Ghent and Bruges  – Day 12

Our final tour day, we visited the cities of Gent and Brugge (their spellings). We were not very familiar with either prior to the trip and had low expectations.
We fell in love with Gent. What a charming place. Of all of the cities we visited, this would be the first that we’d return to and spend time relaxing, exploring and getting to know it and the people better. There was eye candy everywhere.
This is the fourth place where the local guide claimed that their city was known as “the Venice of the North.” Gent wore that claim well.

We rode about 45 minutes to Brugge for lunch and a walk around the town. It was also very quaint and we might have enjoyed it as much as Gent if it didn’t rain about half of the time.
Both were beautiful and I know Belgium is a place we need to visit again.

Amsterdam – Day 11

After a day at sea having traveled 643 Nautical miles from Copenhagen to Amsterdam I woke up at about 5AM thinking we had arrived a couple of hours early. In fact, we just hit the locks on the edge of the Amsterdam harbor.

All of the canals and waterways in Amsterdam are below sea level. Amazing the way they manage the movement of water in this city.
They have been doing this for centuries. This windmill isn’t for power or for milling it was a pump that managed the flow of water for an ancient lock on the edge of town.=

Amsterdam is spread out enough that when you visit from a cruise ship you basically have two choices, take the day and walk the city, or visit a museum. Having toured 8 old cities in the last 10 days, we opted to visit the Van Gogh Museum. We loved it!

We did see many examples of their dense building styles as we came back from the museum.

Copenhagen – Day 9

Our weather luck finally ran out in Copenhagen and it drizzled off and on most of the day. It made the day a little dreary buy it also brought out great colors.
The bus made the obligatory stop at the site of the Little Mermaid and I took the required photos. 

We spend most of our time walking through the Tivoli amusement park and gardens. I visited there in 1976 and it brought back many memories. 

We also stopped at Amalienborg Palace and witnessed the changing of the guard. The Danish Royal family still resides here.

Visby – Day 8

Visby surprised us. It is the capital of Gotland Island, a popular vacation destination for residents of Stockholm.

This is a park near the university of Gotland with a view of the Visby Cathedral which opened in 1225.

The cathedral is certainly the most significant monument in Visby and is breathtaking in size and scope, especially given the year it was built.

You can also see the preserved walls of the old city dating from 1300. It is a UNESCO site (as was the old town center in Tallinn) and even the small houses inside the walls are protected. 

Riga – Day 7

Riga is about double the size of Tallinn and it feels even larger, likely because we never left the old city of Tallinn. Riga has done a pretty good job of mixing old and new. We started our walking tour near the main terminal on the Gulf of Riga and the mouth of the Daugava River. This is a statue that harkens back to Soviet days recognizing the Latvian Red Riflemen.

Fortunately most of the central part of town was already quite developed when the Soviets took it over and there aren’t many examples of the gray drab Stalinesque style. This is a beautiful part of the old central city called Livu Square.

I was entranced by fantastic architecture everywhere.

Tallinn – Day 6

Our time in Tallinn focused on the old city center (late thirteenth century). We entered through the Long Leg Gate Tower and wandered the narrow streets. There was no tourist traffic, only local residents and merchants.

 

Many of the main buildings were taken over by the USSR during the occupation. This is a building you didn’t want to visit before 1991.

Much of their architecture is stunning.

We also attended a short Medieval concert in what is left of an old Monastery.

St. Petersburg – Faberge and Canal Tour – Day 5

The interior of the Faberge Museum is stunning.

It is a building owned by a “Russian Businessman” aka oligarch who purchased the collection of the Forbes family so that he could bring them home to St. Petersburg. It was noble but not altruistic. They charge plenty for admission. Here is an example of a royal Faberge Egg.

In the afternoon we took a canal tour through part of St. Petersburg. The Peter and Paul Fortress was constructed to guard against a Swedish counterattack. After that it became a prison and housed Fyodor Dostoyevsky (among other high profile prisoners) for a time.

Next we came to the entrance to the Summer Garden on the Neva river. The architecture along the canals was beautiful. We saw the church of the Spilled Blood but unfortunately they were renovating much of it and we didn’t get much of a look.

Moscow – Day 4

We rose at o’dark thirty to catch a high speed train to Moscow. We traversed much of  the countryside between St. Petersburg and Moscow at 200kph. We arrived and did a short bus tour through the old city – parts of which date back to the twelfth century. This is a view of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. It is a remake of the original church which Stalin had destroyed.

This is the main visitor entrance to the Kremlin, the Kutafaya (Trinity) Tower.

These walls were built at the end of the 15th century and maintenance is ongoing. There is maintenance and construction all around as they prepare for Moscow’s 870th birthday a week after we left.

Here is the Presidential Executive Office building (Putin’s office). Unfortunately he was in China during our visit and we did not get to meet him.

The churches inside the Kremlin are amazing, here is the Archangel Cathedral.

We were making our way to the entrance to Red Square and our guide had a surprise for us. Even though it is very walkable, we took the Moscow subway just to experience it. We got on at the Kremlin subway station and got off one stop later.

This is Kazan Cathedral and nearby St. Basil’s Cathedral. Unfortunately there was a huge music event in Red Square that evening and it was closed during our visit.

We did take a look around the famous Gum department store. It had just about every high end brand you can imagine.

St. Petersburg – The Hermitage – Day 3

The focus of our day was a visit to the Hermitage. As you can see, it is an extremely popular place. Fortunately our tour entered via another (much shorter) line.

The building is beautiful inside and out, starting with the lobby stairs, beautiful ceilings and elaborate floors. It used to be the Winter Palace and the official residence of the Russian Tsars.

The art inside is amazing but there are better pictures online (especially ones without 10,000 people taking selfies in front of each painting).

P.S. I can’t believe we are in Russia!

Helsinki – Day 2

It was great to have a tour where we walked around most of Helsinki. I am guessing we walked about 5-6 miles. We toured the port area with its open market (think lots of Lingonberries) the main train station, and stopped at the Helsinki music center for coffee and a sweet roll.

We then went to the Helsinki Cathedral, and visited the Rock Church (Temppeliaukio) which is built into an enormous slab of granite.

 

We ended with the Jean Sibelius Monument (which the kids also adore). It is a lovely city.