Saturday, July 08, 2006


Our Europe trip was amazing! We started with a single night in London. I went down to Gutshot, the poker club whose website publishes my articles. (See my article archive - here ). The manager, Jim, made us very welcome. I'm glad to report that the food, beer and atmosphere are all excellent. I tried a little pot limit Hold'em, which is their most popular game. Mostly folded everything, just watching how it was different from the limit Hold'em I usually play. Interesting.

Then off to Barnsdale Country Club, where Mom had exchanged her timeshare for a week's lodging for six. Doug's parents, Mo and Lois, joined Doug and me and Mom and Larry there. The guidebooks say this is one of the less interesting parts of England. Well, all of England must be fascinating then! There were five tourable castles within 10 miles. Plus a lake, a nationally famous garden, loads of great pubs, bird watching and more. Mom went to all the castles, Doug and I satisfied ourselves with one. And we toured the Barnsdale Gardens -- beautiful, divided into little sections on a human scale. Geoff Hamilton, who had a tv show in Britain, designed much of it. Doug's distant Welsh cousins Ernie and Sheila came up to the country club, took a room for two nights -- we were very glad to get to see them -- and wanted especially to tour the gardens. They watched Geoff every week, approved of the way he was willing to get his hands dirty. Old Geoff's been gone ten years, but his garden lives on.

Then on to Finland! That was more restful, and by that time, we needed it! Mo and Lois remained in England. Mom and Larry and Doug and I flew to Helsinki, and then drove to the resort she had reserved there -- the Hannunkivi Holiday Honka. First we drove west into the Sunset. Many lakes, low rolling hills covered in pines and birches rising above them, stylish modern buildings in the cities, some very graceful bridges. Then we drove north into the sunset, which was a bit disorienting! The sun went below the horizon for only an hour or two while we were there. It was never truly dark. We rolled into our cabin at 11 pm, and it looked like 8, still light, out. It was a strange, floating feeling.

Our cabin had a sauna, and was by a lake. The cupboard above the sink had a mesh floor, so you could put dishes there to drain and dry. The staff was extremely friendly and helpful. We enjoyed slowing down, trying the boats on the lake, walking into town. Generally a somewhat more luxurious form of camping.

One thing that interested me was that there seemed to be no fear of theft there. The resort left our room unlocked for us, and had paddleboats and rowboats sitting by the docks into the lake, for anyone to use. There were life jackets and darts and bikes, all unlocked, outside and freely available. It was only a mile's walk into town, where the library loaned Mom a copy of _The Old Man and the Sea_ on her signature, without asking for ID. Yes, we were somewhat out in the country. Still, what does it mean that people are so confident of each other there?

Our train from Helsinki left early Saturday morning. So we went into Helsinki a day before our reservation at Hannunkivi ended, and stayed one night there. We had time to take a walking tour and get a traditional Finnish meal. Hmmm, it appears their tradition is meat and potatoes. :-) Helsinki felt a bit like Portland or San Francisco, very clean, modern, great street market and parks, gorgeous Cathedrals and public buildings. The harbor had a mix of boats -- huge ferries and cruise ships, yachts, personal motorboats, and sailing ships, some with wooden hulls. Very cool. Wish I'd had time to shop, the stores looked great.

Then by train to St. Petersburg! That was by far the most intense part of our trip. The streets are hustling, the buildings are huge and most have decorative sculpture or columns, there are parks and monuments, an onion dome cathedral, canals and a major river. We took a walking tour our first night, and went into the Church of the Spilled Blood -- with the onion domes -- and the Hermitage art museum our second day. Our last morning, we just took our time getting ready to fly again. We had fantastic rooms at a B & B, hosted by the incredibly knowlegeable, gracious and English-speaking Natalya. I recommend the Assembly B & B in St. Petersburg highly. She taught us to drink vodka the Russian way. That's worth another story another day!

All in all, it was an amazing trip! And now we are glad to be home again.

May you all have the adventures that add savor to returning home.

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