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Trip Report rhkkmk's off to Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Tallinn via JFK

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While we usually report on our wanderings on the asia board this report must appear here by new fodors "rules"...

We are two retired 65 year olds, based outside Boston who are bent on travel. thus far this year we have visited: Florida (including a self drive south from boston), LA for the GTG, London for 4 days for a dual surprise birthday party, Argentina and Paraguay, Long Lake and Long Island Maine, plus NYC for a mini asian foodfest GTG. Upcoming are this trip to the Baltic area, followed by the Boston GTG in October, followed quickly by our first South Africa visit including Capetown and the Garden Route, plus Kreuger and Sabi Sands visits, with 5 or so days around London on the way home, including two mini GTG's.....this is then followed 7 days later by two weeks in Thailand in November with other fodorites and a mini GTG there with about 15 expected.

So you see this has been and continues to be a busy travel year ...

While St Petersburg has been on my wife's short list for years, we had not found it in the cards to visit until this spring when Finn Air announced a 25th anniversary promotion to celebrate their 25 years of flying to NYC. At $477. all in, the flight was tooooo good to pass up----JFK to Helsinki. what started out to be a bargain trip thus far has proven to be a bit costly, but with some FF help we are weathering the storm... I will report here the day to day costs and experiences as well as our experiences.... this is just my introduction---sorry its so long, but it helps if you understand a bit about us and our planning.

The trip lays out in the following manner: self drive to JFK for the 1740 flight. long term parking in the newish Smart Park lot near JFK (13 days for $172.19), way cheaper and more flexible than jet blue from boston to jfk at $78+ each per segment. they offer a 5 hour grace period before applying additional charges if you are late on return. (1-877-JFK-PARK). their e mail states the following: "for the 13 days your vehicle will be with us, we will care for it as if it were our own...." i like this bit of friendliness---is this NY???

Overnite flight to Helsinki, 2 nites at the Hilton Strand Hotel... train to St Petersburg (Sibelius train about 7 hours); Marriott Courtyard St Petersburg Vasilievsky (4 nites); lux bus to Tallinn, Estonia (7 hours), Baltic Imperial Hotel (3 nites); Tallink Baltic Princess ship to Helsinki (3 1/2 hours), Sheraton Kamp Hotel (2 nites); followed by a nite at the helsinki airport at the Holiday Inn...

Day flight to JFK, followed by dinner in Queens at SRI (best thai food) with another Fodorite, overnite at the Greenwich, CT Hyatt and self drive back to Boston...

Advance planning: the hotels were quite easy to sort out.....as we are used to asian prices we were quite shocked at the northern european prices we found, but i worked around them partially.... the worst prices are in st pete where hotels and guides are completely outrageous. so i worked on that first.....i found that marriott opened a courtyard there not too long ago that seems to have a decent location right on the water and not that far from the main attractions. i am able to use FF to pay for that and they even have a reduced points cost at the moment. how to get around, now that is another problem.....just last week my wife found a name and e mail address on a TA report of a taxi driver with good english. she contacted the FLA person who wrote the review and got great reviews.... 12 euros per hour including car expense. this is a fraction of what others we have contacted intended to charge. we did not want a detailed licensed guide, so Alex will work perfectly for us......we contacted him and he will be meeting us at the train station when we arrive. we will use him several days during our visit....his name is: Alex Lyubimov (Tel: 8-921-945-4126)...E-mail: alex-lyubim@mail.ru he drives a newish 4 door lux sedan with a/c... with this now secure, we felt we were all set for st pete. we then bought our tickets for the Hermitage Museum on line (through a CA agency interestingly enough)---1 day for two $35.90. we will use Alex to go outside town for some other visits, but will not buy these tickets in advance. he will also do an introductory tour for us after our arrival and hotel check in.

Helsinki hotels were easier, but were showing up as very costly......i found an agency offering the Hilton for just over $100 per nite including breakfast so i pre paid that... i later learned the agency is in Turkey----maybe we have a res, maybe not??? then i found i could do cash and points for the ultra expensive and lux Kamp hotel.... 4800 pts plus $90 per nite through starwoods. the airport hotel then cleans out my points for holdiay inns... 15000.

Tallinn is a place we wanted to be situated in the old town. i found the imperial hotel, part of a small chain (baltic hotels) and found they had a seniors rate of 80 Euro per nite (50% off reg. price including breakfast, tax, etc.). it is in the old town, in fact one of the old city walls runs right through the hotel. information on estonia is not all that available but i pieced together info found on the internet.

i finished up with the greenwich hyatt at a AAA rate of $127 including breakfast. i had decided i did not want to make the 3-4 hour drive home after the flight from europe (arriving at about 4PM) so a stop in CT seemed a good idea. plus i needed a stay at hyatt for the 2500 bonus point promo going on until mid-september. this then allowed us to meet up with tengombre from nyc for another fantastic meal at SRI in Queens.

so here you have it the outline of the trip and some of the costs and advanced planning. we look forward to this trip which commences next monday, Aug 24.

i plan to add info from time to time as we travel so keep a watch out if you are interested.

come to the boston GTG on october 10, 2009 to hear more in person info.

bob and karen

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