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Trip Report Baltic Cruise on Azamara

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Suggestions:
First, I want to thank all those people who wrote fabulous trip reports as I printed the ones that I thought might help. And they did!
Stockholm:
Not til our last day did we learn you MUST check the decal on the side of the cabs so you know what you are being charged! THey vary dramatically. Some say 350 and other 450 and one we took (when we found out) 950! That is not dollars. It tells you what the fare will be based on so...if that confuses you, the average number should be 340-500. Nothing hirer or you are scammed as we were the last day!
Our Swedish friends in the USA said we had to go to 7-11 for licorice. We thought they were nuts but...it is a big thing there as well as all over the Baltic countries.
Be sure you go to the Vasa Museum and Nordic Museum.(use audio tour) Near each other. BE at all museums on this trip when they open if you can. CHeck guide books for time. SOmetimes they do open earlier in season.
Walk through Gamut Stan and try for a real Swedish meal at Fen SMa Huis. Made our reservation online ahead of time. Costly but worth the experience.
Canal boat tours are good too.
Our favorite was the hop on hop off bus tours.
VIsit the Nobel Museum and take the tour. (in Old Town)
If you go to a restaurant and it is chilly, they have blankets on the chairs. Our favorite lunch in Stockholm was at a Bagel place! Can you imagine. The best smoked salmon and they grill the bagel after it is made!!!!!!!!!!!
If time be sure to tour their City Hall. Not your usual one.
Fun touristy field trip, we went to he Ice Bar in the Ice Hotel. They give you coats, gloves etc. Two free drinks served in ice glasses. Bring your camera is all I can say! Make online reservations.

Helsinki:
Only there for a short day. Took hop on hop off bus again. Great. At Senate Square, across from it, there is a little cafe, Cafe Engel where they have delicious muffins. Quaint.
Did not take ship tour so walked around ourselves. Best lunch there by water. Outdoor market. Paella w salmon and salmon burgers. Busy and worth the hectic pace. Get the frozen custard too! Heard the ice bar place there was not good.

Good market for hand made gifts for the kids.

St. Petersburg:
Most unique place. Unlike previous stops. My husband and I took the private tour as recommended by friends and bloggers. You bypass the lines and see more as quicker pace, albeit 4x the price. SInce I do not plan to ever return it was worth it!
We used" I love ST. Pete" as our tour company. Olga was out guide. They were responsible and efficient. They memorize a script and share what they plan with you. Our guide was friendly and answered our questions. She did not , however, follow the itinerary exactly. We were lucky to have been there on a Sat. and Sun. so we had no traffic but if you are there a weekday be prepared to be in traffic for a long time.
Day one was Peterhof and Pushkin. BOth amazing. The evening was dinner at a Russian woman's home. If you want details write me as too long to write here. Invaluable. Once in a lifetime. Day two was Hermitage and Jewish area (small) I Suggest you make the guide follow the itinerary and eat somewhere. Some groups , the larger ones, ate at the Radisson Hotel . (YUCK) We ate nothing til Dinner at Russian woman's apt. Suggestion: use your cell phone to take pics as u walk around w guide so you are not obnoxious. The buildings from afar are huge and up close colorful but...falling apart!!!!!!! You need to capture those shots which I am sorry I failed to do.
Our guide took us to the Astoria Hotel when my husband asked about seeing it. Interior was European and on the wall near the elevator were gold plaques of famous guests, i.e. Madonna, Bill Clinton etc. When musical performers come to St. Pete they perform in the outdoor square by the tall column of Peter the Great.
I always read a novel about one of the stops on our trips. THis time it was The Bronze Horseman. I did not like the book per se, however, after seeing St Pete I had to re-read it on the ship, as we went to so many of the places mentioned in the book!

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