Chapter 5: To the Gates of Russia and Back
With the current political climate, will it be safe to travel to Russia in a few years? Who knows. More importantly--who cares. I certainly don't, and I must admit I am rather excited to visit. Political tensions aside, I am fascinated by the history and culture of the country and its people. I've been watching a lot of WWII documentaries lately, which, combined with researching for these blog posts, has had the unsurprising side effect of inflaming my desire to visit the place.
St. Petersburg has always been near the top of my travel bucket list, and it just so happens to be on an accessible coast. From Porto, Portugal where I left off at the end of Chapter 4, the whole trip to Russia and back will be a little over 6,000 miles, so we anticipate it'll probably take somewhere around 3-4 months. Though the journey will be a long one, thankfully there will be a ton of highly desirable places to visit along the way.
We'll start by turning north from Porto and make a hard turn to starboard around Galicia, moving into familiar waters. My dad and his siblings were born in Spain, and my brother and I spent many summers in our youth visiting family in Asturias, which is one the northern regions of Spain.
We'll likely stop in Lastres, which is small town near where my family's house is located (above). There are a couple mountains there that our family has climbed a few times in our younger years, and I'll probably try to convince my brother to give it another whirl. Due to some complicated intra-family squabble resulting from my grandparents' deaths, I am not sure if we will have access to my family's house unless we happen to time it right, but that is unlikely.
After we're ready to move on we'll sail to Ribadesella, another Spanish town in northern Spain renowned for its beaches, kayaking, and caves (yes, caves). The last time I visited the place was nearly 9 years ago, and I don't remember much of it other than the town had a very homey feel, and vendors sold excellent street churros. Below are a few pictures of Ribadesella I took during my last visit:
After walking down memory lane and grabbing another churro, we'll head north up the coast of France, cross the English Channel, and make a stop in the much awaited Amsterdam (below). The fun one can have in this town is legendary, as everyone knows, and I think in this day and age it's customary for people of my generation to make a trip to Amsterdam at some point in their 20's or early 30's. What is there not to love about such a free-spirited place?
Let's not kid ourselves though... when my brother and I get to Amsterdam we're going party. We will just have finished a month or so crossing the Atlantic and then another week or two visiting family. It'll be time to cut loose a little bit, maybe even shave our beards. By the time we leave Amsterdam our wallets will in all likelihood be much lighter, but the memories will be priceless.
After departing the Netherlands, we'll head up the North Sea, visiting Germany and Denmark. It may be my European roots or my time in Spain as a kid, but I love European culture. I have no idea how sea conditions get in that area, and I can only hope that we don't happen to arrive in the dead of winter. Before we begin the transition into the Baltic Sea, we'll make a stop in Oslo, Norway (below).
I have met a few Norwegians during my travels, and there is something about their demeanor that I really liked. It was sort of an awkward warmth and friendliness. Though I can't assume the behavior of a few people holds true with an entire country, the fond memories I had with these friends have got me itching to visit Scandinavia.
We'll transition from the North Sea to the Baltic by traveling past some Swedish cities, Copenhagen, Denmark, and sailing under what must be a massive bridge between Denmark and Sweden. We'll then make a few stops along the Southern edge of the Baltic, including Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.
I have only met one person from Estonia (below). Though we didn't interact too much, she was a lovely and adventurous person. I met her and her husband in Mexico, and it looked like they were having a blast exploring what the Mexican culture had to offer. Really great personalities. The little we did talk, I remember she told me about Estonia, and it's always been in the back of mind since then as I place I'd like to visit. I know very little about the country, but I am interested in finally exploring the place.
Estonia will be the last stop before we reach the furthest point of our northern excursion: St. Petersburg, Russia. As I've mentioned, this is place rich with culture; in fact, it is recognized as the cultural capital of Russia, and there is so much to do there. I am particularly excited to see the famed Winter Palace and the Palace Square (below).
If you are a nerd like me, and if you've ever played the computer game (or board game) called Civilization, then you will have heard of the museum called The Hermitage. That museum is found in St. Petersburg, and I am not leaving the city until I step inside and check it out. There is so much else to do there that would fill up several full blog posts on their own, but I have to stop here. After I've laid out the whole trip from start to finish, I'll probably go back and do in-depth looks at some of the places I am most interested in seeing--St. Petersburg is definitely one of those places.
Once my brother and I decide it's time to sail back South, we'll make a stop in Helsinki, Finland (another one of my top destinations) and Stockholm, Sweden (lots of friends from there). After those two places we'll probably try and make a bee line to the U.K. and stop only in places we really want to see again. From there it's back to Portugal and on to the next highly anticipated Chapter: the Mediterranean.