Monday, May 11, 2009

Last Three Days: St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Tallinn

Saturday May 9th
Helsinki Finland: What a cool little rock harbor we sail into. It seems like I could jump off the ship and land on a rocky shoreline. We are in some serious rain here. The bus takes us around Finland’s capitol city to see tributes to Mannerheim--the revolutionary spirit of the country, and Sibelius --the great composer and conductor. Another highlight is visiting the Rock Church Temppeliaukio-Built in the 1960’s; it is blasted right into the granite bedrock. It’s like a quarry with a copper domed ceiling and pews. Our drive to Porvoo was thru miles of countryside that looked just like home. Birch and Poplar dotted with little red and white cabins in the woods. Lunch is at an old turn of the century farm stead. Dairy and whiskey was their stock in trade. Full of antiques and good food. Then on to Porvoo a town about the size of Superior with a preserved 600 year old section. This area is full of cute shops and cafes. We are really having fun practicing our minimal Finnish language skills. They actually understood our babbling. There has been so much war here most of the buildings are only 100 years old. Our guide talked about how important education, the tango, sisu, and sauna are in the lives of all Finns. It was nice to visit where some of my blood came from.
Sunday May 10th
St Petersburg Russia: A crusty bunch of old army band musicians greeted us when we headed out to the bus and were they rockin. Talk about looks being deceiving. They were really groovin. We visit where the aristocracy of Russia lived for 300 years--and played. Like every country they had good and bad leaders. Peter the Great was one of the good ones. Visited his and his family’s burial crypt. Many colorful Orthodox churches and palaces are visited before lunch. The country is clean and quite western looking. Couple of odd things still like the raising of many bridges to prevent large movements of people after dark every day and drinking of shots of vodka for lunch. Raw salmon and caviar went down pretty well with the help of vodka and wine. Peter’s wife Catherine built a palace called the Hermitage She started collecting works of art from around the world to decorate it. Today the Hermitage houses the largest art collection in the world. She said the only people who were going to view the collection were the mice and her. Now millions of people a year get to see some of the most famous pieces of art ever. Saw the room where Nicholas and his family were abducted in 1917 and subsequently taken to Siberia and executed. It’s been said if one minute was spent looking at each piece in the collection it would take 7 years to see it all. The grumpy looking Russian women that we see and hear about were actually quite abundant. St Petersburg is built on many islands and is called the Venice of the North.
Monday May 11th
Tallinn Estonia: What a great story this little city and country is. Beat up and ruled by just about every county in northern Europe for a thousand years; a little luck, timing, and support from the western nations played parts in Estonia becoming independent in 1991. Gorbechov’s 12 day disappearance and Ireland’s quick acceptance of Estonia’s succeeding from the USSR 18 years ago started the unraveling. Heard the almost magic story of the hundreds of thousands of Estonians singing songs of the homeland that kept the spirit alive. The people have a great sense of humor and are catching on to capitalism quite nicely. A nicely preserved medieval part of the city from the 1300s boasts a walled fortress with churches and shops. A cool organ and singing program ringing thru the halls of a 700 year old church along with coffee and fresh baked pastries in an old inn capped off the day. This is definitely going to be a return stop for us along with Finland. Whooped it up a little with a party hosted by the captain for all the 117 dayer’s. Lots of hugs and pictures.
Tuesday May 12th
Going home-- Holy crap!

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