The Egg and Us (on us?)

It’s been several days since our last post. As previously reported, the internet service on the ship is somewhere between intermittent and sluggish.

After leaving Germany and enjoying a day at sea, we arrived at Helsinki, the capital and major city of Finland. We had a Finnish guide (Helga, Elena, Elke or something), who was quite nice…..she went way out of her way to assist three wayward guests (explained below).

The places we visited in Helsinki included several churches, government buildings, a palace, and the Sibelius monument (John Sibelius was a leading classical composer who died around 1953 – at around 92 years of age. His Finlandia was a must listen for kids growing up in the 1950’s. I remember it for its ponderous and gloomy tone).  The mots interesting sight was the “Rock” church. This consists of a Lutheran church hewn from a granite hill, such that the walls are all rough granite. It is both dazzling in its conception and magnificent in its execution. The reds and oranges of the granite, the water running down the inside walls (into specially built French drains), the copper pipe organ — all make for a grandeur that in some way exceeded even Notre Dame de Paris.

After we left the Rock church, it began to rain. We were on the coach (bus) when Helga did her body count, only to discover three people absent (and well beyond the appointed return time). She then left the bus and went back to the church (which was up a steep hill from where th bus was parked) and while the rain increased our guide, Elena, went to look for the wayward three. Helga didn’t have an umbrella and was getting soaked. No luck. She returned to the bus and did another body count. We were now at least twenty minutes past our appointed time of return, so Elke (still our same guide) trekked up the hill again to look for the unholy three (the rain was coming down much harder by now). About five minutes later Elene returned with the now-sheepishly grinning embecilic three. She appeared to be wholly unfazed, made no mention of the incident, the idiot three, nor her drenched hair, and happily informed us as to our next spot on the tour. It appears the three tardy jerks were in the souvenir shop across the street from the Rock church and just got carried away looking for moose pictures or some such.

Here I must add an interesting observation regarding the tour guides. We have been on four tours so far, each with a different kind of tour guides for each country (Germany, Sweden, Finland and Russia). The German guide (Johannes), announced that we should not be late, explaining, if you are five minutes late, you have to sing for us; if you are ten minutes late, you have to dance for us; and, if you are fifteen minutes late, you have to sing and dance where the bus used to be.  No one was late in Germany.

The Swedish guide (Helga, or Elena, or Elke), didn’t have to deal with the issue, as we were left off to walk about Olde Town (the nice section of Stockholm), and all passengers could catch the shuttle bus back to the ship which ran every fifteen minutes at a set location.

We already told you about the Finnish guide (Elke, Helga or whatever).

Our Russian guide, a middle-aged, stout woman, named Iryana, or Elena, or Elke, Helga, or something, who looked like a cross between Joe Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev, would do a quick body count, upon which the bus would immediately take off, sort of like intimating that any late arrivals could always just walk the ten miles back to the ship — in the snow, and without any food (the Russians still like to employ the “scorched earth” policy  — to teach them a lesson)!

In Stockholm we visited the Nobel Prize Museum, and we spent a half hour watching a movie about Albert Einstein (it was really fascinating, as it dealt with his personal life, is two wives, etc.).  The problem has been Lesley’s broken left foot, which makes it very hard for her to transgress uneven surfaces or take long walks, so we changed our tours to those  involving little walking. Today, for example, our second day in St. Petersburg, we opted to stay on the ship and rest up. There has been a two-hour time difference since leaving Stockholm, so we are now eight hours ahead of you. But the last two tours have required us to get up at six AM, so it felt like 4:00 AM and 5:00 AM, and we have late seating dining (which begins at 8:30 and finishes at around 10:30.

In Helsinki, after we left the Rock church, it really started  to pour, so we didn’t even leave the bus for the photo-stops (ergo, I have few photos of Helsinki after the church visit). This was no great loss, as there isn’t really much to see in Helsinki. We were left off in th downtown area, where we went onto Stockmans department store, which we were told rivalled Harrods of London as one of Europe’s greatest stores.  We have been to Harrods. Sorry, Helga, Stockmans is no Harrods.  We did get out of the rain though. What Stockmans did have was a great eatery on the top floor and another in the lower level. Unfortunately, we had already had a hot chocolate and sandwiches at a local cafe on the main street of Helsinki, so we missed out on the Stockmans’s restaurants (our guide should have pointed out these eateries when we passed Stockmans on the tour).  Sorry, Helga, we’ve been to Harrods and Stockmans is no Harrods. 

The prices for clothes in these various stores rival New York (don’t think Macy’s, think Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus).

Well, back to Russia:  We learned that St. Petersburg’s weather is somewhere between dark and gloomy and light and gloomy. In the Summer (a short eight to ten weeks) it is almost always cloudy and rains frequently. Being near the arctic circle, the days are long in the Summer (the sun set about 9:30 PM and rose about 6:30 AM). But in Winter, the opposite is true, and it gets dark early (around 3:00 PM) and the sun rises late (around 10:00 AM), and it gets so cold and wet that the rivers, canals, lakes and the Baltic Sea, all surrounding and within St. Petersburg, freeze over. And the average winter temperature hovers around minus zero (Celsius, not Farenheit). During the Nazis siege of Leningrad (the former and letter name for St. Petersburg) which lasted 900 days, one-third of the population of three million, that’s about one million, of the population died from hunger and cold.

The Winter Palace and the Hermitage museums were well worth the visit (if not the entire cruise), and St. Basil’s and St. Isaacs cathedrals were also fantastic. St. Isaacs is the third largest Basilica in Europe — second only to St. Peter’s in the Vatican and St. Paul’s cathedral in London (both of which we have seen). But St. Basil’s is the most impressive, with its many bulbous and colorfully decorated minarets (or steeples or whatever you call them). We did get some great pictures  (I hope to be able to attach some when I can do – the download/upload speed is presently just too slow).

The artworks we saw in the Hermitage took my breath away. I am especially fond of the French Impressionists, like Degas, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Matisse, Cezanne, Van Gogh (although I think he was Dutch), and there are four rooms of paintings just with these artists. The Rembrandts also were amazing. I was captivated by two in particular, “Portrait of a Scholar” and “Portrait of the Old Jew.” The hands and face of Rembrandt’s character studies are what you must focus on — they tell a story.

We are going to lunch now, so I will end this epic here. There is much more to recite, but the pictures will really help with those remembrances.

The last entry today is the fact that we bought a Faberge Egg (they call them “Fauxberge eggs”) in St. Petersburg. The price was over 5,000 rubles! That means we spent almost $175 for the egg. So I guess that means that the egg is on us…….

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