We departed from Ohope Beach at nearly 07:00. Our destination was the iSite (tourist information) at Matamata to take the 10:00 tour of the Hobbiton movie set. The weather forecast called for showers. However; during our drive, it was clear.
Arriving at the iSite shortly after 09:00, the sales associate asked if we wanted to join the 09:30 tour instead. I jumped at the chance, anxious to beat any impending rain. The iSite had more Hobbit souvenirs than one could imagine. Since there was a gift shop at the movie set, we opted not to buy anything.
We walked outside and boarded the bus. Our driver, Bea, told us we should expect about a 25-minute drive to the Hobbiton movie set. During the ride, she played several video snippets detailing what was at the movie set and the history behind the scenes.
Sir Peter Jackson’s (the film’s director) team found the Alexander family-run farm in 1998 while scouting for locations for the filming of The Lord of the Rings movies. It seemed the perfect site for The Shire, the home of the Hobbits of Middle-earth. It matched J.R.R. Tolkien’s description from the books almost to a tee.
The set covers some 12 acres and originally contained 39 Hobbit Holes. Filming began in December 1999. When filming finished, crews returned the land to its pre-filming condition, as happens with most movie sets. The crews dismantled or removed the Hobbit Holes used for the movie, with few exceptions. The few exceptions were enough to draw the films’ enthusiasts to the area to “tour” the set. Guided tours of the site commenced in 2002.
In 2009, Sir Peter Jackson and his team returned for additional filming. This time, they constructed the Hobbit Holes of actual wood, slate, bricks, and mortar. The re-done set claimed a total of 44 Hobbit Holes. That is what is seen today when one takes a tour of the movie set.
The bus stopped at The Shire’s Rest. At that site, additional tourists boarded the bus. Once full, approximately 41 tourists, the bus crossed Buckland Road and entered the Alexander family sheep farm.
Our tour guide, Charlotte, told us one could determine the occupation of each of the Hobbit Hole occupants by the clues left out front. That is how we deciphered the farmers, bakers, cheesemakers, etc. We had just begun our walking tour when Charlotte pointed out a small cut in the trail. That is where Bilbo Baggins, the main character in The Hobbit, ran; shouting, “I’m going on an adventure!” One of our fellow tourists recreated the scene while Charlotte filmed the “episode” on the tourist’s phone.
A walk of 1.17 kilometers (three-quarters of one mile) was ahead of us. We frequently stopped to listen to Charlotte’s stories and to take photographs. Like so many parts of New Zealand, the Hobbiton Movie Set was visually stunning. The colors were amazing, and the overall landscaping was perfect. Throughout the set, there are several active garden plots. After Leslie’s question, we discovered gardeners split the produce amongst the gardeners that work at the site. I am sure that is a nice extra benefit from their employment.
At the artist’s Hobbit Hole, Charlotte allowed each of us to enter while she made our photograph. It was very kind of her to do that, especially for all 41 tourists.
Charlotte shared that there was one tree on the property that was fake. She asked if we could spot the tree. One of the tourists piped up that it was the tree at the top of the hill. That was correct. The tree happened to be directly above Bilbo Baggins home, Bag End. Just before filming, when Sir Peter Jackson arrived on set, he said the leaves were not the correct color. That set a team into action, re-painting each leaf by hand. I do not know what it looked like initially, but it is very nice now.
Just after the artist’s Hobbit Hole, we came to an overlook. From there, we could see most of the set; all the way to the mill and the Green Dragon Inn. It was a beautiful view.
Next was the pinnacle of the tour; Bag End. It was surreal to stand in front of Bilbo’s “home.” The exterior featured in the films; however, the interior shots were made at Weta Studios in Miramar, Wellington, New Zealand. In front of the house is a bench on which Bilbo’s pipe is sitting. The sign on the gate to Bag End stated: “no admittance; except on party business.” The party in question, of course, was Bilbo’s 111th birthday party.
We stopped to sit down on the party grounds. There were a few benches under a shade cover. We sat there while Charlotte talked about the party grounds, the party tree, and the overall celebration of Bilbo’s eleventy-first (Hobbit-speak) birthday party.
Leaving the comfort of the shade and bench behind, we walked to Samwise “Sam” Gangee’s Hobbit Hole. The flowers in front were beautiful. Sam is the close friend of Bilbo, joining him on his big adventure.
From Sam’s Hobbit Hole, it was mostly downhill. We walked past a beer cart left alongside the road, just before the stone, two-arched bridge. The bridge crosses the lake near the mill. That made for some very scenic photo opportunities.
On the other side of the bridge is the Green Dragon Inn. Included in the tour is a cold drink in a ceramic mug. One can choose between three types of beer (unique brews, each with 1.0% alcohol), a non-alcoholic beer, tea, or coffee.
We relaxed with our drinks for a while. Then Charlotte gathered the group and moved us to the gift shop. Other than our refrigerator magnets, we left empty-handed.
Back on the bus, I discovered the tours run daily, except for Christmas day, rain or shine (update – our trip ended up being entirely in the shine!). There are 70, yes, seventy; tours each day! That means around 1,000,000 visitors each year!
The bus dropped us off at the iSite in Matamata, and we walked across the street for lunch at the Dew Drop Inn. I had a Troll sandwich, essentially a ham and cheese panini. It tasted terrific, but what amazed me most was that the sandwich stayed very hot to the last bite.
From the restaurant, it was back to the car to head to our next stop.
I cannot recommend this tour highly enough. For those that are interested, one can plan a visit at Hobbiton Movie Set.
If nothing else, the town’s name, Paraparaumu, is fun to say. Try saying that three times fast…Paraparaumu…Paraparaumu…Paraparaumu!
We drove to Paraparaumu to catch a boat to Kapiti Island. The boat departs from the Kapiti Boat Club. We had a little difficulty finding it due to some TomTom issues, but we finally made it to the right place.About 19 of our closest friends and we met the Kapiti Island tour operator, Kapiti Explorer, and Marine Charter, at the Kapiti Boat Club in Paraparaumu. Kapiti Island is a nature reserve, and as such, it is highly protected. One can only visit the island if one first obtains a permit. There are only three tour operators that can carry people to and from the island. As part of the tour package, the permission is included.
Before boarding, we listened to a biosecurity talk. We all self-inspected our daypacks and other items to ensure they did not include any pests or seeds of any kind. Lastly, we each brushed debris off of our shoes and walked through a disinfectant solution. The Kiwis take their nature reserves very serious, rightfully so.
The boat was on a trailer hitched to a large tractor. One of the tour operators climbed on board and lowered the ramp from the stern. Once we were all on board, the tractor drove out of the parking lot and onto the beach. The tractor turned around and backed the boat directly into the surf. The waves were only twelve to eighteen inches, pretty calm by Tasman Bay standards. Once we floated off the trailer, the skipper started the motor, turned the boat toward Kapiti Island, and we were off. The Tasman Sea was not quite smooth-as-glass, but it was darned close.
In about 25 minutes, we arrived at the island. The beach on which we were to be deposited was reasonably steep, the skipper was able to turn the boat around and back up toward the beach. When he was within a couple of meters of the shore, he lowered the ramp from the stairs, resting the far end on the beach of small stones. The stones looked like smooth river rock, about three or four inches in diameter. Stepping on the beach, Leslie and I found it difficult to walk. It would have been easier if the beach had been a sandy beach. Regardless, we made it to the top of the beach with the others in our group.
We all followed the guides to the shelter on the island. There, the man and woman shared stories and insights with us about the island. When they finished, we all went our separate ways on the many groomed trails. Leslie and I stayed on the reasonably flat Rangatira Loop. It is about a one-mile loop.
During the walk, we saw several species of birds as well as some spectacular sights. One of the first birds we saw was the ubiquitous seagull, nothing that spectacular. However, it was neat to see several seagulls and young gulls in a nursery on the beach. Another plentiful bird on the island is the Tui. The Tui is common throughout New Zealand. A popular beer brewed in New Zealand is called Tui. They feed on flower nectar, which is why we saw them feeding on the flax plants along our walk. The Kakariki is another bird that liked the flax plants. The Kakariki is a sizeable brownish parrot. The bird is vulnerable, but thankfully not endangered. We also saw one Kereru, a large New Zealand pigeon. They can measure nearly two feet from tail to beak. The Kereru because of their large beaks are the only birds to disperse some of the larger fruits in New Zealand. I thought the Variable Oystercatcher/Torea was one of the most striking birds we saw. I am sure that is due to the contrast of their orange eye and beak against the black feathers. They nested on the beach, very near the seagulls. Lastly, we saw at least two Wekas. The Weka looks somewhat like a chicken. That may be why European settlers called it a Woodhen. They reminded me of a Kiwi with a short beak.
After about two hours of walking, we found ourselves back at the shelter’s picnic tables. We dug into our daypack to retrieve our lunch. Leslie made her world-famous mountain sandwiches. The guides had warned that some species of birds might be a pest during lunch. Luckily, none of the birds bothered us.
When we finished lunch, we loaded up our rubbish and walked to the beach. It was amazing how many shells we saw, especially the paua shells. Unfortunately, since the island is a nature reserve, nothing can be taken from the island. We sat on a log and just watched the sea.
We truly felt fortunate to be on Kapiti Island. The only permanent residents on the island are the two rangers and some people that live on the far north end of the island. Other than that, it is just the handful of authorized persons that come to the island daily. It was a unique feeling to be on such a pristine island that used to be a Maori stronghold.
About an hour later, we moved to some logs near where we landed. We sat there to wait for the return boat. The seating was on the edge of a seagull rookery, so it was noisy. Ultimately, two rangers joined us. We talked with them about their experiences on the island. It was interesting.
The boat for our return arrived at about 15:00.
Our trip back to Paraparaumu was a little more exciting than the morning trip to Kapiti Island. The sea was considerably choppier. I estimate the swells were as high as four feet at times. The swells tossed the boat around.
It took nearly twice the time to return to Paraparaumu than it had to get to the island. One poor woman looked terrible when we finally made it back. If we had stayed on the sea another 15 minutes or so, I am sure she would have been seasick.
The waves at the shore were more significant now. Up ahead, we could see the tractor sitting in the surf with the trailer. The skipper worked the rudder and the power like a symphony conductor, trying to get everything lined up just right to get the boat back on the trailer. With one final push of the throttle, the boat made it safely onto the trailer. As soon as we were on, the tractor began pulling us out of the surf. Once we were safely out, we disembarked.
We walked back to the car and pointed ourselves toward home. Just south of Paraparaumu, we turned off onto Paekakariki Hill Road. It is not Leslie’s favorite road. It is very narrow, twisting, and it has steep drop-offs. The steep drop-offs allowed for a spectacular overlook of the Tasman Sea. We stopped and got a perfect look at Kapiti Island sitting at the edge of the Tasman Sea right at the Cook Straight.
I woke up first the next morning; not unusual. I heated some water and placed it in a French press. I took the French press and my coffee cup out onto the terrace of our motel room. From the desk in our room, I also picked up a tourist brochure to look at while enjoying my coffee.
It was a beautiful morning. The view was breathtaking. The brochure I selected was for Gannet Safaris. I was not keen on booking a tour; instead, I wanted to drive to the nesting colony and look around on our own. In the brochure, I saw a photograph of a Range Rover parked very near the Gannet colony. I thought that bode well for our adventure.
Leslie joined me on the terrace for coffee. We discussed what we wanted to do and settled on a trip to see the Gannets.
In the car, I set TomTom to take us to the small town of Clifton. We arrived in Clifton in about 25 minutes. We found my description of Clifton as a “town” was a little bit of an exaggeration. The paved road stopped at a small parking area right at the edge of the ocean. To our left was a small trailer park. To the right, along a single lane path was a camping area. Directly behind us was the Clifton Café. That was it.
In the parking area (about five parking spaces), I saw a sign. I got out of the car to look at the sign. What I saw was a little disappointing. There are only two ways to get to the Gannet nesting colony; hike to it on the beach or access it by a private road. According to the sign, the hike was about 18 kilometers (about 11 miles) roundtrip. The sign estimated the walking time to be about five hours. The poster also warned that the trip required caution, meaning an understanding of when low tides and high tides occur lest one be stranded during the hike. We were not prepared mentally, physically, nor with proper equipment to consider such a trek.
We knew we could not drive on the private road because it was, well, private. Dejected by being so close yet so far, we decided to drive about half a mile back on the road to the Gannet Safaris location. Upon arrival, one of the safari drivers checked the availability of a tour. He happily noted there was space on the 09:30 tour. I asked him how much walking was involved in the tour. He thought there was only about 20 meters of walking, some 65 feet. We both thought that was more than reasonable, so we paid the NZ$75 fee each, about $97.
Since we were well over an hour early (imagine that, the Vice’s being early), the driver suggested we go back to the Clifton Café for a cup of coffee. Since we had just been there, I told him it was not open. We told him we were happy to sit at the site, under a tree and wait. He said our driver, Trevor, would arrive soon. Meanwhile, he and two other drivers left with three buses. Just before he left, he said they were driving to Napier to pick up cruise ship passengers for the safari.
Trevor arrived as advertised, as did several other passengers. Soon, the 21-seat bus was full, and we were off on our adventure. Trevor turned onto the paved road, toward Clifton. In just a quarter-mile, he turned off the way onto the private road. The trail is the private entry to The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, a very exclusive golf course and inn on over 6,000 acres. It is better known as Robertson Lodges. Julian Robertson, a U. S. billionaire, owns the development. He made his fortune managing hedge funds.
Had Leslie and I opted to stay at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers versus staying in Napier, it would have run about US$2,000 per night. On the other hand, we could have stayed in the Owner’s Cottage for about US$8,700 per night. We both could have added a round of golf for right at US$600 total. After learning that, we felt pretty thrifty with our US$130 per night room at Pebble Beach Motor Inn.
After driving through a portion of the golf course, near The Farm, the road changed from paved to dirt. At several points along the way, Trevor stopped so he could get out and open a livestock gate. After one or two of those, a passenger opted to get out, handling the opening and closing, making things a little easier on Trevor.
At one point, the bus emerged from some trees. We found ourselves on top of a bluff. Trevor stopped the bus and allowed us all off to take in the scenery. We were at the edge of a cliff. There was an ominous sign on a piece of wood stating, “DANGER, Unstable Cliff Edge Please stay behind the barrier.” The “barrier” was mainly a 4×4 post at the height of some ten inches. Standing close was a little unnerving.
Back onboard the bus, the journey continued. The narrow, dirt road wound around, up and down, sometimes very steeply. Just before we crested the final hilltop, the Pacific Ocean was visible out the right side of the bus. Trevor pointed out a large group of Gannets sitting on the ocean.
A few meters beyond where we had seen the Gannets sitting on the ocean, Trevor stopped the bus. Out the right side of the bus, we found ourselves face-to-face with the nesting Gannets. Instantly, we heard the noise of their calls and detected the rather wild aroma of their nests. The odor is due to their choice of nest-building material, kelp and their own feces.
After telling us a little about the birds, Trevor drove onto the flat bluff area and parked. We all exited the bus and stared in amazement at the colony of birds.
The Gannets, known as Australasian Gannets, are large birds. The adult wingspans are around six feet. The birds gather in colonies on Cape Kidnappers for mating and raising their young. They hunt for food in the ocean, diving into the water headfirst from great heights to catch fish.
The birds could not have cared less about us being there. Even though we were all standing mere feet away, the birds went about calling, taking off, caring for the young, and greeting each other after landing as though nothing was different about their surroundings. That is the main reason so many other New Zealand species of birds are now extinct. Before the arrival of the Maori people who inadvertently brought rats, there were no ground predators. The many extinct birds had no fear of the rats or the Maori. The European explorers compounded the problem with their arrival in the late 18th century.
When the Gannets came in to land, they passed by us tourists, often with only inches to spare, and went on to the colony. When they found their mate, they dropped out of the air from about three feet up or so, a rather ugly landing. Some of the birds that landed in the bachelor track had even worse landings, often skidding along on their bellies unceremoniously. The bachelor track is named after the younger males who pace back and forth, not quite sure yet how to woo a female Gannet.
About 100 feet below us was another colony. Trevor pointed out yet another colony on a small spit of land going out into the ocean. This additional group meant Gannets were everywhere in the air.
Trevor offered the best advice of the day. Stand in one place with your camera and let the Gannets come to you, no panning necessary. That turned out to be very helpful. I captured several good shots of the birds coming in to land.
During all of our gawking, Trevor set up a table at the rear of the bus and provided tea, coffee, water, and biscuits to those who wanted them.
We had the Gannets all to ourselves, all 22 of us, for about 30 minutes. That is when the other three tour buses from the cruise ship arrived on the bluff. Suddenly we were with 60-some of our new best friends. The sound of camera shutters was nearly deafening.
After nearly an hour on the bluff, we all got back on the bus for the 50-minute drive back to the Gannet Safaris headquarters.
When we got off the bus, we were both pleased with our decision to take the safari. We shall not forget that for a long, long time.
St. Petersburg, Russian Federation – July 13, 2015
We docked at St. Petersburg, Russia this morning. At breakfast, Leslie and I commented that we would never have guessed we would ever visit Russia, but here we are!
This morning, we were part of orange group #1, our tour group for our visit to the Hermitage Museum. Before we got on the bus, we all had to go through passport control. It was not necessarily a breeze. The immigration officer looked closely at us. She even motioned to my passport photo in which I sported a goatee and then pointed at my now clean-shaven face. In addition to our passports, she also demanded to see our ship excursion tickets. Those essentially acted as our Russian visas. Ultimately, even though she seemed a little cranky, she did stamp both of our passports. We thought it was cool getting that entry stamp. Leslie, Lorraine, Arlene, and I boarded the tour bus. Leslie and I lucked out and got two of the front seats. That made it helpful for taking photos on the way. It was one of several buses lined up at the cruise depot. By 09:00, we began our journey to the museum. On the way, our guide told us St. Petersburg enjoys only about 60 days of sunshine each year. That is precisely the opposite of Colorado, which enjoys approximately 300 days of sun each year. Our day was nice. It was not until later in the day when we returned to the ship that we encountered some raindrops.
After about 30 minutes on the bus, we arrived at the museum. The Louvre in Paris, France, has long been my favorite museum, but that may be in jeopardy now. At the Hermitage, in addition to the museum, one also walks through an awe-inspiring palace. The other fact that sways me is that one of my favorite paintings is at the Hermitage, The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt. The only downside is the size of the exhibit area does not comfortably allow for viewing when the museum is crowded.
When we arrived, our guide shared that we were in luck. We were entering the museum about an hour before it opened to the public. That meant we had many portions of the museum virtually to ourselves. That worked out well for my photography.
The museum is just over 250 years old, founded by Catherine the Great. The palace consists of six different buildings. We walked through five of them; the Winter Palace, Small Palace, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and the Hermitage Theater. The buildings total over 2.5 million square feet of space. The ornate decorations in each building and the displayed artwork are just incredible.
We entered the museum through the main Winter Palace door facing the Neva River. It took a little while to get our entire group through the turnstiles; however, once we did, we met the very ornate staircase known as the Ambassadors’ Stairs. When an ambassador visited the Tsar or Empress, they ascended the Ambassador’s Stairs. I am unclear on whether the audience took place in the Peter the Great Throne Room or the St. George Hall. Regardless, they were both stunning spaces.
Departing the upper landing of the Ambassadors Staircase, we entered the Field Marshal’s Room. While it was impressive, it may have been the least remarkable space we saw that day. One may come to that opinion simply because the decorations are quite muted, not so ornate, and over the top, as some of the other spaces in the museum.
Most notable in the Field Marshal’s Room is the massive chandeliers. They each weigh a jaw-dropping two tons; 4,000 pounds! Several members of our group stood under the lights until our guide related that the chandeliers did fall once. That was enough to get everyone to clear the space.
The Peter the Great Throne Room was a little more intimate than the vast expanse of the St. George Hall. The throne room had an intricate parquet and wood inlaid floor. The walls were a warm, but dark red. That red echoed in the throne dais carpet and the upholstery of the throne itself, displaying the double-headed imperial eagle on the back, an imposing figure. The ceiling consisted of arches and coffers with hints of gold leaf. It was elegant.
Leaving the Small Throne Room, we walked into the amazingly ornate Armorial Hall. The amount of gold in the hall defies description. There was so much gold in the room that there was a gold hue throughout.
At one part of the hall, one could see through the doorway toward the throne in the St. George Hall. It is hard to imagine the numbers of staff that must have been required to make this Winter Palace a place to live and receive guests. Had I been alive in that era and in the St. Petersburg area, I am more than confident I would have never been able to set foot in the palace.
Comparing the Winter Palace living areas to the Napoleon Apartment in the Louvre in Paris is like comparing Versailles to a studio apartment in New York City. There is just no possible comparison between the two.
Even though we could see the throne in the St. George Hall, there was yet one more room to traverse; the Military Gallery. It is a long, narrow room. It is sometimes referred to as the War Gallery of 1812. The walls have dozens of paintings, all approximately the same size, of war heroes involved in the defeat of Napoleon. The entire tour group made quick work of the visit and moved on the hall.
The St. George Hall was an immense and massive space of approximately 800 square meters. That translates to about 8,500 square feet. That is more than three times the size of the average American home. A large dais, throne, and canopy dominated the east end of the hall. The throne seemed to be an exact duplicate of the throne in the Small Throne Room, including the imperial eagle. Behind the throne hung a large red banner from the canopy with an equally large imperial eagle. The ornate white and gilded ceiling soared two-stories above the floor.
Leaving St. George Hall, our group wound through some smaller spaces, ultimately stopping in Pavilion Hall. Intimate and two-stories do not necessarily go together, but this space was genuinely intimate. Dominating this hall is the 18th-Century Gold Peacock Clock. The clock is behind a glass covering. The peacock is life-size, as well as the cockerel and the owl. With such large creatures in the clock, one might think the clock face is large too, wrong. The hidden clock face is actually in a small mushroom. The automated birds originally went through a series of movements every hour. My understanding is that the clock now moves only a few times a year. That is to keep from wearing out the mechanical parts. Even though we did not see it move, it was an impressive piece.
We ended up in the Old Dutch Masters area shortly after leaving Pavilion Hall. That is where we began seeing painters copying various paintings. They had easels, stools, and drop cloths set up. We quickly saw a dozen or more painters. Our guide shared that it was a big test for the art students through one of the local universities. I could barely take photographs of the paintings; I know there is no way I could copy one with a brush. Their talent was amazing.
Our next viewing was the Italian Renaissance area of the museum. Below are some of the works that caught my attention. In this area of the museum, we found more art students copying paintings.
Another unusual feature of the Hermitage is the Raphael Loggia. It is a relatively narrow hall, but it is around 20 feet tall. Some call the loggia Raphael’s Bible. That is because Raphael painted several stories from the Bible in this loggia.
Below, in no particular order, are some of the other sights we saw in the Hermitage Museum. The narrative continues well below the photos.
The Hermitage is just like the Louvre in one respect; there is no way one can see everything. We did see many more works of art. When we emerged from the Hermitage, we saw a sea of people waiting to enter. We were glad we went when we did. We walked across the street toward the Neva River, onto our bus, and then back to the ship.
Back on the bus, our guide greeted us all with a Russian chocolate bar. That was very nice of her.
At the cruise terminal, several gift shops were dealing in items designed to catch the eye of tourists. As usual, we found some refrigerator magnets.
After dinner that evening, we all went to a show. The entertainment was a troupe of 14 Russian dancers/singers. Seven band members accompanied them, playing authentic Russian instruments. The entire performance in Russian did not deter us from understanding what was happening. The eye-catching traditional costumes were colorful.
The following day, our canal tour was in the afternoon. After breakfast, it was the same drill through immigration and onto a bus. Our destination was close to the Hermitage Museum. It was very cloudy. The bus stopped so we could all get off. We faced about a two-block walk to the canal boat. Some of the walking was a little dicey, but we all made it safely. While walking, we saw a bride and groom stopping to take photos. Our guide told us it is normal for newlyweds to travel around the city, taking photographs at their favorite locations.
As we finished our walk, it began to drizzle. That did not stop me from taking photos. I kept clicking from under my umbrella. Shortly after the boat pulled away from the mooring, one of the workers brought us a complimentary glass of champagne, my kind of cruise!
Our boat departed its mooring on Moyka Canal. After passing the Japan Consulate, we took a quick right turn onto the canal that is on the east side of the Hermitage Museum. That canal led us to the Neva River. On the Neva, we turned to the west toward the Bolshaya Neva. I believe that means “little Neva” River. We cruised under the Dvortzovyy Most (bridge) and then under Biagoveshchenskiy Most. We made a U-turn back to the east, ultimately going under the Troitskiy Most. One right turn and we were on the Fontanka Canal. Our final right turn took us back to the Moyka Canal and our original mooring.
The bridges over the canals were extremely low. Some only had a total clearance of two meters, about six feet. If one were to stand while passing under, one would definitely lose body parts.
Just as we docked, the downpour began. It did not let up until we were back on the bus, of course. On the way back to the ship, we stopped by the Red October souvenir shop. Surprise, we bought another refrigerator magnet. Since there was still time to burn at that stop, I took a few photographs nearby.
When the bus arrived at the cruise terminal, it was about 17:00. Our seating time for dinner was 17:30. After exiting immigration, we discovered a very long line to board the ship. I think part of that was because the ship was due to depart at 17:30. We might have been a few minutes late for dinner that night, but it was no big deal.
Even though we spent a night on the ship in the port of St. Petersburg, we were only allowed off the boat if we were on a ship’s shore excursion. We wished we had been able to get off the ship and explore on our own, but it is what it is.
After dinner, I was able to stand on our balcony and take photographs of the Gulf of Finland. One of the highlights was the flood control dam. It is about 15 or 20 miles west of St. Petersburg. There are large motorized steel dams, which close in cases of flooding. At that location, a divided highway traverses under the water. The road is labeled KAO. I believe that is a ring road around the St. Petersburg area.
Just before the flood control dam, I saw a small island. There was a small humanmade harbor in the center. I found out later that this is Fort Kronshlot, built-in 1704 to fortify Russia from other Baltic states.
We watched a little TV in our room and then retired, ready to awake in Helsinki.
Lastly, below are random photographs I took as we rode around town on the bus going back and forth from the ship to our tours.