Thursday, September 04, 2014

Baltic Cruise 2014

Baltic Cruise, 2014

Day 1 (August 27, 28) -- D.C. to Copenhagen

Taxi to Dulles Airport.  Very easy check-in at Icelandair and also through security.  As I waited for my plane, I decided to get a snack; a flat iron steak sandwich at Harry’s Taproom at Dulles.  It was surprisingly good, very tasty.  Little did I know that no food would be served on the flight; that was the first transalantic flight I have ever taken in which no food or drink was served.  Each person was given a small bottle of water on boarding, and no other beverages were served.  My seat in row 25 by the window was very hard and uncomfortable, and I got very little sleep.  Because of the hard head rest that bent my head forward, I noticed after a few hours that I had a terrible headache, which lasted the remainder of the flight.  It was one of the most uncomfortable flights I have ever experienced.

As the plane neared Reykjavik, I noticed green, grassy, barren land, with a few stark houses, painted white against the green landscape.  The landing at Reykjavik was very difficult, as if wind currents were buffeting the plane, although I could not detect wind blowing the grass.  As the plane was landing, it rolled side to side like the rolling motion on a boat, and the captain turned the plane somewhat to the right as it touched down, as if turning into the wind, so it had to turn sharply to straighten up on the runway.  It was a very difficult landing.  After landing, customs were very easy; the officer simply asked about the purpose of the trip and stamped the passport.  Ate a little food from a small food bistro near the gate -- milk and a tasteless pastry that was like a cake donut, along with a cookie and a strawberry smoothie that was tart and watery.  Boarding was easy; I sat by a man who came from Boston and was also going to ship.  Slept a little on the leg to Copenhagen.  The landing was very smooth, and picking up bags was slow, but without problems.  I tried several ATM machines to get some local cash, but the machines did not take my card.  At the taxi stand, I told foreman the name of the hotel, Admiral, and he said the driver would know the way -- very well known hotel, very nice.  Taxi was great.  Mercedes station wagon.  Driver about 60, small man, drove very fast, even in city traffic.  Very nice.  Gave him an extra 50 DK.

I had reserved a room overlooking the canal, and the view was beautiful; sailing boats lined the bank, and a constant stream of people passed on the walkway.  The room was very small, as rooms in European hotels are.  The hotel is in a very old warehouse, built around 1743, and the warehouse character was retained throughout the now modern hotel.  It is a very beautiful hotel.  My first task was to take Excedrin for my terrible headache.  I called my friend, Wayne, but the operator told me that he had checked himself into a hotel that had no phones and no reception, and there was no way to leave a message.  I sent him an email, but was sure that he would not see it.  I went to lunch at the sidewalk restaurant of the hotel, the Salt. Hamburger and Caesar salad, diet coke.  The day was sunny and spectacular, and I went for a walk along Nyhavn, and it was wonderful.  Very scenic and packed with people at sidewalk restaurants back to back.  Then walked all the way to the Little Mermaid, a long way, and back to hotel.  Got a note that Wayne had stopped by and would call later.  Wayne called and we agreed that he would join me for breakfast at my hotel at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.  I was completely exhausted, and took a nap.  Woke up with a headache, and took more Excedrin.  Went to get a bite to eat, crepes with apple and chocolate.  The vendor said $1.00 each (for two), but as I ate on a nearby bench, he came over to say that he had made a mistake; it would be $6.00 each.  I gave him $20 and he gave me 50DK back.  Unfortunately, I dripped chocolate on my pants and later tried to wash it off.  Stopped at a small food store and got milk and some cookies.

Day 2 (August 29) -- Copenhagen

Wake up call at 7:45; showered, dressed, went downstairs to wait for Wayne.  Taxis were lined up taking people away and other taxis were lined up: I counted 12 in the line and more were constantly arriving and waiting in the street.  After Wayne arrived, we went inside for a nice buffet breakfast.  Most of the food was fine, and the chocolate croissants were the best I have ever eaten.  They were light and flaky and filled with chocolate.  The best ever.

After breakfast, we decided to walk to Tivoli through the center of the city along one of the pedestrian streets.  The day was overcast, but we decided not to take umbrellas or raincoats.  We walked to Nyhavn, which was still quiet at that time of morning, and then across center-city on a pedestrian street, all the way to Tivoli.  We passed through Magasin, the huge department store that covers a full square block, and is 8 stories high.  It was interesting to me that virtually all of the signs in Magasin were in English, as were many of the signs along the streets.  Along the way to Tivoli, we stopped for many photos of interesting sights.  We arrived at Tivoli a bit after noon, and we wandered around looking at the sights and the children having a wonderful time.  We looked at menus of several of the dozens of restaurants, and continued on until suddenly it began to rain lightly.  We decided to duck into the nearest restaurant, which happened to be Biergarten, a small beer hall.  He got baked chicken, and I got wiener schnitzel.  We sat talking for more than an hour while the rain continued; when it stopped, we walked on for a short time, and then he decided to go back to his hotel for a nap.  I walked on for a while in Tivoli, taking photos, and then walked to nearby places to take photos of an interesting round building used as a theater.  When I got to the round building, I noticed another interesting building that seemed to be a movie theater.

I returned to my hotel by the same route as my morning walk -- across the downtown area using pedestrian streets.  I arrived back at my hotel at 3:30 p.m.  I did not want to take a nap, but found that I was so sleepy that I decided to lie down for a while.  At 5:00 p.m. I was awakened by the sound of rain, through the open French doors of my room.  I got up and closed the doors, and after a few minutes, I took an Excedrin and then went downstairs for a cup of cappuccino.  I continued to feel extremely drowsy, but I was determined to stay awake for a while before going to sleep for the night.  The rain continued, heavy at times; I’m feeling very good that I pushed myself yesterday when the weather was sunny and beautiful.  The restaurant in the hotel was full, so I went out in the rain for dinner at Hyttefadedet, a pub in Nyhavn.  It was okay pub food.  Back in the room ready to check out tomorrow morning and head to the ship.

Day 3 (August 30) -- To the ship.

Awoke to rain.  Breakfast, and then finished last minute packing and check out of hotel, stapling Princess name tags to luggage.  Outside hotel to get a taxi, and the one that was there refused and drove away, saying that another taxi would be along soon.  I waited in the light rain, and soon, indeed, another taxi came along and a very nice driver seemed pleased to take me to the ship, which turned to be a LONG way from the hotel.  At the ship, I gave the luggage and a tip to a woman who was taking the luggage from taxis, and then went inside the ship terminal at the end of a long line along a long corridor.  After finally arriving at the main reception area, a ship photographer was waiting to take photos, and then only two security lines were available to handle the 4,000 people waiting to check in.  Finally, after completing the health questionnaire, got into the “priority” line and finally was able to check in.  The non-priority line was not as long as the “priority” line, which was for platinum, elite and suite passengers only.

The ship is new, the newest Princess ship.  I noticed immediately that the ship had a more modern décor, rather than the more traditional décor of prior Princess ships.  At the room, I also noticed  the more modern décor.  Went to lunch at the Horizon Court cafeteria, and there, I was overwhelmed by all the other passengers on the ship.  However, the Horizon Court was designed in a way to accommodate all those passengers, and although it was crowded, it was well managed and not chaotic.  I noticed that there were numerous food lines with far greater variety than on any other ship I had sailed on, including the Oasis of the Seas, the world‘s largest ship.  The food was very attractive, as always, and also it was very tasty.  This dining experience was truly well done on the new ship.

After lunch, I went all over the ship collecting stamps at the various scavenger hunt locations, an attempt by the cruise line to introduce passengers to the various sites on the ship, such as the library, the photo shop, the spa, etc..  At 5:00 p.m. I attended the mandatory ship security drill.  At dinner, I noticed again the modern motif of the dining room, rather than the traditional décor on the older ships.  After dinner, I wandered through the shops and then into the main theater for the first night’s entertainment show, a dance number and then a comedian.  Then sleep; I was exhausted.

Day 4 (August 31) -- Oslo.

Four observations regarding traveling with Wayne.  First, he likes to concentrate his time on a few sites, and has no interest in an overview or in other sites.  I am the opposite; I want to see everything, and I like an overview like a grand tour on a Hop-on/Hop-off (HOHO) bus, getting off to visit certain sites that might interest me.  He strongly opposed using the HOHO bus.  Second, someone who takes photos tends to concentrate much more keenly on the sights, whereas one who does not take photos, talks and misses a lot.  I see far more than he does because I am constantly alert for interesting sights.  Third, he is as great at tour guide as I expected.  When we visited the ship museums, he narrated the history of everything we saw.  I had expected that, and it was really great.  Fourth, he tires easily and loses interest; I keep going until the very last moment.  After he had returned to the ship, too tired to go on, I continued for another two hours, and I saw much more of the city than I would have if I had stopped when he did.

In Oslo, I had suggested taking the HOHO and stopping at certain places; however, he strongly objected and I went along with him.  We took the ferry to the Outdoor Folk Museum, and then walked next door to the Viking Ship Museum.  After that, we walked to the Thor Heyerdahl  Museum and last the Flam Museum before returning on the ferry.  At that point, he returned directly to the ship, and I continued walking in the downtown area for another two hours, and I was very pleased that I did.  The Parliament building and the town hall, where the Nobel Prize ceremony is conducted, are located in the downtown area, as well as a very pretty park;  I walked around taking photos of old, interesting buildings and the very odd sculpture in the park.  Oslo has more public sculpture than any other place I have visited; it seems to be everywhere.

Day 5 (September 1) -- Gothenburg, Sweden

Very short day.  The port of Gothenburg is not large enough to accept large cruise ships, so cruise ships must use the commercial port located half hour outside the city, and passengers were bussed into the city.  Because of the time needed to reach the next port, Warnemunde, Germany (for Berlin), ship departure time was 1:30 p.m., and the last shuttle was at 12:30 p.m..  The first shuttle into the city was at 8:00 a.m., reaching the city at 8:30, so the maximum time for visiting was only four hours.  I didn‘t want to fight the initial lines to the shuttle busses, so I left the ship at 9:30, arriving in the city at 10:00, leaving only two and one half hours for sightseeing.  Based on recommendations of local tour guides, I focused on walking up the main street of the city to the large fountain at the head of the street, and then returning along the beautiful, park-lined canal to the bus.  The day was beautiful and sunny, and I enjoyed my walk.  I would have preferred spending more time there, and perhaps I will return some day.  Back on the ship, I got lunch and then went immediately to an art history lecture, “30,000 years of art in one hour.”  I have attended many of these ship lectures, and I enjoyed this one very much.  I then went immediately into the trivia game, which I was surprised that Wayne did not win (he got second).

At dinner, we asked if we could be reseated in a different dining room.  We had been assigned a table in a dining room that was most distant from our rooms, and also was not as pleasant as we would have liked.  It was very modern, with white and black décor, and it was noisy.  In addition, our table was in the line of traffic.  We asked to be reassigned to a different dining room that was in the center of the ship, much closer to our rooms, is more traditional in décor, and is much quieter for some reason.  The change was a huge success.  Everything about the dining experience was much better, and we will continue to be assigned to this dining room for the remainder of the cruise.

The evening entertainment was a production show, in which the Princess singers and dancers performed soul music.  As always for production shows, the theater was packed, the music was loud and lively, and the dancers were great.

Day 6 (September 2) -- Berlin

A very long day, three hour train into Berlin and three hours back in the evening, with seven hours in Berlin on a ship tour.  Passengers walked from the ship to the nearby special train, which was filled with at least 3,000 of the 4,000 passengers on the ship.  The train ride was smooth and fast, and a container of water and chocolate brownie were handed out.  Although I had taken a couple of crossword puzzles to work on the train, my attention was drawn to the scenes outside my window.  At first I was shocked by the tidal wave of graffiti covering every possible surface along the railway.  In no other place have I seen such an overwhelming amount of graffiti, not even New York or New Jersey.  After passing out of the port towns of Warnemunde and then Rostock, the scene changed to small, pretty farms framed by trees and underbrush.  Every field was perfectly laid out.  Some fields were filled with ripening corn, tall and almost ready for harvest; others were freshly harvested and neatly plowed; still others showed sprouts of green winter wheat in neat rows.  I noticed that a small one-man enclosed shed on stilts was located in almost every field, as if for observing the growth of the crops; however, the train attendant said that these huts were for hunters to keep the over-population of deer from ravishing the crops.  I noticed deer in several places along the route.  In addition to neat farms, thick woodlands covered much of the countryside, and I noticed no further graffiti until Berlin, and even then, the graffiti was only light in comparison with that seen near the coast.  It was hard to reconcile the extreme dissonance between the graffiti and the neatness I observed everywhere else in both rural areas and Berlin.

The train arrived at the East railway station (Ostbahnhof), the station in East Berlin only a few blocks from the East Side Gallery, the section of the Berlin Wall that has been turned into an art gallery, and artists from around the world had been invited to paint a section of the wall.  Having visited Berlin for a week in 2012, I felt completely comfortable immediately upon arrival at this location, and indeed throughout the entire day.  Berlin feels comfortable to me, perhaps because it feels very similar to Washington, DC.  The bus stopped near the famous painting of Breshnev, the Russian Premier, kissing Honneker, the East German Premier.  Just as the bus arrived, a crew with cameras was there shooting a TV advertisement, and after a few moments, passengers were asked to clear the area so that the filming could begin.

The bus continued up Stralaur Place along the East Side wall gallery, and then turned over to Karl Marx Blvd., where we were able to view “Russian” style apartment buildings, and then onto Liebknecht, past the Alexander Platz Berlin TV Tower, one of the few former Communist monuments to have been kept, and then to Unter Den Linden.  The bus paused to permit passengers to view Museum Island, and then stopped at the “Weeping Mother” monument to mothers who lost sons in WWII.  The bus then continued along Unter Den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate, where we stopped for photos. When we reboarded the bus, all traffic had been stopped until an important government visitor, who had stopped for lunch at the Albion Hotel, finished and left.  We then stopped for lunch at the nearby Hilton Hotel, the same hotel where I had stayed for a week when I visited Berlin in 2012.  The hotel felt familiar and comfortable to me, and I enjoyed returning there.

After lunch, the bus stopped at Checkpoint Charlie for photos.  Although this place is completely touristy and cheesy, it is fun to go there.  The bus then continued past the Topography of Terror, the documentation exhibit of Nazi persecution, and another section of the Berlin Wall, past Potsdamer Platz and then on to the museum of the historical Berlin airlift in 1948-49.  After a stop there, the bus traveled to Kurfurstendamm, the wonderful Berlin boulevard with thousands of stores and sidewalk cafes.  Here the bus stopped for an hour for passengers to walk this wonderful boulevard and take photos of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which has been left in its bomb-damaged condition as a testament against war.  At this stop, I sat in a beautiful sidewalk café and had a cappuccino.  The bus then traveled to the Reichtag, the German Parliament building for a stop, and it then continued to the Nordbahnhof, the Northern rail station, where our train was waiting to return us to the ship.

The trip back to the coast was uneventful, and the sun set during the ride back, returning us to the ship in the dark at 9:10 p.m., almost precisely 13 hours after leaving.

Day 7 (September 3) -- Day at Sea

This day was a day of rest and catching up.  After lunch, a really happy dance class was given in the atrium of the ship, in which a truly great dance instructor showed 200 or so passengers how to dance the cha-cha.  It was a lot of fun to watch this happy event.  I skipped the trivia game and worked on my photos and daily write-ups instead.  I was able to get all of my photos organized and backed up.

Dinner was formal, and the show was a production show, “Colors of the World”.  The show was really great; the singers and dancers were both really great.  Prior to the show, the ship had the champagne waterfall, and it was very nice in the large, beautiful, three-deck high atrium.

Day 8 (September 4) -- Tallinn, Estonia

Arrival was delayed by dense fog.  Delayed leaving ship until 10:00 to let the fog burn off a bit, and then went into the old town of Tallinn, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Walked throughout the town seeing all the important sites until 1:30, and then stopped for lunch at a pretty sidewalk café.  Continued walking and taking photos until 4:00, when I had to catch the last shuttle to return to the ship.  After the fog burned off, the day was sunny and very pleasant.  All in all, a very pleasant day.

Day 9, 10 (September 5,6) -- St. Petersburg, Russia

Day 11 (September 7) -- Helsinki, Finnland

Day 12 (September 8) -- Stockholm, Sweden

Day 13 (September 9) -- Day at Sea

Day 14 (September 10) -- Copenhagen


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