Monday, October 17, 2011

When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall

Chet Atkins playing Autumn Leaves is the perfect accompaniment for the photos I took yesterday when John drove us up the road to Rocky Mountain National Park to see the changing colors. The aspen trees always look splendid, but their Fall colors are my favorites.

It was a long day, since it began with me singing at both services at our church, First Christian in Loveland. We were there from about eight in the morning, or somewhat before that actually, until nearly one in the afternoon by the time we cleared the parking lot. I was wishing I had eaten breakfast, but I keep crackers in the back seat of the car and had two of those between services (great crackers, by the way—Crackerfuls, Four Cheese flavor). We took a lunch up the hill about twenty minutes to the park entrance, just the other side of Estes Park. We know how lucky we are to live that close.

The drive up along the canyon, following Big Thompson River was beautiful, but I always love rivers, and this one is popular with fly fishermen. On our way back down later we stopped and talked with one who said he was having a very good day, and didn't mind that I included his photo in my blog. He said the fish were biting, but not as much as he had hoped. Still, any day on the river is a good day. 

When we arrived in Rocky Mountain National Park we knew we were a couple of weeks too late to get the best of the fall colors, but it's taken the physical therapist a couple of weeks to get me to the point where I could get in and out of the car, climbing around taking pictures. We were lucky we made it when we did, since a storm front came in last night, and I understand the rain and snow pretty much did in most of the last of the leaves. If we hadn't made it last night, it would have had to wait for next year. I think we went through that last year, didn't we? 

My hip was a little extra sore this morning, but when I look at photos like this, it's worth it. I took about 300 photos, but lucky you... I've condensed my favorites into a short slideshow for you. And since nobody does it better, I downloaded Chet Atkins' version of Autumn Leaves as the accompanying music. He played as crisp and clear as the autumn air.

Friday, October 14, 2011

St. Petersburg, Russia, and Cruising

I grew up in a generation that feared the Russians. In the early 90s I was in the Thousand Oaks, California audience for the performance of the Red Star Army Chorus when they brought the audience to its feet, and most of us to tears by singing God Bless America. Even then, I never expected to walk the streets of a Russian city, tasting its beauty and photographing the extravagance of its culture.

As always, sharing the adventure with family made it so much more special. The cruise ship's second stop was St. Petersburg, Russia. Ben and I were both in pain, and everything we wanted to see seemed miles away, but we walked for hours, and the weather held off from its expected downpour until we returned to the ship. People in costume posed with tourists like us for a small sum, and we thought it was worth it a couple of times.

There are many photos that show John looking back, and that was because I continually limped along behind the group. I guess he figured they'd eventually lose me, but they never did. 

The buildings were amazing, a blend of spectacular and military grey. There was enough gold on some of them to fund a third world country. It will never be scraped off the buildings, of course, since it is their country's heritage in many ways, but it still astounded me to see the glitter next to the somber darkness of some of the older buildings. It is a country of contrasts, if St. Petersburg is anything to go by. Here's your Slideshow.

After wearing ourselves out trying to see everything possible in the city, we made our way back to the cruise ship, and I enjoyed my "daily spa treatment." I should explain that. The first night on board ship, Ben let us know he was going to the ship's spa for a drawing. Hardly anyone knows about this sort of thing, as they're off drinking and exploring. Ben always checks things out, and had learned that there was a "have to be there to win" drawing for products and services in the ship's spa. I invited myself along and got in on the draw. Ben and I sat there and listened to name after name being called, with the people not being present. It ended up with Ben and me each winning $250 in spa services. He used his for a couples massage with Ruth, but I split mine up for the daily massage specials, which meant I got a massage and facial every day we were on the ship, except for the day we disembarked. Sweet. Thanks, Ben. I've never used a ship's spa before. I'd never had a facial before—good things, both.

I spent the next day either with the kids or on deck photographing the Baltic as we went through the passage. It was beautiful, and sunset that night was incredible. I love being on the ocean, and a day at sea is a pleasure for me. 

The next morning, as we made our way through the small inhabited islands of the Baltic approaching Sweden once again, I enjoyed the early morning fog and mist that rose from homes and churches dotting what I believe was Finland for a time. It was remote and beautiful, and it appeared that people came and went by boat. 
There were few people out as early as I was, but I didn't miss having them in my photos. Some of the islands were tiny, and some were fairly large. You'll see a larger sampling on the Cruise Slideshow

We pulled into Stockholm at the end of the trip and were among the first to return to land. I have already shared photos of Sweden before and after the cruise, but there's one little side trip I failed to include. We went to a mall for ice cream, and I have to admit it was one of the most interesting presentations I've ever had. They split open an absolutely delicious cupcake or muffin, at the choice of the one ordering, and filled the split with an ice cream or frozen yogurt of your choice. It was way too much, I thought, for one person to eat alone, and the girls had cones instead, which they loved, but Ruth showed us the truth of the old verse: Where there's a will, there's a way.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tallinn, Estonia—First Cruise Stop

Each of the three years we've gone to visit the kids in Amsterdam, we've gone on an adventure together. This year our adventure was a trip to Sweden, followed by a cruise to Tallinn, Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia, then a day cruising in the Baltic Sea, returning to Stockholm.

I've been working on a slide show for the Tallinn, Estonia portion of our trip this morning, while I'm "fresh." Physical Therapy yesterday took a lot out of me, but gave me hope that there's light at the end of the tunnel. There's just no replacement for a great physical therapist. I'm not sure how many years of training they have to go through, but the good ones, and I know I have one of the best, have magic hands and an incredible font of knowledge.

Estonia, at least the corner we visited, wore its age well. I would have loved to see it without all the tourists, but since we were part of the horde, I shouldn't complain. Everything in America seems fresh and young by comparison to cities and countries in Europe. They treasure their history, at least in the places we've visited. You'll see a modern building, something from the last fifty years or later, next to a building hundreds of years old that's been preserved and is still in use. They exist side by side and add character to the city.

As always, seeing these places with family make them more special, and going through the photos brought the memories back to life. I remember Kate having a melt down and wanting to be held, and how Ben picked her up and walked with her, even though his back was beyond painful. Ruth was so upset that he wasn't taking care of himself, I thought she'd grab the child away from him, but she allowed him to do what he felt he must. Their respect for each other, as always, melted something inside me—and Kate calmed down instantly.

Ben always researches thoroughly whatever places we'll visit and finds the most interesting things. Tallinn happens to have an out of the way romantic spot... a kissing statue that's said to be good luck for couples who stand and kiss next to it. They couldn't resist. We were coerced. Let's say we couldn't resist them. The photos of that are proof enough, and are in the slide show.

After walking back to the cruise ship and making arrangements to meet for dinner, I took something for pain and headed for the ship's spa and a massage. I was counting my blessings with every step. Enjoy the slide show. They represent precious memories to me.