Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Petersburg, Russia

While planning my trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, I discovered the St. Petersburg Card, which includes free entrance to over 60 of the best museums in the city, free or discounted tours, and a rechargeable transport e-purse.  I purchased three of them, one for myself and the two tour participants I was taking on the trip, and had them delivered to the Comfort Hotel, where we would be staying, to save the time spent having to walk to one of the pick-up locations.  Anyway, one of the tours is a free hop-on/hop-off canal cruise, so we took that to see the Peter and Paul Fortress.

DSC_4902

The Peter and Paul Fortress was the first structure to be built-in St. Petersburg, therefore, its birthplace.  There are quite a few buildings,  museums, and exhibitions to explore, and the beautiful Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, Russia’s oldest church and final resting place for most of Russia’s imperial rulers.

DSC_4910

The interior of the Cathedral was sumptuous!

DSC_4930 Continue reading

Dazzling, Massive, Exquisite — The Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace

Walking into the Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace I was naive thinking I could see most everything in two or three hours.  This place is beyond enormous!  There are over 1,000 rooms and halls, 1,786 doors, and 1,945 windows!  I read that if you were to spend one minute looking at each item, you would be there for 11 years!   The Hermitage Museum is one of the largest and most respected art museums in the world.

DSC_4751

Having just arrived via ship that morning from Finland, we only had 2 1/2 days to explore St. Petersburg, Russia, through the Visa-free passage, hence the limited time allotted for each site.

While pushing my way through throngs of crowds, I was happy to have my wide angle lens!  I was able to get very close to the roped off areas to take my photo…

DSC_4631

Some of the smaller details are just exquisite!

DSC_4634

The Museum was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great.

According to Wikipedia, “The Hermitage buildings served as a home and workplace for nearly a thousand people, including the Imperial family. In addition to this, they also served as an extravagant showplace for all kinds of Russian relics and displays of wealth prior to the art collections. Many events were held in these buildings including masquerades for the nobility, grand receptions and ceremonies for state and government officials.”

DSC_4643

Continue reading

Visiting St. Petersburg , Russia for 72 hours Visa Free

If you’d like to visit St. Petersburg, Russia without having to go through the hassle and expense of obtaining a Visa, you have the option of taking an overnight ferry from Helsinki.  The St. Peter Line Princess Maria ferry leaves at 6:00pm from the West Harbor in Helsinki and arrives the next morning in St. Petersburg at 8:30am, and you have two nights and almost three full days in St. Petersburg before returning!

We arrived to the Helsinki West Harbor ferry on June 17th around 4:15pm and it was a rather quick boarding process.  They say no food or drink may be brought aboard, but I had a small bag of food (coffee, crackers, pasta, nuts, chocolate) in my suitcase.  When you’re booking the transport/cabins on the St. Peter Line website, you’ll have an option to book meals, and I chose “without meals”.  There are a variety of restaurants for dinner and breakfast that you can choose from once on board.  The alcoholic drinks are very reasonably priced.

The total round-trip cost for the transport/cabins/fuel/harbor fees/city bus tour (shuttle) for three people was 266 Euros (not including food) – a great deal!

DSC_4606

This is what the B-cabin looks like.  Small, but adequate with a bathroom.  After dropping our luggage in the rooms, we went to the top deck for a drink.

DSC_4574

These are some of the restaurants and entertainment areas on-board…

DSC_4576 Continue reading

The Rock Church, Kampii Chapel of Silence and other Helsinki sites

Completed in 1969, Temppeliaukio Kirkko aka Rock Church in Helsinki, Finland is awe-inspiring!  It reminds me of a space ship and the ceiling resembles a fried egg.  Built into the surrounding rock (hence it’s name), it’s one of Helsinki’s most popular tourist sites.

DSC_4543

DSC_4539

DSC_4546

Kampii Chapel of Silence is also definitely an interesting piece of architecture…

DSC_4497

Continue reading

Fortress of Suomenlinna

According to the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Fortress of Suomenlinna was built in the second half of the 18th century by Sweden on a group of islands located at the entrance of Helsinki’s harbour and consists of 200 buildings, 6 km of defensive walls, and stretches over six separate islands.

The purpose of the fortress was originally to defend the Kingdom of Sweden against the Russian Empire and to serve as a fortified army base. Sandbanks, barracks and various other buildings were added during the 19th-century Russian period.

After Finland gained independence in 1917, the fortress was renamed Suomenlinna (or Fortress of Finland) and served as a garrison and a harbour. The military role of the fortress declined after World War II, and in 1973 the area was converted for civilian purposes. Since then, buildings have been renovated to serve as apartments as well as workspaces, to house private and public services, and for cultural purposes.

Today, Suomenlinna is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Finland and constitutes a district of Helsinki with 850 inhabitants.

Jing, Paul, and I boarded the 30 minute ferry to the Fortress.

DSC_4437

DSC_4438

DSC_4448 Continue reading

Exploring Helsinki by Bicycle

On June 14th, my birthday, Jing and I left our Airbnb in Sibiu, Romania at 4:45am to walk 1/3 of a mile to the train station to catch our 5:25am train bound for Bucharest.  It was a six hour train ride and we met a nice Romanian man that upon learning it was my birthday, gave me a sealed bag of coffee and helped me with my luggage when we arrived in Bucharest.  He also negotiated with the taxi drivers to find the best rate to take us to the airport for our flight to Helsinki.  We encountered many rude people in service oriented jobs while in Romania,  but like anywhere, there are people like him that make up for it!

Our flight left at 3:00pm (15:00) and arrived at 7:40pm (19:40) in Helsinki.  We then took a 40 minute bus into central Helsinki, and walked 15 minutes to our beautiful Airbnb, arriving after 9:00pm (21:00).  The apartment is owned by a very special lady named Pirkko, who was there to welcome us.  Here is the living room…

DSC_4405

The dining room…

DSC_4404

and the kitchen where Jing was making us something to eat for dinner later the next day…

DSC_4403

This Airbnb was by far the best-stocked place I’ve stayed at and Pirkko is such a sweet and generous person!  She knew ahead of time it was my birthday and had prepared a delicious cake for me and had a bottle of champagne.  She also let us use her bicycles while we were there and took us to the harbor three days later when we left by overnight ship for St. Petersburg, Russia.  Hugs to Pirkko!

Anyway, the following day, Jing and I set off on the bicycles to explore Helsinki…

DSC_4360

This statue is hilarious!

DSC_4363

Continue reading

Sibiu, Romania has it’s eyes on you!

One of the first things I noticed while roaming the streets of Sibiu, Romania were the roof vents that appear to be eyes.  So cool!  If you’ve never heard of Sibiu, you’re not alone.  Before planning my Eastern European journey, I hadn’t either.  Sibiu was originally part of Germany and dates back to the 12th Century.  After World War I, it became part of Romania.

In 2007 it was designated the European Capital of Culture for the year, along with Luxembourg.  Forbes has ranked Sibiu as “Europe’s 8th most idyllic place to live.

My last post left off with having stopped in Sighasoara for a few hours on route from Brasov to Sibiu.  We boarded the 3:00pm train in Sighasoara, after picking up our luggage from the holding room at the train station, and arrived in Sibiu at 6:05pm.  We walked the 1/3 mile to our Airbnb and after settling in, walked to a nearby Supermarket for some breakfast items.

The following morning, with only one full day to explore, we set off to see this delightful City!

DSC_4338

We wandered down this cobblestone street…

DSC_4278

and decided to climb these steps…

DSC_4280

We stopped in the lovely Holy Trinity Cathedral…

DSC_4302

It was a perfect day for exploring…blue skies and comfortable temperatures!

DSC_4315

Continue reading

I’m in Love with Sighasoara

We departed on a 2 1/2 hour train at 8:52am ($7.50 per ticket reserved online ahead of time) from Brasov for Sighasoara, one of the most beautiful medieval cities in Europe.  We didn’t spend the night, just explored for a few hours, before boarding a train to Sibiu.  The train station has a place to store your luggage for a small fee.

The brightly painted houses and cobblestone streets were just so darn cute!

DSC_4264

We stopped for lunch at an outdoor cafe and I had a refreshing lemon beer with my pasta…

DSC_4232

Fortified with some food in our bellies, we climbed the 160 steps (we’re half way up at this point) of the Scara Acoperita where there’s a church and then we came back down.

DSC_4241

A park bench, wooden door, and beautiful flowers provide the perfect setting for a photo…

DSC_4254

Continue reading

A Spooky Visit to Bran Castle aka Dracula’s Castle in Romania

Bran Castle aka Dracula’s Castle, situated 18 miles from the quaint and historical town of Brasov, is so much fun to explore!  Dating back to the 15th Century, there isn’t much evidence that Vlad the Impaler, who the character Count Dracula was devired from, had many ties with Bran Castle.  During our visit, there were school children running through the castle and visitors were allowed to freely roam the castle.

Here’s the courtyard…

DSC_4027

The entrance to the castle is at the top of these steps…

DSC_4007

A spooky stone passageway leading to…

DSC_4022

The bearskin room…

DSC_4023

Continue reading

Beautiful Brasov, Romania

Arriving to Brasov, Romania via train in the afternoon after exploring the breathtaking Peles Castle, we checked into our Airbnb located conveniently in the Old Town, and walked to the Supermarket.  With only 1 1/2 days to explore, we were anxious to get started. 

The main square called Piata Sfatului, is full of life and beauty!    The large dark brown building in the background is called the Black Church and is over 500 years old. 

DSC_4124

Children and birds are wonderful subjects to photograph!

DSC_4127

The fountain at the square seems somewhat modern, but contrasts nicely with the historical architecture surrounding it.

DSC_4132

I felt like I was dropped in a photographer’s paradise!

DSC_4136

Continue reading

Train to Peles Castle in Romania

The train from Bucharest to Peles Castle takes only 1 1/2 hours and what awaits you is simply magical!  I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “pictures don’t do it justice”, and in this case that is so true!  Researching the logistics of stopping to see Peles Castle on our train ride from Bucharest to our next Airbnb in Brasov, Romania, I discovered you could “supposedly” leave your luggage at the train station for a small fee.  Well, that’s not the case anymore.  Fortunately, a restaurant agreed to keep our luggage for a few hours while we explored the Castle.  We took a taxi that should have cost about 10 lei (but was 20 lei = $5) three miles to the castle located in the Carpathian Mountains.

DSC_3924

Peles Castle (it’s actually more like a palace) is splendid!  I think someone came up with that word to describe it!  Wandering from room to room, I felt the excitement rising, wondering what delightful things we were going to see next.

DSC_3916

DSC_3835

Here are some interesting facts gathered from Wikipedia:

The collection of arms and armor has over 4,000 pieces, spreading over four centuries of history

DSC_3851 Continue reading

Bicycle Riding in Bucharest

I’m on a bus from Tallinn, Estonia to Riga, Latvia and have wifi…yeah!  Anyway, thought I’d continue on with my epic adventure through Eastern Europe.  For our second and final day in Bucharest I had planned to visit Tineretului Park, which was located about three miles from our Airbnb.  Upon arrival, we rented bicycles and discovered some beautiful features at the park…a lovely blue fountain to go with the blue sky…

DSC_3755

A large clear green pond surrounded by a walking/biking path…

DSC_3758

that’s me…

DSC_3768

Continue reading

Free Walking Tour of Bucharest

Walkabout Free Tour offers an informative and interesting free walking tour of some of the highlights of Bucharest, Romania.  After leaving Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria on a bus at 11:00am, transferring to another bus in Ruse, Bulgaria and arriving in Bucharest at 2:30pm, Jing and I took a 2 mile taxi ride to our Airbnb, where we hefted our luggage up to the fourth floor, which meant eight flights of steps!  I am determined to pack lighter for the next trip.  We settled in and walked a mile to meet up with the two hour walking tour. 

Some of the highlights they cover are the lovely Stavropoleos Convent…

DSC_3728

DSC_3727

The ruins of Vlad’s Citadel…

DSC_3723

Continue reading

Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

Located three hours by bus from Sofia and perched above the Yantra River, Veliko Tarnovo offers visitors narrow cobble stone streets lined with stone houses and amazing views!

DSC_3611

Dating from the third millennium B.C., Veliko Tarnovo is seeped in history and was the former capital of Bulgaria before Sofia.

DSC_3615

I reserved a room for one evening at the charming Gurko Hotel situated in Old Town with a view of the lovely homes overlooking the river.

DSC_3606

The Samovokska Charshiya area is within walking distance from the hotel and the streets are lined with cafes and traditional craftsmen such as wood sculptors, potters, iron smiths, and carpet weavers.

DSC_3620 Continue reading

Day trip from Sofia, Bulgaria to Rila Monastery and Boyana Church

With over a million visitors annually, once you visit the magnificent Rila Monastery you’ll see why people flock to it!  Located two hours drive from Sofia, it’s a “must do” for any trip to Bulgaria.  The original structures date back to the 10th Century, but due to fire and war, certain sections have been rebuilt in the 15th and 19th centuries.

DSC_3501

The Monastery has been a spiritual and cultural center for Bulgaria throughout the years.

DSC_3510

DSC_3526

DSC_3543

The colors are bold and the frescoes are quite lovely…

DSC_3546

Continue reading