Baltic Cruise on the Celebrity Eclipse
6/11/13 to 6/22/13
Due to the length of the review, it is in four parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top and bottom of each page.
Page 1 - Ship, Dining, Entertainment and Activities
Page 2 - Bruges, Belgium; Warnemunde, Germany; Stockholm, Sweden; Helsinki
Page 3 - St. Petersburg, Russia (Part 1)
Page 4 - St. Petersburg, Russia (Part 2); Tallinn, Estonia; Copenhagen, Denmark
St. Petersburg, Russia (Part 2)
Our next stop was one I had waited twelve years for. When we were on our ship tour in 2001, we only got to see the exterior of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. This was where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. Our 2001 guide said we couldn’t go inside. He had lied, since others that were on private tours at that time told us about how beautiful and unique it was inside. I had seen many photos of the interior since and was anxious to see it firsthand. The exterior is quite pretty with the golden onion domes. We had seen it from many different angles over the last two days. Even though the below two photos look very similar, one is the front and the other is the back side of the church.
Front Side Back Side
The interior was truly marvelous. The walls and ceilings are covered with over 67,000 square feet of mosaic tiles. They are everywhere. Below are way too many photos of this awesome church’s interior.
After we left the church, we drove to the area we were going to have lunch. On the way there we passed by a familiar restaurant. At least it looked kind of like a MacDonald’s.
The restaurant we were going to was Safran. It was a homey kind of place. There were several other vans of Alla Tour people there also.
The meal was very good. We had a salad, a stroganoff type main course with potatoes and a coffee type of ice cream. It got a thumbs up from our group.
After lunch, we drove over to St. Isaac’s Cathedral. It was a good thing that Angie had made the stop for us to get photos of the exterior earlier. We couldn’t have gotten them from where we were going into the church. This was another drop dead gorgeous church. There was so much beauty in St. Petersburg. St. Isaac’s was the other site that wasn’t on Carol’s tour, although she did see it from the outside. I hated that she missed seeing it. Once again, I will put way too many photos below.
After leaving St. Isaac’s, Angie walked us over to a subway station entrance. Since the subways in St. Petersburg are decorated so nicely, they have become a tourist destination. We entered through the modern ticketing system and saw the first mosaic artwork. We then went down the longest escalator in the world, 433 feet. That is almost one and a half football fields. Angie had warned us that it moves faster than the escalators we were used to. She was right. I took a photo looking back to where we came from, but I could not see all the way back to the top.
The stations were very modern and there was some nice mosaic artwork.
When the train came, we got on the modern cars. We were just going one stop; but it was a pretty good distance. We went back up another long, but shorter escalator. The station we entered had mosaics relating to Roman culture.
We walked out of the station to be taken to our last stop of the tour. We were ready for the fun to end. It had been a very wonderful, but exhausting day. We were going to the Peter and Paul Fortress. This was actually the birthplace of St. Petersburg, since it was the first structure to be built there. The main building in the fortress is the cathedral. Its exterior was very pretty with the gold decorations.
The interior was quite different from the other Russian cathedrals we had seen, since the predominant color was green. It was nice for a change.
The altar was really gorgeous.
What makes the cathedral very special is that all of the tsars of Russia are buried there.
On our way back to the ship, once again I was surprised at all of the modern apartments and offices we were passing. Change had happened very fast in Russia.
We had two of the best touring days ever. Everyone we talked to that had taken the Alla tours in St. Petersburg raved about how good their tour guides were and what a wonderful, although exhausting, time they had experienced.
Just a side note from Carol on her Comfort Tour: I felt that it wasn't really a true comfort tour. We went to two less places, but the pace and the distances walked were not indicative of a true comfort tour. For example, at Peterhof a real comfort tour would have deposited the people in the area of the fountains and let them spend the time taking pictures there and hearing the background of each fountain. Instead, we were led through the wooded paths to see many beautiful fountains on the grounds. They were interesting of course, but it was a solid hour of extra walking with no stops to rest. We were exhausted by the time we got back to the main area and the restaurant for lunch.
While in the Hermitage, we were never given a chance to rest a minute and catch our breath. It was extremely hot and stuffy in there with no air circulation, much less air conditioning. There are not many areas in the museum to sit down, so when we reached one, instead of taking a short break we were herded on through. Finally, toward the end of the tour we all rebelled and insisted he give us a few minutes.
Sergie was a great guy, and was trying to show us as much as possible; but Alla really needs to rethink the content of the comfort tour. I did discuss it with her and hopefully the next ones will be a little less demanding.
During the night, we were finally able to get one of the hour’s back we had previously lost. We would get another one back after leaving Tallinn. I was thrilled to see sunshine while sailing into Tallinn. The forecast had said there was a chance of rain and the high would be 68 degrees. We were glad to have cooler temperatures after St. Petersburg; but we didn’t want rain. We had a great view of Tallinn from the ship. It gave us a preview of what we would see for the day. Since we had been to Tallinn before and Carol was wiped out from St. Petersburg, she decided to stay on the ship and rest. She made the right decision.
It would be our last Alla Tour. It would only be three hours with two hours of shopping at the end. The ship had a round trip shuttle bus into town for $10; but it just took people to the lower town. The reason to take a tour is to get a ride up to upper town, so you can see the sights up there and walk down. We disembarked the ship and found the Alla Tour sign. Our guide for the tour was a young energetic fellow named Dimitri. He said we could call him Jimmy. He thought it was easier for us to pronounce.
We took a bus to upper town. Unfortunately, the air conditioning wasn’t working and the windows didn’t open. We were glad it was a short ride. When we exited the bus, Dimitri walked us over to the onion domed St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
He started talking about the history of Tallinn and the cathedral. He kept going on and on. By the time he was ready for us to go into the cathedral there was a long line to get in. He said we didn’t have time to wait to get in; but that we would see other cathedrals that were prettier inside later. So, we didn't get to see inside. I was surprised that he would pass on going into the cathedral he had been talking so much about. He was wrong about the other cathedrals being prettier. But I will say that after St. Petersburg, we wouldn’t have been impressed with any cathedral short of St. Peter’s in the Vatican.
Dimitri then stopped at a relief of soviet actor/director Voldemar Panso. He spent a long time talking about this fellow that we had never heard of; but that he was very proud of. We found out later that Dimitri was an acting student and Voldemar was his idol.
We then walked over to St. Mary’s Cathedral. I guess that this was the church that was supposed to be prettier; but it wasn’t. When we went inside the church, we were told to leave if we didn’t pay.
Dimitri took us back outside. We then walked over to a lookout over the city. It was nice and we could see the Eclipse in the background.
He then took us to a different overlook. It was very crowded, but Dimitri wanted to stand in the crowd and tell us more than we needed to know, while speaking over the loud crowd.
We walked around a bit more and stopped close to the Nevsky Cathedral we had seen before. It was a better view of it. I don’t know why we didn’t go in then. I almost left the group to go in on my own; but since I had seen it before, I didn’t want to risk getting separated from the group. From where he was talking, we could see the old city wall.
We went through the wall and stopped to talk some more on the other side. It was a nice area.
We then proceeded to walk down the steep cobblestone street to lower town. Thank goodness there was a stairway on the left side of the road. Cobblestones aren’t much fun to walk on, particularly when there is a slope. It would be life threatening if it rained.
We then got down into the lower town. It was a nice medieval town; but coming to Tallinn immediately after St. Petersburg, made it seem pretty plain. Dimitri pointed out some restaurants along the way and talked non-stop while walking backwards at times so he could talk directly to us.
We then arrived at the main square. The thing I remembered most about it from our 2001 trip was the dragon drain pipe on one of the buildings. It was still there.
Dimitri pointed out other places to eat in the square and told us that we would come back there later after the tour to eat and shop. So we continued down some of the narrow streets. There were some nice building and interesting adornments.
He took us into a building that had to do with theater and talked to us about it. I don’t think it was on the itinerary; but since he was into theater he wanted to stop there. We got to see what the interior of the medieval buildings looked like.
We continued on past a large stone tower to another church, St. Olav Church. It had the pointed spire we had seen from upper town.
The interior was austere. I liked the double headed eagle on the chandelier.
We continued down a pretty section of street along the wall. There were lots of shops in Tallinn.
We then came back through the square on the way to where Dimitri was going to show us where to pick up the bus in a couple hours. We walked out the main gate and kept walking. Jim finally stopped him and asked him to please just point to where the busses were going to be so we wouldn’t have to walk all the way there and back again. Since Dimitri was talking so much, he never stopped for a restroom break the whole time and Jim was in desperate need to find one. Dimitri pointed where we would meet and everyone immediately left. I think most went for a restroom. We were really disappointed in Dimitri as a tour guide. He was a very nice energetic young man; but he just talked too much and didn’t pay attention to what his customers wanted or needed.
Alla’s port tours other than for St. Petersburg could be viewed as ship tours with a lot less people on them. Just like ship tours they are hit or miss on which guide you will get. They will also save money over the ship tours and can all be paid by credit card with no up charges. Even though we did have a couple guides that we had some issues with, I still would book all the tours with Alla again.
After lunch, I walked around town a bit. It hadn’t changed much; but had become more commercialized since our last visit. There were people in period costumes trying to entice people into their businesses and other gimmicky things that just took away from the charm of the pretty town.
Shortly after returning to the ship I went out onto the balcony to look around and see what was happening. The sky was falling! A torrential downpour had started and people were running back to the ship. Our tour group had been lucky to get back when we did. I felt sorry for the people who were still downtown trying to walk on the wet cobblestones. After five straight days of touring we were ready for the upcoming sea day to relax and enjoy the ship. Plus we would get another hour of sleep back that night when we turned the clock back again.
We had looked forward to revisiting Copenhagen. We had spent a couple of days there before our first Baltic cruise and just loved it. Since Jim and Kathleen had not been there before, I was looking forward to sharing the lovely city with them at a leisurely pace on our own without a scheduled tour.
Coming into the port, I couldn’t believe how many windmills were all around. The forecast was for mostly cloudy weather and a high of 68 degrees, so it should be a pleasant day for us. Although the lack of sunshine wouldn’t be that good for photography.
As we approached the dock, we could see the Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) bus that we planned on taking for the first part of the day. It couldn’t have been more convenient to find. It would give us a nice tour of the city. Then after the first tour, we would take it to where it would drop us off at the other end of town so we could walk on the Stroget, the walking street. The alternative was to take the ship shuttle into town, but it cost $15 for a round trip and it wasn’t a tour. The HOHO was about twice the price; but well worth it.
After we disembarked the ship, we had to decide on which of the HOHO companies we would use. We had previously used the red HOHO. It was the larger of the companies in terms of number of busses; which should mean that it would be easier to find one when we wanted to hop back on. There was another company that advertised free WIFI on their HOHO bus. It was very tempting to go with that one; but we stuck with the more popular one.
The first stop was at one of the most popular and familiar sites in Copenhagen, the Little Mermaid. There were lots of busses and tourists there. It was really crowded with all the people. Since the driver only gave us five minutes to look at it, we ran off, took some quick photos and ran back, so we could continue the tour. We knew we would come back later in the day to take more photos, since we could walk to the ship from there.
From the bus we could see lots of beautiful statues and buildings; but because the open top was only open above the windows, it was difficult to get photos due to the glare on the windows. The bus was made that way, so that the top could be quickly pulled forward to protect the top deck riders in case of rain. Most of the places we were seeing we would see again later in the day.
One thing we noticed in all of the ports we had visited was that there was so much construction going on. Our previous guides had told us that since the winters were so long, they had do as much construction as possible when the ground wasn’t frozen and the weather was better. Made sense to me.
After we had done a full circuit, we took the tour back to the Tivoli Gardens area. As with so many of the other cities we had visited, Copenhagen also had a tall obelisk. Since Tivoli had just opened, the crowds were very thick. We were not planning to go inside Tivoli, but it was still a challenge navigating through them.
On top of one of the buildings near Tivoli is the Weather Girl, a gold statue of a woman on a bicycle that rotates around in a circle. Our tour guide told us that if it is raining, a different statue of the woman with an umbrella walking her dog rotates out.
Right across the street from Tivoli is City Hall Square. We had previously passed by the Dragon Fountain, which depicts a bull and a dragon fighting.
One of the best known statues is right next to the square. It is of writer Hans Christian Andersen. Everyone wants to get their photos with Hans. You can see where people have had photos with them sitting on his lap, by the wear on the statue. We had to take our turns posing with Hans too.
At one side of the square is the City Hall. The building itself is kind of plain; but the ornaments on it are very nice. I feel certain that the guard dragons in front of City Hall provided it with lots of protection.
At the back of the square is the Palace Hotel. I liked the statue on the pillar in front of it with the two horn players.
The reason we wanted to be dropped off near the City Hall Square, was because it is where the Stroget or Walking Street begins. The Stroget is the longest pedestrian shopping area in Europe. We were sharing it with thousands of other people.
It was a pleasure to walk past the interesting shops, especially the bakeries. They were irresistible, which is why we had to go in and try one of the delicious delicacies.
Carol found a new friend at one of the shops.
Along the street are pretty fountains and buildings. We really enjoyed our walk and found lots of shops to look in.
Carol wanted to go into the Royal Copenhagen store to get a Christmas ornament. Since it was the 100th anniversary of the Little Mermaid, she got a special edition ornament with the Little Mermaid on it.
After doing enough shopping, we decided it was time to head to the Nyhaven area for a canal boat ride. We got on a HOHO for the short ride. Jim, Kathleen and I got off at Nyhaven.
Since Carol had done a canal boat ride in Copenhagen before and she was ready to relax, she stayed on the bus to go back to the ship. While crossing over the bridge, we saw our friends Paul and Gail riding a canal boat.
The Nyhaven area is so picturesque. It was certainly a very popular and crowded area. I got a kick out of someone’s attempt to use a modernized Little Mermaid statue above their restaurant.
Since it was after 1:00 PM, we stopped for lunch before going on a canal boat ride. The restaurant we picked was called Nyhavens Caféen at building number 35. We lucked out. We all ordered the Danish Meatball plate with potato salad and some wonderful whole grain bread. It was very good.
After lunch we found a canal boat for a tour. The one we got on was partially covered; which was good for most people, since it had gotten cooler and we experienced occasional light rain.
We passed by Frederick's Church, which is next to Amalienborg Palace. It has the largest dome in Scandinavia.
We then saw the Copenhagen Opera House. A large modern structure.
I was surprised to see a statue of David along the canal. I hadn’t seen one of those, since we were in Florence, Italy many years ago.
Our next site to see was the Kastellet, a star shaped fortress. We could see some barracks, canons and other buildings; but to see the star shape, we would have had to take a helicopter tour.
We could also see the Eclipse at the dock from the canal boat.
We cruised down another canal with lots of boats on both sides.
We then came to an area on the canal where we could get photos of the famous corkscrew spire on the Church of our Savior. I am sure the view from the top of it is impressive, if one is motivated to climb up. None of us wanted to do it.
The canal tour was very interesting with something to look at around every turn.
Some of the bridges were very pretty, but also very low. The tour guide had to warn those in the back of the boat to sit down and keep their heads low. They were also very narrow and the boats barely made it through some of them.
We continued to see lovely buildings along the canals and finally came to the Old Stock Exchange Building. It has a unique spire with four dragon tails twisting their way to the top. There were lots of other spires too.
After gawking at all the beautiful architecture, we were surprised to see some massive sand castles on display. We were passing the site of the Copenhagen International Sand Sculpture Festival. They were quite a site.
The sun was shining as we came back into Nyhaven. It made for an even prettier view than earlier.
It was time to head back to the ship, so we waited at the HOHO bus stop. We were questioning our decision about the HOHO company we chose, when a couple of the other bus company busses went by before we saw ours. We had apparently just missed our company’s bus, so we had to wait about 20 minutes. Once on the bus, we passed by the Gefion Fountain. The fountain was originally going to be located in City Hall Square, but they changed their minds.
We got off the bus at the Little Mermaid. We took some more photos from a different angle and with the sun shining on her.
On the way back to the ship, we passed a large statue of a bear with its two cubs. It was kind of nice.
Also very close to the Little Mermaid statue is a modern version. Definitely a bustier version.
As we boarded the Eclipse, reality set in. We had visited our last port and the vacation was almost over. Fortunately we still had two sea days to enjoy the company of all of our new friends.
The evening before we arrived back at Southampton, we passed by the White Clifs of Dover. Since we had almost passed them by the time I got out on deck and it was getting dark outside, the photo does look a bit strange. Since we would be doing a cruise next year out of Southamption, we had already planned to see them and get a much better look at the cliffs.
As I have gone through the over 11,000 photos we took during this vacation, I am still surprised at how many wonderful and amazing places we visited. We had such an enjoyable time with our old friends; as well as meeting some awesome new friends. It had been a great retirement vacation.
Below is a link to the Shutterfly albums with other photos from the vacations:
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