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.

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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.

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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).

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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.  🙂

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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!

Hello, Atlantic City!

We took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Atlantic City this weekend. We got woke up, sent the boy off to school (he’s with his Dad this weekend) and headed off to AC. I had never been and although it was a long drive, we were up for it. I was very sad about missing trick-or-treating this weekend, but I will make it up to him somehow. I love my boy!

The drive down was very scenic. We’re at the end of the color-changing season for fall, but there was still plenty of red and gold to go around. Plus the scenery through PA was absolutely gorgeous!

It took us about 8.5 hours to go from Ancaster to Atlantic City, and that was with some traffic in Philly due to the Phillies World Series something-or-other + rush-hour. Sorry, I don’t follow baseball enough to know more than that. 🙂

We landed at AC right at sunset, so there wasn’t too much to see other than the lights of the casino — which was enough to invigorate us! After checking in, we took a short walk on the boardwalk and then visited the Claridge. I wanted to see it because it’s “classic” AC, and seemed like a fun thing to do. Then we headed over to Bally’s and played some pai gow tiles in the Asian Games room. Very, very cool. Despite being the only “white” players in the room, and being asked several times if we’re sure we know this game…it only took a few hands for them to realize that we indeed, do know the game.

Pai Gow Tiles is one of the best games in the casino, in my opinion. It’s a difficult game to learn, and is really a slow win or loss, but it’s fun. I’m affectionately known as “the white girl that plays tiles” at Fallsview, Niagara Falls.

One of the really cool things about Atlantic City is that two of the three casinos we ventured into had the Asian Games room. Baccarat, Pai Gow tiles, Pai Gow poker, and a game called Asian Poker that we didn’t get a chance to try out. We’ll have to go back to try out Asian Poker because it’s apparently only played in AC.

We also did a bit of shopping. There’s a big outlet/big box section not far from the shore. We hit a few stores. I was in desperate need of some fall/winter clothing for work. I have to be presentable to clients and not everyone can appreciate my Green Lantern sweatshirt. 😉

We also ate at Morton’s and The Melting Pot. Both were amazing. Morton’s was delectable and The Melting Pot was intimate and fun. You can expect The Melting Pot in your area soon because the fondue fad is spreading and so growth of that particular restaurant. It was a great dinner and I would highly recommend it for any date (first date or gazillionth).

I took a picture with my Blackberry and sent it to Tony at What I See Out My Window.

We left this morning and took a different way back, this time through Reading instead of Scranton. (Sorry I missed you, Whistler!) It was still a long drive, but just as pretty. Jake took some great pictures on the way back. I hope to coax him into offloading them soon.

New Zealand was incredible!

We got back from New Zealand about two weeks ago and I think I’m finally caught up on work!  Right this very minute I’m offloading 6000 of the 7000 pictures we took while we were there.  I was able to whittle the other 1000 down to about 400.  I think a huge Flickr upload is going to happen soon.  😉

The trip was absolutely amazing.  We couldn’t have asked for better weather.  Every day was sunny and beautiful!  We hung out in Auckland, went blackwater rafting at Waitomo, saw Mt. Taranaki, played frisbee at Otaki Beach, chilled out in Wellington, took the ferry to Picton, went dune buggying in Greymouth, flew by helicopter from Fox Glacier and landed on the Franz Josef glacier, paraglided off of Coronet Peak in Queenstown, riverboarded in Queenstown, cruised Doubtful Sound, and hung out in Christchurch before heading back to Auckland.

I made notes throughout the entire trip and plan on posting more detail soon.  First, I need pictures.  Just telling you about it won’t do it justice.

I really miss New Zealand coffee.

We’re here!

We’re here!

The drive to TO yesterday afternoon pretty much sucked. Usually we’re able to get from our front door to downtown TO in about an hour, but it took us closer to 2 1/2. We left plenty early enough to miss rush hour traffic, but ended up stuck in traffic because of an accident and missing the turn-off for the Gardiner. At least I didn’t have to pee. 🙂

We didn’t do much when we got here. We checked in, Wayde did the obligatory “jump on the bed when you get in the room”:

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We enjoyed the view for a while:

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Then we went to eat, and by the time we were done we were both pretty tired so we went back to the room and watched a movie. Oh yeah, we’re supposed to get four movie tickets to the Paramount theater but they only had two left so we got the two left plus two in-room movies. It works out well because we were too tired to go anywhere last night anyway — :wayde: was up until 4am the previous night and I didn’t get much sleep either.

We’re off!

Late Post.

It was a nice looooong weekend. We managed to pack our entire weekend with events and activities, so much so that I’m currently suffering from a lack of sleep. 🙂 Not too badly though, as long as I get some good sleep tonight. My only regret about the weekend is that I forgot my frickin camera. I coulda drove back to get it, but decided against it because we were already too far. *smacks forehead* I coulda had some great pics.

We left for Detriot Friday evening, right after Wayde got out of work. It was a pretty quick drive, it didn’t seem nearly as long as I remember it. But then, I drove it every weekend for about a year when Wayde and I were apart, so it got pretty boring after a while, especially since I was driving by myself. This time I had Wayde and Porter to keep me company.

We arrived at the Leedy’s sometime around midnight or so and chose to partake in the case of beer we brought down with us from the North. We bought some Red Cap Ale, which has released their beer in the old-style “stubbies”. It was a sort of novelty sipping on beer out of a bottle that looks like…well, a baby bottle. We stayed up pretty late talking to Greedy and the crew. He had some friends over too so Wayde and I got to meet some new people as well. I hit the hay quite a bit before Wayde did, but still somewhere around the 3am mark. Sheesh.

Wayde and I have a tendency to sleep later when we’re visiting other people. I have no idea why. It’s not necessarily because we stay up late because we stay up late at home and still don’t sleep in. I think it has something to do with being in a strange place, or maybe because we don’t want to wake up.

In any case, we got up around 10am, a full hour and a half to two hours later than our normal weekend wake-time. I’m not complaining. We then went out to breakfast with Cam, Greedy, and Greedy’s buddy, Hi (I’m not sure if I spelled that right, but how else do you spell “hi”?). We ate at a Coney Island in the heart of downriver Detroit. I sure do miss places like that.

After breakfast we called Chris and Tracy to plan our attack for the day. We headed over to their place to hang out for a while — it was the first time we’ve seen their new place. I must say, they have excellent taste. I only wish I had the motivation to correctly decorate our apartment. After hanging out, we headed down to Green Brain Comics (popups) in Dearborn, which is run by one of Wayde’s good buddies, Dan. I picked up two very cool looking comics called I Feel Sick. The girl on the cover looked spooky, depressing and morbid, all at the same time. I couldn’t help myself. Wayde and I also picked up a starter pack of HeroClix — we’re already hooked.

Then we headed over to Xochimilco’s (thanks for the link Tracy!) to meet Rachele and Jeremy for lunch. As usual, I couldn’t resist getting the chicken burritos… But, after only eating a small amount, I was stuffed. (Don’t worry, Wayde and I shared it later!)

Then we headed off towards downtown Detroit. On our way, we saw the flock-o-ho’s (damn I wish I had a picture!) and witnessed an arresting, complete with a 40oz Colt 45 on top of the car, a sure sign that we were in Detroit. We finally found a place to park near Comerica Park, not far from the church displaying the “Pray for the Tigers here!” sign. (Here’s a pic.)

Wayde and I had never been to the Hockeytown Cafe so we wanted to check out this “ice bar” we’d heard about. It’s flat surface of metal around the inside edge of the bar counter that’s highly refrigerated and forms frost — perfect for keeping your beverage cold!

After paying our jacked-up bill at the HC, we ventured outside to determine our next destination. Before we could take two steps, it began to rain with intermittent flashes of lightning. It was quite a site! Mesmerized, we watched as it begain to rain even harder, so we dashed across the street to Johnny Rocket’s. I couldn’t resist the 50’s style Vanilla shake and had ordered it before I even realized what I was doing. Tracy had one too, we were both in Vanilla Heaven.

We finally got in contact with our friends Joel and Leslie, who met us back at the Hockeytown Cafe about 40 minutes later. We drank some more, chatted a bit, and finally HC decided to close at about midnight. Yes, midnight. A bar was closing on a Saturday night at midnight. Crazy.

We wandered down the street and found a cozy bar next to the State Theater, appropriately named the State Bar. Tracy, CP, Wayde and I engaged in a friendly game of darts, even though the rinky-dink machine protested quite vehemently at times. We eventually lost interest because…well, we suck and it was taking too long.

Finally, we all parted ways and CP and Tracy drove us back to their place so I could get my car and drive Wayde and I back to the Leedy’s. They were expected to be back from Greedy’s motorcross race at about midnight, and we got in at about 2am. Greedy was just about to head off to bed, but decided to stay up a bit when we got in. I watched South Park for the first time in years…it’s just as funny as I remember it. Once again, I headed off to bed before Wayde, probably around 3am.

Sunday morning we woke at about 10am again and shuffled down the stairs. Deb went out on some errands and brought us back some bagels for breakfast, which I was very thankful for! Hungry Angela is not a nice person.

Cam, Wayde, Greedy and I paired off in a NHL 2000 mini-tournament as our breakfast settled. I paired off with Greedy for the first game, I played as Toronto and he played as, um, some other team, I forget who. I ended up losing in OT, the final score was 2-1. (One of my defensemen scored the first goal for him!) Then Cam and Wayde played as Detroit and Colorado, respectively, and their game went into OT as well. Double OT, in fact. Wayde ended up winning, I think 3-2.

We needed to get a few things done before we headed out for the drive back home, so we said our goodbyes and got on the road. We were supposed to go over to Joel and Leslie’s place, but we didn’t have much time left and didn’t want to be driving back late, especially considering our lack of sleep for the weekend so far.

We stopped by Big Ben’s Comics to check out their HeroClix selection and to find out how Big Ben was doing — apparently Wayde knows him from “back in the day”. I got a kick-ass Green Lantern t-shirt, but they were out of HeroClix booster packs. They did have many, many single figures for sale. Oh, and Ben’s doing great. Then we went back to Green Brain Comics to get Dan’s last starter pack of HeroClix.

After dining on some delicious Thai food, which we were absolutely craving, there aren’t any Thai places here in Waterloo, we stopped by a discount Red Wings shop to pick up some shirts. I bought a t-shirt for myself, two for my friend’s kids and a pin for her. She’s a local Wings fan, so I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.

We finally headed out for our drive back. Thankfully, it was unevenful, save for the lessons in HeroClix rules along the way.