Day 13 & 14 Scandinavia – Oh Crap, It’s Almost Over

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It’s a bit breezy on our veranda as we head back to Southampton, England – and ultimately home.

Our last port has been visited and now we are headed back to where we embarked.  It will take us two days to reach Southampton, England.

This is the time of our vacations when I fight depression.  I just don’t want it to end.  The idea of packing up and trying to jam in any ship activities that we have missed makes me want to pull the covers over my head.  It’s been so much fun; why does it have to end?  Attitude is everything, and wasting the last two days in a depressed funk, is ridiculous.  So I suck it up, hitch up my big girl panties and see what we can still do.

This cruise has had an ambitious number of ports, and we are pooped.  Laying by the pool for hours, sipping on drinks with umbrellas, has never been my idea of fun.  But now is a great chance to lay back and recover.  George and I found a reclining couch for two and snoozed/read the morning away.   I did get some activity by participating in the World Wildlife Fund fundraiser walk.  And I got a nifty t-shirt to prove I did it!

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Everyone was trying to enjoy the last ship days. We had one of the bed couches on the right side. It was lovely.

The pool and buffet are only one floor apart, so we had lunch there.  I think the entire ship was there that day!  It was like people realized they only had two days to eat everything in site before going home.  It was crazy!

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Well, I still had my winning voucher from the casino.  I had no illusions about taking home a jackpot, but here is my chance to have some more fun pushing a little button repeatedly.  No surprise, but a few hours later and I have a grand total of .18 cents.  I save the voucher as the memory of a very good time.  It was hours of fun during the past two weeks on my $20.  I could easily spend that much on a meal, and would go home with some extra lumps of cellulite on my thighs.  I think I came out ahead!

Not wanting to miss out on an educational experience, I attended an interesting lecture on Rasputin, the religious healer of the hemophiliac son of the last czar of Russia.  It was so good that I stayed for another lecture on 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Ship Life for the Crew – which was fun, as well.  I missed the bingo, karaoke, scrapbooking, choir and dancing lessons.  That’ the trouble with these ships – there’s nothing to do!

This is the first trip that we haven’t killed ourselves eating in the specialty restaurants.  Of course, we had a lot fewer sea days; after a long day trekking around a new port, it is a lot of effort to come back and get mentally geared up for a new culinary adventure.  We usually try to get some great food on shore, and I’m happy with that.  The specialty restaurants, however, are really good.  George loves his spaghetti and meatballs and I had nixed all the Italian restaurants in the ports.  Which made me feel guilty….so on the last night we decided to hit his favorite place – The Tuscan Grill.

This restaurant has the best real estate on the ship.  It is located close to the water level at the back of the ship.  The view is amazing.  We were too early for gob-stopping sunset photos, but it was still beautiful.

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It’s pretty difficult to pass on fresh, homemade pasta.  So I didn’t!  Ordered as a side dish, the portion was about a hefty cup, and really tasty.  It was also dotted with butter, okay more realistically floating, and delicious.  George went for his favorite, spaghetti and meatballs and Ellie attacked a fillet mignon.  I opted for sea bass on a bed of spinach.

Before you think I did a fairly good job of healthy choices, I cannot tell a lie.  I also had  bread dipped in olive oil and fresh oregano.  And did I mention the deep fried calamari appetizer?  The glutton gods froze my camera clicking finger and brain – so I forgot to take pictures of the bread and appetizers.  Wine?  Oh yes, a lovely sauvignon blanc.

Yes, the calorie/point calculator  was spinning wildly (my slot machine should have spun this fast) – so let’s go ahead and add the homemade limoncello and dessert.  Ever virtuous, I passed on the tiramisu and went with the mango sorbet.  Truth is I would have thrown up if I had eaten the tiramisu, but I managed to lick down the sorbet.

Waddling back to our room, we were too full to go to the last show, which I felt really bad about.  The entertainment is top notch, and I hated to miss it.

The one sour note came when I was packing our bags.  The luggage has to be packed and set out in the hallway by 10 pm the evening before we disembark.  Nothing makes you know the fantasy is coming to an end quicker than seeing all the luggage sitting in the hallways.

I freely admit that I am compulsive, and prefer not to have help packing the bags.  George is happy to grab an armful of clothes, toss them in and shut it up.  I use packing cubes (wonderful invention), and everything is sorted and organized.  No, I don’t have a table of contents to reference each item, but it is a good idea.

While emptying out the drawers, I stubbed my big toe on the couch.  Of course, I hit it just right and it ripped the top of the nail off.  Well, not quite off – it was hanging there, attached on one side, bleeding and throbbing.  It hurt so much that I forgot to use curse words.  I just went “Oh” and looked at it in disbelief.

The good news is that I didn’t do it on the first day of the trip.  It would have been a major inconvenience, not to mention painful experience.  This way, I just got to limp with a tragic martyred look on my face for the last day.   It also gave me an excuse to drink more wine at the Tuscan Grill.  Pain relief, right?

It did take the wind out of my enthusiasm to roam the boat.  I make a vow to not take the elevator.  Stairs are great exercise and also a food deterrent.  If you have to climb seven flights of stairs to get to the buffet, you think twice about it.  But limping up the 95 stairs to the Oceanview Cafe was more of a challenge than I could attempt.  I still took the stairs, but stayed within a floor or two of our room.

We leave the ship at 7:15 a.m. and take a shuttle to the airport.  I can’t believe it is over.  George is happy to leave, Ellie can’t wait to see her friends, and I’m going to have to be pried off the ship’s rail.  I truly love my job, love my life, and would love to stay on this cruise and do it all over again.

 

 

 

Days 11 & 12 Scandinavia – Berlin, Germany – It Was the Best of Times and the Wurst of Times

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Sunset in Germany as we drove from Berlin back to our ship in Warnemunde. There is a modern art aspect to the multitudes of wind generators against the skyline. I think they are rather lovely. Germany has a large focus on getting away from a petroleum based energy source.

Day 10 – Sea Day

This will be a short paragraph on Day 10.  We woke up late, ate, rested, ate again and read our books. The previous four days had been an energy sucking (but fun) experience, and we were ready to relax.

We had thought we had two days at sea and then would be in Berlin.  Wrong!  We had one day to Berlin.  This took the wind out of my sails a bit; I was really looking forward to two days of rest.   This cruise has had a lot of stops.  I know there is a possibility that I won’t be returning, so I feel compelled to get in as much as possible.  Doesn’t always make for a relaxing vacation – but I can be a inactive at home.  This is my chance to see a bit of our world.  That’s why a Sea Day is lovely – it is a chance to recoup from the previous days adventures – and the couch is there for me to curl up on with my book.

Day 11 – Berlin

George has decided to pass on Berlin and explore the local sites of Warnemunde and Rostock, which is a 15 minute train ride.  Rostock has the oldest continuing university in Europe, founded in 1419.  Both cities were heavily bombed in WWI and WWII, because of naval and aerial factories.  When Rostock went to rebuild their city center, they chose a happy Swedish village model for their architecture, in order to take the focus away from the grim past. Continue reading “Days 11 & 12 Scandinavia – Berlin, Germany – It Was the Best of Times and the Wurst of Times”

Days 9 St. Petersburg, Russia – Going for the Gold

The early morning skies were misting and cool as we came into St. Petersburg.  I had missed sunrise, but I’m not sure there would have been much to see.  As I was hanging over the railing looking through the misting fog, the building complex above appeared in the middle of the bay.  I have no idea what it was, but believe me it was spooky dooky.  These were large buildings, and they appeared to be on ground, but it was smack in the middle of the bay.  The abandoned, derelict concrete buildings on either end  had a fair sized pond between them, and the whole thing was ringed with a low concrete wall.  A narrow opening (see above) went into the pond.  Definitely not large enough for anything military (so no dead Russian sailor ghosts), but perhaps something for fishing?  Very perplexing and it lent a definite air of mystery into our trip.  If anyone has an idea what this was – let me know!

We have a two day visit to St. Petersburg.  Visas are not required for cruisers, but it also means we have to stay with a government sanctioned guide.  This is not only expensive, but our time is just not our own.  No wandering around town seeing the sights on our own.  We could have purchased visas, of course, but the added expense for two days didn’t seem worth it.

Last year we visited Siberia, which was a hoot.  It was a sunny day in late March, but freezing.  Snow on the ground, as you can imagine.  We were all bundled up like human-sized Yeti wannabes.  The residents, thinking it was a sunny warm day, were all in shorts.  I guess it is all relative.  The residents were definitely not friendly and I had a guy spit at me when I said hello.  And immigration was a nightmare.

St. Petersburg is a tourist mecca, so we were sure it would be different.  And it was.  The people we encountered were all wonderfully warm and helpful.  Immigration?  Not so much, but they weren’t rude, either.   We stood in line to get out and stood in line to get back out any time we left the ship.  No eye contact, except to verify our picture matched the passport.  No verbal communication, unless it was to correct something (I had Ellie walk up with me).  Not warm and friendly, but those poor folks see thousands of people a day, and it can’t be easy for them.  I would have taken a picture, but there were signs up saying no photography.  Not wishing to see the inside of a gulag, I kept my camera in the bag.

We almost didn’t make the tour.  Ellie had been suffering from a head cold for a few days.  During the night her ears had started hurting.  She was definitely not feeling well.  George, ever hopeful for a reason to stay on ship, declared she needed emergency medical intervention and stay on board for the day – and he would happily volunteer to play nurse.

As mother of six, I’m not easily panicked about a head cold and earache.  Her ears were definitely aching, but she didn’t have a fever, and her throat wasn’t red.  George was adamant that we have her seen by a doctor.  Now mind you, the tour starts at 7:30 a.m.  This is 6:30 a.m. and the medical clinic doesn’t open until 8 a.m.

George, convinced her throat might close and need resuscitation, insisted she stay.  Then happily reached for his book.  Ellie, hearing of her imminent approaching death, started to get alarmed and felt worse.  I started getting cranky.  Another fun day in paradise….

I called the 24 hour nurse on duty and she said Ellie would need to see the doctor.  I explained the time crunch (we now had 45 minutes).  She said she would wake the doctor and he would see us, but it would cost double.

Madly, Ellie and I jogged to the tour excursion site and asked if we had time to make an emergency run to the medical center.  They are used to everything – they put tour stickers on us and said “RUN!”  George, sipping his coffee, strolled to the excursion site and took a seat.

We raced to get to Deck 2, which also was the disembarkation site.  Explaining our problem, the staff escorted us downstairs to the medical center.  Which was closed, with a sea water Titanic door, of course.  We got a special tour of the crew quarters and entered through the staff entrance.  The nurse appeared, took info, called the doctor and he came stumbling in.  He said she had no fever, no red throat and yes, her ears were plugged.  His diagnosis?  Head cold.  He handed us some antibiotic spray for her ears that might help and a bottle of Dayquil.  And a bill for $300.

We ran back to the excursion site, but they had left.  We raced back to other end of the ship, where we had just left, and after a huge search – found George.  And left for the tour.  Poor George, outwitted again.  It would have been cheaper for us not to use his excursion ticket, and let him stay on the ship.

Our first day out was a guided tour (of course – no choice!) to the Peterhof palace, authentic Russian lunch and a tour of a modern art museum.  Our guide, Svetlana, was gracious, warm and helpful.

Tip:  When traveling to Russia in August, remember EVERYONE is taking a tour (because they have to) and the lines will be long.  So long that you cannot see either end, and the thought of a toilet is more important than food and water.  Although, when not longing to pee, there is a fear that you will die of starvation.  Imagine the longest line you have ever been in at Disneyland and multiply it by 27.  Then add another thousand people.

Svetlana earned her tips.  She got us in the  line and told us to wait while she tried something.  Pretty soon she came back, motioned for us to go quietly with her and not say anything.  With an air of authority, she quietly marched us past an estimated 7,000 people and stopped next to a Princess Cruise group (we are Celebrity).  She conferred with their guide (must have been a friend)  and motioned for us to join their group.

Oh my goodness.  How rude to the multitudes of people behind us.  And we loved her for it.  I know, when I’m at the Pearly Gates asking for admittance, they will probably have this on their Top 100 Reasons She Should Not Be Admitted list; but it was such a sweet surprise.

The Peterhof was the summer palace of Peter the Great.  So named because, well – he was pretty Great.  I’m not a Peter expert, but he was quite remarkable for his time.  Both in stature (he was nearly seven feet tall), and for his westernization efforts of Russia.  He was the first Russian monarch to travel to Europe at the beginning of the 18th century.  He went to France, which began their close cultural relationship, and fell in love with the architecture and gardens.  He returned to Russia and decided to create St. Petersburg.  Mind you, this was a large swampy area of small islands.  No prob if you are a Tsar; just set your slave peasant labor pool onto it and create a city.  He wanted a good seaport to open Russia up to Europe.  Big changes for a big, isolated kingdom.

He built himself a summer palace, which is now known as Peterhof.  A tiny little cottage on the Bay of Finland.  Ha.  It is now much grander than the original he started in 1705, as it was added onto by various rulers.  Let it be said that the rulers and rich of Russia loved gold.  I’m sure they had gold plated toothbrushes.  And commodes.

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This is a typical hallway in Peterhof. Don’t get excited, it isn’t solid gold – they used gold leaf. I could, however, probably retire on the proceeds of one doorway.

There are many royal palaces in St. Petersburg and the surrounding area.  The wealthy lived a lifestyle far different than the people who served them.  We walked through room after room of gold and beautiful antiques.  Sadly, many of the palaces were destroyed and damaged during WWII.  St. Petersburg is famous for their 900 day siege by the German military.  Aerial bombings and looting destroyed much of the former grandeur.  There has been a remarkable effort to rebuild and restore the palaces.  Unless you have knowledge of the horrors of the damage, you wouldn’t have any idea it had taken place.

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This is a chair used by Peter the Great. Note it has five legs. At seven foot tall and rather hefty, he felt more stable in a chair with five legs.

I was dazzled, Ellie was interested for the first 50 rooms and George wanted to sit down after the first room.  In fairness, we had been on our feet for quite awhile before ever reaching the first room.

After the palace tour, we had a tour of the famous gardens of Peterhof.  Inspired by the gardens of Versailles, Peter began creating the ultimate garden.  160 acres with 150 fountains.  It was truly incredible.  The fountains are all unique and large.  At the time it was created, one fountain had the highest spouting water in Europe.  All gravity fed without pumps.  An engineering marvel.

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The steps on the backside of the house ring these fountains as we walk towards the bay.
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These are metal tree sculptures with water jets. From a distance it was hard to tell that they weren’t living trees.
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A man of whimsy, there are several fountains that are activated when stepped upon. Unsuspecting guests would walk across a path and the fountain would erupt. This was a young boy who was having the time of his life. His parents dressed him and told him to walk across. He was dancing with joy.

We eventually reached the bay and our guide informed us it was a short one mile hike to the hydrofoil boats that would give us a ride across the bay.  Poor George, he was ready to quit, but he gamely kept on.  He was happy to have the 45 minute ride to rest.  We all were.  The boat was extremely comfortable and we sailed across the water in style.

Next stop was our authentic lunch at an authentic restaurant.  I had asked for a vegetarian meal, but they didn’t get the memo.  The guide tried to get something for me, and said they were giving everything they had vegetarian.  A glass of champagne, a shot of vodka, and a nickel sized piece of toast with caviar on top.  Followed by chicken salad, beef borscht, beef stroganoff and a cherry tart.  As you can imagine, the caviar and cherry tart really balanced out the alcohol.

Yes, I drank the champagne!  I tasted the vodka and decided to pass on it.  No problem, George drank my vodka and Ellie’s champagne and vodka.  Plus his own.  George, who had eaten a hamburger a couple of days ago, decided to be vegetarian (I think to support me) and didn’t eat his beef stroganoff  or borscht.  He loved the chicken salad, however and would have eaten my cherry tart, except I whacked him with me empty champagne glass.  Reviews of the food were less than warm, it really didn’t look good and there was a general consensus that it stunk.  You know it’s not good when the guide doesn’t ask “How did you love the food?  Great, right?”  There wasn’t any mention of lunch after we boarded the bus for our tour of the modern art museum.

Both George and Ellie were glaring at me about the next stop.  Modern art?  What the heck were we doing?  To be honest, I wasn’t that excited about it either.  When I booked it, I didn’t realize we couldn’t scamper off and do our own thing.  I thought if it wasn’t great, we could go sightseeing.  Oops.

Perhaps it was the champagne and caviar bite, but I absolutely loved this place.  Even Ellie enjoyed it.  George loved that there were benches to sit on and enjoy the view.  We were accompanied by a bonus surprise.  One of the artists exhibiting his work consented to show us the museum and give the artist’s perspective.  He was followed by a photographer who was documenting it for publicity purposes.  The guide was surprised and happy to have him – and it was amazing.

He talked about the artists, and what they were trying to communicate through different mediums.  I won’t bore you with all the details, but I ended up having such a great time.  Some of the exhibits were tactile and we were encouraged to touch and feel.  The last exhibit was by our artist.  In the center of a dark room, he had lined a curving path  with rows of plastic bubbles hung from ceiling to floor, illuminated so they glowed.  Each one us walked through the bubbles, touching them and feeling a bit like we were enchanted.  The champagne was probably still working its magic.  George wasn’t too enchanted (the vodka talking?), but he was really tired and wanted out of there.  He walked through the bubbles with a “I’m pretending this is fun” look on his face – to the enjoyment of the group.   I’m not doing a great job of describing it – but the group had great fun and the guide looked amazed.  I’m sure her tours here previously have not been as inspiring.

Back on the bus and the guide described the city as we went back to the ship.  Ten hours of adventure and we were all ready to stop.  None of us had eaten anything nutritious the entire day, so we ate quickly at the buffet and went to bed.  Getting ready for the next ten hour tour tomorrow.

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A hug outside after finishing the palace tour. Now to go through the gardens
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When you have a royal family, this is how you show a collage of family members. Actually an artist took 8 girls and dressed them in different outfits and painted pictures of them over and over. Pin up girls of the 18th century?

The video below is my tour through the bubbles, while still enjoying the influence of the lunch bubbly.

Day 1 – We’re Off to Scandinavia and Russia!

It is such a job getting out of town on vacation.  It is so much work that we need a vacation to recover from the effort.  There is always a last minute disaster or two, which in the moment of chaos, makes me wonder whether this is all worth it.  But, of course, it is.  What is moderate inconvenience (and lack of sleep) compared to heading out on a grand adventure!

This trip we are taking our granddaughter Ellie, aged 14, along.  We took her twin sister, Emma, with us to South America last spring.  This time we are headed to Scandinavia, with a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia thrown in. Continue reading “Day 1 – We’re Off to Scandinavia and Russia!”