June 27 to 30
We spent two nights in Helsinki. Our next step was to join the cruise from Helsinki to St Petersburg and back. Our cruise ship was called Princess Maria. We booked this five day cruise on line and already paid for it. We have been asked to come to the West Terminal in Helsinki and board the vessel between 3:00 and 4:30 PM. Our cruise would start at 6:00 pm.
We had time till 3:00 PM to come to the West Terminal. We decided to go to the city centre and spend a few hours before checking out of the hotel. That was not a good decision. We should have checked the weather forecast for the day. Taking a tram to the city was very easy. But as soon as we got to the city, it started raining. We spent about one hour moving from one shop to another, but the rain became heavier and did not allow us to move from one building to another. I was getting impatient just waiting in one place for the rain to stop and decided to walk in the rain and get the tram back to the hotel. When we came back to the hotel, we were fully soaked and clothes wet. We had enough time to have a hot bath and then iron our wet clothes before leaving the hotel.
We left our big bags in the hotel storage. We were coming back to the same hotel for one night before flying to Stockholm.
We took a taxi from the hotel to the West Terminal where the cruise ship was anchored. We produced our paper tickets at the counter and were given boarding passes for ship which also served as the key to our room in the ship. The cruise ship Princess Maria is a mid size vessel with only 9 floors. We booked a premium room with a window facing the sea.
There were three restaurants in the ship. Our tickets included free breakfast, but we had to buy our own dinner. We left our luggage in the room and came down to the bar area to have a snack and a coffee. We had a coffee and roamed around the cruise liner to get familiar with the set up. Later when we came down to have a drink, the bar was full and there were no empty seats.
We bought a beer and a cider from the duty free shop and had them in our room. We managed to get a booking in one of the restaurants for our dinner at 9:00 PM. After dinner there was live music and dancing, but the place was full. We waited for a while and went back to our room to relax.
The next morning we had early breakfast in one of the restaurants and got ready to disembark at 8:30 AM. The ship arrived at the terminal sharp at 8:30 AM, but we took more than 90 minutes to go through customs clearance and come out. There was a huge crowd waiting to get out and there were only 7 counters to handle them. There were no queues. All the people arrived in the hall together in one bunch and on their own, separated into seven counters.
We had the city tour before coming to the hotel. We were picked up at the airport and taken for the city tour directly. Olga, our Russian Tour guide could speak good English. The driver was not fluent at all, but very polite and good mannered. There was another lady Fiona Bell from Melbourne, Australia. She has booked this cruise on line, the same way we booked our cruise.She is traveling alone planning her holidays in different countries. She has gone to Sri Lanka with a tour group in 2013.
We passed a few land mark buildings on our way, but our first stop was Peter and Paul Cathedral.
We stopped the vehicle in a parking area and walked to the church. This cathedral is inside a fort and supposed to be the first major building built in St Petertsburg. It was never used for any defense. It served many purposes, but the main purpose was to use it as the burial place of the members of the royal family. This is the second tallest building in the city only second to the Television tower.
Olga, our guide, told us that the Russian Government, as a policy, does not allow buildings taller than this church. Olga purchased tickets for us to visit the church. The intricate decorations and the tombs of the royal family members inside the church were very impressive.
Then it started raining. We seemed to have brought it with us from Helsinki. It started as a drizzle and then slowly increased in intensity. We still managed to stop in some places and take photos. We saw the Royal palace, a green building, which was the summer residence of the Emperor. We also saw the Church of spilled blood from outside.
There were many other impressive buildings which we passed without stopping by. Driving in St Petersburg is not easy. The roads are always packed with vehicles creating traffic jams.
We were talking to Olga and telling her about our evening program. We have booked tickets for Swan Lake. We have also booked a vehicle to take us to the theatre and back. Olga checked with her office and confirmed our booking. A vehicle would come to our hotel at 6:30 PM to pick us up and take us to the theatre. That way, we wanted to avoid problems in getting taxis in the night.
We were dropped at the hotel around 2:00 PM. We did a quick change and went down to the hotel restaurant to have a quick lunch. We had little time, as lunch time was only till 3:00 PM. I managed to order a mixed salad made with rabbit meat and Mala ordered a Chicken Kiev.
The Ballet was to start at 7:30 PM. Our vehicle picked us up from the hotel at 6:30 PM . Traffic in St Petersburg is a major problem on week days. At one point, we were not moving at all and the pedestrians were walking past our vehicle. We took nearly 45 minutes to cover the short distance to the theatre.
I have watched Swan Lake on TV. The live performance was very different and something you should not miss if you visit St Petersburg.
Unfortunately, we were asked not to take photos during the performance. We took a few photos of the theatre, then at the end of the performance, we took a couple of photos when the actors came to the stage to acknowledge our applause.
When we came back to the hotel, it was past 11:00 PM and the hotel restaurant was closed. We had no place to have dinner. We walked out and and found a small kebab shop which was about to close. We took two take away kebabs and came back to our hotel. All in all, it was a good day, though rain spoilt the fun to some extent. Our guide told us that in St Petersburg, on average, you get only sixty five sunny days a year. The good news was that the next day was going to be a sunny day.