Surprising Stockholm

Looking over the view
The Vasa
The Old Town

26th Sept

Our last port was Stokholm, and we decided to do another SPB tour to see the city as, being such an enormous ship, we needed to dock 45 mins away from the centre of town. There are many positives with cruising, but one negative is that it costs quite a bit to do guided tours with our family of 6, and sometimes there is little choice. I had not done enough research on the port, because we soon realised that we could have caught another Hop On Hop Off bus there. However, our Swedish guide for the day was excellent, and we certainly learnt a lot more than if we had ‘gone it alone’. We drove through beautiful farmland and forests on our way there, with the autumn colours on the Silver Birch trees making the scenery very pretty. Again, we had been blessed with gorgeous sunny weather which our guide (in short sleeves) described as ‘summer’ (it was 16 degrees). Our tour included viewing the spectacular city from a look out point, seeing the historic town hall, a drive-by of the most expensive regions of Stockholm, and passing by Alfred Nobel’s house (before the town officials made him move after his experiments to develop gun powder killed several people).

The Vasa Museum was next. The Vasa was a warship built in the 1600s during the 30 year war. It sank on its maiden voyage due to balance issues; somewhat embarrassingly, the long awaited ship did not even make it out of Stockholm’s harbour. It was discovered and raised in 1970, and is now housed under special darkened conditions in the museum. The huge ship was a sight to behold, being preserved so well due to the brackish water of the harbour. Sadly, many women and children died when it sank, and the remains of clothes, shoes and bones could all be viewed. It was the best old ship I’ve ever seen by far, and we could easily have spent the whole day admiring it. Caleb was disgusted when he learnt that we had to leave after an hour.

The old town was next, where we had an hour to roam by ourselves and buy lunch (we had a very traditional meal of pizza), followed by a walking tour. Our guide pointed out a Viking painting outside one of the shops. She also filled us in on many interesting facts – Stockholm comes from the name given to it in medieval times. ‘Stock’ is the Swedish name for wood, and ‘holm’ means island. In the time that the city was named, the harbour was filled with wooden barriers to prevent pirate boats from coming too close. Stockholm is remarkably well preserved with many beautiful old buildings, as it was not involved in WWII. We saw many interesting looking museums (such as one for the Nobel Peace Prize), and lots of cute shops, but unfortunately could not go in due to our time constraints. The Swedes seem to have a great way of life too, and I saw many fathers out with babies today, obviously on their generous parental leave. High school and tertiary education is all free, and anyone in the European Union can access the university. I was surprised that the city was so much more lovely than I expected, and full of fascinating history. We will just have to come back one day!

Our last day of cruising tomorrow! How sad.

 

Cruising with the Getaway

The Adventures of Mrs Mug on the Cruise Ship

Hi all. Because this blog would take too long to write each day with description, my manager, the extravagant Mrs Mug, has made a executive decision on behalf of all the team that I will write each day. Because we were cruising for nine days, you can imagine that this would have taken me quite a while. But alas, I have been forced by a cruel governess to write a blog. So, here goes.

Day 1:
We started our luxurious lifestyle with lunch at one of my favourite places, the Garden Buffet. With everything that you could hope to eat, the Garden Buffet has it all. From gorging yourself with soft serve ice cream to savouring the delicious taste of your favourite foods, the buffet has it all. Now, I might sound like a walking advertisement, I wasn’t the only one to love this amazing buffet. Mrs Mug was also loving it. While settling into our evening with table tennis, others saw a opportunity to relax on the comfy blue chairs in the buffet and watch this amazing ship set sail.

Day 2:

Mrs Mug and I started the day with an alarm that to my ears sounded like a dying cat. After hearing this putrid sound, I was dashing around the room trying to pick up clothes for the shower. After taking a three hour bus trip we arrived into the incredible city of Berlin. After being shattered by WW1 and WW2 Germany has rebuilt most of the ruins that nearly ended the city forever. After visiting the Olympic stadium ( which had a 200 pound bomb under it💣) we started an exhausting tour of Berlin.

Day 3:
Sea day. There isn’t much to write about today.

Day 4:
Tallinn was one of my favourite days. After sightseeing all of the beautiful streets, we took hundreds of steps up a church tower and found the prized jewel that we were looking for. A stunning view of the city.

Day 5-Day 6:
Today was probably my favourite day of all. While touring St Petersburg we soon found out all the gruesome history. From riding a subway to visiting extravagant palaces, St Petersburg was the prized gem of our trip. My favourite thing in St Petersburg was the Peterhof palace. The amazing fountains and the canals were a real highlight for me and Mrs Mug. Sadly, this amazing place was destroyed by the Germans, but rebuilt later.

Day 7:
Helsinki was an amazing place and cold as well. I am extremely glad that we went here.

Day 8:
Stockholm was an awesome place and the reason why the name of Stockholm came about is that holm means island and stock means where the trees are. The most interesting thing in Stockholm was the Vasa. This ship was 98% preserved because the water in Stockholm harbor is 0.05g of salt per 100g of water. You might be thinking, didn’t this ship come from Stockholm? Well this ship wasn’t gunned down or sunken in a horrendous storm. It sunk on its maiden voyage. In fact it didn’t even make it out of the harbour. With a huge amount of restoration, the ship was brought back to life. The reason why Mrs Mug doesn’t appear in any photos is that every time we took her out of the ship the security alarm beeped. The security took a close look at her and realised they had “Mug shots of her” so they didn’t let her off.

Day 9:
Sea Day

Josh’s Blog – Back 3 Europe 2017! Cool Cruising

 

Hi all,

Today was finally the catch up day – the day in which all of our days of non-blog writing came back to haunt us. Sorry, but as Caleb says (I was reading over his shoulder), “we were having to much fun to write a blog”, (C. Anderson, 2017). Note the APA referencing style! So I will do a brief summary of each of the days and then finish with and overall impression of our time spent cruising.

Day 1, Arrival
We arrived, hence the title.

Day 2, Berlin (Warnemünde):
Being the only one that could pronounce the port correctly, I thought it was appropriate that I could be the only one that could write about it. Alas, no one else believed this and so sadly you will have multiple accounts of this great day (I feel your pain). We began the day by getting up at 5:15 am (ah yes, the cruising lifestyle) to have breakfast and then line up to get off the boat. It turned out that we did not need to get up so early in the end, because we got off the boat straight away! Then after a 15 minute wait for the bus and then another 3.5 hour drive we arrived in Berlin. Our tour guide was great! He was hilarious and also showed us many important sites and explained a lot about them. We had lunch in a pub underneath the railway lines (as you do) and then finished up with the great bus ride back to the ship again (my phone lasted the last 1/2 an hour on 1%). After that we again ate too much in the ship’s buffet and then had a early night.

Day 2, Talinn
This time everyone could pronounce the name, so I have no arguments there. However, Caleb (and assumedly Daniel) are writing about the terrible (but funny) puns we made during the day and onwards. I’d just like to point out that I was the original joke with, “hey, they moved the Kremlin here (it was a five shaped dome Church). Now we don’t have to go to Moscow! There’s no ‘Talinn’ how the moved it! And then for the rest of the day people copied me with my joke. MY JOKE. Anyway, Talinn had some really nice buildings and a wall. Although there was not a lot to see, I really enjoyed relaxing after our huge day in Berlin.

Day 3, At Sea
This day was a sea day. A day to ‘see’ many things, and ‘dive’ into many adventures! This was my time to try out all the on-board activities. It was too windy for the water slides to I went on the ropes course and almost fell off (yes it was windy enough to almost knock off an experienced OAT climber). That was the sea day.

Day 4 & 5 St Petersburg
Probably the most stressful time of the whole cruise was the passport control zone in St Petersburg. You go into the queue for an hour and then when you get to the front, you hand them your passport and they stare at you for the entirety of about 5 minutes like you’re some international criminal about to commit a crime again. And then they let you through. We then met our guide – Maria – and then began our tour of this epic city. Such a different style to anything I’ve ever seen! Russia (and St Petersburg) only changed from being communist around 30 years ago, and the evidence can still be seen. Grey high rises dot the islands of the city amongst the beautiful old buildings that are still standing too. We visited many sites in the city and also went on canal tour through the waterways. After 3 palaces I was pretty palaced out!

Day 6, Helsiki
Thankfully our ship hadn’t ‘sinki’ed by now, and so we managed to get to Helsinki. We boarded the hop on hop off bus, and visited around 5 sights there. The town had a really nice market where we bought some delicious chocolate. This is also where I decided I would start collecting chocolate wrappers in each country to bring home.

Day 7, Stockholm
I wasn’t feeling too well on this day and so consequently did not see much of Stockholm. By far the most ‘vasta’ highlight was the Vasa museum. A 16th Century ship that was ‘sinki’ due to having too many cannons. The King ordered it and because the craftsmen were ‘russian’ around they built the ship wrong and it sunk. It was preserved under the water until someone brought it to the surface and put it in a museum. So now it’s a main attraction in Stockholm.

Day 8, at Sea
This is where I’m writing my blog. I went on a waterslide today that had a loop. Unfortunately, something went wrong and I didn’t make the loop. This meant that I had to be lifted out of the waterslide. I didn’t do it again! After this I jumped in the spa (which was amazing). Now I’m sitting here with my hot chocolate and looking out at the ocean trickling past. “this is the life for me,” (C. Anderson, 2009)

So that was cruising for the second time. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it and we got to see a lot of the world! Amazing! I would definitely do it again.

I know it was a rather short blog so if I have some more time when we are in Germany next I will expand Berlin and Russia.

Josh

 

Josh’s Blog, Back 3 Europe 2017! Cool Cruising

 

Hi all,

Today was finally the catch up day – the day in which all of our days of non-blog writing came back to haunt us. Sorry, but as Caleb says (I was reading over his shoulder), “we were having to much fun to write a blog”, (C. Anderson, 2017). Note the APA referencing style! So I will do a brief summary of each of the days and then finish with and overall impression of our time spent cruising.

Day 1, Arrival
We arrived, hence the title.

Day 2, Berlin (Warnemünde):
Being the only one that could pronounce the port correctly, I thought it was appropriate that I could be the only one that could write about it. Alas, no one else believed this and so sadly you will have multiple accounts of this great day (I feel your pain). We began the day by getting up at 5:15 am (ah yes, the cruising lifestyle) to have breakfast and then line up to get off the boat. It turned out that we did not need to get up so early in the end, because we got off the boat straight away! Then after a 15 minute wait for the bus and then another 3.5 hour drive we arrived in Berlin. Our tour guide was great! He was hilarious and also showed us many important sites and explained a lot about them. We had lunch in a pub underneath the railway lines (as you do) and then finished up with the great bus ride back to the ship again (my phone lasted the last 1/2 an hour on 1%). After that we again ate too much in the ship’s buffet and then had a early night.

Day 2, Talinn
This time everyone could pronounce the name, so I have no arguments there. However, Caleb (and assumedly Daniel) are writing about the terrible (but funny) puns we made during the day and onwards. I’d just like to point out that I was the original joke with, “hey, they moved the Kremlin here (it was a five shaped dome Church). Now we don’t have to go to Moscow! There’s no ‘Talinn’ how the moved it! And then for the rest of the day people copied me with my joke. MY JOKE. Anyway, Talinn had some really nice buildings and a wall. Although there was not a lot to see, I really enjoyed relaxing after our huge day in Berlin.

Day 3, At Sea
This day was a sea day. A day to ‘see’ many things, and ‘dive’ into many adventures! This was my time to try out all the on-board activities. It was too windy for the water slides to I went on the ropes course and almost fell off (yes it was windy enough to almost knock off an experienced OAT climber). That was the sea day.

Day 4 & 5 St Petersburg
Probably the most stressful time of the whole cruise was the passport control zone in St Petersburg. You go into the queue for an hour and then when you get to the front, you hand them your passport and they stare at you for the entirety of about 5 minutes like you’re some international criminal about to commit a crime again. And then they let you through. We then met our guide – Maria – and then began our tour of this epic city. Such a different style to anything I’ve ever seen! Russia (and St Petersburg) only changed from being communist around 30 years ago, and the evidence can still be seen. Grey high rises dot the islands of the city amongst the beautiful old buildings that are still standing too. We visited many sites in the city and also went on canal tour through the waterways. After 3 palaces I was pretty palaced out!

Day 6, Helsiki
Thankfully our ship hadn’t ‘sinki’ed by now, and so we managed to get to Helsinki. We boarded the hop on hop off bus, and visited around 5 sights there. The town had a really nice market where we bought some delicious chocolate. This is also where I decided I would start collecting chocolate wrappers in each country to bring home.

Day 7, Stockholm
I wasn’t feeling too well on this day and so consequently did not see much of Stockholm. By far the most ‘vasta’ highlight was the Vasa museum. A 16th Century ship that was ‘sinki’ due to having too many cannons. The King ordered it and because the craftsmen were ‘russian’ around they built the ship wrong and it sunk. It was preserved under the water until someone brought it to the surface and put it in a museum. So now it’s a main attraction in Stockholm.

Day 8, at Sea
This is where I’m writing my blog. I went on a waterslide today that had a loop. Unfortunately, something went wrong and I didn’t make the loop. This meant that I had to be lifted out of the waterslide. I didn’t do it again! After this I jumped in the spa (which was amazing). Now I’m sitting here with my hot chocolate and looking out at the ocean trickling past. “this is the life for me,” (C. Anderson, 2009)

So that was cruising for the second time. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it and we got to see a lot of the world! Amazing! I would definitely do it again.

I know it was a rather short blog so if I have some more time when we are in Germany next I will expand Berlin and Russia.

Josh

 

Caleb’s Crazy cruising

Hi everyone!

As I am not quite as active on my iPad as some people are, I was too busy having fun to write my blog. Finally catching on to my “trick”, Mum frog marched me to my iPad and told me to get cracking. So here goes.

Day one, Berlin: we were completely stunned by both the beautiful German scenery, and the amount of election campaign posters everywhere. We where told the latter was the result of a strictly enforced six-week campaign rule which we had arrived in time for. We saw many beautiful statues, the Brandenburg gate, the Berlin Stadium, the state water clock, the Luftwaffe headquarters, and the amazingly fake checkpoint Charlie. What a day! We barely made it back awake.

Day two, sea day: today was a do EVERYTHING day. We went on some enormous water slides (where the G’s were so huge that you couldn’t lift your face), the ropes course (where it was too windy to walk out of the ship, called the plank), the pool (where Marco Polo and ‘duck, boat, sub’ was enjoyed), and the climbing wall (where I could not do the hardest wall just yet.) we went to a nice restaurant for dinner as per usual, and in this case some people DIDN’T make it back awake.

Day three, Tallin: a little town on the coast of Estonia was visited after a luxurious breakfast. (By the way, it’s high time I told you about the amazing food on this boat.) crispy bacon, hash browns, salad, juice, and a roll is not to be sneezed at! We stumbled off the boat in the pre-dawn pitch black, and where greeted with a blast of icy air filled with sleet, rain, hail, and a liberal spraying of grit. So this was the famous Baltic cold! Thankfully the Everest-like conditions cleared up in time for our self guided tour, supervised by the ever-present and not-so effervescent Rick Steves. Tallin was tiny! No Tallin why it was like that! (Be ready for some bad puns. Our trip was overflowing with them, and we haven’t even Finnished.) since Tallin was not so Vasa (an ancient landmark), we where Finnished by 4:00 PM. When we came back to the boat, we decided to become experts at table tennis, so after Russian around the table for a bit, we headed in for a delicious dinner. (I had a beef slider, and a green chicken curry) after that, we headed to our beds.

The next day was St Petersburg, and before we got off the boat we ,are a grim discovery. Russia was corrupt. We where told about 90% of the money we paid for a tour went towards bribes! This was understandably shocked. When we got out, we where greeted by a beautiful day, and the famous Russian security. An hour and a half later, we where officially in Russia. Driving through Russia, we saw stunning Opulence and dreadful poverty. The still existing communist-era buildings where patched in many places, while in contrast the palaces of the old tsars where beautifully gilded, with a stunning amount of GOLD. Two days of ST Petersburg and we where overwhelmed. Highlights included the hermitage, the yousapoff palace, and the canal tours. The Venice of the north was unparalleled in its gap between the rich and the poor. Back at the boat, we saw St Petersburg leave behind us, and headed on to Helsinki.

Helsinki was a relatively untouched city by the horrors of WW2, but they still had not Finnished their war rebuilding. (No, I’m not done with the puns yet. Try to bear it a little longer. I’m almost done) we saw the rock church, a church carved in rock with a glass and copper roof, and the Sibelius monument.

Day 7, Stockholm: Stockholm was a Vasa city. So Vasa in fact, that it took us 45 minutes to get to the city centre. The fast thing we saw was the Vast Vasa. Perfectly preserved from the 17th century, it was a wonder that it was so well preserved. The Vasa has quite the backstory, as well. Built for the Swedish King, it was the most expensive ship ever built at the time. Carrying a heavy payload of SEVENTY FIVE cannons, it also had more guns than any other ship in the world. But sadly, the Swedish shipbuilders failed to make the ship wide enough, deep enough, and made it too high. Too compensate for this, they added an extra two tonnes of ballast and sent the ship off through the harbour amid cheering crowds and an expectant King. All went well, until the wind began. Leaning slightly, the boat encountered it’s first problem. Since it had too much ballast, the cannon holes where too low to the water! When the ship began to list, the holes took in water which, quite literally, opened the floodgates. A rushing maelstrom of water enveloped the ship and revealed its most critical problem. Too high, it was too top heavy to right itself in time. 1.5 kilometres after it began its maiden voyage, the Vasa sank. After hearing about this tragedy, we where given only 20 minutes to see the fabulous Vasa museum, containing the Vasa and six levels of historic information, artefacts, and ship viewing decks. After seeing the Vasa, we saw a garden, had lunch at a typically Swedish restaurant(pizza!) and looked at the Nobel prize museum.

The last day we had was a sea day, and I finally conquered the rock wall, after doing the pool, table tennis, the ropes course, the plank, some reading, breakfast, and lunch. Sitting here this evening, I look back on our cruise. What a wonderful time we’ve had!

Helsinki

Daniel with a different mug

The day began early again, as we docked in Helsinki at 7am. It is becoming a little tricky to drag everyone out of bed after our gruelling schedule! We got off our ship in the heavy fog, and on to a Hop On Hop Off bus, where we journeyed around to the Sibelius pipes (built to commemorate the composer’s life) and a church built into the surrounding rock. The church was interesting, with a beautiful copper roof. Tim decided to give Matthew a rest from touring, and spent the morning in the playground near the church with him while the rest of our party kept touring. We found out later that Matthew made friends with a local 2 year old at the playground, and he and Tim were invited by this child’s dad’s home back to their apartment for a traditional Finnish morning tea and play. Matthew loved it so much that he cried when they left. Tim described it as a ‘unique’ experience!

Meanwhile, our bus took us back down to the harbour where we enjoyed a coffee/tea inside the market. We were amazed to see foods such as reindeer pie, elk meat, bear grease, and pulled moose meatballs! By this time, the sun had come out, and we had a lovely wander along the waterfront in the sunshine. The architecture of some buildings here is quite similar to St Petersburg – Helsinki was owned by the Russians for some time. There are some beautiful gardens around right in the centre of the city. Our bus took us back to the cruise ship via some lovely parks right next to the water. With all the boats in the glittering sea, it was most picturesque. We did not have long to spend today in port, as the boat leaves for Stockholm this afternoon at 3:30pm, but it was a good taste of what Finland has to offer.

St Petersburg Day 2

Russian lunch 2
Dome of St Isaac’s church

Sept 25

St Petersburg’s treasures are unbelievable. The amazing sights today just kept going and going. We began by meeting our tour guide, Maria, at 8am, and cruising through canals for an hour. As it was prestigious to build houses along the river, there were many palaces and grand houses to be seen. The Hermitage Museum was next. This museum holds so much that it takes a person 10 years to view everything in it without stopping to eat or sleep, spending only a minute at each item. Catherine the Great was the main collector of the artwork. There were so many great painters and sculptors represented- two da Vinci paintings, numerous Rembrandts, a Michelangelo sculpture, and Titians just to name a few. We would have liked to go to the modern art gallery too which housed Matisses, Monets, Picassos etc. but we did not have time. The museum also contained many ancient items such as Roman vases, Egyptian artefacts such as mummies and pages from the Book of the Dead, and a glorious old clock containing mushrooms and peacocks of all things, which Matthew loved. The Hermitage Museum is housed in the old Winter Palace of the tsars, so the palace rooms themselves were stunning. Many precious jewels were made into mosaics that covered the floor, fireplaces, columns, vases etc. The whole place was incredible, and far too much to take in properly.

Two churches were next. I’m not really a huge fan of viewing ancient churches, but these two were amazing. The ‘Church of the Spilled Blood’ had an interesting enamelled tiled exterior, and an interior that was filled with glass mosaics. It was built over the place where one of the tsars was assassinated by his son, to commemorate him. Maria explained that the tsars were seen as God’s spokesperson on earth, and so the fact that the tsar had been killed made the Russian people feel guilty. They tried to appease this feeling by building the church. I got into trouble in this church, as Matthew had moved my turnstile on the way in and so I needed to duck under it to enter. Tim’s account of it was that I was lucky to get out of Russia without being locked up. The second church, St Isaac’s, was built as an imperial church, and it was enormous. Modelled on St Peter’s in Rome, it was very similar.

Lunch was much nicer than yesterday. It was a three course traditional Russian meal again, but this time it was delicious. Our last port of call was the Yussupov Palace. This was the palace of the best friends of the tsars through the ages, and was beautiful, especially the theatre where Anna Pavlova had performed. It was made even more interesting by the fact that it was the place where Rasputin was assassinated (by the friends of the tsars as they were jealous of his popularity with the imperial family). We were walked through a fascinating display of the assassination. Rasputin was poisoned, shot, and finally drowned before he finally died, so it certainly took some effort to get rid of him.

It was all just too much to take in, and we only scratched the surface in two days. The opulence on display within one city was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Talking with Maria was very interesting too. She had a son who was six years old, and explained that he was in kindergarten Monday to Friday, from 7am until 7pm. This was apparently normal for ‘ordinary’ Russian children. On to Helsinki tomorrow!

St Petersburg day 1

Subway
Russian lunch
Peterhof

St Petersburg is spectacular. We took a guided tour (day one of two) today with SPB tours. Although SPB had already sent our passports to customs as part of their procedure, it still took 1.5 hours to clear customs today. Our early arrival of 8am on the docks seemed to be not much advantage for a speedy departure. The tour lady we had, Maria, seems nice but is a little robotic in her presentation rather than interactive. However, she certainly packed a lot in. Thankfully, it was a gorgeous day of sunshine (although only 10 degrees it felt a lot warmer). We began by driving through the city streets, with Maria explaining what we were seeing as we went. It was so interesting to see the differences between apartments built during communism compared to more recent ones. Our first stop was a trip underground to ride from one station to another on the metro. Although Maria did not take us to the most elaborate station, the ones we saw were hard to believe; made of marble and mosaics, and a very long way below the ground, just the escalator ride was exciting. Our next stop was a fortress and church built by Peter the Great (I think – I found it quite hard to make out what Maria was explaining to us with her Russian accent!). It was interesting to see the Tsar’s throne in the church. Apparently he was the only one allowed to sit down during he two hour long services. Next, we drove 30km through beautiful countryside to see Peterhof (Peter the Great’s palace). The 30 km drive took at least an hour due to the terrible traffic jams. Maria explained that most Russians left the city to drive and walk in the countryside on the weekend. Today is Saturday, so I assume that we were caught in the midst of this tradition. Peterhof was incredible. Just as elaborate as Versailles, with a canal running up to the palace from the Baltic Sea. A channel needed to be built in the sea surrounding the palace, as in that particular section the water is only a metre deep. Palace goers could sail in with their ship, cruise up the canal, and climb up the stairs to enter directly into the ballroom. Beautiful fountains were everywhere – the centrepiece went up 20 metres. We walked around the gardens, but did not go inside to the museum.

We stopped for a ‘traditional Russian lunch’ at a restaurant, which consisted of biorch (soup made of beetroot, carrot, potato and cabbage which are apparently the only things that will grow in the harsh climate), pork and vegetables, vodka, and ice cream with raspberry sauce. Not all of the tour partakers enjoyed it, but it was interesting!

Catherine’s Palace was next. It was no less grand, in fact, it was more so. The building was enormous, and we were able to wander around about 20 rooms. The Russian government have apparently decided not to renovate the palace any further inside due to expense. Both Peterhof and Catherine’s Palace were almost completely destroyed during Nazi occupation, and so they have both needed to have extensive building works done. Statues survived by being buried in fountains and underground. The rooms inside were completely overdone with gold everywhere. The highlight was definitely the Amber Room, which has been completely remade as the amber itself went missing during the war.

We returned back to our ship in a stupefied state. It has been such a fascinating day to see some of the treasures of St Petersburg. It seems that almost everywhere you look there are lovely gardens and majestic old buildings. Maria described many monuments, churches, fountains and structures to us as being built to celebrate Russia’s victory over this country or that. She seemed quite angered still by how much the Nazis had destroyed their heritage, and pointed out many buildings where the damage had still not been repaired. Maria also spoke with pride about how her grandparents’ generation had held out against the Germans taking control of their city, for 900 days. Many starved as Hitler cut the supply lines. It was also interesting to hear Maria speak about the education of Russian children. Many learn at least two languages until they leave school, but this also continues into university. The languages learnt at university depends on the degree being obtained- for example, musicians learn German (due to the German composers) and English while art students learn Italian and English. University students are also required to take classes in Russian history. We are looking forward to what tomorrow holds!

Propelled by poncho through Estonia

Tallinn town hall
Poncho issues

Yesterday we enjoyed a ‘sea day’ on our cruise ship. Unfortunately, I’ve picked up a cold and so I have not been very energetic. The kids have made up for it! They tackled table tennis, the rock climbing wall, a death defying trip around the ropes course at the top of the ship (Tim chickened out half way through), basketball, bowling (Matthew), the water slides and pool, as well as ate their way through mountains of food.

Today we rolled into Tallin, Estonia. The rain poured down this morning, so we all donned ponchos (the Anderson tribe minus Josh who was too cool for one) and raincoats (the more sensible option that Mum and Dad brought with them). There were many jokes and no appreciation for the person who made us bring ponchos (me), as most of us ripped them while putting them on. Tim managed to lose his arm entirely.

Thankfully, the rain quickly stopped, and so we wandered around the lovely old town. Tallin was not bombed in WWII, and so there are masses of beautiful old buildings. There are many remnants of the original town wall dating back to the 1300s. We climbed up a tower inside a church to view the town, and could see our enormous ship in the distance.

I’m currently typing this from the cruise ship terminal where there is free wifi, and we need to go in for lunch. I’ll might have more if a chance to use the Internet tomorrow in St Petersburg. Sorry about the lack of photos- too hard to load turn on with limited internet.