Destination Ice Bar in Stockholm

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Today is our last-port-of-call and I know it is going to be a beautiful day.

Today we dock in Stockholm, Sweden.  Stockholm is the capital of Sweden and is spread out over 14 islands and has a population of over 750,000.

Pulling into port

Pulling into port

Randy and I visited Stockholm last year and took a very nice bus tour around the city and an informative walking tour of the Old Town.  We toured the Royal Palace, Cathedral and then took a wonderful walk through narrow streets to the Great Square where we enjoyed a delicious blueberry pie at one of the many sidewalk cafes.

But today, I have one goal in mind when we go ashore; I want to visit an ice bar.  Last year one of the couples at our dinner table took a tour that included a stop at an ice bar and, from their description; it was a lot of fun.

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IMG_5459I was up early, looked out the balcony window and the fog was so thick that all I could see was the railing.  But, by the time we disembarked the sun was up and the air was quite warm.

So, Doug, Sue, Randy and I set a goal to get on a Hop On – Hop Off bus and make our way to an Ice Bar.

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Not having to keep to a schedule, we hung out on our balconies watching the lines on the pier waiting for the buses. While we were talking, I noticed Vilma and the others already in line on the pier.  We tried to get their attention but to no avail.

We made our way down to the pier and after a somewhat long wait we finally got onto a bus and were on our way.  I was very excited when I noticed on the list of stops that the ice bar was stop 6.

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We enjoyed the ride around the city seeing all the wonderful sights we had seen last year and finally arrived at the ICEBAR at the Icehotel.  We did not know what to expect but were eager to get inside.  We were provided with a lined coat and gloves and we were ready for this long awaited experience.

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According to the information that was given to us the bar was, “Created entirely out of ice from the Torne River in northern Sweden, it is part of the renowned Icehotel in Jukkasjävi”. The Icebar is made out of 35 tons of ice and is kept at a temperature of 23° all year round.

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We stepped inside and I immediately felt as though I had entered a fantasy wonderland.  Everything in the bar was made of ice; walls, seats, bar, glasses.  What I found lovely were the animal ice sculptures and ice etchings along the walls.

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We walked all around the room looking at everything and reading everything before stopping at the bar to order our drinks.  One drink came with admission to the bar.  I ordered a drink called Eurasian Eagle-Owl made with Absolut Raspberry vodka, Proseco and Lemon & Raspberry.

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Randy ordered the Gray Wolf made with Absolut Vodka, Lingonberry and fresh lime.  The drinks were colorful, refreshing and delicious and served in glasses chiseled out of ice.  How fun!

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The four us drank, talked, laughed, and thoroughly enjoyed this fun experience.  We took pictures of everything we saw even stopping to put our heads into an ice etching of a reindeer.  Did I tell you this was fun?  Well, it was and then some.

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After finishing our drinks we asked what to do with our glasses.  The bartender pointed to an ice chute on the wall.  You place the ice glass on the ice chute and it slides down and disappears behind the ice wall.  How fun is that?

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But all good fun has to come to an end.  After about 40 minutes we left and made our way back to the bus stop.  The buses run 30 minutes apart and one had just left.  Fortunately for us, there was a cute little French restaurant within steps of the bus stop.

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We decided to have a snack while we were waiting.  The La Gare was great.  We ordered a Tarte de Tatin – French apple cake that was just delicious.  Before long the bus came along and we made our way back to the ship.

This was our last night on the ship so once we returned to the ship we went immediately to the cabin and finished packing.

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Vilma stockhold 2bWe were anxious to get up to the Concierge lounge to say our goodbyes to Dale, Karen and Craig.  Then it was off to dinner.  Vilma, Mickey, Betty and Jim had a great time on shore today too touring the city on a Hop On – Hop Off bus and stopping at the Laughing Duck for a local brew.

I asked everyone at the table what was their favorite tour(s) on both trips.  Vilma, Betty and Mickey all concurred that their two-day tour of St. Petersburg was absolutely their favorite.  While Randy, Doug, Sue and I all agreed that every stop while cruising around Norway was far and away our favorite.

The rest of the evening was spent enjoying our balcony and watching the sunset on our last night of this wonderful cruise.

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Tomorrow we disembark, take a city tour and transfer to the airport where our hotel is located.

IMG_5512bEnjoy,

Mary

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A lovely, tasty day in Riga, Latvia

Riga Castle and skyline

Riga Castle and Old Town skyline

What a wonderful day!

I knew it was going to be a wonderful day as soon as we woke up and saw the sun shining in the middle of a light blue sky and the weather forecast was calling for temperatures to be in the mid-eighties.

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau

Today our port-of-call is Riga, Latvia.  Riga is the capital of Latvia and has a population of over 700,000.  Riga is also on UNESCO’s World Cultural and Natural Heritage list.

Walking around Old Town

Walking around Old Town

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We were up early, grabbed a quick breakfast and down to the pier for our ‘Taste of Riga’ tour of the city enjoying foods and beverages unique to the region.

Town Hall

Town Hall

We were blessed with a very friendly and knowledgeable tour guide.  On our way into town we she explained that the area had just celebrated the summer solstice and so we would not be seeing many people in the town.

Museum of Foreign Art

Museum of Foreign Art

Evidently, the residents go out into the country to celebrate and then sleep the next day.  Well, today is the day they would be sleeping.  She was quick to add that there would be some people in town to take care of visiting tourists.

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Livu Square with many outdoor cafes and the guild house. (white building to the right)

It was very interesting to us all that as we arrived at the entrance to the city the bus was pulled over and they conducted a breathalyzer test on the driver.  If he had been found to be intoxicated they would have taken him off and a new bus driver would have been assigned to our tour.

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We started at the Central Market. The five halls  at the market were once used as zeppelin hangars.  As we arrived we noticed that there were a few stands open and a few people milling about.  We walked to a large tented table and what a treat for the eyes.

market 1There on the table was a display of cheeses, breads, pork, fish, candy, cheese cake, cabbage, pickles, and non-alcoholic beer for us to sample.  As we sampled the foods the servers explained what each food was.  Everything we tasted was delicious.

House of the Blackheads

House of the Blackheads in Town Hall Square

The Roland Statue

The Roland Statue

 

Our next stop was at the Town Hall Square with the beautiful architecture of the House of the Blackheads, City Hall, Roland Statue and others.  Many of these buildings had to be reconstructed after WWII.

Riga Cathedral

Riga Cathedral in Dome Square

From the square we wound our way in Old Town down medieval streets and alleys on our way to a pub for beer and snacks.  We passed beautiful art nouveau buildings along the way.  We eventually arrived at Dome Square and the Riga Cathedral and the Museum of Foreign Art.

The Three Brothers

The Three Brothers

We continued our walk stopping by a group of buildings call the Three Brothers.  According to our guide these buildings are the oldest medieval dwellings in Riga and, according to legend; these buildings were built by three men of one family. Standing in the front of one of the buildings was a musical group who entertained us with a very nice rendition of America the Beautiful.  I thought that was very nice.

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Then it was on to the Alus Arsenāls pub.  The pub was in the basement.  We had to descend down a narrow staircase with a very low ceiling.  I was a little worried about Randy, Doug and Sue as they are all very tall.  We were invited into a long, narrow room with a table set with a variety of beers and appetizers.

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Oh my, what a spread.  Each place was set with four full glasses of different beers and plates with cheeses, fish, toasted brown bread and a garlic cheese spread.  One thing I have come to love while traveling around Norway and the Baltic States is the different breads I have tried.  They are earthy, crusted breads with wonderful flavors.  The last beer, a red one, was a ginger beer.  Randy and I did not like that one.

Livu Square

Beautiful buildings, cafes, sculptures, gardens, and Riga’s symbol the ‘cat’ atop The Cathouse.

Then we were on our way past the parliament building to Livu Square.  This square was just charming with cobblestone streets, beautiful architecture, many outdoor cafes and a grassy area where the flowers are planted in waves.  I learned that the area was once a river which the city was named after and the flower beds are planted in waves to remind people of the lost river.  I loved the stone face sculpture along the path and the story of the cat atop a building in the square.  The building is called The Cat House. The story was very funny.

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We continued our walk finally arriving at our last tasting destination, the Black Magic Bar.  The front of the bar was actually a bakery and candy store that smelled wonderful.  We continued walking to the back room filled with a variety of stuffed chairs and couches, candles and low tables set with glasses filled with black current juice, Riga Black Balzam and a plate of candied nuts.

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We were given a short presentation about the history of the drinks we were about to enjoy.  We learned that Riga Black Balzam is a dark and stringent liqueur made of 24 herbs and has remained unchanged for 250 years.  The liqueur was indeed strong but I loved it.  The black current juice was delicious as well.

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The speaker also talked a little about the candy that is sold in the store and as she was talking she opened a small box and a beautiful paper butterfly suddenly flew out of the box much to the delight of all those in the room. I loved it. I loved the candy too!

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View from the bridge of the modern part of the city.

From the bar we made our way back to the bus and returned to the ship.  The entire ride all I could think about was how wonderful our day had been.  Everything about this tour was wonderful, the town was beautiful and the food absolutely delicious.

By the time we made it back to the cabin we had just a little time before drinks and dinner.  After eating and drinking so many wonderful things earlier I was not really very hungry and decided to order an appetizer for dinner.  I love the Thai-Style Chicken Salad with green curry-coconut chicken strips, glass noodles and crisp greens and that was just plenty.

Mickey - Old town Riga

Vilma - Latvia 2 Moonshine Restaurant

 

 

 

During dinner Vilma and the others shared their experiences in Riga.  They obviously had a wonderful time too.

 

 

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Although tired, Randy and I were anxious to attend tonight’s headliner show.  Tonight the headliner was an ABBA tribute group called ABBAMAX.  We were both glad we attended the show; they were wonderful.  I clapped my hands, tapped my feet and sang along to my favorite ABBA songs.  I thought this was a treat to see as our next port-of-call is Stockholm, Sweden.

After the show Randy and I made our way down to the photo shop to pick up our last pictures and found the shop closed.  Evidently, it would take quite a while before we would, once again, be in international waters and so the shops could not open.  We were told to come back at 10 PM which then turned into 11 PM.

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What to do, what to do as we waited.  We decided to take a walk on the deck and watch the sunset and spotted Mickey and Betty.  We stood for quite a while watching the sun slowly settle behind the horizon filling the sky with bright hues of yellow and red.  All of a sudden the wind picked up and it was cold.  Betty and I retreated inside the door to stay warm.  We left Betty and Mickey and continued our walk around the ship.

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A little later we walked over to the Centrum and found a 70’s Disco Street Party in full swing.  There were crew members in the Centrum, decks 5 and 6 and some even in elevators dancing to many 70’s hits.  The Centrum was full to capacity with partying passengers. And, of course, what would a 70’s party be with the Village People?  They were there too.  At the end of the show balloons fell from high above.  The show was fun, fun, fun!

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We were up on deck 5 looking down on the festivities.  I decided to walk over to another railing to get a better view and ran into Betty and Mickey again.  Mickey was sporting a large, plastic, ring with blinking lights that the crew threw into the audience every so often.  Very funny.

We watched the show for a while and then returned to the photo shop, picked up our pictures and retired to our cabin.

Today was a wonderful day, one that will bring a smile to my face every time I think of all the beautiful things we saw and the delicious regional food and beverages we enjoyed.

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Tomorrow we dock in last port-of-call Stockholm, Sweden.

Enjoy,

Mary

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Lovely, relaxing sea day

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Our lovely group–Top from left-Jim and Vilma–Betty and Mickey. Bottom from left-Doug and Sue–Randy and Mary

I love sea days.  I especially love that we are having a sea day today.  I had a very restless night dealing with a constant ache in my left knee.

Randy was up early and offered to bring down a cup of coffee for me from the lounge before he left to meet Jim for a tour of the bridge.  As soon as he left the cabin I fell fast asleep and did not wake until 10:30 AM.

View from the bridte

View from the bridge

Randy had mentioned the bridge tour to Jim earlier in the cruise and invited him to come along.  Randy told Jim that we had participated in the bridge tour while on the Serenade in February and thought Jim would enjoy it.IMG_0558b

Randy felt that because Jim was a pilot he would enjoy the tour and understand the numerous gauges and scopes on the bridge.

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Randy told me that, “Jim seemed very comfortable with all that was said and enjoyed it, asking technical questions”.  Jim asked the crewman in charge of the tour, “Where did the terms ‘port’ and ‘starboard’ come from?”

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The crewman said that the terms came from ancient times.  That said, Jim explained to the group that the old merchant sailing ships only had one side that was built for a gangway to load and unload goods and passengers, so that side was referred to as the port side.  Randy said the crew and visitors enjoyed Jim’s input.

Once the tour was over Jim told Randy that he really enjoyed the tour and appreciated Randy asking him to go on the tour.

“Did you enjoy the tour too?” I asked.

“I had a great time.  It was really nice to spend some time doing something with Jim,” he replied.

While he and Jim were on the tour, I did a little preliminary packing, sent some clothes down to be laundered and sat quietly on the balcony until Randy returned.

There are only two more stops on this leg of the cruise so we spent the rest of the morning doing little chores around the ship.  The chain on my Crown & Anchor necklace had broken so we took it down to the jewelry shop and they were kind enough to repair it for me.  Next we went to the photo shop and purchased our special moment pictures.  Then we were off to the Next Cruise office to sign up for a cruise in 2017.

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On our way to the Solarium so Randy could get some lunch, we spotted a towel demonstration taking place in the Centrum.  The crew made a hanging monkey, elephant, kissing swans, a frog, a rabbit and an alligator.  I love towel animals.

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We made it up to the Solarium and I laughed when I spied a funny looking blue towel octopus outside on the pool deck.  I loved the little details of placing a hat on the octopus and goggles with ping pong balls for eyes.  Very funny!

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We returned to our cabin for an afternoon of just kicking back before preparing for the evening.  When we entered the cabin there was a plate of sweet goodies waiting for us courtesy of the hotel director, William Downey.  They were all devoured quickly and were delicious.

This is actually a Lemon Drop but there were so many cherries in it, the drink turned pink.

This is actually a Lemon Drop but there were so many cherries in it, the drink turned pink. Very funny!

Cocktail time was wonderful as always having fun with our friends.  Tonight was our last formal night so everyone looked wonderful.  I had not eaten all day, save the few sweet treats this afternoon, so I went all out.

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IMG_5142I ordered the house salad with Boston and oak leaf lettuce, vine-ripened tomatoes and sunflower seeds with light vinaigrette.  For my main course I ordered the Three-cheese Tortelloni with sautéed mushrooms and mascarpone cream sauce.  And as a wonderful finale, I ordered the Ivory Chocolate Mousse.  The entire dinner was wonderful.

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We decided to forgo the evening’s entertainment and instead see if we could find a seat in the Centrum and listen to the sounds of Just Us Duo.  The keyboardist was amazing and the singer had this wonderful earthy, jazzy tone to her voice that was a treat to my ears.  They played and sang a nice variety of old and new songs for listening and dancing.

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IMG_5144bWe had heard this pair of entertainers many times passing by the Centrum but the room was always so crowded we would just walk by; but not tonight.  As always it was difficult to find a chair.  We sat at the bar for a short while until two chairs came available.  After a short while Jim showed up and voilá a couple of seats opened up behind us and shortly Vilma came along.  A little later we saw Betty and Mickey up on deck 6 looking down and then they joined us.

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We turned our chairs around and we talked a bit and watched Jim and Vilma dance.  Randy and I finally got up twice but only to slow songs.  No jitterbugging for me with my knee.  Karen was in the area and came over to ask how I was feeling.  We chatted a bit and then I introduced her to our friends.

It had been a really nice laid-back day but my leg needed to be up off the floor.  We said our good nights and returned to our cabin to relax for a little while before turning off the lights.

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Tomorrow we will be taking part in a walking tour around Riga, Latvia.

IMG_5158Enjoy,

Mary

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A relaxed, fun day in Helsinki

Helsinki Cathedral

Helsinki Cathedral in Senate Square

I was up early again today and stepped out onto the balcony and saw cloudy skies and thick fog as we made our way into our next port-of-call, Helsinki, Finland. As we prepared to start our day we both hoped it would clear away for when we went ashore.

Helsinki is the capital of Finland and has a population of over 600,000 people, many green parks, 300+ islands and 1 sea fortress.

We made our way up to the lounge where we met Doug, Sue, Karen and Dale and had a great time chatting away while we sipped delicious cups of café latte and ate a small continental breakfast.

Today we planned to go ashore and take a Hop On – Hop Off bus to the center of town. Randy and I visited Helsinki last year  and took a very nice bus tour all around the city and made many stops at lovely points of interest.  When Sue and I talked about what we would like to do in the city I only had two wishes.

I wanted very much to return to Senate Square and visit the Helsinki Cathedral which I had fallen love with last year and find a really good sidewalk café and have a great lunch.  So, that is what we did.

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By the time we boarded the bus the sun was high in the sky and the temperature was very comfortable.  It was a very pleasant ride as we wound our way around the city passing beautiful neighborhoods, a beautiful waterfront, a beautiful parks, museums, statues, churches and finally arriving at Senate Square.

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At one point I looked over at Doug and Sue and smiled as I watched Sue painstakingly taking notes about the city highlights we would see along the way for her blog http://www.suestravelupdates.wordpress.com.

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Helsinki City Museum (1757) Children’s Town

There were so many buses around the square, there were people everywhere.  It seemed as though everyone was in one spot taking a picture of the statue of Tsar Alexander II of Russia.  What was funny is that most of the people were drawn to the statue because there was a pigeon perched on top of Alexander’s head.  Sue was drawn to this sight too.  It was very funny.

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We walked around a bit taking a few photos and decided to find a restaurant.  We did not see any restaurants immediately around the area so decided to walk down a nearby alley and were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves at the city center.

 

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What a lovely street.  Down of the middle of the street was the beautiful park that ran down the entire length of the area.  We walked along admiring the architecture of the buildings stopping periodically to look at the menus displayed at the outside cafés.  The menus were varied and very expensive.

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One sight that caught our eyes was the many trees in the park that were draped in polka dot fabric.  I was curious if there was some significance to the polka dot trees.  What I learned is that Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, known for her public works of art, draped 20 trees in the Esplanade park and the Winter Garden with the polka dot fabric in a ceremony called ‘Ascension of Polka Dots on the Tree’ on June 12th of this year.  I must say it was wonderfully eye catching as we walked by.  From what I read, “The polka dots represent many things to the artist such as the Sun, which provides energy for life and to the entire planet”.  I must say the trees were wonderfully eye catching.

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As we continued our walk we started to look down the side streets to see if we could find a more reasonably priced café to have lunch.  On the way we stopped at a storefront that I knew would make my daughter Kristine smile.  We stopped at the Louis Vuitton store and took a picture of me pointing to the name.  I did the same thing outside the Louis Vuitton store in Paris.  Very funny!

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We walked a few more blocks and finally found a side street that had a very wide pedestrian walkway lined with shops and restaurants.

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Again, we read several menus finally choosing a restaurant called Stone’s that advertised that the restaurant put on emphasis on locally produced and organic ingredients and an extensive selection of specialty beers.  What a find, I thought.

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Randy and I looked over the menu and chose beers that sounded interesting.  I chose the Plevna Mosaic Vehna/Wheat and Randy chose the FlyingDog Doggie Style Pale Ale.  Both were cold, refreshing and delicious.

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We all love burgers so we all ordered the “Jack & Jones” a homemade organic beef burger served with bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, mayonnaise, tomato, lettuce, their own ketchup and fries.  What surprised us though was when the waitress mentioned that included in this meal we could go inside and enjoy the soup and salad bar.

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The soup was a creamy carrot and delicious.  The salad included marinated cherry tomatoes that were just wonderful.  By the time the burgers came I thought, can it get any better than that? It did, the burgers were placed between a wonderful seeded roll, the burgers were plump and juicy and the housemade tomato ketchup was very different and delicious.  This restaurant was a great find!

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We just sat for the longest time enjoying our lunch, soaking up the sunlight and watching the many locals and tourists that passed by.  The one sight that I was a little saddened by was seeing a woman down on the ground with her hands in a prayer position begging.  I watched for quite a while and never did see anyone stop.  By the time we left the restaurant she had gone away.

National Theater with the Alexis Kivi statue in front.

National Theater with the Alexis Kivi statue in front.

We decided to walk back to Senate Square passing by the Helsinki Central railway station and the National Theater with the Alexis Kivi statue in front.

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We enjoyed our walk back to Senate Square.  Sue and I decided to go inside the Helsinki Cathedral.  The interior of this beautiful church is very simple.  I love this church.  From the moment I stepped into this church last year I felt a sense of serenity that I had not felt in a long time.  I was surrounded by that feeling once again as Sue and I entered.

According to the churches’ official site, “The beautiful and historically significant Helsinki Cathedral is an Evangelic Lutheran church, and for many it is the symbol of Helsinki”.  The church was completed in 1852.

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Senate Square-Helsinki Cathedral, University of Helsinki, National Library of Finland and Government Palace.

We spent a few moments inside then went outside to stand at the top of the stone steps facing the square.  Randy came along and took a panoramic picture for me.

Helsinki SkyWheel

Helsinki SkyWheel

Out door market with Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral in the background.

Outdoor market with Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral in the background.

We then made our way to the bus stop and started our bus ride back to the cruise terminal.  We rode the rest of the way passing by many other important sights in the city.

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We returned to our cabin for a bit of a rest before preparing the evening.  I stepped out onto the balcony for a few moments and spied a pair of sea gulls flying around the ship and finally coming to rest on the railing.  I love watching sea birds as they fly past our balcony and then soar high above the ship.

Vilma - Helsinki

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Organ in the Rock Church

Mickey - Helsinki

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cocktails and dinner were, as always wonderful.  We listened as Vilma and the others talked about their day hopping around the city.

After dinner, Randy, myself, Doug and Sue made our way to the Safari Lounge for a ‘Top Tier’ event being hosted by the Crown & Anchor Society.  It was a lovely event as top cruisers were recognized some receiving bottles of champagne and others certificates.

(from left) Dale, Karen and Craig.

(from left) Dale, Karen and Craig.

I knew that Dale and Karen had recently become Pinnacle members (700 nights) but what we all learned this evening is that our friend Craig had become a double Pinnacle member having spent over 1500 nights on Royal Caribbean cruise ships.  How wonderful, I thought.  I jumped up from my chair and ran to capture the moment.

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It had been a long, fun day and Randy and I were very tired.  We returned to our cabin for an evening of rest and relaxation.

Tomorrow we are at sea.

IMG_5030bEnjoy,

Mary

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Palace intrigue and the canals of St. Petersburg

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Cruising along the canals of St. Petersburg

I woke up this morning at 5 AM.  Randy was sleeping so peacefully I did not want to waken him.  I peeked through the curtains to see a dreary morning sky and rain drops falling quietly on the balcony.

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I noticed that several other cruise ships had arrived this morning.  By 7 AM I was ready to start my day and jumped into the shower and dressed.

Around 8:30 AM we made our way up to the lounge for coffee.  Before too long Doug joined us and then Dale and Karen.  Sue had an appointment for a massage and joined us later.  We all sat around sipping coffee after a bit of breakfast and laughed away the morning hours.

We returned to the cabin to get ready to go through immigration once again and meet our tour bus.  Today we will be taking a tour entitled, “Rivers and Canals of St. Petersburg and Yusupov Palace”.

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The air was thick with fog and rain this morning as we made our way to our first stop at the opulent palace of the Yusupovs.  The Yusupov Palace was also the place where the murder of Grigory Efimovich Rasputin was planned and carried out.

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There was more than one tour group in the palace and no discernible line so everyone had to be vigilant to keep up with our tour guide Irina.  We slowly walked from one room to another with each room seeming more opulent than the other.

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There was a beautiful theater accessed by a beautiful white marble staircase in the lower quarters of the palace complete with stage, balcony and boxes completely decorated in red velvet and gold gilt.

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The ceilings, walls, floors were almost as beautiful as the furniture, paintings, chandeliers and other pieces of art in the palace.  There were pictures of the family and the monarchy throughout the house and Irina shared little stories about each one.

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One of the murderers (standing) Rasputin (sitting) So life-like it was amazing!

The conspirators

The conspirators

My very favorite room in the entire palace was the little dining room in the basement. We turned into the room and saw a Madam Tussaud wax recreation of the murder of Grigory Efimovich Rasputin. . As we stood by, Irina recounted the events of that fateful night.  It was quite interesting.

The recounting of the murder was almost comical if it was not so tragic.  Evidently, Rasputin could not be killed.  During the evening the murderers tried to poison him, shoot him several times and eventually threw his body into the Malaya Nevka River.  According to his autopsy, a small amount of water was found in his lungs leading people to believe that he was still alive when thrown into the river.  Amazing.

Over the years I have read several Russian history books and novels so I was very excited to see and hear about this murderous event in the very home it occurred in.  I found it fascinating.

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Afterwards, we made our way back to the cloak room, retrieved our belongings, wound our way through very congested streets to meet the canal tour boat for our cruise along the Moika River.

 

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While we were in the palace the rain had stopped and the air was actually getting a little warmer.  By the time Randy and I boarded the boat all the seats on top were taken so we had to go inside. There was plenty of seating and the windows of the boat opened assuring us of clear views of the landmarks we would be passing as we cruised along.  After a while, Sue came down and told me there was one seat left and off I went.

View of Michael's Castle cruising along the canal

View of Michael’s Castle cruising along the canal

It was quite interesting to see the city from the viewpoint of the canals and rivers.  The boat cruises along at a nice steady speed and a steady stream of information about what we were seeing was announced over a loud speaker.

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Interesting to be riding on the top deck when going under the bridges.

There are fifteen bridges that span of the Moika River all with different and distinct decorations and several bridges that are different colors.  There is a blue, green and red bridge.  As we traveled under the bridges people could be seen waving as the boats went by.  We learned later that Vilma and the others stood on one of the bridges waving at the boats hoping we would see them.  We did not but how fun would have been!

The Marble Palace

View of the Marble Palace from the Neva River.

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View of the Peter and Paul Fortress from the Neva River.

We also went out onto the Neva River giving us a beautiful view of the Hermitage, the Peter and Paul Fortress as well as other important sites along the city landscape.  According to what I read, “Now more than 20 bridges span the river and its armlets.  Most of these bridges are bascule bridges and are opened at night during the navigational season for large vessels to pass through”.

This was to be a four hour tour but it was obvious that it had gone a bit longer.  Part of that was due to the fact that traffic was thick as mud making our return to the ship very slow.  As we pulled into the port we noticed that several other buses suffered the same fate.

The immigration officers hurried us through quickly and we went directly to the dining room where we joined Vilma, Jim, Mickey and Betty and had a great time sharing stories about our last day in St. Petersburg.  Everyone had a good time.  Doug and Sue had a reservation at Chops Grille.

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Church of the Spilled Blood

Church of the Spilled Blood

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The Trinity Izmailovsky Catherdral

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While we were visiting the palace and cruising along the canals Vilma and the others were finishing their great two-day tour of the city.

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Three Cheese Tortelloni with sauteed mushrooms and mascarpone cream sauce

IMG_4995bDinner was exceptionally good this evening as the head waiter took an interest in bringing our dinner to us at a much more pleasing temperature.  Dinner was the best we have had so far.

The dining room staff put on a show for that was musical, lively and just plain fun.  They do this a couple of times during the cruise to show their appreciation for our supporting the cruise line.

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I went on to the cabin while Randy and Jim went to deck 5 to watch the ship make its way through the channel. When he returned I asked where he and Jim had gone to.

“During dinner I talked to Jim about the area we would be going through on the way to the Baltic Sea.  I told him that we would be able to see old and new Russian ships and old WWI and WWII defenses,” Randy said.

He went on to say, “We went out on deck together and saw the things I was talking about, then went in to the Centrum found a place to sit and had a drink together.  Then we talked about old times together, cars and guns,”.   He smiled and said that he enjoyed this quiet time with Jim and I thought, very nice.

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Tomorrow we will be in Helsinki, Finland.

Now we have three.

Now we have three.

Enjoy,

Mary

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Experiencing local life in St. Petersburg, Russia

Kuznechney Market

Kuznechney Market

Today we docked in St. Petersburg, Russia and were very happy to see bright, sunny skies and learn that temperatures would reach the mid-seventies.

Beautiful staircase in the Hermitage

Beautiful staircase in the Hermitage

 

 

We will be in St. Petersburg for two days. Last year we visited St. Petersburg and had an amazing tour of the Hermitage Museum.

 

 

Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral

Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral

The second day we visited the  Peter and Paul Fortress and had an informative bus tour around the town with several stops including the Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood with its beautiful onion domes.

At the end of that trip I had mentioned to Randy that if we ever came this way again I would love to go the Katherine’s summer palace and the Peterhof palace.  However, after Sue and I talked we both decided to participate in tours that gave us a feel for what it would be like to live in the city and see the city from the perspective of the canals.

We slept in, which for us, meant sleeping until 7 AM. We dressed quickly and made our way up to the lounge for breakfast with Doug, Sue and Karen.  We were in no rush because our scheduled tour did not begin until 1:30 PM.

It was suggested that passengers participating in tours arrive at immigration at least 45 minutes early because the lines are long and the process slow.  We went down to the port by 12:30.  As it turned out the lines were shorter than the last time we were here but they were still very slow.

As we stood in line one of the doors suddenly opened and an immigration officer burst through the door and yelled, “Why are you here?  Are you on a tour?”  Then when we responded yes she yelled, “Why are you here so early?” and slammed the door shut behind her.  Within a few minutes two more immigration officers were in place and the line started to move a little faster.

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We boarded the bus for a short ride into downtown St. Petersburg and readied to go down into the Metro for our train ride to the Kuznechny Market.  After our guide gave us each one train token we walked a short distance to the Metro station.  The St. Petersburg Metro system was opened in 1955 and has 67 stations traveling on 5 lines.

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I could not believe how far down we had to ride the escalator.  We learned that the system’s deepest station, Admiralteyskaya is 86 meters below ground.  Can you imagine?  Riding the metro today was to serve two purposes.  First was to get a feel what it would be like for a resident to move about the city using mass transportation.  Second was to see and enjoy the beauty of the several stations.

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We rode the Green line passing four stations, boarded a second train on the Red line finally arriving at the stop that would take us to the market.  As we walked through the stations we were amazed at the beautiful marble walls, wonderful chandeliers, bronze plaques, mosaics, golden carvings, murals and beautiful statues creating a museum feel to the stations.  We learned each station is dedicated to something important in Russian history.  I must say it really was quite impressive.

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IMG_4669We finally arrived at our stop and proceeded to the Kuznechny Market.  The market was built in the 1920’s and houses open-air food and fresh produce stands, glass display cases filled with meats and cheeses, flowers, handicrafts and so much more. Everything in the market looked and smelled very fresh and I was impressed that samples were available for the asking.

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But what I found a little dismaying is the level of disrepair of the market.  The counter tops were crumbling, there were tiles missing and at least one of the scales was very rusted and the floors were in terrible shape.  It was as though nothing had been done to keep the market in good repair for a long time.

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While Randy and I waited for the others to come out of the market I walked around the street a little and came across a sign that looked familiar.  It was a Starbucks sign.  It really is a small world, I thought.  Sue bought some delicious Bing cherries to share while we waited for everyone to gather together and start our walk to the next stop on our tour.

Our Lady of Vladimir

IMG_4691bWe walked for quite a while through an interesting part of the city walking past a beautiful church all covered in sheeting for renovation and finally arrived at the Biscuit Restaurant.  This restaurant was ready for our group with tables set with bottles of water, small chocolates and a slice of chocolate cake.  A very nice server came along and offered to fill our cups with hot coffee.

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IMG_4697bIMG_4698bAfter our very long walk through the city, sitting down for a short rest, hot coffee and chocolate was a treat indeed.  The coffee was some of the best we had had so far.  The cake was creamy like a mousse and the candy tasted just like a favorite of mine when I was a child.  These tiny morsels of chocolate were filled with fruit and nuts and quite good.

View of the Hermitage as we rode down the Nevsky Pros

View of the Hermitage as we rode down the Nevsky Prospekt

On our way back to the ship the bus took us on a tour of the city down Nevsky Prospekt pointing out many of the city’s prominent buildings.  Traffic was a nightmare.  I wondered if every resident in the city owned a car.  We moved along at a snail’s pace.

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Catherine's summer palace

Catherine’s summer palace

 

While we were busy traveling around the city Vilma and the others were on their first day of a two-day tour that would take them to Catherine’s Palace, , the Hermitage, Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Issacs, Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood and the Peterhof Palace.  Today they visited Catherine’s summer palace, the Peterhof Palace and had a fabulous lunch in small cabins.

 

 

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After a busy day of walking I was ready for a quiet evening.   With that in mind, we made our way up to the lounge for a cocktail, then down to the dining room for a great meal, and finally, back to the cabin for a good night’s sleep.

I asked Randy how he felt about the day. “Our tours were very nice and informative and I loved the stop for coffee and cake”.

Tomorrow we are on our second tour in St. Petersburg.

Now I have two

Now I have two

Enjoy,

Mary

 

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Beautiful, charming Old Town Tallinn

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View of the Tallinn skyline from our balcony.

We woke up this morning to another cold, (58°) rainy day.  We did not rush to breakfast but took our time hoping the rain would stop.  From our balcony we could see Old Town Tallinn’s skyline with its many beautiful church steeples and storm clouds above.

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View of old city from Toompea Hill

Doug, Sue, Randy and I decided we would walk into town and visit lower Old Town.  Last year Randy and I had taken a bus tour seeing the highlights of this beautiful town followed by a walking tour that took us up to Toompea Hill and Palace Square.  We loved this beautiful medieval city so much that we vowed to return someday.  Well, that someday is today.  Jim and Vilma wanted to walk around the medieval town on their own.  Unfortunately, Mickey was not feeling very well so she and Betty decided to remain on board as she did not want to run the risk of getting sick before we arrived in St. Petersburg.

Tallinn is Estonia’s capital located on the Baltic Sea.  Tallinn’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This charming city is filled with pastel colored gabled houses, hidden courtyards, many beautiful churches, and is surrounded by stone walls dotted with imposing guard towers.  Walking through the city brings to mind many fairy tales I grew up with as a child.

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Fat Margaret’s Tower

The first indication that we had arrived at Old Town was Fat Margaret’s Tower and the Great Coastal Gate.  We walked through the gate and started our walk passing St. Olaf’s Church, St. Nicholas’s Church and the Church of the Holy Spirit.

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As we walked along we stopped in two small shops.  The first was a gift shop advertising a collection of amber jewelry.  Some of the pieces were very beautiful and I found myself thinking about purchasing a particular necklace.  I did not much to my disappointment.

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The second was a marzipan shop.   What caught my eye as we walked by was a delicious looking reproduction of the Town Hall all made of marzipan.  We stepped in for a look and everything looked wonderful.  We noticed that employees were setting up a table to teach people how to paint marzipan.  Oh, if only I had more time, I thought.

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We continued our walk through the streets eventually turning down a narrow alley until we came to the Town Hall Square.  The square was alive with festivities.  There was a large stage with entertainers singing and dancing, merchants selling various products under tents and outdoor restaurants filled with happy people enjoying local the fare.

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Town Hall Square

Vilma - June 20 Tallin 1Around the square were many shops and restaurants.  We decided to walk around a bit and study the menus posted outside each to see where we would stop for a bit of lunch.  As we were walking, who did we see, but Jim and Vilma sitting at an outdoor café enjoying the atmosphere and a local beer.  We stopped for a while chatting and checking the menu of the restaurant.

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We continued our walk and came upon a very nice young man standing in front of the Maikrahv Restaurant.    He was an employee of the restaurant and was interested in what kind of food we were interested.  Of course, he talked highly about his restaurant but in case we wanted to continue our search around the square, he gave us a small business card with a 10% discount if we decided to return.  After walking the entire square we did indeed return.

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The rain had stopped so we decided to sit outdoors enjoying a local beer, delicious food and listening to the entertainment just a few feet away.  We all chose local dishes.

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I chose the traditional Estonia creamy pea soup, Randy chose sausages and French fries and Doug and Sue ordered the traditional Estonian pork roast with herb potatoes, mustard and cabbage.  We also ordered a local beer to wash down our food.  We also had a great time talking with a young couple sitting at the next table who were traveling on a Princess cruise ship.

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St. John's Church

St. John’s Church

After lunch we continued our walk to Freedom Square to see the monument to honor the Estonian War of Independence from 1918 to 1920.  This beautiful column is 23.5 m high and consists of 143 glass plates and incorporates Estonia’s most distinguished award, the Cross of Liberty. Directly across from the monument is St. John’s Church.Tallinn 3

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Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

 

We returned to the Town Hall Square, turned down a side street and made our way to the upper old town.  We passed many of the same sites that we saw last year.

 

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Everywhere you look in this charming, medieval city is just beautiful and there is no doubt that we will return again. As we were walking along I spotted this great pink pig flower pot.  Loved it!  Actually, we saw flowers everywhere.

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As Randy likes to say of Tallinn, “Tallinn is one of my most favorite places in the Baltic!”

We saw this little gull atop one of the old city walls. We felt bad as it obviously had an injured leg.  We all hope it would heal and fly away.

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IMG_4589After walking for a bit, we decided to start our return to the ship.  As we walked along we stopped a few times to take pictures of Randy and Doug having fun.  Randy thought it would be funny to sit next to a life-size doll on the outside of a small shop, Doug stopped to pet an electronic cat sitting on the steps of another small shop.  Very funny.

 

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Passing by a small deli and seeing all the delicious pastries in the window, we went inside the Bonaparte Deli and we were glad we did.  Randy and I chose a beautiful tart while Doug and Sue ordered a dish of homemade Sea Buckthorn ice cream.  The tart was absolutely delicious.  Sue gave me a taste of the ice cream and I found that it had a very interesting taste.  IMG_4597b

We started our walking back to the ship exiting the Old Town through the Great Coastal Gate and walking to the pier.  Once on board we showered, dressed and headed up to the Concierge Lounge for cocktails.

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We were so glad to see Mickey at dinner.  She said she was feeling a little better.  We were all happy to hear that.  After being out in the rain all day, I decided I needed comfort food for dinner.  I tend to think of pasta as comfort food.  I chose the Lasagna al Forno for my main dish.  These baked layers of egg pasta with beef Bolognese and cream sauce was just what I needed.  It was delicious but I must confess that it could have been a little warmer.

IMG_4617bIt had been a very busy day and my knee was in need of ice, heat  and elevation so we returned to the cabin for rest and relaxation.

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The sun setting on another wonderful day!

Tomorrow we arrive in St. Petersburg, Russia.

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Enjoy,

Mary

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