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.

Stockholm – Arrival and Day 1

We arrived to a rainy Stockholm after a long day of air travel. San Francisco to Copenhagen and then a short jump from Copenhagen to Stockholm.

We found a local pub that served Mary’s favorite beer, one that I had to try, and Swedish meatballs. It seemed like the perfect way to celebrate our arrival.

The next morning we boarded the ship and sailed through the Stockholm Archipelago (24,000 islands!) towards the open Baltic sea. 

The Kimberley – Day 9 – Montgomery Reef

Our final excursion was to the Montgomery Reef. We gathered en masse at 5:30 AM so that we could watch this massive 150 Sq. Mi. of reef emerge from the ocean as the tide ebbed.

There is as much as 10M of tidal change in sea level in this area. This exposes as much as 4M of the reef at low tide. This first shot is of an Egret standing on the reef when it is barely exposed.

 

As the tide receeded and the reef emerged we traveled up a “river” in the reef. It is basically a low spot in the reef that turns into a river as the reef grows on each side. What you see in many of these pictures is the water cascading off the reef into the river as it emerges.

The water flowing off top of the rising reef causes hundreds of waterfalls all of which expose prime fishing territory for the Eastern Reef Egret.

What appears to be an expanse of water behind the Egret in the last two photos is actually the side wall of the reef. It this point it is more than two meters high. The receeding tide also exposed a sand bar at the delta of the reef’s river. We hopped off the zodiac and explored this island that didn’t exist an hour before.

 

On the last day we departed the ship in Broome, flew to Perth, on to Sydney and then back to the US (LAX to SFO). This was about 24 hours of actual air time and 36 hours elapsed, 11,000 miles. On the ship we sailed 1685 Nautical miles (1940 miles). It was a trip we will never forget.

The Kimberley – Day 8 – Talbot Bay

The geography in Talbot Bay was very unusual. In most of the regions of the Kimberley the layers of rock were always oriented horizontally. Here they tilted as much as 80%. This was caused when the Indian and Australian plates pushed against one another.

Talbot Bay is also home to the Horizontal Falls, was a blast. We took a quick tour of the area first thing in the morning and saw the pinched rapids (the proper description of the Horizontal Falls). It was near the end of the Ebb tide so it was fairly calm. The effect is caused by gaps in the vertically aligned part of the McLarty range (>80 degree incline) with 11M tide fluctuations. Note the changes in the water flow and the water level on the side walls as the photos progess.

As the tide changes from Ebb to Flood and back, water in the bays equalizes with the ocean. Trillions of gallons of water will surge through two gaps, one 25M the other 12M wide, in a couple of hour period causing a 5-6 meter drop from one side of the gap to the other. The current is very impressive. After our zodiac tour, as the tidal flow increased, we went on a high speed boat through the gap. They compensate for the immense force of the water with 1200 horsepower of outboard motors (4 @300HP each) to ensure that we don’t hit the gap walls.

The Kimberley – Day 7 – Mitchell Falls

Today we visited Mitchell Falls via helicopter. On the short zodiac ride to the beach for pick-up, the driver was hilariously whistling The Ride of the Valkyrie and evoked memories of Apocalypse Now. The open air helicopters were a fun way to see the country and meant we could skip a bus ride, since they came to us.

For our departure, they landed right on the beach. When we returned (as you can see in the final photo) the beach was 90% gone due to the tide and they landed right next to the trees. They were so close to the trees, I kept thinking giant weed-whacker.

Initially I thought that the lack of a door next to me would mean that I would have unlimited photographic opportunities. While there were many, holding your arms out a window going 100 MPH (not to mention a bulky camera) requred more concentration and effort than I anticipated.

The end objective of Mitchell Falls did not disappoint anyone on our trip who ventured there. Hopefully these images capture some of what we saw.

The Kimberley – Day 6 – Vansittart Bay & Jar Island

The next day we were in Vansittart Bay and visited Jar island where we saw ancient paintings of Wandjina Figures called Bradshaw art or locally called Gwion Gwion Art. Their origin and dating are still in question. They were painted by local indigenous tribes (aboriginal peoples) – many suspect their age to be about 15-20 thousand years old.

Here are two examples.

 

In the afternoon we went across the bay to look at the site of an American Douglas C-53 (DC3) which crashed in 1942. It was flying from Perth to Broome but veered 500 miles off course (that is what happens when you leave the navigator behind).

 

Fortunately all survived even in this wilderness area.

The Kimberley – Days 4 and 5

Welcome to Plan B (and Plan C). Plan B was to visit the Berkeley River since we didn’t hit Jaco island. High winds scrapped Plan B and invoked Plan C – we hopped up to the King George River (and falls) for an extra day. It was really our first day experiencing the amazing sandstone cliffs and breathtaking vistas. This is a view of the King George Falls. We spent two days here and in the surrounding area.

Sunscreen was not optional given the harsh rays. In fact we were encouraged to wear long sleeves when possible despite the heat.

Here are some of my favorite views.

After a long day we are back at the Silver Discoverer