Floating through the Stockholm Archipelago, Part I

OK, before we went to Sweden, I knew Stockholm had some islands. I didn’t know there were thirty thousand islands and inlets. I’d read that we should get up early, because viewing the archipelago was supposed to be unforgettable. Oh, it was.

Because the ship was so close to land, we moved much more slowly, and all you could hear was the gentle lapping of the waves and a distant hum. It was so peaceful sitting on the balcony, sipping coffee. I loved it. Loved it.
We’d gotten up at 4 a.m. (as usual, thanks to the crazy time changes) so I walked over to the other side of the ship to catch the sunrise…



Then we floated past island after island after island….




The little buildings near the water? I’m pretty sure those are saunas. Swedes and Finns are really into saunas.


I love the way the sunlight is hitting this one.


There are over 50,000 vacation homes ranging from one-room cottages to full-scale villas. Camping, hostels and rentals are common, as well as nicer hotels.


One of the many islets.

Taxi boats and ferries are plentiful in the archipelago. In the summer, residents take advantage of Allemansrätt (or “everyman’s right”) a law which gives anyone the right to go ashore or anchor on any ground not in the direct vicinity of buildings.


I would have no trouble spending a summer here.


Aren’t the houses beautiful?

Incidentally, my friend and I studied the route of our cruise beforehand and noted that most of the sights were on the right, or starboard side of the ship.  If you’re not sure, be sure to ask the person who books the cruise for you.

Hope your week’s going well so far.


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Travel Scan: Camels in Lebanon


I took this shot on the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon. I’m fairly adventurous, but I’ve never wanted to ride a camel. They kick, bite and spit–yuck. According to the San Diego Zoo website, camel spit is more like vomit. They use this tactic to warn off predators. If you see their cheeks bulging, look out. ;)

Great weekend, everyone!


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Glimpses of Helsinki

From the late 12th century until 1809, Finland was part of Sweden. This is reflected in the fact that all the street signs are in Finnish and Swedish. The two languages are not similar at all. One guide told us the Finnish language is closer to Estonian.

Helsinki has been the Finnish capital since 1812, when it was rebuilt by the tsars of Russia along the lines of a miniature St. Petersburg, a role it has played in movies like Warren Beatty’s Reds. The architecture thus has Russian and Swedish influences.



helsinki Collage


Senate Square houses Helsinki Cathedral, Government Palace and the University of Helsinki. The cathedral was originally built from 1830-1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. It was also known as St. Nicholas’ Church until the independence of Finland in 1917. The cathedral was modeled after Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg.


This is either the University of Helsinki or Government Palace. I’ve studied photos of both and can barely distinguish them.


A statue of Emperor Alexander II is located in the center of the square. The statue, erected in 1894, was built to commemorate his re-establishment the Diet of Finland in 1863.


The base of the statue.


There were tram wires everywhere. This is one of the longest trams I’ve ever seen.

Not far from Senate Square we found this colorful site:


A closer look:


Not sure what’s growing with the ivy. It looks like balloon flower, maybe.


Thought this was so charming.


These shoe planters were close behind.

Hope your week’s going well so far.


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Sibelius, a Rock Church and a Market

I wasn’t sure what to expect of Helsinki, Finland. Some reviews I read said to skip the city and just visit the outdoor markets. Ouch. I found Helsinki to be smaller than expected, but still lovely. Would have liked a bit more time to photograph the architecture.

Just outside the city, we stopped to see the Sibelius monument. I’m not a fan of abstract art, so was kind of underwhelmed. What do you think?


The monument was designed by Eila Hiltunen and unveiled in 1967. More than 600 hollow steel pipes welded together in a wave pattern are supposed to represent the music of Sibelius.

Our next stop was Temppeliaukio Church, or “Church of the Rock.” Literally built into, and composed of, rock. Not much to look at from the outside, but quite striking inside:


My first foray into using the panoramic feature on my iPhone. Not sure if I’ll be using it much.


A closer look at the altar. This is a Lutheran church in the Töölö neighborhood. The church was designed by architects and brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen and opened in 1969.


I thought the copper ceiling was very cool.


I’m guessing that’s copper banding on the balcony too.


The church organ, which has 43 stops and 3001 pipes.


A look back at the entrance.

Interesting tidbit: the rock walls were not included in the original plans, because the Suomalainen brothers thought the concept too radical. But when conductor Paavo Berglund shared his knowledge of acoustics from some of the best music halls and the acoustical engineer Mauri Parjo gave requirements for the wall surfaces, the architects discovered that they could meet all the requirements for the acoustics by leaving the rock walls exposed. Who knew?

After viewing the church we walked down to Market Square, a great outdoor market. The produce was fantastic:



Not sure if you can tell from this photo, but those cherries were huge.




Love the apricots.


Not your everyday run-of-the-mill swap meet offerings.


Beautiful, but I just couldn’t buy them.

I’ll share some of the architecture of Helsinki next time.


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Nearly Abandoned in Russia


This nondescript building was nearly the ruination of our cruise in the Baltic. I took this photo from the ship when we first docked in St. Petersburg, never dreaming that it would be a negative. No pun intended.

On our last day in St. Petersburg, we had some rubles left and my friend really didn’t want to bring them back. My bank wouldn’t even exchange them for me (“We don’t deal in Russian rubles.” Like they were illegal drugs or something.) Bills would be OK, but we had a lot of coins, which are useless in the States. Oh, a random cruise tip: ship employees don’t care what kind of currency you use for tipping. If only we’d known that sooner.

Anyway, we were browsing in the duty-free shop when a guy who looked like a ship captain dryly asked if I’d care to get on board? I looked at him blankly, then at my friend, and we both shrieked (silently) and looked at our watches. We were 15 minutes past boarding time! We had been fully aware of boarding time, but somehow the minutes just got away from us. We’d heard horror stories about people being left behind and how they had to spend a fortune on a flight to the next port, so were very careful. Of all the places to be left behind, Russia wasn’t the best one.

So we raced to the boarding area where the employees were packing up and felt like minor criminals, ha ha. They actually pulled up the gangplank behind us! We vowed right then and there to not tell anyone, but that didn’t last long. I did wait until I got home to tell my husband, however. Didn’t want him to worry. My friend and I are actually really responsible people. :)

If you’re wondering how the employee knew we were in the duty-free shop, we had to go through passport control before boarding the ship, and the tour guides counted passengers on each bus. We also had our IDs scanned whenever we left or boarded the ship. So they knew we’d made it to the port and gone through passport check near the duty-free shop. Thank heaven he took it upon himself to find us. Maybe this happens a lot?

Later on–I think it was a port in Germany–we heard over the loudspeaker that they were waiting for a few passengers to return before the ship left. My friend and I looked at each other and ran to the balcony to look below. There were three or four employees standing on the dock waiting with their ears to phones. Suddenly, one of them called out, “We’ve got a runner.” He wasn’t kidding. A young guy was tearing down the pier like rabid dogs were chasing him. We couldn’t help laughing when a young woman came around the corner next. They were half an hour late, so we felt a little better about our slip-up.

This was the Holland America line, so I don’t know how late arrivals are handled by other cruise companies. Better be on time, just in case. ;)


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On a recent walk, I encountered this sweet soul.


The vintage Chevy pickup was parked outside a bar, and the dog looked like he’d done this a few times before. He just looked so patient. I paused for a second and shot this with my iPhone, then moved on.

For Instagram, I cropped it square and tried a few Instagram filters. I settled on “Aden,” because I kind of have a thing for old trucks in this shade of turquoise:


Great weekend, everyone!


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Happy 2015!


I hope you all had the best of holidays and are doing well. I just want to thank everyone who’s followed the blog this year, and for reading and commenting and “liking”–it means so much to me.


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Happy Holidays


I am taking the next two weeks off, so let me take this moment to wish you a joyous and safe holiday season. And Happy New Year!

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Austin City Lights


Taken at a shop in the SoCo area of Austin on one of our many trips there. It’s not my style of decorating, but I love the colors.

Hope your week’s going well so far. I helped my son move some stuff to San Francisco this weekend, so it’s been kind of hectic around here. Still not ready for Christmas!


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Lunch at Kiala Manor


Kiala Manor (Kiala gård) was first mentioned in the 14th century. It was owned by Stålarm family from the 1300s to 1600s. The current wooden main building dates from 1796. Carl Axel Lewin established a distillery, which is where we had lunch after visiting Old Town Porvoo.


I didn’t take any photos of the distillery, maybe because it wasn’t noteworthy, or I didn’t have time? Can’t remember now, but it had the same bricks as the gift shop shown above.


I thought this was an interesting setup outside the gift shop. Haven’t seen geraniums like that since I lived on the East Coast!


They host a lot of events here, so I’m guessing this was for some kind of party.

Lunch, by the way, was fantastic. No photos, because sometimes you just want to enjoy the company and the food, you know?

Great weekend, everyone!


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