If you missed part one, you might want to go back and read that first. Or don’t. This is your world, you do you.
Day 3 – Tallinn, Estonia
Our first day in port! I have to admit, I knew NOTHING about Estonia, and though I should have done some research beforehand, I didn’t. So this was definitely an educational stop.
We started out at Kadorig Palace, which was built for Russian Empress Catherine I. The Estonians were very proud of this. (We learned later she visited once, was unimpressed by the small palace, and never visited again. I know I was impressed, but it was only the second palace of my trip. I would soon understand her feelings.) It has since been turned into a museum.
Then we met Old Thomas, the guardian of Tallinn. I have to admit, I thought this would be corny, but it was really fun. We got to meet some great characters, have some live entertainment, and play a bunch of games. Honestly, I think it was even more fun without kids in the group, because it meant the adults got to play all the games.
We ate lunch at a local restaurant, and this was likely my least favorite meal. We had a sausage dish, which was good, but this day was the last blast of the heat wave hitting the area, and the place was unairconditioned, so it was just warm and uncomfortable. But it was nice to sit and chat with some of our other tour mates.
Finally, we were able to walk through Tallinn on a guided tour, then had time on our own. It was really impressive to see the old blended with the new, which I know is the norm in Europe, but is still always impressive to someone who lives in a country as young as the U.S.
Day 4 – St. Petersburg, Russia
This was the day that so many of us were looking forward to. Russia isn’t the easiest place to get to. Plus, if you didn’t have an official tour with Disney Cruise Line or a personally obtained tourist visa (which I heard aren’t the easiest to get, but I can’t personally verify that), you weren’t allowed off the ship. Russian customs is serious business.
This was also going to be a long day, and I think we were all wondering how it would go. We met at 7:45, got off the ship pretty much right away, and weren’t going to be back until 9:30 at night.
Our first adventure of the day was customs. We had been warned and warned again about Russian customs officials. Don’t smile. Don’t chat. Just hand them your paperwork and go through. They warned us that previous groups had taken up to 90 minutes to get through customs, and there was nothing that could be done to speed it up. We were basically told that this was the least “Disney” our trip would be.
Somehow, we lucked out. Our group made it through in 15 minutes. It was amazing. It was intense – the customs agent just stared at me for what was probably only 20 seconds but felt like forever. She looked at my passport under various lighting and examined it with a magnifying glass. Of course, I had nothing to hide (except a terrible passport photo), so it wasn’t too bad.
Our first stop was Peterhof Palace, which was built by Peter the Great.
The whole space was just incredibly ornate, but this was definitely a place where we felt the difference from being in Estonia and being in Russia. The stares of the people working in the museum were intense. Of course, we were trying to be as polite as possible, but it was still unnerving.
Peterhof is known for its crazy fountains that start up every day at 11 with a musical show. The crowd was amazing – tour groups from all around the world.
Of course, we wedged in for some group photos.
Lunch was Beef Stroganoff, which in Russia, is served with potatoes, not noodles. It was delicious. We also had borscht, which I wasn’t sure about, but it was the lightest, tastiest vegetable soup. It was perfect on a chilly, rainy day. Of course, the meal also included vodka. When in Russia…
Next, we went to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. This was built by Tsar Alexander III and dedicated to his father, Alexander II, who was murdered on the site in 1881. It is located right along a canal. As the story goes, Alexander II was in a carriage along the canal when a grenade was thrown at him. He got out of the carriage and was attacked and collapsed up against the fence along the canal, and died a few hours later.
To create the church, the canal was narrowed so that the exact spot where Alexander II was attacked could be enclosed within the church. You can see the old cobblestones and the fence still on the spot. The church is filled with mosaics and is absolutely gorgeous and really has to be experienced rather than seen in photographs.
This was the only time on our entire trip where we had any rain. It absolutely poured for a very short period of time. Then it was done. We really lucked out with this weather, because this could have been a long and cold day.
Next, it was time for a boat ride through St. Petersburg, where we were treated to some local musical entertainment. I have to say, even though Russian customs was intense, the people we met in Russia were amazing. Our tour guides were two lovely young women, and the three musicians on this boat ride were so friendly. Apparently, the one singer started learning English when Adventures by Disney started hiring them for this tour, as she is so proud to be working with Disney and wants to be able to better talk with the people who are visiting.
We took another snack break that afternoon for blinis and tea. We had both sweet and savory, and the only way I can describe the savory blinis is to say that one was filled with Bolognese sauce and one was like a crepe egg roll. Both were delicious. The sweet one was served with jam. And I ate it all.
Finally, we were off to the Hermitage museum. We had been told that we were getting a private tour of the Hermitage, but I didn’t believe it. The Hermitage is one of those places where you’re usually shoulder to shoulder with people, shuffling your way through. I figured that maybe the evening hours were just for tour groups and that it would still be crowded, but less crowded.
I was wrong.
When they said private, they meant private. Only Disney tours were there. And we only saw people from our ABD tour and the other ABD tour, so maybe a total of 90 people. It was insane. Of course, we were still guided through and watched like crazy, but it was insane to get to see so much. The museum is huge and we only got to see a tiny part of it, but it was still amazing.
Because the setting itself was so amazing, it was easy to forget that the museum holds some amazing works of art, including this unfinished sculpture by Michelangelo entitled Crouching Boy. We also saw pieces by Van Gogh, Renoir, Rembrandt, Titian, and so many other renowned artists that you only read about in books. It was honestly overwhelming to be surrounded by so many beautiful works.
The collection was all started by Catherine the Great in 1764. She bought entire collections of work from other collectors, so she amassed a huge number of items. According to one source, Catherine acquired 4,000 paintings from the old masters, 38,000 books, 10,000 engraved gems, 10,000 drawings, 16,000 coins and medals and a natural history collection during her lifetime. And we got to see a tiny piece of it, which was completely overwhelming.
Finally, it was back to the ship for very late dinner and sleep.
In the next part, I sleep in, and then go to Finland!