After one week, having more or less (emphasis on the less) settled into our Paris apartment, and with three full weeks to go until school starts, we decided to hop on a cruise ship heading into Northern Europe, Russia and the Baltics. Now admittedly, I know that cruises are for “old and retired” people, but in this case….uh….never mind…  Anyway the shuffleboard was awesome and we totally dominated the 85 and over division!!.

Waterfront and popular Cafes of beautiful Copenhagen.

Waterfront and popular Cafes of beautiful Copenhagen.

Our journey took us for 11 days to Copenhagen, Estonia, St Petersburg, Amsterdam, and a couple other places, most notably a day cruise through the Kiel canal and finally ended in London. Upon arrival in London, we took the Eurostar “bullet” train which goes under the English channel 50km via the “chunnel” for the very fast 2:40 ride back home to Paris.

Eustonian Martsipan - an almond flavored pastry

Eustonian Martsipan – an almond flavored pastry

Back in the U.S.S.R.

So, the most interesting place we visited of course had to be St Petersburg Russia. I have been to Russia a couple of times previously on business and one thing I have always noticed is that when you enter Russia, you can definitely still feel the presence of the “Soviet Union”. This place is unlike any european city (or eastern european city for that matter). The enormous size of the government buildings, the huge monuments to former leaders, all seem to be designed to remind the “ordinary” citizens that the government is omnipotent and can never be challenged. There seems to be a palpable level of misery (or sense of having been defeated)  among many of it’s citizens, particularly the older ones who lived through the Soviet years.

Rusiian City Square outside the Hermitage Museum

Russian City Square outside the Hermitage Museum

However, on this trip we also had a chance to meet a couple of younger 20-something russian people whom we found to be more energetic, optimistic and ambitious. One young Russian girl commented to us that Russia will never be great and real opportunity will never exist for the young until the older people of the Soviet mindset have died off. She was quite optimistic about the future and she was also quite vocally, no fan of Putin.

St Petersburg - A beautiful city on the  Waterfront

St Petersburg – A beautiful city on the Waterfront

Having said all that, Russia is an incredibly beautiful place with amazing museums, churches, palaces and culture. It holds a special note of interest to me, since my grandfather came to the U.S. after Russia annexed his village in Eastern Poland and forced him into Russian military service. We enjoyed the couple of short days we spent there. It’s a must see.

Peterhof - One of several summer homes of Peter the Great (the "Good Czar!")

Peterhof – One of several summer homes of Peter the Great (the “Good Czar!”)

Another highlight of the trip was an overnight stop in one of the most beautiful and unique cities I have ever seen, Amsterdam.

Typical Houseboat on a canal in Amsterdam

Typical Houseboat on a canal in Amsterdam

Putting all the jokes about drugs and prostitution aside, the Dutch are some of the nicest and happiest people on the planet. And their capital city is an absolutely wonderful place to visit. There is enough history here to satisfy even the most interested traveller.

Statue honoring Anne Frank in front of her famous home in Amsterdam

Statue honoring Anne Frank in front of her famous home in Amsterdam

Just walking around the lovely canals and admiring the compelling Dutch style architecture can transport you to not just another place but another time.

Belgian Waffle - Freshly grilled waffle, smothered in melted Belgian chocolate and covered with fresh whipped cream. This may be the best thing I have ever eaten in my life!!!

Belgian Waffle – Freshly grilled waffle, smothered in melted Belgian chocolate and covered with fresh whipped cream. This may be the best thing I have ever eaten in my life!!!

So school at Le Cordon Bleu officially starts for me one week from today. Surprisingly I’m not one little bit nervous. Instead I’m anxious to get started, to see what this is all about. I feel like I’m at the point in my life where I have nothing to lose and everything to gain from this adventure I’m about to undertake. Where it all goes – I’ll soon find out, or as the french might say…C’est la vie!