Monday, May 21, 2007


We are least i am. Betty Lou will return to Summerland tomorrow.

The last leg of our journey took us back to where we began: Amsterdam. We didn't do much with the evening (dinner & bed), but had a lovely day today (at least i think it was feels like yesterday).
me (Dale) enjoying a cigar in Amsterdam

We visited the Anne Frank house/museum, which was very moving and certainly worth a visit. After that we walked along the canal to the flower market, had a bit of lunch and returned to the airport.
Flower Market in Amsterdam

The flight (10 hours, i think) went by remarkably quickly, considering that neither of us slept.
And now we are back. I'm not sure how i feel about that, but then again, i am so tired i cannot really evaluate my feelings about anything.
It was an excellent trip and neither of us could have asked for anything better.
Thank you again for taking the time to read about our adventures.
Dale & Betty Lou North

Sunday, May 20, 2007

lähtö (departure)

We are at the lentoasima (airport) in Helsinki awaiting our flight to Amsterdam.
We did not make it to the cinema last night. We were exhausted and crashed in our room. This has been the first room that we have stayed in that had a television, so we watched the only English channel, which was showing "A League of Their Own", which i had never seen.
Helsinki Train Station
This morning there was breakfast and a bit of strolling through the market.
We get into Amsterdam at 5:30pm (local time), so we will probably just have dinner, smoke a cigar and go to bed. Tomorrow morning we thought we might visit the Anne Frank house, which i have never been to. We'll see what we feel like doing.
On Monday the 21st, we leave Amsterdam at 3:30pm and arrive in Vancouver at 4:15pm that same day (local times)...if only it really were only a 45minute flight!
It is so hard to believe that we have only one more "sleep" in Europe and that the night after next i will be sleeping in my own bed. Crazy. I can't wait to put on some clean clothes, see some friendly faces and catch up on what has happened in the world over the past few weeks - I must admit to having gone through a bit of news withdrawal.
Happy Sunnuntai (sunday).
d & bl

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Helsinki: Day Two

Our first full day in Helsinki was a busy one.
Dale at Helsinki Cathedral
We visited the Helsinki Cathedral (the big white one that overlooks Senate Square) and the Uspenski Cathedral - you would think we would be burned out from visiting so many churches at this point, but we're not. We went to the market which occurs every morning down by the water. It is sort of like a temporary Granville Island - people selling produce and fish and handmade items, souvenirs, etc. There was live music (which included one man using a moped as a percussion instrument) and the weather was most agreeable.
We had coffee on the Esplanad, which is basically a pedestrian street/park which is lined with cafes, shops and public art installations. For those of you who know South Beach, it is sort of like Lincoln Road. We had coffee and watched a marching band parade around the area. We don't know what the marching was all about, but it felt festive.
Helsinki Metro
We checked out some of the shops in the Design District before hopping on the number 3T tram, which winds a figure eight through the city in about an hour and goes past most of the sights. We hopped off after a full loop and visited the Kiasma museum of modern art, which is a truly stunning structure, slightly reminiscent of the Guggenheim from the inside, but with quite a different exterior. The art was interesting, the best exhibit being one from Asia, which depicted mostly disturbing installations and sculptures inspired by political upheaval and poverty.
The Kiasma
We had a fabulous dinner at a classic Helsinki restaurant...the name escapes me, but i suppose it doesn't matter.
Today has been more leisurely. Slept in until 7am (yes, for us that is sleeping in), went out for breakfast and then took the metro up to another market, which was not too different from the one we went to yesterday, but it did get us to another part of the city and to another church (quel surprise).
Today is especially warm and sunny and it seems that every Finn is out with their dogs and strollers. They are sunning themselves on lawns and benches and every sunny cafe patio is packed. We did manage to find a place to enjoy the weather a bit as well.
We went to the Design Museum today, which we both enjoyed quite a bit. It had a history of Finnish design and an impressive exhibit by Finnish design students. After that, i napped on a park bench while Betty Lou read Chekov and ensured that no one mugged or molested me.
We may take in a movie tonight, as there is a cinema near our hotel. In Russia the American movies were all dubbed into Russian, but here they are in English with Finnish subtitles.
Tomorrow we fly back to Amsterdam. I shall be sure to double check our departure time to avoid another error.
We will be home very soon. I can't imagine how anyone can be missing us, with our daily blogging, but hopefully some of you will be pleased by our return.
Ok, that's all for now.
Good evening, faithful readers.
Until next time,
Dale & Betty Lou

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wandering (Farther) North

Good morning from beautiful Helsinki.
We arrived at the ferry terminal in Tallinn one hour before our supposed departure only to find...our ship had sailed. I pride myself on being a bright girl- i'm in law school for crying out loud - and yet, i cannot tell time. I've never been particularly good at reading clocks, but i get by. One thing i have never been able to sort out is the bloody 24 hour clock. I had our confirmation which said we were leaving at 13:30, but somehow it had registered in my brain as being 3:30, not 1:30. I am retarded. Fortunately there was another ship leaving at 4:15 (sadly though this one did not have a cigar lounge). The ship was large and well-appointed and quite comfortable. The ride took 2.5 hours.
The Ferry between Tallinn & Helsinki
We arrived and a taxi driver with a penchant for "Cosby Show" analogies whisked us to our new abode: Gasthaus Omapoja, which is terribly charming and as our taxi driver noted, when i asked if it was a good location, "It is in the heart of the centre of Helsinki". This may be our nicest lodging yet (with the possible exception of Amsterdam).
Our hotel is on the side of this Theatre
Due to the ferry mishap, we arrived a bit later than anticipated, so we simply went out for dinner and walked around the city a bit. Our location is truly excellent and both Betty Lou and i are quite excited to see what a beautiful city Helsinki is. There is much to see, so i'll sign off here and get to seeing things.
Näkemiin (goodbye)

Countdown to Helsinki

We have been wandering around in the Old Town this morning. Had coffee and a cigar in the warm sun in the town square. Betty Lou bought a lovely painting from an artist set up in one of the alleys. I bought some (more) liquor and chocolates. I now have vodka from Russia and some Estonian liquor (which i'm sure will be disgusting, but it is the national drink or something), and a bottle of absinthe, which may get taken from me by Canadian customs, but it was so inexpensive i couldn't help myself.

The opera last night was wonderful. Exquisite sets and costumes and, of course, beautiful singing. It hadn't occurred to me beforehand, but the surtitles were in Estonia, so we had to make up our own dialogue, but with opera it isn't too difficult.
We will catch a taxi to the ferry terminal in about an hour and a half and then it's up to Finland. The trip takes about three hours and it is a beautiful day.
We will probably post tonight.
Happy Thursday!
d & b

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Afternoon in the Town & A Night at the Opera

Another day in Tallinn.  Walked around the town some more. We went to the St. Nicholas Church - a medieval structure that has been repeatedly rebuilt following fires and bombing by the Nazis. It was quite lovely; very simple.

We also went to an old monastery - the oldest structure in the city supposedly. It was beautiful.
We had more coffees and snacks and then walked atop the remaining portion of the city wall, which afforded us beautiful views of the town and its red rooftops. The wall walk also allowed access to four towers, which one reached by climbing perilous, spiral stone staircases, which were dark and guarded by territorial pigeons.
View of Tallinn
We had lunch in the town square. It is beautiful and sunny today, but the odd gust of cold wind reminded us that we are in fact quite far north.  After lunch/dinner Betty Lou joined me in a visit to the cigar lounge i found on our first day here. It was wonderfully relaxing.

Strolling along we stumbled upon a row of artisans selling their wares - mostly of the knitted variety. I purchased a lovely linen sweater and scarf. Finally something new to wear! (my existing outfit is growing a bit stale).

This evening we shall attend an opera at the national opera house. It will be a production of La Traviata, which neither of us have seen, but we both enjoy the music.
Time for us to go ready ourselves for the evening's events.
Tomorrow we are off to Helsinki on a 3:30 ferry.
Until tomorrow,
dale & lou

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Teisipaev (tuesday)

Our first full day in Tallinn has been a thoroughly relaxing day.

We explored the Toompea region - the "Upper Town" part of the Old Town". We visited the Alexander Nevsky cathedral, wandering by the Toompea castle (now government buildings) and went inside the Kiek-in-de-Kok tower - one of the medieval fortress towers that form the remaining wall around the Old Town. The tower was super cool; four levels with a narrow and winding staircase going up to the top. It was filled with some Estonian historical objects, but mostly it was the structure that was interesting.
Street in the Old Town
We did a lot of wandering through the town, went to the Holy Spirit Church and back to the Town Square. I must explain that Tallinn is itself only a city of about 400,000 people and that the Old Town is its historical and medieval center. It is very small and everything we could possibly want to see is clustered within this area. Mainly it is the town itself, its cafes and shops that are the attraction. It is quite a nice break from Russia where we were running from one huge museum and palace to the next. Also, some of the buildings that i might like to have entered (such as the town hall itself or the St. Olaf Church) are only open from June to August.
Tallinn's Old Town Square
During our wanderings we hit three more of Tallinn's fabulous cafes. One was upstairs in a little nook (or was it a cranny?) in a rocky, medieval building, lit by candles. Another was just below ground level with super low arched ceilings, again with candles, but also sofas and seats with many cushions. We ate dinner at a cozy African restaurant - no blood sausages or head cheese for me, thank you. It was nice to have vegetables again after two weeks in Russia of eating mostly bread.

It poured rain today, until about 5. It was misty and moody this morning and we didn't mind it one bit, but by the afternoon we were cold and wet, so we retired to our room for a nap before heading out for dinner.
As we walked here to the internet cafe there was in the town square a stage set up with a band playing what i suppose is Estonian music - accordion, violin/fiddle, and assorted other instruments. It was the sort of music you want to dance around to but do not unless you are a child, or are drunk. Betty Lou particularly enjoyed the music, it reminding her of Ukrainian weddings of her childhood.
Tomorrow, more wandering and poking around antique shops and artisan studios (they are very big into textiles, wood work and felt crafts here - there are some wonderfully whimsical felt hats), and of course, more coffee. We may go to the opera if we can get tickets.
Another day winding down.
The Wandering Norths.
Dale at a monastery in Tallinn

Monday, May 14, 2007

Entering Estonia

A new day and a new country.
We caught our train early this morning. It lacking the romance of the Red Arrow, but was certainly adequate. We had our own little room with folding bunks and pillows and blankets, a little table and a window where we could watch the countryside pass by.

I am pleased to report that the ride was basically uneventful. It was relaxing. I had been nervous about going through Russian customs & immigration, but it was fine. We spent a half an hour at the Russian border and then about an hour at the Estonia border. We showed our passport several times and they searched the train, including under the seats and inside the ceiling.
Tallinn Train Station
We arrived in Estonia at 1:00. Note that we are now only 10 hours ahead of B.C. time, not 11 as we were in Russia.
We caught a taxi to our new temporary abode, the City Guesthouse. It is just outside the walls of the Old Town and is in a newish building. Our room and its amenities are the most modern that we have yet enjoyed (i.e. normal looking showers).

We had to get a new currency, the Kroon (pronounced "krone", but Mz. Kitty & Johnny Z have undoubtedly already researched this and were well aware). We now have five different types of currency in our wallets (Canadian, US, Roubles, Euros, Kroons).
Estonian Kroons
It is so odd now to see signs that are written in familiar-looking letters, as we had gotten so used to the Cyrillic signs.

Most people here seem to speak English, which is useful, because i can't seem to wrap my head or tongue around the Estonian pronunciations.

So we put away our things and made our way past the medieval walls and into the heart of the Old Town. This part of the city dates back to the 11th century. It is truly amazing. Tiny winding streets with treacherous cobblestones  snake past  impossibly quaint buildings. Everything looks as though it were straight from the pages of an illustrated book of Grimms fairy tales.
Window view of Tallinn's Old Town
Betty Lou is positively in love with the place. "I am so happy i could cry," she exclaimed with a flap of her tiny arms. We were walking down one street and entered a little courtyard that belonged at one time to a monastery. Down a flight of stairs we were led into what would have been a part of the monastery but is now a private art studio. The room itself was wonderful - so cozy and medieval with an enormous fireplace. Betty Lou was enamored with the art and may pick up a piece before we leave (i am holding her wallet).

The town is positively littered with cafes and eateries of the most alluring nature. Cafes so inviting that i stopped for three espressos in our first three hours. Handmade chocolate shops are everywhere. I found two cigar stores, both with lounges (one of which is fabulous and had an atmosphere in which i am sure to pass a few hours before our stay here is done).

It is comfortably mild out. The sky was sunny when we arrived, but now is raining.

Tomorrow we have some serious sight seeing to do.

Ok, we are going to go back to our room (there is only wireless internet at our hotel so we are using an internet cafe down the street).

Head Aega (that's good bye in Estonian),

Dale & Betty Lou

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Leaving Leningrad

We have had a fantastic last day in Russia. The sun has been shining all day.
Our first stop was the Aleksander Nevsky Monstery. It was Sunday morning so the church was full of worshippers. We joined in...for about 10 minutes. That was enough to enjoy the voices raised in song - as it is an orthodox service, there is no sitting, which is why we didn't stay longer, plus, we had to go in search of a certain gentleman we had been eager to find.  That's right...Dostoevsky.
Dale at Dostoevsky's grave

After wandering amongst the fallen and overgrown tombstones we realized we were in the wrong cemetery, and made our way to the far tidier plot which houses the famous graves. We found Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and others. We were quite pleased.
Dale in Lazarus Cemetary, St. Petersburg

tombstone skulls, Lazarus Cemetary

From there we hopped on the metro to visit the Chesma Cathedral, where Rasputin laid in state after his murder. A stranger church i have never seen. It is pretty and pink, like a cupcake.
Chesma Cathedral
We then zipped back downtown to take in the Russian Museum, which had an exhaustive collection of Russian Art, the early 20th century works being my favorites (i.e. Kandinsky). The museum is housed in the former Mikhailovsky palace and is quite impressive.

To close the day we went to the Grand Hotel Europe - bar none the most elegant hotel in the city. We sat in the uber elegant and refined hotel lounge which doubles as a cigar lounge of sorts. We were there for nearly three hours. I had two cigars and vodkas to match. Betty Lou sipped fruity non-alcoholic cocktails and we nibbled on a fine platter of fruit and cheese. It was a perfect way to close our trip.
Mariinskiy Theatre
We are now going back to our room to prepare for our train trip; we leave at 7 am, so it will be an early day.
We both agree that our trip to Russia has been as wonderful and inspiring as we had imagined. Hopefully Estonia will be equally rewarding.
Thank you again for checking in on us.
For the final time,
Da svidanya,
Dale & Betty Lou
Dale in Moscow Metro Station

Saturday, May 12, 2007

From Russia with Love

Today we did indeed make it to Peterhof, the palace of Peter the Great. The main palace is exquisite - each room decorated in its own unique style. The grounds are enormous. There is an upper garden, designed in the French style and a sprawling lower garden, more in the English tradition. The Palace is surrounded by fountains i can only compare to those at Versailles. The grounds are filled with fountains, and smaller "sub palaces", surrounded by moats and gardens. One end of the property touches the Gulf of Finland, where Peter the Great would arrive on ship.

fountains at Peterhof
Peterhof fountains

We spent most of the day wandering around in the sunshine and taking in the beauty of our surroundings.
Church at Peterhof
We returned to Saint Petersburg (a journey that involved bus & metro), had a sushi dinner on a patio in the sunshine and soon will be back in our room.
Tomorrow will be our final day in Russia and we shall see how much we can fit in.
Good night.
d & b
Trees at Peterhof

Friday, May 11, 2007

Tombs, Tsars, & Pickled Babies

At breakfast in the hostel, we met some new guests: a mother and her four daughters visiting from the Yukon (one of whom is here studying), and a retired fellow from Seattle who is traveling around Eastern Europe. They were very friendly.
After breakfast we found a ticket office and booked our train tickets to Tallinn, Estonia (first class, of course). The woman at the counter did not speak any English so i had to rely on my rudimentary Russian (so at least i HOPE i purchased tickets for Estonia). The trains had only recently started running to Estonia again, but will stop later this month due to certain political tensions between the two countries. We leave at 7am on Monday and arrive around 2pm.
We then walked across one of the many bridges spanning the Neva River (i am pleased to report that the weather today has been outstanding) and visited the Kunstkammer - Saint Petersburg's first museum, established by Peter the Great to display his collection of objects from cultures around the world. The reason i was so keen to go, however, was to see his collection of oddities and "monsters" - mostly this was jars of pickled and deformed babies. Some had two heads, others enormous tumors, deformed bits and pieces, that sort of thing. There were also stuffed rare animals and a fine display of teeth extracted by Peter the Great himself - along side his many interests (and the running of the Empire) he was also an amateur dentist! Betty Lou was not as enthralled as i with this grotesque miscellany, but i think she enjoyed herself a little bit. (Dawn: i think you would have loved it.)
picked babies at the Kunstkammer

picked head at the Kunstkammer

We then walked over another small bridge (there are 300 bridges in the city) to the Peter & Paul Fortress, through the "Death Gate" (many political prisoners were housed and executed there). There was visited the cathedral by the same name where most of the tsars are entombed. Most interestingly, was the small chapel built to house the remains of the Romanovs (who were, of course, slaughtered in 1918).
We had a lovely lunch at an Austrian Cafe (former home of the Russian writer Gorky) before walking back across yet another bridge back downtown. A leisurely coffee and cigar on Nevisky prospect and a bit of shopping has brought us here, to the internet cafe where we wind down from our daily adventures.
Tomorrow we shall head out of the city to visit Peterhof, the Palace of Peter the Great.
That concludes our daily post. Thanks for checking is on us.
Dale & Betty Lou

Dale at the Hermitage

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tackling the Hermitage

We awoke to more miserable weather today which persisted until only a few hours ago. Now it is gorgeous - patio weather. I do not recall if i have mentioned it previously, but the daylight part of the day is so long here. I don't know what time the sun rises, as we have yet to see this occur (which as many of you will know, is rare for us), but it is up very early and the sky is still light at 10pm. As summer approaches, the days will get even longer, until there is only a few hours of darkness each day.
Ok, enough of those trite observations and on to others.

Today we tackled the Hermitage. It is one of the largest museums in the world and is housed in former palaces of Peter & Catherine (the Great[s]). The building is spectacular - one glittering ballroom and throne room after another and each room hung with art from around the globe: everything from classical portraits & religious art to Picasso and Matisse. After awhile it is overwhelming to be in the presence of so much beauty.
The Hermitage
Following the day we wound our way back to The Idiot. We both agreed that a finer mixture of atmosphere and food could not be found. We ate mountains of delicious vegetarian Russian food (yes, it does exist - and nary a potato to be found). I had a little vodka and tea, B had a beverage and we worked on a New York Times Crossword and i wrote postcards while enjoying a cigar. We passed nearly three hours in this blissful manner.
A note in cigar prices (although i don't know if any of my smoking buddies are reading this): Non-Cuban cigars are very expensive, but Cuban cigars are roughly half the price of what they are in Canada. I am in heaven.
We are now meandering our way back to the room for what we hope will be an earlier night. I have several things to accomplish (i.e. sights to see) before leaving Saint Petersburg, but i have not yet decided what we shall do tomorrow. Perhaps i shall let Betty Lou in on the decision making process....
Dawn: Are you out there? Are you taking time out of your busy beach & gym schedule to read our blogging??
Alright, that's it.
So long, farewell...
dale & blou

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

St Petersburg, Day 2

Ok, i bought some additional time on the computer. Where was i?
Ah yes, we were tired and cranky.
I am pleased to say that a good night's sleep had restored us to our good humors and me to my agonizingly verbose self.
This morning we slept in until 9 and then had breakfast at the hostel.
Today is 9 May, which is "Victory Day" in Russia (the day they celebrate their victory over the Nazis and all soldiers lost in war). It is kind of like their fourth of July. There was a huge parade today, which somehow we missed, but the streets are thick with Russians waving flags and sporting ribbons and drinking in celebration.
Due to the holiday, all of the museums and attractions are closed. Churches, shops and restaurants are open. I had planned that we would spend the day walking and exploring parks and the river. We gave it a shot, but it was bitterly cold, raining and windy. After about an hour or so, we were frozen, so we holed up at a little cafe and sat there for a couple hours, enjoying coffee and lunch (I had pancakes with mushrooms & Betty Lou had mushroom soup and pancakes with beef).
We then felt ready to take on the day and i led us on a walking tour that took us to the magnificent Cathedral of our Lady of Kazan and St. Nicholas' Cathedral. We also walked to Sennaya Ploshchad; it is not much to see today, but back in the day it was a favorite haunt of Dostoevsky and is where he got much of the inspiration for the characters in "Crime and Punishment". We walked past the colossal Mariinsky Theatre and Yusupov's Palace, which is notable not only for its beauty, but for the fact that it is where Rasputin was killed.

Just down the street is the most fabulous restaurant/bar called "The Idiot" (after the novel). It is just below street level and is comprised of several small rooms decorated with antique typewriters and furniture, comfy leather sofas and dining tables. It is super cozy - exactly the kind of place one would want to spend several hours engaging in pretentious political or philosophical conversation or working on one's next novel. Each patron is given a complimentary shot of vodka. We spent some time there. I had vodka and a cigar and Betty Lou enjoyed a non-alcoholic cocktail called "A Little Tenderness". There we met and chatted with three Canadian students touring with their university symphony.
cigars & vodka at The Idiot

After that, a walk home, with a detour here, to the Internet cafe.
Tomorrow we plan to tackle the Hermitage.
Ok, i think i have brought everyone up to speed.
Good night.
Until next time,
drn & bln

The Red Arrow To St. Petersburg

I'm back.
While Betty Lou's post was a bit terse, it was due largely to hunger and fatigue. Had i written it would have been even shorter and possibly filled with expletives.
First of all: the train. Wow. We arrived at the train station on a dark and rainy night and found the Red Arrow waiting for us in all of its crimson splendor (yeah, Alan, i do go on, but as i recall you pay me to write for your newspaper, so it can't be THAT bad). The train was beautiful and our car was spectacular. It was very Orient Express, with lovely curtains and crisp linens, etc. We had a table and two bench seats which folded into beds. The table was set with our breakfast which included bread, meat, cheese, yogurt, juice, water, tea, chocolate and caviar. We also were offered a complimentary cocktail (we opted for juice). There was also two complimentary toiletry kits with slippers, eyemasks and the like. The ride was smooth, but just "clickety clack" enough to be soothing and remind us that we were in fact on a train.  We slept peacefully and awoke in time to witness our arrival in Saint Petersburg while we breakfasted.

Red Arrow interior
Saint Petersburg.
We caught a taxi to our new abode: The Puppet Theatre Hostel. It is really more of a pension-style hotel than a hostel. our room is on the fifth floor. We have beds, a desk, and wardrobe and we are in the same hall as the breakfast room. I am pleased to report that the bathrooms, while shared, are equipped with hot water. I think it was the most enjoyable shower i have ever had.
Puppet Theatre Hostel

Saint Petersburg is quite unlike Moscow. It is very beautiful - more European feeling than Soviet. It is built on and around many rivers and every turn reveals a beautiful bridge or palace or cathedral. There are many signs in English here and far more people speak it as well. The whole city is just very manageable. Also, while in Moscow, we rode the Metro constantly, here we can walk nearly everywhere.
Yesterday the weather was lovely and warm and we sat on a patio and had coffee, and i enjoyed a Hoyo Epicure No.2.
Church of the Spilled Blood

After that, we walked all around the city...for nearly nine hours. We went to the famous Cathedral of the Spilled Blood, an Armenian Church, walked Nevisky Prospekt, lunched at the Literary Cafe (where Pushkin supped before heading off to meet his fate in a duel). Betty Lou bought a small balalaika at souvenir market. We also visited St. Isaac's Cathedral - one of the largest in Europe. It was quite spectacular and allows one to climb a set of winding stairs up to the outside of the cuppola, where you can walk the perimeter and take in breathtaking views of the city. Betty Lou made it about 90% of the way up and froze. I had to coax her up, as there was no going back the way she came. Who knew she was so afraid of heights? I don't know that she enjoyed that particular experience, but i was proud of her for making it to the top.
St Petersburg canal
After all that we were quite exhausted.
....Ok, i am about to run out of time on this computer so i must post this. Will return shortly.
Dale in St Petersburg

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


We made it to St. Petersburg in style.  The Red Arrow was fantastic. It was very luxurious and we felt like royalty.  This is me, BLou, posting so the entry will be short and to the point.
We have done a self-guided (Dale guided) walking tour today which took in various palaces and cathedrals. 
We are hungry and going to eat.  More later.

The Red Arrow