Sunday, June 7, 2009

Baltic Cruising Update

A quick update from Tallin Estonia, where we’ve discovered free Internet at the dock. The shipboard Internet is still both terribly expensive and terribly slow (dial-up speed) so we’re keeping our AT&T cell phone on for any necessary text messages to and from family and otherwise taking a break from it.

We toured around Helsinki on a streetcar with a day-pass purchased at the tourist center. What lovely human-sized city. The weather was decent and we were docked within walking distance of the central area. We didn’t do any special sightseeing but greatly enjoyed setting foot on Finnish soil, quite a few years after our Finnish exchange-student “son” Perttu stayed with us.

Our three-day tour in St. Petersburg was interesting. The Hermitage Museum was so dreadfully crowded that we have no desire to return. Between several large cruise ships also docked (Cunard’s Queen Victoria and the Jewel of The Seas for just two examples) and an Economic Forum taking place that disrupted traffic and even jammed our guide’s cell phone at one point (Russian security!), it was a frustrating day.

We did, however, visit a lot of interesting places and yesterday, our third and final day, was probably the best of the three. A highlight was visiting the former private mansion where Rasputin, the “mad monk” who exercised so much influence over the family of the last Czar, was murdered.

One of our major impressions of St. Petersburg, odd as it sounds, as all of the people in uniform just standing around. Then we read an economic analyst’s opinion piece in the English language St. Petersburg Times in which he identifies the large number of people (700,000 by his estimate) working in the non-productive field of “private security,” on top of all of the people employed in the military and police sector, as one of the three major causes of Russia’s ongoing economic problems. The other causes, incidentally, were the low productivity of Russian workers compared to many other countries, and the low “value-added” amount of goods, due to the lack of industrial productivity. No, we didn’t come away planning to invest in Russian stocks, especially with employees at three companies not far from St. Petersburg demanding that the government combine and nationalize them, so that they’ll start getting paid again.

We’ll post some pictures – we have lots of pictures – but at some point when we have more time and a better Internet connection. For now, we’ll sign off and head out for a walk into Tallinn’s Old Town, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It supposedly is little unchanged from the 15th and 16th Centuries. A long and not very happy history of belonging to Sweden, Russia, and then the USSR.

We’re still looking forward hopefully to seeing our exchange “daughter” Lene and her two sons in Copenhagen and Brian’s stepmother in Amsterdam.

Now it's off to Tallin.

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