Charles Engelke's Blog

July 6, 2007

Tallinn, St. Petersburg, and Helsinki

Filed under: Vacation 2007 — Charles Engelke @ 12:22 pm

I haven’t had Internet connectivity for a few days, so this post catches up on three cities.


On Monday, we visited Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. It’s a fast-growing, very high-tech city, but still has a beautiful, well preserved old town:

Tallinn.JPG

We didn’t do much sightseeing in Tallinn, just walked through the old town once, and rode two of the “hop-on hop-off” buses around the larger city, listening to commentary on headphones. We might have visited a few museums, but all the ones we were interested in were closed on Mondays.

Tuesday, we started our three day St. Petersburg marathon. The city is visually stunning. As we came into our dock, one of the first things we saw was this church under renovation:

Church.JPG

Once we got off the ship, though, we were often paying more attention to not getting mowed down crossing the street than to some of the sights. There are crosswalks, which pedestrians must use, but drivers don’t have to stop for them. I suppose they get into at least a little trouble for each pedestrian they hit, but they drove as though they were really trying to get us. Two blocks from our ship, we saw this sign:

Crossing.JPG

Probably the most visually compelling sight inside the city is the Church of the Resurrection, also know as the Church on Spilled Blood. It was built at the site where Tsar Nicholas II was assassinated, and the exterior is just beautiful:

SpilledBlood.JPG

The interior isn’t as gaudy, but it’s even more impressive in its own way. All the walls and ceilings are covered with extremely detailed mosaics. There’s more than 7,000 square meters of them (which is about 70,000 square feet, or an acre and a half):

Mosaics.JPG

From the 1930s to the 1970s, the Soviet government used the church as a warehouse, and stored potatoes in it.

Outside the city, we visited Pavlovsk, Pushkin, and Peterhof. They’re all beautiful, but after a while, you get acclimated to them and only the really amazing things stand out. Like this chapel at Peterhof, which was the first thing we saw:

PeterhofChapel.JPG

That’s all gold leaf, not paint. The Tsars seemed to like that; here’s a ballroom, also at Peterhof:

PeterhofBallroom.JPG

A variety of royals used this palace over the years, including Catherine the Great. She spend hours each day writing letters in this study (at least, I think the guide said it was her):

CatherinesStudy.JPG

Peter the Great was the first to use any of this. After all, he’s the one who created St. Petersburg and made it the capital. But his tastes were a lot simpler than that of his successors. Here’s his study:

PetersStudy.JPG

All of the structures have been extensively restored, as they were bombed during the war, then burned when the Germans retreated. Some of them were even mined, so that people trying to put out the fires and save the buildings would be blown up. But the people of the area have a lot of pride in their history, and have reconstructed everything as accurately as possible, using contemporaneous descriptions and photographs. And much of the furnishings are original; people and soldiers carried them out on their backs to save them before the bombings.

The buildings at Peterhof are great, but I liked the grounds even better. The fountains have been restored, and run every day starting at 11:00 in the morning:

PeterhofFountains.JPG

These pictures show only a tiny fraction of what we saw. We had a local guide for half the time we were in St. Petersburg, and went out on our the rest of the time (which required us to get visas, which were a pain, but worth it). We walked all over the city, took the metro to half a dozen beautiful stations (which we weren’t allowed to photograph), and took local buses as well. We never got lost, but we did get to one point where it seemed impossible to go to our next planned destination. We finally gave up and walked about a mile to get a mini-bus back to our ship, and called it a day.

Today we were in Helsinki, and took it much easier. We’d seen much of Helsinki before, so there was only one “must visit” site for us here, the Sibelius monument:

Sibelius.JPG

We rode a tram around the city, visited the big open market, and then came back to the ship, where I’m writing this entry. We’ve got a free Wi-Fi signal reachable from our cabin, so I can post these pictures without going broke.

Tomorrow we’re at sea, then Gdynia and Gdansk, Copenhagen, and Rostock. I’ll probably be able to post some pictures from one of those ports.

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