Wednesday, August 23, 2017

St. Petersburg, Russia, Day 3, August 19, 2017

It is our third day in this amazing city.  Most of the other cruise lines stop for one to two days,  rarely three.  This was an advantage as you really need the time to see this city that we may not return to for a long time - if ever.  We organized a private car for our last day here.  It was $299.00 USD per car for a half day and well worth it.  In fact, when you compare our half day Nevsky Prospect $62.00 USD per person, where it was a transfer to this area - no tour - just drop off and pick up, we would have been better off with a private car  for the day, where we could have done that and more with a private guide.

The private car, a new black Mercedes sedan, which came with the necessary Russian visa, was waiting for us at the meeting place when we got off the ship.  

A violinist was always playing when we left the ship and one day he noticed our Canadian flag so every time he saw us he would play Oh Canada.   On the last day, he gave me a little Russian pin that I will treasure.  

Violeta and the driver Vladimir, escorted us around St. Petersburg to the sites we requested. 

We arrived at the Palace Square before any of the crowds arrived and I think Camera Guy would have spent the entire time there but we moved on to the Church on the Spilled Blood (our second time there:))

We stopped to take a closer look at the Horse Bridge.

We then went to the St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral where Violeta had her children baptized.  It was interesting to note that there were no pews or seating at all in the church.  Everyone stands during the entire service, no matter your age or health condition.

Being mindful of the time, Violetta wanted to be sure we saw the opening of the fountains at Peterhof Palace.  There were a gazillion people waiting to see this!

The gardens are quite beautiful and Violeta told us that she often came here for picnics and outings with her family as it was very pretty and the many fountains kept the children fascinated.

I would highly recommend the private car so if you are planning a visit to St. Petersburg, do your research on tours and make your choices from there.

More pics from our day...

Next stop, Tallinn, Estonia
Until then

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Hermitage - St. Petersburg, Russia, Day 2, August 18, 2017

Despite everything we had read about the Hermitage, we were still unprepared for the beauty and size of St. Petersburg's most  famous museum. 
I would highly recommend a morning group tour as groups are allowed early admission. In fact we were the first to enter the museum and began our Winter Palace tour with virtually no other groups among us. From what we heard this was not the norm.  The incredible sweeping luxurious staircase was without visitors when we arrived.

When we arrived

As we were leaving
The palace is designed to impress astonish and humble visitors ...and it sure does. It has gilded ceilings showing the Greek Gods relaxing in the clouds and the walls are covered in gold and intricate carvings with massive columns and sparkling chandeliers.  All you can say is WOW! 

There are only 15-20 paintings in existence from Leonardo da Vinci - there seems to be arguments on that about authentication of a few but  the Hermitage has two of them.

The loggia is a long narrow hallway more than 200 feet long and only 13 feet wide and it's decorated with colourful paintings.  It's a replica of one of the painter Raphael's crowning achievements of the Vatican loggia in Rome.   Catherine the great had this exact replica built of Raphael's famous hallway here. It's virtually identical to the original, though the paintings here are done with tempera on canvas. 

We were told that there were over 3 million exhibits and it would take about 12 years to see them all if you stood in front of each for one minute! 
Here are some pics from our tour. 

 In the afternoon, we took an excursion to the Nevsky Prospect which was really a transfer to this popular shopping area.  Those without a visa could walk freely around and we were left for the afternoon to wander as we pleased. 

Subway stop for Nevsky Prospect

We visited an amazing food emporium and wandered through the streets looking at palaces churches and enjoying more of the beauty of this fascinating city.
Here are some pics of our afternoon. 

Next - St. Petersburg - Day 3


Sunday, August 20, 2017

St. Petersburg, Russia, Day 1, August 17, 2017

First impression is that the city is beautiful. There are no high-rises and despite it's turbulent history,  St. Petersburg has managed to maintain and restore the beauty of its architecture. 
The main historical part of the city is quite compact.

Some important things you need to know about getting off the ship in St. Petersburg - If you plan on going off on your own you'll need to apply for a visa before travelling,  that could take some time and is not inexpensive, especially if you leave it to the last minute and have to have it expedited. Otherwise if you take any of the ships tours, they come with a visa so you don't have to worry about it.   Each time you leave the ship you'll need to show your passport (with the 2 stamps that you receive after your first time getting on and off the ship in St. Petersburg),  the tickets for your excursion and your sea pass to allow you back on the ship.  It's really pretty simple.

St. Petersburg is an important Russian port on the Baltic Sea and a major European cultural centre .  It is situated on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Finland and it's considered the most European of all the Russian cities. It's Russia's second largest after Moscow. It's built on a network of islands and features 65 rivers and canals that crisscross the city.  It really does remind one of Paris and at the same time because of the canals it closely resembles Venice or Amsterdam. 
Today we took the panoramic tour of St. Petersburg. Our first stop was church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. It's absolutely beautiful with its gold and ceramic onion domes- like a fairy tale.

You will see amber being sold everywhere and of course the very popular babushka nesting dolls. They vary in size and design. They start at a low price and can go up to thousands of dollars. They even have modern designs with Trump and Putin nesting in each other.

Another popular souvenir is the Russian hat. They come in all kinds of expensive furs as well as fake fur. 

Of course Fabergé is an important Jeweler of Russia and there are many displays where you can buy the Fabergé eggs or copies of them.

Next stop was Saint Isaac's cathedral, heavily damaged in World War II, and completely restored except some shell damage that was left in several of the columns as a reminder of the German invasion. 

Next stop - 2 giant pink rostral columns flanking the Strelka viewpoint, probably the best viewpoint in all of St. Petersburg. They were  inspired by similar towers built by Greeks and Romans  to celebrate naval victories. These columns are decorated with anchors and studded with the symbolic prows of ships defeated in battle. You can grab a coffee in this square too!

The AzAmazing evening is an included special excursion for all guests on board and was just that-AMAZING. We went to see The St. Petersburg Academic Philharmonia, the oldest Philharmonia in Russia-more than 200 years old,  at the DD Shostakovich.  It started with the red carpet when we entered and we were led upstairs to  enjoy a champagne reception before going in to the concert.

The added bonus of the evening was the drive back to the ship and seeing the palaces and monuments lit up at night… So romantic!

Stay tuned for Day 2 in St. Petersburg...


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Helsinki, Finland August 15, 2017

There are many advantages of cruising on a small ship and I will tell you about them when we have a day at sea, but one stands out today. We left the big ships behind when sailing into Helsinki and took a position at  the dock, right in the heart of Helsinki, at Market Square!
The big ferris wheel was right outside the ship and it even had one car that was a sauna - the Finns love their saunas! There are actually around 2.2 million saunas in this country, 1 for every 2.5 people. We were told that 99% of Finns take a sauna at least weekly and it is said that in this country, there are more business agreements made in saunas than in actual meetings. I just don't see that happening in Toronto...

Camera Guy and I  did not sign up for tours today but rather followed a walking
tour from the local tourist office.  Azamara invites local tourist offices onboard the ship in the morning when they arrive in  port to advise passengers on things to do,  so we left armed with our maps and some advice from Elliot's friend, Laureline,  who used to live here...but first Market Square for a teensy bit of shopping LOL.  There were some unique hats and gloves (yes I did buy both) and we picked up a viking Christmas decoration- how could we resist????

Our walk took us through the streets of this European capital with its quaint cobblestone streets and grand squares with beautiful buildings.

There is definitely not a shortage of coffee shops and Camera Guy and I stopped into the Cafe Engel for one...and it was deeelicious!
The Finns believe it or not are the biggest coffee drinkers in the world.
On average, per person, they consume 26.4 pounds of the coffee per year!

We also took a tram around the city - not any old tram but one that had a bar so we enjoyed a pint while looking at the sights:)

Here are some pics from our day.

The Three Blacksmiths

At the train station
Fun Facts

  • Finland has obtained a medal at every Olympic Games since 1908.
  • The country has National Sleepy Head day (Finnish: Unikeonpäivä), where the last person in a family to wake up has water thrown on them or is thrown into a lake by the rest of the family.
  • “The land of midnight sun” is another name for Finland because in the summer the sun shines all night and all day. Helsinki enjoys long days of almost 19 hours during summers. Conversely, during winters, the nights are longer with almost 18 hours of darkness. 
  • It hosts the Wife Carrying World Championships (in which male competitors race while each carrying a female teammate) every year.
  • Finland’s Rovaniemi (Lapland), the ”official hometown of Santa Claus,” is one of the main attractions for many people. Lapland is also one of the best places to view the breathtaking Northern Lights.
Next Stop St. Petersburg....
Until tomorrow


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...