2013 0807 Tallinn, Estonia: We docked around 6:30, I think. Got up a bit late due to not setting the alarm, change in time, etc. After our usual breakfast, we left the ship and boarded a shuttle bus into Tallinn to the base of the Old Town. Well, I got lost right away. The Cook book I was using assumed we’d enter the old town through a certain gate, but the bus let us out in the newer part of town and I got turned around until I could find where we were on the map. And I got turned around a lot for a couple of hours, but we saw the main sites both in the upper and lower old town.

The pictures will do a better job than I can dealing with the historic buildings and area. It is as it was other than the hundreds of tourist groups being led around up and down. Lots of boats in port and lots of groups in all languages everywhere except down some of the side streets. In the Town Hall Square, there are several restaurants with outdoor seating under tents. Young men and women in costume basically hawk the wares of their restaurant to the tourists passing by.

We started by getting lost trying to get to the Upper Old Town area and the old walls and castle up there. On the way, I got a boulder lodged under a lens and had some fun trying to clear my eye. Up at the top, I found us on the map and we walked to a view of the Lower Old Town. Then I asked a tour guide how we could return to down there without retracing our route up. She obliged and we made our way down a steep cobble stone street into the lower portion and walked to Town Hall Square. Besides all the places to eat, the middle of the square is an open-air market with booth after booth of souvenirs. We did go into several stores that sold Baltic amber. Lovely stuff. Reminds me of Kauri sap we got in 2005 in NZ. Didn’t by anything anywhere.

Looked at a couple of menus in the square and decided on a place. The food and service were excellent. Then we wandered around the square for a while and returned downhill to the newer part of town where we could get the 1:15 shuttle. So, we spent four hours wandering and it was quite sufficient. We didn’t go into any of the churches or museums. Guess we were satiated after St. P.

Had tea, of course. The fois gras sandwich and the scone/clotted cream/jam should hold me to dinner, which is all the way at 8:00 in the Polo Grill.

Spent the hours between tea and dinner reading while Marian played word games. Sat for a while on the balcony, but it got too cold so came inside to read until my eyelids started to close.

Nice dinner in Polo Grill. Saw Carol and Ken West there … sat at table along the windows behind us. Great sunset over the water as we finished dinner.

2013 0806 St. Petersburg: Last day here. Two of the four ships that share this port area departed last evening and two more appeared this morning docking before we got up.

Some thoughts: All the history is interesting. Marina has lived through the whole post-war period onward and has seen all the changes in Russia from Communist state to what it is today. Interesting to hear her perspectives. And the history of the czars and who murdered whom and the plots. Of course, there is the sad ending of the last czar and his family who were originally to be left in exile in Siberia, but the Bolsheviks executed them. Then there is what the Nazis did to places like Peterhof … pictures show the burned out buildings, unexploded bombs and mines, and the restoration. If you saw the pictures from the end of the war, you’d be amazed it could be restored in any way, not to mention how it is today. Untold funds and millions of craftsmen hours. That in itself is the most amazing. There is also all the effort that goes into keeping all these places up. Besides huge facilities, there are the grounds … the lower garden at Peterhof is 250 acres, for example. All to the great credit of Russia.

Meeting Marina at 10:00 today, so could get up an hour later. Breakfast in the room, of course. Got picked up and went to the Fortress of Peter and Paul which also has the Peter and Paul Cathedral (there are a couple of cathedrals with the same name) and the remnants of a prison that was there in the 1700s and later. The last czar and his family and servants are buried in this church. So, we  toured the church, walked around the grounds, looked into the prison to see a cell, when out onto the pier to see the fort from the waterside.

Rejoining our driver, we went around the center of the city stopping once for another view of the Church of the Spilled Blood. I was beginning to tire mentally. While Marina is a great guide and extremely knowledgeable, there comes a time when you cannot absorb any more. And she tries to give a running commentary on what’s around you as we drive or all the history, architecture, and art when in or outside a building. There is almost no pausing for breath. Charming and interesting and including quotes from poets and statesmen, but So, I was drifting away by the time we ate lunch, which was at a place owned by the same people where we had lunch the first day … good salmon pie and plum pie for me. Marian had mushroom pie.

Back in the van, we did some more driving before arriving at the Choral Synagogue, the only one in St. Petersburg. Marina not only gave us the full history of Jews in and around St. P., but also wove in personal stories about her grandfather, her mother, and herself. We sat dutifully in the front row of the synagogue listening. Again, I experienced a “blah, blah, blah, Ginger” moment. No criticism of Marina. I just could not grasp any more. And I didn’t think we had enough time to just sit in the synagogue to reflect. This was the only time I’ve really felt hurried.

We were asked if there was anything else we wanted to see or do. We really did not want to walk down Nevski street or see another church. We did go into a local grocery in the base of a shopping mall building and that was nice. Don’t know about Marian, but I was fried. Glad to get back to the ship about 3:30. Ah, tea at 4:00.

At 6:30, we went up to the same place where tea is served on Deck 10, Horizons, for a reception hosted by Go Next for the various alumni groups aboard. Altogether, we were told there are about 150 or so through alumni associations. We sat with three other Washington University alums. Now the six degrees of separation. First one of the men had taken his MBA starting in 1978 at SIUE’s Westport campus. I told him how lucky he was he didn’t have me! And his wife talked to Marian and we found out their son (Patrick Huber) teaches drama at MICDS and the son and his wife are friends of Tracy.

Left there about 7:00 to meet Carol and Ken West for dinner in the Grand Dining Room. They are the couple with whom we’re sharing a guide in Berlin. He’s an attorney and she’s a speech pathologist, both still practicing. Lovely dinner and conversation with them for almost three hours. She had recently lost her mother, so some other things in common other than all of us being Jewish. And we will see them in Riga on the Jewish tour there. Nice people. Fun to be with. I returned to the suite while Marian went to play the slots. She was not a winter. Time change tonight … set clocks back an hour.

2013 0804 St. Petersburg: By the time we got up around 7:00, we were already docked in St. Petersburg. And there were three other cruise ships in the same docking area as well. Nothing to see from the ship … just some nuclear plant towers and industrial buildings and apartment blocks. Had breakfast in our suite, per usual.

About 8:30, we headed off the ship to go through passport control. They won’t let you into Russia without your passport, a visa or tour voucher, and an entry/exit form. While there were five border agents, it was about a 20 minute wait in line to get through. Marina, our guide from Esperance Travel was waiting for us in the lobby. We had a van to ourselves with Sergei as the driver.

Got to the Hermitage for early admission at 9:30. Besides the fact that there are several linked buildings (including the winter palace, the new Hermitage, etc.), it contains one of the greatest art collections in the world – over 3 million works of art. So, it’s overwhelming from the history, the rooms and furnishings, and the art. Marina taught history of art; thus we were well taken care of throughout – just the two of us and her. And she has an acerbic sense of humor, too! So we went from room to room, from one treasure to another. At 11:00, we were admitted into the Gold Room, where a colleague of Merina did consecutive translation from the Hermitage guide and showed us the gold treasures from the Bronze Age onward. Unbelievable stuff … naturally, no pix allowed. Boggling! Then Merina took us up to the Impressionist galleries for Cezanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir, Gauguin, etc. Oh, earlier we saw some work by Leonardo, Titian, Rembrandt, to name just a few. It’s obvious you could spend days in the Hermitage and not see everything. Days and days.

Lunch followed in a small, local place by the building that had housed the riding academy pre-revolution. Sweet and savory pies. Excellent.

We next drove to the Church of the Spilled Blood, which is erected on the site where one of the czars was murdered. Ornate is an understatement. It’s not used as a church anymore. And there is a whole history of trying to blow it up after the Revolution, its conversion to a storage facility, and rhe restoration in the 1970s where they discovered lots of mold in the mosaics that covered the walls and columns.

Last stop of the day was the Yusupov palace, where Rasputin was eventually killed. It was a private “residence” until the revolution when it became owned by the state. Lots of original furniture and paintings and varied room colors. Huge. It took us about an hour and a half to get through it at some speed.

We were tired and this was the itinerary for today, so we got back to the ship a bit after 4:00, washed up, and went to tea. Gotta have scones every day! Marian took a nap while I did pix and wrote. About 7:30 or so, we went to the Grand Dining Room for a lovely dinner. Back to the suite after 9:00 with soft light in the sky, sun still up.

Interesting to me that all these cruise ships have propellers on the side of the bow and stern so they can move sideways to and from a dock without the need of a tug.




2013 0805 St. Petersburg: Got up a bit before 7:00. Heavy fog outside so you could not see the other three ships moored right by or across from us. Breakfast about 7:45 in the suite and then onto shore about 8:30 to go through passport control (easy the second time) and into the van with Marina and Sergei. We had an hour’s drive out of town to Peterhof (the “Summer Palace”).

Marina is very good in working her way around groups to get us through the ticket line before them and around them when inside each of these places. We had a 10:00 entry as did some groups. General opening is 10:30 for most groups. Well, as with all the other places, this one is fabulous, too. Cannot take pix inside, so bought a book to remind us of what we saw.

After going through the palace and listening to Marina give us a blow-by-blow history lesson (which is quite informative, but hard to remember – we need a set of charts for who ruled when and who was related to whom), we exited to the Lower Garden where we walked out to the water (Gulf of Finland). Right as we exited the palace at 11:00, all the fountains start and thousands of people are gathered on the steps overlooking the park to hear the music and see the fountains. They are all gravity driven and there are no pumps. And they’re everywhere in the garden.

From Peterhof, we had a fairly long drive to Pushkin (or Czar’s Village) where we had lunch – borscht and potato pancakes (and pumpkin pancakes, too). Then a short drive to Catherine’s Palace, tour, history lesson, pictures, and stroll through the gardens there. There is one room, the Amber Room, in which you cannot take pix, but is unreal in its splendor with the walls panels made up of amber. Wow! Favorite room of the day for me.

Then another hour or so drive back to the ship, arriving a bit before 5:00. Lots of driving, but well worth the visits. I downloaded pix; Marian did games and then took a nap.

About 7:30, we went to the Grand Dining Room for dinner. Great food and service, per usual. Sat next to a retired pediatrician and his wife, who had been his nurse. They live in New Hampshire. Fun conversation. Back to the suite by 9:00. Don’t have to be up until about 8:00 tomorrow since we meet Marina at 10:00.

2013 0803 – Helsinki: Awakened about 7:15 … was light out well after midnight and light this morning from earlier that 4:00 AM, when I awakened. Breakfast in the suite, which we will do daily. I went up to Deck 10 to take pictures of our approach to Helsinki. We docked about 10:30 and were lucky enough to be right at the heart of the city next to Market Square. Otherwise, we could have been from one to four miles away.

We have a book, Baltic Cruising, in the Thomas Cook line. While we have some Kindle stuff from Rick Steves, we found an actual book was much more helpful to cart around. They had a walking tour that they said would take 1.5 hours without stops. Well, with a very few stops, it took us four hours.

We started by the waterfront walking through the stalls in the open-air market in the square. Then up the street to the Uspenski Cathedral – Russian Orthodox, red-brick, cupolas, gorgeous inside and out. Then back downhill to the street and along the harbour of Halkolaituri with its wooden boats. Back toward the square and then up Aleksanterinkatu to Senatintori, a square that is dominated by the white Lutheran Cathedral. And while the Uspenski is ornate, this cathedral is plain with the focus on where the clergy speaks to the congregants. From there, we walked farther toward the Atheneum Museum … didn’t go in … and on to the RR station, through it (and it’s lovely), and away from the centre on a very long walk through Kaisaniemi Park and around a lake (Toolonlahti) before heading back to the main part of town, the Esplanade for window shopping, all the stalls in Market Square, and back to the ship very weary. The park was nice (albeit tiring) since there were no crowds. Just families enjoying a Saturday stroll or picnic. In town, it’s wall-to-wall tourists with several cruise ships all in at the same time.

The architecture here is wonderful. From Russian inspired to modern, it’s all here. We saw a good deal of the city and its buildings due to our walk. Really great. And the produce stalls in Market Square have really fresh berries and veggies as well as a fish stall or two. Lots of berries of all kinds this time of year.

Got back around 3:00 and collapsed until tea time at 4:00. All I had eaten since breakfast was a mango ice cream cone along the lake late in the afternoon, so both of us were hungry for the tea sandwiches, scones, and other goodies. Then we returned to the suite where Marian napped before dinner.

About 7:30, we went to the Grand Dining Room. It was jammed with people, but it holds 300 or so. Food and service were spot on. Executive Chef stopped by and also one of the dining room captains, who is from Portugal. Got a good story about his upbringing in an agricultural area of his country. And back to the suite. Sun set later as we lose another hour heading to Russia. Was still quite light at midnight.

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