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1 - Early History 2 - Peter the Great 3 - St Petersburg 4 - Life After Peter 5 - Road to Moscow


 Russia 2012 Itinerary
 Saturday, August 18  Depart Copenhagen, Denmark
 Sunday, August 19  day at sea
 Monday, August 20  Stockholm, Sweden
 Tuesday, August 21  Helsinki, Finland
 Wednesday, August 22  St. Petersburg, Russia
 Thursday, August 23  Tallinn, Estonia
 Friday, August 24  day at sea
 Saturday, August 25  return to Copenhagen

About this Trip:

On August 18th, 2012, SSQQ Travel will undertake our most ambitious journey to date. We are headed halfway around the world to Russia and the countries of the Baltic Sea.

Most of us have just an inkling of the history from this part of the world.  In addition, the area is so remote that most of us Texans have only the vaguest sense of why this region is considered one of the great travel destinations.

This highlight of this journey will be our visit to St. Petersburg, the former capital of Russia during the Tsarist Era.  Built on the banks of the Neva River, St. Petersburg is fortunate to have a vast network of picturesque canals running through it.  These canals are so beautiful that St. Petersburg has been hailed as the "Venice of the North". 

St. Petersburg is home to the Hermitage, one of the most famous museums in the world.  St. Petersburg is also home to the stunning Summer and Winter Palaces. Names like Peter the Great and Catherine the Great will acquire new meaning as you behold these magnificent buildings. 

Sailing aboard Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Sea, this trip has so much to offer in addition to just St. Petersburg. 
Only a few of us have any idea how these countries were formed.  All of us are familiar with the Caribbean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.  However up in Northern Europe, for countless centuries warships have crisscrossed the Baltic Sea to do battle with neighboring countries. 

Finland, for example, was ripped from Sweden by Russia in 1809.  Finland won its freedom from Russia during the Russian Revolution of 1917.  Denmark has been at war with either Germany or Sweden to maintain its independence all the back to the day of the Vikings.  Estonia has been ruled by everybody.  Once it was a part of Denmark.  Then it was a part of Sweden.  Then it was a part of Russia.  Estonia got its freedom from Russia in 1917 only to be reoccupied by the Soviet Union during World War II.  Estonia regained its freedom during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. 

And we haven't even gotten to some of Russia's amazing history, have we?  The Tsars, the Romanovs, Lenin, Stalin, the Soviet Union, Gorbachev, the invasion of Napoleon, the invasion of Hitler, the Revolution, War and Peace, Dr Zhivago... so much to learn about!!  That is why we take these trips.  It helps us learn about parts of the world we knew practically nothing about before. 

Our trip should be considered a Grand Tour of Scandinavian capitals: Copenhagen, Denmark (pictured), Stockholm, Sweden, Helsinki, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia.  By the time this trip is over, you will have covered almost as much water as did the Vikings of old! 

These elegant cities rich are rich in history and tradition.  Castles, palaces, crown jewels, galleries and museums, cathedrals and canals are there for the eyes to behold on this visit to the far side of the planet over 5,000 miles away.

We will see cities filled with remarkable beauty - countless parks, tree-lined squares and boulevards, and lovely water vistas. We will explore cities and their medieval Old Towns as well as their ultra modern business districts.

St. Petersburg isn't the only "Venice of the North".  Copenhagen and Stockholm both lay claim to the same title.  Unlike Houston which doesn't have a clue how to show respect for its own waterway, each of these cities are built along rivers that create spectacular vistas. 

Stockholm, for example, is completely riddled with canals.  Stockholm (pictured) has more canals than Houston has freeways!  Stockholm's 14 islands are separated by sparkling waterways, which account for one third of Stockholm's total surface area.  Cruising these waterways and canals you can appreciate the serene beauty of Stockholm's waterside setting. Wouldn't it be fun to take a river ride along the banks of these islands?

As they say, whatever floats your boat is there for the viewing.  There is an amazing museum in every city.  If you want amusement parks, they don't get much better than Tivoli Park in Copenhagen.  If you like gardens, there is the Summer Garden in St. Petersburg and the Governor's Garden in Tallinn.  If you like the Renaissance Festival, wait till you see the Medieval Old Town in Tallinn.

Best of all, whether you are a single or a couple, what better way to enjoy a magnificent trip like this than to have the company and security of a group of your own friends?   Let's go see the world together! 

Rick and Marla 

A Brief History of t
he Baltic Sea

Rick's Note:  Any cruise trip to the Baltic Sea needs to take into consideration some of the major geographical features of the region.  As you can see from the map, St. Petersburg is practically Russia's only window to the west.  Yes, there are also Russia ports in the far north, but the winter ice and cold make them useless for much of the year.  There is also a tiny Russian exclave known as "Kaliningrad" next to Poland, but it is geographically separated from the rest of Russia and therefore useless as an export/import venue.

St. Petersburg is the door to Russia.  Interestingly, as you will read in my History of Russia, St. Petersburg was founded on the exact spot where Russia's destiny was first set in motion.  Along with Moscow, St. Petersburg has played a huge role in the story of this important country.

St. Petersburg is only accessible by sea for half of the year.  Ice plays a major role on the Baltic.  The Baltic Sea is ice-covered for about 45% of its surface area annually.  In particular, the three Gulfs freeze up.

The ice-covered area during a typical winter includes the Gulf of Bothnia, the Gulf of Riga and the Gulf of Finland.  When the Gulf of Finland freezes, St. Petersburg becomes inaccessible by ship.

At one point far in the past, the Baltic Sea was a giant enclosed lake.  Its waters were trapped inland similar to the Caspian Sea. 

Then as the Ice Age ended, the enormous buildup of waters created so much pressure that the earth gave way near Denmark.  Three narrow channels known as the Danish straits were created between the southern tip of Sweden known as Scania and Denmark's Jutland Peninsula

These gaps are very small.   The opening between Sweden and Denmark's Zealand Island (where Copenhagen is situated) is three miles. The opening between Zealand and Funan Island is twelve miles and the opening between Funan and the Jutland Peninsula is just one mile.

Today there are bridges (and a tunnel) that allow a car to actually drive from mainland Europe straight across to Sweden by hop-scotching over the two islands in the middle of the Straits.

In 1895, Germany created the Kiel Canal as a way to bypass Denmark. 250 nautical miles was saved by using the Kiel Canal instead of going around the Jutland Peninsula.

This not only saved time but also avoided potentially dangerous storm-prone seas.

Germany did this as part of its pre-WWI  military buildup. Its new battleships could travel from the Baltic Sea to the North Sea without having to go around Denmark.

The Vikings

No story of the Baltic Sea area could ever be complete without recalling the mighty Vikings.  The Vikings were the first dominant power in the region.  Bound by common blood, rather than battle each other, the Vikings preferred to expand their realms in different directions. 

During the Viking Age (790-1066 AD), the Norwegians expanded to the south and west to places such as Ireland, Scotland, Iceland and Greenland.  The Danes moved against England, settling in the Danelaw (north & east England) as well as Normandy in France.   The Swedes moved to the east, founding the Kievan Rus, the start that would one day become Russia. It is useful to note that the area we call "Finland" was all part of Sweden back then.

Considering how fierce and war-like the Vikings were, their demise was highly ironic.  The Viking Era appears to have ended due to the spread of Christianity.  Christianity didn't do much to stop the constant wars between the territories, but it did have an odd effect on the Vikings. 

The Vikings' major source of profit had been through slave trading.  They would travel far and wide, attack colonies, and take prisoners to sell elsewhere.  Unfortunately, Christianity took a dim view of slave trade.  Fellow Christians should not be owned as slaves.  Soon the Vikings found no one willing to buy their slaves any more.  This took much of the economic incentive out of raiding.  In this bizarre way, the civilizing influence of Christianity brought profound changes to the area known as Scandinavia. 

At this point, the people of the kingdoms of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark ended their marauding ways and switched to trading with other countries rather than attacking.

The Middle Ages

The study of how the various states of Europe were formed during the Middle Ages is ridiculously complex.  Over of period of 500 years, every single part of Europe seems to have experienced alternating cycles of greatness and decline. 

One of the underdogs was Denmark.  One would think Denmark would be powerful due to its control of the valuable Danish Straits.  However, Denmark had the misfortune of being situated at the crossroads of civilization.  Every time a new power wanted to expand, Denmark seemed to be in the way.  The Germanic people were always attempting to seize control of the area.  The Frankish people took turns invading as well.  If that wasn't enough, the growth of the powerful Swedish Empire looked to Denmark as a natural area of expansion.  Even the neighboring Dutch periodically became a menace.  

Denmark had once been mighty.  During the Viking Era, the Danes were feared far and wide.  They controlled most of the British Isles at one point and the Kingdom of Denmark extended all the way down to Hamburg in Germania.

However, throughout the Middle Ages, the people of Denmark always seemed to be on the defensive.   Germany was usually their biggest problem.  Over the centuries Germany kept forcing Demark to move its boundaries further north.    As a result, modern Denmark finally retreated all the way back to the edge of the Baltic Sea.  Now it only had the tiny Jutland Peninsula and a series of small islands in the Danish Straits left as the remains from its once great kingdom. 

The Swedish Empire

For every territorial loser like Denmark, there had to be a winner. That would be Sweden.  Sweden had once been mighty during the Viking Era, but fell behind thanks to the advent of Christianity.  During the medieval times, Sweden was a very poor and scarcely populated country on the fringe of European civilization with little power.

However, during the 17th century, Sweden emerged as a European great power.  Sweden rose to prominence on a continental scale during the tenure of King Gustavus Adolphus.  Thanks to some shrewd moves during the Thirty Years War (1616-1648)Adolphus seized territories from Russia and Poland–Lithuania in multiple conflicts.

However, after more than half a century of almost constant warfare, the Swedish economy had deteriorated and its manpower was badly depleted as well.  Fortunately another gifted ruler, Charles XI, took control just in time.  He made it his lifetime task to rebuild the economy and refit the army.  His legacy to his son Charles XII, the coming ruler of Sweden, was one of the finest arsenals in the world, a large standing army and a great fleet.  As the new century loomed in 1700, Sweden was at the height of its power.

Then something very terrible happened to Sweden.  The country would soon go from being the dominant power in the region to an also-ran like Denmark. 

Are you curious what happened to Sweden?  Somebody named Peter the Great came onto the world scene.  Thanks to Peter the Great and his prize city St. Petersburg, Sweden would begin a decline in power that would see its territory shrink in half. 

The Great Russian Bear had finally awakened from centuries of hibernation.  

If you are curious to know the whole story, I wrote an extensive history of Russia and why St. Petersburg came to become so important.

The Early History of Russia



Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen is considered the premier capital of Northern Europe. It is the center of the most dynamic region in Scandinavia. Copenhagen is one of Europe's oldest capitals with a royal touch - the monarchy in Denmark is the oldest in the world!

Be sure to visit all the historical architectural wonders such as the Royal Castle Amalienborg, and the Church of Our Saviour with its golden staircase and golden spire.

As the capital of the oldest kingdom in the world, royal Copenhagen has many interesting landmarks and architectural master-pieces reminding us of Danish history so intimately associated with the Danish throne and the royal family.

Right in the center of the city you'll find four royal palaces of which Amalienborg is the residence of Queen Margrethe ll.

Amalienborg Palace

 Amalienborg Palace is the residence of Queen Margrethe, her husband prince Henrik and her son the crown prince Frederik. Actually the royal palace is not one, but four different palaces flanking a square.

The four palaces wear built by four noble families in the middle of the 18th century on direct orders by the king Frederik V. The King needed a new royal palace but he didn't want to pay. The four families were given tax immunity for 40 years as token for their services to the crown.

In 1794 the royal family moved into the four palaces around the square which is considered to be one of the great architectural masterpieces in Europe. The statue in the middle of the square was sculptured by the French artist Saly.

Every day at noon you can watch the change of guards in the court-yard. When the Queen is at home she flies her colours with her royal coat of arms.

As the religious centre of Denmark, Copenhagen has quite a few churches which are architectural masterpieces. At least three of them are worth a closer look:

The Church of our Saviour

This magnificent church is named after King Christian V, the first monarch on the Danish throne with absolute power. The church is located in the Christianshavn area, close to the Freetown Christiania.

Look up at the church tower and you'll see an exterior golden staircase winding up to the spire. At the top, there is a golden globe crowned by a statue of a flag-bearing statue.

The golden staircase enables you to climb to the top of the church’s 95 meters high spire and from there you have a fantastic 360 degree view of Copenhagen, as well as the Oresund Bridge connecting Denmark with Sweden.

To climb to the top is a must when you visit Copenhagen; even if it can be quite a climb, it is well worth it for the excellent views. There is a total number of 400 steps to the top of the spire, the last 150 being outside.

When inside the church, look up into the ceiling, where you'll see the chains of the Order of the Elephant and the Order of the Dannebrogen. Both decorations were instigated by King Christian V. The church's exquisite organ is supported by a relief of two elephants.

The Marble Church

In 1749 King Frederik V ordered the Marble Church, to be built as a commemoration and celebration of the Oldenborg's 300 years on the Danish throne. It was one of the most expensive architectural adventures of those days; and the work on the new church was stopped several times because of lack of money. And in 1770 the workers were sent home and the construction site shut down. Only a small part of the once so great idea had been finished and now it fell into ruins - until 1874 when the financier Mr C.F. Tietgen bought it lock, stock and barrel, and finished the construction.  The Pantheon in Rome was the model; its marble came from Norway.

Our Lady's Church, The Copenhagen Cathedral

The cathedral as it is today was built 1810-29, designed in the Neo-Classical style by the Danish architect C.F. Hansen. It can sit more than one thousand people.

But its history goes back to the very beginning of the 13th century; although a rather small and unpretentious building, it was religiously important as the cathedral of Copenhagen and answered to the bishop Absalom of Roskilde. Four times it was ravaged by fire. In the beginning of the 14th century it was rebuilt and this time - large as a cathedral. For the next two centuries it was the main cathedral of Denmark, and in Europe it was considered as the most precious architectural masterpieces.

In 1728 the church once more was destroyed by fire but rebuilt in red brick, and re-inaugurated ten years later. The latest renovation was done in the 1970s.

Copenhagen is famous for its statues of Christ and the Apostles by famous Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen.

Gefion Fountain

Visit Louisiana, Arken and Glyptotek - all on the top among art museums in Europe; then be sure to take a walk towards the Gefion Fountain, Copenhagen's own Fontana di Trevi, and see how the Little Mermaid is doing...!

The Gefion Fountain is the largest monument in Copenhagen. It is situated at the end of Amaliegade, near the Kastellet.
The fountain is to Copenhagen what the Fontana di Trevi is to Rome, a wishing-well. The goddess Gefion is the fountain’s main figure.

The fountain was donated to the city of Copenhagen by the Carlsberg Foundation on the occasion of the brewery’s 50-year anniversary. The artist, Anders Bundgård, sculpted these huge naturalistic figures in 1897-99, and the fountain was inaugurated in 1908.

The legend of Gefion states that long before the dawn of our civilizations the powerful goddess Gefion was given land by the Swedish king Gylfe. Well, not really given for nothing but involving hard work. King Gylfe told Gefion that she could plough up as much land as she could for one night and one day and it would all be hers to do with whatever she wanted.  Gefion turned her four sons into big strong oxen and plough they did! When time expired she put all the earth into the Øresund and created Zealand, the very island where Copenhagen is situated today.

The big hole which Gefion left in the ground, when her ploughing was done, is now the lake Vänern, north of Gothenburg, in Sweden. And if you don’t believe it just look at a map and you’ll find that Zealand and Vänern are shaped alike.

Little Mermaid

Every Danish sailor who ever stood on a deck knows that the waters of Øresund used to be full of Mermaids. According to a legend, the home of all Mermaids was Mermaid Banks in Øresund - the very same place where today the Copenhagen's most famous attraction - Little Mermaid - sits on a rock.

The Little Mermaid sculpture was commissioned in 1909 by the Carlsberg brewer Carl Jacobsen, impressed by a ballet "The little Mermaid" based on a fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen. The sculptor Edward Eriksen sculptured the mermaid in bronze, using his wife Eline as a model for the body. The head was modelled after a primaballerina Ellen Price.

Be prepared: The Little Mermaid is really little - the city's attraction #1 is only 1.25 metres/4 feet high
The fairy tale is a tragic story of a mermaid, the youngest daughter of a sea king, who wants her soul to have an eternal life, like humans have. Mermaids live only 300 years, and then they turn into sea foam. The Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid has been sitting on her rock since 1913, so she still has some more years to go…

Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli, the amusement park with class and charm, right in the middle of the city, is a "must", too. The Tivoli Gardens have amused and enchanted Copenhageners and people from all over the world since its first season in 1843.

Like a small fairy-tale village, you'll find it right in the heart of Copenhagen. And we assure you that Tivoli's got something for everyone, no matter what age. You'll find everything from roller coasters to theatres, romantic gourmet restaurants, cafés, bars, magnificent flowers and outdoor stages where local and international stars perform throughout the season.

It features thousands of flowers, a merry-go-round of tiny Viking ships, games of chance and skill (pinball arcades, slot machines, shooting galleries), and a Ferris wheel of hot-air balloons and cabin seats. The latest attraction at Tivoli, "The Demon," is the biggest roller coaster in Denmark. Passengers whiz through three loops on the thrill ride, reaching a top speed of 50 mph.

An Arabian-style fantasy palace, with towers and arches, houses more than two dozen expensive restaurants, from a lakeside inn to a beer garden. Take a walk around the edge of the tiny lake with its ducks, swans, and boats

You may want to visit at night. More than 100,000 specially made soft-glow light bulbs and at least a million regular bulbs are turned on. What a sight to behold!

There is more: have a Carlsberg beer in one of many beer cafés by the canal in Nyhavn, or visit the Carlsberg Brewery, to learn about the origins of the world famous Danish beer.

Rosenborg Castle

Rosenborg Castle is a renaissance castle located in the centre of Copenhagen.  The castle was originally built as a country summerhouse in 1606 and is an example of Christian IV's many architectural projects.

The castle is situated in "The King's Garden".  The Rosenborg Castle Garden is the country's oldest royal garden and was embellished in the Renaissance style by Christian IV shortly before the construction of the main castle. Today, the gardens are a popular retreat in the centre of Copenhagen, and attract an estimated 2.5 million visitors every year.


In old days, Nyhavn was a place for sailors coming to Copenhagen, and the port was split in two parts - one “naughty”, and one “nice” side.

Nowadays Nyhavn - with its picturesque harbour with old sailing ships bobbing on the canals’ water, and colourful facades of old houses - is a big tourist attraction, along with the nearby Kongens Nytorv, Strøget, and Amalienborg Palace. It is here various canal tour excursions start, too.

However, Nyhavn is still popular among the locals, who as soon as weather permits occupy numerous outdoors bars and restaurants by the canal. Others prefer to spend time simply sitting by the waterfront and chatting over some beers. Today, on this formerly gloomy side of the street, the atmosphere is always cosy and familiar.

The famous Danish writer H. C. Andersen wrote his first fairy tale in the house number 20 down the harbour in 1835; he ended his life in the house number 18. In between, he lived nineteen years in the number 67

These are truly exciting, cool and very enjoyable places to visit.

Rick's Write-up on our actual visit to Copenhagen

Tivoli Gardens

Nyhavn Harbor


Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm is arguably Scandinavia's most regal, cutting-edge and intriguing city. It sits astride 14 islands on the sparkling waters of Lake Mälaren connected by 57 bridges. The Swedish capital is a cool Nordic beauty with a dramatic backyard. You'll discover that urban can be natural and historic can be hip.

Stockholm is also one of the most beautiful capitals in the world. The beautiful buildings, the greenery, the fresh air and the proximity to the water are distinctive traits of this city. The Royal National City Park, (the first National City Park in the world), is a green space that breathes for the city, and is a constant presence within the crush of the city.

The world's first national urban park forms an arc more than six miles long, stretching around and through the city. The park abuts the adjoining forests around the city, ensuring an exceptional wealth of species. You can encounter deer and hares, even foxes and moose, and spot rare birds, butterflies and insects, right inside the city. You can walk for days through the Ekoparken, discovering ever new lovely spots.

There's an abundance of things to see within the park: museums, an amusement park, theaters and entertainment, castles, inns and hotels, sports facilities, numerous residences from different historical periods, hills with centuries-old oak trees, lakes, streams, bays, marshes and canals, meadows with grazing cows, horses and sheep, secluded swimming spots, rocky hilltops and areas with wild, virgin nature where you will have difficulty imagining you're in the middle of a big city.

With its 750 year history and rich cultural life, Stockholm offers a wide selection of world-class museums and other attractions. Most of the city's attractions can be reached on foot, and there's a good chance of experiencing a lot of things in a short time. Experience big-city life, the history of civilization and natural scenery, all in the course of the same day.

Royal Palace

The Royal Palace is the official residence of His Majesty the King of Sweden, with over 600 rooms. The Palace is open to the public and offers no less than five museums. The Palace was largely built during the eighteenth century in the Italian Baroque style, on the spot where the "Tre Kronor" castle burned down in 1697. Visit the reception rooms with splendid interiors from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Rikssalen (the Hall of State) with Queen Kristina's silver throne, and Ordenssalarna (Halls of the Orders of Chivalry). You can also see Gustav III's Museum of Antiquities, the Tre Kronor Museum and the Treasury. The Royal Palace also contains the Armory, with royal costumes and armor, as well as coronation carriages and magnificent coaches from the Royal Stable. Make sure not to miss the parade of soldiers and the daily changing of the guard.

City Hall

Be sure to visit Stockholm's City Hall. Climb the City Hall tower for a fantastic view of Stockholm. City Hall, with its spire featuring the golden Three Crowns, is one of the most famous silhouettes in Stockholm. Guided tours are available all year round.

Stockholm's City Hall is one of the country's leading examples of national romanticism in architecture. The City Hall was designed by the architect Ragnar Östberg, and opened on Midsummer Eve in 1923. The City Hall is built from eight million bricks, and the 106 meter tall tower has the three crowns, which is the Swedish national coat of arms, at its apex. Behind the magnificent facades are offices and session halls for politicians and officials, as well as splendid assembly rooms and unique works of art. Stockholm's municipal council meets in Rådssalen, the Council Chamber. The great Nobel banquet is also held in City Hall. After dinner in Blå hallen, the Blue Hall, Nobel Prize recipients, royalty and guests dance in Gyllene salen, the Golden Hall, with its 18 million gold mosaic tiles.

Gamla Stan

Don't miss Gamla Stan, Stockholm's oldest attraction and one of the best preserved medieval city centers in the world. Walk through small winding streets lined with stores full of handicrafts, antiques, art galleries and cafés. The Royal Palace and Stockholm Cathedral are also located in Gamla Stan.

Gamla Stan is one of the largest and best preserved medieval city centers in Europe, and one of the foremost attractions in Stockholm. This is where Stockholm was founded in 1252.

All of Gamla Stan and the adjacent island of Riddarholmen are like a living pedestrian-friendly museum full of sights, attractions, restaurants, cafés, bars and places to shop. Gamla Stan is also popular with aficionados of handicrafts, curios and souvenirs. The narrow winding cobblestone streets, with their buildings in so many different shades of gold, give Gamla Stan its unique character. Even now cellar vaults and frescoes from the Middle Ages can be found behind the visible facades, and on snowy winter days the district feels like something from a story book.

There are several beautiful churches and museums in Gamla Stan, including Sweden's national cathedral Stockholm Cathedral and the Nobel Museum. The largest of the attractions in the district is the Royal Palace, one of the largest palaces in the world with over 600 rooms. In addition to the reception rooms, there are several interesting museums in the Palace, including the Royal Armory, with royal costumes and armor. Don't miss the parade of soldiers and the daily changing of the guard.

Västerlånggatan and Österlånggatan are the district's main streets. The city wall that once surrounded the city ran inside these streets along what is now Prästgatan. In the middle of Gamla Stan is Stortorget, the oldest square in Stockholm. Stortorget is the central point from which runs Köpmangatan, the oldest street in Stockholm, which was mentioned as early as the fourteenth century. Mårten Trotzigs gränd (Mårten Trotzigs alley) is hard to find. It's the narrowest alley in Gamla Stan, only 90 centimeters wide at its narrowest point. Make sure not to miss Riddarholmen and the Riddarholmen Church. The church is a royal burial church, and was built as a Franciscan monastery for the so-called Grey Brother monks in the thirteenth century.

The green island of Djurgården is home to some of the city's most popular attractions. Visit the world-famous warship the Vasa at The Vasa Museum. The Vasa is the only preserved seventeenth-century ship in the world, and a unique art treasure. More than 95 percent of the ship is original, and it is decorated with hundreds of carved sculptures.

The 69 meter-long warship Vasa sank on its maiden voyage in the middle of Stockholm in 1628, and was salvaged 333 years later in 1961. For nearly half a century the ship has been slowly, deliberately and painstakingly restored to a state approaching its original glory. The three masts on the roof outside the specially built museum show the height of the ship's original masts.

Today the Vasa Museum is the most visited museum in Scandinavia, with over one million visitors a year. There are nine different exhibitions around the ship to tell about life on board the ship.

If you prefer, visit the world's oldest open-air museum Skansen. Skansen consists of the oldest open-air museum in the world and the Stockholm zoo, with a beautiful location on Royal Djurgården and a view over all of Stockholm.

Skansen is a favorite both among Stockholmers and visitors passing through, and it's a perfect family outing. At Skansen you can learn about traditional crafts and traditions. This is the place to visit historic Sweden in miniature. 150 farms and dwellings from different parts of the country were disassembled and transported here.

You'll find charming town districts with glass blowing, pottery, a tinsmith's workshop and a bakery, a gold-colored manor house, the Skogaholm manor house, the beautiful eighteenth-century Seglora wooden church and the The museum shop is a must for fans of traditional handicrafts. You can also see all of the animals native to Scandinavia such as moose, bears, lynxes, wolves, wolverines and seals. There is also a terrarium, a monkey house and a children's zoo.

Swedish traditions such as Midsummer, Walpurgis Night and Lucia are celebrated at Skansen. Skansen in the Christmas season is a special event, with a Christmas market, traditional Swedish julbord (Christmas buffet) and hopefully snow. Those who want to enjoy a traditional Swedish smörgåsbord can have their wish at the Solliden restaurant. Skansen has several restaurants and charming cafés.


Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, the capital of the Republic of Finland, is a modern city with over half a million residents and is situated on the Baltic Sea. Helsinki is one of Europe's richest capitals. Helsinki is often regarded as the economical capital of Scandinavia, with important wordwide businesses, such as Nokia and Laponia Jewelry, having based their headquarters there.

Helsinki is situated on the south coast of Finland. Founded by King Gustaf Vasa of Sweden in 1550, the city of Helsinki was initially a small fishing town until 1812 when it was "modernized" under Russian rule and turned into the administrative capital of the Autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland. Carl Engel - an architect from Lublin in Germany - was asked to come to Helsinki and re-design it.

Helsinki is thus a prime example of 19th century Neoclassical architecture, and the Lutheran Cathedral in the middle of the city is, without doubt, one of its best known landmarks. While the capital suffered little damage in the civil war following Finland's declaration of independence in 1917, Helsinki was constantly being bombed by Soviet airplanes during WWII.

Helsinki is unique among Northern European cities. The lifestyle in the second-most northern capital city in the world is full of contrasts and activities in the form of hundreds of events and friendly people. Helsinki's identity has been formed by cultural influences from both the East and West.

Over 450 years of history, several architectural layers and the impact of different periods can be clearly seen in Helsinki. Finnish design has also made the country's capital city world famous. The beauty of the surrounding nature blends seamlessly together with high-tech achievements, while old traditions mix with the latest contemporary trends. The city centre has many beautiful parks, and the nearby forests offer an ideal setting for peaceful and quiet walks.

Helsinki is a compact and beautiful city that is ideal for seeing on foot. The city also has an excellent public transportation system for getting around and visiting outlying areas

Here are a few of the top ways to spend your time in Helsinki:

Senate Square and Market Square - the Heart of Helsinki

The Senate Square and surrounding buildings form a unique and cohesive example of Neo-Classical architecture. The square is decorated by three buildings designed by C. L. Engel between 1822 and 1852: the Cathedral, Council of State and the University of Helsinki.

In the immediate vicinity you will also find the National Library, the Sofiankatu museum street, Esplanade Park and the Market Square. In the summer the Market Square is filled with stalls selling fruits, vegetables and souvenirs. It is also a great place to admire, taste and purchase fresh and smoked fish.

Suomenlinna Castle

Suomenlinna is one of the world's largest maritime fortresses and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991. Built on six islands off the coast of Helsinki, Suomenlinna is today one of the most popular sights in Finland.

Suomenlinna offers an unforgettable experience for all ages, offering museums, special events, idyllic cafes and cozy restaurants. It is a great place for a walk year-round.

Suomenlinna is a group of small islands that sits guard to the city harbor. In the 1700s an impressive fortress was begun and then further expanded throughout the 1800s under Russian rule. Military use was stopped about 30 years ago and today about 900 people live on the small island. Take a ferry from the market square to get there and explore the castle and the surrounding areas.

Temppeliaukion Kirkko (Rock Church)

The Cathedral of Helsinki is perhaps the most photographed and recognizable building in Finland. Designed by C. L. Engel, the Cathedral celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2002.

The Temppeliaukio 'Rock' Church is one of Finland's most popular tourist attractions and one of the most respected examples of modern architecture in Helsinki. Quarried out of the natural bedrock, the church has excellent acoustics and is a popular venue for concerts.

Completed in 1868, the Uspenski Cathedral is the largest orthodox church in Western Europe. With its golden cupolas and redbrick facade, the church is one of the clearest symbols of the Russian impact on Finnish history during the 19th century.
This modern church shows the simplicity of Finnish design in its truest form. Carved from a rock with a beautiful copper dome, this church is known for its clean lines, open space, and natural wood and rock colors. Located in the eastern area of the city, the church is centrally located and easy to find.

Helsinki Seurasaari Open Air Museum

The Seurasaari Open-Air Museum provides an insight into Finnish housing in days gone by and Finnish folk tradition. The buildings and interiors transferred to the Museum from the Finnish provinces reflect the life of crofters, peasants and gentry from the 18th to the 20th century. Guides in national costumes lead visitors back to the cottages and salons of former times.

Located on an island just a few kilometers from Helsinki, the museum is easily reached by public transport. Along with being host to a nice open air museum made up of buildings from all over Finland depicting all sorts of Finnish architecture, the island is a great place to walk or run and just enjoy some fresh air. During holidays and summer there are many events here as well as interesting handicraft demonstrations.

National Museum of Finland

This is the largest historical museum in Helsinki and offers a large collection dating from prehistoric times to the 21st century. The actual building that the museum is housed in is a tourist attraction itself, as it is a romantic style neo-medieval castle. This museum will give you a comprehensive overview of the history of the country and its people.

Helsinki Kauppatori

This is a great market to explore if you are in Finland in the summer. Enjoy some great Finnish delicacies such as salmon or even reindeer for lunch while basking in the sun and fresh air. This is a nice break from sightseeing and a great opportunity to catch a free concert on the Eslanadi or just relax, feel the breeze and take in some Finnish culture.


St. Petersburg, Russia

One of the world's most beautiful cities, St. Petersburg has all the ingredients for an unforgettable travel experience: high art, lavish architecture, wild nightlife, an extraordinary history and rich cultural traditions that have inspired and nurtured some of the modern world's greatest literature, music, and visual art.

Although just 300 years old, St. Petersburg has a rich and exciting history, full of dramatic events and major historical figures. Founded in 1703 by Emperor Peter the Great as his "window on the West", St. Petersburg enjoys a vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere and some of the most beautiful architecture in Europe. Despite its short life so far, Petersburg has a rich and exciting history. From the early days of Peter the Great's "Venice of the North" to the modern events of the 1991 coup d'etat, the city has always bustled with life and intrigue, revolution and mystery.

St. Petersburg has the clean lines and elegant architecture of a planned city but built on top of the canals and meandering rivers of a network of over 60 islands, earning it a reputation among visitors as the Venice of the North. And St. Petersburg does feel distinctly more European than most of the other major Russian cities, however the city's history, interwoven throughout the skyline with the colorful tsar palaces and the ornate churches keep the city's Russian identity alive.

A city of palaces and museums, broad avenues and winding canals, St. Petersburg's short history has endowed the city with a wealth of architectural and artistic treasures. Alongside world-famous attractions such as the Hermitage, St. Isaac's Cathedral and the Mariinsky Theatre, the city has scores of lesser known but equally fascinating sights that reveal both the pomp and extravagance of St. Petersburg's political and Imperial past, and also the mysterious, tragic genius that has touched so many of the city's great artists and writers. Still considered Russia's cultural capital, St. Petersburg reflects the country's extraordinary fate like no other city, and its uniquely rich atmosphere exerts a powerful grip on even the most jaded traveler.

The Hermitage

St. Petersburg's most popular visitor attraction, and one of the world's largest and most prestigious museums, the Hermitage is a must-see for all first-time travelers to the city. With over 3 million items in its collection, it also definitely rewards repeat visits, and new-comers can only hope to get a brief taste of the riches on offer here, from Impressionist masterpieces to fascinating Oriental treasures. One estimate has it that you would need eleven years to view each exhibit on display for just one minute, so many visitors prefer to organize a guided tour to ensure they have time to catch all the collection's highlights. Art aficionados, however, may find it more rewarding to seek out for themselves the works that they are particularly interested in.

The bulk of the Hermitage collection is housed in the Winter Palace, formerly the official residence of the Romanov Tsars, and its several annexes. However, there are a number of other sites that constitute part of the Hermitage, including the recently opened Storage Facility in the north of St. Petersburg, which offers guided tours through some of the museum's vast stocks.

The Old Hermitage, is unquestionably the biggest draw for visitors to St. Petersburg. Founded by Catherine the Great, who bought up artwork en masse from European aristocrats, embellished by each of her successors, and then massively enriched by Bolshevik confiscations and Red Army seizures in conquered Germany, the Hermitage collection is incredibly varied, ranging from ancient Siberian artifacts to post-impressionist masterpieces by Matisse and Picasso.

Winter Palace

Equally impressive are the lavishly decorated State Rooms of the Winter Palace, testament to the incredible wealth and extravagant tastes of the Romanov Tsars.

When Peter the Great re-claimed the lands along the Neva River in 1703, he decided to build a fort to protect the area from possible attack by the Swedish army and navy. The fortress was founded on a small island in the Neva delta on May 27, 1703 (May 16 according to the old calendar) and that day became the birthday of the city of St Petersburg. The Swedes were defeated before the fortress was even completed. For that reason, from 1721 onwards the fortress housed part of the city's garrison and rather notoriously served as a high security political jail. Among the first inmates was Peter's own rebellious son Alexei. Later, the list of famous residents included Dostoyevsky, Gorkiy, Trotsky and Lenin's older brother, Alexander. Parts of the former jail are now open to the public...

In the middle of the fortress stands the impressive Peter and Paul Cathedral, the burial place of all the Russian Emperors and Empresses from Peter the Great to Alexander III. The Cathedral was the first church in the city to be built of stone (between 1712-33) and its design is curiously unusual for a Russian Orthodox church.

This elegant, early Baroque cathedral is still the second tallest building in the city, outdone only by the modern television tower. Almost every Russian ruler since the cathedral's construction is interred here, and it is indeed a regal place, with a majestic iconostasis and the collection of huge, lavishly decorated tombs, many of which are carved from valuable monolithic stones. The bell tower is the cathedral's pride, its gilded needle stretching up 404 feet, topped with an angel holding a cross.

On top of the cathedrals' gilded spire stands a magnificent golden angel holding a cross. This weathervane is one of the most prominent symbols of St Petersburg, and at 404 feet tall, the cathedral is the highest building in the city.

Other buildings in the fortress include the City History Museum and the Mint, one of only two places in Russia where coins and medals are minted.

Across the river from the Peter and Paul fortress you can visit the historical Summer Garden. Behind the beautiful wrought iron fence there is an old park that has witnessed some of the most spectacular moments in St. Petersburg's early history.

Impressed by the royal parks that he had seen in Europe, Peter the Great was very keen to create something similar in his newly built "Venice of the North". In Peter's new park everything was created according to the latest fashions; the trees and bushes were trimmed in the most elaborate way and all the alleys were decorated with marble statues and fountains. Peter the Great used to organize regular receptions and balls in the gardens, his " assamblei ", which involved dancing and drinking and impressive firework displays.

Tsar Peter commissioned the city's first and foremost architect, the Italian Domenico Trezzini, to build a small palace in the park. The palace had no heating and was intended only for summer time use, hence its name "Summer Palace", as opposed to the "Winter Palace" that Peter had built just down the same embankment of the Neva. The Summer Palace, a small two-storey yellow building, was built between 1710 and 1714, with 7 rooms on each floor. After the Second World War the palace was carefully restored, the older interiors were recreated and a collection of early 18th century artifacts, many originally owned by Peter the Great, was put on display.

It is always a great pleasure to take a stroll down the alleys of the Summer Garden, passing by the palace, the marvelous marble statues and the pond. A pair of white swans returns every year to the Karpiev pond in the Summer Garden, even though the park is located in the middle of a bustling city...
Of all St. Petersburg's attractions, the country estate of Peterhof is perhaps the place that inspires the greatest pride among the city's population. Extravagant and bombastic in parts, elegant and relaxed in others, Peterhof's palace and grounds are a more than ample testimony to the crazy opulence of Tsarist Russia. The steps leading down from the palace to the lower gardens run next to the Grand Cascaden, a large area comprised of nearly 150 fountains, glittering golden statues and checkered ceramic.

After visiting Versailles it is clear that Peter the Great's Peterhof does qualify for the title of 'The Russian Versailles'. The same ornate water features litter the perfect lawns and classical pillars and statues, some covered in gold leaf, lead up to the same grand chateau style palace.

The main fountain, called The Grand cascade is modeled on Louis XIV's Marly Chateau, underneath which there is a museum detailing the construction of Peterhof's fountains which work by harnessing the natural pressure built up from underground springs. Though undoubtedly grand the fountains are also playful - many intending to soak un-wilily passersby.

The main palace is the Grand Palace which is built long and narrow to make the most of its prime views over the gardens. This palaces 30 rooms contain some unusual pieces of art and a generous collection of eastern and Asian artifacts.

While the brightly colored almost shimmering exterior may be photo familiar, the interior may surprise, it's covered in mosaics carefully mimicking famous Russian art works. The blood in the churches name is that of Alexander II, following the tradition in the Russian Orthodox Church of building Spilled Blood Churches on places where Tzars have been murdered.

The section of cobble stoned road on which Alexander II was mortally wounded by a grenade explosion is now included within the walls of the church, a striking contrast to the opulent designs and mosaics which surround it. Commissioned by Alexander III in 1883 as a memorial to his father the style was chosen to give the relatively new St. Petersburg a more traditional feel, based as it is on St. Basils in Moscow, many critics say it's artificial and much more modern than traditional. During the revolution it was closed off then used to store potatoes during WWII, after 27 years of restoration it is now open as a mosaic museum but has never been re-consecrated as a church.

The magnificent Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of St. Petersburg's most memorable landmarks. The church, built at the end of the 19th century, is constructed in a classical Russian style decorated with colorful domes and glazed tiles.

Officially consecrated as the Church of the Resurrection of Christ, the Russian Orthodox gem more commonly known as the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood was built to honor tsar Alexander II of Russia, who was assassinated at the site where the church now sits, hence the reference to "spilled blood". The section of the street on which the assassination took place is enclosed within the walls of the church and the site of the murder is marked by a chapel in the building.

At the request of Alexander III, son of Alexander II, construction on the church began in 1883. Funding for this amazing structure was almost totally provided by the Imperial family with other donations made by private individuals. The project was completed in 1907.

The principle architect chosen for the project was Alfred Alexandrovich Parland, who was, incidentally, a non-Russian-born individual. The architecture of the church varies greatly from other buildings and religious structures in St. Petersburg, which were largely constructed in the Baroque and neo-Classical styles.

Looking at both the interior and exterior, it's easy to see why the church cost about 4.6 million rubles, way over the budgeted 3.6 million. The outside was designed to mirror the magnificent St. Basil's in Moscow, the city's easily-recognizable centerpiece, and the building - both inside and outside - features about 7,000 square meters of mosaics, most of them designed by the prominent artists of the time, including Viktor Vasnetsov, Mikhail Nesterov and Mikhail Vrubel. The majority of the mosaics depict biblical scenes and saints though some are just patterns. The colorful onion domes, of which the central one reaches a height of 81 meter (266 ft), are covered with bright enamels.


Tallinn, Estonia

One of Europe's most enchanting cities, Tallinn is a heady blend of medieval and modern, with narrow, cobbled streets set beneath the spires of 14th-century churches, and a wild mix of restaurants cafés, boutiques and nightclubs hidden in the carved stone walls.

Most visitors gravitate to the Old Town, one of Europe's most fascinating and well preserved.

With nearly 2km of its original city wall still standing, Tallinn boasts one of Europe's best preserved Medieval fortifications. In fact, a large part of what gives Old Town its fairytale charm is the system of walls and and towers that surrounds it.

Savor the fabulous architecture and narrow passageways that for centuries were the heart of this Hanseatic League trading town.

Work on the town's defenses first began in 1265, but the current outline of the wall dates to the 14th century. By its heyday in the 16th century, the wall was 2.4km long, 14-16m high, up to 3m thick, and included 46 towers. Today 1.9 km of the wall and roughly half of the original towers still loom over Old Town, evoking images of heroic knights and damsels in distress.

The best places to see the wall from the outside are the Patkuli view platform on Toompea and the Tornide väljak (Tower Square), a park area near the train station.

It's also possible to get a look at the wall from the inside. The portion of the wall that's open to the public connects Nunna, Sauna and Kuldjala towers. Visitors can climb up and imagine what it felt like to guard the town against would-be invaders, but the wall is even more popular for its picturesque view of the red-tiled roofs of Old Town.

In the heart of the Old Town are the medieval structures that formed the base of Tallinn's commercial operations. Not far from the sea, the square is dominated by the 600-year-old Town Hall. A climb to the top of its tower offers visitors astounding city and harbor views. Directly across from the Town Hall is the Town Hall Pharmacy, which claims to be one of Europe's oldest. Here, visitors can still get their medical complaints attended to on a site that claims to have been catering to those in need since the early 15th century.

A walk through Salakang Alley, one of the city's most intriguing narrow passageways, brings visitors to another 15th-century gem, the Great Guild Hall. This is where wealthy merchants bought and sold goods and set ground rules that controlled much of the city's labor force. Today it is home to the Estonian History Museum, featuring artifacts and interactive displays that provide a real understanding of the importance of commerce to Tallinn. Not far away is the cobble-stoned St. Catherine's Passageway, which is lined with crafts shops along the surviving wall of St. Catherine's Church, erected in 1246.

Old Tallinn is actually a two-tiered town. The older sector, called Toompea, is the site of the original Danish settlement where the homes of noblemen were constructed. Highlights include the 13th-century Toompea castle, Riigijkogu, Estonia's parliament, the impressive Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox cathedral and the 13th-century St. Mary's church.

Perched on a limestone cliff and towering over the rest of the city, Toompea Castle has always been the seat of power in Estonia. Ever since the German Knights of the Sword first built a stone fortress here in 1227-29, every foreign empire that ruled Estonia used the castle as its base. Today, appropriately, it's home to Estonia's Parliament.

The castle has been revamped countless times through the centuries, but still retains the basic shape it was given in the 13th and 14th centuries. From its front, visitors can only see a pink, Baroque palace dating to the time of Catherine the Great. A look at its opposite side, visible from the base of the hill, gives a much more Medieval perspective.

From the Governor's Garden at the castle's southern edge, the 46-metre Pikk Hermann tower comes into view. The tower is a vital national symbol: tradition dictates that whichever nation flies its flag over Pikk Hermann also rules Estonia. Each day at sunrise the Estonian flag is raised above the tower to the tune of the national anthem.

The gleaming, Medieval church that stands at the centre of Toompea hill is best known by locals as the 'Toomkirik' (Dome Church), and it's the main Lutheran church in Estonia. Established sometime before 1233 and repeatedly rebuilt since, the church displays a mix of architectural styles. Its vaulted main body dates to the 14th century, while its baroque tower was an addition from the late 1770s.

Historically this was the church of Estonia's elite German nobles, a fact that becomes clear once you step through the doors. The interior is filled with elaborate funereal coats of arms from the 17th to the 20th centuries as well as burial stones from the 13th to the 18th centuries. Among the notables buried here are Pontus de la Gardie, who commanded Swedish forces during the Great Northern War, Adam Johann von Krusenstern, the Baltic-German admiral who led Russia's first expedition around the world, and Scottish-born Admiral Samuel Greig of Fife, rumoured to be Catherine the Great's lover.

Just inside the main entrance you'll find a large stone slab which reads, "Otto Johann Thuve, landlord of Edise, Vääna and Koonu Ehis grave, 1696 A.D."  Thuve, now sometimes referred to as 'Tallinn's Don Juan', was an incurable drinker and womanizer. As he lay dying, however, he asked to be buried here at the threshold of the church so that god fearing people, as they kneel to pray upon entering, might eventually save his soul from his sinful ways.

Much of the town's appeal for overseas visitors is the medieval section within the city's surviving walls. But there are some newer attractions, including the 18th-century Kadriorg Park palace and cottage erected by Russia's Peter the Great, as well as several nearby museums.

A trip to Tallinn isn't a trip to Tallinn without a visit to this magnificent northern baroque palace, built by Peter the Great for his wife, Catherine I, in 1718.

Designed by Italian architect Niccolo Michetti, the grandiose palace and surrounding manicured gardens are a humbling example of Tsarist extravagance, but just as important a reason to visit is that this is also home to the foreign art collection of the Art Museum of Estonia.

The Kadriorg Art Museum displays hundreds of 16th- to 20th-century paintings by Western and Russian artists, as well as prints, sculptures and other works.

Don't miss the two-story main hall, with its elaborately painted ceiling and stucco work, or the room used as an office by Estonia's head of state before the nearby Presidential Palace was built.

Surrounding the Palace are several interesting palace side buildings. For example the restored kitchen building is now occupied by a cozy art museum called the Mikkel Museum, and the humble summer estate is the Peter I House Museum. The palace governor's house (the castellan's house) is now home to the Kastellaanimaja Gallery and the Eduard Vilde House Museum.Equally fascinating is the KGB Museum atop the Viru Hotel.

Located quite close to the Viru Gate-a prime entry point in the medieval walls-the hotel was constructed by the Soviet Union in 1972 to help draw visitors and their hard currencies from the West. While limited visitation was encouraged, the KGB (the Soviet spy agency) ensured that every guestroom was bugged and almost everything that happened within the hotel was scrutinized. Today, hour-long tours include a visit to the KGB office.

The World Heritage-listed Old Town has plenty of distractions for even the most ambitious itinerary. Although large art museums are nonexistent, you'll find some historic gems that illuminate both Tallinn's medieval past and its long grey days under the Soviet yoke. Meanwhile, its growing gallery scene showcases Estonia's most creative 21st-century artists

Color isn't limited to the art world. The flare of the streets is decidedly fashion-forward, with Tallinn's boutiques bearing the imprint of rising Estonian designers. This contrasts with the centuries-old artisan traditions of glassblowing, weaving and pottery, all of which make Tallinn such a shoppers' paradise.

Tallinn's café culture is hard to match. Art-Deco patisseries, cozy, candlelit anterooms and breezy, sunlit patios are the settings for strong coffee and people-watching - a fine prelude to the city's alluring restaurants and bars. Decadent old-world dining rooms, charming wine cellars and super-stylish bistros provide the backdrop to exquisite dishes from every savory corner of the globe.

Outside the medieval quarters, there's lots to see. Delve into the past at Peter the Great's Kadriorg Palace, a baroque masterpiece surrounded by idyllic woodlands. A trip to Tallinn isn't a trip to Tallinn without a visit to this magnificent northern baroque palace, built by Peter the Great for his wife, Catherine I, in 1718.

Designed by Italian architect Niccolo Michetti, the grandiose palace and surrounding manicured gardens are a humbling example of Tsarist extravagance, but just as important a reason to visit is that this is also home to the foreign art collection of the Art Museum of Estonia.

The Kadriorg Art Museum displays hundreds of 16th- to 20th-century paintings by Western and Russian artists, as well as prints, sculptures and other works.
While here, don't miss the decadent, two-storey main hall, with its elaborately painted ceiling and stucco work, or the room used as an office by Estonia's head of state before the nearby Presidential Palace was built.

Surrounding the Palace are several interesting palace side buildings. For example the restored kitchen building is now occupied by a cosy art museum called the Mikkel Museum, and the humble summer estate is the Peter I House Museum. The palace governor's house (the castellan's house) is now home to the Kastellaanimaja Gallery and the Eduard Vilde House Museum.

Or make like a local and head to Pirita or Väna-Jõesuu for a slice of beach action. There are also coastal islands and a bizarre old cliff-top military base. But don't stop there; you'll find plenty more to discover in this vibrant city.


About our Trip to Russia and the Baltic Sea

Rick's Note: Most of us Texans don't know much about the how vast and mighty Russia came into being.  The story of Russia is quite fascinating indeed. 

Considering how imposing Russia is today, it is hard to believe that once upon a time, Russia was a giant underdog.  It was an undeveloped, backwards country with poor leadership and a bitter, resentful people fed up by centuries of oppression.

Then came Peter the Great, who practically changed all that singlehandedly. 

So was Peter the Great wonderful?   No.  In fact, he was one of the cruelest men to ever hold power.  So then why was he great?   Wouldn't you like to know?

Just as studying the Trojan War makes a trip to Greece more interesting and studying the Roman Empire does likewise for a trip to Italy, learning the ancient history of this region of the world has helped me appreciate the ghosts that will loom over our ship  as we sail across the Baltic Sea. 

If you are interested in learning more about the history of Russia and the Baltic Region in general, you will surely enjoy my five part story.  I can tell you one thing about it - I loved researching this subject as much as any trip we have ever taken because the story of Russia is simply remarkable.  

I cannot believe the propensity for suffering in the Russian people.  You have read the story to understand.

The Early History of Russia

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