A Travellerspoint blog

C OPEN hagen!

Copenhagen is open for business.....just bring your wallet!

sunny 22 °C

Today (Sunday) was the last morning on the cruise ship and this was the amazing sunrise that greeted our day. Having an aft cabin today was definitely a plus. For those of you new to cruising the main thing you have to know about the first day is they boot you off REAL early. We opted to handle our own luggage and were off the ship by 6:30 AM. Of course the hotel room was not ready so we spent some of the early morning catching up on e-mails!

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Once things opened up it was off to the Tourist Information Center to get our 3 day Copenhagen Card which offers free admissions to all museums, attractions, canal boat rides, bus, Metro and regional trains. It is a 'must have' for those staying for 24 hours or 72 hours. We also took advantage of the hotel bike rental. The best part of riding a bike in Copenhagen is that there are dedicated bike lanes EVERYWEHERE. And there are no hills anywhere - flatter than a Saskatchewan prairie! With the exception of one or two near disasters we covered a lot of territory on the bikes. The down side is that we don't take as many pictures as when we are walking.

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Nyhavn - a colorful community located around the departure point for all canal cruises. The cruise was very scenic!
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Instead of a 'play by play' of what we did I have included a few photos of the highights, including the Little Mermaid and Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli is basically the Danish version of Disneyland. It is said that Walt Disney fashioned Disneyland after these gardens. I am sure it would look lovely all lit up at night but sadly I think we will have to settle for a postcard - we walked through, watched people on the Amusement rides and headed out. Been there - down that! No wonder our Danish employee at CT and A shrugged his shoulders when asked about going to the gardens!

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And a few photos from our first day in Copenhagen.

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The Little Mermaid....she turns into sea foam in the Hans Christian Andersen version you know.....

I have mentioned how expensive Copenhagen is...Marty and I have a theory - everything costs either 50 Kr or 100 Kr. (10.00 or 20.00) Two coffee - 50 Kr., Bike rental 120 Kr., Sandwich 100 Kr. - you name it it costs roughly 20.00 for everything! Oh well - that is life.

Posted by jonaway 01.08.2011 09:57 Archived in Denmark Comments (1)

Did someone see a ship go down in the harbour?

Our trip to the Vasa Museum....

sunny 27 °C

If this is Friday it must be Stockholm, Sweden. We woke early this morning due to another hour times’ change. Probably one of the most difficult things about this cruise is the number of time changes we have made during our cruise east and then again west. The positive in all of this was as we awoke around 5 AM we opened the drapes to the most scenic cruise into a port.

Stockholm is located on the world’s largest archipelago which means the ship has to zig zag through some 30,000 islands. Many summer homes are located on these islands – some of the famous residents are Tiger Woods’s ex Elen, many of the NHL stars (Nik Lindstrom, Mats Sundin and many more) and the boys from ABBA.

We docked at 8 AM and promptly headed for the Hop On Hop Off boat. Unlike most other major cities Stockholm is located on a series of islands so it makes sense to tour the area by boat. Our first stop was the Vasa Museum, dedicated solely to the Vasa ship which sunk about 200 meters into its’ maiden voyage. This all occurred in 1628. It seems that it happened due to an engineering mistake of adding a full extra deck. The wild part is that the ship remained,in the harbour, undiscovered until 1961. One particular person was convinced that the ship was in a particular area yet people kept saying the mass in the water was rocks that had been dumped there during the city construction. He had almost given up looking for the ship when he went out one last time and with a lead core plumb, dropped it and discovered the ship. Through painstaking efforts they dove down to find that the ship had remained totally intact for 333 years. The efforts to raise the Vasa all at once was successful and that ship is now housed in this museum. What a site and what a museum. This is a ‘not to miss’ stop on any trip to Stockholm.

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We hopped back on the bus and travelled to Old Town, a lovely area surrounding the Royal Palace. Yes, just like Buckingham Palace they have palace guards who make great ceremony of changing at noon each day. This area is also home to the Nobel Museum – we took a pass on the museum settling for a much needed morning coffee instead!

It was off to another stop, the major high end shopping area. We happened upon the Saluhall, the Stockholm version of Granville Island. Being lunchtime we thought we would indulge our senses and have some lunch – all the locals seemed to b eating there. The meal was ordered and we paid – boy, did we pay. We each had one open faced sandwich, mine with shrimp and egg on rye bread and Marty’s a selection of salmon on rye. No lunch would be complete without a local beer for each of us. And the cost you might ask – a mere $55.00 for the four items! It was pricy but very, very tasty......

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Back to the HOHO boat and back to the ship for a much needed rest! This touring can be very tiring. Tomorrow is a day at sea and a day to relax.

Posted by jonaway 31.07.2011 12:11 Archived in Sweden Comments (2)

So there is more to Finland than just Mikka Kiprusoff!

sunny 30 °C

So today, let’s start with a piece of trivia.....what does NOKIA, text messages and ‘Angry Birds’ have in common? They are all creations of Finland. Oh the things you can learn when travelling.

We opted for a ship tour today, 7 hours to see Finalnd’s second oldest city Porvoo and get a bit of Helsinki sightseeing in before we sail. The highlight of our tour was Karoliina, our tour guide who was a perfect representation of the Finnish population. She had the most wonderful accent, rolling her r’s, pronouncing willage instead of village, showing us that sauna is really a 3 syllable word and so on.

Enroute to Porvoo we stopped at a medieval Luthern Church – a far cry from the grandeur of the Church of Spilled Blood yesterday. The vegetation in Finland would be very similar to Alberta – all the same flowers seem to flourish here that you can see in Calgary.

The town was small with lots of little ‘nook and cranny shops’! We did enjoy a morning coffee, something Fins seem totally addicted to...can you blame them when it gets that cold for so long?

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And then a first for us....the tour bus left without us! In all the years of travelling this has never happened to us. We were forced to join the other bus, enduring their jeers for missing the bus. When we arrived at our lunch stop, just down the road, we were reunited with Karoliina, who couldn’t apologize enough. It seems we didn’t ‘miss the bus’. She miscounted and thought she had everyone and left without us. In true Finnish fashion she apologized all afternoon – at least five times!

We had a typical Finnish lunch in the cave of an old farm distillery. It was somewhat cooler in the cave than outside, where we enjoyed Finnish meat rolls (with an HP Sauce like gravy), rosti potatoes and fruit tarts. I sat with a family from Mexico City. The oldest son was so excited when I said I was rom Calgary - seems he spent two years in Calgary at Mount Royal College.

From there we headed back to Helsinki for a few more highlights of the city before making our last stop at the Temple Square Church or the Rock Church as it referred to because the Finnish name is much too complicated to pronounce. The church is built into the bedrock and is topped with a cooper wire roof that provides incredible acoustics, which was evident as we listened to the organist.

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We gain another hour’s sleep tonight, something that seems to be precious to all of us. This is a gruelling 10 day cruise – not for the faint of heart!

Enjoy the photos!

Posted by jonaway 31.07.2011 12:07 Archived in Finland Comments (0)

It is not the breaths we take...

it is the moments that take our breath away

sunny 31 °C

With a good dinner and a good nights’ sleep under our belts we were off for our second day in St. Petersburg. Passport Control was slightly easier this morning but still no smiles from the Russians. Our tour guide, Eugene, was ready to show us more of his city. Today we are exploring the central area of the city, starting with a canal cruise. It is a totally different view of the city from the top of a canal boat. I did feel like I was in Venice at times, manoeuvring the canals and trying to avoid being struck by the low bridges.

One of the most interesting facts about SPb (St. Petersburg for short) is that all the canals and the Neva River freeze completely in the winter. While this might not seem too surprising it is simply because the Neva River freezes completely – right to the bottom of the river and remains solid for the rest of the winter. It is frozen totally from October to April. Hard to imagine a winter harsher than we endure but it happens in SPb.

Next we were off to visit the subways of SPb – another highlight! Now our tour guide adequately frightened us, telling us of the pick pockets and thieves. Leave ALL your valuables in the van (not something I am a fan of but I did what I was told!) “If you get lost here is my cell number”, says Eugene. “Hold hands with your partners and when the train comes get on, no matter what!” Wow what a build up. Now the subway is pretty spectacular. The escalator goes down deeper than any subway train I have ever ridden. It took several minutes and was very, very steep. The marble and bronze decor was truly a work. The train came, we all got on, there were no pickpockets and we had our adrenaline rush for the day – what fun!

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I forgot to include this photo of the subway station - from what I can see it might be my favorite shot!

We also visited St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, the resting place for most of the Tsars and Tsarinas of Russian. The church’s distinctive gold dome can be seen through the city. For those of you who watch Amazing Race will know that on a recent episode the group raced through this city. I will be rewatching those shows with interest when I get home.

And now for the moment that took my breath away today – the Hermitage Museum, which is actually the Winter Palace (and still looks more like a palace than an art gallery) and the Hermitage which houses more works of art than anywhere else in the world. They actually only have space to show 5% of their pieces. Two of only 10 known Leonardo Da Vinci paintings are in the Hermitage and we were fortunate to see both of them. I hope that a few of these photos help to describe the expanse of what we saw today.

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Lunch today was at a local bakery, not a touristy type of restaurant. We had “perogy” but not like we are accustomed to. These were more like pasties (for those of you from Michigan), filled with beef, or egg and onion, or cabbage. They also served dessert pies – the plum one was yummy! We thought we would try the Russian beer and was surprised when a Czech version of Budweiser was served to us! It was costly but with the hot weather it was worth every penny.

With eight months of winter there is really no need for air conditioning so the old buildings have none. Their idea of cooling a building, like the Hermitage, is to open a window! It is stifling in all of the buildings.

And there is still one more stop for our day – the Church of the Spilled Blood. This is one of the Russian churches that has the distinctive and colourful domed roofs. The Church of Spilled Blood was constructed after Tsar Alexander II was killed on this site. After the obligatory photos of the outside we ventured inside and, yes another breathtaking moment. The entire Orthodox church is adorned with the most intricate mosaics, from ceiling the floor and on EVERY space in the church. Having just returned from seeing the mosaics in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul I didn’t think it could get more spectacular but this church has the best mosaics – hands down. Stunning! Sorry that the interior photo doesn't come close to showing the magnificence of the church.

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Two interesting observations about Russia. First, we saw absolutely no police presence anywhere. I am sure they were there, somewhere – I am just not sure where! There are no armed guards guarding the treasures of the Hermitage – just a group of apple shaped Russian women sitting in each room of the museum! The other thing is that there are no street garbage cans so everyone leaves all their garbage everywhere – empty champagne and beer bottles, papers, water bottles – I mean everything! It seems the garbage cans make it too easy to set off explosives so once a day the garbage people come around and pick up the garbage.

Sadly, it was time to say good bye to Eugene and his boss Vicktoria. For those of your booking trips to the Baltic, please remember SPb Tours. They offer more than just St. Petersburg and do a ‘bang up job’. The company gets a big two thumbs up from yours truly!

Posted by jonaway 31.07.2011 11:39 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Welcome to Russia - Ja, you will enjoy!

sunny 30 °C

Early this morning we neared the port of St. Petersburg to find that the Baltic Sea cruise business is alive and well in this Russian city. Already in post were the Emerald Princess, Regent Seven Seas and a European cruise ship. Right behind us was RCCL’s Vision of the Seas. Once we got to the center of tT. Petersburg we saw four more ships; The World (where you own your cabin and travel where the ship happens to be), Seabourn, Azamara’s Quest and an AMA Waterway river boat. Talk about a busy day for tour operators. My best guess was there was over 10,000 cruise passengers adding to the 5.5 million people who live in St. Petersburg.

Safely docked it was time to meet the renowned unfriendly Soviet Customs and Immigration Agent. No welcome to Russia, no smile, no conversation. Just a strong glance to make sure you looked vaguely like your passport photo, a stamp in your passport and we were in! Off to meet Eugene, our SPb Tour guide for the next two days. I had arranged this two day tour for a number of reasons, mostly financial. The cruise line shore excursions are costly and no-one is allowed off the ship to tour by themselves. We were fortunate enough to be added to a group to make the 16 travellers for the next two days. I am sure there could be some inherent issues – such as not liking the other 14 travellers but for us this was not the case. We had a couple from New Zealand, one from Australia and ourselves to represent the Commonwealth. In addition, we had 5 other couples from various locations in the U.S. The best part of travelling with a group of 16 is that everything is much more efficient. Bathroom breaks take less time, hearding 16 in the long lines of tourists are easier, etc.

Now on to our day – we squeezed (literally – there is NO leg room on small Russian tour buses) into our seats were off for our first stop – a photo stop at the central part of St. Petersburg. This is a city that was designed to resemble Venice and Amsterdam. Canals and bridges abound here.

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On to Catherine’s Palace and the famous Amber Room. This palace and surrounding 250 acres is located a 45 minute drive from St. Petersburg. In the days off the tsars this would have taken three days of hard travelling – we made it in about 45 minutes. Enroute and leaving the city Eugene showed us some of the city sites from the bus. The palace has been mostly restored since the destruction by the Nazis in the 1940s. It is absolutely ‘goosebumpy’ to think and see the pictures of how the Nazis desecrated such a masterpiece. The Amber Room was nothing like I had been expecting – each wall in the room is covered in Amber from Russia – 6 tonnes in all. Well it is not how I would decorate my house it was breathtaking.

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From Catherine’s Palace we travelled to Peterhof – Peter’s Palace. It seems that Catherine didn’t like water and Peter did so he built his own palace which offers fountains galore. It is a great place for a stroll and walk in the park. If you need cooling off you can participate in the water fountain which goes off three times a day and gets everyone soaked. With the hot weather of the day it was a welcome activity for some.

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A 30 minute hydrofoil brought us back to St. Petersburg where Eugene kindly deposited us at the ship. Knackered from the day we had a quiet night on the ship – choosing not to partake in the vodka fuelled folklore night. From all accounts this is a great thing to do while in St. Petersburg – oh well, there is always next time!

Posted by jonaway 31.07.2011 11:18 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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