Seeing St. Petersburg and Helsinki
SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Valeriano Avila (The Freeman) - May 28, 2019 - 12:00am

Since our last column, we left you with our travelogue on Copenhagen and Stockholm. But due to the fact that we spent 30 hours on board the “Serenade of the Seas” we don’t get our internet, so I had to borrow my son-in-law’s Yahoo account for my Monday column which was not sent as an MS Word file, so in the end, while we did send a Monday column, our editors could not open the file. So this is what we wrote last Monday.

If you ask me, I like Copenhagen more than Stockholm. But since these two Scandinavian nations, we have passed by Tallinn, Estonia, and toured that nation of only a million people and wrote last Friday about its history. These are the Baltic States; Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. But we didn’t visit these other nations. Incidentally last Thursday we landed in St. Petersburg, Russia’s old capital (it is the second largest city in Russian and its cultural capital and it was called Leningrad during World War II) until the Communists created the Soviet Union and they called it the Iron Curtain. St. Petersburg has a very interesting history because before the Bolshevik revolution, it was the seat of the Romanov Empire. There was Peter the Great and Catherine the Great and their culture was created to educate the Russian population.

We toured the Hermitage Museum and our tour guide named Anastasia was a linguist and had a doctorate in History. Without her, we would just be looking inside the Hermitage Museum in awe without knowing that this painting was done by Leonardo da Vinci or Rembrandt.

Anastasia told our group that we were passing through at least three million exhibits inside the Hermitage Museum. That Russia went to war with Sweden was something to think of especially when you know that their population was quite small. But then in those days, who knew? Nobody did any statistics on the number of people in each population.

At this point, allow me to say that since I have visited the French Royal Palace in Versailles, and saw the Louvre in Paris, I dare say that the Hermitage Museum beats them all in terms of number of artifacts and culture. I’ve seen a lot of paintings but there was a painting by Leonardo da Vinci of Mother Mary with the Child Jesus, which for me was a better painting than the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. Compared to the Windsor Castle in England where no photographs were allowed, in the Hermitage Museum you can take all the photos and videos you desire, the only prohibition is you cannot touch the paintings.

We also passed by the Church of the Spilled Blood which, unfortunately, was being restored so we couldn’t get in. So we entered the Dome Church, which had enormous columns, where they demonstrated how the columns were erected 200 years ago.

This was an Orthodox Church. Mind you in Russia, the Orthodox Church is the main Russian religion. But in Sweden, Estonia, or Denmark, it is the Lutheran Church that dominates their spirit life. But like all Christian churches most people in Scandinavia are no longer religious and don’t attend their services.

On Friday we arrived in Helsinki and toured the city in the morning. It was then that we were told that Finland only had 5.45 million people. When we got there, it was raining and cold. So we only stayed on the tour bus most of the time. But Finland had a unique tourism destination and it was there that I had my first-ever ride on a dog sled, with eight huskies tied to a sleigh, which can carry three people. Huskies run fast and I was told that the world record for a Husky team was 1,500 kilometers. They can go on for 30 kilometers before stopping to rest. That makes Helsinki a great place to visit. One disappointment though, I didn’t see a single Nokia sign anywhere. Nokia was once the world’s number one in cellphones.

By this time we were done with our Scandinavian cruise and arrived in Copenhagen. We went to the Sacred Heart Church for the 11 a.m. mass, but it was cancelled because the priest had a meeting. This is how small Catholicism has become in this once very Catholic nation.

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