EuroChristmas: Christmas and Boxing Day

25 and 26 December 2015
Helsinki, Finland and St. Petersburg, Russia

On Christmas Day, we slept in a bit (well, I did—Rick was up early) and had breakfast at the Hilton. The food spread was great, and we hung out a bit before my parents came down to meet us. We ate a bit more, then exchanged small gifts to celebrate the holiday.
the breakfast spread at the Hilton
the juice machine is operated by an iPad :) 

love the design of the hotel--wood, copper, fur, navy canvas. lots of texture
One of the things my dad really wanted to see was the Olympic Stadium from the 1952 Summer Games in Helsinki. Rick and I walked through the city’s equivalent of Central Park, and admired the scenery.

isn't this just the perfect, stereotypical haunted house?
The stadium will be undergoing renovations until 2019, and actually just closed on December 23rd. Great timing right? We took a bunch of photos outside, then Rick managed to find an open gate, so we were able to go inside the stadium as well. The track and the grass are in great shape, though they are beginning to rip out the seats. Dad even ran a lap around the track J

Despite the cold, a lot of people were out walking and exercising in the park. We saw lots of dogs (some wearing jackets and sweaters) and I assume everyone was taking advantage of the few short hours of sunlight. Seasonal depression is a real thing here, with so many hours of darkness.

this little buddy had a sweater and a jacket on :) 
We got back to the hotel, packed our bags, and hopped into a mini bus to head down to the ferry terminal.

A bit of background about the Russian leg of our journey—Dad has always wanted to go to St. Petersburg to visit the Hermitage Museum. When we were deciding what to do for winter break this year, we told him we could help make that dream trip a reality! In order to travel to Russia without a visa (which can only be obtained at a Russian Consulate and costs $150), we had to book travel on a “cruise ship.” The St. Peter Line ferry travels from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, and qualifies as a cruise, which allows Americans to be in Russia for up to 72 hours, visa free. We will spend one night on the boat going to Russia, and one night back to Finland on the return trip.

our boat, docked in Helsinki

We boarded the boat and explored a bit. We had a few drinks in one of the bars, and then went to the ship’s Italian restaurant for dinner. The food was not bad, considering!

Rick in our cabin
the ship's casino 
tug boats helping get us out of the port 
The weather was windy, and we could all feel a lot of motion on the boat. Dinner helped, but sleep made a big difference.

In the morning (26 December), we met for breakfast and had a plan to be ready to go right away when the boat docked…….and then it turned out we were delayed. Apparently, the water level in the St. Petersburg port was too high for us to dock. There was not a whole lot of information, but our planned 9:30am arrival was definitely not going to happen. Information was vague throughout the day, so we spent our time posted up in the main lobby area where the exits would be. We had even rolled our luggage out, in order to be very, very ready, whenever the boat arrived. Time was passed playing iPhone games, reading, and napping.

our view out of the window for most of the day
veggie pizza from the boat's concession stand 
Finally, we arrived in St. Petersburg, around 5pm. It took a while to get the boat moored, and then we spent more time waiting to go through passport control. We had to take the St. Peter Line’s bus into the city, and by the time we got to our hotel, it was 9pm—a 12-hour delay! (insert clever Gilligan’s Island joke here)

Luckily, Rick worked hard to reorganize the tours we had booked for our time in Russia, and everything seemed to work out for the best. I am, as always, grateful for his level head, in-depth research, and patience—we were all a bit worried about how the delay would affect our plans, and he handled it!

After checking in to the Radisson Blu, right on Nevsky Prospeckt (the main street in St. Petersburg), we went to a small English pub for beers, and then an Italian spot for a late dinner. We were all looking forward to the museum the next day!

More to come!


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