A slight obsession with books

Crafts, cats and books


Baltic scrapping #11

I’ve been really getting a crack on with the Baltic album and have several more layouts completed. The next three are from our adventure on the St. Petersburg metro. It was a brilliant experience and fun to scrap.

I have quite a lot of travel-themed scrapbooking collections and a couple of them had metro embellishments, which I’ve been carefully hoarding ready for these layouts. I love it when a plan comes together 🙂

First then is the metro station we started at. Next is the platform and the long, long escalator, and journalling about the experience in general. Last is the station we ended up at. From the Metro, we made our way to The Hermitage State Museum. I had hundreds of photos from here and it was so hard to narrow it down. In the end, I did three fairly general layouts and used divided page protectors for more photos and journalling.

I started with a layout describing our journey to and into The Hermitage and first sight of the entrance hall. Next I journalled about some of the paintings that we saw, with photos of my favourites. Shame I had to take an angled photo of the Da Vinci, but it was behind glass so I was trying to avoid reflections.

Next are the divided page protectors. And finally, one talking about the other artwork we saw there, especially the sculptures, and how awestruck I was by how close I was standing to the Michelangelo. I’m still trying to keep these layouts fairly plain and as flat as possible so that they will all fit into their albums. If I start layering up too much, or using chipboard stickers on too many of them, I’ll end up having to get another album. Once I’ve finished, I might do a few ‘highlights’ layouts for my 2018 album, where I can play with them a bit more.



Baltic scrapping #10

I’ve started on album two of our Baltic Cruise adventure and this one will be all Russia. We did so much over the two days there that it’s going to fill a whole album!

First off is the intro page. The photo is of me standing by the River Neva. It was such a glorious day and I loved our tour so much. I’m getting all nostalgic just looking at it.

I had a couple of banknotes left so as they were only worth a couple of pounds, I included them on the layout. I had a lot to say on the next layout. I wanted to describe the immigration process and why we were so early. I used a photo of our tour bus with it. I really want to get as many details of not just what we saw and did, but how we felt. I want to be able to look back on these albums in future years and be transported back to our brilliant holiday. The next two layouts are about our first stop in St. Petersburg. We had ten minutes to see the Sphinx by the Neva River. The first layout has journalling about travelling to the river and what we did there. The second one has details of the Sphinx. I lifted the text straight from the official St. Petersburg website and used a shaped journalling box to signify that it’s factual rather than descriptive. I’ll probably use the same format through the whole album. Can you believe those things are three and a half thousand years old?!

The next three layouts are at our second stop of the day. It’s the Neva River again, and this time it’s to see the Rostral columns.

First the obligatory tourist photo with Stephen posing with a column. Next is one with a bit of info about the columns. And finally one showing the view from that area. We could see a couple of the places on our itinerary, which was quite exciting.


Baltic cruise – Russia, day two – afternoon

A few weeks ago we went on a Baltic adventure. I’m going to do a few posts of our days ashore, along with lots of photos. Our third port was St Petersburg in Russia. We had an overnight there so two very full days.

In my last post I showed you photos from our second morning. Lots of photos. We ended at the beautiful Yusupov Palace at just after 11am. Because of our early start, we’d already had four stops!

Next we were headed for one of the tour highlights, the Church on the Spilled Blood. It’s a stunning building but unfortunately not only was it partly obscured by the FIFA fan zone, (the world cup was on), but there was some restoration work going on so the topmost dome was covered. I’d have loved to have seen it in all its glory, but these things happen and you could still see how beautiful it was. Apparently they only have three months of the year to do exterior work, due to the climate, so we were bound to see work going on. This is one of the best shots that we got of the exterior.I got quite a few close-ups though. The inside is spectacular. The walls, columns and ceiling are completely covered in mosaics. As we entered you could hear the ooohs and ahhhs as we looked around. We did take quite a few photos, but there was no way to show how amazing it was with still photos, so I took a little video. It still doesn’t show the full beauty but it gives an idea.

I’ll add a couple of photos too, shall I? Can you believe those colours? It was awe-inspiring.

The correct name for the church is actually The Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and is known to Petersburgers as the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood – or even just the Church on the Blood – as it marks the spot where Alexander II was fatally wounded in an assassination attempt on March 1 1881. Once again, Anna gave us loads of interesting information while we were looking round and once again it was brilliant having the headsets as we could wander round looking and taking photos without missing a word.

We’d still got one more stop before lunch, and it was somewhere that we’d seen a few times as we’d travelled round St Petersburg – the Peter and Paul fortress. As we left the church, we heard a cannon to mark 12 noon. Anna told us that it was at Peter and Paul, and we later saw the cannon.

It was the first structure to be built in St. Petersburg, and thus the birthplace of the city, it never served its intended defensive function. Instead it has had a rich, hugely varied, and sometimes sinister history as a military base, a home of government departments, the burial ground of the Russian Imperial family, the site of groundbreaking scientific experiments, and a forbidding jail that held some of Russia’s most prominent political prisoners. (nicked from my new favourite website – Saint-Petersburg.com)

The outside is quite striking. There are lots of buildings making up the fortress but we only went into one – the Saints Peter and Paul cathedral. It was another gorgeous building with the most beautiful colours inside. There were a number of tombs inside, which Anna talked about, telling us who was in each one and a bit about them.

After we’d seen everything in there, we headed back to the minibus, where we found our packed lunches on our seats. The tour we’d booked had included one sit down restaurant meal, but had a packed lunch on the second day to save time for more sightseeing. We thought it was a great idea and all really enjoyed our lunch on the bus, as we sped along the new fast road to Peterhof.

Our lunch consisted of two packs of club sandwiches, a muffin, an apple, a box of juice, a pack with hand wipes, toothpicks etc, and finally a bottle of Russian beer. The last item went down very well. Anna chatted to us during our drive out, which took about 40 minutes.

Our final stop of the tour was Peterhof gardens. The palace looked lovely from the outside but is apparently very similar to Catherine palace inside so our tour covered the gardens instead. Peterhof is known as the Russian Versailles although many say that it’s far better.

There were so many lovely things to point our cameras at, that until we got to Peterhof, we’d neglected to point them at each other. Just to prove that we were actually there, here’s the only two pics of us from that day. Even though we didn’t go into the palace, we still took several photos of the outside. Isn’t it pretty? The main attraction in the gardens is the Grand Cascade, which links the upper and lower gardens. It was quite spectacular. We took several photos from the top looking down.It runs all the way to the Gulf of Finland, which you can see in the distance. Do you see those smaller buildings on either side of the cascade? We were heading for the one on the right to hear more about the fountains and take more photos.

First we walked down the steps at the side, which gave us a much better view of the fountains.We took some detail shots as well.Then we walked up a few steps into that small building, which gave us a bit of height to take yet more photos of the Grand cascade with the gorgeous palace behind it.To our left we could see another part of the palace and another smaller fountain.We felt that small fountain needed a closer look.See those clouds? The weather was definitely on the turn but we still had a fair bit of sun, as it peeked from between the clouds, and it was still warm.

When we were ready to move on, we headed towards the Gulf of Finland, walking down lovely tree-lined avenues. At one point we spotted some red squirrels and were all distracted by trying to catch a photo of them. They were too quick for me, sadly.

We detoured to see this fountain, which was really pretty and had another lovely small building behind it. After a few more minutes walking, we reached the sea. We had a view across to St Petersburg and with the help of a zoom lens, could see our ship, the world cup stadium and a tall bullet-shaped building that we’d seen from on board our ship. It was still under construction then, I think it’s almost finished now, and at 462m is the tallest skyscraper in Europe. It was quite impressive.We then started walking back towards the palace and spent some time near the Summer palace and the beautiful gardens that were next to it. Next Anna told us about a joke fountain that squirted water over the path. It’s only turned on at certain times during the day so a crowd had gathered to watch the brave souls who’d decided to make a run for it.We saw a few more fountains on the walk back. These are a couple of them. Finally we made our way back to the minibus for the last time and headed back to the ship. We thanked Anna and Nikolai and made our way back through immigration. We’d had the most brilliant time and we’d loved every minute of it. I’d go back to St Petersburg in a heartbeat. Alla tours were fantastic and lived up to their stellar reputation.

We were quite tired by the time we got back to our cabin so we relaxed for a while. It was quite windy on the balcony so we didn’t spend too much time out there. We were due to sail at 6pm but the wind was up to 35kts so we had to wait for a second tug. We finally got underway at 8pm while we were eating dinner in the Glasshouse. We had pizza this time and it was very nice.

We really enjoyed the show in the Broadway lounge. It was a couple called Braximusic, Brandy and Alex, who performed songs by Bowie, Queen, Bonnie Tyler and various show tunes and opera songs, all in a sort of operatic style. It was something a bit different and really well done.

At 10pm the pilot boat came alongside to take the pilots off. That happens right beneath our balcony so we have a brilliant view. It was really windy and quite choppy so the boat was up and down and it looked impossible to do the transfer, but the two pilots just stepped across. They must have nerves of steel. It was so exciting to watch.

If you’ve made it to the end of this, well done. Sorry about all the photos. I just couldn’t narrow it down any more. I’m going to be printing hundreds and will probably be scrapping them for years 😉

Next up will be Finland.





Baltic cruise – Russia, day two – morning

A few weeks ago we went on a Baltic adventure. I’m going to do a few posts of our days ashore, along with lots of photos. Our third port was St Petersburg in Russia. We had an overnight there so two very full days.

We saw so many amazing sights, and took so many photos that I’m splitting these days up so I can share more of them.

Day two was an early start. Once again debarkation went smoothly and we waited just outside the terminal at the pre-arranged spot for our minibus. By 7.45 we were on our way.

The weather wasn’t quite as nice as the previous day but it was still warm and dry, although a little breezy. We knew how lucky we were to get two good days, especially when we found out that the day after, the weather was so bad that no cruise ships could leave or arrive.

Our first stop was at Nevsky Prospekt, next to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan. It was just a ten minute stop for us to take photos.

Nevsky Prospekt is St Petersburg’s main avenue and also the main shopping street. It’s lined with beautiful buildings, squares and bridges so it was great to be able to take a quick look. We couldn’t stray far, as our visa required us to stay close to our guide, but we managed to take a few photos.Across the road was the canal and further down it we could see the Church on the spilled blood, which was on that day’s itinerary. There was a lovely building with lots of ornate decorations just across from us but Stephen was fascinated by this.The minibus was parked on one of the bridges as the canal continued beneath us, and behind us was Kazan cathedral. We didn’t go inside this one but we did take a few photos of the outside. The statue is of Field-Marshall Kutuzov who is one of the most famous figures in Russia’s military history.

After we’d all had a good look around, we piled back on the bus and headed for our next adventure – a boat ride. We’d really been looking forward to this.

There were three boats waiting, with lots of people already loaded onto them. We didn’t get a photo of our boat, but this is the one in front which was identical.We were seated on folding chairs that were arranged in rows across the boat. Different, but it was fine and we were comfy enough. We sat right at the back and took quite a few photos looking back.We went under lots of bridges, some of which were very ornate. On the first bridge there was a chap leaning over and waving at us, so we all waved back. As you do. Then he was on the next bridge. And the next. We were puzzled how he was on all three, when we were moving at a fair speed on the canal. Then we spotted him at the side, running for all he was worth. He managed to get to every bridge during the hour that we were on the boat. After a while, we were all looking for him and applauding him when he made it at the last minute. He’d stand there and blow kisses and wave. It was hilarious.He was waiting when we got off the boat, and got a good few tips off people. I think he earned it. Some of those bridges were a long way apart.

From the canal that we started in, we turned into the River Neva and saw a few familiar sights. This is the beautiful Winter Palace, where we were the day before. And this is a wide shot showing more of the Hermitage museum.We also saw the lighthouses that we’d stopped at the day before and could see where we’d been standing to take photos. That white building with the columns is the old stock exchange. We had a good view of it when we stopped at the Rostral columns on our first day and it’s a lovely building.

We saw the Peter and Paul Fortress, which was on that day’s itinerary and looked so pretty from the water.This next building is the Kunstkammer. It’s the first museum in Russia. It was established by Peter the Great and completed in 1727. It hosts the Peter the Great museum of Anthropology and Ethnography.I’ve just been reading about it online and it looks a fascinating place to visit. We’re already discussing the possibility of doing another Baltic cruise with a private tour of St Petersburg to see some of the more off the beaten track places. Yeah, I know, we’ve only just got back, but we had such a brilliant time, with the cruise itself and the places we visited, that we really want to do it again.

A few more photos from the boat ride, and then I’ll move on to our next stop. The boat ride was lovely. The weather was perfect for it and it was brilliant to see a different view of St Petersburg. We were really glad that it was part of our tour.

Our next stop was Yusupov palace, which is where Rasputin was killed. Anna told us loads about that, while we were being shown around and it was fascinating. This was the one place where photo permissions were not included with admission so we had the option of paying extra if we wanted to. As it was only $3 each, it was a bit of a no-brainer.

The tour started with the Rasputin display which uses photographs, documents and wax figures to recreate the assassination and the following investigation. The legends surrounding Rasputin’s murder, which took place in the basement of the Yusupov Palace on 16 December 1916, are mostly based on the sensationalist account in the autobiography of Prince Felix Yusupov, who claimed to have led the plotters in first poisoning, then shooting, then beating Rasputin with clubs and throwing him into the icy Malaya Nevka River, where the Mad Monk eventually died of hypothermia. (I’m afraid I didn’t memorise all of that from our tour – I’ve just nicked it from Saint-Petersburg.com.)

Next we went round more of the palace. As in most of the places that we visited, no flash photography was allowed, and there wasn’t as much natural light here so the photos are quite grainy.

Most of the rooms were richly decorated, with some gorgeous furnishings. Everywhere you looked there was something beautiful – the floors, walls and ceilings. Here’s a small sample of the photos that we took there. We even managed to get Anna, our guide, in one shot.She was brilliant and really made our two-day tour special.

Day two was just as intensive as the first day. By the time we’d finished at Yusupov, it wasn’t even noon and we still had three more places to visit before getting back to the ship for the 6pm sailing. I’ve still got loads of photos to show you so I’m going to split the days in half again and will carry on in another post.






Baltic cruise – Russia, day one – afternoon.

A few weeks ago we went on a Baltic adventure. I’m going to do a few posts of our days ashore, along with lots of photos. Our third port was St Petersburg in Russia and boy did we take a lot of photos! We took so many that I’m splitting the days in half so I can share more of those pics.

So, I finished the last post with the Hermitage museum, which was amazing. Our next stop was St Isaac’s cathedral. It’s the fourth largest dome cathedral in the world and is quite spectacular. We took a few photos of the outside, one of which has our lovely tour bus in it. Then we headed inside, where we took more pics. It was lovely in there with details everywhere.

We’d packed in a lot of sight-seeing in the morning and were ready for lunch so were happy to be headed to a restaurant next. I didn’t take any photos inside the restaurant but I did take one of the waiting area on the way out. It gives you an idea of what it was like there. 

We’d been expecting something pretty basic but were surprised to find ourselves in a lovely restaurant with beautifully laid tables, with nice crockery, doilies, bottles of water etc. There was beer for those that wanted it and it was a set menu.

We had Borscht to start. There was sour cream on the table to add to the soup. It was lovely. I’d always fancied trying it so it was great to have it in Russia.

Next was Chicken Kiev with potatoes and pickled cabbage. It was beautifully presented and was delicious. Dessert was little sponge cakes. We had two each of different flavours and they were lovely. It was all followed by tea or coffee.

We were seated with six of our travelling companions and had a lovely chat and a good laugh so it was a brilliant meal. Even the bathroom in the restaurant was special with gilt taps and fittings. And that was after the ship had warned us that bathroom facilities tended to be pretty basic. That really wasn’t our experience on either day.

Our final stop of the day was Catherine palace which was about a 35 minute drive, perfect for relaxing after our lovely meal. It was gorgeous. I mentioned that we’d taken a lot of photos in Russia – we took 70 in Catherine palace alone, and that’s after I’ve weeded out the not-so-good ones. Don’t worry, I’m not going to share all 70. I have narrowed it down a bit LOL

As I said in the previous Russia post, we were allowed to take photos everywhere, but in the churches and museums, there was no flash allowed. Some of the indoor photos are a bit dark, but they’re good enough.

The palace has a baroque exterior with gilt domes and is really impressive. We had a good tour of the inside and saw the famous amber room, which was the only place where we weren’t allowed to take photos. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was amazing.

We had to wear covers on our shoes to protect the floor.This caused some hilarity in the group when we were trying to put them on, but at least they provided seating so no one actually fell over.

There was quite a bit of restoration going on in the palace. Not everywhere was decorated although they had the furniture in place. The rooms that were finished were incredible. There was so much to see and as you can see from the photos of the outside, it wasn’t crowded there. Alla tours work it brilliantly so we get to see loads, and without the crowds that you’d get on a less organised tour.

I’ve picked just a few of the indoor photos to give you an idea what it was like in there. The most amazing room was the main ballroom. It was huge! The decor was stunning. The walls, ceiling, floor – you didn’t know where to look first. It was impossible to get a photo showing all if it, but this is the best one that we managed.See the ropes? It was really well organised. You had tour groups on both sides, and there were people in place to manage the flow of tourists and keep it from getting jammed up.

We took a few more photos on the way out as we were now on the other side of the building, where there were some lovely gardens.

On the way back to the ship, we were taken to a huge souvenir shop where we got a few gifts for friends and on the way back through to immigration we stopped at the duty free shops and got a little present for me. I’d been thinking that I might like a matryoshka doll as a souvenir and when Stephen spotted these, I was sold. Not exactly traditional but they go nicely with the rest of my Disney collection. I’ve displayed them like this, rather than nested.

We had a buffet dinner in Islands and relaxed on our balcony for a while with a coffee. We decided not to go to the evening show as we had a very early start the next day and were tired from our busy day.



Baltic cruise – Russia, day one – morning

A few weeks ago we went on a Baltic adventure. I’m going to do a few posts of our days ashore, along with lots of photos. Our third port was St Petersburg in Russia. We had an overnight there so two very full days.

Apart from one place, all of our photo permissions were included in our tour, and the one we did have to pay for separately was about £3 each so not a big deal. As you can imagine, we took full advantage of that and took hundreds of pics. Because of that, I’m going to post the afternoon’s activities in a separate post so I can share lots of photos of the Hermitage in this post and lots more of the beautiful Catherine palace in the next one. Really lots. You have been warned 😉

Before we went on our cruise, I’d spent a lot of time on Cruise Critic, mostly on the Baltic forum, and picked up a lot of tips and information. One thing that had a lot of people worried was that the debarkation procedures had changed this year for St Petersburg. The new ruling was that if you were doing a ship’s tour, you had priority to leave the ship. Private tour passengers had to wait until all the ship’s tours had disembarked. I’d read some horror stories of people being prevented from leaving the ship and missing their tours, and as we’d booked privately, I was a bit concerned.

I checked with reception beforehand and was told that I could just leave the ship when we docked and there wouldn’t be any problem. That sounded promising. We’d also heard that the queues for immigration were horrendous, especially if there were more than a couple of ships in port. For our first day, there were four other ships so again, I was a bit concerned.

So, we were up bright and early for breakfast. Islands was open earlier as we docked at 7am so by 7.20 we were on our way to the gangway. Our tour started at 8.30 so we’d allowed a good hour to get there. We had no problem leaving the ship. It seems that it’s very dependant on which cruise line you’re with. Ours was fine. At the bottom of the gangway were a couple of the crew who pointed us in the direction of immigration. We couldn’t see any queues outside, so that was encouraging and when we entered the building we just looked at each other and laughed. It was empty. It took us precisely ten minutes from walking off the ship to saying hello to the Alla Tours representative. We were an hour early!

Luckily, there were lots of shops in the building to browse in while we waited, and we chatted to other people who had done the same thing as us. By 8.15, the place was full of people waiting to go on private tours. Our guide arrived at 8.20 and took us out to our mini bus. There were fourteen of us in our group, so much better than the coach loads that were on the ship’s tours.

This is our bus with our lovely driver Nicolai. He was great. Not very chatty but pleasant and an excellent driver. 

Our guide for the two days was Anna and she was brilliant. She gave us loads of information about places we passed and chatted to us about lots of different things. She gave us a really good overview about life in St Petersburg now and in the past, and answered all of our questions.

We set off for the city and Anna kept up a commentary about the buildings that we passed. We pulled up next to the Neva river and had ten minutes to look at some sphinx statues and the view across the river.While we were on the bus Anna used a microphone to make sure we heard her but off the bus, we used headsets. It was brilliant. It meant that we could go and look at what Anna was telling us about instead of having to all group round her, and we heard every word.

Our next stop was by the river again where we had a lovely view of the Winter Palace, where part of the Hermitage museum is located. We could also see the Peter and Paul fortress across the river. Both that and the Hermitage were on our itinerary.On our side of the river were the Rostral columns – two 32m lighthouses. They were quite impressive.

Off we drove again and next on our tour was a subway ride. That might seem an odd thing to do but it was brilliant. The escalator down was really long and fast. It just kept going down and down. (St Petersburg has the deepest subway system in the world.)Then we had to get on another shorter escalator as their subways are stacked and we needed the lower one. The stations were beautiful. Not only were they well-lit and clean, but they were decorated with lovely mosaics, paintings and statues. It was quite surreal seeing all that beauty alongside the people rushing about on their way to work.

Navy ships mosaic at Admiralteyskaya station

We got on one of the subway trains and went for one stop. It was really fast and a bit of a novelty for us as we don’t have a subway system at home. One of the things that I loved about our tour, was that there was something for everyone. Some art, some culture, some time outdoors and a subway ride.

Our driver was waiting for us when we emerged into the daylight again and took us to our next stop which was the Hermitage. This is a state-owned museum of art and culture and is extraordinary. There are five buildings open to the public and they’re incredibly beautiful even without the artwork.

We entered through the Winter palace, the building we’d seen from one of our river stops. It was even more lovely close up. We had a timed slot here and had early entry before the general admission. Once we were all in, we went up a staircase and as we looked up, our jaws dropped. Just look at this!The museums and churches allowed photography, apart from one tiny exception, but did not allow flash. We thought that seemed a reasonable request.This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in St Petersburg and it does get crowded. You can see from the photo above though, just how useful it was having early entry. It did get a bit crowded just as we were leaving but mostly it was fine.

We saw so much amazing art. Anna was really knowledgeable about it and made it all very interesting. Some of the rooms were incredibly beautiful. 
There were 30 rooms for Italian paintings of the 13th – 18th century alone. It was quite breathtaking with art everywhere, such as this one that I really liked.

The lute player – Caravaggio

The da Vinci room was lovely. I was a bit in awe. They have two of his paintings. This was my favourite.

Madonna Litta – Leonardo da Vinci

I was also a bit in awe of this. I could have just reached out and touched it. (I’d probably have got kicked out, mind, but I could have)

Crouching boy – Michelangelo

I should mention that neither of us are at all knowledgable about art. I’ve heard of the major artists and I could recognise quite a few paintings, but mostly I just like looking at beautiful things and there was no shortage of that in the Hermitage. Just look at these rooms! There was a Rembrandt room, where I took a liking to this.

Portrait of an old man in red – Rembrandt

There were lots of interesting things to look at besides the paintings too.I loved this mosaic floor.And this gorgeous ceiling.We were in there for about 90 minutes and saw so much but never felt rushed. There was no way you could see everything. Apparently they have over 3 million pieces of art! We got a good taste of it though and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

There’s more. There’s a lot more, but I think I’ve put quite enough photos in one post so I’ll continue with the day’s adventures in another post. Next up is St Isaac cathedral.