Awrite! from Scotland

You can’t visit Scotland without realising that the game of golf is particularly important here. So we crossed the Tay Bridge and went to ‘The Home of Golf’, St Andrews.  Some people book up to a year ahead just to live their dream, and play a round on the ‘hallowed ground’ that is so famous all over the world. Not all of them are great players. I saw my share of ‘hackers’ during our visit.

We visited the Cathedral, founded in 1160, consecrated in 1318 and pillaged in 1559 during the Reformation. Only a small portion of the ruins still stands today. We climbed St Rule’s Tower and had magnificent views of the town and surrounding countryside.  We also visited the Castle, which is mainly in ruins, but with fantastic views of the coastline. We had the added bonus of watching fighter jets flying in formations overhead in preparation for an upcoming ‘Air Show’ to be held at Leuchars RAF base nearby.

A short distance away from St Andrews is the rugged coastline of East Neuk, home to some picturesque little fishing villages. We visited Crail, Anstruther and Pittenweem, the major fishing village along this stretch of coastline.  At this time of the year the fishing fleet is in the harbour, lobster pots are piled high on the jetties and wharfs while repairs and maintenance work is carried out on the boats and associated equipment.

We arrived at the outskirts of Edinburgh at about 12.30pm, and used my iPad and ‘Google maps’ to get to Maryfield St, home for the next three days.  We booked an apartment through Airbnb and had an appointment with James, the owner of the apartment at 2pm.  We finally arrived at the street, after a few diversions. A tiny little thin dead end street with cars parked in both directions on both sides of the street. We were both busily searching for the elusive street number…..couldn’t see many numbers so, I decided to park in the one remaining car park in the whole street, just happened to be No. 58, we had arrived at our destination, sheer luck!  We met James, dumped our bags, cleaned any rubbish out of the car in preparation for the, what had been described as a quite simple exercise….’just return it to our office, we are situated on Waverly Bridge, at the train station…….YOU CAN’T MISS IT!!!….wanna bet?  The first part easy,…..turn right into London Rd, left into Princes, follow that around through several name changes, make a left onto Waverly Bridge…….simple. You remember the major infrastructure roadworks that had been following us everywhere we went…..they were here……..a new tram line….road dug up…closed ahead, simple, turn early, a left, right and another right, we’re there…..no…..the road we want passes below us…after what I’m sure were minor traffic breaches on my part we got to Waverly Bridge……..Europcar Office……..NO OFFICE, but lots of buses, taxis.  We had had a similar experience in Berlin while returning the hire car, so we did what we did there and followed the P for parking stations down an entirely different direction, found the Europcar green signs and ‘voila’….we couldn’t miss it!

I had seen Edinburgh before, when I visited there in 2000 to perform at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. I loved the city then, but this time I saw the city through a different set of eyes. It’s a very beautiful city filled with amazingly kind and friendly people. We very much enjoyed our visit.  Firstly, Edinburgh Castle.  As we approached the Castle from The Royal Mile, I could see much of the Tattoo infrastructure still in place. There were a lot of cranes and people busy dismantling the seating grandstands. We made our way past ‘Cannonball House’ onto the Arena and into the Castle.  We had earlier in the week bought a ‘week pass’ to visit castles and sights during our visit to Scotland. These were sold to us at Stirling Castle on the promise that if you visited enough castles over the 7 days, this would make it cheaper, but the biggest selling point was…’you won’t have to wait in a queue to visit Edinburgh Castle……there’s always huge crowds there!’  It felt good walking past the extremely long queues and entering the castle in a more relaxed state of mind, £37 each well spent.  We stayed for the ‘Cannon firing’ at 1pm, even though she knew it was coming, Barbara still jumped about a foot!

We also visited the Scottish Parliament and went in to watch a debate/question time for about a half hour or so. It was very polite and orderly…not like the absolute ‘rabble’ that happens in Canberra, in our so called adversarial system…….give me polite and well mannered any day. By accident, after walking along the Royal Mile and over to Princes street, we also found ourselves on the top of Calton Hill where we were able to admire the view before descending to where we were living.

Next day, Arthurs Seat, the wind was blowing, the sky was blue with lots of cloud, the sun was even shining, when we started our ascent. Then the wind was howling, the sky was grey, white with tiny patches of blue and the sun had ceased to shine!  We made it the top and the sun did come out, before returning to the bottom for a visit to Holyrood Castle, a wonderful building with an amazing history!  We then went to a pub for lunch, first celebration for Barbara’s birthday!  The afternoon was spent shopping…..for me……we were going to have a second celebration that night at an upmarket restaurant……neat casual……not jeans and long sleeve ‘T’ shirt!…….We acquired the necessary attire before returning to home base….plenty of time, the restaurant is booked for 7.45, it’s only 6pm. I guarantee, a minute later I looked at my watch, it was 7pm. The quick shower became quicker, some fever pitched ironing, the iron was going that quick, I didn’t need to turn it on, the friction did all the heating! Anyway, we made it to the restaurant and we celebrated B’s birthday again. We had a great meal and a fantastic night! Early to bed…..we have to catch the train to London in the morning!

Jack at home-3 weeks old

See ye efter!
Lance and Barbara

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Awrite! from Scotland
We left Helsinki 8.50pm, our flight was running late due to an 180kph headwind and with the time difference (2 hours) we landed in Edinburgh at 9.30pm, found our way to the Airport Hilton and checked in.  After 2 months in Europe it was wonderful to hear the English language and read the signs again! Next day we picked up the rental car….no GPS!…..(Angus!)….who needs one, we can read the wee signs! First stop, Stirling Castle…we found it without any dramas!

The Castle was fantastic and the views from the Ramparts over the countryside were stunning. A clear blue sky dotted with lovely white puffy clouds, the colours of the ‘tilled’ soil, the dry and almost ready to be harvested grain crops, and the different shades of green against the sky looked fantastic.  We took the guided tour of the ‘Argyle Apartments’ (it was in Scottish, but we understood the guide) and visited the Cathedral before setting off to Ft William, our home for the next couple of days.

The trip from Stirling began well….follow the signs….go through the roundabouts…follow the bouncing ball, we can do it!  The signs in Scotland are mostly very comprehensive with huge amounts of information to be deciphered as you tear through the towns and countryside. However most of the signs, with the ‘huge amounts of information’, are slightly hidden behind green things called trees…and are sometimes really close to the roundabouts or intersections and it’s quite easy to miss a couple of vital pieces of information…like….which way to go!  It also appeared that no matter what direction you were travelling, all roads led to Glasgow! Unfortunately, that’s not where we wanted to go. There was a bit of frustration and tension in the air as we drove over one particular 15 miles section of road several times (4 times actually), sometimes following tractors, trucks and a lot of cyclists carrying huge back packs and saddle bags nearly always on the thinnest ‘blind’ corners. (We did notice how some cyclists made great progress.) Lucky we didn’t have a GPS on this trip….it might have gotten out of the car and walked!  After we made a couple of bold decisions we headed in a different direction and started to see the road signs to Loch Lomond (our intended destination), and finally found it.

We had a brief stay, admiring the absolute beauty of the place before heading off in search of Fort William. We went through lots of little towns, all very beautiful, over mountains, through fog, rain and sunshine before making the descent into Glencoe, the view although shrouded in mist and fog was phenomenal!   We stayed at a great little hotel right on the waterfront in Fort William, our home for the next two nights.

The next morning after a fantastic breakfast (Lance did the FULL English breakfast) we headed to the seaside township of Mallaig to catch the ferry to The Isle of Skye.  The ferry ride was great, and we drove off the boat to explore Skye. After driving through more beautiful countryside, villages, hills and dales we stopped in Portree. We walked around the town and saw a sign that advertised the ‘Best Fish & Chips, on the island, so naturally we followed the arrow, down the stairs to a row of pretty little buildings and shops. It wasn’t hard to find the fish & chip shop there were about 50 or 60 people all tucking in to the fantastically fresh local product and for every person there were another 50 or 60 seagulls circling and scavenging for any hot treasures that had missed the mouths of the hungry hoards. We moved to a spot just down the boat ramp away from all the chip eaters (people) and were quickly surrounded by nearly all the seagulls, I’m sure most of them had to swim home…take off and landing would have been a problem with the extra cargo of our chips!

After two wonderful days in Fort William and surrounds we headed for Loch Ness…but first…we ‘double tracked’, (by choice this time) to admire the view into Glencoe from the mountain. It was stunning and worth the effort!  This time the sun was shining and the fog had lifted, however we missed seeing Ben Nevis, it had a veil of fog, protecting it from the tourists. On the way we stopped off at Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness.  The castle was blown up and the outside wall was breached in 1692. Since then the building was left open to the elements, lead from the roof and indeed the roof and a lot of the stone was pilfered for other building projects over the centuries. The castle is now managed and maintained for future generations to admire. It is also a favourite destination for ‘Nessie-watchers’ because of its fantastic and unique location on the banks of Loch Ness.

We arrived in the town of Drumnadrochit, at the northern end of Loch Ness, late in the afternoon and took a cruise on the Loch along with about six other Aussies who were part of a bus tour.  We then continued up the A82 and stayed at Inverness in a fantastic hotel, which is part of the Premier Inns chain.

We began the next day with a visit to Fort George, then on to Elgin Cathedral and finally Huntley Castle.  Fort George was completed in 1769 and has remained virtually unaltered since its completion, it was so well designed and it remains in use today as an Army Barracks. It is one of the finest examples of a Fort in all of Europe.  Elgin Cathedral and Huntley Castle were both old ruins and fun to explore, and imagine what it was like all those centuries ago.

Our destination for the nights stay was Aberdeen. Being the end of the season we thought accommodation would be easy to find. Except there was a major conference in town and every reasonably priced hotel room within a 40 mile radius was booked, so we continued on to Dundee, another 57 miles, but on a motorway double lanes all the way.  We arrived in Dundee, and as has been the case in so many places we have visited there were massive infrastructure works being carried out. We somehow navigated to a large Holiday Inn……booked out!…..but, ‘we have a deal with the Apex Hotel just across the street’…..a few phone calls and we had a room in a 4 star Hotel with harbour views…..home for 2 nights!

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See ye efter!
Lance and Barbara

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Moi from Helsinki
On our first morning we picked up our hire car and got acquainted with our new friend Timo Tom Tom. We keyed in the destination and started our trip.  ‘Hilda’, out friend in Germany was in some ways quite circumspect in her approach to giving us directions, for instance, on our first attempt at getting to a launderette in Regensburg she directed us around the outside of the city, a trip of about 9 k’s….we ended up about a kilometre away from our where we started. Timo, the testosterone charged Tom Tom was not as timid…straight out into the centre of town……with the added traffic hazard….. TRAMS!..cars, pedestrians, buses, cyclists and trams …..There’s a lot of ‘T’s’ in that paragraph…let’s add ‘terrified’…after about a half hour of this torture, (another ‘T’) we made it to the open road and began our discovery of country Finland.

Pines and Silver Birches

The speed limit while driving on the motorways is 120kph, and 100 on other roads generally.  Every intersection has the lower speed limit of 80 and usually about 50 metres after the change of speed sign, there is an accompanying ‘speed camera’….the speed changes are constant and it’s hard to remember what speed you’re meant to be doing…apparently, if you are caught speeding in Finland, the fine is based on your income…..could be a problem! ‘Timo’ sounded alarm bells at every camera sighting, he almost wore himself out!

The Finnish countryside is very beautiful. Rich fertile farming land, and lots of lakes. Finland is known as the land of a thousand lakes because it has in excess of 180,000 lakes larger than 500 square metres.  A combination of pine and silver birch trees lined the sides of the roads for a lot of the way; the silver birches were beginning to change colours as autumn had just begun.  Red barns were also a frequent sight as we wound our way northward, all the while being amazed at the beauty of this wonderful country.  607 kms later, we arrived in Oulo, a city about half way up on the west coast, population, about 150,000.  The next day we headed further north to Rovaniemi, situated 5 kms south of the Arctic Circle and the official home of ‘Santa Claus’ and also home to the world most northern branch of the ‘Golden Arches’…Macca’s.  The city is the administrative capital and commercial centre for Lapland, the northernmost province of Finland. We booked into the Santa Claus Hotel (not as kitsch as it sounds) and then headed out to Santa Claus’ village and the Artic Circle, to see if the ‘Grand Old Man’ was at home………we were in luck….he was!…….and Barbara sat on his lap! (well next to him). The next day we visited the very comprehensive and fantastic ‘Arctic Museum’ and the local Cathedral, as well as lots of walking around this cold and wet town.

We left Rovaniemi and headed 511 kms south to the city of Kuopio, in the northern lakes area. With a population of about 97,000, it is the ninth largest city in Finland, situated on the lake and is very beautiful.  A yearly World Cup Ski-Jumping competition is held on the ski jumps on the hill of Puijo, the Puijo Tower also adorns the top of the hill. Kuopio is also famous for its association with the Finnish delicacy, Finnish Fish Pastry.  Before leaving the town we visited the Tower on the hill and saw lots and lots of clouds….and more clouds!

We headed back towards Helsinki to the city of Tampere, where there were major infrastructure works going on, temporarily closed roads etc, this unfortunately sent ‘Timo’ into a bit of a spin…..alerts on the screen advised to ‘connect to a computer for crucial downloads immediately’.  Another search for the dreaded Laundromat took place that evening…..the first one we went to didn’t exist, so we went back to the Hotel for further advice…we finally found one 7 kms away on the other side of town and even though ‘Timo’ was having major ‘hissey fits’, we got the washing done.  It was explained to us on several occasions that Laundromats were really not part of Finnish culture and were a very rare commodity! (Tampere, 2nd largest city had only 1!!!!)

Next day we were back in Helsinki. We returned the car and a ‘steaming and smoking’ Timo (the second GPS left in ruins), and wandered around for a while before heading back to our hotel – at the airport so we didn’t have to move luggage twice.

The next day we caught the bus into Helsinki and went to the Design Museum and then caught the tram out to the Olympic Stadium to view the place where the ‘Lithgow Flash’ won gold in 1952.

Reminiscent of the ‘Lithgow Flash’ going for ‘GOLD’ in ’52’ the ‘Goulbourn Gazzelle’ looking resplendent, complete with roadmap & handbag runs for ‘ALFOIL’ in ‘2012’

We went up the amazing tower that was designed to be a landmark for the complex.  The stadium was a hive of activity as the ground was being prepared for the World Cup match between Finland and France on the following Saturday night.  We also visited the statue for Sibelius before heading over to the waterside to visit a fantastic outdoor café Regatta, where you can have coffee and cake, or grab a sausage and BBQ it over the red coals of the constantly burning open fire. This wonderful little place has a constant stream of people that seem to love the atmosphere; the little birds are very brave and will land on the table and steal your food if you aren’t watching.

Finland is a wonderful country with lovely people that are extremely friendly and helpful. They switch between languages (Finnish, English German….) with absolute ease. We really enjoyed our time is this beautiful country……..next, Scotland, out to the west and into the highlands, more fresh country air…….

Nähdään pian
Lance and Barbara

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Moi from Helsinki
To get to Helsinki we caught a ferry from Tallinn. The ferry is about the same size as the ferries that service Tasmania. We arrived at the terminal, checked in and joined the other passengers. All very orderly and calm until the gates opened, and then the race was on. Elbows had been honed and sharpened ready to carve up anybody that got near them……you’ve got to be first on the boat.second is just not good enough…coming second is being the winner of the losers!…..there won’t be enough seats to go around…..only four decks of seating!!  Down the ‘cattle race’ we went, bags in tow, trying to keep up and steering clear of the deadly elbows. After what seemed about a kilometre we were on board and ready to set sail to Helsinki.  The ship has bars, restaurants, a supermarket and duty free shopping. As we neared the end of the journey shopping trolleys filled to the brim with all forms of alcohol began lining up for the next race….more sharp elbows, but on this race to get of the ship with the precious cargo of beer, wine and spirits.  We refused to be part of that race and stayed seated at our table until the decks had cleared before making our exit.

We had rented a small apartment, through ‘AirBnB’, (thanks Em) just out of the city centre, 4 stops on a #9 tram and you were there. Gorgeous studio apartment with very comfortable bed, kitchen, TV lounge etc and a washing machine, that we finally mastered – automatic and Finnish, but we managed to control it…

On the first night in Helsinki we left our apartment in search of food. We decided to do a walk suggested by a guidebook and on the way find a restaurant. It was only a short walk to the beach and we assumed the foreshore would be lined with seafood restaurants, (like it is in the rest of the world), so we began the short walk…..which became a long walk, past the water and the Yacht Club…more water on the right, expensive houses on the left….on and on…..water, houses……we gave up and turned back towards our apartment.  We finally found two restaurants and made our choice……..WRONG! The room was decorated in a nautical style, there were a lot of patrons and the staff were friendly enough.  Barbara ordered the only vegetarian dish on the menu, I opted for the Wiener Schnitzel. Even this fairly harmless dish was 19.50€. It will be good, there are lots of people here……The meal arrived. Barbara’s vego dish was heavy on the cabbage side, mashed potato and a globulous mess described as gravy. Mine was a piece of crumbed meat delicately placed over a mountain of mashed potato with lashings of the same brown gluggy substitute for gravy……I have to say it rated as one of the worst meals I have ever had, and fairly expensive to boot! Glad to say the meals got slightly better!

The Helsinki Cathedral

The next day I decided to get my haircut. We had seen lots of hair stylists during our tram trips in and out of the city. There were three between our apartment and the first intersection towards the city. I thought ‘I’ll go to one of them’.  We walked into our chosen hairdresser and spoke to a lovely young girl, who was dressed very funkily, tattoos, face piercings and multi coloured hair. She was somewhat surprised I think, by the age of the clientele she was now attracting…I should say here that the chain of hairdressers had shops bearing the names ‘Classic’, ‘Rock’ and ‘Modern’. I was about as far away from my determined classification ‘Classic’ as I could get!  I was in ‘Full on Rock’ posters of AC/DC, Jimi Hendrix, Sex Pistols and the like adorned the walls of the establishment. ‘Could I get my haircut?’ I said. She looked up from her seated position behind her enormous counter, I think I detected a slight whimper and hesitation in her voice as she replied, ‘O,o,O,Kay, weee, will begin in, in a…… mom….ent! (help) (I could see it in her eyes). There was no way out, I was between her and the door.  Anyway, she was fantastic, told me what she had planned for my hair, got Barbara and I a coffee and got down to business, we chatted away as she put her plan into action, she did a fantastic job, I was very pleased and she, relieved! (Best haircut he’s had in years. Ed)

Suomenlinna Island

After the haircut we headed down to the wharf area and took the ferry out to Suomenlinna Island where we spent the afternoon wandering around and discovering the military relics from the past.  The island is a maritime fortress that was built in 1748. The trip on the ferry began in a fairly relaxed way. Barbara and I positioned ourselves at what we thought was the back of the boat. It soon became apparent that this was a two-way ferry and we were at the front!  Our view quickly became obstructed as a newlywed Indian couple placed themselves between us and our view, several other members of their party began taking photos and videos from every direction possible.

Suomenlinna Island

They posed for the cameras, mimicked the famous ‘Titanic’ pose, which I find is a strange thing to do while you are on a boat!  At about this time I turned to Barbara and said in what I thought was a very quiet voice, ‘it’s a bit like being in a bloody ‘Bollywood’ movie’, Barbara cringed……the lady sitting right in front of us was very amused! We arrived on the island and spent the day walking, sometimes in isolation, breathing the fresh ‘sea air’ and avoiding the crowds of Helsinki.

We came across this chalk drawing in Helsinki, it looks like the work of an Australian who was tired of being up close and personal; The inner circle ‘You’-‘Intimate Space’-‘Personal Space’-‘Social Space’-‘Public Space’

The next day we hired a car and met our new friend Timo, who was to accompany us on our journey……

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Nähdään pian
Lance and Barbara

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Tere from Tallinn,
Our trip to Tallinn began at a bus station in St Petersburg.  Our taxi had been organised by our hotel, our driver knew where the bus station was, but wasn’t quite sure where to drop us off……so he asked us!..not a good start!  Finally he parked the car and ran across the road to a group of people assembled on the medium strip, confirmed that they also were waiting for the bus to Tallinn and this was the place to be.  Before too long a big shiny blue and grey bus appeared from around the corner……luggage was loaded, tickets and passports were checked seating re-arranged (I had seat 5 and Barbara had seat 8) we were away.

A Russian woman sat in the front seat. She wasn’t just good at talking, I think she invented it; she could talk….for hours…..and hours…..on and on!  This woman breathed ‘intravenously’ so she could keep going…and even though I couldn’t understand her…you sort of know she was talking ‘dribble’…..in photography you can freeze a hummingbirds wings with a shutter speed of 1/5000th of a second….I reckon if you took a photo of this woman, shutter speed 1/6400th second, you would still get lip blur!….she could talk!

We took a couple of hours to get to the Russian, Estonian border, the bus pulled into the passport control building, parked behind several other buses and cars.  The bus driver got off the bus went over to the guard box window with all the necessary paperwork, the co-driver opened the entire luggage and engine bay compartments ready for inspection by guards and dogs.  A soldier came on board the bus, issued some orders, the people who understood him began to rise from their seats, collect all their belongings and leave the bus….we followed….we got all of our luggage from under the bus and went into the ‘drab’ light green building. Once inside, we formed another queue and finally placed our luggage onto the conveyor belt to be X-rayed, then went to the next queue, passport control.  After everyone was through passport control we waited as a group before the door was opened and we took our luggage and re-boarded the bus…….we then drove 200 yards through no-man’s land to the Estonian border and waited at the ‘razor wire’ gates and fence for passport control again, this process took about two hours…..all with the accompanying ‘babble’ from the front seat…..passports all stamped, welcome to Estonia.

The view from our room, Casino, left bottom, Alexander Nevsky Catherdral top left

We arrived in Tallinn and found our accommodation, The Romeo Family Apartments.  After signing in we were shown our apartment, it was huge, imagine our excitement when we discovered there was a washing machine in the bathroom…..a sight for travel weary clothes….the young lady showing us the room could not believe our reaction to the discovery of this amazing device!…first things first…a load of washing….funny, when you’re home, this is a chore, when you haven’t seen a washing machine for a week, it’s an absolute pleasure!

The best Coffee & Cake since Italy




Tallinn is a very beautiful old city, as we walked through the lovely little streets and archways a familiar and enticing smell began to fill our nostrils…..coffee!  We found a fantastic little coffee house and sampled their brew…. Best coffee and cake since Italy!

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral





In the afternoon we visited the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a grand ‘Russian Revival’ style Cathedral built between 1894 and 1900 while Estonia was part of the Russian Empire.  Many Estonians disliked the building as it was seen as a symbol of oppression, it was scheduled for demolition in 1924 but this was never carried out. The building became more run down and dilapidated until in 1991 when Estonia gained its independence and a complete restoration took place.  We visited the ‘Nuns Tower’, part of the City Wall, before heading to the Centre for Puppet Arts Museum.  The Estonian State Puppet Theatre was founded in 1952 by Ferdinand Veike and remained under his leadership for decades. It is a fantastic museum containing sets and costume design drawings, a huge collection of puppets collected from the entire 60 year history of the theatre.  At 1pm everyday, a 20 min. show takes place in the main theatre; four actors take everyday articles and bring them to life during the show. It’s a fantastic museum and well worth a visit.

Re-vamped Port Area

The next day we visited the port area to buy our ferry tickets for the journey to Helsinki.  The port district, like many port districts in the world, is undergoing a transformation similar to Fremantle, Hobart and Port Adelaide, where many of the old unused buildings are being re-designed and rejuvenated through wonderful architecture and design, turning derelict dumping grounds into vibrant and exciting areas full of new businesses, restaurants, shopping areas and of course, people!

We made many more stops at our ‘new’ favourite coffee shop before boarding our ferry and making the 80k journey to our next destination, Helsinki, Finland.

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Näeme hiljem!
Lance and Barbara

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Lance has passed the baton to me, so I will tell you a bit about our adventures in St Petersburg.

Привет from St Petersburg
We flew from Warsaw into St Petersburg, went through all the necessary processes to get into a country at an airport, and went straight to the information desk. ‘What is the best way to get to the city?’ So armed with our maps and information we went out and caught the dilapidated public bus to the station and then the train into St Petersburg. Our luggage had to have a bus ticket and a train ticket to come with us. All this was very easy and we were soon coming out of the station onto Nevsky Prospekt, the main street of St Petersburg and the street our hotel was on. All good! So we walked down the street checking out the shops, well one of us did that, looking at the people and being jostled in the crowds. We got to the hotel and Lance took the luggage up to the 4thfloor in the rickety, single person lift while I took the stairs and met the hotel receptionist.

Nevsky Prospekt, part time Grand Prix Track (daytime)

Once we’d settled in we went for a walk (primarily to get beer I think), but we walked along Nevsky Prospekt getting a feel for St Petersburg. By this stage it was the end of the working day, so as well as tourists walking up and down the streets there were also lots of people who had finished work. Driving along the street – an 8 lane highway, 4 in each direction, one of which seemed to be devoted to buses and trolley trams – was peak hour traffic. We were soon to discover that this was the norm.

Then at about 11pm, or just as you are ready to go to bed the motor bikes seem to come out and it sounds like you are on the grand prix track.  I should explain our room overlooked Nevsky Prospekt, which was great until we wanted to go to sleep – it was good to sit in the window and watch the world go by 4 storeys below.

The Hermitage

The highlights of visiting St Petersburg are of course seeing all the sights you’ve either heard about or seen in movies etc. So, in no particular order places we visited include the Hermitage, part of the amazing Winter Palace, and were awestruck by the amazing show of wealth of the tsars; the amazing multi-domed Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood (the blood is that of Alexander II who was assassinated there) – this was truly amazing to see, the whole interior is mosaics; the Isaac Cathedral, with its golden dome; Kazan Cathedral, which is a working cathedral, and while we were there a service was being held, with the most amazing singing by the priest and a four part vocal group – we stayed there for a long time listening to the beautiful music in a most beautiful and serene setting.

St Isaac’s Cathedral

A walk along Nevsky Prospekt took us past Admiralty across the river and over to the Peter and Paul Fortress, originally a military base of St Petersburg, became a political prison (inmates included Dostoyevsky, Gorky and Trotsky). The St Peter and Paul Cathedral, magnificently over the top Baroque style, and burial place of Peter the Great and Nicholas II and family. It was a beautiful sunny day and we enjoyed walking around the island, and seeing other people enjoying the sunshine. We also enjoyed a boat trip along the canals, but by this time the weather had changed, it was raining and freezing cold, but still a very enjoyable experience.

Cruising down the river


Other highlights include the vegetarian restaurant we found courtesy of Lonely Planet, the sushi restaurant and the good café that made GOOD coffee, with the really nice waitress, that we kept going back to.

The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood

Our last day in St Petersburg will certainly remain the most memorable of our travels. We were awoken by a phone call from Phil to let us know that our beautiful grandson Jack Peter had been born earlier that day. He arrived somewhat early; in fact he wasn’t expected till 2 October. Jack is doing really well, he gets his mum and dad to take photos and videos of him to email to us and we have chatted with him on Skype. He is growing every day and just gets more and more gorgeous each day. He is staying in the hospital a bit longer but is doing really well and working towards going home with his mum and dad, who are both extremely happy and proud of their beautiful boy.

Neralie and Jack

The next day we headed to Tallinn – and it is back to Lance to tell you all about THAT adventure.

До встречи
Lance and Barbara

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Cześć! From Warsaw
Another interesting train journey…..a bit faster……couldn’t quite count the sleepers as they passed by…..

We arrived at the hotel and went hunting and gathering…..just the essentials, beer….and some milk, sunglasses for Barbara (others got scratched) and antihistamines for me: something was making me sneeze!  We stood at the front of the hotel, which direction, straight ahead, A-left or B-right…..we’ll take A….should have taken B, that’s were all the shops were.

We walked around in an ever increasing ‘business district’ which was starting to close down for the day…….finally an optometrist….sunglasses ticked off the list. We then came across a chemist….. antihistamines is such an easy thing to ask for in a foreign country, after some Academy awards acting and sign language, we had the sneezing medicine……still no milk or beer. We spotted someone carrying groceries, we must be close. We found the supermarket and made our purchases and somehow got back to the hotel, crossing over the brick foundations for a part of the Warsaw Ghetto, and stowed the loot!  Another walk for coffee….this time we’ll go ‘B’…two streets later, shops, restaurants, bars, coffee and cakes.

The street to the old city

After coffee we made our way down the street to what looked almost like a ‘Disney fantasy’ city. Brightly coloured buildings all shapes and sizes, spires and towers reaching skyward towards the white puffy clouds in the bright blue Polish sky. We had reached the ‘Old Town’! It was amazingly beautiful and was a hive of activity; many street stalls, buskers, tourists, us and the huge Royal Castle on the right side of Castle Square. The square has seen many dramatic scenes during its history with patriotic demonstrations. A particularly brutal riot occurred there in May 1982 while Poland was still under martial law. It was also the place where, in 1997 Bill Clinton gave a speech welcoming Poland to membership of NATO.

Castle Square

We made our way through the little thin ‘cobbled’ streets, each corner we rounded revealed more and more amazing sights, amazing buildings, town squares, outdoor restaurants, churches. Many buildings have stories and pictures of John Paul ll.  Further along the winding little alleys there are more town squares complete with restaurants and drinking houses.  We came across another beautiful little church and convent that was rebuilt after it had been destroyed by the Nazi’s during the occupation. During the war the nuns had provided sanctuary for many.

The Church of the Benedictine Nuns of Perpetual Adoration in ruins

The completed restoration

The next day we visited the amazing Royal Castle.  We entered the first room to see a video presentation of the history of the castle from 1939 to 1945….the screen was blank except for some writing in Polish and an accompanying English translation…….’In a moment will begin the video, history of the Royal Castle 39-45, and a countdown clock.’ At about one minute to go, one of the security attendants approached us and asked, ‘you speak English……right?’….’yes’…’Can you tell me’ as he pointed towards the writing on the screen….’Is that grammar right for English’…..we replied, ‘not quite…..the video presentation of the history of the castle from 1939 to 1945 will begin in a moment’. With that he clenched his fist and punched the air…’I KNEW IT!!…’thankyou’ then rushed off. We presume to re-assert his long held belief that the translation was incorrect…..we made his day!

The video began, pre-war footage of the people of Warsaw going about their daily life, Poland had regained its independence in 1918 following 123 years of partitions. Watching the video you could almost feel the optimism and joy of the people as they went about their daily lives, the accompanying music also portrayed the sense of the happy times. After such a long period of suppression the people were happy, for 20 years, the good times continued, a bright future filled with hope and a better life…until the devastation of the German Occupation in 1939…..The entire city of Warsaw was literally destroyed, the castle was bombed and plundered by the German Army, Hitler ordered that the Castle be razed to the ground by the beginning of 1940, holes were drilled in the walls which were plugged with dynamite. Protests from Italy stopped the immediate destruction of the Castle however, after the Warsaw uprising, the order to destroy the building was carried out.  Between the years 1945-70, the Communist authorities delayed and stopped the rebuilding of the castle, however in 1971 fundraising began and in 1980 re-construction of this amazing building began, the interiors were open to the public in 1984.

The Royal Castle

The second video was as powerful as the first, watching footage of people returning to piles of rubble where once there was a house and home.  People stood at the front of the bombed remains of their homes holding their face in their hands, obviously devastated, but then one by one they would pick up tools or use their bare hands and to begin the enormous task of re-building their beloved Warsaw.  Polish people all over the world have every right to be extremely proud of the achievements of those people and subsequent generations in the re-building their beautiful city.

The Warsaw Rising Museum, which we also visited, is also very impressive and powerful. It tells the story of the Rising, which cost more than 200,000 Polish lives. There are movies, peoples’ personal stories and historical facts all with photographic evidence. All the captions are in Polish and English. It would be very easy to spend days looking at all the exhibits.

Palace of Culture & Science

In the city centre stands one of Europe’s tallest buildings, Palace of Culture & Science, built in the early 1950’s as a ‘gift of friendship’ from the Soviet Union. The building was an unwanted gift but at 230 m tall, it’s hard to hide it away.  Great views of Warsaw can be seen from the viewing platform at the top.  A huge amount of construction is taking place in the centre of the city as the Metro line is expanded.

Warsaw from Palace of Culture & Science

Thankyou for all your good wishes for our grandson Jack, he is so gorgeous!

Phil and Jack

Do widzenia
Lance and Barbara

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