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Russia Revealed: Moscow to St. Petersburg 2014

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Pre-trip: Baltic Capitals: Helsinki, Finland & Tallinn, Estonia

Experience two Baltic capitals that present striking contrasts: wonderfully preserved medieval Tallinn, and gleaming, modern Helsinki. You’ll see Tallinn’s rich historic legacy in its churches and merchants’ houses, then explore Helsinki’s blend of Russian and Swedish influences with Finland’s own distinctive culture.

It's Included:
Accommodations: for 3 nights in Tallinn at the First Class Clarion Europa Hotel and for 2 nights in Helsinki at the First-Class Scandic Grand Marina or similar
8 meals: 5 breakfasts, 1 lunch, and 2 dinners
Included tours: Tallinn, Helsinki
Exclusive Discovery Series event: Estonian Life Today discussion
Exclusive services of an experienced Grand Circle Program Director
All transfers (including ferry between Tallinn and Helsinki)
One-day public transportation pass for free travel on public transit in Helsinki
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    Depart the U.S. today on your flight to Helsinki. Please refer to your individual air itinerary for exact departure and arrival times.

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    Arrive today in Helsinki. A Grand Circle representative meets you at the airport and assists you to your hotel. Depending on your arrival time and hotel check-in policy, you may not be able to check into your hotel room immediately upon arrival. Your Program Director will advise you of our check-in status and activity schedule for the day when you arrive.

    Enjoy the balance of the afternoon at leisure to relax after your flight. You are invited to join your Program Director for a short walk around the neighborhood of your hotel. Helsinki’s historic center dates from the early 19th century, when Russia ruled Finland and designated this city as the country’s new capital. As a result, the city has both a Russian look and a more modern layout than other European capitals.

    Graced with many buildings by noted Finnish architects such as Alvar Aalto, Helsinki today is a masterpiece of urban design.

    Ask your Program Director for suggestions on where to dine on your own tonight.

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    This morning, enjoy a tour of Helsinki with a local guide, a great way to get oriented and note the places you wish to revisit on your own. Your half-day tour of the city, known as “the Daughter of the Baltic,” showcases Market Square, a perennial outdoor market, and Senate Square, undoubtedly the pride of the city. Senate Square is ringed by a treasury of Empire Neoclassic buildings, including the 19th-century Lutheran Cathedral, whose central tower dominates the city.

    Senate Square, like Times Square in New York City, is the place where the city’s residents gather for celebration of special occasions, such as New Year’s Eve and Independence Day (December 6th)—or on any day when the sun is shining. Admire the onion domes of Uspenski Cathedral, the most important Russian Orthodox church in Finland.

    See the Temppeliaukio Kirkko, a church beautifully hewn out of solid granite. As you wend your way through the city, notice and get a real feel for how the sea is such an integral part of it. Helsinki is built over peninsulas, curving around bays and spilling out across islands that are linked by bridges, causeways, and boats of all descriptions.

    After relaxing over lunch on your own, your afternoon is at leisure. You’ll find many attractive options within easy walking distance if you wish to explore on foot. Helsinki is fairly compact, so getting around is made even easier with your one-day public transportation pass, included in the price of your trip. Your pass entitles you to travel free on city buses, trams, metro, and trains. Feel free to ask your Program Director about Helsinki’s attractions, and the available transportation options to reach those sites.

    You might want to stroll through the Esplanade boulevard, which is flanked by a wide variety of shops, many of which feature distinctively Finnish products. You can head for the National Gallery (Valtion Taidemuseo) to see Finnish art from the 18th-20th centuries, take a boat excursion on the harbor, or visit the city’s open-air folk museum.

    Gather with your travel companions for a dinner at your hotel this evening.

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    After breakfast, take the morning to explore, send postcards, or catch up on your travel journal. After noon, transfer to a pier where you board a ferry to cross the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn, Estonia’s capital city. A wonderfully preserved city of the old Hanseatic League, this ancient walled port on the Baltic is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with remarkable fortresses, castles, and cathedrals. Medieval Tallinn had six gates, all bastion-forts complete with moats and drawbridges.

    Upon arrival in the afternoon, you transfer to your hotel, where you have the balance of the afternoon to settle in and explore the surrounding area at your leisure. You can also join your Program Director in a short walk to familiarize yourself with the hotel’s neighborhood.

    You have the evening at leisure to have dinner on your own. You can ask your Program Director for dining suggestions from a wide array of choices ranging from traditional to international cuisines.

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    After breakfast, set off on a guided tour of the highlights of its premier city. Please note: This tour consists of two hours of walking and one hour of driving around the city. The walking portion, though mostly downhill or on flat ground, is on cobblestones and uneven surfaces concluding with a long walk to where the bus meets you for the riding portion of the tour. Wear good walking shoes for this tour.

    Tallinn’s Old Town is still encircled by city walls, punctuated with many stone towers rising above red-tiled roofs. Within the city walls the streets remain much as they were when Danish rulers built them in the 13th century.

    This historic city center is divided into the Lower Town and the Upper Town. In the Lower Town, the 600-year-old Town Hall—the best-preserved of its kind in northern Europe—has a tower that presides dramatically over Town Hall Square (Raejoka plats). The Upper Town is on Toompea hill, where two landmarks that originated in the 13th century still stand: Toompea Castle (now the meeting place for the Estonian Parliament) and the Dome Church (Estonia’s largest Lutheran sanctuary).

    You see the 18th-century Baroque Kadriog Palace, built by Peter the Great in honor of his wife Catherine. Today it is the Fine Arts Museum, with a fine collection from the Estonian realist school as well as some canvases of Repin and Breughel the Elder.

    Many of the city’s historic buildings reflect the prosperity it enjoyed in the 14th-16th centuries. Under German control, Tallinn flourished during these years as a trade port in the Hanseatic League. Later periods of Swedish and Russian rule also left their marks on Tallinn, whose rich layers of history you’ll delve into during your tour.

    After lunch on your own, you can set out independently to explore more of the city at your own pace. You may want to visit Kiek-in-de-Kok (Look-Into-The-Kitchen), a bastion built in 1470. At the time, it was the tallest building in Estonia and earned its name because it was said watchmen could peer into the kitchens of the houses below. Or you might take a walk in Town Hall Square. Originally called Market Square, excavations show that it was a market as long as a thousand years ago. Here the 14th-century Town Hall has been preserved almost intact in its original Gothic form, and still serves as the City Hall.

    Before an included dinner, join us for a Discovery Series discussion that will enrich your understanding of today’s Estonia and bring you up to date on life in this Baltic nation.

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    Discover more of Tallinn on your own today. For independent touring, you might consider buying a Tallinn card, which covers public transportation and either free or discounted admission to many museums. The city has numerous museums, galleries, and historic sites that will reward in-depth exploration.

    You could visit the Gothic St. Olaf’s Church, which was the tallest church in Europe around 1500, or peruse the Tallinn City Museum to gain a deep understanding of local history. If you are interested in hand-knit garments, be sure to visit the “sweater wall,” where row upon row of local women knit and sell sweaters and other Nordic-style woolenware. The Baltics are known for amber art objects, and Tallinn is no exception. There are many shops in the city selling fine amber pieces. Lunch today is on your own.

    Or, join us for an optional tour (from morning to mid-afternoon) to the Open-Air Museum (Rocca al Mare) to learn about Estonia’s village life. Dozens of farmhouses from the 18th and 19th centuries have been preserved in a farmyard and village setting, complete with a village church, an inn, and some mills. It’s quite a contrast to the urban scene of Tallinn’s Old Town, but just as vital a part of the area’s heritage. We also visit a working Estonian dairy farm that produces cheese and yogurt. The owner guides you around the farm and treats you to some of the farm’s delicacies. Lunch is included.

    Relax this evening, with dinner on your own in one of the many restaurants in the city.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, we transfer by motorcoach to St. Petersburg, Russia. It takes about eight hours to get there by bus. We stop for lunch in the fortress town of Narva on the Russian-Estonian border. Upon arrival in St. Petersburg, you’ll have time to settle into your cabin onboard the ship before greeting your fellow travelers on Russia Revealed and joining them for Day 2 of the main itinerary.