Preparing for Russia – First Stop Helsinki

My sister, Marian, and I are going on a Viking Cruise from St. Petersburg to Moscow this July. As usual, I am planning ahead. Here’s what’s going on in Helsinki (admittedly not very much, but, hey – its Finland!)


Day 1

Transfer to the superior first-class Radisson Blu Plaza (or similar) in the heart of Helsinki, close to the city center, shopping, museums and other attractions.* Take the afternoon to explore on your own; the beautiful Old Town area is easily accessible on foot.

Helsinli Cathedral








Day 2

This morning, a guided city tour shows you highlights such as Senate Square, Government Palace, the landmark Cathedral, the Parliament building and the Olympic Stadium. You will also visit the Sibelius Monument, an abstract piece dedicated to composer Johan “Jean” Sibelius (1865-1957) and designed to express the essence of his music. You have the rest of the day at leisure to discover more of the city.

Market Square, Uspenski Cathedral, Presidential Palace, Senate Square, Opera House, Finlandia Hall, Parliament House, Maybe a museum?, National Museum, Didrichsen Art Museum

Helsinki parliament








Day 3

Suomenlima Island Fortress – the Gibraltar of the North  ( – You have a full day to further explore this “White City of the North.” Consider taking the ferry to Suomenlinna (“Castle of Finland”), once a fortress called Sveaborg, then a penal colony, but now a thriving artists’ enclave and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can also ferry over to Korkeasaari Zoo. Tonight, enjoy some local cuisine—try reindeer or elk, Arctic char (fish) or Russian dishes, and make sure to sample some delicious cloudberry liqueur or jam.

Outside of Helsinki

Ainola – home of Sibelius – (


PLANNING FOR RUSSIA (they let us in!)

I KNEW I had written about preparing for Russia before, but never thought to look in Drafts! so I am publishing this a little after the fact –

This summer, thanks to an invitation from my sister, Marian, I will be spending 3 days in Helsinki and then cruising down the Volga from St. Petersburg to Moscow! I have always wanted to visit L’Hermitage, and now I will see so much more.

Lucky me. We will be on a Royal Viking ship called the Akun (sounds a bit like a sneeze if you say it loud and fast), and I am pouring over all of RV’s website information, Wikipedia and anything else the internet can tell me about our trip, our ship and all the stops we will make along the way. Plan ahead, I say!

So here’s the Itinerary:

Start with 3 days in Helsinki. I have no idea what to see or do there, or even if there IS anything to see or do there, but I have time. I will find something.

Then on the train to St. Petersburg where we board the ship.

4 days in Petersburg

Then one day in each if the following:

Kizhi Island

And finally 3 days in Moscow

So, so exciting. I will be adding information as I gather it, so stay tuned.


Vegas, Baybee!!

Arrived in Las Vegas last Friday night after 24 hours travel time. Here to visit my dear,dear friend, JoAnn Leach, to shop (Yay Chicos!!!, Target, Nordie’s and SHOES Not exactly high end, but practical, hopefully attractive and, well, just me.), to eat (Mexican food, Barbecued Ribs, Burgers and a really good STEAK!!) and to relax (hot tub, hiking and catching up on 2 years of life events with J). Won’t be spending any time gambling, but I’m here for 5 more days, and have already had my first mountain top food experience – and I can’t wait for more.

IMG_2646 (2)So, my first MTE? In ‘n Out, of course. I couldn’t wait to wrap my mouth around a double-double with cheese, grilled onions and a vanilla shake. We went inside, JoAnn and I, found a table and then a lovely thing happened. One of the wait staff came over to wipe down our table, a darling teenaged girl who greeted us and started a conversation. I, of course, never being one to pass up the opportunity to chat (thanks to my grandmother, Kittie Guinn, whose genes I have inherited in that respect – Gram would talk to anyone, stranger or friend, and I admit, it used to drive us all crazy, and now I drive my kids over the edge when I do it) told her I had been living in France for three years and this was my first In ‘n Out in all that time. She got so excited for me and insisted on bring our order over to us. When it arrived, she asked, “Can I watch you take your first bite?” I rose to the occasion – read expression of ecstasy.

She could not have been cuter, and after experiencing the French version of customer service (read non-existent) for so long, it was refreshing to be the recipient of the attentions of someone who REALLY cared that I have a great experience.

Then it was on to the Holy Land, Chico’s. Not Dior or Prada or Armani, but comfortable, attractive clothes that work for me. People in the store were helpful, I got some things (more to come) and on we pushed to…

Target!!! My women’s club in France, The American Women’s Group in Paris, is having a Gala Auction and Dinner Dance at the end of March, and I am donating an American Basket, all the stuff we cannot find in France. Like? A Bag of Butterfingers, Junior Mints, Peeps, Onion Soup Mix, Ranch Dressing Mix, Crystal Light, Pam Spray, Lawry’s Garlic Salt, Hershey’s Kisses and more. Adding Girl Scout Cookies today which I will purchase at Grace in the Desert Episcopal Church this morning.

Still to come? Red Rocks, more shopping, movies, shows and talk, talk, talk.

Off to Portland on Thursday, but maybe more about LV before I go.

Thursday – Road Trip

First stop of the day was at Montfernand, the site of one of the few remaining light beacons used by the Aeropostale. Aéropostale (formally, Compagnie Générale Aéropostale) was a pioneering aviation company. It was founded in 1918 in Toulouse, France, as Société des lignes Latécoère, also known as Lignes Aeriennes Latécoère or simply “The Line” (La ligne).

Aéropostale founder Pierre-Georges Latécoère envisioned an air route connecting France to the French colonies in Africa and South America. The company’s activities were to specialise in, but were by no means restricted to, airborne postal services.

On December 25, 1918, the company began serving its first route between Toulouse and Barcelona in Spain. In February 1919 the line was extended to Casablanca. By 1925 it extended to Dakar, where the mail was shipped by steamer to South America. In November 1927 regular flights between Rio de Janeiro and Natal were started.[1] Expansion then continued to Paraguay, and in July 1929 a regularly scheduled route across the Andes Mountains to Santiago, Chile, were started, later extending down to Tierra del Fuego on the southern part of Chile. Finally, on May 12–13, 1930, the trip across the South Atlantic by air finally took place: a Latécoère 28 mail plane fitted with floats and a 650 horsepower (480 kW) Hispano-Suiza engine made the first nonstop flight. Aeropostale pilot Jean Mermoz flew 3,058 kilometres (1,900 mi) from Dakar to Natal in 19 hours, 35 minutes, with his plane holding 122 kilograms (270 lb) of mail.

Remember, this was long before the days of radio navigation. These beacons, strategically placed along the route, we’re the only means of navigation available. Imagine flying by the seat of your pants with only these beacons to guide you from Toulouse to Brazil! Holy cow.

Next stop was the central most point of the Canal du Midi. Built in the 16th Century (yes, you heard right) this is a canal the flows from this point in two directions, one way to the Atlantic and the other way to the Med. Pretty amazing accomplishment. Not only are the canal waters used for agricultural irrigation, but they are also home to many vacationing house boaters.

Then LUNCH! Probably the best cassoulet I have ever eaten. I am still full as I write this!

Next a quick photo shoot in the sunflowers. These are hard to find at the moment. Spring was so wet and cold that almost none of the fields have bloomed yet. VERY late!

Then on to Mirepoix, a medieval city that has gotten a bit touristy for my taste, but there were some lovely buildings there.

And finally to Chateau Guilem, a winery that donates every year to the AWG Gala and Wine Auction. It was nice to be able to thank them in person!


























Revel on Wednesday

Picked up my rental car (cute little white Ford with alarming zing!) at the Toulouse Train station and off I went. Arrived at Sara and Jean Francois’ home in Revel around 5 – easy driving from Toulouse thanks to Freida, my GPS. Had a small snack in the garden of pickled garlic and olives – you cannot imagine how good this garlic is. It doesn’t taste much like garlic, isn’t strong or overwhelming, but is cold and crunchy and addictive.



Then we took a little drive up the hill to the lake at St. Ferreol, a place where JF spent summers as a child. Just beautiful.



Then back home to barbecue pork chops and have a lovely dinner. Sara and I pooped out at about 9! It was a long day for me.



Discovering the limitations of the iPad and WordPress. Not as much help available for placing photos. I think you need to know some HTML and then you can manipulate it better. Sadly, I know almost zero. So I will continue to post and then clean it all up when I get home.

Little Maps

I am notorious for planning drives that are only 2 inches on the map but turn out to be  impossible to achieve. Perhaps I have managed to do it again, but here are the drives I THINK I am going to do:

Map from Revel to St Remy  Revel to St-Remy-de-Provence

Aix to the South  Aix -en-Provence to the South

Aix to the East  Aix-en-Provence to the North

Avignon to Toulouse  Avignon to Toulouse

The last on for sure will happen because that takes me back to Toulouse and the train home. The others?

Maybe. Maybe not. But it is fun to plan!

Prepping for Provence

On July 17, thanks to Jaime and Stéphane, I will be spending 10 wonderful days in Provence! The first 4 days will be with the Sautin’s, Sara and Jean-François, in Revel, a small village southeast of Toulouse. I visited them last summer and had a wonderful time. We had lunch the other day, and had a great conversation about what we will do and see once I am there. They are the most gracious and indefatigable hosts! Some things we talked about – visiting wineries, swimming in the Med, visiting nearby villages (last year we went to Lautrec – it was amazing!).











On Day 4, Sunday, I will begin my trek through Provence in earnest. Itinerary:

Saint-Remy-de-Provence – 2 nights

Aix-en-Provence – 2 nights

Avignon – 3 nights

On the way to my first stop, Saint-Remy de Provence, I am planning to cross the world’s highest bridge – across the Millau Gorge – here are a couple of pictures:


Here’s a little info about it:

Millau Viaduct

Located in Southern France, the Millau Viaduct is the tallest bridge in the world. Constructed in three short years, the bridge is

an engineering and architectural marvel. At its highest point, the bridge soars 343 meters (1,125 ft) above ground, that’s 19 meters (62 ft) taller than the Eiffel Tower!

Then follow the route to Saint Remy via Castre, Albi (home of the Albigensian Heresy), Sévérac Le Chateau, Le Vigan, and Nimes.

Screen Shot 2013-06-20 at 9.38.22 PM

Google Maps are cool!

Random notes along the highway:


800px-Cathedrale_de_CastresThe church of Saint Benoît, once the cathedral of Castres, and the most important of the churches of Castres today, dates only from the 17th and 18th centuries. The city hall occupies the former bishop’s palace, designed in the

17th century by Jules Hardouin-Mansart (the architect of Versailles), and with gardens designed by André Le Nôtre (the designer of the gardens in Versailles). The Romanesque tower beside it (Tour Saint Benoît) is the only survival of the old Benedictine abbey. The town possesses some old mansions from the 16th and 17th century, including the Hôtel de Nayrac, of the Renaissance.

Castres possesses the renowned Goya Museum, created in 1840, which contains the largest collection of Spanish paintings in France. A Jaurès Museum was also opened in 1954 in the house where Jean Jaurès was born in 1859.

Sévérac Le Chateau:


Pretty cool, huh? The castle belonged to several families: Sévérac (the last direct descendant was Amaury de Sévérac , Marshal of France and condottiere in Italy) , the Armagnac , then Arpajon (the last descendant is Arpajon Louis , Marquis and Duke of Sévérac Arpajon). It is the latter who turned the castle into a fortress-style palace by an Italian architect, who also designed the Renaissance palace of Prague. Discover walls, curtain walls, watchtowers, chapel and kitchen inside the castle.Visible from all points of the horizon, the castle of the xiii th  century and xvii th  century centuries dominates the plain where the Aveyron rises. At the foot of the castle, the medieval city offers a panorama of the region.The streets around the castle are lined with old shops of xv th  century and xvi th  century , houses overhanging, porches and stairs.

Le Vigan: 


Just lovely. Not much of importance, just lovely


Several important remains of the Roman Empire can still be seen in and around Nîmes:

  • The elliptical Roman amphitheatre, of the 1st or 2nd century AD, is the best-preserved Roman arena in France.
  • The Maison Carrée (Square House), a small Roman temple dedicated to sons of Agrippa was built c. 19 BC.
  • The 18th-century Jardins de la Fontaine (Gardens of the Fountain) built around the roman thermae ruins.
  • The nearby Pont du Gard, also built by Agrippa, is a well-preserved aqueduct that used to carry water across the small Gardon river valley.
  • The nearby Mont Cavalier is crowned by the Tour Magne (“Great Tower”), a ruined Roman tower.[4]
  • The cathedral (dedicated to Saint Castor of Apt, a native of the city), occupying, it is believed, the site of the temple of Augustus, is partly Romanesque and partly Gothic in style.

More to come.