Traveling the Baltic Sea during “White Nights”

Traveling the Baltic Sea during “White Nights”

As a tourist, it was disconcerting to ply the waters of the Baltic Sea during White Nights (the time period around the summer solstice when nights are short and the skies are lit in a milky glow).

Not only were the days so long (giving us more time to see the sights) but the nights never really became dark.

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St. Petersburg: Day Two

St. Petersburg: Day Two

Anna and Slava were ready for us right on time at 8:30 am (and I wore pair of shoes number two) the next day. No rainfall but definitely dark clouds scuttling across the sky, pushed by a wind that grew steadily stronger throughout the morning.

The morning’s plans were to get to Catherine’s Palace (with its Amber Room). To get us out to Pushkin (sometimes called Tzar’s Village), Slava drove us first down Nevsky Prospekt, the oh-so-straight main boulevard in St. Petersburg. Along the way, Anna told us of an interesting tradition on this street; walking Nevsky Prospekt all night long during the summer’s White Nights period.

“White Nights” refers to the four or five weeks surrounding the summer solstice (June 21) when the nights are the very shortest and the days the very longest in these northern countries. But even the short “nights” aren’t like our summer nights back home: instead of inky-blue skies, the northern summer nights feature heavens that have a creamy, milky glow. And then the sun dawns again.

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St. Petersburg: Day One

St. Petersburg: Day One

Summary (both days): High temperatures of 58º F; threatening rain clouds both days. Breezy the first day, downright windy the second (reports of “hurricane-level” gusts outside the city; trees are blown over). Walked 3.65 miles (9,119 steps) first day, 3.97 miles (9,915 steps) the second. Private tour with Anastasia Travel, Anna was our guide, Slava our driver.

SPB_sm01Baltic_Mom0126Russia. Ooh, it sounds mysterious, quite alien and a little dangerous–especially for those “of a certain age” who lived in the USA and grew up in the midst of the Cold War. But here we were, heading out on the Star and slated for two full days in the city Peter the Great created as his portal to the west.

You need a visa (expensive and time-consuming to get) to travel “on your own” in Russia; Mom and I opted for a two-day tour with Anastasia Travel (anastasia.travel) and they took care of the visa thing for us. Whew!

[Look for my post specifically about the cost of the tour, advantages, etc. here:]

Our two days in St. Petersburg were a blur and overwhelming and a bit tiring–and amazing! We saw things I never thought I’d see (Mom and I stood right beside a DaVinci Madonna painting–and have the photo to prove it) and a culture that previously only existed for me in geography books in school. (read more)

A bit of an explanation…

A bit of an explanation…

Yep, I’ve been “gone” from posting for awhile. Thank you to all for your emailed concern and puzzlement.

Two reasons for this: (read more)

St. Petersburg: Tips for Choosing a Tour

St. Petersburg: Tips for Choosing a Tour

A two-day chunk out of a 15-day cruise deserves some special planning so me and my friend Google spent quite a bit of time together to (hopefully) make the visit to St. Petersburg (SPb) the best it could be.

CruiseCritic.com’s forums offer a special section for ports so you can imagine I hung out at the Baltic Forum area for weeks before this trip.

Here’s what I did not have any idea about as an ocean cruise newbie: It’s quite common for cruise passengers to book a “private” tour at various ports. These are not the ship-provided ones which the your cruise line advertises (and takes reservations for) ahead of time, but a tour operated by a firm or an individual. They can be “canned” excursions with pre-planned itineraries or specialty tours you choose based on your interests (heading to the Baltic, I didn’t really think I’d find any ukulele-centric tours so I didn’t even ask…Mom’s probably happy about that).

I learned that, when booking a private tour, you should consider a variety of things:

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Helsinki: Spring is here–including lilies of the valley

Helsinki: Spring is here–including lilies of the valley

Our day: Helsinki, Finland. High of 60° F; breezy and cool with occasional sprinkles (but not enough to want to carry a red Viking umbrella with me all around town). Helsinki City Tour (included). 9,990 steps, 4 miles. Tour was bus with photo stops at the Lutheran Cathedral, he Church in the Rock and the Sibelius memorial sculpture. Shuttle provided every 30 minutes between city and berth.

Finland looks like a beautiful country; I have a deck of playing cards with different Finnish sights on it so I should know. While we didn’t have oodles of port time here, it was enough to do some exploring as well as some first-of-the-trip shopping (the tweezers in Stockholm simply don’t count as recreational shopping).

Mom and I opted for the included Helsinki City Tour; a bus “panorama” with a bit of walking as well as the opportunity to leave the excursion at any time during the tour with the concomittant promise to take the shuttle back to the Star. This port is truly too far to walk to the most popular areas for exploration; a shuttle bus ran every 30 minutes from a spot a few blocks from the seafront outdoor market and back to the ship.

Our problem, though, was getting to the tour, not from it.
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Yay for me! I’ve now worn *every* pair of shoes I packed

Yay for me! I’ve now worn *every* pair of shoes I packed

I cringe when I arrive back home from a trip and unpack things I haven’t worn or used. I like to pack comfortably but light, not carrying more than I need (and it leaves more room for cute sweaters to buy in Norway, Estonia or wherever!).

That’s why I’m celebrating today.

I looked in the closet this morning and it was a celebration: I realized I’ve now worn every single pair of shoes I packed at least once. 

You may recall that I vacillated whether I should bring a pair of low-heeled sandals (I did) as well as my running shoes and exercise gear (I brought those, too).

And, thanks to a great “sea day” yesterday (read about it here soon, wink, wink), I can proudly state all shoes have now been worn and therefore I get an “A” for that packing category.

Packing update: I forgot to put my total luggage weight on the packing blog entry. Including my suitcase, total weight was 34.2 pounds when we left Los Angeles International Airport. I think I deserve another star.

Do this on the first or second day…

Do this on the first or second day…

Doing a Viking Ocean cruise?

Here are two things to do on your first or second days:

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Stockholm and cruising out of the archipelago

Stockholm and cruising out of the archipelago

We slept well in our nice little cabin on the Viking Star. And of course we ate well the next morning (food is definitely not a “complaint” item for most passengers on this new ship–meals are typically quite, quite good). Good thing I tackled the extra couple of pieces of bacon, too: I’m certain I needed the extra fat to fight the very brisk and chilling breeze which followed us all around Stockholm on our Stockholm City Tour (included at no charge). The temperature was 52, but the wind and damp definitely made it feel colder.

While we learned the official “edge” of the Baltic Sea here in Stockholm is at the bridge our room at the Hilton straddled the night before (the other side of the bridge is a “lake”), the cold breeze off this northern body of water definitely put a chill in the air–and made touring this city on foot a lot less than desireable.

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On board..and happy to be here!

On board..and happy to be here!

I’m smiling.

I know, you can’t tell, but I am.

Mom and I are on board the Star and I can tell you the long flight getting here was definitely worth it.

Not that the sea is sparkling (it’s not, it’s been raining since 10 am and skies are leaden), not that it’s warm (the wind is up and I have on my heaviest jacket) and not that I’m over the jet lag yet (I can tell you what Stockholm looks like at 4 am peeking outside our window at the Hilton). But none of that matters!

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It doesn’t take that long to get to Stockholm. Oops, I’m lying…

It doesn’t take that long to get to Stockholm. Oops, I’m lying…

As much as I like travel–and airports and flights and even rental car offices!–even I have to concede that a single flight of 11 hours and 25 minutes is a bit excessive. Add to that a 2+ hour layover in Munich and then a 2 hour flight to Stockholm and it’s downright ridiculous.Well, those are my thoughts as we’re tying up the first leg of today’s Lufthansa fun and about 30 minutes away from Munich. Folks on board are more active, they’ve raised the lights from the dim setting it’s been since after meal service what seems like ages ago–but was only really last evening–and there’s lots of venturing down the aisles and around to the stairway to the downstairs bathroom area.

For those familiar with my last year’s multi-hour flight to Europe, I’m batting a thousand: ‘wasn’t able to sleep this year, either. Gave up on the homeopathic remedy hyping a no-jet-lag result and instead opted this year for a more mainline approach: a dose of liquid NyQuil. Shut-eye was not a result.
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