Friday, October 27, 2017

Scandinavia #7

Helsinki, Finland

          Helsinki, Finland was our next Port o' Call. This is a city I have always wanted to see. It was freezing cold, about 62 and windy. However, the sun is very close to the earth this far north and helped warm things to comfortable by noon.


Harbor Excursion
          We took a harbor cruise along the southern coast of Finland. Our group walked along the harbor to our boat. We noticed the sand was very dark, looked like it was mixed with dirt/mud. I didn't know the harbor into Helsinki had many islands, covered with trees and buildings on high rises. The largest island had a huge fort built to defend against Swedes and Russians in the 1700s. The architecture along the mainland coast was amazing. We passed Ice Breaker ships and learned the entire Baltic Sea sometimes freezes over and the Ice Breakers are needed to keep the sea open for shipping. In other spots, the local government creates lanes on the ice for cars to drive over and for people to ice skate.

We had a perspective from the sea we wouldn’t have had from a tour bus. The city has been around since the 1100AD with the Vikings part of the growth of the city.
Finland had a close relationship with Germany during WWII, they were deathly afraid of the Russians and turned to Germany for protection. They said they had to choose between two evils and chose Germany.
I notice that the Finnish people, men, are very handsome and the women rather pretty, and extremely tall! Their facial features are delicate.

Old Town Helsinki
          After the cruise, we stopped at the ship for a buffet lunch, then took a 30-minute walk to the open air market in Old Town Square. We noticed the cobblestones were like boulders, huge! Also, saunas are a way of life in Finland and apparently in most of the Scandinavian culture and it's quite a ritual.
          This capital city has the most interesting architecture I have seen. The variety in the buildings is superb. Each had a history that added to this amazing city.

Old Town Helsinki
          After the cruise, we stopped at the ship for a buffet lunch, then took a 30-minute walk to the open air market in Old Town Square. We noticed the cobblestones were like boulders, huge! Also, saunas are a way of life in Finland and apparently in most of the Scandinavian culture and it's quite a ritual.

          This capital city has the most interesting architecture I have seen. The variety in the buildings is superb. Each had a history that added to this amazing city.

An evening on the ship
          With such comfortable weather today, we just walked and walked through the city. Hence, when we got back to the ship, we were exhausted.  We had dinner that night in the Grand Dining room, a dress code strictly adhered.

          We were seated at a table of 6 and met the most interesting people. One of the couples, an older couple from Kentucky, escaped Nazi Germany and made their way to Seattle. Their story was heartwarming.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Scandinavia #6

Riga Latvia
          Our next Ports o' Call was Riga, Latvia. It was 54 F and drizzly when we headed to Old Town. The President was working in the castle (Riga Castle), so all castle tours were canceled. But the castle is an amazing structure built in 1330 on the bank of the River Daugava.  It was heavily guarded with sentries standing in their little houses like in London and marched from one corner o the building to the other with their automatic weapons (M16s).

Old Town Riga
          We continued our walk through town, the maps are very confusing. So we decided to stroll through the city. We found the "Three Brothers," three old style buildings attached and beautifully designed in medieval times about the late 1400s.

          The drizzle turned to light rain so ducked into St. Peter's Church to rest. There was a service in progress (we forgot it was Sunday). The building started around 1300s (Gothic) with multiple arches in every corner of the church. The outside was old bricks and turrets.  We happened upon two gentlemen playing French horn and Tuba. Locals stopped and clapped along while singing Latvian folk songs.

          Old Town has many parks and small cafes hidden out of the way alleys, nooks, and corners. The cafes were covered with flowers, wrought iron bistro tables and chairs, all very romantic. The city was considered the "Paris of the Baltic" when it was part of the USSR. I could see why!  

          The sun came, it turned out to be a lovely late afternoon sky. We stopped at a park and enjoyed the huge trees and flowers for a while. We didn't say much, just took in the spirit of the ancient city.

Afternoon Tea
          We got back to the ship just in time for Afternoon Tea.  It was held in the lovely formal dining room, with the panoramic view of the city. Crystal chandeliers hung from a high ceiling, white linen tablecloths, crystal glassware, china and real silverware. A string quartet played the entire time, distinguished waiters in white jackets scurried around to meet your every want, and a dress code for attendees made it an extraordinary experience. The pastries, sandwiches and various teas were delicious. The head cook had a lovely dish waiting for me with my gluten-free diet.

Leaving Latvia
          We sat on our veranda and watched this charming medieval town pass by us as we left the docks. Our reservations were for 8:00 dinner at Toscana, a select restaurant on board. The interior of the restaurant was just like Italy, the food amazing. We lingered over dessert enjoying our seating partners from Australia.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Scandinavia #5

Klaipeda, Lithuania

          Our next Ports o' Call was Klaipeda, Lithuania. As we pulled into the dock we could see beautiful forests along the shore with wonderful looking hunting lodge buildings across the channel from the ship. It was a beautiful morning with a dew dark clouds.

Rainy Day
          We left the ship to tour the town, we got about a third of a mile from the ship when rain began to pepper the sidewalk. We ducked under some trees, but still got wet. We decided to cross the main street and get under a huge oak tree. I began to pour as we crossed the street. We go under the trees but got soaked. We ran to an awning and waited until the rain let up. Finally, we headed back to the ship for dry clothes and it dumped on us again.
          We changed and grabbed our rain gear and left again. It didn't rain again that day!

Old Town Klaipeda
          The cobblestones of Old Town were much larger than the ones in Copenhagen or Warnemunde. They were like slick boulders. You had to be careful where you stepped and how. As we entered Theatre Square we saw the most amazing use of flowers displayed. The pile of flowers was at least 5 feet tall with a well-shaped dome that went to the ground. It was magnificent. These flower domes surrounded the cobblestone square.

          We walked through old town, we were passed by horse drawn carriages while the town church bells rang out at noon. I actually felt I was in a Rembrandt painting surrounded by 15th-century building and flowers hanging from the light posts, as the horse clip-clapped along the stones. On our way back to the ship a group of people was gathered on the bridge. The swing bridge had opened to let a boat pass. It was interesting how the bridge was operated by two men turning the mechanism, the way they did it centuries ago.

Evening on board the ship
          We had reservations at the Polo Grill, a formal dining room with rave reviews. We dressed and waited for our time for dinner in a quiet spot at the Barista, sipping hot chocolate and watching the ship leave the harbor.
          The Polo Grill was beautifully decorated in old English steakhouse style. The food was excellent!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Scandinavia #4

Warnemunde, Germany

               Our first Port o' Call was Warnemunde, Germany. When we woke up we immediately went out on our veranda. The ship had arrived at a quaint little German seaside village. Warnemunde was in East Germany and had little contact with the west. The town was also a vacation spot in the summer for East Germans. Apparently, this town was heavily bombed during WWII ruining many of its historical buildings. Under communist rule, few ruins were fixed. There are stories of people hiding many artifacts from the communists that were thought lost during the war. They are now displayed with great pride.

          We ate breakfast and headed to town. The weather was cold, breezy and drizzling. I had to keep reminding myself it's early fall in the Northern Kingdom.
          Our stroll through the town square was on cobblestones lined with buildings since the early 1800s. The shops and restaurants were in German but we found many locals spoke excellent English.

          We found ourselves in a residential area with 2-3 story homes, flowers were cuddled in every corner possible. We also noted the blooms on the flowers were rather large and vibrant in colors.
          It was getting colder with light rain so we ducked into a Lutheran Church, St. Christopher. It’s alter was built in 1475! It also had a statue of St. Christopher (7 feet tall) carved in 1507!

          After warming and drying out we continued our stroll on the seaside. Fortunately, the sun was out and no clouds. The beach had beautiful,  white sand that glistened in the sun for miles. Large covered Cabanas lined the sand. We wanted to stick our feet in the blue ocean but the weather was cold (50F) and decided not to.

          As we walked along the coast, families walked with their children, baby carriages and strollers. Many were from other parts of Germany vacationing on the coast-again many spoke very good English.

          Clouds blew in and the rain started up. On our way back to the ship there were sand sculptures, beautifully done and very intricate.

          We spent the rest of the rainy day on the ship at the well-stocked library on the 14th deck, looking out at the ocean. We were even served hot chocolate.

          We kept talking about how beautiful Warnemunde was. For so long many of the countries and cities were hidden behind the Iron Curtain that we forgot how beautiful this part of eastern Europe was...until now.