Thursday, April 28, 2011

Helsinki Seascapes

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One of my most favorite parts of the day is walking at the seaside in the early morning or around sunset.  It actually feels more like living on a huge lake than a sea, because we're sheltered from the wind by the gulf and surrounding islands. In fact, Finland has 179,584 islands -- the most of any country in the world.  There are also 187,888 lakes.  I'm more than content with the mere 10 islands I can spot from the lookout at Kaivopuisto.


Helsinki Cityscapes

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I've had a special request.  My mother called last night and said, "I want to see what it looks like when you're just walking down the street."
I usually get frustrated when I try to take "walking down the street" photos, because I want to cram all of the people, sights, sounds, and smells into my lens, and it's just not possible.  Nevertheless, I'll give you what I have....

C'est ma maman qui voulait regarder les photos de mes promenades en ville.  Souvent je n'aime pas ce genre de photo quand je les fasses, parce que c'est impossible de mettre tous les sons et goûts d'une ville dans le petit écran sur mon appareil. Mais bon, un essaie.... 



Saturday, April 23, 2011

Helsinki: The Door Collection

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I love doors.
The entry to a home or business flavours your entire experience in the building. 
Here are some of the flavours of Helsinki.
(Just click a photo to enlarge)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Journey to Helsinki: A Photo Blog

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There are a few different options for travelers headed from St. Petersburg to Helsinki.  The ferry is neither the fastest nor most frugal option, but my heart was set on a seafaring adventure. I certainly don't regret my decision to splurge on this mini-vacation!

At port in St. Petersburg

Monday, April 18, 2011

I Love Finland Already!

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I've only been here for a few hours, but I can already tell that Finland is a wonderful place.  Even Helsinki, the capital, feels easy-going and relaxed.  It's Monday morning but there's no sign of the mega traffic jams that plague all of St. Petersburg.  The air here is fresh, and I can hear the seagulls from my cousin's downtown apartment.  I have tons and tons of pictures from the 13-hour overnight ferry ride here, during which I met a Finnish men's choir -- a jolly group of 35 Swedish-speaking Finnish men -- and ended up spending the evening drinking champagne and ballroom dancing with them on the stage of one of the ship's bar/entertainment clubs.  They taught me the most important Finnish phrases: "cheers" and "thank you."  It seems that everyone in Finland speaks fantastic English, and I haven't even had difficulty performing rather complex banking transactions.

After 10 weeks of a busy, busy internship and constant research meetings, my three weeks in this calm paradise is going to be one of the best vacations ever.  Especially since I get to spend it with my cousin that I never get to see.  She's half-Finnish and has lived in Finland her whole life, so when I met her for the first time three or four years ago, I told her that someday I would come visit. And voilà!  Here I am :)  She just told me this morning that she's training for her third marathon that will take place in about a month in Switzerland, but she's also running a half-marathon here in Helsinki in just a few weeks, while I'm still here!  I'm going to run with her in the evenings, we'll see if I survive!

There's a sunny day waiting for me....I'll put up some pictures soon!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Fairytale Come True

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You can't imagine all the fun I've had at work this week – I really do have the best job in the world! The U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg is a major sponsor of the International Dance Open Ballet Festival, and this year was the 10th anniversary of the festival. Our Consul General gave two speeches – at the opening press conference and the awards ceremony – and I went along as a Consulate representative in support of her. Of course, we had fantastic seats for all the performances! There were several American dancers who had come to compete in the festival, and one group, called “The Bad Boys of Dance” came as crowd energizers. The first night we were in the Alexandrinsky Theater, a very famous one built in the 1800s. Everything seems to be covered in either gold or red velvet; I felt like a queen! We were sitting front and center, with the jury who was judging the festival! I got to sit next to the Artistic Director of the American Ballet Theater in New York; that alone was amazing! The best part about sitting with the jury is watching and listening to their responses to the dancers. One poor ballerina slipped on something that was on the floor right as she was landing a jump, and ended up flat on her back. She was okay, fortunately, and kept dancing. But it was interesting because the jury gasped before anyone else knew anything was wrong. They know ballet so well that even the slightest deviation from proper form immediately allows them to project what's going to happen next. 

The next night we had equally great seats for the gala concert, this time at the Oktyabrysky, a brand new theater that seats 4,000 people. 
 The entire place was packed! I really appreciated being able to drive up in the official car, complete with the diplomatic American flags. Everyone got out of the way and we just got to zoom on in – no waiting in lines! But the real highlight of the night was the awards ceremony afterward. Only about 100-150 people were invited: the dancers, trainers, judges, and sponsors of the festival. The ceremony was held in The Marble Palace and it was truly incredible, right out of a fairytale! 

The Marble Palace

Subway Bombing in Minsk, Belarus

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In case you haven't heard: the capital of Belarus was rocked early Monday morning by a bomb exploding in the subway station where their two underground lines intersect.  12 are reported dead; more than 130 injured.
In a conversation with a smart, globally aware, middle-aged Russian colleague this morning, I was told that this bombing is a complete shock for citizens in the region: "Belarus is known as a very stable place: the people are not very well-off, but the country is very orderly and very clean.  The police are not corrupted; they are known for not being corrupt."
"I just don't see any motivation for this attack," she continued.  "Belarus is not involved in any conflicts like in Chechnya or anything, and they are not close allies of the United States or other big powers."

I was a little bit skeptical about her perspective and the reality of the "stability" in the region; from the way she was describing Belarus, it sounded like a great place to live.  I'd never heard such a great review of the country.  So I did a little research....

A Story from Central Asia

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I met Artyom in the metro last Friday night. I was on my way back from the State Electrotechnological University, where I had been speaking all day to students about Linguistics and Intercultural Communications, and I was plain exhausted. I'd given six different speeches in the past five days and was really feeling the duress of public speaking. For the first time ever, I sank onto a bench on the metro platform.
“Spasibo,” I half-whispered as an attractive young blond man scooted over to make sure I had more than enough room to relax.
“Excuse me,” the young man leaned over 30 seconds later and started to talk to me in rapid Russian, “What do you think: are people more friendly and cultured in St. Petersburg than in Moscow?”

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Russian Grocery Shopping Experience

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Grocery shopping in Russia has been an ongoing source of amusement for me from day one. I never know quite what a trip to the store will hold, and thanks to a very inconsistent supply chain, I'm always discovering new products (or mourning the sudden disappearance of others).  


Mini frozen squids, anyone?
I find grocery shopping almost more entertaining than museum browsing, which is fortunate, because I have to visit a store – whether it be the OKAY Express, a big store, or one of the many neighborhood convenience stores – at least twice a week. It's not that I'm under the illusion that the produce will be fresher if I buy it more often (there's no such thing as fresh produce in this country); the reason I shop often is because I can only ever buy as much as I can carry. And even then I've become a discriminate shopper. Juggling more than two or three shopping bags on the metro or mashrutka (trolleybus) is just not practical, and fragile items, like eggs and lettuce, are likely to be massacred by fellow passengers.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

A Day Made of Glass

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I haven't quite decided how I feel about this...

Watch "A Day Made of Glass" and take a look at Corning's vision for the future with specialty glass at the heart of it.
Learn more about Corning at www.corning.com.



Friday, April 01, 2011

The VIP Lifestyle

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I could get used to this.
Walking into my favorite 24-hour hangout, "Kofe Hauz," a few minutes ago, I passed a billboard advertising the two biggest events in St. Petersburg this weekend.  Thanks to my amazing internship and a great new friend I made at a concert a few weeks ago, I have VIP passes to both events at no cost to me. I'm really having the ultimate St. Petersburg experience.


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