a breath of fresh air

helsinki was a breath of fresh air.  it is surrounded by water and is very clean.  it is relatively small but offers a lot to do, experience and see.  thank you to my friends and their cousin, Tess, a long-time helsinki resident who showed us around this beautiful city.

located on a hilltop facing the harbor is uspenski cathedral.  its striking golden dome is one of the symbols of russian influence in finland.

esplanade park is at the heart of the city.  this promenade led us to the senate square where the university of finland, presidential palace and helsinki cathedral are located.  this evangelical protestant church mounted on top of plight of steps has a commanding view of the city and the harbor. in the center of the square is the statue of alexander II, known in finland as the good tsar.

a short walk from the senate square was the market square, helsinki’s most famous international market.  here you feel the pulse of the city; casual, upbeat and lively.  called kauppatori, it is flocked by tourists and locals. street food are fresh and yummy! we were told that it is not uncommon to see juha sipila, finland’s prime minister sip coffee or have lunch in one of the food stalls on weekdays.  kauppatori is not to be missed when in helsinki.

a house of worship and at the same time a popular venue for concerts is temppeliaukio church known as the rock church was built directly on solid rock.  inside, the walls all made of rock and granite glow when bathe in natural light from window glass panes that surround the copper dome.

st. henry of uppsala, a catholic church located in the embassy row

narinkka square, one of the busiest squares in helsinki is the home of kamppi chapel of silence, a house of worship for prayer and meditation.

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our gracious host, Tess Zurbano Ruutu (far left)

it is known that the people in scandinavia are generally the happiest. finns are relaxed and cheerful.   they embrace simplicity, have lower expectations and are conscious ecologically.  sauna is big in finland.  it is a culture not a luxury.  their common way to relax and rejuvenate the mind and body.

lunch was open-faced meat and vegetable sandwich.  delicious!

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hello summer

today’s summer solstice marks the start of longer days, at least for half the world.  it means more time to enjoy extended daylight. warmer weather, flip-flops, picnics, flying kites, summer concerts, garden shows, beautiful flowers, summer veggies, barbecues, lemonades, beach, water parks and many, many more!

here’s a lovely zinnia from a friend’s garden last year.  i hope to see more knockout blooms this season.  wishing you a great summer!

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peterhof

about 28 miles outside st petersburg, was a grand tour of peterhof often referred to as the russian versailles.  although smaller in scope, it undoubtedly rivals the grandeur and majesty of versailles.  peterhof was the official imperial residence of the russian tsars.

the grand palace was nothing but opulent and grandiose.  restored to its former glory, it is dazzlingly beautiful. displayed were original paintings, works of art, decors and fixtures personally owned and used by the tsars adding authenticity.  photography was not permitted inside the palace.

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the grand ballroom swiped from the web

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looking out into the bay of finland from the grand palace northern façade was a spectacular view of the grand cascade and the samson fountain.  breathtaking gilded fountains and statues, water bursting and dancing synchronized with classical music was a real treat to the senses.

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peterhof park is a wonderland of trees, flower gardens, statues and fountains.  lots of water fountains. it was magical.

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russia’s vibrant city

visiting st petersburg was a dream come true for me.  i have always been intrigued by its history.  the aristocratic opulence of the tsars and the rigidity of communism fuels my curiosity.  formerly known as leningrad until 1991, st petersburg is now a tourist magnet not only for its interesting past but also for its cultural and architectural wealth, charm and beauty.

i hope that my friend Pete will re-visit this beautiful city.  here is a post regarding his first trip to the country: https://beetleypete.wordpress.com/2013/11/16/holidays-and-travel-soviet-union-1977/

i was with a group and after passing through immigration, we were pleasantly greeted by maria, our tour guide who warmly welcomed us into her country.  she spoke about russia and st. petersburg, its people, history and culture with love and great pride.  though russia may remain enigmatic, maria slowly dispelled my ambivalence towards her country.

as we drove into the city, it was impossible to ignore rows upon rows of tenement buildings, the urban relics of the soviet union.  we weaved through the islands, drove on the nevsky prospect along neva river and had a glimpse of museums, cathedrals, notable buildings and opulent palaces including the winter palace and the hermitage of lavish architecture and luxury.  we passed through historic bridges and saw boats with tourists ply the river and charming canals teeming with life.  there were the famous twin rostral columns, all lighted up because it was a holiday and the cruiser aurora, a historic russian submarine turned museum open to the public for free.   what a vibrant city!

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sts peter & paul cathedral, the oldest church in st petersburg was simply magnificent from floor to ceiling.  it is also the burial place of the tsars of russia, from peter the great to nicholas II, the last tsar to rule over russia.

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st petersburg’s landscape is dotted with statues, victory monuments and commemoration of those who gave their lives in service of their country.

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the onion-domed church of our savior on spilled blood, also called the resurrection of Christ church was one of the highlights.  now a museum, this grandiose church was built on the spot where the emperor alexander II was fatally wounded in an assassination attempt in 1881.  it was built in 1883 during the reign of his son alexander III and was completed in 1907 during the reign of the last tsar, nicholas II.  (my close-up photo of the church here)

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the church of st catherine, the oldest catholic church in the russian federation.

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capping our st. petersburg tour was an evening treat to a russian folkloric show, a sixty-minute music filled and action-packed entertainment resonating russia’s patriotism and culture through traditional dances and songs.

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sanctuary of peace

we had gorgeous weather the past week and with the long hours of summer, the sun is still high when i get home from work.  mallard lake becomes our frequent destination to unwind and relax.  escaping from the city noise and communing with nature.  a sanctuary of peace.

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a gem along the baltic sea

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tallinn is the picturesque port city of estonia, a small country in the baltic region.  it has head over heels charms of medieval architecture, so charismatic, most captivating with laid back atmosphere.  i was enamored by its warmth and beauty.

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my friends and i traced rick steve’s ‘one day in tallinn’ that took us first to fat margaret tower, the gateway to the old city.  from there was an easy walk on cobblestoned pikk street, the oldest in tallin dotted with medieval buildings laden in history.

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there was st olav church built in the 12th century and the ministry of police building that had a portentous past, once the headquarters of kgb.  we stopped at maiasmokk, ‘sweet tooth’ open café for drinks and pastry and enjoyed the charm and feel of the old town, so delightful and pretty.

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the church of the holy ghost, a medieval church is one of the oldest and finest structures in tallin noted for its outdoor clock that is still working since the 17th century.  another medieval church is st. nicholas, now a concert hall and museum housing the most beautiful and stunning century-old works of art.

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one of the most dominating landmark in tallinn is the onion-domed russian church, the alexander nevsky cathedral.  it sits on the limestone hill of toompea, boasting the largest and grandest cupola.

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right across from nevsky cathedral is the pink palace now the country’s parliament building.  this beautiful palace was built by peter the great for catherine I back in the day

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we walked back to the old town square and soaked up for one last time the beauty of tallin.  the striking town hall dominated the square.  as i looked out from a corner café, i felt the pulse of the old town, enjoyed the vibe and savored the character and mood of all around me.  i relished those moments and felt a deep gratitude for God’s generosity.

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stillness

sometimes, even after sunset, hubby and i stay longer.  even if just sitting in the car. taking in the silence.  savoring the peace.

dusk at mallard lake.

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