A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: fernando65

Scandinavean Tour coming up

Flight from Sydney to Stockholm - Andrew Fernando

This is our first trip to Scandinavia. We will spend most of our time in Sweden and Norway, but briefly visit Russia ( St Petersburg ), Finland ( Helsinki and Rovaniemi ), Denmark (Copenhagen ). Strangely, we do not have any friends or relations living in any of these countries. We had to start from scratch and do a fair amount of reading and research to plan and organize our trip. Why did we think of going there in the first place? There were several reasons that made us decide on this trip.

First one was the time of the year. Summer time in Europe starts in June. It is logical to go there in Summer avoiding harsh Winter weather.
Then there is another point . We have been to Alaska. One day, we would go there again. If you are looking for a similar experience in Europe, then Norway and Sweden are the closest to Alaska in many ways.

We crossed the Arctic Circle when we went to Alaska. We would be doing the same thing in Rovaniemi in Finland and then in Norway. We would be crossing the Arctic Circle and driving to North Cape which is the Northern most point in Europe.

It is a pity that we will not be able to witness Aurora Borealis at this time of the year. We missed it in Alaska as well. But in summer we will be able to witness Midnight Sun.

We have seen numerous glaciers in Alaska, but we have been told that Fjords in Norway are the most beautiful in the world. We will not be able to see all the beautiful scenes the nature has to offer. We carefully drew up a travel path to be able to cover the most important tourist destinations .

We visited Santa's village while in Alaska. Well, they say, the real Santa lives in Finland somewhere in Rovaniemi. We are determined to have an audience with him. We would love to see his rein deer chariot and the live rein deer roaming in the parks. We were a bit taken aback when we found that in some restaurants they serve Rein deer meat dishes.

We knew that joining a guided tour is not going to work for us. We want to drive through national parks and stop in small towns when we want to.
Our first part of the trip is a cruise to St Petersberg. Initially we will spend two days in Stockholm, then fly to Helsinki. In Helsinki, we join a cruise to visit St Petersberg. It is a five day cruise with two nights in a hotel in St Petersburg. Then we fly back to Stockholm and rent a car at the Stockholm Arlanda airport for our driving tour.
We are keeping an open mind thinking that we will not have any communication problems when we are in Scandinavia. Our impression is that most people can speak English, at least the people we meet in the hotels. Then there is an issue of currency in these countries. Each country is different.
In Stockholm and other Swedish towns, we need to use SEK ( Swedish Krona ) . In Finland ( Helsinki and Rovaniemi ), we have to use Euros.
In St Petersberg, we will be using Rubles. In Norway, we have to use NOK ( Norvegean Krone ). I am thinking of using my Visa card whenever I can. Still for small transactions, I need money. I will be taking small amounts of different currencies to meet our daily requirements.

Another important factor is the weather. We know it is Summer, but we are travelling to places like North Cape which are cold through out the year. Again, rainy season in Summer can be cold. We need to take a mixture of clothes to suit both Summer and Winter.

I will be editing this introductory entry as we go along and find new things to report on. My impression about the countries may not be correct. Feel free to send your comments and suggestions. Are there places and attractions that we should not miss ?

Posted by fernando65 20:12 Archived in Sweden Comments (2)

Flight fro Sydney to Stockholm and our stay in Stockholm

June 23 and 24 - Andrew Fernando

Our first step in our trip was to fly from Sydney to Stockholm. We selected Qatar airways over Singapore Airlines and Emirates for our flight. It was not the cheapest option. We selected it because the total travel time was only 27 hours which was the lowest for this flight. Every other airline had very long waiting times in airports. The second important point was that Qatar Airlines has been voted as the best airline . We expected the service to be better than all the other airlines. One thing we failed to consider was the part where we had to fly to Adelaide in a domestic Qantas flight. Onward journey from Sydney was no hassle as we could check in our bags from Sydney to Stockholm directly. But on our way back, we will have to claim our bags in Adelaide and do custom clearance and then check the bags in again for the domestic flight. We tried to change the flight, but there was a big payment to change it. We decided to keep it unchanged.
The flight from Sydney to Adelaide was in a smaller plane. They assigned our seats in two different places. It was full and also there was hardly any leg space. We really did not mind as the flight was only 90 minutes.

Doha Airport

Doha Airport

The Qatar flight from Adelaide to Doha was in a Airbus 350. The flight took 14 hours, but it was comfortable. Service was excellent and the food selection was very good. I would rate Qatar airways as one of the best airlines. We had only two hours waiting time in Doha. Our plane landed in
Doha twenty minutes early and had to stop far away from the terminal. We were transported to the terminal in a bus. From Doha, we took the next Qatar flight in a new plane called Boeing 787-8 Dream liner. The flight was excellent, even better than the previous flight. Our problem started when we landed in Stockholm. Just after immigration, we heard an announcement asking the two of us to contact Qatar customer service desk. We were informed that one bag did not come with the flight. They have located it in Doha and it will be delivered to us the next day in our hotel. Luckily it was my bag, not Mala's bag. I had all my clothes in the bag, not even a change in my hand luggage. There was nothing we could do to fix things. We decided to go to our hotel and assess things.
The Arlanda international airport is about 40 kilometres from Stockholm city centre. There are several ways of travelling from the airport to the city centre. First one is to take the fast train known as Arlanda Express. Second one is to take a slow bus changing buses at an intermediate point. Third one is to take the airport coach called the Flygbussarna. This last option is the easiest and relatively cheap one. There are buses every fifteen minutes and they are waiting for you as soon as you come out of the terminal. There is a ticket machine near the but stop and you can buy tickets using your visa card. One ticket was 119 SEK. Our only problem was the language barrier. There was an option to change languages, but we did not take it and the kind gentleman who was behind us translated the instructions for us and helped us to get the two tickets from the machine. The bus trip was uneventful. There was nothing to see on the road other than a few commercial buildings. The bus stopped near the last destination which was the Central Station in Stockholm. Our hotel Radisson Blu Water Front hotel was only a two minute walk from the station.

Radisson Blu hotel room

Radisson Blu hotel room

We checked into our hotel and informed the reception about our lost baggage. Alexander, the person who was at the reception was very nice and tried to contact Qatar customer service immediately. Their service desk operates only from 9:00 am to 12 noon. He asked us to contact him in the morning to follow up with the airline customer service. In the mean time, I had to buy some clothes to manage till I get my bag.
The next day, Friday 24th June happened to be a public holiday in Stockholm called Mid Summer holiday. We were told that all the shops would be closed. We could not take a chance and wait for our bag to come. We decided to stop everything and do cloth shopping. The main street for shopping is called Drottingg and only a five minute walk from our hotel. This street was unusually crowded , full of shoppers and revelers. In a few places we found some playing music. There were a few beggars waiting on the way side, an unusual sight for us. Stockholm city centre area is a tourist paradise. Clothes and food are not cheap in Stockholm. We bought a few items just to manage for two days and had dinner in a Chinese restaurant called Holiday Restaurant before coming back to the hotel.
Why did we decide to have dinner in this restaurant. There was a man carrying a board standing on the road advertising the restaurant. It looked very familiar and we decided to walk in try the food. It was an "all you can eat" type restaurant with a huge variety of food,. It was not just Chinese food. They had a corner for Japanese food and also a cold salad section.
We got up next morning and had breakfast in our hotel restaurant. We went back to our hotel reception to check the status of our lost baggage. Alexander was there to help me again. He called Qatar customer service sharp at 9:00AM He was put on a queue and was the fourteenth person on the queue. He was holding the phone for forty minutes and moved to the seventh position. I would mark down Qatar customer service as one of the worst. There was probably one person handling the customer calls. Alexander in the mean time found another way to check the status of my baggage on line using our booking reference number. Our baggage was found in Doha. There was no update to say whether it was sent to Stockholm.

Vasa Museum from outside

Vasa Museum from outside

We decided to spend the day visiting tourist attractions without wasting our time . We walked to the tourist information centre which was in the Central station. While planning our trip to Stockholm, we purchased two Stockholm Passes on line. We received them in post. This pass allowed users free entry to all the attractions, unlimited free travel on Hop on Hop off bus and unlimited travel in boat rides for 72 hours. It also had discounts for many other things including bus travel to airport. Strangely, the Tourist Information Centre had a different card. The girl at the help desk counter pretended that she knew nothing about our card. When we explained that we bought this card on line, she changed her stand. Yes she knew about this card, but there is another party who sell these cards. They have their own network including their own green Hop on hop off buses and boats. Their office is on the other side of the road . We could check with the normal red Hop-on-hop-off buses whether they accept this card. We walked to the bus stand and found there are two different bus stops one for the green bus and another for the red bus. Our tickets were valid for the green buses. We found there were many other tourists who were like us and totally confused about these two different cards. If we We patiently waited while three or four red buses passed the bus stand and finally when our green bus came, it was full of passengers. We did not give up, we got in with the crowd . This was fun, just like a bus ride in Sri Lanka or India. Some people who could not get in from the entrance near the drivers seat, got in from the rear exit door while the driver was protesting. The driver closed the doors and we were on our way to see the great city of Stockholm. Obviously this was the first green bus that came after a long time and the next bus stop had even more people waiting to get in. The driver did not stop the bus. He announced and asked whether any one wanted to get down. If there was no one, he would not stop, because the bus was already full.

Salvaged Ship in Vasa Museum

Salvaged Ship in Vasa Museum

Mala in Vasa Museum

Mala in Vasa Museum

Emblem on the sunken ship

Emblem on the sunken ship

We finally got down from the bus when we came to Vasa Museum bus stop. Vasa museum was one place that we had to visit. It was about a sunken ship in the 17th century. The war ship was built with massive wooden beams to withstand enemy fire and had huge cannons installed on the ship to destroy enemy ships. However within twenty minutes of its maiden voyage, it capsized and sank to the bottom of the sea. It stayed at the bottom of the sea for more than three centuries and later salvaged in 1961. It was housed in the Vasa museum and has become a huge tourist attraction.

Royal guard at the palace

Royal guard at the palace

Prince Carl Phillip and Princess Sofia's Wedding photo

Prince Carl Phillip and Princess Sofia's Wedding photo

One of the palace halls

One of the palace halls

Our next destination was the royal palace. We knew we had to select and visit only two or three attractions . The royal palace is the official residence of the present king and the queen. Most of the monarchy's official receptions take place in this palace. It is open to the public . Any one could see it from outside and visit the gardens, but you have to purchase tickets to visit the internal chambers and rooms. Our Stockholm pass allowed us to visit the inner chambers of the palace. There was a restaurant in the palace premises. We had our lunch and a soft drink in that restaurant. The best part of the lunch was the pine apple quarter piece with the skin and top cooked or steamed to perfection.
We decided to take a boat ride which was the last thing for the day. When we come out of the palace and walk down to the main road, we could see the boat ramps. We got into a boat that accepted our card and enjoyed the full round around the city. We got down near the Royal palace and took the hop-on-hop-off bus back to our hotel.

Boat trip

Boat trip

The lost baggage was still not there. Alexander was there to help us again. He checked and found that our bag has been transferred to Stockholm from Doha and due to be delivered to our hotel. We decided to sit and relax in the hotel and have dinner in the hotel restaurant. We asked Alexander about local dishes which we could try in the restaurant. He recommended two things. One is a lamb dish and the other is a meat ball dish. Both are special local dishes.

Posted by fernando65 20:11 Comments (2)

Helsinki, the Capital of Finland

June 25,26 - Andrew Fernando

It was time for us to leave Stockholm. Our lost luggage was delivered to our hotel . We had dinner in the hotel restaurant and came back to our room to find the baggage in the room. It has got dirty and marked from outside, but nothing was lost. I felt happy to have my regular clothes back and Mala was happy to get her Sketchers shoes back. They are her walking shoes. We looked for Sketchers shoes in Stockholm. They are unknown in Stockholm.

Stockholm is a big city with many historical buildings. It is a relatively quiet city. We were expecting Stockholm to be very cold. Surprisingly, we experienced very good weather through out our stay, day time temperature going up to 24 °C. We are hoping that our next destination Helsinki will have similar weather conditions to Stockholm.
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We took the same express bus from the Central station to the airport. There was hardly any traffic on the road. One reason could be that it was the long week-end. We heard that driving in Stockholm is very easy and the drivers are very polite and patient. Road rage is something unheard of in Stockholm. We will find out when we get the vehicle after our cruise to St Petersburg.

We were flying to Helsinki to join the five day cruise to St Petersburg. The cruise starts from Helsinki and comes back to Helsinki. After the cruise , we would fly back to Stockholm Arlanda airport and collect our vehicle from the airport to start our driving tour. We had booked our air tickets on Finnair. It was a very short flight less than one hour. It was more like a domestic flight. There was no Immigration counter when we landed in Helsinki. We just collected our luggage and walked out of the " Nothing to Declare" exit. We only had to stay behind to collect the Helsinki cards from a customer Service counter, which we booked on line. The Helsinki card allows us to visit all the tourist attractions and also use all the public transport within city limits. That includes Hop-on-hop-off-bus and the tram. Finnair has a bus service to take passengers from the airport to the city. We have decided to avoid taking taxis and use public transport when we could. Helsinki card did not allow free bus travel from the airport to the city. We had to buy bus tickets, but we got a 30% discount for our Helsinki card.

Crown Plaza Reception in Helsinki

Crown Plaza Reception in Helsinki

Our hotel, Crown Plaza was not in the city centre. We arrived at the hotel after 8:00 PM and found that most restaurants in the area were already closed due to their Mid Summer holiday. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant. They had a limited menu, but the food was tasty. We asked the chef whether they had any local food dishes. They had grilled Salmon. But when I asked him whether it is wild Salmon or farmed Salmon, he was not sure. I tend to avoid farmed Salmon. So I ordered a grilled beef main dish .

Mala's Finnish Burger with a touch of Chilli and Chips

Mala's Finnish Burger with a touch of Chilli and Chips

Mala ordered a Finnish Burger with chips. The burger had a touch of chilli. My wife and I normally order different dishes and share them. That way we get the opportunity to taste two different main dishes. The food preparation was excellent and we enjoyed the food. When we finished dinner and went to bed, it was about 11:00 PM. Still there was still day light. We had to close the room curtains to be able to make the room dark enough to sleep.

The next day, June 26 was a Sunday, another public holiday. We had breakfast in the hotel and took a tram ride to the city centre. Helsinki city is fairly compact with all the attractions concentrated in a small area. Helsinki is the capital of Finland, but the total population in the city is less than 600,000. We decided to take a city tour which is the easiest way to see all the attractions when you have limited time. The city tour started at a point near the Esplanade park. The park itself is a major tourist attraction. It is just a long narrow park, but the locals and the tourists frequent this park and the adjoining coffee shops specially during week-ends and holidays. At one end of the narrow park is the Market square whilev the other end is closer to the Stockman department store.

Helsinki Cathedral

Helsinki Cathedral

Our city tour, took nearly two hours going through all the major tourist attractions. Helsinki Cathedral is one of the major tourist attractions in
Helsinki. This is a Lutheran Cathedral designed by Carl Ludvig Engel and built from 1830 to 1840.
The next main attraction Market Square was also designed by Engel. The Market Square is a very live place with fruit sellers and food stalls on all seven days of the week. After the bus tour we stopped at this place and bought fresh Blue berries and Cherries. We had lunch from one of the food stalls. They have tiny areas with small tables to sit and have your lunch. The sea food is mainly anchovy like small fried fish and Salmon. There were other selections, but we opted for Salmon and small fish.

Mala buying berries from a Market Square Stall

Mala buying berries from a Market Square Stall

During the bus tour, we stopped at the Rock Church which is an unusual building. It is a church built to look like a cave church. This has become one of the most visited building in Helsinki. We had fifteen minutes to look around and come back to the bus. The bus started sharp in fifteen minutes. We saw a few people who took a long time to come back, missing the bus.

Inside the Rock Church

Inside the Rock Church



Another important building in Helsinki is the Olympic building. There is a status of Paavo Nurmi nicknamed the Flying Fin. He was a middle distance runner and won nine gold medals and three silver medals during his Olympic career.

Helsinki Central Railway Station is another important building in Helsinki. The unique feature of this building is the two pair of statues on either side of the building carrying Spherical lamps.

Helsinki Central Railway Station with statues holding lamps

Helsinki Central Railway Station with statues holding lamps

After the bus tour, we took the free boat ride. Our Helsinki card allowed us to do a free boat ride. There are different boat rides and run by different groups. We had to ask people and find the right one which was free for the Helsinki card. The boat trip took us near some islands and beaches which are very popular in Helsinki. There were exclusive holiday houses owned by companies and rich individuals. These are mainly used in Summer holidays. In Winter, the temperature can go down to -25 C. The boats have to be preserved carefully to avoid snow damage.

We got out of the boat and walked along the Esplanade park up to the Stockman Department store. We spent about one hour in the department store and took a tram back to our hotel.

Tomorrow we would leave Helsinki to join the cruise.

Posted by fernando65 19:34 Comments (4)

Cruise to St Petersburg

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.

Our Cruise Liner Princess Maria

Our Cruise Liner Princess Maria



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.

Our Premium Room in the Cruise Liner

Our Premium Room in the Cruise Liner

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.

Starter plate at Dinner on the cruise ship - Copy

Starter plate at Dinner on the cruise ship - Copy

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.

Breakfast bar in the Cruise liner restaurant

Breakfast bar in the Cruise liner restaurant

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.

Peter and Paul Church

Peter and Paul Church

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.

Our Guide explaining the lineage of the Royal Family - Copy

Our Guide explaining the lineage of the Royal Family - Copy

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.

Royal Tombs inside the Peter and Paul Church

Royal Tombs inside the Peter and Paul Church

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.

The Church of the Spilled Blood - Copy

The Church of the Spilled Blood - Copy

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.

Bride and a Groom with the kids taking their wedding photos

Bride and a Groom with the kids taking their wedding photos

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.

Posted by fernando65 13:36 Comments (1)

Our second and third day in St Petersburg

June 29 and 30 - Andrew Fernando

Our hotel Sokos Hotel Vasilyevsky is a fairly good four star hotel in St Petersburg. Our tour package included free breakfast, but we had to pay and have our dinner in the hotel or an outside restaurant.
If you plan to visit St Petersburg, you must see the world famous ballet Swan Lake in the Mariinsky Theatre. It is not easy to buy tickets in Summer. The bast way is to plan your trip and buy tickets on line before coming to St Petertsburg.
A brief summary of the story of Swan Lake may be appropriate.
Price Siegfried turns 21 and his mother Queen calls him and asks him to select a suitable partner. He dances with many girls, but does not find love. He walks to the lake and see a group of Swans and specially one with A crown on the head. He immediately falls in love and goes to her. She tells him that she is really a princess named Odette, but a cruel sorcerer turned her into a Swan. Only a human prince who declares his love and proposes to her can turn her back into a princess. He is about to do that when the sorcerer comes and takes her away. The sorcerer is actually the queen’s mentor. He locks up the swan princess and change his daughter Odile to look exactly like the swan princess. Then he brings the daughter to see the queen. Prince, thinking it is the real swan princess, declares his love to her. The actual swan princess sees this. She runs away with her swan companions. Prince sees her running away and realises his mistake. He follows her and explains to her what happened. She forgives him. Then the sorcerer comes and demands that the prince should honour his word and marry his daughter. A dual starts and the prince and the swans win the battle. Prince proposes to the swan princess and she turns into the most beautiful princess.

Stage of the Theatre before the Ballet started

Stage of the Theatre before the Ballet started

We were not allowed to take photos during the performance. I took a photo of the theatre before the ballet started. Then after the final act, I took a photo when the cast and the princess remained on the stage to bid farewell to the audience.
The Ballet had five acts and it went on till about 10:45 PM. Our driver was waiting for us to take us back to the hotel. When we came back to the hotel, it was close to 11:00 PM.

Ballerina bidding farewell at the end of the ballet

Ballerina bidding farewell at the end of the ballet

People we met during our cruise:

Mala with Fiona and Olga inside the Hermitage Museum

Mala with Fiona and Olga inside the Hermitage Museum

1.Olga is our tour guide. She is the kind and polite but at the same time tough and authoritative person who fits the role of the tour guide. She was waiting for us when we came out of the cruise ship terminal in St Petersburg. She is a very knowledgeable person and stayed with us as our tour guide during the first two days. She spoke good English with a Russian accent and gave good descriptions of all the places we visited.
She looked very young . We did not ask how old she is. I would have thought she is still in her late twenties. But she told us that she has two daughters, one eight years old and the second one only two years. She was not able to come with us on the last day . She sent her colleague Erina to guide us on the last day.

Mala with Erina and Fiona near Peterhof Palace

Mala with Erina and Fiona near Peterhof Palace

2.Erina acted as out guide on the last day. She is the soft spoken, mild mannered, friendly girl. She told Mala that she is thirty two. Her husband is a high school teacher. On the last day she took us to visit Peter Hoff Palace and the Menshikov Palace. On our way to the palace, we asked her to tell us about the Russian history. She explained who Peter was and gave us a good description of the historical events that occurred up to the time of Catherine the Great.

Driver explaining sonmething to Mala

Driver explaining sonmething to Mala

3. Our tour driver was with us during the whole trip. I do not remember his name. He is the kind gentleman who would come and open the door for you and help you to get down from the vehicle. He finds a good parking spot and wait for us in the vehicle looking after our belongings. On the second day, we asked him to drop us in the city centre and told him that we will find our way back. He told us about pick pockets and also how to bargain with the taxi drivers if we decide to take a taxi back to the hotel.

Fiona having breakfast in the cruise ship restaurant

Fiona having breakfast in the cruise ship restaurant

4. We met Fiona Bell when we came out of the cruise liner. She is the friendly person who is easy to get on with. She is from Melbourne and similar to what we did, she has booked the same Visa Free cruise from Helsinki to St Petersburg and back. While talking to her, we found that she is a very seasoned traveler who has traveled more than us. She likes to travel with small groups of people. We exchanged contact details and got to know each other very well. She reminded us of Helen and Sue. We told her about them and how we traveled together to Sri Lanka, Spain and Portugal. Fiona can be a good travel companion in many ways. She likes to take part in group activities, at the same time she wants to do her own thing in her own way. When we told her that we are going to see Swan Lake, she wanted to buy tickets and come with us. But the tickets were sold out. She managed to get tickets for the show on the next day. Fiona works as a psychologist. On our way back on the cruise ship we met again and had dinner together.

The next day, June 29 happened to be a beautiful sunny day. We had our breakfast in the hotel and got ready to go out. Our tour guide has arranged to meet us at the hotel at 11:00AM. The plan was to take us to visit the Hermitage museum. Olga, our guide, had purchased our tickets and we entered the museum. The most important part of the visit for me was the paintings by world famous artists.

Rubens The Descent from the cross

Rubens The Descent from the cross

We saw some of the original paintings of Rubens, Da Vinci and Van DYCK. There was a sculpture made by Michael Angelo. We were not sure how they acquired these paintings. We saw Leonado Da Vinci’s Monalisa when we visited the Loure museum in Paris.
Today we saw some of his paintings in the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg. It is possible that he was commissioned by the king of Russia to do paintings for him.

The Throne used by the king in the palace

The Throne used by the king in the palace

After visiting the museum, we could be dropped at the hotel or we were free to do whatever we wanted to do. Fiona decided to stay back and spend more time in the museum and then find her way back to the hotel. We wanted to be dropped in a shopping area. The driver dropped us at a place where you find one of the biggest department stores. It was huge and we spent a couple of hours looking and buy a few items.
We had lunch in the Department store restaurant and then came out of the store to find our way back.

Long Escalator to St Petersburg Metro

Long Escalator to St Petersburg Metro

We decided to take the Metro instead of a taxi back to the hotel. We did not know how to purchase the right ticket valid for our short trip. We asked two girls ho were passing by. They advised us to go to a counter instead of trying the automatic machine. Buying the right ticket became a very simple affair. The Metro in St Petersburg runs about 100 metres below the ground level. I saw the longest escalators that I have ever seen in my life.

Mala with one of the performing ladies in the Folk Music performance

Mala with one of the performing ladies in the Folk Music performance

We were free in the evening. We decided to go for a Folk Music performance in the city. We booked the tickets through our hotel reception and the performance was to start at 7:00 PM. The theatre was only about one kilometre from our hotel and we decided to walk to the theatre. Each ticket was about 100 euros, but it was worth the money we spent. Something we would never get a chance to see, unless we visit St Petersburg again. The performance finished at 9:00 PM. After the show, we saw some of the ladies who performed on the stage, selling souvenirs. Mala decided to stay back and buy a scarf like thing. This was something they were wearing on the stage. They were made out of 100% Russian wool with hand stitched glittery ornaments. Mala took a photo with one of the performing artists. We walked back to the hotel and had dinner in the hotel restaurant.

June 30 was the last day in St Petersburg. We could stay in St Petersburg without a visa for a maximum of seventy two hours. Our tour plan was to check out of the hotel in the morning and meet the tour guide at 10:00 AM outside the hotel with our luggage. We would be take to the Peter Hoff Palace and then to Menshikov Museum and finally dropped at the ferry terminal. Olga was not available on that day and she sent her colleague Erina in her place. We missed Olga, but Erina was equally good and had a good knowledge of Russian history.

Mala and Andrew near a Russian Jasmine bush

Mala and Andrew near a Russian Jasmine bush

Peter Hoff Palace was built by Peter the Great. The opulent building, the park surrounding the building and the water springs show us the luxuries they royalty enjoyed during their time. On our way to the palace, Erina told us the story of Peter the Great, his wife and then the story of Catherine the great. We took pictures of the palace from outside. We were not allowed to take pictures, inside the palace. There were paintings of all the family members of the royal family. We spent nearly two hours inside the palace and then another one hour in the park and the restaurant where we had our lunch.

View from the Palace Yard

View from the Palace Yard

Our last place to visit, was the Menshikov Museum. This was the palace of the Governor General who served the king. Initially, he was very close to the king, but later he was treated as a traitor. He and his family were banished and all his possessions were taken back by the king.

We were dropped at the terminal around 4:00 PM and we boarded the cruise ship immediately. We got a premium room, but wanted a better room. We knew we could upgrade our room. We went to the counter and talked to the person at the counter and managed to upgrade our room to a Commodore room where we got a comfortable double bed. We were entitled to use the drinks in the room fridge.

We had dinner in one of the restaurants on the seventh floor. Fiona joined us for dinner. She got a room without a window and she also managed to upgrade her room to a cute room with a window facing the sea.
Mala met an Indian couple who have come to attend a conference in Helsinki. They are from Mumbai and have visited Australia many times. Mala met the wife when we were having breakfast in the hotel. She was looking for Chai Tea. She could not find any in the hotel restaurant. Later she got some English Breakfast tea packets. We met them again in the cruise ship. They would be in Helsinki for one week.
We thoroughly enjoyed our cruise to st Petersburg. Not many people know about this Visa Free five day cruise. It can be booked on line. I can recommend it as one of the best, hassle free and reliable cruises. If you cannot speak Russian language and unable to read Russian words, finding addresses and using public transport can become a nightmare. We of course paid for our service and got the best possible service. Check the following link for cruise details if you are planning to do a trip to St Petertsburg.

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