Copenhagen and Environs

After disembarking, I had an extra 3 days in Copenhagen to explore. There is a city walk – well worth it! Once I did that on day 1 , then took the train to the towns of Helsinore and Roskilde respectively on day 2 and 3. Lots of bike tracks, take note.

Helsinore

The shipping port at the point closest to Sweden and sitting there is the castle of Elsinor of Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Roskilde

Is famous as perhaps the second oldest settlement in Denmark with yet another Cathedral where royalty are to this day still buried (only after death) and a glorious interactive Viking museum with huge outdoor displays and workshops of boat building, rope making and rides in replica Viking boats, which necessitates a bit of dipping in the oars.

So I now sit, awaiting transport to the Copenhagen airport and my trip home. Its time! The big question, where to next?

The Feeding of the 5000

The Baltic Sea cruise lasted 9 days – I shall now attempt a concise summary after disembarking, back in Copenhagen. Around the second day, as I navigated my way along the 8th floor (there were 16 altogether) which floor is given over almost entirely to a casino, the opening stanza of Samuel Taylor Coleridge famous poem:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

resonated through my mind. Once cocooned (perhaps imprisoned is a better term) on the high seas, the 1000 staff were well oiled machines extracting money from the 4000 passengers. This they do in a way that mimics, nay exceeds, the orthodontist who advertises "pain free dentistry ".

Granted there was the facility to eat and sleep inclusive of your tour package and we had, as a group booking of more than 40, the bonus package of "unlimited free alcohol" – actually I think up to $100 US each. I am sure that if the Norwegian Cruise Line could fathom a way to charge guests for each episode of cabin sex, on both accounts (alcohol and sex) the Norwegian Cruise Line would class me as one of their worst returns on investment, sex wise, but a diamond chip asset when it came to grog!

Our "stateroom with balcony" was modestly liveable. Our delightful steward Larry, from Indonesia, assumed that Vivienne was my wife. Politely denying this only confused him more, understandably so, but only exacerbated things for Ms Vivienne, as Larry assumed we were brother and sister. I took this as a compliment whilst Vivienne was of course distressed , as I am old enough to be her father. Having clarified the possible assumption of our incestuous relationship, by asking Larry to move the beds apart, we settled in to test the "unlimited alcohol" bonus. I am pleased to report that the offered was extended to Tonic Water.

To prevent boredom at sea the ship was indeed a massive "pleasure dome"- once forced into bankruptcy at the casino there was an incredible constant programme of entertainment including a full size theatre/ auditorium.

There was an atrium which featured (if that is the correct term) all sorts of performing bands, vocalists, quiz nights etc etc

A duty free area became a hive of activity and singing cash registers, each time the ship set sail and entered international waters.

Bankrupt, inebriated and deafened by last nights' ABBA karaoke show , one could stagger to the gym.

There was a Boutique Spa and Health Studio where for a few hundred dollars a futuristic machine would provide one with a total body analysis of one's health. Book in on day 1 for the total package ( a mere few thousand dollars) of dermabrasion, acupuncture, Botox, cellulite treatments and on day 9, you disembark looking so different that even your pet chihuahua is confused…. then of course there is the totally free body analysis available in the privacy of your stateroom: the full length mirror inside the wardrobe door.

One of the most interesting events I attended was in the huge theatre at the aft of the ship (blunt end) – a Q & A with the captain and chief engineer and there were lots of quite fascinating and intriguing facts: 11,000 meals during the entire trip, Waste food, of which there was in my opinion, an immoral mountain, was blended in a gigantic vat of an industrial type Bamix then discharged into the sea as fish food.

Which of course leads to the inevitable corollary of what happens to the other "waste"? Well you may ask as indeed it was by a precocious American "junior mariner" as the MC described the youngster. The ship has its own fully operational sewerage treatment works and the end result is so pure as to be potable! It is however discharged in the sea and any residual solids are off loaded at port! Now you know.

The ship has I recall several propellers, the two main aft monsters that drive it are 5.4m in diameter.

However the prize for the most inane question/comment was by a woman who essentially complained about, wait for it, the WIND!

I should preface this explaining that the Norwegian Getaway is the largest most modern of the fleet, commissioned in 2015 , it was purpose built to cruise the Caribbean. It has an amazing aquatic deck with pools and 4 gravity defying water slides that leave your heart and stomach in your mouth. Two of them begin with a free fall ie vertically for several metres. Anyway, because the demand for the Baltic Sea Cruise has exceeded all of the wildest expectations of the NCL , the ship left Miami and has been given over to spending the European summer based out of Copenhagen.

So our American woman, whinging about the wind, I assume had either booked for what she misread was a 9 day trip out of Barbados or that she had no idea that the Baltic Sea is a but several degrees of latitude below the Arctic Circle. Sigh!

It's party time !

Would I do it again? Not sure! I had a wonderful time, with 40 fantastic friends and it was quite unique! I am truely glad I accepted the invitation. I still prefer travelling by bike, granted not an ideal way to navigate the sea

Schwerin, Tallinn and St Petersburg in pictures

Minimal words… mainly just photos in which I have laboriously attempted to crop out the tumultuous tsunami of tourists in Russia yes I admit it I was there – a mere fleck of foam on that tidal wave.

Schwerin

This is the Fairy Castle at Schwerin – so naturally I signed up for the day tour. I skipped the Berlin option as I have visited Berlin several times in the past few years and the tour involved a few hours in a bus there and back, a singular ordeal just a few less masochistic turns of the screw than those of a queue, in my travelling world.


The Throne Room.

Tallinn

Part of the walls of the old town -there were originally 20 towers now there are 10 still standing

St Petersburg

"restored" or "replicated"?

A moot point as almost all of the photos which follow are of the rich palaces and gardens from the days of the Russian Czars especially Peter the Great and Catherine, but they are replicas as the original buildings were completely destroyed in the revolution and possibly during the various world wars, so there was not enough remaining structure to "restore" but rather they were replicated from original drawings and pictures!

There were a few examples of the original furniture and art but again the majority of the genuine art works and priceless treasures reside in the Hermitage Museum, what we most saw were reproductions. If only our manic, enthusiast guide, Max had not taken it upon himself to eruditely set the architectural story "straight" so to speak, we all to a man would have gazed in awe assuming what we beheld was as old as Methuselah.

I can be forgiven for not remember the actual names of these mesmerising palaces, let's just say that one was the summer residence, the other, winter where Czar Peter and Queen Catherine hunted or played Scrabble respectively.


All the water features in these gardens were gravity fed.

Vivienne and I were the only two of our cruise group, some 42 odd persons, who chose to visit the Faberge Museum in the evening. Put it down on your "must do" list

Second day – St. Petersburg

So there we are! A few final alleged historical facts about Peter the Great

  1. He was 6 ft 8 in tall but with very small head, hands and feet! (There must be a syndrome in there somewhere?)
  2. He decreed that men must be beardless and introduced a beard tax.
  3. He outlawed homosexuality in the army.
  4. He collected butterflies.
  5. Despite marriage and the issue of numerous children, it is claimed he had a boyfriend.

All at sea

Yes there has been a deafening silence. Internet is both problematic and slow , despite the enormous cost of $250 US for unlimited access for the duration! It’s marine satellite service!  I shall blog eventually about life on board. Attempts to confirm that I am at sea with a picture are proving impossible as the upload speed is so slow as to be unusable. All things come up those that wait.

I write this as we are berthing at Tallin, Estonia which is around 7am – the city is shrouded in fog. It’s overcast. The town is seething with the combined humanity of 4 huge cruise liners in dock! 

Ivar Hoyvik 1881-1961

Ivar was one of Norway’s, indeed arguably the worlds, finest woodcarver! This picture is but a corner of the great reception hall in the hotel, which houses a significant part of his output! There was invariably a dragon theme to his carvings and Balestrand is knowing as the Dragon village.

The chair on the right is the VERY chair in which Kaiser Wilhelm was sitting when informed of the assassination of the Archduke that led to WW I. Indeed I am now sitting in it as I write. 

On the walls are examples of tapestries woven by Ivar’s wife – they were a very talented family.

Norway Day 5 the village of Balestrand.

Balestrand shares 2 delightful features of yesterday’s village: the fiord fishing village atmosphere and an equally enchanting 100 year old hotel – the Hotel Kviknes . 
There is an added unique  attraction: an Anglican Church! The wealthy owner of the Kviknes Hotel in the 1880’s married an English woman who said that she would accept his proposal and moreover move to this remote, cold fiord village if he would build for her a church – not just any church mind you , but Church of England. He agreed, but sadly his new wife died ftom TB, before it was finished . In tribute and as a fitting memorial, he pushed on and the church was completed. It is still active and each summer ftom May to October the church sends out a minister ftom England who conducts weekly services, the congregation being entirely composed of tourists. 

Our final walk of some 14km and an altitude of 950m, with me in basic black

At the top.

The Kviknes Hotel by the edge of the fiord

Various photos of the interior. 


Each evening this chap performs in the lounge room with tea, coffee and sweet biscuits. I don’t mean that he, the pianist, performs on tea, coffee and biscuits, no, he performs on the upright whilst we consume tea, coffee and biscuits!

The Church of England- Balestrand