From Finland with Love

Trip Start Jul 06, 2011
Trip End Jul 28, 2011

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Flag of Finland  , Southern Finland,
Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hello from Helsinki, Finland. Our last few days have been spent visiting Estonia x 1 day and then 3 full days in St. Petersburg. Quite a range of sites and experiences.

St.Petersburg was a mixed experience for us. The weather turned quite hot and we were simply baking in most places. Air conditioning was limited as there are normally only 60 days of sunshine in this city and so they don't plan much for the heat. The city is a mixture of beautiful, older buildings –painted in sorbet colours - built on the Neva rivers and a series of canals. Many of these older buildings were built by the czars and the aristocracy during the 18th and 19th centuries to replicate a European city. There are some real similarities to Paris – which is what was intended by the original visionary – Peter the Great. Some of the highlights included visits to some spectacular Russian orthodox churches, some lovely palaces that are at least as opulent as Versailles, and the Hermitage – a museum built into the Winter Palace. The art collection is massive and we only skipped through it visiting some highlights. The floors are covered in intricate patterns created by wood inlay. There is gold leaf everywhere on the inside and outside of buildings. Our guide, Helen, was very knowledgeable and she was quite open when we asked her questions about the country. She did take us to a restaurant serving what she described as typical Russian food and Russian beer. Fortunately, we had attended the onboard talks about St. Petersburg and Russia and were somewhat in the know about the complex family tree of the Romanovs and other key players.

By way of contrast, much of the city is quite bleak and ugly. There is much evidence of Soviet style block cement apartment buildings in disrepair. Our experiences of the extensive Russian bureaucracy. Passport controls were continuous as we moved on and off the ship and there were line-up and officials everywhere. We were not permitted to stray from our group so simply strolling up and down some shopping streets or lounging in cafes and pubs did not happen in this location. Everything was very scripted.  The result was that we felt we got only a limited glimpse into Russia.  A final observation is that the people in this part of the world seem rather glum. Few people smiled at us and it became a bit of a joke to get the passport people to smile at us. Not much luck.

A highlight for me personally, besides the Hermitage, was the ballet that we attended. It was not one of the major Russian ballet companies and the theatre was a bit "tatty" but it was a lovely production of Cinderella. Overall, I was very glad to have seen this small sample of Russia. It was memorable in many ways. Definitely not a place I would return to soon but something to see if you have an opportunity.

Last night we sailed out of the port of St. Petersburg and back west through the Gulf of Finland to Helsinki. It was a warm night and we enjoyed a leisurely dinner on the back deck and watched the city recede as well as the very busy shipping lanes in an out of the area. At this latitude the sky stays bright until very, very late.  It was still quite bright at 1130pm.This is called the White Nights. I believe we are at the same latitude of the Yukon at least.

We have a more low-key day planned for Helsinki. The rain seems to have found us again. We see on the BBC world that there is quite a heat wave in eastern Ontario. Hope everyone is coping. As we have BBC World news onboard, we are also looking with horror at the events in Norway. We are not going to that port but will be in Stockholm as of tomorrow morning.

Life on board the ship continues to be very comfortable. We enjoy the finest food and drinks. The service is good and we have enjoyed some good entertainment and enrichment lectures. Unlike last summer, we have not participated in bingo or trivia. As pleasant as it is, I think we will be ready to disembark on Monday morning. No plans yet for Stockholm but we have a few days to enjoy that city before we wing our way back across 10 times zones.

That’s it for now. Off to see Helsinki. Love Heather (Mom)
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