A Travellerspoint blog

Day 12 Helsinki, Finland

Monday 25 July 2016

sunny 24 °C

A sleep in had been arranged. Unfortunately, cruise director Lukin failed to receive the memo. The phone rang just before 8am and we were up and at it and on our way to the city by 9.15. We were able to purchase a return shuttle ticket to the city for 5 euro which proved to be very effective as it would have been too far to walk from the ship’s berth to the town.
We had no plan to what we were going to do. Basically, it was a matter of seeing what Helsinki had to offer. Once again the streets were clean but the amount of renovation underway was phenomenal. Once the bus dropped us in the city, we strolled through the streets looking for a hotel Doug stayed in 8 years ago. From a mall we passed the railway station and, on our way down to a lake, we saw several greenhouses. The latter were actually part of a botanical park. We crossed a small bridge and found a market area selling fresh produce and flowers. We purchased half a litre of Spanish cherries for 3 euros – expensive but delicious.
Our map suggested we travel in a straight line and we were able to find the rest of the tourists in the city who were appreciating the beautiful city hall set in a large square. From there, it was a short walk to the Market Square, where vendors were working frantically to take our money. The goods were bright and modern. The latter sits opposite the Presidential Palace, the City Hall and many other stunning buildings. We found toilets and had coffee on the water’s edge before heading back through a lovely park to meet the shuttle bus. We decided to venture a little further into the back streets but there was not much else to see so we headed back to the ship for lunch. Helsinki was certainly a beautiful city.
The ship set sail at 4pm through a wide channel, where we viewed the locals taking advantage of the beautiful sunny weather, sunning themselves on rocky outcrops in the middle of their harbour.

Posted by gpric6 03:29 Archived in Finland Comments (0)

Day 11 St Petersburg, Russia

Sunday 24 July 2016

sunny 24 °C

Day two saw us up and ready to go by 7am, quite an effort. Once again, it was a long drive. We actually drove on part of the freeway that we can see being built. Apparently the northern and southern approaches are complete but the just need the middle section done to join the two up. Peterhof Palace, known as the “Russian Versailles”, not that it comes anywhere near the magnificence of Versailles, was worth the drive. I didn’t tell the guide that even though she said she was going to ask our opinion. This palace overlooks the Gulf of Finland. We had a brief look around the entrance garden which was quite nice as the air was fresh and the sun was shining. Once again we had to don our special foot ware inside. We were not permitted to take photos inside Peterhof Palace. The exit to the palace led to a beautiful fountain known as the Grand Cascade which features Samson prying open a lion’s jaws. We found a great vantage point as at 11am the water is turned on and it cascades down to the terraced steps. We were so fortunate to see this on such a beautiful day.
The journey back to the city was uneventful. Lunch was at the Biscuit Restaurant. I am not sure how that translates to Russian or the significance of such a title. The banquet consisted of salad, soup, a pasta dish and ice-cream along with vodka, champagne and a bottle of water. Once again, some traditional folk singers entertained us.
Our next stop was at the smallest of three palaces owned by the Yusupov family, the palace being where Rasputin was betrayed and murdered. Several rooms have been set up to depict a record of the fateful day. Rasputin was an illiterate Siberian man who befriended the royal family and he influenced them both religiously and also with affairs of the state. This lead to disquiet among different classes among Russian society and eventually a conspiracy involving five people lead to his assassination. We were also shown some other rooms in the palace, once again, pure over indulgence.
Our final stop was Peter and Paul Fortress built to protect the city from Swedish attack. The fortress was a place for imprisoning political prisoners. The ornate interior holds the tombs of many tsars including Peter the Great. The enclosure also houses a mint. As we headed outside, a black helicopter approached blowing dirt into our eyes and upsetting the Russians who were sun baking on the bank of the canal. Finally, we headed back through the city taking one last look at the football stadium that is being built for the world cup.
The exit from the harbour was interesting. The ship churned up the mud on the bottom of the harbour and we passed many hydrofoils flying back and forth across the bay.

Posted by gpric6 03:26 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Day 10 St Petersburg, Russia

Saturday, 24 July 2016

overcast 18 °C

The mooring in St Peterburg was at a new facility quite some distance from this large city. In the distance we would see the high density unity rising to the sky and a freeway under construction. We were required to be at the tour lounge at 6.15am. I don’t know how I booked something that would have us up at this hour of the morning but that’s how it was.
Once we moved through Russian customs, we boarded the bus and headed through the buildings we had seen in the distance, both residential and industrial precincts. It was quite overcast but one could see that this city had buildings and architecture that no other city has. It was unbelievable. They were all massive and if it was possible to renovate each of them, it would surely be the most distinguished city that I have ever seen.
Our Russian guide, Anna, took us to the start of a river and canal ride, not the best at this hour of the morning, quite cold in fact due to the overcast skies and some spits of rain. We were given champagne, not actually what I would expect to drink at 7am in the morning. Of course, St Petersburg calls itself Venice of the North, with its many bridges and canals that weave across the city. It gave us a good idea of many of the sights of this great city. Peter the Great conceived the River Neva as the main thoroughfare of the city, so it could transport people and merchandise. The Fontanka and Moika Rivers run off the Neva.
The Hermitage Museum, the Tsar’s former Winter Palace plus four other buildings, was next on the list with its many valuable exhibits, paintings by Da Vinci, Monet and Rembrandt, to name a few. The elaborate chandeliers and parquetry flooring added to the opulence. We were constantly under the eye of the ladies who help supervise the museum along with the alarms that sound should your body go over the roped lines. Setting the alarm off was meet with a stern grunt, Russian style. We were given a guided tour through the gold room but were not allowed to take photos in there. There were massive vases made of jade and other semi-precious stones. The value of these exhibits was priceless and one wonders how the royal families acquired so much wealth.
Next stop was the Saviour on Spilled Blood Cathedral, a restored church boasting a “Russian Style” exterior and the iconic masterpiece that one sees in tourist magazines. All the murals are made of ceramic tiles. There are no chairs in this church as it is Russian Orthodox and they stand throughout their services. The significance of this cathedral is that houses the memorial to Tsar Alexander II, the shrine being built on the spot where he was mortally wounded, the date of his assassination being March 1, 1881. The memorial is adorned with serpentine, jasper, altairhodonite and gemstones from the Urals. The exterior is a brown coloured brick but the onion-shaped spires are covered in gold and other colours.
Lunch was next and weddings were the done thing. Several bridal parties were outside our restaurant as it was near the registry office. They have wedding drinks on the street and everyone brings you flowers on your wedding day. We sat with an American lady and her two sons, eating salad, borsch (beetroot soup with vegetables), stroganoff and mashed potato and apple strudel. Vodka and wine were on the table to drink as well. The food was quite enjoyable.
Once we were back on the bus, we made a stop at a monument near St Isaac’s Cathedral. Opposite this statue of a horse and rider was the palace that Catherine once lived in. She didn’t like the monument as it was as she had to look at the back side of her father and his horse, so it was turned around for her but, over the years, it has been returned to its original position.
St Isaac’s Cathedral was impressive. The walls were adorned with marble and paintings. The domed ceilings were breath taking. The central gold dome is one of the largest in the world and is covered in 220 pounds of gold. It had stained glass windows and heavy iron doors. It started as a small building and over the centuries following fires and war, it has grown to what it is today. This version was commissioned by Alexander I in 1818 and took more than three decades to build. During the war, the gold dome was painted grey so that it could not be seen and hence, it survived the bombings.
As we drove back through the city in the afternoon, the sun broke through and it was time to snap a few more photos. After a short break back on the ship, we dressed ourselves in preparation for our night excursion to Pushkin to see St Catherine’s Summer Palace. The drive took us through the southern suburbs and we were shown where some of the more expensive living apartments were.
Our first viewing at the palace was the carriage museum which was of little interest to us after what we had seen in Portugal last year. From there we walked towards the grounds and gardens of the palace, a fully renovated sight with golden onion-shaped spires. Vodka, champagne, caviar and nibbles were available in a small courtyard. A band played some march music. From there, we were escorted into the palace but we had to wear silly brown covers on our shoes to protect the parquetry floors. The interior of the palace was beautifully renovated and once again, some irreplaceable treasure could be seen. Finally, we arrived at the concert chamber where we were treated to a stringed septet and some dancing performances.
Dinner was long-awaited for and it was around 11pm before we sat down to eat. Luckily we had had a snack in the afternoon. The meal was ok as when you are that tired, food doesn’t really thrill you. There were some singers playing Russian music which was very loud and operatic – not good when you are tired. Finally, we were back on the bus with the lunatic driver. We managed to nap on the way back as it was a good hour’s drive. Bedtime was achieved at around 12.45.

Posted by gpric6 03:23 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Day 8 & 9 Warnemunde, Germany - Tallinn, Estonia

Thursday 21 July - Friday 22 July 2016

overcast 18 °C

Another day at sea to relax and regather our strength after our big bike ride. We slept in until 10am having gained an hour over night on route to Tallinn. We had breakfast and headed for the shops, just to browse of course. The day at sea was very relaxing, having lunch, coffee, drinks, dinner and a show. The latter was fabulous.
Tallinn is the capital city of Estonia and it was founded in 1154 AD and is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. In 1991, Estonia declared its independence from the Soviet Union. Our day in Tallinn started quite early as we had booked a tour. The bus took us an hour’s drive out of Tallinn to Rakvere, a small provincial town halfway between Tallinn and the border at Narva. Rakvere is home to the ancient Tarvanpea Castle ruins. The countryside looked no different to other countries – houses, trees, crops. Our guide was an interesting lady and she took us through this fort/medieval village. We saw the torture chamber and then “hell”, a dark maze that people probably pay money for at the ekka. After some other wanderings, we were given our shot of vodka to taste. With no orange juice available, it was not pleasant.
Lunch was served in a hut which was part of the village. It was quite authentic with the rough wooden tables, clay based eating utensils and food being served in the same manner. It was quite tasty. After lunch, we were treated to the firing of the cannon, the noise almost bursting our eardrums.
The trip back to Tallinn was uneventful but it did provide us with time for a nap. Our guide took us to the old town of Tallinn, built upon a small hill, Toompea. Toompea or “Upper Town” is the home of some of Tallinn’s oldest architectural wonders. It was a beautiful spot. We walked the streets until we reached one of the lookouts. It was quite crowded but the view was worth the look. The spires of the Holy Ghost Church and town hall were visible. This stop allowed us to do some shopping if we so wished before we headed to the second lookout. Toomkirk, or St Mary’s Cathedral, (referred to asd the dome church by the locals) is the oldest church and an architectural landmark. To complete the tour, we visited the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral which serves as the dominating landmark in Palace Square. It is a Russian Orthodox church, its architecture being quite remarkable with golden crosses rising high above the rooftops.
Dinner that night was enjoyable as we went to the Italian restaurant – pizza, pasta and good company.

Posted by gpric6 03:19 Archived in Estonia Comments (0)

Day 6 & 7 Oslo, Norway - Warnemunde, Germany

Tuesday 19 July - 20 July 2016

sunny 27 °C

It was surprising to wake during the night and realise that one was at sea. It was so calm and there were no vibrations even. It must be harder for the ship to head north against the currents than floating downhill!! When we awoke at 6.15, the sun was shining brightly and the water of the Baltic Sea glistened. We had arranged room service to bring a cup of tea so that was great.
It was a relaxing day at sea – Ross went to the gym and had an old English lunch with the boys. I had a German sausage and sauerkraut as well as a sweet or two. We had dinner with Cherryl and Doug in the bistro before heading to the show. At around 10pm we went under the bridge that connects Malmo to Copenhagen. The moon shone high in the sky so it was a beautiful sight.
We berthed with our side of the ship facing the port of Warnemunde, Germany - a beautiful day. Our tour left at 8.30 and the first portion was a cruise down the waterway where we were shown all the port facilities – coal from Australia, parts for wind turbines, scrap metal, timber logs for furniture - the list goes on. This area was once part of East Germany and under communist rule so the housing has many reminders of this era with its concrete blocked apartments.
The city of Rostok was a quaint little place with the old town gate still standing along with remnants of the city wall. After a brief walk passed the monastery we arrived at the university and then went for a stroll along the main street to St Nicholas’ church, a very old church under renovation. The alter was like I’d never seen before made totally of wood. There was also a huge astrological clock.
Next was a visit to the microbrewery, Trotzenburg, near the zoo. After receiving our small stein souvenir, a young chap explained the process of making beer. The tasting part was the best as we had a German pretzel as well. The light beer was very tasty and Ross also tried the darker one. One can only drink this beer at this café.
Following lunch, we joined our second tour for the day – a bike ride. I had started to feel a little uneasy about the whole idea as it was listed as “strenuous” on the ship advertisement. Once we met Alfredo, he explained that we would be riding around 20 kilometres and we had to make sure we stayed to the right. It was a ride thorough the small townships, down to the sea and then we followed the esplanade for several kilometres past fields of barley and along narrow tree-shrouded lanes. Of course, while travelling in fifth gear, one had to make sure that one stayed on the right hand side of the track; otherwise there would have been many head-on collisions. Once we reached our destination we had coffee and cherry pie – very nice.
The tour guide explained how nudity is still accepted in Germany as when the communists ruled East Germany, people believe that everything had been taken from them but they couldn’t take away the ability to express themselves through their bodies. He gave us a whole sex lesson on how kids are introduced to the ways of life as well as to drinking. All in all, our tour covered 22 kilometres and we survived.

Posted by gpric6 03:16 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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