Monday, May 12th
Tallinn, Estonia, the first port-of-call is a lovely little city. We were able to walk to the city center where we joined the Free Tour with a group of about 30 travelers.
We passed Fat Margaret, an ancient defensive structure near the dock. I guess they thought a structure of that size would scare off any possible invaders.
Jack and I wondered about whether we’d see someone we knew on the trip. Long odds, yes, but we both believed it possible.
So, no one was surprised when I chased a woman into a tourist shop in Estonia. She looked familiar to me and turned out to be Andrea Doolittle, from Raintree, the country club we belong to in Charlotte! She was on the cruise…among 1,700 other passengers. I saw her only one other time from a distance. So sad I didn’t place a HUGE wager to win on that chance encounter.
Tallinn is small with narrow, winding streets.
Turned out I just missed a Swedish cousin of mine who had been there two days before. He said it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There certainly were enough cobblestone streets in lovely Tallinn to authenticate this.
Our tour guide was Mairi, a native of Tallinn. Here she is in front of a placard commemorating Boris Yeltsin, who was instrumental in granting Estonia their freedom.
In the Middle Ages, Tallinn was divided into two parts: the Toompea with its hilltop castle fortress and the Lower Town inhabited by merchants.
Estonia has managed to retain its charm through Swedish and Soviet rule. Estonia is a small country. And here’s how small it is: Mairi stood next to the President of Estonia at a rock concert, both with a beer in hand.
Tallinn is known for the following:
It is the birthplace of the first public Christmas tree display
Blood sausages are a favorite
They eat something called Kama, consisting of wheat powder, unflavored yogurt and sugar
Their best showing in the Olympics was 24th out of of 29 — but they have a mean fencing team
St. Olaf’s Church is the 3rd highest structure/thing in Tallinn. #1 is the TV tower, #2 some hill.
I shopped unsuccessfully for sweaters at the Sweater Wall. The ones I found were either itchy or felt like products of China…nothing to write home about, OR to take home.
On the way back to the boat, we stopped for a photo op near Fat Margaret.
And Tallinn wasn’t immune to graffiti…either that or that can of spray paint was burning a hole in Jack’s jacket.
We found out the next day a fellow passenger didn’t make it back to the ship. The pilot boat we saw zip up to the side of the boat the night before had to have been delivering him. A British gal told us he was probably was slapped with a huge fine. His bad!
Tuesday, May 13th
Today we visited St. Petersburg, Russia where you either need to be with a guide or apply months in advance for a visa. It was a long day and we needed to turn our clocks forward an hour – we’d sleep tonight!
Mr. Research (Jack) found tours and excursions that were not affiliated with the ship, saving us tons of money. Being lazy doesn’t pay. And that was never truer than in St. Petersburg.
We went on a private tour through T.J. Travel with only 12 travelers. The boat tours were comprised of, what looked like, hundreds. Our tour guide, Alexandra, was a lovely young mother, who really knew the drill.
Historical names: 1712-1918 Petrograd, 1918-1980 Leningrad, 1980-today St. Petersburg. (And a sordid history to accompany all those name changes.)
St. Petersburg is built on 42 islands and has over 500 bridges. There are places where bridges are hoisted all night to let ships pass at will. So, if you’re on that island and party too late, you’re not gonna get home.
Our first stop was to see two sphinx statues and two gold Griffins along the river. Missed the significance, but we were told rubbing the Griffin heads brought good luck.
This good luck paid off for the gal on the tour who left her camera in a gift shop along the way. AND for our driver, Vladim, who masterfully avoided a driver who weaved into our lane.
We paused at The 7-Bridges for a mandatory photo stop.
Saw the Church of St. Nicklas.
Here are a couple of the more impressive, really Russian-looking structures. Don’t remember the names:
And the Waldorf Astoria
I expected to see troops come marching down the street after I saw this huge billboard.
Next stop: The Hermitage. It is totally overwhelming and the crowds were incredible. Our tour guide knew how to snake through the crowds to the quieter rooms.
This is how big it is:
If you spend 30 seconds viewing each piece of art in the Hermitage, you will be there for SEVEN YEARS!!!
As I said before, I’m not too nuts about museums, so two hours of this was about all I could take.
Below are a few of the pieces of art we saw and some of the building.
To be expected, my favorite thing wasn’t the art, it was the bathroom. I must have a discerning eye, because it turned out Gianni Versace was the designer…of the bathrooms!
There were little ladies posted in every room wearing navy suits (military uniforms?) with walkie talkies. We found out that one of the passengers on the boat either didn’t “get” or see this universal “don’t touch” sign so got whacked by an elderly watchdog. His hand was still swollen the next day.
The next surprising, totally delightful, stop was to ride a couple stops on the subway. It is WAAAY underground, under the rivers. The escalators took forever.
And the underground stations are decorated like a grand ballroom. Ornate and clean.
A favorite stop for me was to the Church of the Spilt Blood, probably because of the gory name. It came by the moniker honestly. It was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881 when revolutionaries threw a bomb at his royal carriage. It has mosaics outside and inside on the walls, the ceiling and in every nook and cranny.
Off to The Peterhof, Peter The Great’s summer palace.
The grounds were beautiful with tulips in full bloom. The multitude of water fountains are gravity fed, no pumps.
This was my favorite fountain. It sprayed when you walked on the stones a certain way. A couple very brave students took on the challenge and got soaked.
These signs were posted everywhere. That’s a dollar being pulled from the unaware guy’s pocket. Hmmmm, think they’re implying Americans are at all stupid?
Then the rains fell. So we ran to the van and were treated to a very plain-jane, vanilla lunch…but it WAS 3:00, so anything would have sufficed.
Like every good tourist attraction, the last stop was the gift shop. Here I got my only souvenir…some lovely blue Faberge Egg-like drop earrings. Last week, in a hurry, I put on one of those and another similar but different earring. My friends never said a word…thought I was just being artistic. Nah, just scatter brained.
At the gift shop, we just had to take advantage of the free sample of vodka. This must have been snapped BEFORE Kevin’s first sip. Whoa, did that ever burn going down.
My cousin, Jorgen, who we missed in Tallinn, was surprised we even went to St. Petersburg. He heard U.S. ships were avoiding Russia because of the strife between countries. Well, we Americans were a minority on the ship, so Royal Caribbean just didn’t seem to worry.
At this point, we could have opted for a small boat tour. It would have been wonderful to see St. Petersburg at night but it doesn’t get dark until very late that time of year, so we would just see what we saw earlier. So, no thanks, back to the ship.
Thursday, May 15th
After a day at sea, because of having to skip Helsinki due to heavy winds, we docked in Stockholm. These typical Swedish horses greeted us at the port.
We walked and walked and walked in this city. Jack and Lisa spent the day at the Vasa Museum, which houses the most fully intact 17th century warship ever salvaged. This boat, armed with 64 guns and 300 sailors, sank in the harbor on its maiden voyage in 1628.
Since we were meeting another of my Swedish cousins and his girlfriend for lunch, we had limited time. We decided to skip the museum and explore Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old city. Being museum lovers, Jack and Lisa spent the entire day at the museum. I was happier being a bird out of its cage.
Here are a couple of shots of the lovely old city.
A mere 3 feet wide, Marten Trotzigs Grand is Stockholm’s narrowest street.
We took a boat back to the museum where we met Fredrik and his girlfriend Bee. We had a nice lunch at a breezy outdoor café, blankets on laps.
We got to go to their flat and meet Bee’s 16 year old son, Nitipon. Here is Fredrik, the giant, and tiny Bee.
Departing Stockholm, we experienced the most beautiful sail-away of the cruise because of the smooth, spectacular water and picturesque structures along the canal.
Not to mention, this departure was accompanied by the music of Tom the Pyper’s bagpipes for the very last time.
We were headin’ home to Copenhagen.
Next stop: Berlin