The Great Auntie Adventure: European Edition – Installment #4

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Day 2: St. Petersburg, Russia (cont.)

Today began with our first shore excursion – we wanted to give Oleg and Ilya an opportunity to sleep in or do whatever they might wish before meeting us. As i had predicted, the quality of the shore excursion was sub-standard. Our guide provided almost no information on a very brief canal tour and we were taken to a Kazan cathedral (free admittance) during a service instead of Peter and Paul Fortress (which was closed because of the economic summit) and never refunded the admittance charge for the latter. We have since filed a complaint with the appropriate department which essentially responded in writing that they didn’t give a damn, but the letter was address to “Mr. & Mrs. Weeks” – firstly, my aunt wrote the letter, secondly, my uncle and my aunt are not married so they don’t share a last name, thirdly the other guest in the room is me – not only am i female, but my last name is not Weeks – grrr…
While waiting for our favourite Muscovites, we went into a cafe and ordered tea and coffee ourselves – IN RUSSIAN!!! I know you’re impressed. We even paid in rubles, which we had managed to exchange from our tour guide. Oleg and Ilya salvaged our perception of the waterways by taking us on a better canal tour and provided a running translation of the Russian guides much more interesting commentary. I saw buildings in which Dostoevsky composed Crime and Punishment, the home of Pushkin’s mistress, Gogol’s residence and many other interesting literary landmarks. We then went to the Michailovsky gardens to walk around a bit, then to the civil war memorial as we headed to the summer gardens where, apparently, Peter the Great would throw parties that you could only leave if you were good and inebriated. Unfortunately, people would sober up while waiting for their carriage-sharers and apparently some people would be stuck there for days on end! We spent a lot of time recounting the mythological tales that went with the various statues throughout the park and then went for a lunch in order to celebrate Ilya’s birthday! HAPPY TWENTY-SIXTH BIRTHDAY TO ILYA!
We took a cab back to the port and went to the martini bar exhausted. I want to spend at least a month in St. Petersburg at some point in the future. It’s a beautiful city. My only complaint would be that i really don’t enjoy being able to tell not only the cut but also the colour of every woman’s undergarments. Eew.

Day 3: Taillin, Estonia

My guidebook described Taillin as like a theme-park…i would have to agree. The towers, streets and buildings are medieval- and feel distinctly like San Gimigniano in Tuscany, but the “historical” garb and plethora of restaurants and souvenir shops was a little much. We visited St. Nicholas Church, Alexander Nevski Cathedral, and St. Mary’s, wandered around and paid a bloody fortune for a spoon and keychain. It was another glorious day, but with only a couple of hours in port (we left at 2pm), i was unable to get a lot of what i would like to get done accomplished.
For example, Estonia was the only country declared Judenfried by Hitler. In the past month, the first synagogue in over fifty years was opened – i didn’t have a chance to go check it out.
I needed to recover from the grueling pace of these past couple of days and decided to take a 4 hour nap before heading out for martini and dinner.

Day 4: Klaipeda, Lithuania

Not all shore excursions are necessarily bad – i think i good sign that you will enoy yourself is likely that the meeting time is not the ungodly hour of 7::10am as it was in St. Peterburg, but rather 10:40am. We took a bus to the Spit (a UNESCO world heritage site) and were given a guided tour of witches’ hill. Now, the spit is quite an interesting phenomenon that inspires hope in the current tree planting initiatives in the Great Canadian North. Once sand dunes that separated mainland Klaipeda from the Baltic Sea, in the wake of the destruction of four fishing villages, the Klaipedans planted a vast forest in the sandy soil. Today the spit is a lush wildlife preserve – that’s man-made though not man-maintained. The tour of witches’ hill was definitely a tourist trap – the wooden sculptures depicted the traditional Lithuanian legends and folktales dated all the way back to…1979! However, wandering around in the woods was a very pleasant change from our usual urban setting and our guide was passionate about her work and the stories were delightful. What was not delightful was the crowd of old people complaining about the terrain and the amount of walking (0.75 miles in the WOODS as described in the blurb – would you expect there to be small hills and even, oh my god, roots on the path? funny, i did).
We stopped at the Lagoon and while the rest of our tour bus was busy buying yet more amber, Aunt Lorraine and i decided to wash the dust from the forest off our feet by soaking them in the salty water. Before heading back to the ship, we stopped at a bird observation point. We got an opportunity to see Cormorant’s (look it up) nesting in the forest. Apparently they destroy the terrain around them with the acidity of their droppings, but ornologists have convinced the Lithuanian authorities to let them be in the hopes their population will plateau on its own. The destruction made me think of beavers.
Lithuania was the only country during the actual cruise in which i did not procure either a spoon OR send postcards.

June 13-14: At Sea

Sleeping, working out, taking pictures of our favourite crew members and the ubiquetious eating are the main preoccupation of these last sea days. The women are winning the Battle of the Sexes trivia (which i choose not to attend) and i have discovered a new favourite drink – the Bellini (a peach champagne cocktail – yum). We direly need this vacation from our fast-paced vacation. None of the ports we enjoyed were really given their due by these short visits, but hopefully the future will bring more European traveling and another edition of the Great Auntie Adventures series.

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