Visiting Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg, Russia

Catherine Palace Amber Room in Pushkin

I'm a child of the Cold War: An eastern European refugee father, elementary school air raid drills, the certainty that whether it be the Cuban Missile Crisis, Prague Spring, the Vietnam War, or socialist Nicaragua, the Commies were coming. So it … [Read more...]

What to Buy in Russia: Souvenir Shopping in St. Petersburg

Baltic Amber

Some 20 years after the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, I found  myself engaged in the most capitalistic of interactions: trying to figure out how many rubles equals how many dollars while negotiating the purchase of a pair of painted wooden … [Read more...]

What to Buy in the Baltic: Souvenir Shopping on a Baltic Sea Cruise

Baltic amber pendants

So many shops, so little time…. That was my lament on a recent cruise of the Baltic Sea. Some women buy shoes, but it's pretty, exotic trinkets from foreign places that catch my eye. A cruise of the Baltic Sea promised to introduce me to a whole … [Read more...]

Sightseeing by Bus in Helsinki, Finland

Glass building, snow on roof, chandelier glowing warmly inside.

I'm looking for the heart of Helsinki. It's January, it's snowing, it's been snowing since I got here and it will still be snowing a week from now when I leave. And that is fine. I hate hot weather and I really hate crowds. Helsinki, January. I'll be … [Read more...]

Large Ship Cruising in the Baltic Sea

Baltic Cruise

"So, what does a typical Russian look like to you?" asked our young guide, Natasha. "Is this man a typical Russian? What about that one?" She pointed on the street to perfectly ordinary looking people: No fuzzy bear hats or Cossack boots or … [Read more...]

A Walking Tour Of Old-Town Tallinn, Estonia

flower boxes

When I was a child, I was given a family heirloom: A postcard album from great grandparents who had fled Estonia in the late nineteenth century (something to do with my great grandfather's accounting irregularities in the Czar's army). I can't read … [Read more...]

A Rooftop Tour of Stockholm, Sweden

stockholm rooftops

This unusual tour starts by taking an elevator in an unprepossessing building certainly past its prime. We rise to the top floor, then climb a narrow stairway into a cramped attic space where brightly colored climbing gear and shining hardware is … [Read more...]

St. Petersburg’s Peterhof by Hydrofoil


Summer in St. Petersburg: white nights, cruise ships, guided tours...  and crowds everywhere. Museum queues are reminiscent of bread lines during the Communist years, tour groups are marched through the palaces as if on a conveyor belt, and in some … [Read more...]