After moving to Europe in 2013, Daniel and I sat down to come up with a sort of "bucket list" of places we want to visit before our departure. Of course, with time, this list has gotten bigger and bigger. One place we both really wanted to visit was Russia. However, Russia is not an easy place to decide to just go and see. We decided the easiest way to see Northern Europe and Russia was with a cruise. Daniel and I have never been drawn to cruising. One aspect of travel we like is freedom. Cruising kind of restricts that freedom. Nevertheless, we booked a 7-day cruise with MSC Cruises to Copenhagen Denmark, Helsinki Finland, Tallinn Estonia, and Saint Petersburg, Russia. Daniel's parents Jim and Marylou decided this trip sounded interesting enough to join us!
Our first port of call was in Helsinki Finland. Finland is actually not very old. We have good friends here in Weilerbach that are actually Finnish, and she has told me, "The ice did not recede that long ago!" We had a relatively short time to spend in Helsinki so we quickly made the trek by foot into town. We visited a local market where we were able to experience local fish and potatoes. Daniel and the boys were able to get their hands on a few hunting knives as souvenirs with reindeer antler handles. Once we make our way back to the states these boys will have no problems finding a utensil to gut a deer!
Our second port of call was Saint Petersburg Russia. This was the defining moment for Daniel and I. We really could not wait to get a bird's eye view of this country. The only way to get off the boat into Saint Petersburg was with a tour group. Apparently getting a tourist visa for Russia is extremely difficult and time-consuming. We booked an all day tour around the city and into the Hermitage Art Museum. When getting off the boat and going through customs, the customs agent took quite some time looking at our passports. The agent started to ask questions, wondering where we were traveling from, what we do for a living.
We toured Peter and Paul Cathedral, built under Peter the Great. The cathedral houses almost all the remains of Russian emperors and empresses including Catherine the Great. In this same area was Fort Alexander, which we really wish we could have toured. However, the tour guide told us not anyone can just tour the fort as you must behave appropriately, meaning absolutely no children can visit.
We ate lunch in an old hotel. We were served a quiche dish, tomato soup, beef stroganoff, and a shot of vodka. Everything seemed very planned. We were surprised to see the lack of commercialism in the city. It was hard to tell what buildings were stores, as there really were no signs. We were hoping to have some time to walk the street. We were instructed we would stop at one gift shop to buy gifts. We were given no time to walk around or check out the city on our own.
We stopped for a quick stop at The Church of our Savior on the Spilled Blood, where Emperor Alexander the II was assassinated in 1881. Our last stop was at the Hermitage Museum. We actually were given a fairly thorough tour of this museum. As anyone can imagine, 2 and a half hours on an art museum tour would be rough on any adult, not to mention 4 children. However, I was amazed at how patient and well behaved the kids were through this part of the trip. They could not have been more patient!
I would hate to sound ungrateful for this opportunity to go into Russia, however, I cannot help but feel like Russia was somewhat "hidden" from us. It almost felt as though they were only letting us see the parts they were willing for us to see.
When leaving and going back through customs, we ran into a bit of a snag. To make a long story short, we were made to wait, were made to think we might possibly miss ship's movement, and were asked some invasive questions. Needless to say, I am glad to have had the opportunity to see Russia but will probably not being visiting again anytime soon!
The next port we hit was my personal favorite, Tallinn, Estonia. We had all day in this gorgeous city. Tallinn was founded in 1248, but has evidence of civilization over 5000 years old, making it the oldest Northern capital in Europe. With its gorgeous old town, Tallinn is known as the Silicon Valley of Europe. It has the highest number of startups per person and is where Skype was started.
Our last port was Copenhagen, Denmark. We had the opportunity to spend an entire day walking through the old fishing village and even witnessed the changing of the guard at the palace. We had one of the best meals we have ever had here in Denmark, which was of course fish! The meal was incredible.
On our way back home, we hit my most favorite city on the entire trip: Goslar Germany! Goslar is an old mining town dating back to the 10th century. Henry I, the Holy Roman Emperor was attracted to this city because of its silver. Goslar is home to a gorgeous imperial castle, built as a summer home for Henry III. His heart is buried in Goslar, while his body is in Speyer Cathedral. Goslar has an exceptionally large number of half-timbered houses: 1500 built from the 15th century on. The city is definitely a must-see.
All in all, we are glad to mark this trip off of our bucket list. Mission accomplished!
The family in Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki mit Oma
These boys crack me up.
Wins award for best hair on the trip
Cold Baltic water.
Blind man in Estonia playing interesting instrument. He was incredible!
Tallinn, Estonia city wall
Denmark. The steeple on that church are dragon's tails.
Spilled blood church. My sweet girl.
Peter and Paul Cathedral, Emperor and Empress tombs.
Tallinn, Estonia. Grandma & Pop
Estonia Old Town street
Love this little person.
Cracking jokes in Helsinki
A few of my traveling companions
Peter and Paul's Cathedral
Changing of the guard in Copenhagen
Peter and Paul Cathedral, Saint Petersburg
A few salty sailors learning how to salute from the Salt Dog himself.
Spilled Blood Church
Spilled Blood Church
Enjoying a brew in Copenhagen
Paddy Pumpkins in Copenhagen
Killer hair and eyes.
Family in Goslar
Family in Copenhagen
Daniel enjoying a brew in the streets of Goslar
Wrestling on the Imperial lawn
Me and my main squeeze, Copenhagen Denmark
Paddy and Daniel in Goslar
Personalities shining through
Cobblestone streets, half timbered homes of Goslar
Don't mess with these two tough guys from SV
Trampolines in Copenhagen.
Trampolines in Copenhagen