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

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

Old Aug 28th, 2009, 09:21 AM
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joyce the bus is not till 3 days from now..
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Old Aug 28th, 2009, 09:23 AM
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in general prices are outrageous...today a taxi driver ripped me off for $30.

more report tomorrow...

hermitage is all it is supposed to be and more
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Old Aug 28th, 2009, 01:09 PM
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your report is again spendid! but at this time any true massachusettsite would have blown off the remainder of your trip and returned to boston to mourn EMK. even kerry shuffled in with his cane and Mamma T. was resplendant in her lane bryant designer black sack. unending hail mary's from you!
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Old Aug 28th, 2009, 01:38 PM
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While we all mourn the passing of EMK, somehow I don't think bob would fit in with that bunch...
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Old Aug 28th, 2009, 06:48 PM
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Bob - Loving your report so far! When you're back in Helsinki and looking for a pizza place, try Iguana - it's across the street from Stockman's.

The Hermitage will overwhelm you -

ENJOY!
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Old Aug 29th, 2009, 10:43 AM
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thanks deb....will try... a pizza should not be more than $100.
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Old Aug 29th, 2009, 10:45 AM
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here is the next two days,,,,


Friday----#1 top day for Karen


Slept well for the first time---we both took an aide..

Downstairs for the hotel breakfast buffet---700 rp ($23 each)…worth about $12…

Taxi to Hermitage…For those not knowing it, it’s the former home of the Tsars in SP.. It’s a massive place and a world class museum… It is the sole reason why some come to SP…

We bought our entrance tickets on line from home…about $36 for the two of us…. This is an open ticket in that you need not use it on a specific day but, YOU DO NEED TO BRING AN ID FOR THE PERSON WHOSE NAME IS ON THE TICKET… The reason you would want to do this is that it essentially allows you to avoid lines…www.shop.hermitagemuseum.org

Here is what you do: buy on line and you receive documents a few days later…on the day you want to visit go to the museum….enter through the central door…this puts you into an inner courtyard…proceed forward and you will see a long line---Don’t panic….go to the left of the entrance to the EXIT ramp…show your papers to the guard…he will let you in… proceed inside…go past the first ticket window and into the central hall and turn right….in front of a huge green urn you will find another desk, they will help you and also get you any special exhibit tickets you may want, i.e. diamond room and gold room (300 rp each room per person). YOU’RE IN WITH MINIMUM EFFORT!!!

Special tours above: we took both…. Each is an hour long and in “English”… I personally had difficulty hearing both guides and one guide’s English was very difficult to understand… I would only consider taking the diamond tour again, but would not rush to take either….. groups were only 15…
The collections were neither what we expected… The gold room was mostly a collection of ancient gold items---few if any were Russian… same for the diamond room….most things seemed to have been made in Germany….There were a few Russian things, but not that many---NO CROWN JEWELS---THEY ARE IN MOSCOW…. Limited Faberge…
So if you took these tours you (2 of you ) have spent about $75 to visit this museum…
Personally I would spend all my time seeing the main exhibits and rooms only…

We spent 5 hours there and were content with what we saw….could have spent perhaps one more hour but did not…left the museum at 4PM… The palace opens about 10:30..

We walked around and observed so many wonderful buildings….one minute you are in venice, another minute italy, another germany, another paris, architecturally…

We headed for the most famous church….church of the spilled blood…its amazing…we did not go in just marveled at the exterior… We then relaxed for a while in an adjacent park…. Make sure you walk around in back of the church as it is even more beautiful….so is the whole area back there… a renovated area lining a lovely canal…a walking street is over the other side of the canal plus one block…

We ate there in an outside raised tented room of mama roma….a chain place one step below pizzeria uno…. It was ok….the waitress by mistake tripped and threw a whole glass of beer at Karen. She apologized but that was all. The manager was standing there and said nothing….they did not charge us for that beer…

We walked along Nevskiy Prospekt, the main street of SP, for a ways eventually getting back to the hermitage where there were two cabs, so we took one…. I asked him how much and he said no problem, its all on the meter….YEA THE RIGGED METER…. His charge was 924 rp (over $30)….the exact same trip we had taken that AM for 300 rp, no meter….RIP OFF STUPID….

Thus ends one of our most important travel days…

Tomorrow, Alex will come for us at 9AM and we head to Catherine’s Palace, outside the city…



Saturday


We had some pastry in the room along with some juice and coffee…..

Alex was downstairs when we went down at 9. So we were off to Puskin, the suburban town where Catherine’s Palace is located…Note: individuals who go here can only enter from 12-2 and 4-5….. For this you queue up at the back of the palace and wait to be let in…Often only 200 tickets per day are given out…. All others entering are with tour groups…. This is where someone like Alex makes his money… He knows who to contact by telephone to get you in out front without being in a group… So he paid for the tickets, about 740 rp ($ 23)…. I must remember to pay him for that tomorrow.

Speaking of alex, he has been doing tour related activities for 25 years… He is very family orientated and he tells you lots of stories about his family which helps make sense of the whole soviet era and then the beginnings of the republic era and today. Again, his English is excellent… He has a number of people who work for him and 7 vehicles, so he has his own small company… He prefers to do small groups like us… WE LOVE HIM!!!

So after a nice ride of perhaps 40 minutes we arrive at Puskin and the gates to the palace…Along the way we saw a huge Stalin era building which he had built trying to move people away from the center city and create a new “city”.. We also saw a WWII memorial to the siege of St Petersburg in which 1 million people died over 900 days…

The Palace was very poorly treated during the war and major reconstructions were begun in the 1960’s. They continue today. Alex escorted us inside and left us at the ticket gate. We walked miles it seemed within the palace… The rooms are very elaborate and some are very large…They are well furnished… The tour groups are a pain, but you learn how to get around them… Karen’s main reason for visiting was to view the Amber Room, where the walls are lined with pieces of amber and much of the decoration is amber…. It was quite amazing… No pics are allowed in that room, but the shutter on my camera would not shut off and I have the only pictures ever taken in that room… See my pics… I may go to jail… The gardens are vast but we only walked briefly within them… We met alex back at the car and we were off for lunch.

Alex selected a traditional Russian restaurant for lunch-- Podborye, in Pavlovsk, which was not far from the palace….On the way we passed the first railroad station in Russia which was opened by a concert by J. Strauss…

The restaurant was totally made of wooden logs and wood decoration… It is very attractive. Outside there is a winter ice slide which kids can enjoy.. We had our first borsch which is a delicious soup made from beets with meat and some veggies. Into it you put a couple of spoonfuls of sour cream.. We also had a variety of piroshki’s which are a sort of warm turnover (sandwich)….We had cabbage, fish, mushroom and potato.. These were washed down with Russian beer… 925 rp…

From there we headed to Pavlovsk Palace, the palace of the son of Catherine the Great, later Tsar Paul. The semi circular building has been partially restored but more is being done… The rooms are again elaborate and many have a military theme… 500 rp each plus 200 rp for cameras.

Btw, most all of the places allow cameras without flash, with limited exceptions like the diamond room and the amber room…There is usually a fee, often 200 rp.

We were quite tired at this point so headed back toward the city. Along the way we stopped at a “government” shop to look at amber. The shop was very nice, but I doubt it has anything to do with the government… The man who helped us was Egyptian…Karen did buy a necklace, and a large amber piece set in sterling to be worn on a chain necklace.. discount for cash…

Following this we returned to the hotel…

Tonight we plan to go to a Baltic restaurant. It was quite good…we had two large beers, a plate of ratatouille, and 2 orders of chicken kabob with mint couscous… They also served a pitcher of iced mint water, made from mineral water…. You cannot drink the water here.
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Old Aug 29th, 2009, 10:49 AM
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i did watch some of the funeral today... sorry he died but its time for a change for MA.... 'too much of a bad thing is a bad thing'
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Old Aug 29th, 2009, 07:54 PM
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Bob - yep, those crown jewels, along with the Faberge eggs, are in the Kremlin's Armoury - in Moscow.

Karen will be happy to know that there are several shops in Tallinn selling Amber ...

About that pizza in Helsinki - $100 ... lol! The good news is that's not per slice!

Anxious to read your next installment -
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Old Aug 29th, 2009, 08:22 PM
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Hi Bob!! you are missing heavy rain here, and chilly!
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Old Aug 29th, 2009, 08:47 PM
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B and K....have Alex take you into the famous old Europa Hotel on Nevsky Prospekt. It had been quite rundown during a prior visit in 1985,...and I was amazed at the re-design and renovation..it's world clas now...a real treat would be lunch there, but it's probably out of sight. We once had great lunch there during SSR days...all you could eat(some good, some less than good!) for about equivalent of $5 each..them there days in Russia are sure as hell gone forever.

Hopefully Alex will take you to golden-domed St.Isaacs with its huge malachite columns..famous statue of Peter the Great on horseback is just behind the church.

You're doing great..keep us all informed...love the way you cover it..not a bad command of English for an ex banker.


stu
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Old Aug 29th, 2009, 10:42 PM
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Bob, I'm most interested in your report since we'll be following your footsteps next month. How's the weather? Lots of rain? You are scaring me about the prices. I'll probably just eat fruit and ice cream. Do the Russians still smoke like the proverbial chimneys?

Don't post the amber room picture until you leave Russia!
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Old Aug 30th, 2009, 07:38 AM
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Sounds like you had a fabulous day in Pushkin (or Tsarskoe Selo to us Romanov purists!).

I'm surprised you didn't visit the Alexander Palace as well. It's the most historically intact palace in the town. Since it was the residence of the last Tsar there is a wonderful museum inside which features tons of items from the imperial family.

Can't wait to read more...
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Old Aug 30th, 2009, 09:04 AM
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we were told alexander is currently closed...

it poured today, but yesterday was fabulous...


Sunday—Peterhof day


Alex came for us at 9 AM…..It looks like rain…. We went to a coffee shop for some breakfast.. The shop was spotless and the staff were friendly (which we are finding unusual).. K and alex had coffee and I had a small water. We chose from several kinds of stuffed pastry dough… We chose raspberry and current filled pastry. They were very flakey and stuffed with semi-tart berries. They were warm and delicious…. Other choices were mushroom, cabbage of course, fish and others. Pieces were cut from larger pieces---the servings must have been 5 X 5 inches…. K couldn’t finish hers. 445 rp.

From there we proceeded through the city .. Alex pointed out several special buildings and continued his descriptions of Russian life. He also answered some of our questions..
We made a couple of stops along the way… one quick stop was across from a large arched monument commemorating a Russian victory in 1812… Next to it was the first subway station in St Pete-- a very formidable building…

We saw along the way many apartment buildings.. some from many different eras of Russian recent history. At one point we came upon a huge development of new buildings, a joint Russian/Chinese venture---a mini city really..

We passed by many dachets, Russian weekend houses… some were tiny and many newer ones were very substantial—guess capitalism is at work here… The Finnish sea was very close..

Then it was raining quite hard… We arrived at Peterhof, a very lovely town with Peter the Great’s massive palace… We had intended to spend most of the day there and then return to town via hydrofoil, but we changed our mind and decided to keep alex and have him take us back to town… GOOD DECISION!!!

The palace and its grounds are substantial. The special item here is the fountains… They are quite spectacular when you consider that they have been running since Peter’s time… There were lots of people there as this is one of the top attractions… Admission fees are multi-leveled… there is one admission to the grounds-- 300 rp….there is another for the palace—540 rp… there is another for the grotto—110 rp (shows the workings of the fountains—we did not do this), and a couple of other smaller venues…

Toilet hint: go into the small café to the right of the ticket office….have a drink…they will give you a ticket to a private bathroom---well worth the price of a coke (80 rp)..

We walked around some of the grounds, but the rain made it uncomfortable---thank goodness we had umbrellas… We toured the palace… Many of the rooms are newly restored…. Did I say gold----you’ve never seen so much gold…I thought Catherine’s and Hermitage had tons of gold, but this seems like twice as much.. There is on going restoration, like in all of these st pete venues….During the siege in WWII all of these buildings were plummeted, vandalized, burned, and bombed…. Many of the art works were stored in the country for safety…many were also stolen by the axis powers….

After the visit we drove back to town, maybe a 45 minute ride. We made one stop at a huge shop featuring wooden stacking dolls, plus amber, furs and all the other souvenir items tourist might want….K bought a few things for the grandchildren…

Back to the hotel by 3:30…

Its still raining so we will have Chinese again for dinner tonight, just about 3 doors up the street…

My tolerance for the Russian “attitude” is starting to slip… On average I find the people rude, unfriendly, COLD, un-gracious, impolite and a bit confrontational… They do not yield on sidewalks, they don’t yield to let you pass, they never say thank you…


THANK GOD FOR ALEX, he puts the best face on the Russian people for me. He has humor, a smile, courtesy, etc… he’s the best… We feel lucky to be able to enjoy his services.


We will be leaving St Pete at 1:15 tomorrow by lux bus heading to Tallinn, Estonia--- 7 hour ride. Alex will come for us in the morning and we will make a couple of stops and then he will leave us at the bus station
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Old Aug 30th, 2009, 01:43 PM
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What kind of cl;own would put his trip report on a thread that speaks of a future trip? Is he purposely seeking confusion?

"rude, unfriendly, COLD, un-gracious, impolite and a bit confrontational…" sounds like Needham!
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Old Aug 31st, 2009, 09:12 AM
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Bob and Karen,
Your trip report is interesting. Can't wait to hear more about it in Boston in October. (how's the shopping for K?)
Carol
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Old Aug 31st, 2009, 11:37 AM
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carol, as you know from germany and switzerland it is very expensive, just add 50% to that... no MBK's here...
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Old Aug 31st, 2009, 11:45 AM
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too tired to report tonight as we spent 7+ hours on a bus with annoying people just like gpanda...in fact they were even worse...almost an hour in russian customs followed 5 minutes later by an hour in estonian customs...ugh!!
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Old Aug 31st, 2009, 01:12 PM
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Bob - Hope that Tallinn is more to your liking. As much as I've been enjoying your reports so far, you don't sound all that thrilled with your trip. Those bus rides are almost as long as your flight to get to Helsinki! At least they're behind you now, with only the ferry ride back to Helsinki after leaving Tallinn between you and flying home. Don't leave Tallinn without any Kalev chocolate tucked into your suitcase!

Looking forward to your next installment.
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Old Aug 31st, 2009, 02:27 PM
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You are hitting on all the reasons we have never traveled, nor have any interest in traveling too where you are right now. Get out now while the getting is good,lol

Aloha!
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