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June 1st Dover to Stockholm Diary Part III


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St. Petersburg – Day Three:

Still sunny…Elena is no worst for wear from our 8 am to 11:30 pm day yesterday and we are off and running for our final day. Today we are headed to the country side for a visit to Peterhof: The seaside palace of Peter the Great and supposedly his favorite residence. The Palace is even more remarkable than Catherine’s because of its famous gardens, fountains and seaside location. And it is every bit as incredible as advertised. The rooms and artwork rival the others we have seen in St Petersburg. But the grounds, fountains, statues and parks are unrivaled (as close to Versailles as I have ever seen). Cascading fountains with golden statues, bridges and a canal entrance to the sea, miles of landscaped paths, ridges, and lakes dotted with sculptures, fountains, playful gimmicks and marble columns. It is good to be the Tsar. The place is packed, bands are playing, water is splashing everywhere on bronze, gold and marble figures. A magical place certainly fit for a king. From the vistas along the ocean to the grand promenade leading back to the palace with its twin walkways, canal and bridges all leading to the cascading fountain below the main Palace on the ridge, it is a majestic place. Making it even more remarkable is the fact that it was completely destroyed in WWII and had to be rebuilt almost entirely. The quality and scope of the restoration is to be admired and applauded. After finding a quiet corner (well semi quiet) we take in the views and the people (today is a holiday and families from all over Russia have come to see Peterhof and have their pictures taken at the main cascading fountains). Sadly we walk up the ridge and head back to St Petersburg. We take a stroll down Nevsky Prospect the main shopping area (St Petersburg’s equivalent of Michigan Ave, Fifth Ave, or Rodeo Dr.). The street is teaming with people and stores and nightclubs. Many of the best hotels are along this stretch but the aforementioned streets are in no real danger of Nevsky Prospect. Elena takes us to one of her favorite everyday lunch cafeterias “My Mother in Laws Pancakes” Its blintzes, chicken Kiev, borsch, and boiled cranberry juice (like drinking cranberry syrup uggh). Back through a tangle of traffic to the Yussupov Palace, site of the assassination of Rasputin and home to one of the more famous noble families serving the Tsars for multiple generations. Amazing palace with opulent rooms (not quite up to the Tsars standards of course since that would be bad form). Incredible private theater with full stage, boxes, chandeliers and red velvet chairs. Even a royal box at the rear. Very impressive. Lots of carved wood, inlaid floors, ballrooms and anti chambers and in the basement a complete reenactment of the final scene of Rasputin with Yussupov and conspirators just prior to the poisoning, stabbing, drowning and shooting that was necessary to finally put Rasputin to death. He was one tough cookie. After the tour we went over to the Central St. Petersburg Synagogue. Because of the heroic withstanding of the siege of Leningrad in WWII this structure is one of the only synagogues to survive the war and remains the center of Jewish culture in Russia today. It is an interesting and large place that has been fully restored. But its getting late so it’s back to the ship and good byes to Sergey the driver and kisses to Elena. We exchange email addresses and thank them for putting up with us for the last three days. DenRus Tours had more than delivered for us including modifying our tour on the fly and even saving our seats on the canal boat until we arrived. No tour company ever treated us better. 4:30 pm back on board out on the verandah; resting. Watching the ship leave port and seeing the large cruise ships dock miles from town in the commercial cargo docks we realize how lucky and magical our stay had been.


Cool and overcast (this must not be St. Petersburg anymore). Off the ship at 9:00 am. Ten minute walk to the old town, through the ancient fortification walls and gate and into the cobblestone center of town. Took Rich Steves self guided tour which worked to perfection. Up the steep narrow streets to the first tier of the old town with its massive watch tower, Russia Tsar’s Palace and incredible vista of the original 15th century wall and towers of the city. Also on this high plateau is a large park and square housing a Russian orthodox church. It was Sunday and as we enter the church we were met with the most wonderful Russia choir music and service. We stood quietly in the rear of the church and felt like we had truly stepped back in time. Outside the church we continued on our trek back down into town passing the Lutheran Church and stopping at a number of vista points which showed most of the 26 remain gothic wall towers, the old town and the fortress by the sea. It felt like we had stepped into a fairy tale and we were quite enthralled. Wending our way back, we stopped at a small café which had been serving patrons for 100s of years at this crossroads. Eat some Estonian pastries and we were off again. Back now at the main square we walked through the outdoor stalls selling local handicrafts and down one of the main cobblestone streets with small boutiques featuring leather goods, knitted wear, wooden crafts and designer glass. At the bottom of the street just beyond the ancient city wall we found a large flower market (a riot of colors everywhere) and nestled into the wall were stalls selling clothing, sweaters and knitted hats. Did a little shopping and headed back to the center square for some lunch. Found a quaint outdoor café, Old Hansa, featuring period costumed wait staff, traditional soups and breads and of course Estonian Brew. They were also making and selling candied roasted almonds in cone shaped paper bags (had to have one). Rolled back down the street and over to the ship dock which was teeming with Finns off the ferries who had come to Tallinn for the shopping and the good times. Got on board; rested, beautified and napped. Watch the world go by as we left port and dined in the Grand dining room late. Last night for the Casino, Elizabeth finished on the upside. As for me…did you know that the odds in blackjack favor the house to the tune of 2.8 cent on the dollar. Ah well, in all fairness the dealers were friendly, the players were fun to talk with for the most part and we had enjoyed our card playing and kibitzing. Late to bed for our final adventures in Stockholm.


Sunny and cool. Up and out by 9:00 am. Took cab to Tourist information Center in downtown across from the Central Rail station. Purchased a Stockholm Card which provides entrance into the museums and royal palace, transportation on buses and trams and entrance to the Vassa, Nordic and Skansen museums in Dortjarden. Walked down a commercial street to old town (Gamal Stan). Visited the Royal Palace and toured some of its rooms. Much darker and less ornate than the Tsar but interesting none the less.
Followed Rich Steves walking tour from the Royal Palace and Square through the charming cobblestone streets leading to the main church and the original alleyways and buildings of Stockholm. Very interesting with small squares and fountains such as St George and the Dragon depicted in a bronze fountain with a small separate fountain for the maiden. Came to the end of the walking tour at the bridges intersection near the old harbor and walked along the harbor back to the Royal Palace. At the foot of the Palace is the Royal Armory. Took the audio tour through the armory featuring medieval armor of the Swedish Royalty and clothing and costumes from various periods. Unfortunately the carriage exhibit (rumored to be the real reason to visit the museum was closed for renovation). Back up to the Palace square, took a seat on the benches between the columns and waited 15 minutes for the changing of the guards. Perfect place to sit. People were crowding in around the square and when the band and soldiers marched into the square all we had to do was stand up on the benches and we enjoyed an unobstructed view of the show (thanks Mr. Steves). After the changing of the guard we walked back through the wonderful narrow cobblestone streets till we came upon a small pub which was filled with locals eating their lunch. Seem like a good place. Turnout to be great. Lunch was a prefixed meal which includes salad, bread, and a main course. We made our selections at the bar, were told to pick up our utensils, bread and water and find a place to sit. We did. The waitress brought us our lunch (gazpacho for Elizabeth and shrimp salad for me) and she brought us salad and dressing from the communal salad bowls. And surprise, surprise; Swedish beer. Food was great, the restaurant was in an old cellar restored for the pub and we felt like locals on a lunch break. After lunch we went down to the harbor and took a 15 minute ferry ride through the various islands that make up Stockholm to dortjarden island. This island is part of the city and used to be the royal hunting grounds. Today it houses a Tivoli Amusement Park, the Vassa Museum, the Nordic Museum and Skansen (the first of the European outdoor museums) which is a 150 acre combination of Williamsburg, the National Zoo and an Aquarium. From the ferry dock we walked to the Vassa. A massive modern structure houses a famous 16th century royal ship which sunk on its maiden voyage. The ship was resurrected from Stockholm’s harbor in the late 1990’s and was restored and housed this massive barn like structure. We watched a movie and then walk around the ship on three different viewing levels. Then it was across the street to the Nordic Museum in a ancient hanseatic structure. Here we viewed numerous exhibits showing life in Sweden from the earliest of record history to present day. Neat building, quick tour. We hopped on a bus which took us around the island, past the amusement park, and into the entrance for Skansen. This place needs more than a full day for itself. Over 150 structures depicting farm life, early Swedish towns, country Russian palaces and live costumed demonstrations of glass blowing, book binding, small farming and animal husbandry, baking, daily living and older manufacturing machinery. In addition, there is a large open air zoo (which we had to pass on) featuring creatures from the northern regions of Scandinavia as well as an aquarium. Combine with restaurants, music shows and kid’s amusements; it is a large site offering a great family experience. We just scratched the surface. By 5 pm we were exhausted and grabbed a cab back to the ship. Finished packing and got ready to face a travel day home. We had wine and cheese with some of our newfound friends on the veranda and had a final diner in the Grand dining room. After diner we strolled back to the cabin saying good byes to those we had sailed with and went to bed early. Placed our bags in the hall for pick up at 11 pm.

Homeward Bound:

5:45 am awakened…Dressed and out of our cabin by 6:30 am. Took the bus from Oceania to the airport; went through customs and grabbed quick breakfast. Waited forever till 11:15 SAS flight to Heathrow. Aforementioned friends tried wait listing on flight but no luck. They left at 3:15 (uggh). Landed at Heathrow, check in red carpet waiting room and waited for the 4:45 United flight to Chicago. Elizabeth check out the duty free shops…I think Heathrow must hold the record for number of shops. Then it was fly away home to Chicago. Tired…to be sure…but what a wonderful time we had. Thanks to Oceania and the various tour services for giving us a trip we will long remember. And if you read this entire declarative than you are one tough cookie.

Obligation completed.
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Stephen, thank you so much for taking the time to write such a detailed report on your trip. Not only did I read every word, but I am planning on taking your review with us on our cruise in July. I was impressed that you had the time to do so much in each port, with really so little time. You certainly made the most of it! My husband & I have been wondering what to do about currency, with so many ports and so many different currencies. What did you do?
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I used Travelex for walking around monies, bought Euro traveller checks through my bank and cashed them on board at the reception desk and used my credit cards for the rest. Acquired checks and cash prior to departure in Chicago where I live. Bruges, Amsterdam, Germany and Finland uses Euros, Denmark, Poland, Russia, Estonia and Sweden use their own monies. I was unable to get Estonia cash anywhere but they took Euros in many places.
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Wonderful postings, we are looking into this very same cruise, May 2005, and I have bookmarked your postings for future reference.

After reading and re-reading your review, did you use any more of Rick Steves ideas? We saw him and his film crew in Paris June 1997, filming his Paris show and was a wonderful resource he is.

Did you have a specific brew in any one port you favored?

Are ATMs redily available, and would you consider that a good source for local currancy??

Thanks again for you time spent furnishing future travelers with a wealth of information.

Happy Cruising,

Summit - Alaska Repo - 9-17-04
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Steves' scandanavia book was great for walking tours and prioritizing major sites in each city. Resturant suggestions were not as useful for some reason, we had trouble finding some of his recs. There were ATM's in most ports but since I had already brought cash I did not pay much attention. We ask the cafe wait staff to recommend the best local brew. We simply identified our choice for dark, light or heavy. Universally they made excellent selections and we never really checkout the specific names, sorry. Hope this helps

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