St Petersburg and Baltic Explorer Cruise Update #3
The ship arrived at the port of Tallinn at around 8:00 as scheduled. The excursion here was called “Best of Tallinn” which departed the ship shortly after it’s scheduled time of 8:30. Tallinn is a small city with only about 400,000 people living in it. That makes up about one third of the entire population of the country of Estonia. This is one of those cities that has an old historic area and a newer modern section. These countries have long and complex histories that I will not try to document here. I am not sure that I could remember many of the details anyway. One common thing about many of these smaller cities is that at one time or another they have all be invaded by the Swede’s. The tour guide in Stockholm, Sweden yesterday made a joke of the fact that most of the other countries in this region blame a lot of their historic problems on the Swedes.
The excursion started by driving through the newer parts of the city where we saw an open air stage that is used for a large choral music festival every five years. The stage is big enough to hold a choir of 25,000 along with an orchestra. Apparently the acoustics are so good that no amplification equipment is required. At other times this stage is used for summer concerts. This year Elton John and Jose Cararas (one of the original three tenors and probably spelled wrong) are here within the same week later this year.
The stage with some
members of our group and a statue of a well-known Estonian musician
whose name I cannot remember.
Not far from there is a marina that was built to present the Olympic rowing and sailing events the year that Moscow staged the Summer Olympics. Estonia and Russia were not the best of friends for a while (after all Estonia is a former Russian state during the communist era) but they have patched up their differences and are on good terms now.
After this the group headed back to the city for a walking tour of the old city. It had to be a walking tour as the streets are nowhere near big enough to accommodate any type of bus (other than maybe a minibus). This started with two churches one Russian Orthodox and the other a different more western religion but I cannot remember which one.
I would say that this
is the Alexander Nevski Orthodox Cathedral on the edge of Tallinn’s old city.
Pictures were not allowed inside.
The outside of St Mary’s Church.
The inside of St Mary’s Church.
The next stop was at a lookout where one could see most of the city.
The view from the view point.
We then continued on to the lower part of the old city and the main square with the city hall. This was also the lunch stop with lunch at a restaurant on the square. The food was local in origin but nothing that greatly interested me with my somewhat unusual culinary likes and dislikes but I managed.
The main square
showing the city hall with its tower on the right.
The restaurant where the group had lunch is just to the left of this picture.
You can see its outside terrace on the left.
After lunch we attended a half hour long ancient music concert in a nearby church and then proceeded to walk slowly back to the coach seeing some of the remaining parts of the ancient city walls along the way.
Part of the old city
wall of Tallinn.
They thought they were going to be smart and remove these houses that are against the wall to make some room.
After they did they found that the houses were an integral part of the walls construction so they had to put the concrete supports up to prevent the wall from coming down. Opps!
An outdoor flower market has been held here just outside the wall for several hundred years.
Then it was back to the ship on the coach as the departure time from here was somewhat earlier than the usual 5:00. I think it actually sailed around 4:00 but that was five days ago and I do not remember for sure.
A view of the Tallinn’s old city taken from a high deck on the ship.
The overnight sail from Tallinn to here was uneventful as have been all the others so far. Arrival was by 7:00. For some reason, that seems rather odd in retrospect, the Russians would not allow any pictures to be taken of the port area around the ship. I have encountered this before but it is usually because there is a naval base nearby or some similar reason. The ship was docked at a reasonably new (around three years I found out later) cruise terminal that I thought they would want to have people showing pictures of to other people. The only other possibility that comes to mind was that there were no pictures to be taken in the customs or passport control areas of the terminal building but that is normal everywhere. It may have been that they just did not want any pictures taken by people when they were on the dock but that was not exactly the way it was presented to us.
The excursion I chose for St. Petersburg is called “Complete St. Petersburg” and extended over both days here. First though we had to go to the ship’s theatre, collect our group/bus number (there were 4 groups/buses doing this tour), and then go off the ship and through passport control. We had been provided with a mostly filled in Russian landing card that had to be signed and presented with the passport. This process was well managed, both by the ship by gradually feeding people off of it and the Russians so it was not quite the mad house I encountered at Heathrow on my arrival for the cruise.
Once this was completed (I think it was less than a half hour) I went off to find the bus which was quickly located and boarded it. This bus would be the group’s means of transportation for the rest of today and tomorrow. The first stop after departing the ship was the famous Hermitage Museum but first we had to get there.
St Petersburg is separated by the Neva River that runs right through the centre of the city. There are a number of bridges that cross it but right now one of the busiest ones is closed for some major repairs. This particular bridge seems to be the most used one when one wants to get to the major tourist sites in downtown St. Petersburg. This was really causing problems getting to this part of the city. After a long period of “not going anywhere fast” we finally got there and went in for the early tour group opening of the museum. This means that tour groups can be prebooked and enter the museum something like 90 minutes before it opens to the general public. This is a good thing because it got mighty busy very fast once the doors opened. The tour guide has to follow a route through the museum prescribed by the museum until the doors open then they can do anything they want after that. The museum has staff (mostly older retired women we were told) in almost every room making sure things go as they are required to. They move these tour groups along quickly so no one group can hold up the others (there is no shortage of tour groups, that is for sure). It seems to be a very well designed system. We saw this in several other locations here as well.
There is little point in me trying to say much more about the Hermitage. It is an old and big place spread out over at least four buildings all palaces of one sort or another. Here are some pictures that I hope will give you a bit of a sense of what it is like inside. Photography (without flash in most cases) was allowed here. I believe there was a charge to take pictures but that was included in the tour price.
This is the main entrance. Rather majestic, one might say!
A more complete view
of the main entrance from part way up the stairs.
Remember or come back to this when you read the description of Peterhof Palace tomorrow.
I forget exactly what
this room was used for originally but now it is used for special exhibitions.
I think I know what some may be wondering at this point, Yes, all the gold colour is real gold.
There are 396 paintings in this room all of different people.
The Throne Room.
The Throne room from the other end.
The rooms keep coming and coming.
I skipped a whole bunch of rooms to get to this one.
One of Rembrandt’s better known works, “A Portrait of a Man in Red”.
We are finally nearing the end it is just down these stairs to get out!
This is the final room. The rest of the way out is through rooms we have already seen.
After several hours at the Hermitage (it would take several days at least to see and absorb it all) we then walked a short distance to a sightseeing boat on the Neva River for an hour long sightseeing cruse. The weather was quite good apparently for this time of year here (sunny and a temperature between 50 and 60 degrees F) and it was a nice, if not real exciting cruise. Here are a few pictures from it.
Almost all these building make up the Hermitage Museum.
This place has a name
but I do not remember what but it is located where the Neva River
splits into Malaya Neva and the Bolshaya Neva Rivers.
This is the Peter and
Paul Fortress with the tall cathedral spire in the middle.
This was the first building to be erected in St. Petersburg in 1703.
It seems to me that the next thing was to get back on the bus and go to lunch. This still took a bit of time even though we did not need to cross the river. The restaurant was a high end local (obviously) place and again there was enough to eat but nothing special.
After something over an hour at lunch we continued on, with the next stop being Yusupov Palace. It is another of those lavish palaces built in 1760 and acquired by the Yusupovs in 1830 to house their collection of paintings amongst other things. This palace’s most likely claim to fame was being the place where Rasputin was murdered. Again pictures are most likely worth many thousands of words, especially with places like these, so here are some pictures of this.
More opulent rooms. I
hope you get the general idea from the Hermitage pictures
of what these places are like so I will only show several different ones here.
A somewhat different Grand Staircase.
This one is a bit
There is some distortion caused by the very wide angle lens I was using but it gives you the idea.
A private gold
What are all those people at the front taking pictures of?
This that is what!
I should not that many of these rooms are quite dark and look somewhat brighter in these pictures than when you are actually looking at them yourself. Long exposures were required and if someone moves they may be blurry.
That concludes the palace so on to the next and last stop of the day.
The final stop of this day was at the Peter and Paul Fortress and Cathedral which is located on Zayachy Island on the other side of the Neva River. So it took us another round about and somewhat lengthy trip to get across the river to it. This fortress was originally built to protect the city from those pesky Swedish again. They are nice people but they sure were a lot of trouble many years ago in this area. The fortress is described in one place I saw as St. Petersburg’s “Tower of London. Peter the Great is buried in the cathedral here. The cathedral’s steeple is one of the tallest structures in St. Petersburg. Here are a couple of more pictures.
A close up of the front of the Peter and Paul Cathedral.
A general view of the inside.
Peter the Great is buried here.
A view of the rather ornate alter screen.
We left here around 5:30 and headed back to the ship.
After having dinner on the ship the weather was good enough for me to use my balcony for a while. In this part of the world at this time of year the sun stays up for a very long time. On the two nights in St. Petersburg I do not think the sun actually set before 9:30 and it was light enough to see easily until sometime after 11:00. On the longest day of the year here the sun only sets for about two hours and it never gets even close to being completely dark. Here are a few pictures of the sunset this evening all taken from my balcony. Some of the pictures were after the sun set and show the coloured glow left behind.
The ship in this
picture was the ship that had just finished refueling the Queen Elizabeth.
The towers in the distance are the cooling towers of a power plant I think.
This picture was taken at 10:19 P.M.
Taken at 10:47 P.M. and the ship is a different one.
Taken at 10:57 P.M..
Thus ends the first day in St.Petersburg.
Happy Birthday to me,
Happy Birthday to me,
Happy Birthday dear Leslie,
Happy Birthday to me.
(and many morrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre!)
I even got a birthday card from Cunard wishing me the best while here on the Queen Elizabeth.
So now that I got the important stuff over with, the ship and I are still in St. Petersburg for day two which luckily is not quite as intense as day one.
Departure time was scheduled for 8:00 but everyone was on the bus by 7:45 so off we went, the enthusiastic bunch that we seemed to be. There was one interesting issue that occurred on this day to do with the passport checks. Part of the deal to get off the ship was that you needed your passport, which had been stamped the day before and a valid shore excursion ticket. For this excursion Cunard’s people had only printed yesterday’s date on the tickets so some of the early people to get off the ship were not being let through because the ticket said yesterdays date. Apparently this had all been arranged with the Russians but the info did not make to everyone who should have had it. I guess it took a bit of effort to resolve but by the time I went through there was no question asked. Apparently to prevent this from happening again Cunard is going to print both dates on the tickets for this excursion. I wonder why they did not do that in the first place?
May 9th is a national holiday in Russia. I believe that it was the day the German’s surrendered to the Russians in W.W.2. The Russian’s were getting a four day weekend. As a result of this the closed bridge in the centre of the city was no longer an issue due to the lack of traffic. Apparently most people here have houses in the country and go there on weekends and hollidays. Mind you there were sure enough people around later in the day even though the traffic was not too bad.
First stop for this day was at Peterhof Palace about 20 kilometers outside of the city on the other side of the city than we were so it took about an hour to get there. There was much less traffic than the day before.
Once there we looked around the upper gardens. We had to wait for it to open at 9:30 for another of those early guided tour only openings. There were the three other groups doing the same tour as us plus others from the ship doing a different excursion, two from Viking River Cruises, and another one (at least) from a German ship (I think it was) called the Dolphin.
Pictures of any kind are not allowed inside this palace. You can think the Hermitage or Yusupov palace only gaudier. There is much gold, silk and other stuff. It actually reminds of Schonbrun Palace in Vienna, Austria in a lot of ways. The big deal about this palace is the fountains in the gardens behind it. They have a big ceremony to turn them on each day at 11:00 but it tends to be a bit anticlimactic. The reason for this is that the fountains are gravity fed with no pumps behind them to force the water through the system so it seems to take a bit of time to fill up the many metres of couple of hundred year old pipes and get them going. Most people would expect a big deal but it is not. Once everything gets going it seems to be fairly impressive but maybe not as much as you might expect. Here are a few pictures but as noted above only of things outside of the palace.
This is the small Russian Orthodox Church on one end of the palace.
This palace was used
by the Germans during the siege of St Petersburg (Leningrad at that time)
during the Second World War. It was extensively damaged and since then has been
meticulously restored to its past glory since then.
The picture above shows how it looked after that initial restoration.
The way it looked as we headed for the entrance. I guess the whole thing will look like this once it is completed.
From the front yard we go to the back yard with the pictures that follow.
Here is the backyard of the palace from the palace balcony (a 3 image panorama).
This shows the
fountains of the Grand Cascade after they were turned on.
The water cascades down what look like steps on both sides and then into the centre set of steps.
All the water eventually runs down the canal shown in the top picture and into the Baltic Sea just beyond.
The water is not recycled.
This took until about 11:30 and then we headed to a much more modern restaurant than the one yesterday for lunch. The one yesterday had a lot of old style Russian atmosphere. This one was very modern and located in the main area where many people live. It caters to a much different clientele than the other one does.
After the restaurant, the next stop was The Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan. This massive place it not a church any more (except for one corner of it). I forget the story in its entirety but it somehow ended up being given to the city. The city has tried to give it to the Russian Orthodox church a number of times but the building is so large that they say can cannot afford to maintain it. As you will see in the pictures that follow I do not blame them for not wanting it. It is one huge place.
There are 168 of these solid granite colonnades on each of the four sides of the buiding.
A general view of the inside.
The icon screen or also may be icon stasis.
The final stop of this excursion was at another church building that was not a church for a long time. I think it is at least a part time one now. This place has been everything from a theatre to a grain storage warehouse and other odd things. At some point someone wanted to take it down so badly that they were going to dismantle it brick by brink, (or maybe that should be stone by stone). I think this is called the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood. I may have that name wrong but I am in the right general area. Here are a few pictures. Most of the decoration that you see are small mosaic tiles on the walls.
The outside of the church. It looks much more like a Russian Church than the other one does.
This is all done with mosaic pieces about a centimetre square.
Most of the ceiling.
The icon stasis as it is called in this church.
The weather this day had started out cloudy and there were a few drop of rain at Peterhof but it cleared up nicely later and became very nice.
The guide wanted to show us the main street of St. Petersburg so after leaving the church we drove down it. This is what we saw.
I thought all these people were here to celebrate my birthday. Nice thought but really they were gathering for the parade that goes with their Armed Forces Day or it may be Liberation Day at least here in St Petersburg. The parade is that one that we often saw on TV years ago with all the military men marching and all the fancy military hardware as well and in this one veterans as well. This may be similar to our Remembrance Day.
After this we headed back to the ship around 5:00 and the ship sailed just after 6:00 heading for Helsinki, Finland tomorrow.
I figured it would be safe to take a picture of where we had been docked after we left it so here that is taken with the small camera and is a two image panorama.
Thus we conclude St. Petersburg and on to Helsinki tomorrow!!!
The ship arrived in Helsinki just before 8:00. The arrival was so foggy that we could not even tell that the ship had docked. Later the Captain said that there was zero visibility when the ship docked.
The shore excursion here was called “Helsinki City Highlights” and was scheduled to depart at 9:30 and return around 12:30. The ship was scheduled to leave here at 4:00 due to a long approach required at Stockholm tomorrow.
Helsinki is not a big city. It is somewhat bigger than Tallinn, Estonia some 80 nautical miles across the Bay of Finland portion of the Baltic Sea from here. I saw some of the car ferries here that I saw in Tallinn several days ago.
When we left the pier where the ship was docked the guide started to point out a shipyard but then stopped herself when she looked out the window and could not see anything because of the fog.
The invisible shipyard.
A little farther along she pointed out some relatively new apartment buildings. She said that if we wanted an apartment there it would cost us 10,000 euros per square metre. A square meter is roughly 10x10 feet and the Euro is about 1.31 Canadian (as of this date). I will let you figure that one out.
We drove through a number of fairly narrow city streets with the first stop at the main city square. Here are some pictures. The big church is Lutheran. The guide said Finland is 67% Lutheran but that does not mean that 67% go to church. She also said that they get one percent of their salary deducted at source and given to the church each year.
The main Lutheran Church in Helsinki.
The main square from the church.
The rather bare interior of the church.
The next stop was at the cities Olympic Stadium which was originally built for the 1940 Olympic Games which for obvious reasons were not held but it was finally used for the Olympics in 1952.
The Olympic Stadium. Behind it are several other sports venues such as a swimming pool etc.
From there it was a short drive to the beautiful Sibelius Park to see the Stainless Steel Sibelius Monument. Sibelius was a Finnish composer who wrote many things but is likely best known for Finlandia which is a tribute to his home country. If you do not know it you would likely recognize it as something you have heard in the past but not knowing what it was.
This is a likeness of Sibelius.
This is the monument made out of stainless steel tubes of various diameters and lengths.
The tour guide thinks it looks like organ pipes.
We did some more driving around seeing different things with our final stop of the excursion being at the Rock Church. It is carved out of a rock outcropping and has 20 kilometres of copper wire wound in a circle to make the ceiling. Here are some pictures so you can see what I mean.
A two picture panoramic shot from the front of the church looking towards the back.
The view from the balcony at the back looking forward.
From here we went back through the city centre dropped a few people off who wanted to stay there for a few more hours and then headed back to the ship. We were back at the ship by 12:15.
One of the things that tours guides are always doing on these tours are counting heads. There can be big problems if a person gets lost on one of these. This guide, who was an older lady, and had been doing guiding for a long time told an interesting story about this issue, one time she was doing a tour and she got to the central square and one person disappeared. They waited as long as possible then continued on. The missing person was a woman’s husband and the woman was still on the tour. The tour concluded back at the cruise ship involved and this man was still missing and the ship finally sailed without him. About a month later the tour guide got a letter from the wife of the missing man explaining to her what had happened. Apparently the man left the tour and went to the nearby port. He bought a ticket for a ferry to Tallinn, Estonia just a short distance across the Bay of Finland as I noted above. He crossed over on the ferry and met his girlfriend who he had been secretly communicating with for some time and stayed there to live with her. I do not think I told this as well as the guide did but I thought it was interesting to relate it anyway.
The ship sailed at 4:00 in bright sunlight. The fog, that had caused problems earlier in the day, was gone and off we went making a U turn and sailing out the narrow harbour entrance. Actually it is not a U turn, it is a pivot where the ship turns in its own length using bow thrusters on the front and the rotatable azipods at the back. It really is quite interesting to watch this happen. It is amazing that a ship this size (just over 900 feet long) can do it at all. Almost all cruise ships can do this now.
Helsinki from the ship after it had turned around and on what is now a bright and sunny day.
Part of the reason for the early departure yesterday was related to the complicated and very lengthy approach to Stockholm. The approach is through what is called either the Swedish Archipelago or the Stockholm Archipelago. I have heard it called both but suspect that the first one is more accurate. There are apparently some 30,000 islands in this area and there is only one route through it for ships of this size and weight (actually draught or depth below the keel). Because of the limited speeds allowed through this area, (there are some rather sharp turns in a couple of spots and the channel is fairly narrow in places as well) the approach usually takes around five hours to go roughly 60 nautical miles. The inbound approach started at around 4:45 A.M. and finished just before our scheduled arrival time of 10:00. We actually arrived right on time!
These were taken
during the later portion of the transit through the archipelago.
The ship on the left is coming and we are following the one on the right.
Here we are passing another ship along with a number of the small islands.
After almost 5 hours of fancy driving we get one of our first views of Stockholm.
Today’s final shore excursion is called “Stockholm Highlights” which was scheduled to depart at 10:45 but departed slightly late due to congestion on the pier.
The first stop was at a view point overlooking the city.
The view from the viewpoint.
From there, there was more touring around.
This is the island
where Alfred Nobel (yes, that Nobel) had his factory for producing Nitroglycerin
which he invented.
It was moved from this island near the centre of Stockholm to an outlying area after it exploded in the early 1900’s killing a number of people.
The next stop was at the city hall of Stockholm. This is a rather impressive place where each year the Nobel Prize banquet is held.
The outside of the City Hall
This large hall is
where the Nobel Prize banquet is held each year.
The actual prize presentation is done in a concert all not too far away.
I do not remember the explanation of exactly what this room is used for (marriages is one thing I think) but it is quite impressive. Since I know you are wondering; yes it is real, but not pure, gold.
After about 45 minutes there we continued on our bus through the streets of Stockholm to what is known as the Vasa Museum. The Vasa was a very large warship (for the time) that was built here in the late 1600’s. It left on its maiden voyage only sailed a short distance and sank with a loss of life of what is thought to be about 30 people. They do not know for sure because they do not know how many people were on it when it sailed. It was going to pick up a military garrison of 450 people but never got there. Some items were recovered but the ship was then forgotten about until the early 1960’s when it was found again. It has been restored and is considered to be 95 percent original and is the only ship this anywhere near this old with this much of it still original. Here are a few pictures of the ship as it sits in its museum. It was quite dark in there so some of these pictures may not be the best.
A view from the front.
A view of the stern
or back. The large wood piece going down the centre at the bottom is the
This gives you some idea of how tall the ship was.
A high view from the front.
The front from way back.
Most of the rest from
a ways back.
The exposure was so long to get this that the red blur in the centre was someone walking by while the shutter was open. I was braced against a post to take this.
So why did it sink? Well, current thinking is that it was too tall for its width. Apparently a side gust of wind almost blew it over once before another, probably stronger one, came and actually did blow it over. This ship is very big for this time. Apparently the King of Sweden at that time wanted the biggest warship in the world, got it, but never was able to use it because of the design flaw. They had an inquiry and in the end they could find anyone to blame because everyone said they were just following the kings orders and the king could not be charged or blamed for anything back at that time. I found this most interesting.
After about an hour here we continued to our final stop in the old town and a brief walk to see it as we were running out of time.
A view of part of the old town.
We made it back to the ship with lots of time to spare. Departure was scheduled for 4:30 and actually happened at about 5:00 and we started the 5 hour sail back out to the Baltic Sea (going entirely the wrong direction to where the ship wanted to go but it was the only way out for us.
Here is a view as we
We were heading for that opening in the distance just left of centre.
This is an
interesting picture. The sun is quite low and on the other side of the ship.
The large shadow you can see here is the superstructure of the ship and was moving along as the ship did.
At approximately 10:00 the ship cleared the Archipelago and started heading southwest down the Baltic Sea towards the southern tip of Norway which we need to go around to get out of the Baltic.
Today was spent writing the text of this and buying a few souvenirs.
The Captain noted that the route we are taking has to be the long way around Denmark because the ship was fully fueled up in St Petersburg and was now too deep for the shortcut we took on the way down. I got the impression that he really would like to have gone that way but he just could not take the chance. For all of today we have been sailing southwesterly down the Baltic Sea heading for the previously mentioned southern tip of Denmark. He also said that we would be going just 15 nautical miles off the coast of Warnemunde, Germany where we got that big send off, just a week ago today.
Today was spent choosing and placing pictures for Update 3. Later in the day a fair bit of time was spent trying to send it due to its rather large size. I did finally manage to get them all sent and it will be interesting to see who, if anyone, actually received the attachment.
Today, so far anyway, has been completing this. Then there will be trying to send this update along to people. After that there is packing and then late this afternoon, trying to do an online check in for tomorrow’s flight home.
Tomorrow I need to be out of this stateroom by 8:15 am (that’s 3:15 am your time). They expect to have us off the ship at about 8:30 and then sometime not too long after that on the way to Heathrow Airport for an exciting time waiting for my 4:20 flight departure. How exciting!!!!!
May 14th continues on the top on the next page. Click here to to see the rest of May 14th.