Archive for September 5th, 2010


September 5, 2010

Helsinki appeared amidst a string of small islands requiring a rather convoluted path for the ship to dock at quayside.  However this was accomplished in the usual efficient manner. 

arrival 1

Kayaking Helsinki 6 am Kayaking at 6am you have to be keen

Our first stop in Helsinki was to find wifi so we could check on news from home as we were woken to the news of a devastating earthquake in Christchurch.  The whole of downtown Helsinki seemed to have free wifi so we settled in with a coffee and the laptops.  Antony had send a message telling us that he had spoken with Grandma & Grandpop and that all were OK and in fact they had slept through it!  Instant reassurance, thank you Ants for checking on Grandma & Grandpop.  We then read all the news reports and saw all the photos, we hope that all are safe and well.

The place where we were dropped off from the bus was a main square in the city in front of the legislative building.  In this square there was an exhibition of large bears which were painted in the national colours/patterns of the 142 member states of the United Nations.   Each had been painted by a person from the country to reflect their interpretation of the country. 

Bears on parade 1 Bears on parade

The bears were arranged in alphabetical order and so it was an easy matter to follow them around until N for New Zealand.    WRONG!!  New Zealand does not begin with N in Finnish.  Eventually found the NZ Bear, of course New Zealand begins with a U it is in fact spelt Uusi-seelanti  how silly of us not to know this, particularly as it is not too different from the Estonian spelling.

Snow nz bear Can you see Snow with the New Zealand bear?

nz name plate Now that’s how to spell New Zealand in Finnish, Swedish, English and German

There was also a very nice large bear whom Snow took a liking to.

Snow takes a ride

Met with an interesting approach to cobbles and road marking particularly for pedestrian crossings.  A lot more permanent and saves on paint.

How to save paint

Helsinki could not be a more different city to the city of the previous two days.  Instantly noticeable was the general atmosphere, the people friendlier and the overall air was of safety, a sentiment echoed from all other passengers we talked to.   After dealing with emails etc we headed off to wander around the market square.  It was so refreshing being able to wander around and check out the abundance of wares on offer, from the usual souvenir stalls to the fishmongers, the myriad of fruit & vegetable stalls where we tried fresh peas still in the pod, ligonberries, cloudberries and every other berry you can think of.   The food stalls selling local delicacies such as fried small fish, crepes, other fried foods and baked goods were all welcoming and looked delicious. 

boat The square abutted the sea so some people just pulled their boats up and sold from them.

berries Berries

Fungi Fungi

sampling peas Sampling peas

hat Still looking for the right one

Next we took a tram trip around the sights of the city, checking out a few stops around the city. 

Central Rail Station Central Station

We stopped to take in the sights of the grand Central Railway Station, mistake!!  We thought that it was only a matter of a few blocks back to Market Square, and it may well have been, if we had turned the right way!!!  After some debate, not too violent, we boarded a tram going to the Square, having had a briefing from a local.  This proceeded to cover a substantial distance, certainly more than expected but finally ended in the right place. 

We then had a belated lunch of local crepes, delicious, followed by fresh fruit and then we had a final few minutes of wifi before boarding the bus back to the ship. 

farewell Farewell Helsinki

Tonight we travel to Nynashamn where we can then proceed to Stockholm.  This will be the first and only port where we proceed to shore via tender, it should be ‘interesting’!

St Petersburg: Day 2

September 5, 2010

We were again picked up by Michael & Anna. We must mention at this point that Anna is a very beautiful (and intelligent) Russian woman who has immaculate style and presents herself very very well, today she is wearing a stunning black military style coat cinched in at the waist with asymmetrical hemline, red & gold scarf, black leather boots topped with a little fur and the outfit completed by her red leather gloves and red & gold earrings.

Anyway, back to the trip, first we stopped by twin marble columns at the point where the Neeva splits in two to go around an island, one of the 40 odd islands that St Petersburg is built on. The columns are sited on either side of the point of the island and acted as light houses..  They are characterised by the boat prows attached to them.  These supposedly represent the victors spoils as they supposedly cut off the prow of the defeated boat and displayed it.


From here we had good views  across the River Neeva to the Winter Palace/Hermitage and to the Peter & Paul Fortress which we would be visiting today.

The Hermitage The Hermitage

First the Fortress, an amazing fortress built on one of the many islands (Vasilyevsky) that make up St Petersburg. Within walls up to 10 metres thick a fortress was created to defend the city.  Within the walls the St Petersburg mint is still in operation today – no free samples though dammit.

Plan of fortress Plan of fortress

Then on to the church of Peter & Paul which is within the redoubt.

Interior St Peter and Paul Interior St Peter and Paul

At this point disaster struck.  Someone, who shall remain nameless had left the memory card in the PC after downloading yesterday’s pictures.  But that is not all, they, whoever that may have been, had forgotten to charge the battery in the camera.  A double catastrophe.  However all was not lost as there was an extra card and battery (fully charged) in the backpack in the car.  PHEW!!!!

Here most of the Russian Royal family are buried. Each has their own large sarcophagi, most of Carrera marble. These are all within the main body of the church. In a chapel at the rear of the church lie the remains of the Romanoff family. This contains the remains of all but two of of the family whose bodies, at the time of the incarceration of the others in the chapel, had not been found. However their remains have now been found and they are awaiting burial with the rest of the family.

Anna explained expertly the line of the royal family over the centuries before gaining us entry in to a small side room where 5 male singers sang a Russian hymn – wow – they had such wonderful powerful voices. She also pointed out that it was a feature of Russian Orthodox churches that the choir was often in a hidden side room so that their voices could be heard but they could not be seen. This was apparently to create a sense of angels singing, hence our mystification as to the source of the voices in the church in Tallin.

Back to the vehicle, reload the camera with all its supplies, and then off to Remembrance Square,  where we saw the eternal flame.  We also had a great view through to the Church of the Resurrection aka Saviour on the Spilt Blood, back into the car and off to visit the said church. 

model of the church Model of the church

Wow,  cannot adequately describe this amazing church.  The whole of the inside is lined with mosaics in the Russian style depicting religious scenes and people. 

Painting Painting?

Closer 1 Closer


closer 2


And it is not as if this is a one off.  Every surface of the interior is covered with mosaic pictures including the dome.  Floors of intricately patterned marble abound. 

We then walked outside where it seems as though today was the day that many people had chosen to be married so everywhere there were limos (Hummers!!), brides and bridal parties. Apparently it is tradition that brides visit all the sights of St Petersburg on their wedding day! As well, of course, as rubbing various statues to make wishes.

At the back of the Church is a very fine example of a wrought iron grill railing in an art deco style


Off for lunch at a Russian restaurant, lovely food and company before back into the car and off to the Hermitage. Anna works in the Hermitage in the winter season so she got us in via a side entrance beating off the main entrance and queues which we saw later and they stretched forever! The Hermitage was sensory overload… is unbelievable what they have, in fact there is so much that as we briskly walked past large Titians, Caravaggios, original Greek sculptures etc etc, they almost became just another piece of art!  Anna took us on a tour of highlights away from the crowds, explaining everything to us in detail including the stories and legends behind the scenes depicted in some of the art and displays. 

column 1

column 2 Another example of mosaic in a different context

Peters instruments 1 Peter’s sailing and surveying instruments

Detail ivory chandelier Detail of solid ivory chandelier

We were also able to get our noses directly up to two Da Vinci paintings (did you know that Da Vinci only painted 11 paintings??!), just absolutely mind blowing that we were able to study these paintings at such close range and without huge crowds around us.

detail Leonrdo painting 1

It was not only the exhibits which were spectacular but even the parquetry on the floors was exceptional.

parquetry 2

parquetry 3

Then of course the small vase carved out of three solid blocks

a small vase

But at the end of the day we were all very tired so had to sit for a rest

resting Snow resting at the end of a long day

There are three flights of stairs here each of 24, 23, 22 stairs.

After a good few hours at the Hermitage it was then across Palace Square and back to the car. 

The square is where many events take place including visiting rock concerts.


We returned to the ship hardly able to believe what we have experienced the past two days.  Finally a photo of our intrepid guide and driver

Michael and Anna Michael and Anna

Time to write this all up before we forget it all, we cruise overnight to awake in Helsinki in the morning and hopefully some time to find Internet connection.

Finally, our overall impressions of St Petersburg; A city full of culture, history and museums but what we could not get our heads around was the extreme dichotomy between the haves and the have-nots.  The over the top opulence and exhibition of wealth is quite obscene in the face of those who have nothing. The rebuilding of palaces and the like after total devastation in WWII is utterly amazing, the amount of money spent on gilding, glitz and restoration whilst the general populace had to queue for the basics in life seems very strange indeed.  We did not feel completely safe in St Petersburg either, we wondered who would help us if anything untoward were to happen as the Police Force appeared to be a left over relic of the communist regime – totally indifferent but at the same time authoritarian.