When I have not been to a city, I opt for a tour, to HEAR about the city, not just walk by the buildings on my own. Part of the problem with Brugge was the mass confusion leaving the ship. We expected the organized, line up across the stage for tickets. Instead, they did tables on one side of the theater-but no signs showing entrance and exit. So, before we left the ship, we were already frustrated. The weather was dreary, raining on and off, which makes walking on the uneven cobblestones much more difficult. For what we heard-when are they all going to headphones?-we could have walked it by ourselves. Our guide had a lot to say, but her master of English was not good, and she had to stop often to "search" for the words she wanted to use. I would say everyone should take a canal boat ride, though.
Thank goodness we were back to the line up on stage for tickets. We opted not to spend six hours in the bus to go to Berlin. Instead, we did Rostok. Our guide was pleasant, but again, we needed to stay NEAR to hear what was being said-difficult to do in such large groups. It was a lovely area, and we enjoyed seeing the old facades and the inside of the church. I think we would have missed some stories here, had we done our own walk.
We did a private tour in Helsinki, using Spb. We could not easily find the guide, as they were not allowed in side the gate. The company said they would be sure to tell future travelers that.We were surprised to find we had been placed in a larger group, but it was manageable. My husband had been there before, so he had seen all the sights. The rock church is interesting, but does not take long to see. We saw some other lovely sights, but the trip was soon over.
We opted for a private tour here, using Spb. We had all heard horror stories of the problems getting off the ship in Russia for private tours. Enough people went to talk to the excursion folks, and the ship worked out a great system for us. Of course, they could not do a thing about the sour faced Russian immigration folks. Be advised-if in a group, go through immigration one at a time. They are not polite about couples entering the area together. Also, be sure to have a TICKET from your private tour, not just a verification from the company. What a marvelous, busy, two days. Our guide was fantastic; his English was very good; the headphones allowed us to move with him at our own rate, except at the end of the second day when the master went out. We had selected the Deluxe tour, which was PACKED with stops! We were exhausted at the end of the first day, partly from the schedule and partly from the heat. It was in the high 80's, and most of the places had no AC. We had the "pies" for lunch the first day which were great; the meal the second day was so so-I think they need to pick another place. OUr group of 16 rated the guide and driver very high. Again, we had a boat ride included. What a great way to get off the feet, and see another aspect of the city. I know they have many guides, but I think we got the best. I think the St. Petersburg stop could be three days, and you still would not see everything that is there.
Another private tour with Spb. She was very informative and answered our questions. Tallin is a delightful city, just like a story book village. While the cobble stones were again sometimes hard to walk on, we got to see a great deal of the village.
Back to the ship's excursions. What an amazing view of the city from the ship! Truly a city of spires! The Vasa is probably the most impressive thing to see. I did have to ask the guide to face us when talking, as we did not have headphones. Especially at the Vasa, she wanted to face the ship as she pointed out things. The room is immense so sound is lost, plus there are so many other groups with guides, it would help to have headphones, or for them to be sure to turn around facing the group.
Another ship's excursion. Our guide must have been in training for a marathon or some such; we had a forced march past all the sights. We had headphones, but they were the one ear type, and they did not work well unless you were very near to the guide. Our ship's "helper" was too busy taking pictures, so did not stay behind the group, to be sure everyone was together. We had to holler ahead a few times to get the guide to stop so folks could catch up, or get across the street after a red light. Twice she said we were "early," so she took us some extra places. That was nice, but it is also nice to be able to take your pictures after hearing about a place.
Again,a boat ride was part of our trip, and it was great.