A blanket of fog has muffled the sound of a distant foghorn here on the edge of the Baltic Sea. Though it’s early here and the sun is just rising in St. Petersburg, Russia, I just heard the clang of an old streetcar, the kind with wires over the street. Right outside my window at the hundred-year-old hotel I’m staying in is a five-story red tower with cream trim around the edges. It looks hundreds of years old, and its bell is clanging rambunctiously as if to shout that everyone should be awake by now.

It’s been spitting drops from the sky since our arrival on Friday night. We rode the high-speed train from Moscow and arrived after dark. Though we should have hunkered down for the night, it was too exciting to be in this historic and amazing place, so we took a walk down streets of ornate buildings with golden domes and impressive Corinthian columns. We stopped for some traditional Russian food (the wild mushrooms are out and were amazing!) and got our first glimpse of the city, including the multi-colored onion-domed church we’ve all seen in the movies. I’m hoping to sneak away to paint it if I can find a hole in our busy agenda.

Moscow was beyond amazing. My first trip, 13 years ago, I was met with a gray, dirty city in much need of restoration and repair, yet this trip finds it a vibrant, high-fashion place, with skyscrapers everywhere and a skyline filled with cranes, an indication of more sky-reaching to come. We arrived in time to help all of Russia celebrate Moscow’s 870th birthday. Streets were filled with hundreds of thousands of visitors from across Russia for this special occasion. Many events took place around Red Square, which the locals call Revolution Square — a reminder that our perceptions of Russia may be a result of our own propaganda. These were joy-filled people having fun, no different from us. Our movies and media don’t tell the full story.

As you probably know, I’m here for our annual Fine Art Trip, and the first half, in Moscow, was filled with museum visits, and studio visits with some of Russia’s finest artists. Our guests are taking home lots of world-class paintings, and they all got to see some incredible art. For those who aren’t aware, Russia has a rich art history, and its artists produce things that had us all salivating. I’ll write more about the trip in Fine Art Connoisseur and put some photos out on Facebook. I’ve not done much because time has been consumed by a very full schedule, and exhaustion at the end of each busy day.

The trip is far from over. We have three more days of art visits, special events, special people we’re meeting, and lots of museums. Then, as everyone else heads home, I’ll be going out to the country to paint with several Russian masters for three days. I’ve only painted once since I’ve been here, from the window of my hotel overlooking the Kremlin. So I’m champing at the bit, but this isn’t a painting trip until the very end.

I’m also going to visit the studio of Ilya Repin on the last day, and I’ll do two sittings to have my portrait painted by Russian master Nikolai Blokhin. Not a bad way to spend the rest of the week.

I’m feeling very grateful.

I’m grateful for the fine people who came along with me to Russia and for our remarkable editor of Fine Art Connoisseur, Peter Trippi. We’ve all become great friends, and of course many guests have been with us on our trips several times before.

I’m grateful for the Russian art system, which has produced some of the finest artists and art the world has ever known. I had a couple of emotional moments viewing paintings by top Russian masters. And I choked up looking at a room filled with paintings by Isaac Levitan, quite possibly the greatest landscape painter who ever lived. I’m humbled by their quality.

I’m also grateful for friendships I’ve made in Russia. My reunion with some of these friends was sweet. And I can hardly believe I’ll get to paint with several top Russian artists. I’m almost giddy and can’t wait to see what I learn.

And I’m feeling grateful for this life I’m living, where I get to travel, paint, spend time with friends, and be immersed in art and the things I love. Though most weeks are pretty mundane, this experience is a wonderful exception. Plus, when I get home, I’ll turn right around and paint with more old and new friends at Fall Color Week, then it’s off to the Figurative Art Convention & Expo in Miami in November, and then one of my radio events in New York. It’s going to be a fun-filled fall.

I’m very grateful for my team members at my company, Streamline, who keep things running smoothly during my absence. And I’m grateful that our Florida team got through the hurricane safely. Even though the office is still without power, they are operating around the kitchen table of one of our people who does have power. As they say, the show must go on. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who did not fare as well with the hurricane.

A friend once told me that you should start each day looking for three things you’re grateful for, and end each day with three more things you’re grateful for from that day. When you look for things to be grateful for, it’s hard to have a bad day. Though I don’t do it every day, I try. It seems to make things better.

Another friend told me that we spend most of our time looking at our lives and all that we have not accomplished. He suggested we turn around and look backward to see where we are now compared to where we once were. He said that will help take off the pressure and stress, because looking at what we want to do but have not yet done can be stressful or discouraging, but turning around once in awhile and looking at what we’ve already accomplished is a helpful exercise, one rooted in being grateful.

I’m very grateful for you, and I hope you’ll take a look today at what you’re grateful for, think about what you’ve accomplished, and seek out new things for which to be grateful. Chances are you’ll find a lot.

I’ll try to check in next Sunday if the jet lag and return home haven’t completely messed up my body clock, and if I don’t get stuck in Russia.