Cruisin' - Part 2

For my 40th birthday a friend gave me a book titled 1000 Places To See Before You Die. The book is an excellent reference tool when trying to figure out what some of the highlights are for specific destinations. On my last cruise through the Baltic Sea we only had one day stops among 8 different countries. Deciding on what you want to see for the day in each port can be a difficult challenge. This book helped us figure out what specific things we wanted to see at the various ports. The cruise ship will also offer day trips to the major places of interest. One thing to keep in mind about tours is that the day is planned for you. You will be with lots of other people being moved around in a large bus on a busy schedule. Often you will get to see a lot in one day but your time is not your own. I have learned over the years that tours are not for me. I like to be alone, exploring at my own pace.

At the various port cities that we visited they each had their own currencies. The rule of thumb that I go by is to have at least the equivalent of 25.00 USD per person for the day in local spending money. This gives you enough to buy a cup of coffee or a bottle of water and leaves you with some spending money for postcards and little incidentals that come up. The ship will be able to exchange money for you so you don't need to spend the day looking for a bank.

The highlight of our cruise was a visit to St. Petersburg, Russia. In order to get off the ship in Russia you need to either have a visa or have something booked with a local tour operator. I highly recommend booking everything in advance. It would be unfortunate to be docked in Russia and not have a chance to get off the ship. Months before our departure we went through my book and chose which things we most wanted to see and then matched those to the options offered by the cruise line. We booked two tours - one full day and one half day - with a private car which included an English speaking guide and a Russian chauffer. Tamara, our guide, was amazing. She escorted us through some immense and sometimes breathtaking palaces. Our intinerary consisted of Catherine's Palace (blue picture below) and Peter the Great's Grand Palace "Petrodvorets". (yellow picture below)

Tamara also expertly guided us through the Hermitage with is the second largest museum in the world. With 150,000 works on display you can only imagine how difficult it would be doing the tour on your own and this is only 5% of the museums collection. After a busy two days we ended up back on the ship safe and sound with a newly expanded view of Russian history.

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