Subject: Russia, Estonia and England
We are recently back from three weeks in Russia, Estonia and England. The group consisted of seven of us, led by a couple who go over to Russia about twice a year as journalists, and who speak the language pretty well. We also have Russian friends in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. It was an amazing trip, but without our leaders and those friends it would have been very difficult. Having most signs in Cyrilic was difficult enough, but for a country that needs tourism they sure can make things slow and bureauratic.

We spent our first three days in Moscow, staying at the Hotel Belgrade, a very nice hotel. We had good meals, often in Georgian, Bulgarian,or other ethnic restaurants. Moscow is a very busy city, full of big cars (pedestrians are fair game) and attractive people. (Then you realize that 95% of those people live in the 30,000 apartment buildings around the city and you are in a major world capital where you can't drink the water.) The Kremlin and Red Square are quite awe inspiring, and the interior of the many churches is truly amazing; every inch is painted with icons and biblical stories, and the amount of gold and jewel ornimentation is overwhelming. The Armory has a vast collection of royal treasures. There has been a lot of restoration work throughout both Moscow and St. Petersburg. The underground in Moscow and the buses in St. Petersburg are cheap and easy to use (if you can understand the signs). While the systems may be designed to remind you that you are a small part of the machine, the individual Russians are friendly and helpful.

We took the train (very nice in First Class) to St. Petersburg for another three days. It is a beautiful city of canals and European architecture. Here we stayed in a couple of apartments in a children's art school, located by our Russian friends. This city is cleaner and less hectic than Moscow. St. Issacs Cathederal is very big, open and, again, full of stone, jewels and painting. Really amazing. The Hermitage is also amazing (sorry to overuse that word). It has beautiful paintings, including Russian impressionists, that have never been to the west - room after room of them, and really not big crowds, even in July. We took the hydrofoil out to Peterhoff, a beautiful castle that was destroyed by the Nazis and has been almost completely restored. It too is full of art and has fountains everywhere, all powered by a gravity system from a lake.

We took the train from St. Petersburg to Tallin, Estonia. As expected, customs came on at the border in the middle of the night. I had miscounted my dollars by $26, so the officer went into an almost comical routine about this is a serious customs violation, are you tring to fool us?, and Ill have to check with my supervisor. Guess what? the penalty was the $26. A good reminder of the system we were coming from.

Tallin was beautiful. It has an old medieval town with walls, alleys and old buildings. The people are friendly and nice. On the outskirts are some beautiful parks. After decades under the Nazis and then the Russians, they are eager to show that they are part of the west, and are doing a great job of it. Very good shopping.

After a too-short day and a half in Tallin we flew to England, coming over London about 5 p.m. on a picture perfect night. We spent the next week on the Llangollen canal (the deal was our friends would take us to Russia if we would lead a canal trip). That was spent in beautiful weather (as was almost the entire three weeks). As usual, a trip on the English canals is slow and relaxing - its a whole another topic which you can ask me about if you want more details.

We then drove to York for three days. There we stayed in the Abbey Guest House, a very nice b and b. We took a free guided walk along the walls, and it was a good introduction to the city. That evening we took a Ghost Walk; it was fun, but we heard a lot of the same stories. The Cathederal was closed to get ready for a visit from the Queen, but was open for evensong - you would be amazed how many people got religion that afternoon! On advice of a couple of people we skipped the Viking Experience (I think that is what it is called) and its long lines and went to the Castle Museum and the Yorkshire Museum. They were both excellent, and the latter has great Roman and medieval exhibits among actual ruins. The city has lots of great shops and alleys, and a pub for about everyone (we found one with a singer doing '60s songs - it was nice not to be the only grey one for a change). We particularly liked the food at St. Williams, behind the Cathederal.

We drove to London for another three days, staying at the Royal Park Hotel near Hyde Park. It was o.k. but not exactly three star. I have never seen London so full of people, but the weather was good and the sights were great. We visited Sir John Sloan's museum, truly a wonder. He directed it be left as when he died, around 1830, and it is full of pieces of Greece and Egypt and other areas. It also has many paintings, most of them in a room where the walls are hinged to fold out, so that there are about three layers of masterpieces. All this amazingly lit from sunlight and mirrors, as Sloan was a major architect. We also went to the National Portrait Gallery, a wonderful way to refresh yourself on English history (and a great view of rooftops from its cafe). On the not-so-hot scale was the museum (I'm not sure that is what it is called) at the Globe, and the Tate. Our suggestion is not to spend the time and money on the Globe museum without a tour. As to the Tate, I think the mistake was ours in going on a Saturday afternoon in July - it was really packed.

Jerry and Mary Coleman (in Belmont, California)