Helsinki Cathedral...that is a pic of Alexander II in front of the cathedral...we road the shuttle into town, then got on a double decker bus for a two hour tour. We thoroughly enjoyed it...beautiful, friendly town...
Our Friday morning in St. Pete greeted us with liquid sunshine on the day we were to take a river cruise. A river cruise when you are on a cruise ship you ask? Yes, of all the choices offered in St. Pete, the Thursday panoramic tour and a local river tour on Friday were Dick’s picks...the Hermitage and palaces can be seen on the Internet, while seeing the sights on a small boat gives us more of a local flavor (his rationale), even in the rain. Our guide, Ms Lovedthemicrophonesky, gave us entirely too much history, and not enough details about what we were actually passing while on the tour bus. I know there are history buffs out there, but Americans aren’t good at remembering their own history, much less care about hearing about all the begats, dethroning, coups, etc., from another country! Just sayin’. It was still sprinkling, so we mostly sat inside, but Dick did go outside to take a few pics and videos. We’ll have to figure out how to post the videos...later! We stopped at Yusupob Palace (this guy was almost as rich as the Czar of his time) but after going inside and checking out how crowded it was, and ALL jackets/bags had to be checked at the cloakroom (I’m sorry, it should be our CHOICE to do this, not be FORCED to check stuff), well....we opted to go outside and look at the waterway and then sit on the not crowded bus...although we were joined by others of a like mind.
St. Petersburg is an interesting city (is that polite?), comprised of many islands, linked by dozens of bridges over the many canals. The port where we are docked is a very busy, industrial port, with dozens of cranes lining both sides of it. Dick’s observation was that ‘our’ side only loads 20' truck containers, while across the waterway, there are stacks of 40' truck containers waiting for loading. There are also many pallets of flat steel sitting outside, as well as huge rolls of steel that we’ve watched being loaded onto ships.
We have heard our two tour guides label St. Petersburg as "the Venice of the North," however we have visited the ‘real’ Venice many times and there is only a slight similarity between the two...they both have canals and bridges! Dick sez that Russia is not a third-world country; maybe just a second-world one! They certainly do not roll out the welcome mat for the cruise ships, but maybe they’ll eventually learn to do that to entice more tourists to come here. We heard a few folks complaining about getting through customs getting back onboard the previous evening, something that is totally out of control of the cruise ships. Our Friday experience was a quick in/out through customs. The slowdown occurred going through the X-ray machines onboard our ship. We did not pull out on time, however, it was only a relatively short trip to Helsinki, so that wasn’t a problem. The Jewel of the Seas pulled out right ahead of us. Hmmm, I wonder if we’ll be docked together at our next port? In watching CNN as we awaited departure, with the current aggression by Russia in Georgia, cruise ships may need to rethink visiting here. The travelingbells do not need to come back here, and that decision was made even before hearing this latest news. At least our departure was under sunny skies...and we begin moving our clocks back an hour tonight! And a very big HAPPY BIRTHDAY today to our park manager, Mary Lou! We couldn’t be traveling without her and Chuck! We’ll celebrate the occasion when we get back home....OK, now to go get cleaned up for 'formal night.'