Where do I even start?!

“I have seen the south of France, and it is beautiful.” Okay, that’s not really the quote, but this works for my most recent experience(s). Pictures are behind the links. Enjoy!

Our first stop, on the way, was a six hour layover in Amsterdam. I’ve never been to Amsterdam, and while I can’t realistically say that I’ve “stayed” there, we did find enough time to take a canal boat tour and walk around the area for a bit. It was enough for me to declare that I would like to come back and spend a long weekend here.

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For my birthday, and with work obligations fitting in nicely, Wellu decided that a trip around the south of France would be in order, starting off with one of my favorite cities: Toulouse. Toulouse is such a lovely city, with so much to see and do, with a very rich, ancient history. While there in Toulouse, I met the wife of one of Wellu’s colleagues, and we went out for day walks (while our dear hubbies worked!), exploring the city. Since she’d done enough shopping and I had seen the museums, this time around we focused on other parts of the city, and ended up enjoying the ‘jardins’, or gardens in the center of the city. I showed her the farmer’s market, and we bought cheeses, fruits, and vegetables, and made ourselves sick on the sweet cherries and apricots. ­čÖé

After Toulouse, Zii and her husband headed off to Barcelona (also on my list!), while Wellu and I boarded the train to Avignon. Once again, Avignon is an ancient city, and we stayed in a little place inside the walls, across the street from what used to be a convent, and just a nice walk from the Palais des Papes, (the Palace of the Popes) and the Avignon bridge.

Palais des Papes

Palais des Papes

We spent two nights in Avignon, then rented a car at the train station, and headed out for a drive and our next stops. First off, we stopped at the Pont du Gard, a Roman-era aquaduct in excellent condition. We thought this would be more of a ‘point and shoot’ stop, but we ended up spending a couple of hours there, crossing the bridge, climbing up the hills on one side, and taking some gorgeous pictures of the view. It really is stunning and well worth the stop.

Pont Du Gard

Pont Du Gard

From there, we went to the Chateau de Tarascon, another stop that surprised us with how much there was to enjoy. This castle was very well laid out, with one winding staircase that you go up, with stops at each floor, and another that you go down, again stopping at each floor. It was a bit on the sparse side, but still lovely.

Chateau de Tarascon

Chateau de Tarascon

Then it was on to Arles, for the roman ruins, and another museum, which was also quite interesting. So much history! We also visited the Museum of Archaeology in Marseille, which gave a fascinating history on the ‘tiny seaside town’. And then it was on to St. Tropez, where the weather conspired against me, giving me only a few hours to lay out on the beach. But the area was beautiful, and it was relaxing even under cloudy skies, to just lay there and gaze at the Mediterranean and contemplate how wonderful my life is.

Ahhh...life is good!

Ahhh…life is good!

The next day, (and my birthday!), we returned the car and then got on the train, headed to Besan├žon, where Wellu had some collaboration to do with a colleague. That meant that it was up to me to go explore the old city, which I did! I walked over 7 miles (from the time I turned on MapMyWalk), just wandering around. I saw some amazing historical buildings, fascinating clocks — that is what Besan├žon is known for, clockmaking, and so much beautiful scenery.

Besa├žon and the Doubs River

Besa├žon and the Doubs River

After a few days in Besan├žon, we then packed up again, and boarded the train to Paris! This would be our final stay, just a night in the heart of the city, right near Notre Dame (about a block away). Our hotel was situated right on a busy market street, and we got out and walked all over, finally pausing for dinner. The next morning, we checked out, left our luggage behind at the reception, and headed to Versailles. I had been there a few years back, but in the winter, so the fountains were turned off and emptied, many of the statues were covered, and nothing was in bloom, of course.

One of the gardens of Versailles

One of the gardens of Versailles

The lines were insane! Fortunately, we were only going to the gardens (no need to tour the building again), so we didn’t have a long queue at all. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the fountains were not running all day long. Apparently they run on a schedule, starting at 10am, and cycling through one side of the gardens until about 11:30. Then starting up again at 15:30, and cycling through the other half until late in the afternoon. There were a few that ran every hour. Still, the gardens were breathtaking, and I did get to see a few of the fountains running. The ones we really wanted to see were scheduled for later in the afternoon, and we would already be on our way to the airport. I suppose I will just have to go another time!

Love locks on one of the bridges in Paris

Love locks on one of the bridges in Paris

Finally, we picked up our bags, and headed to the airport, CDG, which is one of the worst airports to get through. It seems to be laid out in a way that has you backtracking or going from one end to the other, and the signage is appallingly sparse. In addition, as I found out all through France, the French don’t tend to speak English, or anything other than French, and too bad if you don’t understand it. I was able to suss through some of it, but it was odd not to have a common language to fall back on.

The trip was long, but wonderful, however there is nothing like returning home to your own bed, own shower, and own routines. We leave again July 4 to go to Oulu, where we will participate in a family reunion of sorts, and pick up Shiva, who is having far too much fun vacationing at the summer cottage!

Shivawoods

It comes down to practice.

Yesterday, I talked my husband into just speaking Finnish to me for the day. There was a lot of asking him to repeat slowly (hitaasti) and me trying to translate in English what he was saying. I actually understood more than I thought I would! It was a struggle for me, trying to find the words for the simple things, and I used the wrong form for most of them, but I was understood, and I felt more bold about speaking out loud. We’ll do this once a week, then add another day and so on, until I finally get it!

In other news, it looks like spring is finally here. I figure it must be spring when they collapse the ‘bubble building’ next to the dog park. It’s weird to see the field and all now. Today there were several soccer (oops, I mean futbol) games going on today. It was a beautiful day, and we went out and joined others from our complex in doing some raking and sweeping.

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I leave next week for Greece and Italy, and won’t be back for about three weeks. I’ve been faithfully taking nearly daily pictures of how the seasons change, and now I will be gone during the big spring bloom. Everything has buds and little green leaves, but when I get back, it will have burst forth fully. Oh well, it will make for a dramatic before-and-after picture.

I will be a bit less active (even moreso), although I may post a few pictures through my Facebook page. So bear with me, as I get to explore even more of Europe and spend some time with my mom! Then back in Helsinki, to spend time with my youngest daughter, too!

Dare I hope…Spring?

It’s been a long damn winter, and I am looking for signs of spring every where. When I got back from Budapest a week ago, Helsinki was covered in snow again! Gah!

This morning, while out walking Shiva, I saw some hints that spring might be here…or at least peeking in the window. I have been told that Helsinki is gorgeous in the spring and summer. I am looking forward to seeing it for myself…assuming that this isn’t a false alarm.

But here are some pictures to prove that I’m not hallucinating:

The dog park the day after returning from Budapest (just a week ago!)

The dog park the day after returning from Budapest (just a week ago!)

These are pictures from this morning!

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In other news, I got in to see a physical therapist for an evaluation, regarding some issues with my MS and also about getting some rehab for my ACL surgery. Spent about two hours with her, doing all sorts of tests. Essentially, she is recommending some water exercises at one of the swimming pool halls, as well as relearning how to walk up and down stairs. Ugh. I hate exercising. Which is why I am like a fatted Christmas goose these days.

I have another few weeks of school left. My vocabulary has expanded, but I still can’t form sentences, which is a bit ego-deflating. I’ll take the summer off, then head back to another level 0 course for the fall. I’d do summer school, but we have trips to Greece, Italy, and France planned, so I am booked for the warm months. No, I am not complaining, not one bit!

Budapest, Hungary

I just came back from a wonderful long weekend trip to Budapest, Hungary. I love living in Europe, where so many of the neat and interesting places are just a quick plane trip away, rather than having to fly 12+ hours to go anywhere. In any case, Budapest has been on my bucket list for a while now, due to the beautiful buildings that I’ve seen in so many magazines. I was not disappointed! By far, the loveliest building is the Parliament buildings, with its Gothic style. It was just breath-taking! Next in sheer beauty has to be Saint Steven’s church, probably with the Mattias church right behind it. Also bunched up in that second-place position would be the Hungarian State Opera House, to which I was fortunate to be able to see two operas there.

Day 1, we flew in from Helsinki. We did have a direct flight to Budapest, but they were asking for volunteers to take a later flight, and since that one got us in only about two hours later, we volunteered. Basically, it made our flight free! We did have to connect through Riga, but that was pretty painless. Oh, while at the Helsinki airport, we saw some of the GoSleep pods that have been in the news. Every one of them was in use! Well, except for one which I snapped a picture of, and then a guy got in right after!

Link to flight in pictures

We got in, and we didn’t really have time for much but to check into our apartment, stroll around a bit, get groceries, then head back to fix dinner and get ready for the opera. We saw a modern adaptation of Strauss’ Ariadn├ę Naxoszban, which was actually pretty good, once you get past the idea of it being held in a more modern setting. For this opera, we sat in the box, but in the cheap seats (really cheap, like 2ÔéČ!), but still had a great view.

After the opera, we headed back to the apartment and collapsed to bed. The next morning was going to be pretty busy.

Link to Budapest, Day 1

For Day 2, we did a lot of walking! Of course, I managed to leave my Fitbit at home (duh!), but I still tracked my steps with my SHealth on my phone, so I didn’t lose them, per se. We started off at Szent Istv├ín Bazilika, or Saint Stephen Basilica. Like most Catholic churches, it was beautiful and ornate. We paid the extra to take the elevator to the cupola, to get the panoramic view of the city. Well worth it! We also paid to see the treasury, where we were able to get a close-up view of a replica of the Holy Crown, which all the kings and empresses of Hungary have been crowned with. Glad to see that, because later, when we went to the Parliament where the actual crown is kept, you can’t see it very well. There is also housed here the Holy Relic of St. Stephen’s Right Hand (yes, the Holy Right Hand), and I got some gruesome pictures of it, too.

Same day, we also visited the Hungarian National Museum. You pay extra to take pictures, but it’s just a couple of euro, so not too bad. But that goes for cell phones, too. They give you a sticker to wear, and I had mine on the back of my phone, so one time I had a guy tell me “No pictures”, but then he saw the sticker and waved me to continue. They are pretty strict about it. And it goes without saying that when taking pictures of artifacts, you don’t use flash (although some folks did).

That night, I got to attend a second opera, a modern rendition of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, this time sitting in the floor section. Again, perfect view. If you’ve never seen an opera before, you should definitely take the opportunity to go in Budapest. There doesn’t seem to be a bad seat in the house, and even the cheaper seats have great views. Just beware the box seats — there isn’t a whole lot of leg room, and those really cheap seats are actually two seats, one behind the other, bolted to a step platform to sit above the others. Not exactly the most comfortable. But I was too engrossed in the opera to care much. And of course, the opera house is breathtaking, as well.

Link to Day 2 pictures. A lot of pictures.

Day 3, Sunday, we hopped around town, using the Hop On Hop Off bus. There are several of them, and we bought on the one with the giraffe, or the red buses. They all seemed pretty much alike, and the cool thing was is that the buses have WiFi available. Very nifty for keeping people back home jealous of all the sights you’re seeing. We went to Matthias Church, named after a king of Hungary. I thought it was a gorgeous piece of work, but since we were there on Sunday, it was closed to visitors, so I only saw the outside.

We also went to the Buda Castle this same day and walked through it. It’s no longer the official residence of the ruling monarch, since Hungary no longer has kings, but a President, instead. He lives in the slightly smaller building to the side of the castle property. We had a picnic in a park near the promontory, and just enjoyed the view of the Danube and the trees. It’s almost, but not quite, springtime.

We also went through the Budapest History Museum, which was pretty informative, as well. We took the bus up to the top of the Gellert Hill, where we saw the statue of Freedom that they have there.

For dinner, we met a colleague of Wellu’s, and his wife, and we went out to eat at a strudel place. Very traditional Hungarian food, and all of it delicious!

Link to Day 3 pictures

Link to Food pictures

On our last day, Monday, we took the HOHO bus to pick up the boat for the included tour on the Danube. It was misting/raining, so there weren’t a whole lot of people aboard. We took the boat and got off at Margaret Island, which is really amazing, and spent about an hour there, walking through the ruins and seeing the mini-zoo from the outside (it was closed). We caught the boat back to the dock, then rode around the rest of the afternoon, enjoying the sights.

Link to Danube River pictures

Link to Margaret Island pictures

After that, it was time to pick up our stuff at the rental agency, and we headed to the airport. Our flight was delayed about 30 minutes, but everything went smoothly. We got home…to rain, snow and slush. Ugh.

Due to space limitations on WordPress, Ive put links to the albums of pictures on my Flickr account. Just be forewarned…there are a lot of pictures. Some good, some bad, some so-so. Very few captions yet, but it is on my to-do list…one of these days. ­čÖé

Crazy busy!

I know, I know, I haven’t checked in for ages!

Finnish classes are starting to get really intense. I still feel like I don’t know any more than I did when I started, but every once in a while I realize that I’m recognizing words in conversations or can come up with the one that I need. I’m still struggling through all the darned endings and such, but hopefully, it will click soon. We have a mega-test on Tuesday (tiistai!), and I am simply not prepared. My recall is shyte.

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In the meantime, I have this thesis paper that I am proofing, and it is really taking up my time. I’ve agreed to do it, so I must, but I find myself starting to skim the words, and that’s when I have to take a break. Unfortunately, I don’t do anything productive when I do break from it. 300+ pages to proof. By the end of the month. Crunch time is coming soon!

But let us speak of more fabulous things! It has been a spectacular week for Helsinki, nature-wise! We’ve had spring temperatures (8┬░, 9┬░, even 10┬░!), with mostly clear skies. On Tuesday night, we had spectacular Northern Light displays, all the way here in the city! Nothing that I could take with my cell phone, but some folks got pictures of events just down the road from me. I was able to see them from my bedroom window, and they lasted for ages!

Photo Credit: Engelsman Finland

Photo Credit: Engelsman Finland

Then, on Friday, we got to experience an almost total solar eclipse. It was about 90% covered, and quite amazing. There was a bit of overcast, so I went and met Wellu at the university, where we looked through some special glasses to see the eclipse, plus “saw” it via a reflection from the telescope that was set up. I tried using the lens on the glasses to take a picture through, but it didn’t work.

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And then finally, Thursday night was a “super moon”. Nothing really amazing, just a point when the moon was at its closest to earth. Astronomer hubby sucks all the fun out of it, calling it “bollocks”, as the moon is only a few percentage points larger, hardly enough to notice, but hey, it was a cool event to have happen along with the other two. ­čÖé

Winter is supposed to return this next week, so time to bundle up again. Snow is predicted. But enjoying spring while it is giving us this sneak preview.

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Got Shiva her pet passport, except that they spelled my last name wrong and put in the wrong birth date for her. I don’t want to get stopped at some border because of technical issues, so we go back Monday to get it fixed. Sucker was expensive too…over 100ÔéČ for it! But, it means all her records are in one place and now she’s essentially Finnish, and she can travel around the EU without any problems. Just in case.

Heading to Budapest next weekend, then my mom comes to visit, then we head to Italy, THEN my youngest daughter and her friend come to visit…we’re going to do a ‘girl’s cruise’ to Tallinn, Stockholm, and St. Petersburg. After they leave, we are headed to France. Busy summer!

Autos, planes, taxi and now the bus…

20141204_125554Shiva had her first ride on a bus today! I guess it technically wasn’t her /very first/ bus ride, since she did ride the few hundred yards from the plane to the terminal on Tuesday, but we’re not counting that one.

We went to go visit Tammy and her dog, Oden, and go play at the dog park near their home.

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Riding the bus under the seats!

Shiva was a wonderful bus rider! Unfortunately, I got on the wrong bus (going the wrong way), so we had to get off the bus and cross the street, then get on the bus going the OTHER way! She just laid down at my feet and waited until I told her that it was time to get off the bus, and Tammy met us at the stop.

The path to the dog park was lovely, with a very nice gravel path that wound through the trees. We even passed an outdoor gym!

Outdoor gym!

Outdoor gym!

And when I say gym, I’m not meaning for kids, but a real gym, with workout equipment and stuff! Pretty amazing!

We got to the dog park, and Ville (Tammy’s partner) was there with Oden, and the dogs got along great! Of course, every time I tried to get a picture, they would dash off just as the shutter snapped. They were good like that. They chased each 20141204_150645other around, humped for dominance, dug some holes, ate some cookies, and the humans just chatted and talked about them, like we were moms at the toddler park bragging on our kids. The third dog, a handsome fluffy white one, is Touho, and he came along later, but everyone got along wonderfully!

Prepping for the Russian invasion, I guess.

Prepping for the Russian invasion, I guess.

While we were at the park, there were lots of guys in military gear walking in the paths, carrying weapons and gear. I got a photo of a group of them on their way. I think they were thinking I might be a bit looney since I wanted a picture of them. We later passed their camp, somewhat camouflaged in the trees.

Looking out the window on the way home.

Looking out the window on the way home.

After a couple of hours, we walked back, and I got on the bus and we returned home, without anything eventful happening. She rode up in the seat and looked out of the window for a bit, then jumped down and laid at my feet. She didn’t bark or growl at anyone, and she even entertained a toddler with some face-kissies.

So, our first public transportation bus ride was a success!

Last night, I was unpacking stuff from the flight, and I remembered I had taken some pictures of the safety manual, because the ladies on the manual were drawn very scarily. Proof:

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Their limbs are just way too long and spooky looking. Like the one with the big red ‘X’ is trying to say “Arms like this not allowed!” And those long fingers and legs in the other two pictures. Shiver.

Cute photos of the Mitchell family. When trying to get a decent picture of my sister and her family, it always turns out like this:

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Oh, the ice rink is open in the City Center. I know that’s not a big deal to folks in New York or something, but to a gal from the New Orleans area, this is a rare sight, indeed!

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And finally, I remembered to take the morning picture this morning to add to my sequence of them.

December 4, 2014

December 4, 2014

When dogs fly

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On my Mom’s property in Southern Pines

As promised, here is the entry on getting Shiva into Finland, and it was not an easy route. I’ll pare it down and add it to her page in case anyone comes across a practical need for the information.

As mentioned, I was in North Carolina to visit family, and most importantly, to escort Shiva back to her new home in Finland. I have had the airline reservations for months, and have been calling them every so often to make sure that notes were in the system and so on. Hah. That worked out so well. </sarcasm>

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At the Charlotte airport, with all that luggage!

First, the United States portion. This was mostly on me. I got the Annex II form that USDA had sent me, and on Wednesday, drove the 2+ hours up to Raleigh to have her see the vet at Banfield there, get her health certificate done, and then take it to USDA to get endorsed (all in the same day). Would have been perfectly fine, except I did a space cadet and when the vet asked me, “I see you haven’t gotten her tapeworm treatment done yet, do you want me to do it now?”, I was like, “Sure, dunno why I had it scheduled at the other Banfield for Friday, so go ahead.”

Then my husband reminded me, after the fact, that the reason was so we would fall within the 5-day time period prior to travel. Duh. When we were on our way back to Southern Pines. Edit: My husband wanted me to point out that he was out walking Shiva when the vet asked her question about the shot, so he didn’t know about it until it was done and we were on our way back. He said he wanted no part in that screw-up!

We had arrived at USDA, and the agent there said it was all filled out wrong, but went ahead and endorsed it, told me what had to be corrected, called the vet and told her, and then sent us back to get the signatures. At least I didn’t have to go back to USDA. That same day, that is.

So we get home, Thursday comes and we have turkey and all the trimmings, then head to Banfield in Aberdeen, about 10 minutes from my mom’s house. I tell them that I need the tapeworm treatment readministered, as I had done it too early, and had received an answer from Evira that said that our arrival of December 2 would be outside of the 5 day (120 hour) limit. I even printed out a new page for the vet to fill out and sign.

Papers to fly!

Papers to fly!

Go to pick up Shiva (who was also having her teeth cleaned at the same time), and looked at the paper, only to see that the vet had erroneously put the date as 26.11.2014, instead of 28.11.2014. And so they used white out and corrected it. I slept on that, but by Sunday had decided that the white-out made me nervous, so printed out a new sheet, and just had her sign it with the correct date. Done.

Oh, but then I tossed and turned all Sunday night, as it occurred to me that the new sheet didn’t have the endorsement embossing on it, as all the sheets had been stamped. Of course, no one was open to answer the question if that was going to be an issue, so I made the executive decision that we would go by Raleigh on the way to Charlotte (which is really not ‘on the way’) and stop by USDA and hope that they could endorse the new page.

Got there, the agent laughed, said sure, and then also told me that as long as I had the last page with the endorsement stamp on it, that’s the main one. He just stamps all of them to be thorough. Thanks. Now on to Charlotte.

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Business class cabin!

Shiva was very good the entire time, and we boarded Charlotte to Chicago without any real issues. In Chicago, American then decides to check all the paperwork, and they think that it all looks right. No one had a clue. So we board. A bit over 7 hours and she slept most of the way. She was so good! As we are getting ready to get off the plane, we are met by a nice gal from the City of London Animal Reception Centre. And here’s where it gets fun. The front page of the Annex II form had her chip number typoed. The number was correct on all the other sheets, but the front sheet was not. Fortunately, the vet had listed her second chip on there, and it was correct. So that was just a hiccup.

Then, because Shiva is not a trained service dog, she has to pay an entry fee to get in to the UK. Even though we were only connecting through London, that was still charged: ┬ú350, which comes out to around $500. Ouch. And she said that American should be responsible for the charge, as they should have told me about it, and that they shouldn’t have even let me on the plane without a letter from City of London Animal Reception giving me permission to do so. She also said that the airline should have given me the contact information for Animal Reception when I made the reservation, so that I could have already been in communication with them. I’ll email AA, but I’m not holding out much hope for any sort of refund. But it doesn’t hurt to try.

This is what Shiva thought of their £350 fee!

This is what Shiva thought of their £350 fee!

In any case, they took my money, and we took her outside to do her business, then back in to the lounge, where we waited the four hours for our flight. We hung out in the Kids lounge, as it was glassed in and away from everyone. We figured that if any kids showed up, we’d leave it to them, but it was nice to give her a little bit of time off the leash.

Sacked out

Sacked out

This time on British Airways, who informed me (once we were on the plane), that she should have a car harness and be buckled in, but on the floor. Huh? In any case, the attendant allowed me to buckle the seat belt through her harness lead, and she got down on the floor for take-off, and then sat in the seat for the flight, then back down for the landing.

On my BA flight!

On my BA flight!

Going through Customs in Helsinki was a breeze. Heck, I could have just continued to walk out with her, but they just glanced at the paperwork, checked her microchip and sent us on our way. And it has just occurred to me as I type this, that I didn’t get any sort of receipt from them, and I’m pretty sure she needs to be registered in the city. Not sure what they might need. Another round of research!