A Travellerspoint blog

St Petersburg - Saturday, 6 September 2014

Cruise the city's canals

sunny 18 °C

Sleep in this morning, late breakfast and down in the Tsar Lounge at 9am for our departure briefing. All normal. 18 of us are continuing on to the Baltic States and we will be leaving for the railway station at 10 am tomorrow, which will just be like a normal morning for us.

On the bus at 10 am for our St Petersburg river and canals cruise. You certainly get a different view of this beautiful city from the water. Our cruise lasted for one hour and each bus had their own boat. It was nice.

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Back on the bus and back to the ship. A few couples stayed in the city but we decided to come back to the ship for lunch and then walk down to the porcelain factory. It was quite a long way from the ship but worth the effort. The display room was full of lovely things. I found a couple of small bowls in the dark blue, white and gold that is the traditional pattern of Russian porcelain and bought them. Then we walked all the way up to the metro. We called in to a supermarket for a look and a Russian guy was trying to speak with us in Russian but we couldn't understand him and I don't think we wanted to anyway, because he was a bit spaced out on something and he was probably asking us for money.

There is an APT boat alongside now that arrived a couple of days after us. They have 270 passengers on board so compared to our 98, it quite big. We are very happy on our size ship.

Now the ordeal that is packing begins!

We had our final dinner on the ship with Jim and Jose, Clare and William. I gave Svetlana a little gift and some of the wooden animals for her daughter Sophie.

Posted by gaddingabout 00:03 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

St Petersburg to Helsinki - Sunday, 7 September 2014

Goodbye Scenic Tsar! Hello high speed train Allegro for trip to Helsinki, Finland. Tour of Helsinki - Senate Square, the Sibelius monument, the Olympic Stadium and the lively harbour area. Welcome reception this evening for the Baltic States travellers.

semi-overcast 19 °C

Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Helsinki

Last sunrise in St Petersburg.

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Up early this morning to finalise packing. Breakfast, then bags out by 9am. Said goodbye to Jim and Jose, checked that our bags were on the bus, then the bus left for the station for our train to Finland.

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Check in and security went very smoothly and then we boarded our first class carriage for our three and a half hour train ride to Helsinki.

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We were served a nice salami and cheese salad for lunch plus fruit salad. Very nice. Before we arrived at the Finnish border, Russian authorities walked through the train asking if we had any medication on us. We all answered no, but of course everyone had some sort of personal medication on them. Then they specifically asked, "sleeping tablets?", but everyone said no, but a lot of people did have sleeping tablets. None of their business we think, but we wondered what would have happened if we said yes to carrying sleeping tablets. A gulag in Siberia, perhaps?

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Russian immigration checked our passports and it took 5 minutes. As we crossed the Finnish border, the Finnish border control guards hopped on and stamped our passports. It took 5 seconds.

We arrived in Helsinki on time and were met by our guide for the next two weeks, Tim. The weather is warm and about 20 degrees. We did a bus tour of the city and focal points for a couple of hours.

Firstly we went to the church in the rock. This is quite an amazing structure, carved out of rock with a copper dome. It is a Lutheran church.

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We went to Sibelius' monument which was quite controversial when it was first erected, then they decided to include a sculpture of him and now everyone likes the monument.

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We drove past the bay and the beach. Our guide Maria thinks it looks like Australia's Bondi Beach!!

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The main square is lovely with its church and statues.

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This is the ferry that goes to Sweden. Huge.

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Helsinki has a population of 600,000 but as Finland is scarcely populated, they have about 17 people per square mile, on average. They gained their independence from Russia in 1917. In winter, they have 19 hours of darkness and in summer, 19 hours of brilliant sunlight! Only June and July are considered the summer months. They get 1 metre of snow in winter and the Baltic freezes because there is only 2 inches between low and high tide.

Checked into our hotel. It is quite nice.

We had our welcome dinner in a separate part of the dining room. We had salmon cream soup, different but nice, crumbed chicken and a rubarb cake with ice cream, and a glass of Spanish champagne.

After dinner, Phil and I went for a walk over to the station to find a supermarket but we didn't buy anything. At least we can recognise some of the products, not like Russia where we couldn't read a thing. It was a bit cool outside.

Posted by gaddingabout 23:49 Archived in Finland Comments (0)

Helsinki - Monday, 8 September 2014

Visit the open air museum of Seurasaari

sunny 19 °C

Had a great sleep. The bed is so comfortable and the pillows are DIVINE! Big and soft and you just sink into them and float away. It was good to have a sleep in and a relaxed morning. We are meeting at 10.30 am for our visit to the open air museum of Seurasaari.

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A few of the guys are still sick. Harry left the table last night in a huge hurry as soon as his food was placed in front of him. He just made it to the room in time! Peter has been in a huge sweat all night and the bed is sopping. We have never been with a group that has been so sick. Thank goodness for Travel An, but it won't protect us from colds and flu.

My cousin and her husband are in Helsinki on a huge cruise ship and my golfing friend from Canberra is transitting Helsinki today on her way to Singapore. Small world!

This morning we visited an open air museum of old Finnish houses from the 16th century. The homes were built of wood and were very spartan. No electricity for cooking or heating and with such long cold winters, a lot of time was spent in the house. The women would cook and sew and the men would make things out of wood. The animals lived in the house too.

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This is a Lutheran church. What tales the guide told us. The seats were as hard as a rock. Sometimes the sermons went for six hours. A person was employed to keep the congregation awake by ringing a bell in their ear or poking them with a stick. There were also two sets of stocks at the church that were used for punishing the congregation for such stupid things as a woman wearing a dress to church that was too fancy or not being able to pass a reading exam on the bible.

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Then we went to the markets and walked around there for a long time, both outdoor and indoor. The markets sold really good quality stuff, all in euros, but it was a bit expensive. Helsinki is a very lovely city, especially the harbour area.

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This statue on the harbour needs no explanation except to say that it is probably the most photographed thing in Finland! It is a very controversial piece of art and the population is quite divided on its artistic value. I think it's pretty cute. It's nowhere near as bad as Canberra's Centenary Whale hot air balloon. That was atrocious!

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We had lunch in the indoor market, bratwurst sausage and sauerkraut and a beer. It was nice.

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Then we caught the ferry over to Suomenlinna Island. It was 5 euros each for a return ticket and there was no one in the ticket box, only an automatic ticket machine. It only took coins and we didn't have any and we didn't want to put our credit card in a machine so we just hopped on, hoping we could buy a ticket on the other side. There was no one selling tickets on the other side either or for that matter, checking them, so we just walked ashore. Same deal coming back! So we got a free ride to Suomenlinna Island.

We walked for miles on the island, right over to The King's Gate. Had a coffee and then caught the ferry back and we were back in the hotel by 5pm. The weather is lovely, warm, sunny and about 20 degrees.

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Going for dinner tonight to a Turkish restaurant with William and Clare.

We went to a Turkish Meze Restaurant within easy walking distance from the hotel. The food was fresh and very nice and we shared a bottle of red Spanish wine. It cost 50 euros per couple which was quite reasonable. Chatting at dinner, it turned out that William and Phil went to the same high school, Ashfield Boys High, but as William is 7 years younger than Phil, they weren't there at the same time. Small world!

Posted by gaddingabout 23:39 Archived in Finland Comments (0)

Helsinki to Tallinn - Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Morning at leisure to explore Helsinki. Hydrofoil ride across the Baltic Sea to the capital of Estonia, Tallinn

semi-overcast 19 °C

Radisson Blu - Tallinn
Had another leisurely morning and finished breakfast by about 9.30am. As we were headed off for a final walk around Helsinki, , Clare and William left the hotel too, so we went together to Senate Square and went inside Helsinki Cathedral and took some photos. It is very high up above the city and is quite plain inside.

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We then walked up a very steep street to Uspenski Cathedral. It is quite nice inside and has a lot more artwork and icons in it.

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Back to the hotel, bags out at midday and then we all sat in the foyer until it was time to leave for the hydrofoil at 1.00 pm. We were in the bus and driven to the port, where after receiving our tickets from Tim and showing our passports, we were allowed to board. We were in business class and had to our big bags on to the hydrofoil with us, which was okay. There was plenty of room on board so we could spread out.

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We were given sandwiches and muffins for lunch and soft drinks and tea and coffee were gratis. The trip lasted one and a half hours and was quite smooth. I put my wrist bands on and made sure I sat still and I was fine. No travel sickness, thank goodness.

The hotel is nice and so is our room.

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Tim took us for a little orientation walk and it poured rain. Everyone got wet in varying degrees and a few raced to buy umbrellas. Back to the hotel to dry out before dinner.

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Tallinn is just lovely. Can hardly wait to tour the old town tomorrow. It is lovely.

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Sat with Gail and Owen for our included dinner at the hotel. After dinner we went up to the 24th floor to see the lights of Tallinn. Lovely.

Posted by gaddingabout 05:00 Archived in Estonia Comments (0)

Tallinn - Wednesday, 10 September 2014

City Tour. Visit the Old Town, then visit to Kadriorg Palace

overcast 19 °C

We woke to a pea soup fog which lingered until mid morning, but at least it wasn't raining. We were the first down to breakfast and had finished before anyone else surfaced. By the time they had breakfast, they thought we had slept in!!

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On the bus at 9am for our tour of the old city. We heard that Harry had gone to hospital to have treatment for his bug. Apparently he has had it for 6 days!

First we visited a huge outdoor stage where the Tallinn choir performs. It was huge and many international artists appear there.

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Then we drove to the top and took photos overlooking the city and then meandered down through the old town. It is quaint and lovely.

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The flower markets are beautiful, so fresh and lovely.

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A local bride.

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Local school children.

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The town hall in Tallinn.

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We had free time for lunch and we ate at a pizza restaurant. It was really nice and then Phil ordered a plate of pickled cucumbers and a shot of vodka.

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Then five of us met our guide again and he took us to Kadriorg Palace. It was lovely and the gardens were beautiful. We were all very glad we made the effort to see this summer house built by Peter the Great.

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It is a very popular place for brides to have photographs taken.

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On the way back to the bus we passed this monument to a Russian battle ship that had been sunk.

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We popped into the shopping center to try to find a Samsung shop that could change the battery in my tablet, but no luck. We might try in Riga.

Dinner tonight was a Scenic Enrich experience and we split into two groups. Some went to an international restaurant on one side of the town square and Phil and I chose to attend Balthasar Garlic Restaurant. On arrival, the smell of garlic was delicious and almost overpowering and Gail was freaking out as she doesn't like garlic. However, our meal was prepared especially for us and wasn't very garlicky at all. We had a nice evening.

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Selfie, with washing in the background!

Posted by gaddingabout 04:11 Archived in Estonia Comments (0)

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