Okay, so this is my third attempt at starting a travel blog. I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to write about, or how much people would be interested in reading. I have a draft done of the trip in extreme detail, with every meal, step and breath taken along the way. But then I realised that I would never want to read that much about someone else’s trip. It’s similar to the reason I didn’t like the movie ‘Boyhood’, or why I don’t enjoy watching other families home videos titled ‘Christmas 2006’.
So instead I’ve decided to write about the highlights and give tips when needed for those who wish to go on the same adventure, while also providing personal recommendations and suggestions about what I might do next time.
Here we go,
1.) Travelling with a group was the best decision;
I can’t recommend the organization that I travelled with enough. I booked the trip with Scanbalt, who work with a company called ESN that organize cultural trips for students studying abroad in counties around Europe. Here is a link to their website;
I loved doing this trip with a group as I had no idea what to expect, or where to start when it came to sightseeing. None of the places I travelled to were on my radar or priorities on my bucket list and for this reason I am even more grateful I got the opportunity to see them. Travelling with a group also meant that all transport, visas and tours were booked in advance, this made the idea of travelling to somewhere like Russia a lot easier.
With thanks to our amazing tour leader Marcel, there was a perfect balance between entertainment and education, and going with a group meant I had the chance to make some pretty amazing friends along the way.
2.) Travelling by ferry ain’t that bad;
Not only was this trip my first experience travelling to countries I had never been to, but it was also my first experience travelling by ferry. I was apprehensive, yet intrigued at that thought of spending so many hours on a boat and wondered how we would keep ourselves entertained.
We travelled on the Viking Line from Stockholm to Helsinki, and then on the Princess Anastasia, for the rest of our trip. Both offered plenty of entertainment including karaoke, bars, nightclubs, show bands, poker and variety performances. It was truly a memorable experience. The rooms were tiny to say the least, and the presence of a storm from Estonia to Stockholm allowed for some excitement, nausea and the opportunity to relocate our center of gravity. Despite this, I would definitely travel by ferry again.
3.) Helsinki and the cold
When we first arrived in Helsinki, the first thing I noticed was the fact that it was freezing! I was not expecting the cold that soon into the trip. However, during our tour around the city, I soon noticed that our group seemed to be the only ones affected by the cold, as locals walked around in t-shirts and light jackets!
We had a short and sweet tour of the city, but the mix between Russian and Scandinavian culture was evident. We were introduced to the importance of saunas and the not so talkative nature of the people from Finland. This was clearly a newer city, and I honestly didn’t get as much time to explore as I would have liked as the Princess Anastasia was waiting for us.
3.) St. Petersburg is absolutely worth a visit!
The only prior exposure I had had to Russian culture was in a James Bond movies, yet despite this, I really wanted to see the country for myself. The city of St. Petersburg shocked me with its beauty and culture. I was lucky enough to see it when the days were still long and bright, as well as experiencing the first snowfall of the season. The city is a lot bigger, and cheaper than I anticipated, and the food is really good!
Some highlights of the city that we got to see were;
- St. Isaacs Cathedral: It’s not too expensive to go inside, but make sure you buy the ticket that allows you to go up to the viewing platform to see the whole of St. Petersburg from a height. To see a panoramic view of the city, just as the sun was setting was truly spectacular.
- The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood: This church had an amazing story behind it, as it was built in the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. The decoration on the outside is really beautiful, and while it’s pretty cheap to go inside (€5 approx.) You will only spend 15-20mins here as the space inside was smaller than anticipated.
- Shopping: Take time to explore the markets behind the Spilled Blood, a great opportunity to buy souvenirs. As well as wondering the main street, Nevsky Prospekt, with many different shops and cafes along the way, strolling along Nevsky Prospekt is considered a day of sightseeing in itself.
- Bus Tour: We were lucky that a sightseeing tour was included in our trip. This was important to give us an introduction to the history and culture of St. Petersburg, and allowed us to prioritise the places we wanted to see.
- The Hermitage: This is truly a landmark in St. Petersburg, the museum consists of many different buildings, including the winter palace. The decoration, artwork and beauty within is not to be missed when in St. Petersburg. I would highly recommend a tour guide when going to the Hermitage to understand the full value of what the museum has to offer. The collection within the Hermitage is so big, you will need a lifetime to see everything.
- Traditional Russian Dinner and Nightlife Limousine Tour: The Scanbalt tour I travelled with offered optional extras with the trip. I chose to partake in the traditional Russian Dinner for €24 euro as well as the limousine tour for €15.
The traditional Russian dinner was a lovely evening on the first night we arrived to St. Petersburg. The traditional singing and dancing was very entertaining and something I don’t think I will have the chance to see, hear or experience again.
The night time limousine tour, was honestly one of the main highlights from the whole trip. After a busy day of sightseeing, we all got dressed up and toured around St. Petersburg in white limos, stopping off at the main sites, seeing them lit up in the night, and covered in snow. We popped champagne and partied early into the morning in a fantastic Russian nightclub with all our newly made friends. Without the tour company, I certainly wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do this.
4.) Old town Tallinn is so beautiful.
On the way back from St. Petersburg, the ship we were travelling on stopped off in Tallinn, Estonia. While we were already pretty exhausted from travelling, I was so happy we had the chance to see the old town of Tallinn. We explored the city during a tour and drank Glog along the way. The views were amazing, and the medieval architecture and culture were still evident. We ate that evening in ‘Pepperstack’ an old, medieval, banquette style restaurant where the servers were dressed in costumes and the food was some of the best during the whole trip. We got to explore the old pharmacy and spend the last bit of our money on souvenirs, (I bought a lot of wooly socks, so worth it!) I would love to venture to the capital of Estonia again.
Overall, the trip was once in a lifetime. I didn’t think I would leave Russia, wanting to return but I am already looking up flights to St. Petersburg and Moscow. This trip has been quite the experience and has only fuelled my need to travel more and explore what this world has in store.
How I’m Copen: 9.5/10
‘Travel is the only thing that makes you richer’