We departed Nynäshamn, Sweden, on July 16, at about 20:00. The cruise schedule had us at sea all day on July 17, arriving in Copenhagen, Denmark at about 05:00 on July 18.
At various times throughout our cruise, Leslie took time to practice with about a dozen other passengers as the ship’s choir. All of the practice culminated with a performance on our last night at sea. When we arrived in the piazza area of the vessel, there was a string quartet playing. The same quartet played every evening.
When the quartet finished, a talent show began. The first act was two young gymnasts, a girl, and her brother. I believe they were Dutch. The emcee said the girl was aiming to perform at the 2020 Summer Olympics. She was good. Next was a young woman singer who had an absolutely beautiful voice. She reminded me of a singer one might hear in an animated Walt Disney movie. The final act was a brother and two sisters. The brother played the piano, and the sisters sang. They needed a bit more polish, but it was nice to see they at least tried.
Following the talent show was the choir which sang several songs from The Sound of Music. They sounded good, but of course, Leslie was the best!
After the concert, we, minus Lorraine, went to the dining room for dinner. Lorraine was not feeling well. During dinner, we heard the captain on the public address system announce we would pass under the Storebæltsbroen (Great Belt Bridge) at about 20:00. Sure enough, shortly before 20:00, we saw the bridge looming on the horizon. We watched the sight from our balcony. Below us, on one of the main decks, we saw several other passengers gathering to watch the passage and take photographs of the bridge. The bridge connects the Danish islands of Funen and Zealand. Zealand is the island on which we find Copenhagen. The span really was a fantastic sight.
We docked right on time. Once at the Marriott, Lorraine and Arlene waited for a room while Leslie and I walked to the tourist information center to get our Copenhagen tourist cards. The cards ended up not being worth the price only because we did not make much use of them. We ultimately used them for only one bus ride, one church, and one museum.
While we stood in the tourist information center, my name caught my eye; the Vice and Vesterbro Tour. Vesterbro is a district in Copenhagen. We all know what vice is, so maybe we will try that tour on our next visit to Copenhagen.
With our cards in hand, we decided we would do the Strøget (stroll). The Strøget is a mile-long pedestrian thoroughfare, encompassing the streets of Frederiksberggade, Nygade, Vimmelskaftet, Amagertorv, and Østergade. It winds from Town Hall Square to the Nyhavn area. Along the way, shopping is a mix of tourist shops and very high-end shops and boutiques. We did not buy anything.
On Strøget, the streets came to life as we walked along. The people made it a great walk. I enjoyed capturing photographs of many people as they walked together. Some that stand out in my mind is the couple walking two huge dogs; a young toddler running around; a woman pulling a sausage cart; a juggler; and a street performer.
About two-thirds of the way through the Strøget, we discovered the Royal Copenhagen building. That is the primary outlet for Royal Copenhagen china. We went into the store. Beautiful china was displayed everywhere. It was all lovely but incredibly expensive. The only thing I took from the building were some photographs.
The Strøget ultimately deposited us at the Kongens Nytorv Plaza. From there we walked the short distance to Nyhavn where we had lunch at a beautiful place, Nyhavns Frergekro. I tried a traditional Dutch open-faced sandwich known as Smørrebrød. It was roast beef with a remoulade sauce and gherkin pickles. I thought it tasted excellent. I also had the Nyhavn Dark Ale, which had a real smooth taste. Leslie ordered the Danish meatballs and some fried brie cheese.
When we finished lunch, we caught a bus, which took us near our hotel. We walked the last few blocks. All totaled, we put in about 3.5 miles that day.
Lorraine stayed in the room all day with Arlene. They were both getting sicker.
On this return trip to Copenhagen, I found it surprising once again how many swimmers, and sunbathers changed from clothing to swimwear and back again in public. I guess I am too shy to try such a stunt. Oh, and there is no way I am flexible enough to get dressed or undressed while covering up with a towel.
The next day, Lorraine and Arlene were to depart. Leslie stayed with them while I went on a walk. I wandered into the Christianshavn area. It is a small island. The canal scenes and the colorful buildings were striking.
I took some stairs to get up to the street level of the drawbridge which crossed over the canal. It was easy to see how much this city favors bicycles. On every set of public stairs, there was a steel track installed. The track was wide enough to allow for any size of a bicycle tire. It will enable a bicyclist to walk up the stairs while rolling the bicycle up or down alongside.
I ended up at the Our Savior Church. It dates from the 1680s, known for its massive spire with a winding staircase on the exterior. On a whim, I decided to go up. The climb inside the spire was impressive. One needed to be like a mountain goat to make it up some of the steeper sections. I did not count the stairs, but it had to be close to 200. Finally, one exits the interior stairs through a very narrow door. At that point, a narrow platform rings the spire. The views of Copenhagen were stunning.
On one side of the spire, copper-covered stairs began to ascend, winding around the spire to the very top. Supposedly, there are 150 steps there. Even though there is a sturdy railing, I had several mental battles about whether or not I should continue the assent or give in to my newfound fear of heights. Ultimately, I did not continue to the top.
Getting back down was also an adventure. The stairs accommodate two-way traffic, even though they are only wide enough for one person at many points. I felt like kissing the ground when I finally made it down.
Back at the hotel, we got Lorraine and Arlene a taxi for the airport. Once they were gone, Leslie and I took a cab to the Statens Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Denmark). We had lunch when we arrived. Then we spent a couple of hours touring the museum. I saw several paintings by Edvard Munch, an artist I am familiar with, but I have never personally seen any of his works. I was also happy to see a couple of works from my favorite Spanish artist, Picasso.
We departed Copenhagen on July 20. At the Copenhagen airport, we decided to get a wheelchair for Leslie. Once we made it through security, we sat in a very comfortable waiting area set aside expressly for those passengers needing additional help. Everyone who helped us was extremely friendly.
When we arrived in Dubai, we also had a wheelchair waiting. However, they took us to the land-of-broken-people. It was not nearly as courteous or friendly as what we experienced in Copenhagen. Regardless, we only had a three-hour flight ahead of us.
As we approached Islamabad, it was cloudy and rainy. I do not believe Islamabad has a precision approach capability, so I began to get nervous as we circled. I was hoping we would not be diverted to Karachi or Lahore. I did not feel like dealing with that. However, nearly 30-minutes late, we landed in Islamabad. We were at home.
St. Petersburg, Russian Federation – July 13, 2015
We docked at St. Petersburg, Russia this morning. At breakfast, Leslie and I commented that we would never have guessed we would ever visit Russia, but here we are!
This morning, we were part of orange group #1, our tour group for our visit to the Hermitage Museum. Before we got on the bus, we all had to go through passport control. It was not necessarily a breeze. The immigration officer looked closely at us. She even motioned to my passport photo in which I sported a goatee and then pointed at my now clean-shaven face. In addition to our passports, she also demanded to see our ship excursion tickets. Those essentially acted as our Russian visas. Ultimately, even though she seemed a little cranky, she did stamp both of our passports. We thought it was cool getting that entry stamp. Leslie, Lorraine, Arlene, and I boarded the tour bus. Leslie and I lucked out and got two of the front seats. That made it helpful for taking photos on the way. It was one of several buses lined up at the cruise depot. By 09:00, we began our journey to the museum. On the way, our guide told us St. Petersburg enjoys only about 60 days of sunshine each year. That is precisely the opposite of Colorado, which enjoys approximately 300 days of sun each year. Our day was nice. It was not until later in the day when we returned to the ship that we encountered some raindrops.
After about 30 minutes on the bus, we arrived at the museum. The Louvre in Paris, France, has long been my favorite museum, but that may be in jeopardy now. At the Hermitage, in addition to the museum, one also walks through an awe-inspiring palace. The other fact that sways me is that one of my favorite paintings is at the Hermitage, The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt. The only downside is the size of the exhibit area does not comfortably allow for viewing when the museum is crowded.
When we arrived, our guide shared that we were in luck. We were entering the museum about an hour before it opened to the public. That meant we had many portions of the museum virtually to ourselves. That worked out well for my photography.
The museum is just over 250 years old, founded by Catherine the Great. The palace consists of six different buildings. We walked through five of them; the Winter Palace, Small Palace, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and the Hermitage Theater. The buildings total over 2.5 million square feet of space. The ornate decorations in each building and the displayed artwork are just incredible.
We entered the museum through the main Winter Palace door facing the Neva River. It took a little while to get our entire group through the turnstiles; however, once we did, we met the very ornate staircase known as the Ambassadors’ Stairs. When an ambassador visited the Tsar or Empress, they ascended the Ambassador’s Stairs. I am unclear on whether the audience took place in the Peter the Great Throne Room or the St. George Hall. Regardless, they were both stunning spaces.
Departing the upper landing of the Ambassadors Staircase, we entered the Field Marshal’s Room. While it was impressive, it may have been the least remarkable space we saw that day. One may come to that opinion simply because the decorations are quite muted, not so ornate, and over the top, as some of the other spaces in the museum.
Most notable in the Field Marshal’s Room is the massive chandeliers. They each weigh a jaw-dropping two tons; 4,000 pounds! Several members of our group stood under the lights until our guide related that the chandeliers did fall once. That was enough to get everyone to clear the space.
The Peter the Great Throne Room was a little more intimate than the vast expanse of the St. George Hall. The throne room had an intricate parquet and wood inlaid floor. The walls were a warm, but dark red. That red echoed in the throne dais carpet and the upholstery of the throne itself, displaying the double-headed imperial eagle on the back, an imposing figure. The ceiling consisted of arches and coffers with hints of gold leaf. It was elegant.
Leaving the Small Throne Room, we walked into the amazingly ornate Armorial Hall. The amount of gold in the hall defies description. There was so much gold in the room that there was a gold hue throughout.
At one part of the hall, one could see through the doorway toward the throne in the St. George Hall. It is hard to imagine the numbers of staff that must have been required to make this Winter Palace a place to live and receive guests. Had I been alive in that era and in the St. Petersburg area, I am more than confident I would have never been able to set foot in the palace.
Comparing the Winter Palace living areas to the Napoleon Apartment in the Louvre in Paris is like comparing Versailles to a studio apartment in New York City. There is just no possible comparison between the two.
Even though we could see the throne in the St. George Hall, there was yet one more room to traverse; the Military Gallery. It is a long, narrow room. It is sometimes referred to as the War Gallery of 1812. The walls have dozens of paintings, all approximately the same size, of war heroes involved in the defeat of Napoleon. The entire tour group made quick work of the visit and moved on the hall.
The St. George Hall was an immense and massive space of approximately 800 square meters. That translates to about 8,500 square feet. That is more than three times the size of the average American home. A large dais, throne, and canopy dominated the east end of the hall. The throne seemed to be an exact duplicate of the throne in the Small Throne Room, including the imperial eagle. Behind the throne hung a large red banner from the canopy with an equally large imperial eagle. The ornate white and gilded ceiling soared two-stories above the floor.
Leaving St. George Hall, our group wound through some smaller spaces, ultimately stopping in Pavilion Hall. Intimate and two-stories do not necessarily go together, but this space was genuinely intimate. Dominating this hall is the 18th-Century Gold Peacock Clock. The clock is behind a glass covering. The peacock is life-size, as well as the cockerel and the owl. With such large creatures in the clock, one might think the clock face is large too, wrong. The hidden clock face is actually in a small mushroom. The automated birds originally went through a series of movements every hour. My understanding is that the clock now moves only a few times a year. That is to keep from wearing out the mechanical parts. Even though we did not see it move, it was an impressive piece.
We ended up in the Old Dutch Masters area shortly after leaving Pavilion Hall. That is where we began seeing painters copying various paintings. They had easels, stools, and drop cloths set up. We quickly saw a dozen or more painters. Our guide shared that it was a big test for the art students through one of the local universities. I could barely take photographs of the paintings; I know there is no way I could copy one with a brush. Their talent was amazing.
Our next viewing was the Italian Renaissance area of the museum. Below are some of the works that caught my attention. In this area of the museum, we found more art students copying paintings.
Another unusual feature of the Hermitage is the Raphael Loggia. It is a relatively narrow hall, but it is around 20 feet tall. Some call the loggia Raphael’s Bible. That is because Raphael painted several stories from the Bible in this loggia.
Below, in no particular order, are some of the other sights we saw in the Hermitage Museum. The narrative continues well below the photos.
The Hermitage is just like the Louvre in one respect; there is no way one can see everything. We did see many more works of art. When we emerged from the Hermitage, we saw a sea of people waiting to enter. We were glad we went when we did. We walked across the street toward the Neva River, onto our bus, and then back to the ship.
Back on the bus, our guide greeted us all with a Russian chocolate bar. That was very nice of her.
At the cruise terminal, several gift shops were dealing in items designed to catch the eye of tourists. As usual, we found some refrigerator magnets.
After dinner that evening, we all went to a show. The entertainment was a troupe of 14 Russian dancers/singers. Seven band members accompanied them, playing authentic Russian instruments. The entire performance in Russian did not deter us from understanding what was happening. The eye-catching traditional costumes were colorful.
The following day, our canal tour was in the afternoon. After breakfast, it was the same drill through immigration and onto a bus. Our destination was close to the Hermitage Museum. It was very cloudy. The bus stopped so we could all get off. We faced about a two-block walk to the canal boat. Some of the walking was a little dicey, but we all made it safely. While walking, we saw a bride and groom stopping to take photos. Our guide told us it is normal for newlyweds to travel around the city, taking photographs at their favorite locations.
As we finished our walk, it began to drizzle. That did not stop me from taking photos. I kept clicking from under my umbrella. Shortly after the boat pulled away from the mooring, one of the workers brought us a complimentary glass of champagne, my kind of cruise!
Our boat departed its mooring on Moyka Canal. After passing the Japan Consulate, we took a quick right turn onto the canal that is on the east side of the Hermitage Museum. That canal led us to the Neva River. On the Neva, we turned to the west toward the Bolshaya Neva. I believe that means “little Neva” River. We cruised under the Dvortzovyy Most (bridge) and then under Biagoveshchenskiy Most. We made a U-turn back to the east, ultimately going under the Troitskiy Most. One right turn and we were on the Fontanka Canal. Our final right turn took us back to the Moyka Canal and our original mooring.
The bridges over the canals were extremely low. Some only had a total clearance of two meters, about six feet. If one were to stand while passing under, one would definitely lose body parts.
Just as we docked, the downpour began. It did not let up until we were back on the bus, of course. On the way back to the ship, we stopped by the Red October souvenir shop. Surprise, we bought another refrigerator magnet. Since there was still time to burn at that stop, I took a few photographs nearby.
When the bus arrived at the cruise terminal, it was about 17:00. Our seating time for dinner was 17:30. After exiting immigration, we discovered a very long line to board the ship. I think part of that was because the ship was due to depart at 17:30. We might have been a few minutes late for dinner that night, but it was no big deal.
Even though we spent a night on the ship in the port of St. Petersburg, we were only allowed off the boat if we were on a ship’s shore excursion. We wished we had been able to get off the ship and explore on our own, but it is what it is.
After dinner, I was able to stand on our balcony and take photographs of the Gulf of Finland. One of the highlights was the flood control dam. It is about 15 or 20 miles west of St. Petersburg. There are large motorized steel dams, which close in cases of flooding. At that location, a divided highway traverses under the water. The road is labeled KAO. I believe that is a ring road around the St. Petersburg area.
Just before the flood control dam, I saw a small island. There was a small humanmade harbor in the center. I found out later that this is Fort Kronshlot, built-in 1704 to fortify Russia from other Baltic states.
We watched a little TV in our room and then retired, ready to awake in Helsinki.
Lastly, below are random photographs I took as we rode around town on the bus going back and forth from the ship to our tours.
Leslie and I are fortunate to be able to return to the beautiful city of Tallinn, Estonia. Our fortune is all the better because we shared the experience with Lorraine and Arlene. As our ship docked, we saw one of the many ferries also coming into port. It was dayglow green, so it was hard to miss.
After breakfast, we disembarked. We had a very long walk along the pier to the taxi stand. Once we finally made it to a taxi, we got in and asked the driver to drop us off at the tourist information office in the Old Town area of Tallinn. I knew that location had a taxi stand and it is only a block or two from the town hall plaza. As we neared our destination, Leslie and I began to recognize the places we visited when we lived there for a short two weeks.
Within minutes, the taxi driver deposited us at the tourist information center. We entered and got the requisite tourist maps and brochures. It was still early, so we decided to get a coffee and pass some time. We selected the Caffé Centrale for our coffee. The interior was rather eclectic. Our server, 19-year old Alice, was kind enough to pose for a photo with the very giddy duo of Lorraine and Arlene.
After coffee, we completed the short walk to the town hall plaza. There was a medieval festival in the area. The day we were there was the final day of the festival. The vendors in the square sold various handmade crafts. We stopped at a booth where the man and woman made wooden items accented with woven strands of wood. While we stood there, the man took thin pieces of wood and drew them through a long-knife. That was how he made the strands used in weaving around the wooden items. Leslie bought a trivet. It is a cross-section of a piece of wood about six inches in diameter. On one edge, there are holes through which they weave the small strips of wood. The article is accented with pieces of amber, a substance that is abundant in Estonia. For a handmade craft, it was surprisingly inexpensive at only 7€.