Tallinn…The Estonian Jewel

An all too brief stop in Tallinn was enough to wet our appetites and commit to returning to explore further.  Our ship docked early so it was a a cool walk to the top of the old town to take in our first view of the Town….

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The early morning sunshine glinted off the red pantile roofs defining the many narrow streets we were to explore for the rest of the day. We started at the magnificent Alexander Nevsky Cathedral…..


and the adjoining Toompea Castle with it landmark tower appropriately named Tall Hermann….


The town is divided into an Upper Town and lower town and our walk merged the two into one…so here is a brief snap shot that I hope will provide a hint as to the character of the Talllinn…

Tallinn is a real mix of Churches, narrow streets, markets and small squares where a drink and a meal is a great way to ‘people watch’.  Estonia is a ‘new’ country following the break up of the Soviet Union but it is a country with a long history. It remembers its old culture whilst embracing all the  new challenges of a new Europe….but one thing was very apparent… the people of Tallinn are immensely proud of both their town and country and also generous with their open hospitality and welcome.  That alone makes a return trip something to be planned for the future.

26th July

© David Oakes 2013


St. Petersburg’s ‘Grand Finale’…….

Our last day in St.Petersburg proved to be dull with rain threatening…but what we were to see was far from dull.  Catherine Palace was the highlight of the day.  Designed by Rastrelli and dating to 1752 it was built for the Empress Elizabeth who named it in honour of her mother Catherine I…


The frontage is a stunning Baroque facade in turquoise, white and of course lots of gold.  Nor did the designer forget to include the ubiquitous golden domes…


A sweeping dual arched stairway is the main entrance but the red carpet is not down to welcome us…..


We have to ‘stand in line’ and use a lesser entrance but at least we have a small band to entertainer us whilst we wait for our turn to start the tour…


The Grand Staircase is where were start our tour…..


And then it on to a series of very grand rooms, all dripping with gold and of course mirrors used with the gold to reflect as much light into each room.  There are so many grand rooms that I thought I would just show you the Cavaliers Dining Room and some of its detail as just one example of the sumptuous content and style of a very decadent Palace….







I think you get the picture…perhaps decadent is to soft a word to describe the richness of the decor.  The Picture Gallery is perhaps just a little more sombre but with its rich marquetry floor it is far from dull.  You might wonder what the tall ‘unit’ is. Each room has at least one such construction and they are the heating system.  They are covered in Delft tiles to soften the appearance and are used as mini furnaces….a wood fire is set in each and being told of just how cold a Russian winter can be I guess they had to be big fires!…….


The rear of the Palace is as near as makes no difference a mirror of the front, but does lead you out in to a very extensive garden and parkland..


You pass what is known as the French Garden which is flanked by the Cameron Gallery named after its Scottish creator Charles Cameron……


Then it is on to the Grotto Pavilion or Morning Hall and yet one more queue (they love there queues here)…


The Grotto is simply decorated and used to display sculptures……


But was also used as a place to provide light entertainment for guests…today we are treated to a short recital by 6 Russian Tenors……


The Park has several lakes each with a Bath House and like the Grotto were intended as places for entertainment..


But our time was up, so with so much more unseen we had a last look at Catherine Palace before heading back to the boat to continue our journey……


So we take a last look of St. Petersburg from our cabin window we set sail…..


The following day was going to be Navy Day in the city so we were honoured by a Naval farewell with sailors lining their ships decks and saluting and a toot on the whistle  we left port and on past ‘business’ areas of the port and back into the Baltic…..




The Captain tells us the weather will be sunny once again…so we hope!

26th July

© David Oakes 2013

Gulf of Finland…a day in the country

A change from the noise and bustle of St. Petersburg…a trip along the coast and through the forests of the Gulf of Finland…a real breath of fresh air….


You can understand why the Russia nobility and now the nouveau rich have there summer houses or Dachas and to-day great mansions…it is a peaceful and beautiful region..


But our objective for the days was to Zelenogorsk where the Cathedral of the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan.  By Russian church standards it is not the old being built in 1915 but has still had to endure several wars and of course the Revolution. So it is a minor miracle that it is still intact.

The characteristic domes are the first signs that you are approaching the Cathedral…


Then you you get your first full view of the building and appreciate it true size…


But as with all Russian Cathedral and Churches (no matter the sect) it is the interior that is so special and Kazan will not disappoint….





But time outside is also well rewarded with lovely views of Kazan in its woodland setting….



Our next stop was to pay our respects to the the famous Russian artist Ilya Repin…his influence and legacy has demanded that the town in which he lived for most of his life was renamed Repin.

The forests, its wildlife and the coastline inspire his work. For most of his life he lived in the Dachas…a wood typical wood construction hidden in a woodland glade….


Inspiration was all about and his studio was well placed for Repin to work surrounded as if deep in the woods….








His wish was that when he died he be buried within his garden estate, on a small hill and that an Oak tree be planted to mark the spot…his wishes were fulfilled…..

A slow drive back along the granite bolder lined Gulf ended a welcome quiet day on this trip…



Tomorrow it is back to St. Petersburg and all its hustle and bustle and another helping of old Russia…..

25th July

© David Oakes 2013

St. Petersburg’s Pandora’s Box……..The Hermitage

The Winter Palace, conceived by Peter the Great is perhaps best approached via the River Neva.  It is from the water that you can appreciate the size and majesty of the Palace…..


But these walls house a secret, the biggest collection of art in Russia and one of the largest in the world.  Now known as the Hermitage it contains over 2.8 million works of art.  The Palace was started by Peter but it was Catherine II who created what was then a private art collection.  As the collection grew other buildings were added.

Whilst the art works it contains are the attraction for the thousands of visitors, the Palace itself is also a wonder of the art world.  Rooms of opulence and varied in styles from around the world, the work of craftsmen…..






The Small Throne Room with its dramatic Red and Gold  Throne is dedicated to Peter The Great



You are reminded that this Art Gallery and Museum is housed in many buildings by glimpses of the complex through the Palace windows…..



But be warned…you will have to share your visit with a great many other visitors.  Now that the Cruise Industry have discovered St. Petersburg these numbers have dramatically increased as the Winter Palace Coach Park shows…..


WE found that a guided tour helped fight our way through the crowds……..


But nothing prepares you for the crowds all craning their necks to get the best views….



And strain your necks you must as the collection of masterpieces is endless.  Let me just say that here you will see work by Leonardo de Vinci to Picasso, Goya, Rembrandt, Monet and Renoir to Matisse and Gauguin..see which you can spot….


But St. Petersburg may well have a long ‘back history’ but it is also looking forward as this skyline of contrasts illustrates.  On the left you have the silhouette of the ship Aurora that fired the first shot in the Revolution and to the right new high rise offices of International Multi National Companies……


As storm clouds gathered above the Spires of Peter and Paul Fortress the sun did made a last brave effort to shine…..


……No sunset tonight – the storm clouds won and soon it rained as hard as it only can in St. Petersburg…..


Tomorrow something very different.

25th July

© David Oakes 2013

From Russia with……a generous ‘touch of Gold’

No visit to St.Petersburg is complete without a visit to the famous Peterhof Palace and Gardens…known as the Russian Versailles.  Built on the Gulf of Finland for Peter the Great the Grand Palace commands great views over a series of Cascades, Fountains and Park Land.

Both the Palace and the Gardens literarily drip with gold. We were expecting to find a Palace of opulence but not quiet as bold and dramatic as discovered.  It is with a little regret that I cannot show you the interior which is truly magnificent as photography is not permitted….but the Fountains and Gardens are equally as stunning………


When you exit the Palace the sound of the cascades and spectacle of the fountains, though expected, still takes you by surprise with both its size and drama….The water to feed the Fountains is piped some 14 miles, flows down the Cascades into a long canal and on into the Gulf of Finland


Despite warnings that there will be a lot of visitors the shear numbers still comes as something of a shock….but share these views you must and the collective excitement is invigorating…so join in…….

The Cascades are the most dramatic and the most detailed of water features I have seen.  Every Urn, Statue and spout is gold so that even on a dull day when combined with the sparkling water still add a shine to the day…..









Detail abounds even on such simple structures as this Bird House tucked away in the woodland….


There is also some humour to be had in the garden…..here a Pathway of Stone has a secret.  They say that one of the stones is magic and should you step on it a fountain will appear.  Of course lots of folk do try to discover the magic stone….


and some ‘lucky ‘folk search and eventually discover that secret stone…then whoosh the fountain burst into life….


Magic it is………

but maybe that man with a blue cap sitting behind the bench has something to do with it!

So if you want to see the lush golden interior, which is indeed just too fantastic to describe without images, then you better make the trip for yourselves. The visit was over all too soon but the memories will long remain….


Tomorrow we remain in Russia so join us on our next visit…you will be welcome – after all with all these crowds what difference will a few more make!

23 July

© David Oakes 2013