Monthly Archives: June 2018
We say our goodbyes to our friends on the Marina and catch a cab to our hotel … after a 40 min wait. It’s only a 2 star but prices are high in Copenhagen. Our room is not ready so we head out on the longest pedestrian shopping street in the world – the Stroget. We stop for tea and an organ concert and prayers in the Church of the Holy Ghost. I find a nice souvenir tee shirt for $20CDN. As we head back we run into Mr and Mrs Cobb – the couple from Atlanta on our St Petersburg tour. Our room is ready but as there is no lift, we must hoof our heavy bags up 2 floors. We are so fatigued we eat some snacks in our room and sleep for 10 hrs!
We are up and at it after a superb Danish breakfast of fruit, oatmeal, bread and cheeses. We walk 4 km to the iconic Little Mermaid statue via the beautiful Nyhavn canal district with its colourfull houses, boats and outdoor cafes. There are throngs of tourists snapping pictures. We stop for lunch – Danish smorebrod open face sandwiches and Tuborg beer. The sun is out and we are in Copenhagen!
Later we watch Mexico beat Korea in soccer. Mexican players cross themselves whenever they enter the field or score. How wonderful to see this after all the secular experiences we have been having on this trip.
On our last day we go to attend Mass at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church. We arrive an hour early and Mass will be in Danish. We light a candle for baby Morgan our grandson to be and say our prayers. Then we explore Norrebro on foot, a multicultural neighborhood. There are joggers and families biking everywhere. We find Hans Christen Anderson’s and Soren Kirkegaard’s grave sites in Assisstens Cemetery. We take a bus back and rest.
We go for brunch at a Turkish buffet restaurant and it is great. Our voyage is coming to an end. We must pack our bags tonight and head for home tomorrow. It has been a great adventure these past 2 weeks. Thanks for traveling with us!
We access our Berlin tour bus in Warnemunde on a rainy morning. Our tour guide points out the old Henchel WWII bomber factory. The rise of Prussia in northern Germany, and it’s military victory over France led to unification in 1870. Berlin (means swamp) had been Prussia’s capital. It was chosen to be the capital of the unified Germany. It’s a 3 hr bus ride from the ship.
We drive thru Mecklenburg, a predominantly rural federal district. It’s is thinly populated but the most popular area for Germans to come on vacation. This may be due to the miles and miles of nudist beaches on the Baltic. Germans say they are born nude so what’s wrong with being nude on a beach!
There are 20,000 wind turbines in this area. We learn that 10-15% of their electricity comes from wind. Germany is among the most greenest of nations. Berlin has a population of 3 million and then more in the suburbs. We enter it thru heavily treed streets. Gas price $2.10CDN/L.
We drive by the Charlotenburg Palace that was built for the wife of a Prussian emperor. The Kaiser is forced to abdicate in 1918 after WWI. This sets off a period of political and economic instability. In 1929 the Wall Street collapse leads to pull back on loans to Germany and it’s economic ruin. The Nazi party goes from 3 to 37%. They are invited to from a coalition government. Within a few years they murder all their political allies, announce pogroms against Jews and start WWII. Hitler’s vision is to make Germany the dominant world power. A thug and his goons in power for sure.
We walk past the Rieschstag (Germany’s parliament building) and thru the Brandenburg Gate to East Berlin. Daniel our guide explains that this gate was in between the outer and inner Berlin Wall – the so called death zone where anyone present would be shot by East German guards.
As we walk thru the holocaust memorial – a set of 7211 large concrete blocks, I feel overwhelmed in the maze. It would be easy to get lost. I think of Auscwitz. We have some German sausage on a bun for lunch. Then it is on to the Royal Blvd under the Linden trees. We gape at the spectacular Lutheran Cathedral and look at photos where Hitler and Goebbels onve spoke to the masses in this very same square. Daniel our guide explains yiu can be arrested here for denying the Holcadpaust or doing the Nazi salute!
At Checkpoint Charlie we stop for a photo by the longest section remaining of the Berlin Wall. Then we look at the parking lot below which once stood Hitler’s bunker. There are cranes and construction everywhere in the central core. It’s a work in progress to restore and rebuild the city from its WWII destruction.
Satisfied, it’s time to head back to the ship. We are exhausted and ready for some wine. This is the last night on the Marina and we have to finish packing. Great German themed dinner in the Terrace. We finish after 9 PM. Large bags packed and outside our door by 10PM.
We enjoyed seeing Berlin.
For some reason this portion of yesterday’s post, did not post. Here it is again.
The next morning we are in Gdansk, Poland. This is one of Poland’s most beautiful cities – the Jewel of the Baltic. The Solidarity movement led by Lec Wolensa in the 1980s at the Gdansk shipyards established the right of workers to establish their own unions. With Pope JPII’s patient leadership and prayers, Poland became free of Soviet control in 1990. I understand Poland’s current government is anti-migrant and pro-Catholic faith – an oxymoron it seems.
We are shuttled into town. We find St Mary’s Basilica, the largest brick church in the world. It is under renovation and it is too early to do the tour. We walk through the gorgeous long wide cobble stone street lined with outdoor cafes, flowers and little shops. Wow, absolutely beautiful. We find an ATM and get some Zloties. The tee shirts are about $17CDN so not to expensive. We stalk up on gifts for the family.
We head back to St Mary’s and climb the 90m high tower through first a spiral and then a wider staircase. The views of Gdansk form the top are stunning on this sunny day. We made it – over 300 steps up and then down again! We love Poland – its people, its food, its perseverance, its faith!
We stop for tea. Then walk thru amber jewellery store lined streets. Amber comes from Russia next door but it is traded here in vast quantities. A few more photos before we walk across the pedestrian draw bridge to the shuttle. Plan to take it easy the rest of the day as we cruise out-of-town.
We meet Jack and his wife Cammy from Leesburg for a drink and make plans to cruise to the Holy Land together. We have dinner next to some Japanese. I ask one of them if they could take our photo and if they know how to take a picture on my camera. Her answer is “I am Japanese”. The world is a ghetto!
Jesu ufam tobie. Jesus I trust in you. St. Faustina pray for us.
Klaipeda is Lithuania’s port on the Baltic. It has a busy harbour which includes a ship building site. We catch the shuttle bus into town and saunter thru the old town. It is low key with not a tee shirt store in sight. The central square has some stalls with amber jewelry, wooden carvings and small paintings for sale. We leave the old town and walk into the newer town.
Very uncommercial – the stores do not have signs hanging out overhead so we must peer into each to see what they have. We try the door of a Lutheran Church but it is locked. They do not get many tourists here it seems and we feel a little disappointed for the first time. We have been to Vilnius the capital and know that Lithuania has a lot of beautiful churches and squares. We stop for a rest and then head back to the ship.
I have time to enjoy the sunny balcony while Marie gets a pedicure. We head for tea time and enjoy the light pastries and sandwiches with tea and the live quartet playing. It does not get better than this we think. Finished up with surf and turf in the Polo specialty restaurant!
As we pull into Latvia up the Daugava River, I see ships being loaded with coal, wood, wood chips, containers as well as some conveyor belted product stored in large globe shaped tanks I cannot identify (possibly grain?). I see massive amounts of water being sprayed on coal piles presumably for safety purposes. This goes on for miles and miles – all pretty industrial stuff but essential products for our daily lives. I see what looks like an airport control tower presumably for harbour traffic. Riga is the largest Baltic state city at 750,000. It shows in the massive size of these port facilities.
I hear part of a lecture how each of the Baltic state countries have to treat their Russian minority populations with care. Otherwise they risk a Russian invasion witness Ukraine. Apparently Lithuania came close to being invaded last November.
We walk into the old town on cobble stoned streets. Everything is really well kept and clean. Gorgeous pubs and outdoor cafes dot the feet of art deco buildings. People are extremely well dressed. This could be Paris or London. We walk for 3 hours gazing into churches and stopping at souvenir shops. We here jazz and other music wafting out of windows. It is very sophisticated and beautiful. The currency is the Euro and prices are high eg Riga tee shirt $26CDN vs $12 in Helsinki. We stop at a very upscale McDonald’s for a McCafe tea served in white pots and tea cups – boy has McDonald’s changed at least here we think. I sample a very good blackberry based local wine. We try to see more but soon tire and head back.
I notice gasoline is priced at about $1.90CDN/litre. It was less than a dollar back in Russia. Founded in 1201, Riga is the largest Baltic city today at 750,000 and has prospered in trade ever since it’s founding. Known for it’s old town centre, it’s art nouveau buildings, there is too an ultramodern side across the river we see from the ship. Since declaring independence in 1991, Latvia has enjoyed one of the fastest growing economies of Europe. We don’t see any visible evidence that the Soviets were here.
The morning started off sunny. It clouds over and sprinkles lightly – our first rain. By 4:30 the sun comes out again.
We eat in Toscana, the Italian specialty restaurant with 3 American couples. The end of another great day is here.
We sadly say goodbye to Bruce and Judy today as they are heading home for a funeral. We had lot’s of fun together. To be continued again next time we meet.
Helsinki. The shuttle bus drops us at the central square on the waterfront. We stroll through some lenders stalls and booths with giant slabs of salmon cooking. It’s a perfect sunny day and everyone is out for a stroll.
We enter the Uspenski Cathedral, one of the largest Orthodox churches in Western Europe. A service is on. People stand facing the icon stand. There are many candles up front and the smell of insense. We can see several priests partially hidden behind the stand. One occasionally comes out and reads lines from a book. The choral choir of 3 or 4 people and organist respond each time. People are crossing themselves and bowing. It is all very sacred.
We walk by the Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral. It is crowded in the square out front. Everyone is very calm and pleasant here. We ask for directions to the WC and bank machine. The attendant understands and can speak English clearly. We see coffee stalls and bars everywhere. Finns are the greatest drinkers of coffee in the world. We stroll through a shady park and stop for lunch. After a little shopping, back to the shuttle bus we go after 3 hours of pleasant walking.
As we cruise out we see dozens of flat islands with Finns sunbathing on. There was a big outdoor swimming pool and sauna facility right in the harbor area. Finns are famous outdoor enthusiasts.
At the Oceania Club party, we meet an Armenian couple now living in FL. Ara tells me he was born in Istanbul and that the Armenia was the first nation to officially adopt Christianity as their faith predating all other Christian communities outside Jerusalem. Wow I did not know this.
We call it a night and sleep well.
Our sunny day starts with a boat cruise along the Neva. A young man jogs beside our boat and waves to us from each bridge. Cute. We see many palaces, gorgeous buildings and the little yellow building that houses the log house Peter lived in when he was building boats and the city. We meet Alexander the jogger at the end of the cruise and he poses for a picture with Marie. Cute.
The Yusupov Palace was owned by the richest man in the world and is in the top 10 best private residences of the world. We tour it before the public is allowed in and it feels like we live there! After 4 daughters, Alexie is born to Nicholas II with hemophelia. Rasputin, the mystic monk claimed he could stop the bleeding. He became very close to Alexandra, the unpopular wife of Nicholas II. Everyone thought they were having an affair. Felix Yusupov lures Rasputin to the basement of their palace and kills him. Felix eventually marries a niece of Nicholas II uniting the 2 families. We tour the best private theatre in the world according to UNESCO and can taste the popcorn.
Next up St Isaac’s Cathedral – a massive Russian Orthodox church filled with icons, mosaics and paintings. For lunch we go to the Aragosta restaurant. Borsct and stolle (a thick meat pie) are served.
Faberge Museum. Carl Faberge, factory owner sends his son Carl in 1860 for an education in Paris. He learns how to repair and make jewellry. They become the royal jeweller. He makes a jewelled egg for Maria, the wife of Alexander I. All in all he made 50 Imperial eggs. We also see Russian Royal samovars (tea sets) in gold and silver that are very impressive.
We do some souvenir shopping off Nevsky Prospect (Prospective of the Neva). We are offered a subway ride or visit to a Orthodox church while a service is on. We vote to go back to the ship. We’ve had it. Our fab tour comes to an end. We say goodbye and spicy ba (thank you in Russian) to Marina our guide and Constantin our driver.
Probably the best tour and guide we have ever had. She finished with a question, “Do you feel safe here?” Yes we all answered. Then maybe you will come back here someday, learn some of our cyrilic alphabet and find your own way around. Yes we all answered!
Our long day ended with a tasty Asian meal in Red Ginger, one of the 4 specialty restaurants on board.
The Hermitage Museum, the Tsars winter palace in central Saint Petersburg, 11,000,000 world heritage artifacts that would take 15 years to inspect individually. 80 cats. Still live in it’s basement to control the rats and mice – dating from Catherine the Great’s time. The oval portrait attached below is of Tsarina Elizabeth I, Peter’s favorite daughter. She apparently owned 2000 pairs of shoes and 15,000 dresses and partied until 6AM every morning.
The Church of the Spilled Blood. Spectacular icon stand, mosaics and golden Russian domes. Tsar Alexander II was assassinated here by a bomb, hence the name. We walk by World Cup Fanfest where many Iranian and Moroccan fans are congregating. We see a few drunk people but absolutely no street people.
We have lunch at the Fyodor Dostoevsky restaurant. He lived in SP in 22 different apartments. He gambled a lot and moved to the next place when the rent was due. Chicken Kiev and red wine was great. I think I saw Fyodor sitting in the shadows!
We head to the General Staff building impressionists painting exhibition. Dozens and dozens of paintings from Picasso, to Matisse, to Van Gough, Rembrandt, Degas and Monet + some Russian avant garde Salvador Dali like ones too. We are starting to get museumed out but it’s great.
The city is choked with WC traffic now as we head south out of town to Catherine’s Palace. The amber room is absulutely goergeous and one of the new wonders of the wotld. Carherine (II) the Great was the wife of Peter’s grandson and loved living in her palace (which was actually named after Peter’s wife Catherine I). She was a more serious type and would rise each day at 6AM. There are extensive gardens, a large lake and walking paths.
The Nazis destroyed this palace in WWII so it has been painstakingly restored. Russia has forgiven the actions of a few German politicians but not Holland according to Marina, our tour guide. We learn more about the Tsars, all very interesting. The second portrait attached below is of Catherine the Great.
We dine at Jacques on board and meet the only Canadian working in O’s fleet, Rafael from Québec City.
It slowly dawns on us that we are being treated to something very special here: we can still feel Peter the Great’s presence in his great city.
It’s a beautiful sunny day in Saint Petersburg. We get off the ship at 9h00 and it takes an hour to clear passport control due the large crowd. There are at least 8 cruise ships in town and it is the first day of World Cup in Russia.
Out tour guide’s name is Marina – the same as our ship. She speaks excellent English and off we go as a group of 16 on a luxury tour bus – day 1 of 3 here.
Saint Petersburg is breathtaking with 400 bridges over the Neva River and canals. The streets are wide, straight and surprisingly uncrowded for a city of 5 million plus. Founded by Peter the Great in 1703, it is Russia’s largest port and known as “The Venice of the North”. The only thing bad here is the weather. If it is nice, here they say wait 10 minutes and it will change. Today is glorious.
We stop for a photo shoot on the Neva. We head for the Peter and Paul Fortress and tour the golden domed cathedral. Inside we see the crypts of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and many other Tsars.
We drive out into the suburbs and have lunch at a mini-palace facility. Food is somewhat bland like Poland but nourishing. Refueled, we head for the Peterhof Summer Palace.
Peterhof, constructed on the bank of the Baltic, was Peter’s getaway place. Extensive gardens and fountains abound. We tour the palace and marvel at the gold trim everywhere and the beautiful portraits of several Tsar dynasties. The fountains out front are stunning – gold aninals and statues and dozens of smaller fountains surround a 70 ft high fountain. It is all powered by gravity using 300 year old oak pipes designed by Peter himself to the carry water. Stunning!
That night, I head out on a private world cup experience tour with Jack from Virginia. We have our own guide and driver. We take some photos of the new soccer stadium and pick up some souvenirs. We go to a local bar. Everyone is cheering. Russia has just beat Sauida Arabia 5 – 0.
We have some beer and vodka. A fan from Toronto strolls over and explains he has tickets for 5 matches. Two Russians come over and want to have a toast. We drink some vodka and part as friends. We stroll down the Nevsky Prospect. There are hundreds of fans with flags. A large group of Iranians drown out the smaller Moroccan fan contingent. Russians runs by with their flag cheeriing. Everyone smiles and high fives us. Wow, a real international brotherhood experience! We call it a night, a fantastic one.