Adventures in Estonia and St. Petersburg

I’ve decided that a vacation isn’t really a vacation until you have a good fight. Maybe it’s the stress from being pent up in a ship closet (they say cabin but let’s be realistic) for five days with small children and no view (large orange life boats do not count), but by the time Tallin, Estonia rolled around we needed to regroup.

This was not so cleverly handled by Yours Truly during a rather public breakfast discussion.

“Well kids,” Jason said, “Today is going to be a lot of walking.” This is never a good way to start a conversation with a woman who routinely wears platform stilettos in public.

“Oh,” I said, “I wanted to do something different today, you know, branch out from the let’s-look-at-old-buildings routine.”

“Well,” he said, “This is a cool city so I’ve been planning to follow this guided walking tour–”

This is the part where I interrupted him, stomped my foot, said I wanted to go shopping, blah blah blah. He suggested I stay on the boat, I decided to prove a point and marched out with all four kids in tow to “Plan My Own Adventure” in Tallin, Estonia.

Once we disembarked I did the only logical thing (if you happen to have no idea where in the world you’re at): I went straight for tourist information. Thanks to a lovely little Estonian girl we headed for the old walled city (which is very cool, BTW).

As we approached this adorable city we ran across my girlfriend Geneva and her family. Piggy backing off their guided walking tour (don’t judge me), we headed over to that really tall steeple you see in the middle there. At one time this was the tallest point in some part of the world (fuzzy facts) and I went along with my friends and decided to climb to the top for the “view.”

Have I mentioned that I’m drastically against heights, or that I routinely forget about my feelings on the issue until I’m looking down? We started climbing the very small and tightly coiled stone steps leading to the tower. Thankfully my girlfriend works out on a regular basis and had the biceps to heft little Gigi clear up to almost the top.

As we entered the area directly under the viewing platform I realized that this might not be such a good idea. The last bit of the climb was a ladder and I stood back and watched my three older children climb to what could have been their demise as they stepped onto the 18 inch walkway surrounding the ridge. Let’s talk about the word “rickety,” shall we? No one should have been allowed on that platform, least of all my hard-earned offspring.

Then I had a panic attack and the kids had to hold my hand all the way back down.

After a brief recovery period we waved to our friends and headed straight for the puppet museum. Apparently puppets are a major part of Estonian culture because this museum was incredible. The best part was the 30 minute production at the end. Some of the best entertainment I’ve ever seen in my life is sitting in a museum in Tallin, Estonia.

Weather on the morning of our St. Petersburg trip felt more like March maddness than nearly July. In order to enter the country you have to get a visa, even just for a day. We joined our large party of Americans and hopped on a bus.

The thing that struck me most about Russia (aside from the freezing weather) was the sheer magnitude of its buildings. These babies were huge. I’ve never seen so many buildings built on such a massive scale in my entire life. Check out the people standing in front of that building behind Harrison, the thing is enormous.

St. Petersburg is considered the Venice of Russia and has dozens of waterways and canals running through the city. We took a boat ride to Peterhof Palace, a home of Peter the Great and later Catherine the Great. Phenomenal gardens, complete with trick fountains (step on the wrong stone and you get soaked). Driving back from Peterhof I was amazed at the ruin of mansions so carelessly left to rot. Beautiful palaces that are nothing but moldy rubble. We rode the subway as well, had a very authentic Russian lunch, then headed to our last two stops.

Our last two stops were both churches. There have been very few moments in my life where something actually took my breath away from sheer awe. One of them was seeing Neil Diamond in concert (I actually teared up when he came out on stage). Our day in St. Petersburg, walking into St. Isaac’s Cathedral was one of them. I was so amazed and so touched by the love and dedication it must have taken to create such a magnificent sanctuary, and then to restore it after the Bolsheviks came in and tried to destroy everything it represented. That it withheld the test of time and trial touched my soul.

These amazing and magnificent works of art are done in minute mosaic tiles, most of these portraits taking 20 years to create. I. Love. This. Church.

It was followed by the very famous and equally impressive Church of Spilled Blood. The mosaics in this church were completed on a simpler and quicker scale. The church has finally been restored and is open to the public (although at one time during the Bolshevik revolution it was used to store potatoes).

All said and done, it was a crazy cool vacation. My kids are stupid lucky and don’t realize it, perhaps some day when they’re sitting in a 7th grade Social Studies class they’ll realize just how awesome the world really is. (Also we almost missed our ship and had to live in Russia. I was kind of nervous.)

The last day of the ship was supremely special: it was Rex’s 7th birthday. No one loves birthdays as much as Rex. He was up at 5 am quietly singing self-proclaimed birthday songs to himself until we could wake up and join him. By the end of the night the entire boat knew it was Rex’s birthday.

Good thing we had Ivan the Terrible along to protect us from foreign invasion.



  1. Wow, thanks for that amazing tour. I loved your pictures, of the family, of the buildings. Now I know if I want to travel I want to go to Russia. Who’d have thought?! BTW, June looks completely different now, I didn’t even recognize her at first! 🙂 She is sure looking older! All the kids are adorable and we miss you guys. Has it only been a year? Love you.

  2. A.MA.ZING. I have heard St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Glad you didn’t miss your boat, and have to live in the cold for the rest of your lives. And you’d probably have had to enroll your kids in gymnastics.

  3. …And eat lots of potatoes + borsche (sp?)! Loved this whole recap series. Glad you & your hunny didn’t fight for long. 🙂

  4. I visited a water garden in Austria, many years ago. It was so much fun trying to figure out what we had to do to get squirted! But then I was a teenager, and it was much warmer than Russia! Glad you made it back to the boat!