Thursday, August 17, 2017

Helsinki, Finland August 15, 2017

There are many advantages of cruising on a small ship and I will tell you about them when we have a day at sea, but one stands out today. We left the big ships behind when sailing into Helsinki and took a position at  the dock, right in the heart of Helsinki, at Market Square!
The big ferris wheel was right outside the ship and it even had one car that was a sauna - the Finns love their saunas! There are actually around 2.2 million saunas in this country, 1 for every 2.5 people. We were told that 99% of Finns take a sauna at least weekly and it is said that in this country, there are more business agreements made in saunas than in actual meetings. I just don't see that happening in Toronto...

Camera Guy and I  did not sign up for tours today but rather followed a walking
tour from the local tourist office.  Azamara invites local tourist offices onboard the ship in the morning when they arrive in  port to advise passengers on things to do,  so we left armed with our maps and some advice from Elliot's friend, Laureline,  who used to live here...but first Market Square for a teensy bit of shopping LOL.  There were some unique hats and gloves (yes I did buy both) and we picked up a viking Christmas decoration- how could we resist????

Our walk took us through the streets of this European capital with its quaint cobblestone streets and grand squares with beautiful buildings.

There is definitely not a shortage of coffee shops and Camera Guy and I stopped into the Cafe Engel for one...and it was deeelicious!
The Finns believe it or not are the biggest coffee drinkers in the world.
On average, per person, they consume 26.4 pounds of the coffee per year!

We also took a tram around the city - not any old tram but one that had a bar so we enjoyed a pint while looking at the sights:)

Here are some pics from our day.

The Three Blacksmiths

At the train station
Fun Facts

  • Finland has obtained a medal at every Olympic Games since 1908.
  • The country has National Sleepy Head day (Finnish: Unikeonp√§iv√§), where the last person in a family to wake up has water thrown on them or is thrown into a lake by the rest of the family.
  • “The land of midnight sun” is another name for Finland because in the summer the sun shines all night and all day. Helsinki enjoys long days of almost 19 hours during summers. Conversely, during winters, the nights are longer with almost 18 hours of darkness. 
  • It hosts the Wife Carrying World Championships (in which male competitors race while each carrying a female teammate) every year.
  • Finland’s Rovaniemi (Lapland), the ”official hometown of Santa Claus,” is one of the main attractions for many people. Lapland is also one of the best places to view the breathtaking Northern Lights.
Next Stop St. Petersburg....
Until tomorrow

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Good morning Stockholm! Aug.13 and 14, 2017

Sunday morning...
We  arrived in Stockholm and were eager to get to the ship so we could get  back into town and explore Stockholm on our own.

The transfers we purchased included a driver to pick us up but unfortunately the driver was no where in sight:(  We waited... then called and they said it would only be a few minutes so waited and called again...over one hour later he showed up.  We usually take the ship's transfers or jump in a cab but this time thought we would try another way.  We did save some money but I don't think we would do it again.  The ship's transfer system is dedicated to just that - getting you to the ship.
We checked in quickly and back to town we went -330 Kronas for a cab to the old town. This is the land of swedish meatballs, Ikea, Pippi Longstocking, ABBA, Volvo, H&M and let's not forget Stieg Larsson, the author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo!

It was a little cool and rainy but we had fun walking through the old town- our destination - the Photography Museum on the waterfront , where the Irving Penn exhibit was on - Resonance-Photographs from the Pinault Collection, and it was fabulous.

24- hour room service was perfect for our late return to the ship and because the ship stayed overnight we didn't have to worry about getting back in time for sailing.

Stockholm’s old town and cobblestone streets look straight out of a fairytale. We took a tour "Land and Sea" and enjoyed the different perspectives.

Here are some pics from our day
Like a fairytale...

Some fun facts

  • Stockholm was built on 14 islands, connected by 57 bridges, earning the Swedish capital the nickname "Beauty on the Water."
  • This waterfront capital has as little as six hours of daylight in the winters and as much as 18 hours of sun in the summers!
  • The Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine and literature have been awarded every year in Stockholm.  As for the Nobel Peace Prize? That honor is bestowed in another Scandinavian capital: Oslo.
  • If a local invites you to join him or her for a fika, they're really just asking you if you'd like to take a coffee break. (Usually there's also some kind of pastry involved.) This is particularly interesting for us at TTAND support since we have a Fika Program!
  • Sweden’s national treasure, the global furniture chain IKEA, boasts a huge store but there is a larger one  that opened in 2014 in South Korea’s Gwangmyeong. 
  • Sweden’s literacy rate is 99 percent, so it’s no surprise more than 4 million books are borrowed from Stockholm’s libraries 
  • Swedish commuters love their bikes: approximately 70,000 cyclists cross Stockholm’s city borders daily. 
  • Mamma Mia: Stockholm has an entire museum dedicated to ABBA. While visitors can get a glimpse at some of the 1970s band’s gold records, wardrobe pieces, and gadgets, the true goal of the museum is to let you “experience the feeling of being the fifth member of ABBA,” by trying on clothes, singing in the Polar studios, and even channeling your inner dancing queen by getting on stage with holograms of the band.

Next stop Helsinki, Finland

Until tomorrow...

Azamara Journey Aug 13-23,2017

August 12, 2017

Toronto Pearson Terminal 1

This year we chose Azamara. Both camera guy and I had never cruised on Azamara Club Cruises and when we saw the itinerary Stockholm to St. Petersburg on the Azamara Journey, we thought this would be a great trip.

Packing for this trip was a bit of a challenge because I knew it could be cool but it could be warm too, so I would need both options...the clothes aren't such a big deal, it is those darn shoes....Camera Guy made some room in his bag:). What a guy!

First stop was Park n Fly, where I dropped my phone upon exiting the car and the glass shattered!!!  It was in a case by the way, but I guess it just hit the ground at the wrong angle. Oh well, there is nothing I can do about it until I get to Stockholm...maybe I can get it fixed there...I am not going to worry about it.  So if I email you and my spelling is off, it's because I can't see the words!

We went to the airport early and settled in at the Premium Lounge (Dan's platinum American Express card gives free access) so we could relax a little before the flight- no need to rush- it's our vacation!!!

The Air Canada flight to Zurich was good-A window seat but no window LOL We transferred through Zurich and when you take the tram between terminals, there is the sound of cowbells and cows mooing...pretty funny!

Next stop-Stockholm....
Until tomorrow

Saturday, July 11, 2015

July 2014 - Italy - Elliot and Leah's Arrival

Remembering- a year ago....

 My son Elliot is attending school in Calgary and doesn't come back to Toronto very often.... Christmas and sometimes during the summer...I miss him so much...

And so when he was spending time at the Max-Planck Institute in Germany and decided that he would remain in Europe to travel a bit, I was delighted.  We were going to be in Italy at the same time and would be able to spend some vacation time with him.  Leah, his girlfriend, would meet up with him in Germany and they would travel around before meeting us in Rapello.   I was soooo excited! Especially after our ordeal (previous blog post with the stolen lens) that we had recently gone through.  It really was the first real vacation time with Elliot in many years.

 There is something very exciting about meeting someone special at a train station in a foreign place.  I was like a little kid waiting  for them to arrive and when I saw them get off the train, I was jumping for joy.

We rented a house near Zoagli, a quaint little seaside town. Off we went for a seaside dinner in Zoagli at a little restaurant with a pretty view.

The following days we visited Portofino, an Italian fishing village and vacation resort famous for its picturesque harbour, its celebrities with its million dollar yachts and the highlight of the stay -  The Cinque Terre, the five lands comprised of five villages: Monteroso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola,and Riomaggiore. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages  of The Cinque Terre and cars are not welcome and cannot access the villages from the outside. We hiked, trained and ferried to these charming rugged villages.  We had long dinners on our terrace overlooking the sea.... and life was good.

Ciao for now,
Penny and Camera Guy (Dan)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The train station and the scam...

I need to begin by saying that as a travel professional of a gazillion years... ok maybe I am exaggerating a little bit, but I think I have a good understanding of vacation scams.  I have talked about scams, taught agents about scams and written about them.  We advise our passengers  to "be aware" while travelling in various situations - not to cause fear but to emphasize the importance of being aware and travelling wisely.

I have travelled a fair bit and I can tell you lots of stories - about other people.  But this story is about me and Camera Guy.

We arrived at the  Tiburtina train station.  We were looking forward to the next part of the trip.  Taking the train to Florence, picking up our car rental and driving to our rented house on the Italian Riviera where Elliot, my son and Leah his girlfriend, were going to meet up with us in a few days!
For those of you who have not travelled on European trains, there is usually a very large electronic board displaying the trains and track numbers.  Everyone stands and watches the board until their track number shows - about 10-15 minutes prior to departure.  You then make your way to your track.

Camera Guy (CG)  and I were waiting for the train on the track specified.  I was huddled over our luggage and CG was tossing something in the trash can about 8 feet away.

My back to the track, a guy pulling a suitcase approached me from behind and pointed to the train so I slightly looked away from the bags and asked if this train was going to the airport.  I said I have no idea and turned back to the luggage - 5 seconds. I had not let go of the top of the bags.

CG at the same exact moment was approached from the opposite direction and asked the same question.

I said to Camera Guy that I felt something was wrong and sure enough CG's camera lens had disappeared.  A 3rd guy, at the exact moment when we were both distracted, scooped the $8,000 lens. CG was heading off to the Commonwealth Games to photograph the Canadian team in Scotland which is why we had that lens with us.  We both were unaware that the other had been asked the same question at the same time....
I felt like the lens was surgically removed from right in front of me... these were skilled thieves.  The 400mm sport lens was in a black bag with a little NIKON label. They knew what it was and its value.

It was insured.  I suppose like any robbery,  you feel violated and upset that you could have allowed it to happen.  And so the day went downhill from there. For insurance purposes we had to report it to the police, which caused us to  miss our train.  When we finally arrived in Florence  and made our way to the car rental depot, it was closed.  I forgot to mention it was a 10 minute walk with the luggage.... in the rain.  We thought it was closer.  Did I mention it was closed?  She smiled at me through the glass and said I could try the airport.  I begged and pleaded through the glass. We told her about our unfortunate experience .... to no avail.

We tried to find a taxi, there were none. We stood in the rain on a side street near the Florence train station outside the closed car rental counter. And so we began to walk... trudging through the streets in the rain... to a hotel where the front desk clerk took pity on the drenched travellers in front of her and called a taxi for us. We found out that the airport car rental counter was not actually AT the airport, but at an office NEAR the airport. The taxi driver seemed really upset that we were not going to the airport and informed us that an additional charge would apply. We were not surprised.
We finally got our car and plugged in our GPS that we brought with us. Hmmm, it didn't work.  The depot was out of maps....

At this point, CG knew the general direction so off we went. We just wanted to get there.  It was about a 2 hour drive. And we did find our way to the closest village  of Zoagli. We then referred to the instructions the owner sent us. 

"At the second church you are in the hamlet of San Pietro di Rovereto, which is a frazione of Zoagli.  After the church the road narrows, you will pass a bar and green grocer.  Shortly after the "village" the road makes a sharp turn to the right and a steep descent..."

The road was very narrow, and was completely congested  due to a music festival in the village that evening. Two cars could not pass each other without one reversing into the nearest open driveway. Cars were parked everywhere.

The rain continued and so did the thunder... and the lightning. I cannot even continue writing, it is too crazy to repeat.
We finally found the house and climbed the 1 million steps up the hill to the house... in the dark, or  I should say intermittent light from the lightning.  The one time I have begged for more lightning.

We went to sleep.  No, we didn't.  We couldn't sleep. We wondered aloud if this was worth it.

The next morning we opened the door.  We opened the shutters.
And this is what we saw....

Ciao for now
Penny and Camera Guy

Next ...the arrival of Elliot and Leah!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Photographer's Wife in Rome

July 2014

Twirling in my retro dress and posing for camera guy is always fun!  The Pantheon, which was minutes away from our cute little hotel, was where the photo above was shot.  The Pantheon opened in 126 AD and is the oldest standing building still in use!!  Early  in the morning...verrrry early...he eagerly pushed me out of bed so we would get to the Pantheon without anyone there and of course catch the right light or as Camera Guy calls it "The magic light".    It all sounds quite posing in my colourful dress and all - but in reality it was quite a dark overcast morning.  Everything looked grey.  And just for the record, it wasn't only about my photo - there were several amazing photos from that morning.While Camera Guy did his thing, I wandered about the Piazza della  Rotonda trying out the chairs at the empty tables imagining what it was  like  a long time ago... During the nineteenth century, the piazza was especially noted for its market of bird-sellers, who brought their cages with live parrots, nightingales, owls, and other birds.   I get a little weird around lots of birds so maybe it is a good thing the Piazza wasn't like that any longer.  

We had limited time in Rome, on this trip, so we decided to stay in a hotel as central as possible. This way we could walk easily to many places we wanted to visit.
Hotel Caravita was the perfect place.  With only 8 rooms, this little luxury boutique hotel was 5 minutes from the Pantheon, 10 minutes to the Spanish Steps and 10 minutes to the Trevi Fountain. 

It had incredible service, a perfect location, was spotless, had wifi and included a beautiful breakfast. Who could ask for more?  And a rain shower with lights changing colors every few seconds!  Dancing in the shower hahahaha!  

The hotel had a cute little dining area where treats were  laid out to eat during the day- from fresh fruit to homemade tarts and cakes. The room was quite small but for a night or two, who cares?  I would highly recommend this property!  Especially if you are only staying one or two nights.

As far as meals go, you can make reservations and eat in a decent restaurant for about 40 Euros per person.  We, on the other hand, wanted our evening to be flexible so simply found a little street near the Pantheon with numerous restaurant tables lining the sides of the narrow streets.  Each restaurant offered a modest menu - a two course meal with a bottle of wine for 12 Euros each.  The atmosphere was great and we were happy!

Ciao for now

Penny and Dan (camera guy)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Rome Under Construction - No Coins Allowed....

A visit to iconic sites are a thrill...we have seen them in movies, magazines, the news and there is something wondrous about being there in person!  We do need to keep in mind, however, that many of them are in a constant state of repair and restoration.
Such is the case here in Rome.  The Trevi Fountain is undergoing a major restoration and was almost completely concealed in scaffolding And In fact was drained of water.  It is still a very popular site so they have come up with a very efficient system for those who still want to enjoy this landmark.  A scaffold walkway goes over the work site - one way only - each end guarded by a Roman policeman who makes sure everyone is going the right way and another one in the middle who keeps people from stopping and throwing coins in the dry construction zone below. Maybe the construction workers don't wear hard hats here! Whatever...there are still people sneaking their coins in...maybe they should encourage people to throw in coins so they can hire more people to get the job done faster!

Onward to the Spanish steps which is another construction zone. And the Coliseum...And so on...

If sites like this, whatever city you visit, are important to you, then make sure to check before you book, so you aren't disappointed.
This city is much more than the tourist sites though, Rome is amazing! Everywhere you turn, you see something special.  And don't forget to look up to the rooftops to see all the beautiful details in the architecture.

Ciao for now
Penny and Dan (Camera Guy)


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