Monday, April 28, 2014

Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Tallinn Trip Summary

Our trip to Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Tallinn was great!  We had 11 days off and we thoroughly enjoyed them.  Now we just have to figure out how to get back soon.

This was the first time taking AirBaltic.  It's a low-cost carrier but more like a real airline.  Way better than Ryanair but not quite Air Berlin or Czech Airlines.  No matter where one flies to there is a connection at the hub in Riga, Latvia.

Our first stop was in Helsinki.  I was surprised that things were not more expensive here.  Don't get me wrong, everything in Scandinavia is expensive (especially hotels, alcohol or cigarettes) but it wasn't as tragically over the top as I had braced myself for.  And there are ways to economize after all.

Saunas are a big deal in Finland and our hostel offered a free morning sauna.  Believe it or not, sitting naked in a steam bath each morning really does energize you for a day of sightseeing. 

Helsinki was super clean and everyone spoke English.  Everyone there was really friendly.  A few times while looking at a map, people going by would stop and just offer assistance. 

After a few days in Finland, it was time for our overnight ferry to St. Petersburg.  The ferry tour package was a great deal.  We got two nights on the ferry (there and back), plus three nights in a center hotel in St. Petersburg with breakfast, and we didn't have to deal with getting a visa.

With the current situation in Ukraine, I know that my mom wasn't exactly thrilled about me going to Russia.  But let's face it, it's not like I would get off the boat wearing a rainbow gay pride t-shirt that said "Crimea is Ukraine."

St. Petersburg was absolutely stunning!!  Three days here is no where near enough time.  Sooner or later, I'll have to break down and get that 3-year multiple visit visa so that I can go back whenever I feel like it. 

The Hermitage was brilliant.  I actually preferred it over the Louvre as it was far less crowded.  But then again, that may have to do with the fact that it is much harder to get here than it is to Paris

I used to speak Russian fairly well.  However, after almost five years of Czech I think that it is about gone.  When I was in the Caucasus last year, I noticed that at times I would blend Czech and Russian but for the most part I was able to keep them separate.  Not so much this time.  I was fine with reading the signs.  But anytime I spoke with someone then Czech kept coming out first.  It was a struggle for me to suppress my česky.  My Czech teacher will be so proud of me.   

St. Petersburg really is my new favorite city.  Plus I got to finally check Leningrad off of my bucket list.  I'm sure that my family back home will ask me what I thought of Russia.  The truth is that I really don't know.  I know that I loved St. Petersburg but I don't think that the rest of the country is anything like this city.  The same way that you can't judge the USA based on a single visit to Los Angeles or New York City. 

After we arrived back in Helsinki, we had a couple of hours to kill before our two-hour ferry to Tallinn.

The ferry between Helsinki and Tallinn is quite popular with tourists who want an easy day trip to another country.  It's also very, very popular with Finns who go to Estonia to buy super cheap alcohol without having to pay Finnish taxes.

We spend several days in Tallinn which was nice.  The original plan was to take a day trip to Narva but after so much running around the option of taking it easy in Tallinn was too good to pass up.  Narva will have to wait until next time.

Tallinn was nice.  We really enjoyed it there.  However, it was a little bit of a let down.  Every person I know that has been there has gone on and on about how great it is.  It's the most awesome super place ever.  Yeah, not really.  Don't get me wrong, I liked it and I would for sure go back again.  But it's not the best place ever.

It was kind of like when your friends build up a movie so much that your expectations are set so high that invariably you're in for a let down.  I'm sure that I would have been more impressed with Tallinn if I hadn't heard that this was the best thing since sliced bread. 

So overall, it was another great holiday.  And somehow we managed to visit three countries that neither of us had ever been to before.  That in itself was an accomplishment.  We flew back in to Vienna and made it back to Brno early Saturday evening.  Just in time because, I needed to be home Sunday to celebrate Tünde's first birthdayThere was no way on earth that I could miss that.

Showing up in a stranger's photos on FB
I went in to the office on Monday and one of my colleagues mentioned that he saw a holiday photo online.  Apparently, a couple of his mates were on our flight from Prague to Riga and took a selfie while on the plane and posted it on Facebook.  My colleague just happened to notice that we're in the background and sent me the photo.  (A) It's a small world and (B) with all of the social media out there you never know where you will turn up online, just like how I ended up on that Czech blog.

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