Day 4 - Helsinki, Finland

July 4th continued...

It was 12:30 p.m. when we got back to the bus stop. We did not have to wait long for one to come and drive us back to the pier. I shopped in the gift stores at the pier while Chris ran back on to the ship to change out his camera gear. These shops were a lot better than the one at the Stockholm pier. I was able to find a necklace for myself and a few things for others. Chris exchanged some money so that we had a few Euros and other cruise ship passangers starting to board the buses, so we found some seats and then everyone else in our group arrived. On the bus ride we had two guides on the bus, one talked about the history of Helsinki and pointed out various historic buildings, including the Russian Embassy, the Palace and the Art Nouveau style that influenced much of the architecture. On our way to the tour boats, the ride took us to the same port area that Chris and I just visited.

The bus parked at the far end of the street market. We had to walk quickly past all the tables to our ferry, which was about 20 minutes from the market area to Suomenlinna Fortress. Our bus divided into two groups; we had the older tour guide who told us what we were going to see, what order we were going to see things and then she repeated what she was going to show us before we could move on to the next part of the tour.

She was telling us about the history of the fortress, while no longer used for military purposes, it is still inhabited. Today, mostly artists live on the islands that make up the fortress and it is a very popular place to come for a weekend picnic and swimming. It was apparent that the tour of the fortress was very planned out. We had to go in a specific order to not end up at the same spots as the other half of our tour bus. This touring pattern meant we got to see very little of the whole island. It would have been nice to just enjoy the island like the locals.

There were groups that looked like grade school classes, families swimming, couples having lunch together and what appeared to be an art class drawing the landscape. It was a park, beach, museum and artist colony all in one!

We only had time to stop at a little café on the island for coffee, tea and Danishes bfore the ferry 20 minute ride back to the main land. On the walk back to the bus from the ferry Chris and I stopped to buy some strawberries from one of the tables at the open-air market. While I picked strawberries, Chris spoke with one of the vendors selling sweet peas in the pod. Apparently this is a common snack in the area. We enjoyed the peas and strawberries on the way back to the ship. They both were really sweet.Melissa & Chris before leaving the suomenlinna fortress I wish we could have brought them back on the ship for the rest of the trip, but local produce is not allowed on the ship, so we enjoyed them for the short time that we could.

Our bus must have been the first one back to the ship, which turned out to be good During our excursion Tina was unable to find her cruise card and had to talk with security about getting a new one, so that she could get back on the ship. While everyone else boarded the ship, Chris waited with me while I submitted my paperwork for the VAT refund for the purchases I made that morning. It was only 6 Euros, but every little bit adds up.

On board we rushed to change for dinner. We had 6:30 p.m. reservations at the Italian restaurant on the ship. The meal was tasting style. Each of us only had to pick our main course and the rest of the meal was a stream of plates of food coming from the kitcehn. It was at least six courses in all including prosciutto, air-dried beef, veal with cheese, olives and shrimp, grilled vegetables, bread, fried cheese, artichoke hearts, caviar, a small crab cake topped with salmon eggs, muscles, veal and cheese manicotti, gnocchi, spicy seafood spaghetti, two different types of pizza and a soup -- all before our main course! I had selected langoustines, which was a little weird but since I was full already it did not matter. The gnocchi was some of the best I had ever eaten and I had a vanilla flan for dessert. After dinner we went to our rooms to sleep, since we would be experiencing another time change during the night and had to get off the boat at 8:30 the next morning to meet our guide in Russia we skipped time on the casino.