Panoramic London through a tour bus window

The Tower of London with The Shard in the background

The Tower of London with The Shard in the background

The last day of our wonderful cruise had finally come.  I always have mixed emotions at the end of a cruise.

Sad when I stop to think about the morning coffees, cocktail hours and dinners with friends and fellow travelers are over; happy because I realize that I will be back sleeping in my own bed soon.  And, I will miss waking up each morning and visiting a wonderful new city.

Our travel agent made arrangements for our group to take a bus to Heathrow airport and along the way take a nice tour through London.  The day started with the skies looking a bit iffy but, in the end the rain held affording us a wonderful day.

We were up early, had a quick breakfast at the Windjammer and then on to the theater to wait for our number to be called, pick up our luggage, go through customs and head for our bus.  Luckily, it all went very well.

To our pleasant surprise, Ian, our tour guide to the medieval village of Lavenham on the first leg of our cruise was going to be our guide today.  I find Ian to be engaging and very funny.  I knew it was going to be a fun ride.

Once everyone was on board the bus started the journey to London.  As we rode along, we passed farms carpeted with rapeseed flowers.  The yellow fields were quite beautiful.

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We arrived at the East End of London and were greeted with two very unusual sights.  We were surprised to see cable cars high above and inquired about them.  Ian explained that the cable cars were called ‘The Emirates Airline’.  The cable cars located in East London takes passengers across the River Thames between the Royal Docks near Canning Town and the Greenwich Peninsula.  The ride takes 10 minutes and provides quite a view.

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The next odd sight was the Millennium Dome.  The Dome was originally constructed to house an exhibition of the Millennium Experience celebrating the beginning of the third millennium.  It never drew the visitors expected and now only the exterior exists as a curiosity.

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We moved along eventually passing the Tower Bridge.  I had to turn back as the bus made its way through a curve to get a shot.

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Once across the bridge we had a nice look at the  Tower of London.  It looked very different from our visit to London last fall.  Then, there were beautiful red porcelain poppies covering the grounds around the tower marking the start of WWI.  One shot I managed to get shows a building in the background called The Shard.

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Pedestrian and vehicle traffic was crowded as we made our way through London.  We stopped for a traffic light and I just happen to look out the window and saw two iconic British red telephone boxes.

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We finally made our way to Trafalgar Square.  The square was teeming with visitors, walking, talking, and taking pictures and children climbing on one of the four Landseer Lions.

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The square is home to so many beautiful landmarks.  There are the four Landseer Lions, Nelson’s column, statues of King George IV, James Napier, and King Charles I and the Trafalgar fountain, the National Gallery and St Martin-in-the Fields parish church. One of these tours I will make it a point to stop at this beautiful square and enjoy it up close and personal.

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We continued on to Parliament Square.  The square features an open green area in the center with statues of many historical notables.  There is a statue of President Abraham Lincoln among the notables.  Around the square can be seen the houses of Parliament, executive offices of Whitehall, the Supreme Court and Westminster Abbey.

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DSC00192On our way to Covent Garden for a ‘convenience’ stop, we got snared in a terrible traffic jam and detour.  Ian explained that there were rehearsals taking place to prepare for the Queen’s birthday parade also known as Trooping the Colour.  We just barely caught a glimpse of several people practicing as we made our way around the roundabout.

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Parking spaces were at a premium causing the bus to park a distance away from our stop.  We were given a time to return to the bus and we were off.  Covent Garden was only a few streets away.  We passed many shops and restaurants along the way.

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We explored a little and then looked for a sidewalk café to sit for a few moments and have a café latte and something to eat.  We stopped at Tuttons.  I knew our time was limited and asked the server if we could get a café latte and croissant quickly.  He assured me it was possible so we sat down.

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The café lattes were just the ticket and the croissant, served with butter and jam, was delicious.  We hurried back to the bus stopping once in a while to take a picture of things we found interesting.

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One corner that I found wonderfully interesting was on the corner of Kemble Street and Drury Lane.  The greenery and flowers framing this building was just wonderful.  There was even a green archway on the street.  This street was just lovely, lovely, lovely.

 

 

 

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Continuing our trip took us over the Westminster bridge and saw the London Eye observation wheel that gives visitors a 360° view of the capital and famous landmarks.

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I know that London has many, many bridges and I have only seen a few.  But today we passed a bridge I thought very beautiful.  The bridge is the Albert Bridge.  I loved the ornate look of the bridge as well as the subdued colors.  I would love to see this bridge at night.

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From the bridge we passed a line of lovely houseboats moored near Albert Bridge, various neighborhoods eventually making it to a major road on to the airport.

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I must say, the security at Heathrow was amazing.  Although we had to laugh when they pulled us over and went through our carry-on luggage.  I packed for sailing and forgot that we would be flying home.  I did not pack my liquids properly.  Plus, the agent seemed particularly interested in my small souvenir boxes.  Just as she was about to open one another agent came running over say, “It’s okay, they are eggs”.  Actually, they were small Faberge eggs while visiting Russia I purchased for my girls.  The agent provided me with small plastic bags for my liquids and let us goes.  I thought it was all very funny.

It was a long walk to our gate. There was Wi-Fi in the terminal and everyone was on some kind of device checking in with family and friends.  It is going to be an even longer flight home.

Tomorrow we will be home until the next adventure.

Enjoy,

Mary

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Lazy, quiet last day at sea

Blue skies, blue calm sea

Blue skies and blue, calm seas

The day started with wonderful promise.   We were greeted with blue skies and calm seas.

We dressed quickly and made our way up to the lounge and shared a great breakfast hour with Steve and LuAnn.

Today was our last day at sea.  Sea days are always abuzz with activity all over the ship.  There are towel folding demonstrations, enrichment talks, fitness classes, cupcake decoration classes, all manner of trivia throughout the ship, and a cornucopia of last minute sales at the shops.

We looked over the Cruise Compass and decided to pack a little before setting off to engage in one of these activities.

We decided to go to the photo gallery and make our selection of cruise photos and shop for souvenir tee shirts.  Randy always shops on the last day to get at least one, maybe two tee shirts from each cruise. The shop area was so, so crowded.  But we managed to purchase a few things and move on.

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A storm is coming bringing with it dark clouds and black seas.

At lunch time we went up to the Windjammer Lounge.  It was only in the mid-40’s making soup seem like the perfect lunch.  It was.  By now the weather had changed and it began to rain and the seas became increasingly rough.  Rough enough to close off the promenade deck to passengers.

After lunch we spent some time just walking around looking at all the venues we had stopped in during our cruise.  Periodically, we would stop at the railing and look down at the Centrum to see what was happening and then continue on.  Randy and I both agreed that one of our very favorite spots on the ship was the Colony Club.  At the back of the room is a bank of panoramic windows that afford passengers a wonderful view off the stern of the ship.  I love to just sit there staring at the waves and get lost in the moment.

We had become concerned about the weight of our luggage because we were bringing back a bit more than we brought on board.  I think somewhere along our cruise we lost track of what we were buying and worried that our luggage would be too heavy for our plane ride home.  Of course, the heaviest items were the jackets we purchased to ward off the cold weather in the Baltic.

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Fortunately, Dan and DeAnn had a travel scale which they graciously lent us.  We were very relieved when we discovered that our luggage was under the maximum weight.  That accomplished, we settled into the cabin for a rest before getting ready for the evening.

Cocktail hour was great.  We spent time with Steve, LuAnn, Tom and Maryann.  We said our goodbyes to the Diamond Lounge concierge and our favorite servers and said we hoped to meet them again on another cruise.

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Then down to the dining room for yet another great meal.  The Beef Wellington was just wonderful.  Just as dessert was to be served the maitre’d and servers burst into song and started to dance through the aisles and up to the curved staircase.

Everyone joined in singing along and waving their napkins in appreciation of all the wonderful service we had been given during the cruise.  I must say, the servers on every ship we have ever cruised are some of the hardest working people I have ever met.  Cheers and applause could be heard throughout the dining room for these wonderful people.

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The sun will not be denied and shines a beautiful bean down onto the sea

There was a farewell show this evening but, frankly, we just wanted to retreat to our cabin and finish our last minute preparations for morning.  We knew that morning would be a rush of activity and wanted to get a good night’s sleep.

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Another beautiful sunset on the horizon

As is my habit, I download all my pictures into my computer before retiring.  To my surprise, I realized that almost all of the pictures I had taken throughout the day were of the sea.  I think my subconscious is trying to tell me something.  What do you think?

Tomorrow is the end of our cruise docking in Harwich, England.  There will be a coach to pick up our group and whisk us away to Heathrow Airport.  But first, we will be treated to a panoramic tour of London.  Hopefully, it will not be raining.

Enjoy,

Mary

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A crazy, dramatic day at sea

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The beginning of a dreary day

In the wee hours of the morning I knew the seas had changed.  I went over to the balcony door and looked out at a very angry sea filled with whitecaps

We needed to be ready for an early morning tour of Skagen, Denmark.  So, off we went up to the lounge for a quick breakfast then down to the cabin to prepare to go ashore.

As the morning wore on the air grew colder, we started to experience 55mph winds, and the seas were now covered with whitecaps.

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IMG_2604Just as we were making our way to the theatre to wait for our tour to be called, the captain came over the intercom and announced that the harbor had been closed and we would not be going into Skagen.  We went out on deck and could see we were not the only ship in a holding pattern outside the port.

We were disappointed when we learned that the ship would not be stopping at Skagen.  I was especially disappointed that we would not see the Buried Church.  According to the literature, only the upper 2/3 of the tower can be seen.  Perhaps next time, we shall see.

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IMG_2607bWe left the cabin and were coming down a flight of stairs when we noticed a crew member dressed as a bear and a photographer on the landing.  I am sure that they were scheduled to be on the pier as passengers disembarked for their day in Skagen.

Mr. Bear seemed eager to have someone to pose for a picture with him; I gladly volunteered.  I managed to snag Randy too and then along came Steve and LuAnn and we got them involved.  What a fun way to start the day.

Then the captain came back on the intercom and announced that the ship would be holding fast for a bit as it awaited a helicopter to come and rescue a passenger in need of hospitalization.

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Despite the cold, extremely windy weather, the decks were filled with passengers awaiting the arrival of the helicopter.  Other passengers were poised in front of the many windows facing the bow of the ship.

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The helicopter was at the ship in 10 minutes.  When they first arrived, they dropped a paramedic on deck.  My understanding is that the paramedic would assess the situation and consult with the ship’s doctor before deciding what was to be done.

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While that was going on, the helicopter circled the ship going around and around until the pilot received final instructions to come and pick up the paramedic and the passenger.  It was all quite exciting.

The excitement over, we decided to stay in the lounge and do a bit of reading.  At noon we made our way to the Solarium pool, picked up some lunch and tried to find a place to sit.  However, every chair on the ship was at a premium so we went back to our cabin to enjoy our lunch.

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DSC00058We spent some time in the cabin relaxing, reading, checking out our pictures. After a while we decided to go the shops and browse a bit. The shops were crowded with passengers trying to find that last minute deal for tee shirts and other goodies to take home.  The shops were so crowded we decided to just take a leisurely walk around the ship and stopped at the Schooner Bar for photo op.

The afternoon went by so quickly and it already time to prepare for the evening. We dressed and made our way up to the lounge and enjoyed cocktail time, once again, with Steve and LuAnn.

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The captain came over the intercom again announcing that we would be turning around and heading to port.  Evidently, the husband of the woman who had been airlifted to the Skagen hospital wanted to go ashore and be with his wife.

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The Danish Coast Guard denied the ship’s request to return to the ship because of the heavy seas and it was not a medical emergency. The captain decided to lower a lifeboat and have the gentleman taken to shore.

Again, the decks and windows were full of curious passengers watching as the lifeboat made its way back to the ship.  There were times when you could not see this small boat as it was completely swallowed by the angry waves.  We stood for what seemed a very long time watching this small craft bobbing up and down in the waves.

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As the boat came alongside, cheers and applause erupted from the passengers saluting the bravery of the crew members.

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Dinner was delicious again this evening.  I ordered the Slow Roasted Pork coated with mustard and caraway seeds with pan gravy and roasted potato wedges.  The pork was so tender you could cut it with a fork.  Very nice.

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I followed the yummy main course with a Warm Chocolate Banana Strudel.  This yummy treat of chocolate and bananas all wrapped in phyllo dough with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce was decadently rich and delicious.

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DSC00073We had another surprise this evening when we learned that Don was celebrating a birthday too.  Our favorite assistant server, Christine stopped by to wish Don a happy birthday.  More cake, more candles and more singing made for a festive end to our delicious dinner.

We had already enjoyed tonight’s headliners on the Oasis last fall, and although we loved the group, Graffiti Classics, we decided to go to see “The Hobbit — the Battle of the Five Armies” in the movie theater.  We enjoyed the movie but missed having popcorn.  I think I will make that a recommendation.

Tomorrow we are at sea again.

Enjoy,

Mary

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Celebrating a relaxed day at sea with friends

It is going to be a wonderful day with calm seas and blue skies.

It is going to be a wonderful day with calm seas and blue skies.

What a beautiful day!!!

After four consecutive days visiting Estonia, Russia, Finland and Sweden, we were looking forward to a kick-back day cruising slowly in the Baltic on our way to Skagen, Denmark.

Even the temperature was cooperating being a delightful 63° and sunny.

Up early we made our way to the lounge to sip delicious café lattes and enjoy a light continental breakfast of fruit and pastries.  The other deliciousness of our morning was having Steve and LuAnn join us for a great time talking and laughing about our trip.

(from left) cruise director Clo, chief engineer, Ivo, Captain Stig and hotel director Joni.

(from left) cruise director Clo, chief engineer, Ivo, Captain Stig and hotel director Joni.

Today we decided to only attend three activities.  The first on our list was the Captain’s Corner in the theater.  As I have mentioned before, we enjoy listening to facts and figures about the ship and funny stories that are shared between Captain Stig, cruise director Clodagh O’Connor, chief engineer Ivo Marenic and hotel director Joni Gevriye.

They are so funny teasing one another and telling little silly stories about each other.  It is obvious from their easy way around each other that they enjoy working together; the audience does too

I was amazed when I learned that it took 18 months to construct the vessel at a cost of 500 million.   I also thought it was and interesting fact  that the Azipod marine propulsion units rotate 360° and can pull the ship 18 knots backward.  Pull, not push very interesting.

Joni talked about provisioning the ship and gave us an idea of what a week’s consumption of food on the Brilliance of the Seas added up to.  For example a weeks provisioning takes, 18,500 eggs, 4,760 lbs. rice, 12,500 lbs. vegetables, 556 lbs. coffee, 785 gals. Ice cream, 12,600 cans of beer, and 31, 345 lbs. chicken.

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Ivo, Mary and Joni

After the slide show presentation the captain invited the audience to a question and answer period.  I always find this period to be very interesting.  There are people in every audience who are very knowledgeable and ask very good questions which always please the captain.  They also stayed at the back of the theater and greeted the audience and posing for pictures.

After the talk we walked around the ship, lazily walking through the shops, stopping by the card room to pick up the daily puzzles and making our way up to the Windjammer for a quick lunch.

Randy standing on stage

Randy standing on stage

We had to eat quickly because we had been invited by the Crown and Anchor Society to participate in a backstage theater tour.

I have always admired the performers on cruise ships.  I cannot image how they keep their balance as they dance across the stage.  Today I was even more impressed as we walked behind the scenes and saw where they had to work.

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The tour started with several of the performers telling a little about themselves and then answering questions from the audience after which we were invited up on stage to start the tour.

We watch from the audience as they magically disappear behind the curtain and then reappear dressed in so many costumes during a performance.  I always imagined that the backstage was large and roomy for them to maneuver as they changed clothes.  Not!

The backstage area is narrow and crowded with electronics, wires and wardrobes filled with costumes for each member of the cast.  It is nothing short of a miracle that they are always where they should be on stage and dressed in the right costume.

Looking out at the audience.

Looking out at the audience.

It was interesting to be standing on stage and seeing what the performers see each and every night.  I found this tour to be very interesting.  Kudos to all the performers.

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Tonight is a formal evening so we started to prepare for the evening a little early and headed to the lounge for evening cocktails.  And, lo and behold, we met Steve and LuAnn and continued our conversation from the morning.  And, once again, we talked about traveling together again sometime in the future.  What fun that would be!

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Sal and Anna

Dan and DeAnn

Dan and DeAnn

 

I love dinner time especially on formal nights.  The dining room is filled with ladies and gents dressed to the nine’s and looking mighty fine.

 

 

I noticed that the menu included a dish I had tried on the first leg of the trip and ordered it because it was so good.  But, I was really surprised when it came to the table because it looked so different.  Our wonderful server asked me once again if I liked hot, spicy food because Tandoori Chicken is very hot.  I assured him I was looking forward to it.

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We got a surprise this evening as we learned that it was Rae’s birthday.  The maître’s brought over a special chocolate cake with a lit candle and everyone sang, “Happy Birthday”.  Rae was really dear is that Rae was totally surprised.  Wonderful, just wonderful.

 

 

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DSC09992After dinner we made our way to the Colony Club for a Crown and Anchor top-tier event that included brief talks by some of the senior crew, a little music, some dancing and some libations.

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As we walked in, we ran into Sal and Anna and we all sat together and had fun chatted away the early evening.

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We spent the rest of the evening enjoying the evening fade away turning the sky bright yellow and awaited yet another  beautiful sunset.

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As the sunset filled the sky with pink hues we were amazed that we could still see so many windmills on the horizon.

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We looked at each other and knew we had the same thought; what a beautiful day!

Tomorrow we are in Skagen, Denmark.

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Mary

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Lovely, lovely Old Town Stockholm

 

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Dark clouds filled the morning sky as we pulled into port today.  The temperature is only in the low 40’s and a threat of rain lingers in the air.

But, no worries, our tour today does leave until after lunch so hopefully the sky will clear and we can go on to visit Stockholm’s Old Town and Royal Palace.

Having fun with the camera and towel animal as Randy caught a few winks.

Having fun with the camera and towel animal as Randy caught a few winks.

With time to kill, Randy and I had a leisurely breakfast in the lounge, walked around on the promenade deck, took some pictures as we pulled into port and then hung out in our cabin until it was time to go down to the pier.

 

IMG_2417bWe boarded our bus around 1:30pm and enjoyed a nice ride through the city as we made our way to Stockholm’s Old Town.  At one point the bus stopped and let us off for a few minutes to enjoy the view of the city from across the lake.

Amusement park across the lake

Amusement park across the lake

While traveling to our destination, our guide gave us facts about Sweden and Stockholm.

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She told us that Sweden has a population of 9.7 million inhabitants with Stockholm having about 900,000.  The average temperature in Sweden is 32°F.  Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy.  And, Sweden is a Lutheran country with most residents participating in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden although there are many other religions and denominations in Sweden too.

“Freedom of religion is very important to us,” our tour guide stressed.

Today the temperature started at around 43° and was told that the temperature would most likely rise to 60° sometime in the afternoon.  We took our jackets anyway just in case.

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We finally arrived at the medieval Old Town home to the Royal Palace, Royal Chapel, wonderful statues, museums, cafes, restaurants, gift shops, cobblestone streets and ochre-colored buildings.

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DSC09870cOur first stop in Old Town was the Royal Palace.  The first thing we noticed was the guard standing at the entrance.  Randy looked over at the guard and asked, “Is that an adult or a teenager?”

Before we went inside our guide gave us a little history lesson.  The palace is the where official receptions are held.  The Drottningholm Palace is the royal family’s permanent residence.  We learned that the palace is built in the baroque style and has over 600 rooms.

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We entered on the street level and had to climb to the entrance to the palace.  Before we did, the guide said in no uncertain terms that we could not take any pictures while touring the palace.

As we passed the ticket station, we noticed a sign that picture a flash camera with a big “X” across it altering everyone that cameras could be used but no flash.  That prompted Randy to ask the clerk, “Is it okay to use a camera in the palace as long as I do not use a flash?”  The clerk answered, “That will be fine”.  He proceeded to take a few pictures and was chastised by the tour guide.  So, no pictures inside the palace.

The palace was beautiful. We walked from room-to-room admiring all the beautiful furnishings, walls, painting, chandeliers, wooden and mosaic tiled floors.  Each room different, each room beautiful.  I liked it very much.

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We walked through some of the narrow streets enjoying the views and came to a stop in front of the very tall obelisk.  We learned that the obelisk was commissioned by Gustav III as a show of gratitude to the burghers of Stockholm who guarded the city while the king was at war with Russia in 1788.

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Next, we turned our attention to the Cathedral just behind the obelisk.

The cathedral is consists of five sections and had a marble statue of Olaus Petri carved on the side of the cathedral facing the square.  We learned that Olaus Petri was a reformer who translated the bible into Swedish and had a critical role in the development of the Swedish language.

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We were given an opportunity to go into the Cathedral or continue on our walk.  Time was short so we decided to continue the walk.

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I just loved walking through the streets.  They were very narrow, cobblestoned and the buildings were beautiful colors.

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IMG_2368We stopped in one small courtyard behind the Finnish Church to admire a tiny statue resting on the ground called the Iron Boy Sculpture.  It was a little man with a pink knit cap and scarf standing on a small bench.  There were coins on the raised bench.  We were told that periodically, the nuns at a nearby convent knit the caps and scarves for the Iron Boy to keep him warm during Stockholm’s cold winter weather.  The money is collected and given to the poor.

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We passed a beautiful statue of St. George and the Dragon as we walked through Old Town.

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We eventually made it to the Great Square in Old Town.  We stood with our guide as she pointed to the historical buildings around the square.  Inside the square is the old Stock Exchange which now houses the Nobel Museum and the Swedish Academy.

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The group was then given 20 minutes to take advantage of browsing some of the shops or enjoying a snack at one of the many cafes and restaurants around the square.

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I bee-lined it to a souvenir shop to get magnets and then we chose a little sidewalk café to have a café latte. We chose the Café Kaffekoppen.  I asked the server if they had any specialties at the restaurant.  She highly recommended the blueberry pie.

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DSC09895What a great recommendation!  First of all, the slice was large, the crust was flaky, the blueberry filling was a bit tart but delicious and the vanilla cream was a taste delight.  The café lattes came in, what I thought the largest cups ever and had no handles.  The lattes were delicious too.  Of course, with so little time we had to eat quickly in order to make it back to our bus; but it was worth the effort.

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We boarded the bus as the sky started to gather dark clouds again and made our way back to the ship.  We made it back to the ship just in time to clean up a little and head up to the lounge where we met Steve and LuAnn and enjoy cocktails and great conversation.

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After eating the blueberry pie I was not very hungry for a large dinner and decided on just having a Caesar salad.  But when it came to dessert I could not resist the Low-fat Peach Melba with a low-fat almond cookie, poached peach, vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce.  Can you imagine eating two delicious desserts in one day?  Yummy!

 

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Randy and I wanted to enjoy the views of the Stockholm archipelago from our balcony of the as the ship made its way back into the Baltic.

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The banks were dotted with small villages, boat houses, boat of various sizes.

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We also passed many, many islands of various sizes.  Some islands were large with vegetation and lighthouses others were just outcroppings of rocks.  The view was beautiful.

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As the sun started to set pink hues could be seen crossing the evening sky.  The entire day was just lovely.

I asked Randy what he thought of Stockholm.  “Stockholm is a pretty city with very friendly people citizens and English is spoken almost everywhere.  Stockholm is a very nice place to visit and I really enjoyed the blueberry pie and huge café lattes at the sidewalk café,” he replied.

I guess that means we will be back someday.

Tomorrow we are at sea.

Enjoy,

Mary

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A leisurely bus tour of Helsinki, Finland

 

The Helsinki Cathedral

The Helsinki Cathedral

Today was another early day.   I stepped out onto the balcony as we made our way into port and was instantly chilled to the bone.  They sky was filled with dark gray clouds casting a pall on the city Helsinki skyline.

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It was too early to go to the lounge so we headed up to the Windjammer for a quick breakfast then down to the lounge for coffee.

Back to the cabin to grab out jackets, cameras, tickets, and off we went to the gathering place, the Pacifica Theater.  We ran into Steve and LuAnn, who, as it happens, will be on the same tour.  They were on bus six so I went over and got stickers for the same bus and we were off.

Our morning was going to be a relaxed combination bus tour with periodic stops for photo opportunities.

We had a very pleasant tour guide who spent her time town giving pertinent details about Finland along with its history.  She explained that Finland had been under Swedish rule for 800 years and Russian rule for 100 years.  Finland gained its independence in 1917.  Since then, Finland has always been a republic.

One of the first questions one of the tourist had for the guide was, “It is always bad or cold weather here”.

I thought her answer was very funny.  “We never think we have bad weather, just bad clothes” she replied.

She told us a few interesting facts about the Finnish people.  We learned that most people in Finland own their own homes.  Randy and I were blown away when we learned that everyone knows at least four languages.  They know Finnish, Swedish, English and either German or French as their fourth language.

One of the passengers asked how early the children of Finland learn how to ski.

“We do Nordic skiing here in Finland.  When our children are very small we put little skis on them and throw them out the door,” she answered.  This answer brought about a good deal of laughter from the passengers as it created interesting pictures in our heads.  Very funny!

Helsinki Cathedral in Senate Square

Helsinki Cathedral in Senate Square

Our first stop was to Senate Square.   The focal point of the square was the Helsinki Cathedral. 

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IMG_2168To get to the church we climbed what seemed to be a mountain of granite steps.  The inside of the church was beautiful.  The soft neutral colors on the interior walls, the light wooden closed pews, beautiful chandeliers and simple altar created a lovely and serene atmosphere.

 

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Statue of the Russian Emperor Alexander II

Statue of the Russian Emperor Alexander II

Also in the square is a statue of Russian Emperor Alexander II, the University of Helsinki and the Government Palace.

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The guide pointed to a small building across the street that was undergoing renovation. The Sederholm House is the Helsinki City Museum-Children’s town .  She explained that Children’s town is a hands-on museum that encourages children and adults to learn the history of Helsinki by participating in workshops from 18th –century Helsinki.  The Sederholm House was built in 1757 and is the oldest building downtown.

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As we drove along the coast road we passed a marina, a little park, and an open-air market.  As we passed the park she said, “We are basically green people.  We love parks”.

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We then made our way to the Temppeliaukio Rock Church.  Because of traffic, the bus had to stop about quarter mile from the church.  We were given 20 minutes to reach the church and return.

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IMG_2205IMG_2207Steve, Luann, Randy and I made it to the church in record time.  The interior of the church was very unique.

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IMG_2202This unique church was blasted into the rock and was amazing to visit.  The walls are made of quarried stone, the dome is lined with copper and the floor is polished concrete.  It was hard to move around as there were so many tourist constantly coming into the building.  The granite in Finland is red, mauve and grey.  I loved the granite walls; just beautiful.

Steve posing with crazy looking sign outside Anne's Shop

Steve posing with crazy looking sign outside Anne’s Shop

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We found another crazy sign.

On our way back to the bus, LuAnn and I wanted to stop quickly at a souvenir shop.  We stopped at the first one and, just like the church, it was filled to the rafters with tourist all vying for the attention of the clerks.  LuAnn and I were both able to accomplish our mission and we were, once again, making our way back to the bus.

As we drove along we passed other points of interest including the Natural History Museum, National Museum of Finland, the Olympic Stadium, the Helsinki Central railway station and Sibelius Park.

National History Museum

National History Museum

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The National History Museum is a research institution connected with the University of Helsinki and houses botanical, zoological, geological and paleontological specimens from all over the world.  I loved the playful giraffes on the second floor balcony and the moose on the street level of the building.  I thought they were quite whimsical.

National Museum of Finland

National Museum of Finland

The National Museum of Finland illustrates Finnish history from prehistoric times to the present.

Helsinki Central Railway Station

Helsinki Central Railway Station

The Helsinki Central Railway Station opened in 1919. The station is mostly clad in Finnish granite, and its distinguishing features are its clock tower and the two pairs of statues holding the spherical lamps, lit at night-time, on either side of the main entrance.

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The Olympic Stadium built in 1938, hosts both national and international sporting events and outdoor concerts. According to our guide, the stadium is one of Finland’s most-visited buildings.  The 1952 Olympic games were held in Helsinki.

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By the time we arrived at Sibelius Park the cloud cover disappeared revealing beautiful blue skies.  Sibelius Park was named after Finland’s greatest composer Jean Sibelius on his 80th birthday in 1945.

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Within the park is a large sculpture resembling organ pipes with an accompanying sculpture of the composer to the right.  The sculpture is meant to capture the essence of music.

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We were a little tired when we returned to the ship.  We decided to grab a quick lunch at the Windjammer and then go to the Solarium pool for a dip.

 

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I was really surprised at just how comfortable the water was as I stepped into the pool. The Solarium pool area is covered and the water is heated just a little making my ‘dip’ a wonderful decision.   Randy could not be swayed to join me opting instead to relax on a lounge chair and reading his magazine.

After a short time, we returned to the cabin and dressed for the evening.  Up to the lounge and visit with Steve, LuAnn.   We all agreed that we had a great time on the tour together and we should do it again in the future.  Eventually, Tom and Maryann joined us.

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DSC09778I loved dinner this evening.  I had the Chicken Marsala with Marsala-mushroom sauce, buttery mashed potatoes and asparagus.  The chicken was very tender; I loved it.  I decided after having a heavy meal I would choose something light for dessert.  I chose the Sugar-free strawberry Romanoff with macerated strawberries, cinnamon with sugar-free vanilla ice cream.  This dessert was just yummy!

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As dusk started to descend clouds were starting to, once again, cover the sky.  We returned to the cabin as the ship cruised away from Helsinki and made its way to Stockholm.  The shoreline was lovely dotted with small homes, a variety of boats and boat houses.

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By the time we made our way back into the Baltic a fog moved across the water hiding the sun giving it an ethereal, mystical aura.

Tomorrow we dock in Stockholm, Sweden.

Enjoy,

Mary

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Touring St. Petersburg with stops along the way

Church of the Spilled Blood (Resurrection of Christ Church)

Church on the Spilled Blood (Church of the Resurrection)

Today was going to be another early, busy, cold day.  We signed up for a panoramic tour of the city with stops at the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Church on the Spilled Blood.

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Dressed and ready to go we stopped briefly on the pier for our first photo opportunity.

The good news about this tour, it did not involve much walking and we would be able to see quite a bit of the city, tour the fortress, stop for photo opportunities and, at some point, stop to shop.

There was a message in the tour catalog alerting us to the fact that due to traffic and other conditions, the tour guides may alter tour itinerary and the order in which the tour is accomplished.

So many people on our bus inquired about shopping that the tour guide moved our stop to the souvenir shop from the finish of the tour to the beginning.  Everyone on the bus was delighted.

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IMG_1931The shop was quite nice and filled to capacity with beautiful souvenirs.  Randy spotted a large, fierce looking stuffed Russian bear in one of the rooms and just had to have his picture taken.  In another room you could get a cup of coffee or a little taste of Vodka.  Many people opted for the Vodka.  Very funny!

The one sad fact that she shared with us is that the Soviets turned many of the beautiful churches that grace the city into ordinary places to gather such as skating rinks, a decompression chamber for the Navy and other things that I cannot remember.

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Monument to Nicholas I by Velgelt

Monument to Nicholas I by Velgelt

Then we were off to start our tour in earnest.  Our first photo stop was St. Isaac’s Square where we could admire St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the monument to Nicholas I.  On our way, our tour guide shared little interesting facts about the city like the fact that St. Petersburg was a city of weird museums.  There are museums for cats, toys, dreams, non-conformist art, hygiene, water, political police and the list goes on.

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DSC09603dFrom there we proceeded to a park on Vasilievsky Island where we could see and admire the Rostral Columns, The Old Stock Exchange (which now houses the home of the Naval Museum) and a great view of the Peter and Paul Fortress across the Neva River.  The  columns were originally used as oil-fired navigation beacons in the 1800’s.

Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral

Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral

IMG_1939bIMG_1941bThe bus dropped us off at the entrance to the Fortress and we walked into a large parade ground.  There were benches in front of the Peter and Paul Cathedral so people could rest while being told about this beautiful building.

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We learned that the cathedral is the burial place of all the Russian Emperors and Empresses from Peter the Great to Alexander III.  She also pointed at the weathervane atop the cathedral’s beautiful golden spire and told us that it was an angel holding a cross and stands 122.5 meters.

We spent considerable time walking around the grounds as we listened to our guide explain the various sights we were seeing and giving us a little history of the fortress and cathedral.  Other buildings within the fortress include the City History Museum and the Mint, one of only two places in Russia where coins and medals are minted.

Statue of Peter I by Mikhail Shemiakin

Statue of Peter I by Mikhail Shemiakin

One of the more interesting sights was a bronze statue of Peter I (Peter the Great) in front of the guardhouse.  The whole statue looked out of proportion with a small head, large torso and skeletal fingers.  And, yet the tourist flocked to this unusual sight and clicked away with their cameras.

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Next, we made our way down to a view point looking across the Neva River where we could see the St. Petersburg skyline.  It was beautiful.  There were steps that led down to the water and, of course, Randy had to go down and test the temperature of the water.

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When he came back up the steps, all he said was, “Wow, that water is cold.  I would not want to put my foot in it”.

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We made our way back to the bus to head to our next photo stop, the Church on the Spilled Blood (originally known as Church of the Resurrection).

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From the moment we sighted the church from the bus window we knew it was going to be just amazing.  The church is so colorful and topped with beautiful onion domes that Russia is so famous for.  I could not wait to get off the bus.

DSC09634bWe were only given 20 minutes to walk to the church, take pictures and return.  There was so much traffic and so many people.  Not just tourists but buses, cars, trucks, vendors, locals dressed in period costumes offering to take pictures with the tourists, food carts; it was like a circus and all vying for the perfect picture of the church.

We did our best walking around and enjoying this beautiful building but because of the congestion on the street we could not get back far enough to capture the entire building.  Oh, well, maybe next time.

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The tour was coming to an end so the bus made its way back to the pier.  Along the way we managed to see some interesting sights.  One in particular was the two Sphinxes on the University Embankment.  I thought that was an odd sight.  By the time I realized what I was looking at the bus was well on its way passing it by.

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After a short rest in the afternoon, Randy and I prepared for the evening.  We met Steve, LuAnn, Tom and Maryann at the lounge enjoying a few cocktails and talking about our day.  Always fun!

When Randy talked about our tour he told everyone with great enthusiasm about our visit to the Church on the Spilled Blood, “We only saw this church from the outside and it is amazing how beautiful it is.  It is located next to a canal with thousands of people taking pictures and vendors selling their wares”.

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Dinner with our tablemates was, as always, wonderful.  I especially enjoyed my meal this evening.  I chose the Mustard-crusted Roast Beef dinner with au jus, Yorkshire pudding, potato gratin and fresh vegetables.  The dinner was delicious and very filling.  So much so, I could not eat a dessert.

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We left the dining room and went back to the cabin to watch as the ship left port and spend some time relaxing.  Randy enjoyed watching the pilot boat make its way back to the port.

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Me, I just sat on the balcony and waited for the sun to set.  For my patience, I was treated to yet another beautiful, explosion of color in the sky as the sun set slowly beyond the horizon.

Tomorrow we will dock in Helsinki, Finland.

DSC09595Enjoy,

Mary

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