Month: October 2018

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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Tantilizing Tallinn, Estonia: A Medieval Marvel

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Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Tallinn, Estonia provides a fascinating glance into medieval times, and into modern-day life in a former Soviet controlled country. The residents of Tallinn proudly embrace and celebrate freedom, and they cherish their medieval heritage in one of the best-preserved examples of medieval-architectured old towns anywhere.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is arguably the most fascinating attraction in Tallinn. It is a Russian Revival style Cathedral built between 1894 and 1900, a time period when Tallinn was a part of the Russian Empire. The namesake of the Cathedral, Alexander Nevsky, was victorious in the Battle of the Ice, Lake Peipus, present-day Estonia. Its signature onion domes burst up into the sky towering above all else, guiding all to witness it in all of its spectacular glory!

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Kadriorg Palace

The Kadriorg Palace of Catherine I of Russia is a baroque masterpiece currently serving as home to the Art Museum of Estonia. Its fanciful pink pastel exterior shines brightly, providing a warm welcome to those entering the city at this popular entry point.

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Cobblestoned Streets, Hard-Bitten Buildings

Tallinn has boldly risen from the ashes of Soviet dominance, and has a plethora of meticulous renovations on historic architecture as well as cutting-edge modern buildings to show for it. But head off the beaten path, down a cobbled side street, and you can catch a glimpse of the “other” Estonia – the impact that Soviet rule had on their economy and the hard work the Estonians have taken around the city to restore their urban landscape. Understandably, it will take time for these restorations to be complete. For now, the decay of some of these buildings provide important historical reminders.

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Views from Patkuli Viewing Platform over Old Town

From the Patkuli Viewing Platform you are afforded spectacular views over old town, into the modern district, and of the port (note the docked cruise ships here!) Tallinn’s signature red rooftops blanket the old town district.

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Tallinn: Old and New

This overlook is an ideal “first stop” before you head into Old Town, to catch an overview, and gain a perspective that includes both old and new that you cannot witness from street level. This view encompasses the spirit of the Tallinn of today – as a meticulous caretaker to history and modern metropolis all at once.

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Surprising Spires around Every Corner

Old Town in Tallinn is a medieval history buff’s playground, with spires popping up around many corners, hilly cobbled pedestrian paths, and street musicians galore. I enjoyed the talents of more street musicians here than I have in any other city I have ever visited!

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Cafes in Town Hall Square

Town Hall Square is surrounded by powdery-pastel gabled buildings, brilliantly adorned with intricate details. Cafes abound here – an ideal place to enjoy the magnificent architectural surroundings and observe Tallinn residents enjoying their freedom and fulfilling their ambitions.

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Gustav Ernesaks Memorial

The Gustav Ernesaks Memorial, dedicated to the Estonian composer of the same name, is located at the Song Festival Grounds. Gustav Ernesaks is perhaps most well known for composing ‘Mu isamaa on menu arm,’ which the tourism bureau describes as “the unofficial anthem of the Estonians during the Soviet era.” (visitestonia.com) My guide explained that this location is of great sentimental importance to the Estonians because of this connection, symbolic of their independent spirit.

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Performers with Traditional Medieval Instruments

What better way to complete a visit to Tallinn than with a concert performed in the traditional medieval style? You can see these performers and more on my tour of Tallinn here:

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I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored, and I receive no wage or salary!

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