On The Road to Countries Foreign and Unfamiliar

Plans for our family summer vacation did a complete 180 a few months ago.  Our hope was to fly out west and drive our way through the national parks.  Unfortunately I didn't allow enough time to make reservations, and every lodge, hotel and cabin within 30 miles of said parks was totally booked. Now we had to fit a vacation into my approved time off! 

Since our spring break trip to the southern Caribbean was such a hit, my daughter Sara suggested another cruise, this time including my husband Glenn. Great idea - now to find a destination that worked with my dates. What we found was a trip I never would have thought to take - Royal Caribbean's Scandinavian and Russian cruise - seven days, departing from Sweden, traveling to Finland, St. Petersburg, Estonia and Latvia! Places I've never seen; cultures I'm unfamiliar with.  We're adventurers right?  I booked it!

Saturday night we flew 8 hours, non-stop, overnight from Chicago to Stockholm. It was uneventful, until the 10 STRAIGHT MINUTES of some of the worst turbulence I've experienced occurred, somewhere over Canada.  I'll save you the grisly details of how this affected Sara - use your imagination - it's probably accurate. Once we arrived in Stockholm it was an easy 45 minute bus ride to the ship and we finally felt like we were on vacation!

Our first stop - Helsinki Finland. Weather-wise, the day started out cold, with fog and drizzle; not my idea of a summer vacation. But this was vacation, and we were determined to make it a great day! Bundled in long sleeves and raincoats we made our way to our first tour in Helsinki. 

Sweden’s King Gustavus Vasa founded Helsinki in 1550, hoping to take advantage of the Baltic Sea trade. For the next three centuries there was an ongoing battle between Russia and Sweden for the country until Russia defeated Sweden and annexed Finland in 1809. Russian rule, was short-lived, as Finland declared its independence in 1917.

Interesting historical side note, according to our guide - the Soviet Union invasion of Finland in 1941 resulted in Finland fighting alongside Germany in World War II, however Finland did not support the Nazi atrocities and no Finnish Jews were forced to leave the country.

After a brief stop at Senate Square, so named for its Neo-Classical style of government, religious, and cultural buildings on each corner, we made our way to Rock Church.

Rock Church was built in 1968 inside a massive block of natural granite! The walls were blasted from the inside and topped with a large copper dome. Natural light fills the interior through 180 vertical glass window panes. The Lutheran Church is one of Helsinki’s most popular tourist attractions with more than 500,000 annual visitors.

Our final stop was at the Seurasaari open-air museum. The tranquil grounds are filled with cottages, farmsteads and other buildings of the past four centuries that have been relocated from all around the country, showing the traditional Finnish way of life. BTW, the sun finally did make an appearance, just as it was time to head back to the ship!

Back on board the ship, and on to dinner - the first of two formal nights in the dining room.

Still adjusting to the eight hour time difference, we were so ready to hit the sack before our day-long tour tomorrow in St. Petersburg.