Ketchikan, Alaska: Quirky and Wild

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Clan House, Totem Bight State Park

Ketchikan is your typical first Alaskan stop on an Alaskan cruise itinerary, and it offers a tantalizing contrast in cultures to explore! The best place to start your adventure first is Totem Bight State Park, where you can discover and learn about Native American culture in Alaska, their totem poles, and enter one of their clan houses, brilliantly restored and preserved.

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Richly decorated totem pole

Totem poles served a variety of different purposes. In front of a clan house, it could serve as an “address” marker, much like our address number and street. Others convey local legends, or honor a local clan. And others serve as grave markers, much like cemetery stones.

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This one is akin to a cemetery stone

The totems are decorated in rich, bold colors and depict a wealth of different designs. Animals are abundant in totem design. At Totem Bight State Park there are many different types of totems to compare and contrast. And, if you’re lucky, you may also catch a glimpse of a whale from the waterfront!

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Welcome to Ketchikan sign near the port

The area around the port hosts many retail shops, and can be crowded when multiple cruise ships are docked. Perhaps the most interesting sight here at the port is “The Rock” statue.

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“The Rock”

According to the Ketchikan Story Project, “The Rock tells the story of how Alaska’s First City came to be. Six of the seven figures on the sculpture represents a prominent archetype in the city’s history – a fisherman, a miner, a logger, a bush pilot, a frontierswoman, a native drummer. The seventh represents an actual historic figure – Chief Johnson, a Tlingit who stands on top of ‘The Rock,’ symbolizing the fact that his people were the first to make their home in SE Alaska.” (www.ketchikanstories.com)

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Fishing culture

Fishing is a vital component of the Alaskan culture, and there is no shortage of evidence of this here in Ketchikan. Boats bob peacefully along the docks in a “skyline” of masts at the port, while beyond them brightly colored wooden houses dot the shoreline, and towering dark green mountains are nestled in puffs of mist and clouds behind them.

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Creek Street Boardwalk

Another not-to-be-missed attraction in Ketchikan is the historic Creek Street Boardwalk. It can be a challenge to navigate – attracting hoards of eager tourists – but it is well worth the effort. Here wooden houses in a rainbow of colors sit upon a lengthy boardwalk creek front, where miniature waterfalls provide a chance to witness leaping salmon. There is history here, including “Dolly’s House,” a brothel from 1919. Of course, retail shopping opportunities abound as well, given the crowds.

Ketchikan is quirky and wild, a place of great contrasts, and an excellent place to start your Alaskan journey!

You can view my tour of Ketchikan here:!

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Alaska’s Inside Passage: Mysterious Beauty and Pristine Wilderness!

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Some trees appear to float on air in the mist

During the Norwegian Bliss cruise ship’s Alaska itinerary, the trip through the Inside Passage’s wonderful wilderness is a breathtaking highlight. It is a surreal world of icebergs, weightlessly wafting puffy clouds of mist, placid green-hued waters (so tinted due to sediment from the glaciers), and endless armies of pine trees descending mountains alongside strings of waterfalls that lay like whimsical ribbons on the landscape.

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Waterfall “ribbons”

The journey is slow, as the ship greatly reduces speed through this area, both for safety (icebergs abound), and because this is not a path of travel or means to an end, it is a destination in and of itself. There was one time on the cruise it seemed like everyone else was on their balcony too (I know because I was out there all the time when not at port!) and this was it, the clicking of photos being snapped the only sound echoing in this peaceful paradise.

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Calm waters melt into the soft outlines of mist

With the waters so calm and the mist so surreal in its softness, at times the outline between the two is only a faint one. The icebergs peeking through the serene waters and hunter green humps of land peering through the billowy mists breach the illusion and tell you where the outline begins.

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Thick rows of fog striping the sky

The thickness of the fog completely obscures the land behind it at times, as if keeping the secret of a great surprise it could reveal at any moment… and does. It stripes the sky in rows… and dissipates rapidly only to form again, a playful shapeshifter.

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Where does the water begin?

The inside passage is like an alien world in its mysterious beauty and pristine wilderness. While the Bliss did not continue all the way to Sawyer Glacier as planned for safety’s sake (amid the thick fog and weather conditions), I was completely satiated after seeing the spectacular wonder of wilderness that is the Inside Passage, and would later see other glaciers in Skagway.

My video tours of Alaska’s Inside Passage and the Norwegian Bliss may be found here!:

Inside Passage:

Norwegian Bliss:

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The Beautiful, Bold, and Breathtaking Brand New Norwegian Bliss Cruise Ship!

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The Norwegian Bliss

The Norwegian Bliss cruise ship sailed its maiden cruise this past spring, and I had the opportunity to sail on the Bliss in August on Norwegian’s Alaska itinerary out of Seattle, Washington. A spectacular experience on a spectacular ship!

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The Bliss docked in Victoria, B.C., Canada

The Bliss has 19 decks, and a 4,990 occupancy rate (double occupancy!) It holds a crew of 1,700. As impressive as the stats on this ship are, they cannot prepare you for the experience of witnessing this beautiful, breathtaking behemoth in person! The artwork on the hull is titled “Cruising with the Whales” and was created by renowned marine artist Wyland.

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Spectacular chandelier in one of the main lobbies

The interior design of the Bliss makes it as magnificent as the exterior! The decor is elegant, grandiose, and best of all, clever and creative. I felt spoiled on eye candy at every moment on the Bliss.

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Savor complimentary dining room

The Bliss is abundant with options for dining, including many complimentary and specialty choices. The decor in the dining rooms is upscale and trendy; I felt like a VIP no matter where I dined, whether there was a charge or not. Service was always prompt, courteous, and friendly, and the meals were a delight to my palate!

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Sugarcane Mojito Bar – my favorite hangout on the ship

In addition to dining outlets there are many bars on the Bliss, often tastefully themed. I was especially partial to the Sugarcane Mojito Bar, where the decor was classic Havana and there were a myriad of different flavors of Mojito, all delicious, to choose from. It was a great place to relax, enjoy the views of the ocean, and meet fellow passengers while enjoying some of the best drinks I’ve ever tasted!

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Balcony cabin on the Bliss

The balcony cabin was spacious, comfortable, and delightfully decorated. The mattress was dreamy, and I appreciated the many options for storage and abundance of electrical outlets. I never felt cramped in the bathroom, either. These were very pleasant surroundings for my stay on the sea!

The entertainment was outstanding on the Bliss, including the Tony-award-winning “Jersey Boys” show, “Havana!” a Cuban music and cultural extravaganza,  and the New Orleans speakeasy inspired “Happy Hour Prohibition” musical. I was enthralled and moved by all three shows. And of course, there is plenty more nightlife to come post-show in the exciting nightclubs!

The Bliss has ample amenities, even including a go-kart track on the top deck, laser tag, and the wildest water park slides I’ve ever witnessed on a cruise ship. And if all that wasn’t enough, the spectacular views of Alaska’s Inside Passage from up on deck or the privacy of your balcony – priceless!

I would recommend the Bliss cruise ship to anyone with absolutely zero hesitation. To this day, it is in my opinion the greatest cruise ship I have ever had the pleasure to sail on. I experienced no issues or problems whatsoever at any point during the cruise, either.

I have posted a full video tour of the Bliss, including a first-person view from inside the go karts, here!:

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Getting High on Life in the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee!

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Morning mountain mist

The Great Smoky Mountains, and corresponding National Park, straddle the states of Tennessee and North Carolina in the southern United States. My entry point into this natural wonderland was Gatlinburg, Tennessee. As I enjoyed the breathtaking view from the rocking chair of my porch, the Smoky Mountains namesake morning mist hovered, weaving its way through the mountaintops, and providing a perfect sight from which to contemplate the day’s adventures on which I would embark! (For more on where I stayed during my visit to the Smoky Mountains, look for my Wyndham Legacy Smoky Mountains Resort tour blog linked below.)

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Scenic overlook in the Park

A visit to Smoky Mountains National Park in undeniably the first place you are going to want to begin your adventure. In one of nature’s ultimate playgrounds you will discover many natural wonders, as well as, as the National Park Service describes, “One of the best collections of log buildings in the Eastern United States. Over 90 historic structures – houses, barns, outbuildings, churches, schools, and grist mills – have been preserved or rehabilitated in the park.” (www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/historicbuildings.htm) These minimalist yet fascinating structures give a good glimpse of what life was like in the 1800s in the rural South.

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John Oliver Cabin, from 1822

For the energetically-inclined there are an array of hiking trails available in all difficulty levels, from short to long, and from easy to challenging. Hiking options are listed on the National Park Service’s Smoky Mountains website, and hiking trail maps are available at the Welcome Center (as well as driving tour maps of the Park.) On these journeys you will witness waterfalls (in varying sizes), creeks, and dense forests of a multitude of varieties of trees. A hike in the Smoky Mountains stimulates all of the senses, with spectacular views of the mountains, the soothing sounds of bubbling brooks and trees rustling in the wind, and the smell of pine… truly a feast for the senses! Enjoy breathing in the fresh, pure air while you indulge in the epitome of peacefulness!

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Strolling along a bubbling creek

One of the greatest perks of a visit to Smoky Mountains National Park is enjoying the abundance of wildlife therein! The Park is most well-known for their Black Bear population. When you see a log jam of cars parked illegally along the road and no scenic overlook – you can safely assume it’s a makeshift wildlife viewing stop! And if people are looking up into the trees, they are likely viewing black bears, for whom the treetops are a favorite hangout!

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Black Bear

If you still have the energy after all of the walking, hiking, and driving through the Park, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, minutes away, is billed as a tourist Mecca for the area, where nightlife is readily available and tourists flock to in droves!

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“The Island” ferris wheel

I quickly realized upon arriving in Pigeon Forge that, well… it’s not for everyone. An extreme contrast from the National Park, the area is overwhelmingly commercial, touristic, and in some cases, tacky. Nonetheless I was drawn to the giant Ferris wheel at “The Island,” which towered over the town. Here there is a small amusement park, numerous restaurants, and a bounty of retail shops. I had preferred to do my shopping at the National Park Service’s shop where proceeds from my sale went to help the park, so I wasn’t in the market for more retail outlets at that point. For the celebrity restauranteur aficionado, Jimmy Buffett and Paula Deen both have restaurants here at “The Island.” There is also a pizza place I was familiar with called “Mellow Mushroom.” While I did not partake in their offerings on this visit, I had eaten at other locations for each of these restaurants in the past and greatly enjoyed the meal, so if you are looking for a dinner experience here in Pigeon Forge (and prefer to avoid the heavily billboard-promoted and, at least in some cases, “obnoxious” dinner show buffets in town), I would recommend any of these dining outlets.

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Wyndham Legacy Resort, Sevierville, TN.

Please refer to my post linked below if you are interested in great accommodations from which to enjoy your Smoky Mountain Experience! The Legacy Resort by Wyndham is definitely a place I look forward to returning to again and again:

Bountiful Bliss at Wyndham “Legacy” Smoky Mountain Resort!

And you can watch my video tour of Smoky Mountains National Park here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhUR3UA4ijY

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Bountiful Bliss at Wyndham “Legacy” Smoky Mountain Resort!

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First floor porch – spectacular views!

*Note: this blog post is NOT sponsored by Wyndham and reflects my honest experience. The Wyndham Legacy Mountain Resort in Sevierville, Tennessee provides an excellent home base for exploring the Smoky Mountains National Park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee (a few minutes drive away) and the many (albeit tacky) tourist attractions of the neighboring town of Pigeon Forge. Best of all, it also provides a spectacular backdrop of magnificent mountain views back at the cabin!

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Cabins lined up along the mountain

Within this resort there are multiple individual two-story cabins along the slope of the mountain. Rates are comparable to those of an upscale hotel room, and very reasonable for the amenities you enjoy here.

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Our cabin: “Moondancer”

The cabins boast whimsical names – we stayed in “Moondancer.” This was a good choice, high above many of the other options and a source of spectacular views!

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Living room with fireplace

With walls of wood, a stone fireplace, leather furniture, and black-bear themed decor (black bears are notorious residents of the Smoky Mountains!) the cabin is a copiously cozy, comfortable home for the duration of your stay in Sevierville. The cabin has a natural, woodsy feel amply appropriate for the location!

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Fully-equipped kitchen

The kitchen is fully-equipped, with oven/stove, microwave, full-size refrigerator, dishwasher, sink, toaster, coffee pot, and even a “gift basket” of travel-sized kitchen supplies! This is a very good thing, not only for the convenience and value of being able to prepare meals here, but because the surroundings, especially the sumptuous views, are so pleasant it is doubtful you will want to leave to dine elsewhere! An outdoor grill is also available, overlooking your mountain paradise!

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Dining area

There is also a dining area, and the cabins have either one or two bedrooms. “Moondancer” is a one bedroom, but there is also a loft which sleeps two and a sofa bed that can sleep one more. Five people would sleep very comfortably here. There are two full bathrooms.

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Game room upstairs

In the unlikely event you get bored with the views lounging out on the patio (?!), there is a game room upstairs in some of the cabins. In “Moondancer” we had a pool table and foosball game.

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Second floor porch with Jacuzzi!

My favorite amenity here was the Jacuzzi on the second floor porch! The Jacuzzi in and of itself is indulgent enough – let alone these incredible views you can soak in while you soak in the swirling Jacuzzi water! This is definitely one of the greatest things that make this place so special, and stand out from your average accommodations. (By the way, there was a second Jacuzzi – an indoor one – in the upstairs bathroom!)

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Breathtaking views of the Smoky Mountains!

With all that this place has to offer I definitely look forward to returning again and again. As far as resort accommodations go, this was one of the most memorable and pleasurable I have ever stayed at! You can view my complete tour of the cabin, including drone footage of the resort, here!:

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Sassy and Sophisticated Stockholm, Sweden!

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Stockholm, Sweden: city of hills and waterways

Stockholm, Sweden was the final port stop on my Baltic Sea cruise on the Norwegian Breakaway. Stockholm is replete with natural beauty, with its many glistening waterways and lofty hills, as well as charming historic and modern architectural structures seemingly climbing the playfully rolling hillsides.

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Views inside of City Hall

Completed in 1923, the National Romanticist style City Hall is a quirky building that pays significant homage to Byzantine Design with its gilded mosaic hall and arcaded main lobby. The building is surrounded by meticulously manicured grounds that provide an excellent place to view Stockholm’s Old Town across the water and people-watch.

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Views of Stortorget

Stortorget, the main square of Gamla Stan, or Old Town, houses the Nobel Museum, narrow side streets, whimsical Lion statues, and colorful, ornate buildings. Hordes of tourists congregate by its central fountain, lingering amidst the delectable scents of the bakeries and cafes lining the square. Stockholm is expensive, but these temptations are irresistible! To escape the crowds, stroll down one of the numerous side streets and let yourself get lost in pleasureful peacefulness.

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Changing of the Guard

Around the corner in front of the Royal Palace, time it right and you’ll catch the majestic ritual of the Changing of the Guard.

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Vasa Museum

The Vasa Museum is home to the Vasa ship, Swedish warship from the early 1600s. It managed to sail 1,400 yards before sinking during its first voyage. Rediscovered in the 1950s, it was given a new home above ground and where modern Swedes and tourists alike can contemplate its enticing story. Too top-heavy to be fit for sailing, it tragically sank in 1628 when the impatience of King Gustavus Adolphus got the better of him. His underlings lacked the fortitude to advise him of the ship’s problems and suggest a delay of embarkation. Today you can visit the Vasa Museum to see the ship itself and many displays pertaining to its troubled history.

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Riddarholmskyrkan

Riddarholmskyrkan, or Riddarholm Church, is the site of burial grounds for Swedish royalty, including the aforementioned Gustavus Adolphus. No longer used for monarchial burial grounds or as a place of worship, it now serves only as a site of historical importance. A monastery in the 1300s, it later served Protestant parishioners post-Reformation. The original spire was devastated by lighting and replaced with the current cast-iron spire which serves as an important landmark representing the city.

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Modern Stockholm: Convention Center

After enjoying the many historic sites in Stockholm, it’s fun to take some time to delight in the signature Scandinavian streamlined and geometrical style of its modern structures.

You may view my complete tour of Stockholm, Sweden here!:

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Peaceful, Placid Porvoo, Finland!

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Porvoo, Finland “skyline”

A thirty mile drive east of Helsinki will transport you to the small town of Porvoo, Finland: a peaceful paradise of 18th and 19th century (and older) architecture, cobblestoned lanes, and quirky, quaint shops and cafes. Porvoo provides the perfect contrast to the modern metropolis of Helsinki during your visit to Finland!

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Colorful old red barns on the river: a proposed UNESCO World Heritage site

Porvoo is replete with wooden barns, houses, and other buildings that have stood the test of time amazingly well through so many cold and snowy winters. Practically all of the town’s structures are composed completely or primarily of wood, and are painted brilliantly in a variety of bold colors, a delight for the eyes!

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Porvoo Cathedral upon the hill

Porvoo Cathedral stands tall towering over the rest of the town and surrounding waterways like a guidepost. Built in the 1300s originally entirely of wood, stone walls were raised in the early 1400s. A symbol of resilience, much mirrored by the Finnish people, Porvoo Cathedral has withstood multiple invasions (from both the Danish and Russians) and numerous fires.

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Old Town Hall, now housing a museum

The Old Town Hall, which now houses a museum, faces a lively square full of street vendors and musicians…. and tourists! It is a fine example of the creative use of color evident throughout the town.

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Unspoiled old wooden architecture surrounds a cobblestone square

Venture past the tourist hub around Old Town Hall and the shopping district, up the hill past Porvoo Cathedral, and you will find another cobblestone square alluringly devoid of massive tourist crowds and surrounded by charming old wooden buildings!

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Quiet, quaint cobblestoned alley

Once off the beaten path, the noise of the tourist traffic evaporates and you’re in a wooden wonderland, meandering down cobblestoned lanes at every turn, able to imagine another time in the distant past without the distraction of tourist hordes and modern vehicles!

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Even “major” roads in the town are cobblestoned

Porvoo, Finland provides an excellent day trip out of Helsinki for a sample of small town, historic Finland. Just be sure to wander off and get lost along it’s quiet side streets to escape the crowds and enter a tranquil haven. You can view my video tour of Porvoo, Finland here!:

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Harmonious Helsinki, Finland!

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Helsinki Cathedral

Helsinki was the next stop on my cruise through the Baltic Sea on Norwegian Breakaway. Probably the most recognizable sight in Helsinki, and the top priority for many visitors, is the neoclassical, multi-domed Helsinki Cathedral in Market Square. This landmark serves as a gathering point for Fins to congregate and socialize on its massive steps. Perched high, it stands as a beacon to be recognized throughout the city, inviting all to partake in its pleasures.

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Neoclassical Architecture around Market Square

Neoclassical architecture is prevalent in Market Square. Usually a vast, open square, it was replete with military tanks during this visit, which I was hastily advised was temporary and in celebration of a patriotic event. Well thank goodness for that!

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Sibelius Monument: Organ Pipes Portion

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Sibelius Monument: Likeness Portion

Designed in honor of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, the Sibelius Monument is a symphony for the eyes. It was introduced in 1967, and is housed in Sibelius Park, a wonderland of natural beauty, and a perfect example of the Finnish ideal of people living harmoniously with their natural surroundings. Witnessing the locals frolicking in park settings like this, it is clear the Fins treasure the natural beauty that surrounds them. The monument has two separate parts: one resembling an organ and another with Sibelius’ likeness. Sibelius’ head rests contentedly upon the rocks, drawing the natural beauty of the rocks into the sculpture, man one with nature.

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Rock Church: Exterior

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Rock Church: Interior

Temppeliaukio Church, also known as “Rock Church,” provides another fine example of the Fins connectedness with the natural world. Constructed into solid rock and with a giant skylight to flood the pews in sunlight, it is a testament to the wondrous quality of nature. The rock provides incredible acoustics for the music, which you don’t need to attend a service to delight in.

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Uspenski Cathedral

In stark contrast, Uspenski Cathedral is a more elaborate and exotic Eastern Orthodox Church. This church showcases the Russian architectural influence in the city. Russian Emperor Alexander II is commemorated within, who reigned over the Grand Duchy of Finland in the 1800s. Throughout the city there are remnants of Finland’s Russian-culture swayed past.

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Modern Helsinki

 

Today Helsinki has a shortage of housing and modern structures are springing up all around. The buildings shown above are near the Port, where many more buildings illustrating futuristic zeal are currently under construction.

You can view my video tour of Helsinki here!:

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A Tale of Two Cities: Pushkin & Peterhof, Russia!

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Peterhof Palace, Peterhof

St. Petersburg, Russia provides an excellent home base for exploring more of the splendor of Russian culture outside of an urban setting. Pushkin and Peterhof are both nearby towns that can be visited on the same day (albeit in rushed fashion) in an excursion from the city. The highlight of both of these towns is that each is home to a spectacular rococo palace that will leave you both gasping for breath and awe-inspired!

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Catherine’s Palace, Pushkin

Pushkin is home to Catherine’s Palace, summer palace of Russian royalty about 18 miles outside of St. Petersburg. With grand staircases, larger-than-life halls, and abundant with masterpieces of art, it is lavish and luxurious on a scale impossible to contemplate without witnessing it first hand. Unfortunately, many people seek to do just that – and the crowds here are suffocating. But the experience of being able to witness the surreal spectacle of this place is worth the effort.

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Catherine’s Palace: Pure Rococo Splendor

The incredible exterior is a mere sample of the rococo majesty that you will find when you enter its sumptuous interior. You progress through rooms, each one so rich and indulgent in detail, size, and extravagant materials it gives you a feeling like a sinfully sweet dessert buffet with no end would give. I felt spoiled rotten and stuffed full indulging in so much eye candy.

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Incredible Interior

While the gilded trim may be the most eye-catching decoration, I found my favorite rooms to be the complexly detailed and highly colorful rooms like the one pictured below. I was reminded of Wedgwood and cameo style of interior decor objects and jewelry pondering the majestic qualities of rooms like this.

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Intricately Detailed Interiors of Catherine’s Palace

Peterhof Palace, as pictured below, and about 24 miles from St. Petersburg, is best known for it’s grand gardens and fanciful fountains. For very quickly apparent reasons, it is often referred to as the “Russian Versailles.” Like Catherine’s Palace, the crowds are unbearable – but well worth bearing.

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Peterhof Palace

Here gilded statues gaze as whimsical waters perform a delightful dance. To have a sense of the size and scope of these fountains, compare the size of the people processing along the paths that surround it. These fountains are larger than life, and still only a small part of the immensity of the meticulously manicured gardens in your midst.

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Gorgeous Gardens at Peterhof

But the beauty doesn’t stop there. Venture inside to complete the spectacle, feasting your eyes on interior details and rococo extravagance only rivaled by Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin.

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Playfully Pastel Peterhof

Whether the room is a pastel paradise (above) or gloriously gilded (below), each room is different yet equally as flamboyant and fanciful as the last. It is a maze of wonder that will leave you flabbergasted.

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Peterhof: Gilded Grandeur

You can find your paradise in Pushkin and Peterhof, soaking in their ornate opulence and imagining what life would be like to live within these gilded walls. The visit is well worth the side-trip from St. Petersburg!

You can view my full tour of Pushkin and Peterhof here!:

 

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Seductive St. Petersburg, Russia!

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The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

An overnight stay in St. Petersburg, Russia was the next stop on my Norwegian Breakaway Baltic Sea cruise, and this seductive city turned out to be the most exotic, enticing destination I had ever visited!

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The Hermitage Interior

The Hermitage, in all of it’s baroque brilliance, was worth braving the overbearing crowds. Dripping with glistening gold and brilliant, bold pastel and jewel-toned colors, it was a spectacular sight to behold! The priceless works of art housed within were almost an afterthought to the marvels of interior architectural design! Room after room I was breathtakingly awe-inspired!

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Church of the Spilled Blood, Under Restoration

The Romantic Nationalist design Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, built between 1883 and 1907, is a St. Petersburg landmark, with its signature onion domes in brilliant gold and bright colors. It was under restoration, so my view was unfortunately limited. It is well-known for it’s magnificent mosaics.

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One of Two Rostral Columns (Lighthouse)

Two towering columns, the “Rostral Columns,” served as lighthouses commemorating Naval victory. The statues at the base represent Russia’s major rivers. The Old Stock Exchange can be seen in the background.

The Peter and Paul Fortress, originally St. Petersburg’s citadel, now houses the State Museum of St. Petersburg History. The St. Peter and Paul Cathedral is another bastion of baroque brilliance, and is celebrated as St. Petersburg’s oldest landmark. Packed with people, it was difficult to navigate – but given some extra time it is possible to slowly work your way to the front for an enthralling view of its spectacular baroque altar.

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“Russian Folkloric Extravaganza”

The Russian Folkloric Extravaganza, and evening show held in St. Petersburg, provides a poignant peek into Russian cultural heritage! Fabulously filled with traditional costumes, acrobatic dancing, sword throwing, soulful singing, and a bear costume (!), it is a delight to witness. Added bonus: the theater it is held in gives a glimpse into gloriously tacky Soviet-era architecture and art!

A visit to St. Petersburg, Russia is a rare treat, and, I would argue, I must-visit for anyone given the opportunity! If you visit aboard a cruise ship a visa will not even be necessary – your excursions serve as your visa, and customs-immigration is a breeze to pass through (it was easier than customs-immigrations in the U.S.!) On the downside you can’t explore on your own, but your day will be packed full of spectacular sights nonetheless. If you have more time a visa – booked several months in advance – may be the way to go.

You can watch the St. Petersburg video tour here:

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