|Subject: Re: Baltic Region|
I've spent quite a bit of time in Helsinki, and I think it's one of the more enjoyable places to spend time. That being said, I have to admit that Helsinki isn't very far up on the big-time tourist attractions list. Instead, as one of the smaller European capitals it's just a pleasure to roam around in. It's small enough to be able to cover teh entire center on foot.
There is very, very good transit, includign the tramlines. The 3T tram goes by most of the tourist attractions. Check out the tourist office at teh east end of the Esplanadii at teh northwest corner of the market square.
Helsinki hit list includes the church in the rock and the Russian Orthodox cathedral. I'd add a visit to the island of Suomenlinna, which is a short ferry ride from the wharf/market square; a transit pass covers this little ferry.
There is a market at the head of the harbor every morning of the year. This is a pretty interesting place to roam around in. many of the customers are Russians, who find Helsinki the closest place to shop in the West.
My wife loves Stockmann's department store, and it has a very nice cafeteria; it also has down on the lower levels an alcohol store, a very nice two-level grocery and a bakery, etc. Just try to resist the pastries!
Tallinn is an easy day trip from Helsinki and there are several options. There is a high speed catamaran that make the run in about 1.5 hours. it's huge for a catamaran, but I gotta tell you, it's small enough that myeself and many other passengers were defintiely turning green around the gills during a crossing last year in some moderately rough seas. I think we'll take the Tallink ferry next time (we took it several years ago); slower, but bigger. You can ask at the tourist office about Tallink, but I think most days you can just walk up to the terminal in the west harbor and get a ticket. http://www.tallink.fi/en/index.html
There are no cheap hotels in Helsinki. There some quite nice hotels, although we usually stay with relatives. But a year ago we stayed at the Hotelli Helka, which we thought was wonderful, considering what we got for our money after being in London, and they have a fabulous breakfast. http://www.helka.fi/ but it's too bad the euro has gone so high.
There is Eurohostel, which is very conveniently located. We took a look at it in case we got on the outs with our relatives, and although it's a bit spartan, it was clean and hospitable, and it has family rooms. http://www.eurohostel.fi
The old town in Tallinn is wonderful, still medieval. Beware, taxis from the docks charge too much and take you round about; you can walk to the old town from the ferry docks.
We stayed last year at the Queens Hotel in Stockholm. Old worldy, nice, great breakfast. Right on Drottninggatan, the main shopping street now pedestrianized and leading down to the palace and the old town, Gamla Stan. Only a couple of blocks from the central station.
For travel between Stockholm and Helsinki you can take a ferry to Turku and the train to Helsinki or take a ferry directly to Helsinki. The latter is always a night passage, and th ships, both Viking and Silja , are floating resorts with casinos, restaurants, night clubs, etc. I've been on Silja and was in awe. We got a cheap cabin way below the auto deck, but then all we did was sleep in it. The nightlife on teh ship goes on all night, and if so inclined there's no need to sleep at all.
I've not been yet, but I've founf there are two ways to go to St Pete: travel on your own with a visa or take a tour that doesn't require a visa.
To get a visa you must have a letter from your hotel in St Pete and apply to a Russian consulate; it can be done at the consulate in Helsinki but I understand the visa fee is more expensive there than if you get it here in the USA. once in St pete you will be pretty much on your own. You can take the train to St Pete from Helsinki.
If you take a tour you will have to remain with the tour group at all times, generally lodging on the boat. This is what the boats from Helsinki are for.
There is a third way: be invited by someone in St Pete; this gets you a very liberal visa.
If you have any questions feel free to ask either here in the list or by private email.
DAVE HATUNEN Tucson Arizona, out where the cacti grow