The National Geographic Explorer


Coming from the Sea Bird and the Sea Lion, I wasn’t sure what to expect with the Explorer. I had heard from other staff and guests that it’s a beautiful ship, but how so, I had no clue. Well having been on the ship for two days now, I can say that it is elegant in a semi-luxurious kind of way. The Sea Bird and Sea Lion are cozy, sort of like a comfortable home, but the Explorer is more like being in a nice hotel. The Philippino and European crew are super friendly and the staff, many of which I know, are enthusiastic and ready to share their knowledge about the places we visit. As I stepped onboard I was greeted by some of the officers and crew and had my picture taken for my key card that served two purposes – 1. To lock/unlock my cabin door and 2. To swipe myself on and off the ship when doing shore activities. Then I was shown to my room by one of the stewardesses. At first I felt like I was in a maze, but it didn’t take me long to figure out the lay of the ship. My room was cute, comfortable, and spacious compared to my berth on the SB/SL. The bathroom, too, was enormous by comparison. After a quick unpack, I went to explore to rest of the the ship. I found the lounge, which is very nice and outfitted with large screen TVs for talks and movies, comfortable swivel chairs, and a bar. The sundeck at the back of the ship has tables and lounge chairs for nice days and just above the sundeck is the gym that has floor to ceiling windows so you can look out over the ocean (or sea) as you work out. Next door to the gym is the spa and sauna, which I haven’t used yet, but the Hotel Manager gave me a free massage, which I’m very much looking forward to! There is also a very nice Global market (or gift store), as well as the dining room, bistro, and downstairs bar. As we were sailing out of St. Petersburg everyone gathered on the bow or up high above the bridge deck to watch the receding city skyline of church steeples, rounded domes, block-style buildings of St. Petersburg. In the harbor we passed the white sailboat of the Princess of Denmark, who was in the city for a visit. Then it was on to Estonia, our first stop in our Baltic Sea adventure!

September 10
To prepare us for our visit to Estonia, we were shown a movie called “The Singing Revolution” which gave us a better understanding of Estonia’s history. And it’s a bloody one. For centuries Estonians have endured one invasion after another, almost all costing lives and bringing destruction. In most recent history, before WWII, Estonia was invaded by Russia and many Estonians were killed or exiled to Siberia. Those who weren’t lived in poverty and fear that they would be next. Then Germany attacked and for a brief intermittence, the Germans occupied the small Baltic state. After WWII Russia regained control, but by then the Estonians wanted independence. And they did this through a “singing revolution”. It was a peaceful, but strong, revolution where the Estonians were united together by their love for singing. The movement gathered support and power until pretty soon they had leaders and a political party. In 1991, after Gorbachev was arrested and the USSR fell, Estonia was granted independence. It’s a very good film and there’s lots more to it than what I just described. I’d definitely recommend watching it!

As the Explorer slowly made its way toward Tallin, the capital of Estonia, we could see the tall church spires and red-tiled roofs of the Old City. For the morning, we had a walking tour of the town and we also visited the singing grounds where the revolution first began. Now it’s a site for many international concerts as well as their Song Festival that happens every five years.

The Old Town of Tallin is beautiful. Narrow cobblestone streets, quaint cottages, cafes, restaurants, and shops lining the sidewalks, and (because it’s a tourist destination), people dressed up in traditional cloths selling things like candied nuts and handmade wool socks. It was sunny when we left the ship, but as soon as we started walking a huge dark cloud appeared over our heads and let loose the rain. We ducked inside an old church, then ran from shop to shop to avoid getting too soaked. The rain finally let up, though, and we continued on to the central square where we entered an underground cafe to have some mulled wine, traditional cake, and coffee. We needed it to dry off and warm up!

The tour continued after our mid-morning snack and then we had the choice to return to the ship for lunch, or stay in town. I chose to stay. The alleyways and numerous shops were too mysterious and enchanting to risk the chance of missing out on anything. So, for the next few hours I wandered around, peering into shops and enjoying the medieval feel of the Old City’s streets.

We set sail (figuratively) from Tallin later that afternoon, heading toward our next destination and country. Tomorrow will be the Aland Islands (pronounced Owland), which are technically part of Finland, but they speak Swedish. Should be another great day!

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