Tag Archives: Finland

My New Impressions of Russia by Coco Ihle

When I was a child, my impressions of Russia included Soviet troops and missiles parading through Red Square and Nikita Khrushchev’s angry face on TV at the UN, air raids in our schools where we students were told to hide under our desks and cover our heads. Communism evoked fear. The Berlin Wall was built. Then later, I remember stories of Mikhail Gorbachev unsuccessfully trying to rescue his huge nation’s economy and President Regan coaxing him to tear down the Berlin Wall. Other than that, my knowledge of Russia was extremely limited. TV photos showed gloomy gray block-shaped buildings and I felt glad I didn’t live in such a seemingly oppressive place.

Last month, I returned from a three-week river cruise exploring along the Volga River from Moscow to St. Petersburg with post extensions to Estonia and Finland. I can’t say I had much in the way of advanced impressions of Estonia or Finland at all, but today’s Russia is a completely different place than the one I had imagined as a child. I never thought of Russia in color—that’s what the times and the old black and white TV did, I guess.

St. Basil's Cathedral The Kremlin

GUM Department Store Entrance

I started out in Moscow and spent four days exploring its political, historical, artistic and cultural wonders and as our tour’s Program Director promised, every day was even better than the last. I saw the typical sights like Red Square with Lenin’s Mausoleum and St. Basil’s Cathedral, its colorful twisting onion domes gleaming in the sun like embellished ice cream cones. The  adjacent red walled Kremlin, which is actually a 15th-century walled city, houses the seat of government and Putin’s office.  In addition, there are six cathedrals and numerous museums within those walls.

One museum, the State Armory, left me breathless. This Russo-Byzantine building was designed to protect the Kremlin’s collection of valuable items, some of which dated back to the 12th-century. Sights to boggle one’s mind included historic armor, royal thrones covered in gold and studded with diamonds and precious jewels, huge gilded imperial carriages, coronation robes, the wedding dress of Catherine the Great. There were Faberge eggs, created by Carl Faberge, the jeweler to the tsars of Russia, Russian weaponry in jewel-studded cases, battle-axes, sabers, equestrian harnesses and saddles, priceless silks, velvets, and brocades, encrusted with jewels and pearls worn by the tsars. This museum definitely topped my former favorite, the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. I know it’s not fair to compare, but when I left the Kremlin, I thought my mouth would be forever stuck in the O position. It was a magical place.

I haven’t even begun to tell you about Moscow’s beautiful churches and cathedrals filled with gold, carvings, icons, mosaics and sculptures, or the GUM Department Store (pronounced GOOM) where one can purchase items from Fendi, Louis Vitton, Hermes, Gucci, etc., or the excursion to the Moscow Circus, or the Tretyakov Gallery with its more than 130,000 paintings, sculptures and graphics from Russian artists dating from the 11th to the 20th-centuries, or the beguiling flower-filled parks and street venders selling their unique wares, or the pastoral Novodevichy Cemetary, where writers Anton Chekhov and Nikolai Gogal and former president Boris Yeltsin are buried, or exciting stops on Moscow’s ornate Metro. What I can tell you is that Russia is fascinating, colorful, vibrant, friendly and not at all the country of my ignorant youth. It’s young again and, I’m told, the youth are full of hope, the elders are cautiously waiting to see.

Moscow's Metro Novodevichy Cemetary

Next month, on the eleventh, I’ll share some more about my trip. I hope you’ll join me.

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My Welcome Home — by Coco Ihle

On June 13th, I set off on a river cruise to Russia, Estonia and Finland, and returned to Florida on July 4th. My homecoming, however, wasn’t quite what I had planned. After about thirty hours without sleep, I arrived home at approximately 3 AM to find that a pipe had broken behind the wall in my master bathroom. Water had flooded underneath the vanity cabinets into the adjacent carpeted linen closet and traveled through the wall into my foyer, soaking the oriental carpet in the entry to the front door and out into the vestibule. On inspection I noticed black mold and fuzz now covered the back wall of the cabinets, ringed the carpet in the closet and followed the path the water had taken out the front door. Draped over several objects, I found the oriental carpet drying in the garage. I knew immediately there would be no sleep for me anytime soon.

My neighbor across the street had checked on my house the day before I returned and she immediately shut off the water heater and main water valve to my house. She also cleared out the linen closet, not knowing that the leak originated next to the closet. A note citing her observations and actions awaited me on my kitchen counter since she began her own vacation early on the day I got home. Her note expressed her regrets at the problem I had before me and she left me flowers from her garden and fresh water for coffee in the morning. Bless her!

I spent the remainder of the night cleaning out and boxing up the contents of the bathroom cabinets. Of course, naturally, that morning was July 4th. Luckily, my neighbor had left her water on for me to use until my water was restored. Good thing, because my plumber wasn’t able to come until the 5th.  Can you picture me darting like an animated cartoon character across the street in the middle of the night in my nighty to use her bathroom?

Early on the 5th, the plumber came to restore my water and he spent the day trying to find where  the leak originated and to figure out how to fix the problem. When he left, I had water on the guest side of the house, but my master bathroom pipes would have to be rerouted. Today is the 10th and the job is finally completed.

My insurance claims man arrived today as well, and we’ll have to wait and see if and how much of this problem will be covered by my insurance. My brain is picturing mega bucks. Shudder!

I had planned to start writing about my trip in this blog post, but I hope you will tune in again next month, dear reader, when I’ve had time to recover from my harrowing homecoming. By then I will have looked through the myriad photos I took, brochures I gathered and wonderful memories I logged in my brain. I’ll bone up on my adjectives, too. Russia, Estonia and Finland were awesome!

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Coco Ihle is the author of She Had to Know, published by Second Wind Publishing, LLC

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