The cause of reflection
In momentary pause
Poetry in motion
At Moscow’s train station
With passport and bag
With time to mind
To watch and observe
The choreographed dance
A myriad of journeys’
In variant rush,
A discordant crisscross
To noisy applause
The screech of rail
The whistling guards,
And off to the side
A queue at the Ladies!
Or entrancing occasion,
I pause to consider
This curious dilemma.
There’s always a queue,
No matter wherever,
For the Ladies
Not the men’s!
Idiosyncratic, I agree
not poetic, I suppose
Just pondering a life teaser
Amidst the clamour of venture
Whiles the waiting to board
The night sleeper train
To Saint Petersburg
Our friend Ros told me she preferred Moscow to St Petersburg. We agree. As grand, as cultured, in historical place and contemporary stand, Moscow was our favourite place of visit in Russia.
I was surprised by this. Excited to be visiting a city that in thought held a grandeur of any great cultural European city, Moscow somehow, was our preference.
Do not misunderstand. Saint Petersburg is grand and worthy of visit. Renowned for her outstanding ballet, theatre, classical music, writers, artists and the extraordinary collection of art and antiquities. There are apparently 8000 architectural monuments in Saint Petersburg that are UNESCO listed. We were amazed.
Perhaps overawed is the word to describe how we felt by a visit to the Hermitage, the Winter Palace, former home to Russian Emperors (Tsars) from the 1700’s to 1917 when the start of the Cultural-revolution, the revolt of the working class and communism turned St Petersburg to Leningrad and eventually, no longer the capital of Russia. Moscow became the capital. After dissolution of USSR, in 1991, 57% of the people elected to have this fine city restored to its former name of St Petersburg.
The Hermitage consisting of six buildings, including The green and white Winter Palace, is the 2nd largest museum in the world and is extraordinary in extravagance. Purportedly containing 3 million artifacts including famous works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, de Vinci. The linked buildings, room after room, lined from floor to ceiling with beautiful marble, the most beautiful wooden parquetry, chandeliers, drapes, carpets and filled with treasures of all descriptions. Our guide was knowledgeable and selective in her explanations bringing the stories behind the building itself and certain objects of art to our attention. The anecdotes of the Tsars, their affairs both personal and political, the turmoil of intrigue and wars, revolts and revolution; a rich liturgy of fact and figures and the acquisition of artifacts over the centuries is extraordinary and much to absorb. Certainly more than we could in the brief hours our tour afforded.
In fact, our tour of St Petersburg was conducted in two days. Not long enough and we felt somewhat rushed with little free time to self explore. Nonetheless, in two days we covered the visit to the Hermitage, walked in the serene Summer Gardens, enjoyed a view of St Petersburg from a canal boat, a walking tour with a guide, ate at a Georgian restaurant with the most delicious food, ate an evening meal with a delightful ‘local’ family (with 5 small children, who live in what would have been one large room, now divided into smaller rooms of a now crumbling mansion that would have once housed one bourgeois wealthy family), visited a small food market, sampling local produce and attended a wonderful evening of classical music at the Winter Palace.
Our brief sojourn in St Petersburg over, having enjoyed fine sunny weather; apparently in the short summer season, St Petersburg is lucky if the sun shines for 6 days (and we were blessed with two), Helsinki in Finland was the next country of call.
Helsinki. Our stay in Helsinki was somewhat brief. Two nights, two days and one of those days spent in Tallinn in Estonia. Compact, the central area of Helsinki was easily walked. Eclectic in architecture.
Finland’s checkered history holds close ties to Russia and Sweden and with wars and loss and gain of territory including a seige by Germany and perhaps the reason for the eclectic mix of architecture. There appears to be fewer culturally grand buildings in Helsinki. Particularly enjoyed Helsinki Cathedral, the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran cathedral with her grand exterior, plain interior with a statue of Luther and a most beautiful organ. The church was originally built from 1830-1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia.
Of interest also was the Rock church, Temppeliaukio church excavated directly into solid rock, completed in 1969. It is beautiful inside ascetically and acoustically. Dome copper ceiling supported on the rock walls by concrete beams. The interior walls are of rugged rock and rubble wall.
Loved also the Chapel of Silence, Kamppi Church. Known as a place to come and rest awhile, is ecumenical and welcomes people of all walks of life and religion. Situated in the heart of the city it won the international architectural award in 2010. Ascetically beautiful, contemporary. The chapel’s inner walls are made of thick oiled alder planks. The furniture is also made of solid wood. After viewing churches, our stomachs determined attention.
Lunch at Karl Fazer cafe was a must for us. Founded in 1891 with a lovely Art Deco facade and home to the Fazer chocolate empire, it serves delicious tempting savory and sweet foods. Yummy and coffee was okay too.
Tallinn in Estonia was also a must see, particularly the old walled city of Vallin. A beautiful cobblestoned village meandering up and down narrow lanes with many beautiful buildings of note. Travel to Tallin was a 2 hour ferry ride there and back from Helsinki. Our time in Tallinn was too short and in reality would have preferred to stay a couple of days. However, a day and night in Stockholm on the touring itinerary, reached from Helsinki by overnight ferry, awaited.
Stockholm, capital of Sweden, host to the annual Nobel Prize ceremonies and consisting of 14 islands linked by many many bridges.
Friends who have visited Stockholm said we were in for a treat. One day, one night is not long to see such a beautiful city, however a walking tour, a bus tour and a canal boat tour allowed much ground to be covered.
Of particular interest was Gamla Stan, the old cobblestoned paved city with beautiful centuries old buildings.
So too, the Under the Bridges canal boat trip was a pleasure and which also passed through a lock system which separates the Baltic Sea and Lake Mälaren. Most of the municipalities around Lake Mälaren take their drinking water from the lake. In order to prevent sea water from the Baltic entering Lake Mälaren and in order to save water, the water level of the lake is regulated by opening and closing various sluice gates.
Our brief walk, bus and canal tour over it was goodbye Stockholm by express train and hello Copenhagen.
Our accommodation for 2 nights situated in the heart of the iconic part of the city allowed a few wanders around this delightful area. Copenhagen is proud to claim the second highest number of bicycles per person.
One full day in Copenhagen was spent on a bus tour to visit the Little Mermaid (very popular with tourists and strangely, seems to have grown in size since John and I first saw her in 1982), The Royal Palace and Changing of The Guard (Princess Mary and family in residence but not available to receive some fellow Aussies) and the Opera House.
These same sites were later viewed from our canal boat ride which adeptly negotiated some low slung very narrow bridges.
Our last night with the group and guide before embarking on the Norwegian Cruise was at a restaurant called PUK and owned by an Australian. 3rd oldest restaurant in Denmark. John and I shared a 6 gustation menu that came in two serves, was delicious, with small quantities of each dish and included herring in sour cream with herbs, marinated salmon plus one other and came with a selection of bread. Sliced roast pork with crackling, chicken liver pate and cheese grapes and crackers. Really enjoyed this meal! Small serves allowed this small eater to cope.
Norwegian Fjords Cruise
Cruising has never appealed to me and after 6 days on MSC Poesia, I’m still not sold on cruising. However, to be fair I must point out the positives. Could unpack the suitcase for a few days, food was pretty good, so too the gym, show each night was reasonably entertaining and to view the Fjords from the deck was absolutely wonderful and a highlight of this trip.
Warnemunde in Germany was first port of call to off load and load 2000 passengers. Wandered around the small town and reminisced that this was the place we had caught a ferry after spending time in Germany and in particular after entering East Berlin via Checkpoint Charlie in 1982. (We had had visa issues, that is no visas or Deutschmark to pay for visas to cross from East Germany to Denmark. Warnemunde was then in East Germany. A group of Finnish students in our train cabin offered to loan us the correct money, saving us much trauma. We later repaid them but meanwhile we happily shared our unopened bottle of Southern Comfort.)
Weinemunde, a pleasant little town with shops that opened after 11 on this cool summer’s day. The beach was deserted except for a few children happily playing on a climbing frame while parents watched trying to keep warm. The beach has many rows of blue and white striped deckchair with shelters facing away from the sea. We guessed for wind protection!
Just a few hours to see this gorgeous town, Norway’s second largest city. Walked around the scenic historic old gabled wooden (UNESCO) town of Bryggen that overlooks the harbour.
Enjoyed the Funicular ride that climbs Mount Fløien affording majestic views over the port and surrounding Bergen and later a coach drive around Bergen.
Enjoyed our brief sojourn with Flaam. Our chosen excursion for Flaam was called a Nærøyfjord Pleasure Cruise and Waterfalls. 2 hour boat cruise (cool and sometimes raining but stood outside to see the fjord sights and waterfalls) followed by 1 hour coach drive including welcoming coffee and delicious pastry at Stalheim Hotel with awesome impressive steep sided mountain views despite cloudy and drizzly weather). Drive along the old mountain road, Stalheimsklevi, with incredible hairpin steep bends which the coach navigated with excellent locking and steering ability. Passed impressive waterfalls enroute. Returned to Flaam via 2 long tunnels, one 15kms long! Pity not more time at each spot to enjoy and photograph! However, took photographs galore of the mountains that night as the ship sailed onwards.
Hellesylt/Geiranger. Only passengers on a day trip over the mountains to Geiranger, disembarked at Hellesylt. We were not one of them but were instead rewarded with beautiful surrounding mountain views as the ship then sailed onto the Bay of Geiranger along Geiranger Fjord UNESCO listed since 2004.
More stunning snow dusted steep sided mountains and numerous waterfalls. MSC Poesia anchored in the bay. Ferried via small boats to shore, our excursion was to the Norwegian Fjord Centre & Scenic Geiranger.
The weather not to our advantage unfortunately, wet, misty, cloudy and while stopped to view the Seven Sisters waterfalls, which we couldn’t view at all, it snowed. That was fun, cool but fun.
Weather lifted later after the tour had finished and as we wandered around the small village gave grand views of snow topped mountains. Such is life. Previously we watched a 15 min video show of beautiful photos of the mountains over the four seasons. Such a beautiful mountainous country.
Dinner on board, then up to the back of deck 13 to enjoy the scenic mountain splendor slipping away as we sailed out of the Geiranger Fjord. Camera and the phone camera very busy! Amazing!
Returning to Copenhagen, it was time to say goodbye to our fellow 12 Eastern Australian travellers with whom we had shared a potted, all too brief tour of Russia and Scandinavia. We gelled as a group over the 19 days of travel, looked out for each other and John and I hope to meet up with some or all in the future.
This tour of Russia and Scandinavia was way to short for our liking. We prefer to spend a few days in a country, city, town, village, getting a feel for the culture as we seek out the highlights. To be less rushed. One has a sense of one city, one culture, too quickly one after another, rolls into one. A journal or a number of photos is paramount to review and take countenance of such travel. However, we chose such a tour because of its variety of means of transport; plane, ferries, busses, trains and cruise ship, and because it was a means to visit Russia and the Norwegian Fjords. So not complaining too much!
Our brief sojourn in Russia and Scandinavia over, our attention turned to Spain, Barcelona in particular before commencing our second Camino. A 19 day walk 323km walk across Spain from León to Santiago de Compostela. Next posting will be on that journey.