Eskapada sa Northern Europe

May 17 - Jun 1, 2012

by Norman Bituin






Sometimes it does feel like a race against time. Getting ever so close to retirement and the inevitable days of social security and fixed income, I figure this is the opportune time to explore the world. And while the knees are still holding up too. I think the economy also has something to do with it. Bucking the conventional wisdom of "saving for the rainy days", I am doing the opposite. When my company froze salary increases and bonuses and announced deep cost-cutting measures several months ago, including layoffs, I mumbled to myself - "Do it now, dude!" 


After Eastern Europe and Spain last year, this sortie to Northern Europe is probably it for some time.  Going on our own as we had always done, we selected the cities we wanted to see, planned the route and itinerary, and booked everything online 2-3 months ahead of departure - airline, hotel, train  and ferry.  This was a 16-day trip covering 6 cities in 5 countries.


As in my previous articles, except for a brief historical background of the places and sites to give some perspective, I will keep the text to a minimum and let the photos steer this travelogue.


All aboard!




A. Russia

(Part 1 of 3)



1. Moscow


Moscow (Moskva), which dates back to 1147, is the capital and the most populous federal subject of Russia. After the Mongols burned the city to the ground in 1238 and killed its inhabitants, Moscow recovered and became the Grand Duchy of Moscow. In 1571, the Crimean Tatars attacked and burned everything but the Kremlin.  Moscow was also invaded by the Polish-Lithuanian Army in 1610 and by French Emperor Napoleon in 1812. The Russian Revolution of 1917 led by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks killed off the Tsar lineage. After the Baltic states Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia declared their independence and all 15 USSR republics seceded, reformist premier Michael Gorbachev declared the dissolution of the Soviet Union on Dec. 25, 1991. Russia was the principal successor, later becoming a democracy with an elected president and prime minister.


Traveling light

Light is the key and operative word. My backpack weighed 25 pounds. My wear was a North Face jacket, a light sweater, 8 shirts, 2 Wrangler jeans and Ecco walking shoes. In my camera sling bag, I had a DSLR with two lenses (17-70mm 2.8 and 55-250mm 3.5) and a point-and-shoot, both Canons; a Speedlite flash; and a Sony handycam (which unfortunately was picked in St. Petersburg). Everything we carried (toiletries, hair dryer, chargers, rain poncho, umbrellas, etc.) were the mini-travel size and/or dual voltage. 



Sheremetyevo International Airport, Moscow



Arriving on a Friday 5p, the heavy weekend traffic and the bus-subway commute from the airport to the hotel took about two hours.

Though I had printed the subway pdf map, the cyrillic alphabet made it very difficult, so - don't read,  just count the number of stops. 


Cherry wanted to rest but, as I always hit the ground running, I ventured out on the streets a mile to Red Square at past 10p



                  A statue of an important man, his name is in cyrillic               Arch lights at GUM approaching Red Square


As I rounded the main street, Pokrovka, this was the awesome sight at Red Square that greeted me - St. Basil's Cathedral



On the left is the Kremlin; straight ahead is the State Historical Museum; on the right is the giant GUM department store


At the other end is St. Basil's; on the right is Lenin's Tomb in front of the Kremlin


This picturesque Orthodox Church at one of the entrances to Red Square is still actively used for religious services


I started to walk back to the hotel at past 1a, but still a lot of people at the square enjoying the pleasant evening



Pokrov Dvor Hotel, where we stayed for 3 nights, is on the main thoroughfare but pushed yards in. Quiet with a children's play lot.



Pokrovka Street leads straight to Red Square


Dorbs, don't get excited - just a teasy painting on the cab door


Lenin's Mausoleum




The line took us about an hour to get in, no entrance fee. These are online photos as photography and video are strictly prohibited, plus absolute silence and solemnity are observed inside. You walk around the rectangular path which is quite close to the sarcophagus. The mausoleum serves as the current resting place of Vladimir Lenin. His embalmed body has been on public display here since shortly after his death in 1924. Joseph Stalin's embalmed body shared a spot next to Lenin's, from the time of his death in 1953 until 1961 when Stalin was removed as part of de-Stalinization and buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. After the fall of communism in 1991, there has been discussion to have Lenin's body removed and buried next to his mother. The government has discontinued financial support.


This online photo displays Russia's military might at the May Day parade with top officials watching above Lenin's Tomb






The Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat, also known as the Cathedral of St. Vasily the Blessed but popularly as Saint Basil's Cathedral, is a Russian Orthodox church erected on Red Square in Moscow in 155561 on orders from Ivan the Terrible. It commemorates the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan. The building is shaped as a flame of a bonfire rising into the sky. As part of the program of state atheism, the church was confiscated from the Russian Orthodox community and has operated as a division of the State Historical Museum since 1928. It was completely and forcefully secularized in 1929 and, as of 2011, remains a federal property of the Russian Federation. The church has been part of the Moscow Kremlin and Red Square UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990.







A view of Red Square from St. Basil's Cathedral upper balcony



GUM (Russian ГУМ) pronounced as goom, a Russian abbreviation meaning "main universal store", was built in 1893

Clearly no longer the Marxist classless and anti-bourgeois society, this huge shopping structure boasts of

all high-end brands. Based on Forbes 2011, Moscow has the largest community of billionaires in the world.


Orthodox Church at Red Square still actively used for religious service contains beautiful artwork




Muscovites love the sun and spring, but we kept imagining what this park looks like during winter





Alexander Garden stretches along the Kremlin wall



Muscovites also love McDonalds


A second midnight stroll at Red Square





We tried to get inside Kremlin Cathedral Square both Sat. and Sun., but tickets were sold only to guided tours.



However, we got tickets to the Kremlin Armory Museum, originally the royal arsenal in 1508, and now home of the State Diamond Fund. It houses the Russian crown jewels and imperial regalia, large cut and raw diamonds, gold, sapphire, emeralds and other precious stones. Michelle Obama and her daughters visited the museum in 2009. Again, these are online photos as photography is not allowed.



     Russian regalia made for Tsar Michael Fyodorovich in 1627                         The Orlov diamond, weight 189.62 carats


Kremlin wall along the Moskva River with popular boat cruises





Moscow "Hells Angels" or "Mongols"? But no Harley Davidson. 


The State Tretyakov Gallery is the foremost depository of Russian fine art in the world with over 130,000 exhibits












Another big park and garden beside the Tretyakov Gallery



At Red Square, a donation gets you a photo with look-alikes Stalin, Lenin, Cossacks. Probably didn't happen in the old Soviet Union.


Time now to leave Moscow and on to the next city. Poka!  (Bye!).



2. St. Petersburg


Saint Petersburg is located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. In 1914 the name of the city was changed to Petrograd, in 1924 to Leningrad and in 1991 back to Saint Petersburg. Saint Petersburg was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 and became the Imperial capital of Russia. The city was built by conscripted peasants from all over Russia and a number of Swedish prisoners of war. Tens of thousands of serfs died building the city. During World War II, Leningrad was besieged by German forces for 872 days, known as the "Great Patriotic War", that took the lives of over a million people. Saint Petersburg is the most Western city of Russia. The Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Monuments are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is also home to The Hermitage, one of the largest art museums in the world, a large number of foreign consulates, international corporations, banks and other businesses.



The Sapsan Express, a high speed train of up to 205 mph max., takes 3:45 hrs. non-stop. Standard train takes 8 hrs.


The Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan is dedicated to Our Lady of Kazan, probably the most venerated icon in Russia

Our B&B is a block away from Kazan Cathedral, which is modeled after St. Peter's Basilica in Rome







Nevsky Prospekt is the main thoroughfare with the majority of the city's shopping, nightlife and expensive apartments








The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated and was dedicated in his

 memory. The Church is prominently situated along the Griboedov Canal and was completed during the reign of Nicholas II in 1907.




Peter the Great re-claimed the lands along the Neva River in 1703 and built a fortress to protect the area from possible attack by the Swedish army and navy. In the middle stands the Peter and Paul Cathedral, the burial place of many Russian Emperors and Empresses.



The Cruiser "Aurora" during the October revolution of 1917 gave the signal (by firing a blank shot) to storm the Winter Palace.

 After the war the ship was restored and used as a free museum and training ship for cadets from the nearby Nakhimov Navy School.



Saint Isaac's Cathedral is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city. It is dedicated to Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, a patron saint of Peter the Great. The church on St Isaac's Square was ordered by Tsar Alexander I and took 40 years to construct from 1818 to 1858. With the fall of communism,  regular worship activity has resumed in the cathedral. The cathedral's main dome rises 333 feet and is plated with pure gold and is decorated with twelve statues of angels. Internal features are composed of multicolored granites and marbles.










More street scenes taken from our sightseeing bus



Palace Square fronting the Winter Palace



The Winter Palace was, from 1732 to 1917, the official residence of the Russian monarchs. Peter I of Russia embarked on a policy of Westernization and expansion that transformed the Tsardom of Russia into the Russian Empire and a major European power. Catherine the Great filled the palace, which contained 1,500 rooms, with art that overflowed into The Hermitage. The storming of the palace in 1917 became an iconic symbol of the Russian Revolution. The Romanov dynasty - Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Aleksandra and their five children - were held under house arrest and executed in 1918 by the Bolsheviks.





The State Hermitage is one of the largest and oldest museums of the world. It was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been open to the public since 1852. Its collections comprise nearly 3 million items, including the largest collection of paintings in the world. It also contains Egyptian and Classical antiquities; Prehistoric art; Jewelry and decorative art; Italian Renaissance; Italian and Spanish fine art; Dutch and Flemish art; German, British, Swiss, French and Russian art; Neoclassical, impressionist, and post-impressionist art. 


























"From Russia With Love" with these parting shots of St. Petersburg.  Spasiba! (Thank you!)




 Next: Helsinki and Stockholm (Part 2 of 3)



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