scratch on it, but it was otherwise undamaged. (Incidentally, this is the last picture ever taken with my 50mm, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Yay, it doesn’t look broken!

But then I remembered that it might not even work. I propped myself up and switched lenses. This time being very careful not to drop either one. At first, it wasn’t autofocusing, but the drop must have turned on the manual focus. I switched it to Auto and it worked!! Here’s the view from where I was, with the zoom lens.

Yikes, this is scary!

Scary. What the hell am I doing up here? I better get down.

I slid down the slope, which was the only way to get down safely, and waded across the water back to safety. I was now cold, muddy and soaked. I washed my hands off in the water and headed up to the car. It was time to go.

Now, during this whole thing I was shaking and while it may be from the cold, I don’t think so. I was seriously freaked that I just lost my brand new lens, and wading through the water probably didn’t help. I looked back at where I came from. The long tree lying down points up to where the stump is that had the Dasani bottle on it, which you can’t see because it’s so small. Where the rock meeds the leaves (next to the tree in the middle top) is where the lens was, and you can even see where I slid down.

The slope

I certainly got a few odd looks on my way back to the car.

I got back to the car and searched my pockets. Oh no, I didn’t lose my keys did I? No, they’re right here. Whew.

Wait. Oh shit.

I lost my 50mm.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

At this point, I was NOT going to go back and look because I didn’t know where I lost it, and I wasn’t going back through the water again. Thankfully, the 50mm isn’t nearly as expensive as the zoom lens. I’m also very thankful that I didn’t bother to take the macro lens with me on this little excursion — it was going back to the store for a new 50 anyway.

Lesson learned: Don’t change lenses near cliffs. Zip up your frickin’ pockets.