Tag Archives: Baltic Cruise

Baltic Cruise 2019: Russia, Day One

September 18, 2019

Our most popular tour–and the most comprehensive tour at the most competitive price on the Baltic–the 2-day Deluxe Tour in St. Petersburg includes two full days of visits to the most sought-after sites as well as traditional Russian lunches. An experience accompanied by an expert yet conducted through a personal presentation of the city. There are also opportunities for sightseeing and shopping. This tour is for those who want to make the most of their two days in St. Petersburg.

Guided Visits:

Hermitage Museum (Winter Palace) – Enjoy a guided tour of the museum’s most famous halls, including major highlights such as the Jordan Staircase, the Raphael Loggias, the Pavilion Hall with the famous Peacock clock, and many others, along with the world class collection of artworks. Our tour is designed to give you a thorough introduction to truly one of the greatest museums in the world.

Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood – The iconic Orthodox church where Alexander II was fatally wounded, the richly decorated exterior and the exquisite mosaic interior are a must-see for any visitor to St. Petersburg.

St. Isaac’s Cathedral – This is the largest cathedral in St. Petersburg, and the fourth largest in the world. This is an awe inspiring structure from outside and from inside.

Peter & Paul Fortress and Cathedral – First established in 1703, the original timber fortress was one of the first structures erected in the city. This area has since played an important role in the history of the city and the country, not only for its military significance but also as a political prison, as well as the burial site of the Russian Tzars.

Peterhof Fountain Park and Gardens – The summer residence of Peter the Great, this estate features meticulously maintained gardens and a collection of gold statued fountains that is unlike anywhere else in the world. The Grand Cascade (the park’s centrepiece) contains 64 fountains alone, with the Samson statue at its centre shooting a powerful jet 20 meters into the sky.

**Catherine’s Palace with Amber Room – This Rococo palace was once the summer residence of the Russian Tzars and represents the peak of imperial opulence. A visit wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Amber Room, which has been completed reconstructed in great detail, some say even more exquisitely than the original.

Yusupov Palace – Although not of royal lineage, the Yusupov family was exceptionally wealthy and had great influence in Russia. Their residence, seated on the bank of the Moyka River, showcases ornately designed rooms, stairwells and a stunning private theatre. A visit to the room where Rasputin was murdered is also included on the tour.

Find some more information about the City sightseeing tour.



8:00 (may vary depending on your ship arrival time) Meeting next to the ship

  • City Tour “The Historical Capital of Russia”
  • Hydrofoil ride to Peterhof
  • Peterhof Upper gardens and Lower Fountain Park Tour
  • Traditional Russian lunch
  • Journey to Tsars’ Village/ Pushkin
  • Catherine’s Palace Tour including the Amber Room
  • Merto Ride
  • St Isaac’s Cathedral
  • Church on Spilt Blood

18:30 Return to the ship or optional evening activities

Where we actually went:


In the morning, we could see the Viking Sky “parked” next to us at the Morskoy Port Terminal 1 (Морской Порт Терминал 1).  That’s the ship that was arriving as we were leaving Germany on September 15.

After breakfast, we tackled Russian passport control.  It wasn’t so bad but I’m glad that the visas were taken care for us by our tour company.

We met Natalia, who would be our guide for the next 2 days.  We were on a Mercedes 16-person bus which was really nice.  We had the same bus and driver for the entire trip.  Each seat had a water bottle provided and they gave us a new one the second day.  We were also provided with raincoats.  Mine is still in my backpack.

Our first stop was Quay with Sphinxes (Сфинксы) at Университетская наб. The two ancient sphinxes were brought from Egypt to Russia at the height of Egyptomania in 1832.

We also saw the Rostral Columns (Ростральные колонны). Natalia said that they lit the torches on the tops on major holidays. These two columns stand. on the Strelka (“spit”) of Vasilyevsky Island. For over two centuries, they have formed an integral part of the city’s central panorama over the River Neva.


We went across the Palace Bridge (Дворцовый мост) – actually, we went across is several times on this trip and got to Peter and Paul Cathedral (Петропавловский собор) and Peter and Paul Fortress (Петропавловская крепость).   Note that everyone is wearing jackets and hats!

The Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox cathedral located inside the Peter and Paul Fortress and is the first and oldest landmark in St. Petersburg.

It was built between 1712 and 1733 on Hare Island along the Neva River. Both the cathedral and the fortress were originally built under Peter the Great.

The cathedral’s bell tower is the world’s tallest Orthodox bell tower. Since the belfry is not standalone, but an integral part of the main building, the cathedral is sometimes considered the highest Orthodox Church in the world.

The cathedral houses the remains of almost all the Russian emperors and empresses from Peter the Great to Nicholas II and his family, who were finally laid to rest in July 1998. Among the emperors and empresses buried here was Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia for 34 years.

We stopped at a gift shop that also had free coffee/tea and restrooms.  HOORAY!  Then, our driver made a slick u-turn in traffic.

Next up was Peterhof Museum Reserve (Музей-заповедник «Петергоф»).  Peter the Great wasn’t shy naming things after himself

They had lots of interesting fountains.  This walkway periodically would shoot water and people would get wet!  There was also a bench which sprayed with water if the correct stones were stepped upon getting to it.


They were getting ready for some sort of big concert.  I have no idea what that big face was for.

I’m thinking that this is the name of the concert?


This fountain was pretty neat


After that, we had lunch at a fancy restaurant called Aleksandriya Peterhof.  We had a “typical” Russian lunch.  Maybe Peter the Great had this but I doubt that the comrades were so lucky.

We had chicken pate, borscht, sausage, grilled peppers, potatoes and several types of Ice cream.

Next up, The Catherine Palace (Екатерининский дворец).  We had to check our coats (free), and wear paper things on our.shoes.

Catherine Palace (also called Tsarskoye Selo or the Tsar’s Village) is located in the small town of Pushkin, about 17 miles south of St. Petersburg. The palace’s ornate, baroque design is breathtaking, and its  2427 feet length is massive. Like many St. Petersburg structures, the Catherine Palace is brightly painted. The exterior is a brilliant robin’s egg blue, trimmed in white and gilded with over 200 pounds of gold.

Peter the Great presented the palace’s estate to his wife Catherine in 1710, and it served as the imperial family’s summer residence until the time of the last Tsar in 1917.

One of the banquet halls

This is a fireplace

This is the outside

This is also the outside.

This is one of the many pianos


We went in the Amber Room (Янтарная комната) but weren’t allowed to take pictures.  King Frederick William of Prussia gave Peter the Great the original inlaid amber panels after Peter admired them in a room in Frederick’s palace. The 16-foot jigsaw-looking panels were constructed of over 100,000 perfectly fitted pieces of amber.

The Nazis dismantled the amber panels and shipped them from Russia to Germany during World War II, and they have never been found. Much mystery surrounds the fate of the amber room panels, and many Russians believe that they still exist somewhere in Germany.

Russian artists began recreating the amber panels using the old techniques in the early 1980’s, and the room was opened to the public in 2003.

Back to the ship, exhausted.  After a 9.5 hour day, walking 4.4 miles, I’m glad we opted not to go to the night-time entertainment.  There was a choice of a ballet or a folk show.  If we had gone, we would have had to have taken dressy clothes with us on the bus and changed in some restaurant bathroom.  I really didn’t care to see Swan Lake again, especially if there weren’t going to be any famous Russian dancers.

It was Asian night at the buffet onboard.  I usually had some sort of Asian food for dinner, anyway, so it wasn’t quite as special as it could have been.

And, we got lucky!  There was an excellent Folk show in the theater.  No changing required.


Slideshow of the “Live Photos”

Slideshow of the still photos


Tomorrow will be another long day in Russia.  We have to get through Immigration and meet our group by 7:45am


Baltic Cruise 2019: Estonia

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

We got a note that said they would paint our balcony while we’re out. But they didn’t.  They did take our little table, though.

Estonia the high was 52F

The Official Tour Description:

You will be met by your guide right at the cruise ship pier, and the bus transfer takes you to Upper Old Town. During this 15 minute drive you can admire beautiful parks surrounding Old Town and have a look to the 13th century medieval Toompea Castle standing high above the ground at Toompea hill.

Our walking tour starts from Upper Old Town. You will see the Estonian Parliament and make a visit to Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. You will stroll through the narrow cobble-stoned lanes to meet the oldest church in Tallinn – Dome Church (Virgin Mary Cathedral) and experience the magnificent panoramic views from Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform.

From Upper Old Town, you will descend to much livelier Lower Old Town. There you will see gothic style merchant houses and the Town Wall with its beautiful towers, St Nickolas Church and Holy Ghost Church. The tour continues to the historical city center – Town Hall Square where the 15th century Town Hall and one the oldest pharmacies in the world can be seen.

Walk through St Catherine’s Passage and admire the private studios of the local artists. The tour ends at the Viru Gate and after that, you will have 2 hours of free time to have lunch and to do some shopping. At the scheduled time, the bus will take you back from the city center to the port.


While eating breakfast, we saw a couple from the show last night, the ones from Boston.

Off the boat, met up with tour guide Maaruy (sp?).  She said we could call her Mary. She has her masters in language translation. We had really good earphones so we could hear her all over. She was very knowledgeable and had Scandinavian grandparents who told her all about the history of Estonia and the various countries that went to war to rule them.

From Wikipedia:

The territory of Estonia has been inhabited since at least 9,000 B.C. Ancient Estonians were some of the last European pagans to be Christianized, following the Livonian Crusade in the 13th century.

After centuries of successive rule by Germans, Danes, Swedes, Poles and Russians, a distinct Estonian national identity began to emerge in the 19th and early 20th centuries. This culminated in independence from Russia in 1920 after a brief War of Independence at the end of World War I. Initially democratic, subsequent to the Great Depression, Estonia was governed by authoritarian rule since 1934 during the Era of Silence.

During World War II (1939–1945), Estonia was repeatedly contested and occupied by the Soviet Union and Germany, ultimately being incorporated into the former. After the loss of its de facto independence, Estonia’s de jure state continuity was preserved by diplomatic representatives and the government-in-exile.

In 1987 the peaceful Singing Revolution began against Soviet rule, resulting in the restoration of de facto independence on 20 August 1991.

Estonia means Little Denmark

We went first to the Old town, which was on a hill, then the new town.  The streets were cobblestones and some that were just plain stones.

These were interesting in the Danish King’s Garden.  Mary said that at Halloween, they put scary eyes inside to freak out the kids.

The Danish King’s Garden is just next to Toompea, on the slope facing St. Nicholas Church. According to an old legend, this is the spot where a flag descended from the sky during Danish invasion; this flag turned the course of the battle in favor of King Valdemar II. Later, the flag became the national flag of Denmark.

I liked this bas-relief by Voldemar Panso on the wall of EAMT School of Performing Arts at Toom-Kooli 4, from summer 2011


We went to the Olde Hansa for pastries and coffee. 1 sweet with apple and 1 unidentified meat. It was medieval built, with no artificial lighting. Waiter pointy shoes. The bathroom had no running water but jugs of water to tilt and a little bowl of soap.

From their website (not made in medieval times!)

Here we live according to the old Hanseatic customs, which are expressed in every act and every little detail of the servants, the current dwellers of the house. Everything that you see, hear, taste or touch, has been made by the role models of 15th century, so the traveling visitor entering the house will find themselves in the wheel of time, led by ordinary servant folks as their guides to complete your medieval experience.

Here, at Olde Hansa restaurant we are dedicated to bring you all the wonders of medieval kitchen and spirits what drinkmasters have created.

The three floors of the Olde Hansa, with its 300 seats, are a dining spot worth discovering, any mural, furniture or other detail is related to an exciting story or purpose.

We stopped at a Remi grocery store so that Tom could get some aspirin. They didn’t have any so Tom got a hat and socks, instead.

I have not a clue what this was but I think it was in front of a restaurant.

The City gate walls as they looked in 2014


The oldest sections of Tallinn’s city wall were built in the 13th century. During the next three centuries, it became one of the largest and strongest defense systems in entire Northern Europe.

More than half of the magnificent defense system has been preserved as a city wall – this includes 1.85 km of the wall, 26 defense towers, 2 gates and fragments of two front gates.

The Patkuli viewing platform is a good place for examining the city wall, and a number of towers are open for visitors.

This is a part of the wall that still remains.  Behind it is a hotel.  Our guide said that the hotel’s every other floor contained KGB in the past.

From Wikipedia:

Kadriorg Palace is a Petrine Baroque palace built for Catherine I of Russia by Peter the Great in Tallinn, Estonia. Both the Estonian and the German name for the palace means “Catherine’s valley”. It was built after the Great Northern War for Nicola Michetti’s designs by Gaetano Chiaveri and Mikhail Zemtsov. The palace currently houses the Kadriorg Art Museum, a branch of the Art Museum of Estonia, displaying foreign art from the 16th to 20th centuries. The KUMU branch of the museum, showing Estonian art from the 18th century onwards is located nearby in the park

In the summer they hold concerts. The orchestra (or other performers, I think) is taken by boat to this lovely island bandstand.


Below, the ruins of the Pirita Convent look pretty good from this side. The history of the ruins rising above the banks of the Pirita River date back to 1407, when the largest nunnery in Old Livonia was founded here. The convent that got its name from St. Birgitta, who founded the mother convent in Sweden, survived in its original form until 1577, when the forces of Ivan the Terrible destroyed it.

At the end of the last century, several extensive excavation and conservation projects took place on the premises of the medieval convent.

The massive façade, walls, cellars and graveyard have survived until the present.

The beautiful ensemble of ruins, a popular concert venue in the summer, is managed by the sisters of the Bridgettine Order.

Seaside Sculpture on the promenade and view of the ferry port in the far distance

Next was Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. I only knew of Alexander Nevsky from the opera by Sergei Prokofiev

Our guide told us about all Nevsky’s wonderful works.  Luckily, there’s a video for that, too!

The cathedral is richly decorated and has eleven bells cast in Saint Petersburg, the largest of which weighs about 16 tons, more than the other ten combined. It has three altars, with the northern altar dedicated to Vladimir I and the southern to St. Sergius of Radonezh.

The base of the building is Finnish granite. In the five onion domes, gilded iron crosses are seen. Inside are three gilded, carved wooden iconostases, along with four icon boxes. The icons of the iconostasis and icon boxes were painted in St. Petersburg on copper and zinc plates. The windows are decorated with stained glass.

The Estonian Song Festival is one of the largest amateur choral events in the world, a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. It is held every five years in July on the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds simultaneously with the Estonian Dance Festival.

Gustav Ernesaks (1908-1993) was an Estonian composer and choir leader who wrote himself into the history pages with his songs. ‘Mu isamaa on minu arm’ became the unofficial anthem of Estonians during the Soviet era, and Ernesaks was one of the driving forces behind the national song festival – as well as its general manager.

This monument at Tallinn’s Song Festival Grounds was unveiled during the opening concert of the 24th National Song Festival on 3 July 2004.


Our guide’s father was part of this revolution. The Singing Revolution lasted over four years, with various protests and acts of defiance. In 1991, as Soviet tanks attempted to stop the progress towards independence, the Supreme Soviet of Estonia together with the Congress of Estonia proclaimed the restoration of the independent state of Estonia and repudiated Soviet legislation. People acted as human shields to protect radio and TV stations from the Soviet tanks. Through these actions, Estonia regained its independence without any bloodshed.

Independence was declared on the late evening of 20 August 1991, after an agreement between different political parties was reached. The next morning Soviet troops, according to Estonian TV, attempted to storm Tallinn TV Tower but were unsuccessful. The Communist hardliners’ coup attempt failed amidst mass pro-democracy demonstrations in Moscow led by Boris Yeltsin.

On 22 August 1991, Iceland became the first nation to recognize the newly restored independence of Estonia.

On the bus driving back to the ship, we also saw an old Soviet-era neighborhood

We walked 3.5 miles

At the terminal shops on way to ship we bought 2 T-shirts and warm mittens for me.

It was a Caribbean night at dinner but no roti or flying fish like we get in Barbados.  Oh, well!


I’m testing something with these slideshows.  The first was made on my computer and the images came out as stills.


This second one uses the same images but uses the “Live Photos” on the phone.  Thoughts about which is better?  I like the Live Photo version.

It seems like the computer version has way more pictures since it’s 4:55 and the Live Photo version is only 1:37.  Interesting.

The iMovie version (below) is 5:56 but no live videos, either.

Maybe for the future, I’ll make 2 videos.  A shorter one with Live Photos and a longer one with more picture stills.

My review from cruiseline.com:

I liked Tallinn.  Our guide (from SPB Tours) was extremely knowledgeable and showed us around the Old Town.  She had an excellent set of headphones/receivers so we could hear her from quite far away. We had 2 different pastries (apple and meat), along with coffee, tea, whatever in this medieval restaurant that had no artificial lighting.  In the restroom, the water was poured from a jug to wash hands.  The wait staff was dressed for the time period as well. Very fun.  The history of Estonia was very interesting.  We ended up walking 3.5 miles on this tour.

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