Northern European Cruise
Baltic and North Seas
July - August, 2014

By Jack Welsch

ItineraryWe have wanted for years to do a Baltic cruise.  The night before we left to drive to Florida for our February/March Caribbean cruise Linda got an e-mail from Travel With Alan announcing a fantastic deal on a 19-day, back-to-back cruise of the Baltic and North Seas.  Booking was supposed to open the following morning at 9:00 PST or noon our time.  We were driving down I-81 as noon approached so linda started dialing Alan's number.  By the time she got through, a recording said she was number 27 in line!  An hour later, this trip was booked.

The ship was Holland America's Eurodam. After last year's unhappy voyage on the Oosterdam, I swore I'd never set foot on another HAL (Holland American Line) ship. Moreover, having already taken a cruise early in the year, we had no intentions of doing it this summer. As they say, "Man plans, God laughs." The day before we left home on our last tour, Linda got an e-mail from Alan Schiller announcing a fantastic deal in a 19-day back-to-back cruise of the Baltic and North Seas on the Eurodam with a price tag that was hard to pass up.

Our Cabin

MAN, did we luck out in this department! We'd originally booked a standard balcony stateroom. A week or so before we were to depart from home, we got a call saying that balconies were oversold and, while we could still have one, we could upgrade to a Signature suite for just under $900 per person or a Neptune suite for $2,000 per person. Throwing some caution to the wind, we sprung for a Signature suite. A few days before departure, we got our room assignment, a Neptune suite on the port quarter of deck 5. Now, if you've stayed only in hotels and saw our room you'd think it was just a very nice, somewhat large room.However, if you've cruised in a "normal" room, you know that they are tiny and that the bathroom is like a small walk-in closet. Our room was quite large and had a large bed, sofa, two arm chairs a coffee table, a desk and desk chair. The bathroom had a two-sink vanity, a shower AND a Jacuzzi tub.  In addition to a separate dressing/vanity area outside the bathroom, it had SIX closets and a balcony that wrapped around from the stern to the port side.   On the balcony was a dining table and four chairs, two armchairs with ottomans, a side table and two chaise lounges!

In order to provide some balance I must say this... The cabin's location was wonderful in that we had a view to the stern and the port side. That was especially nice in sheltered waters where, if you can see only one side, you miss out on half the scenery. It was also sometimes nice to be able to move around to get into or out of the sun or wind. Everything comes at a cost, however. In heavy seas, the stern is second only to the bow when it comes to getting thrown around. In rough weather this was not a good place to be!

Neptune LoungeBack to the positives... Among the many perks were free laundry & dry cleaning, access to a private lounge area with drinks, snacks and a concierge, and ability to have breakfast in the premium Pinnacle Grill.  I have no idea why we got it but I'm not complaining!!

Rembrandt Dining Room

The Rembrandt dining room is in the stern of the ship and the rear windows provide a magnificent panoramic view.  This dining room has two levels, the lower, on deck 2, is for "anytime" dining.  The upper, on deck 3, is for traditional dining. As always we booked traditional, late seating because early seating makes it too tight when you return from a port. The food, while not gourmet, was quite good; certainly better than what you get on Princess.  Service was good but not spectacular. 

Because I was, with one notable exception, unhappy with the wine stewards on the Oosterdam, it's worth recounting a story from this cruise.  On the first evening, our wine steward was only OK.  On the second night, he was having a great time joking around but I could not even get his attention.  On the third evening, I pulled him aside and gently explained that I felt he was spending too much time having fun and not enough time providing service and that I'd really regret having to rate him as less than excellent.  What a change!  He thanked me and from that moment on provided great service and still a friendly demeanor.  On the last night of the cruise, he thanked me for my comment and, yes, he got an excellent rating. 

Other places to eat

The primary alternative for meals is the Lido, a buffet open for all three meals. IMHO it's much better than Princess' Horizon Court. Better selection, more seating and somewhat better service. having said that, we did not eat there a lot.

Near the Lido pool is a grill where hamburgers, hot dogs, etc. are cooked to order. You place an order and they give you a buzzer such as the ones used as you wait for a table in many family restaurants. We ate there a couple of times and it was quite good.  Near the Seaview pool is a pizzeria that serves pretty decent pizza.

Pinnacle GrillWhile many HAL ships have two premium restaurants, the Eurodam boasts three.  The common two are the Pinnacle Grill and Canaletto

The Pinnacle is great.  There is a surcharge of $25 per person for dinner and $10 per person on the occasions when they are open for lunch.  Given the food, ambiance and service, it's a bargain! 

The Canaletto is actually part of the Lido.  Given the environment and the fact that we have zillions of excellent Italian restaurants at home, we've never tried it. 

Tamarind RestaurantI feel that the best is the unique one, Tamarind.  Tamarind can best be described as pan-Asian.  If memory serves me, the surcharge for dinner was something like $20 per person and worth every dime.  Again,  food, ambiance and service are outstanding.  On sea days, the tamarind serves a dim sum lunch with a zero surcharge.  However, it's reservations only and you need to grab a reservation quickly.  We went there on our first sea day and loved it.

Of course, limited room service is available 24/7. More general service is available during the day and, since we were in a Neptune suite, we could order anything from the dining room menu for dinner.  A menu was delivered to our room each day.

Wine Packages

I have to say that HAL's wine package deals are inferior to those of Princess.  You pay ahead for a fixed number of bottles and the overall price is less than as if you'd have ordered them one at a time.  As on Princess, there are two levels with fancy names but which I'll call premium and economy.  On HAL, you must order from a quite limited list.  Naturally, there are two lists, one for each level.  If you want something not on the limited list, tough luck, you pay full price.

On Princess you can choose from the full wine list but can choose any wine up to X dollars (I forget how much) with the economy package and Y dollars for the premium.  But here's the best part; if you want a more expensive wine, you just pay the difference!  I really wish HAL would learn a lesson here.

Bars, Lounges, etc.

As on every ship, there are a lot of them and I won't even try to enumerate.  Our default before dinner on both HAL cruises was the Ocean Bar where there is a dance floor and sometimes (but not often enough) a combo providing dance music.  Before dinner they usually provided hot hors d'oeuvres if you bought a drink. 

AdagioAfter dinner, we generally stopped by the Explorer Lounge and sometimes did so beforehand.  The music here is by Adagio, a duo of  piano and violin playing classical music.  We've seen three separate Duos, each with the same name.  I love it; Linda tolerates it.  Their specialty drink is Spanish coffee.  It's a flambéed creation incorporating Sambuca, Kahlua, Cointreau, coffee and whipped cream in glass on which the sugared rim has been caramelized by flambéing the Sambuca.  Yummy!!

Several times on the last HAL cruise and once on this one we stopped by the Piano Bar.  It's a fun place but it's right near the "Main Stage" theater so if you get there right after a show gets out, good luck finding a seat!

Statistics

Here are some comparisons to some other ships we've been on:

Length

Passengers

Stockholm, Sweden

StockholmI must qualify this review by saying at the outset that I am not a fan of big cities and, at least to me, Stockholm is certainly one. (OK, I LOVE Paris, Buenos Aires and one or two others but in general I prefer the countryside.) Parts of it, especially the older part, were quite charming and there was a large pedestrian street that would have been great if we were into that (and if the prices had not been astronomical.) I readily admit that our visit was made a little less pleasant by two factors, one is that it was uncommonly HOT. We'd done some climate research and were totally unprepared for the oppressive heat.  That's OK, the locals were devastated by it also.  The second was that many of the better restaurants were closed for the season!!  The explanation I was given was that many people had left the city on vacation and therefore were not eating out.  Eating in nice restaurants is one of the reasons we travel but we were disappointed here.

St. Patersburg, Russia

St. PetersburgSt. Petersburg has been on my bucket list and I'd not have booked a Baltic cruise that didn't include a stop there. I'm glad I've seen it and there is zero chance that I'll return. What it has in common with Honolulu is that the main reason to go there is appreciate why you don't want to go there!

The palaces and the area around the Winter Palace were magnificent as were certain other places we passed.  Like all big (and many small) cities, there were some pretty derelict places as well.  There were a LOT of what can best be described as soulless buildings, most of them apartments.  We saw the same in China and it's what you'd expect in a "workers' paradise" but I pity those who live there. 
With the exception of one outstanding guide, the people all seemed joyless.  Smiles were much more rare here than at a funeral back home. Maybe it's from living in those apartments!

Of greatest frustration was with border control.  In any other port we've visited, the ship clears customs and you can walk on and off the ship as you please.  In some we had to initially present our passports but then the issue was settled.  Here we left the ship three times and had to stand in line and go through the drill each time we entered and exited the city.  It's not surprising that it was beaten into us that we must guard our passports with our lives.  Why, oh why, do they delude themselves into thinking someone would want to sneak into this God-forsaken country? Never again.

Helsinki, Finland

HelsinkiWhat a great city! I's beautiful, clean, neat and populated by friendly people. This was probably my favorite city of the trip. While. like everywhere in Scandinavia, prices are high, we didn't feel it so strongly here and Linda even bought some jewelry at reasonable prices.  The fact that they use Euros makes things a little simpler too.

Tallinn, Estonia

TallinnThis city was second only to Helsinki. Surprisingly, they use Euros here as well and this was the ONLY place we were able to hire a cabbie as a combination driver/tour guide. The old city, perched atop a hill, is cute but, at least on this day when our ship shared the port with 3 others, was mobbed.  One advantage of our situation is that we could quickly retreat to less popular parts of the city and the countryside.  Like most other places we visited on this trip, Tallinn was neat and clean. This was a great stop.

Warnemünde, Germany

Warnemünde is the port that's used for tours to Berlin.  Personally, while I like cruises, I think they are a lousy way to see interior cities. In this case, the tour to Berlin was 11.5 hours long with well over half of it spent on a bus.  We, of course, opted out so I can't report on it.

WarnemündeThough we didn't see a lot of it, Warnemünde itself was a nice surprise. There is a quaint area near the ship with lots of cute shops, restaurants, etc.  It's also a harbor for pleasure boats so there is lots to look at.  If course, I was crowded with cruise passengers but there are some isolated local restaurants that, I think, are a better alternative. The one we chose was "Zum Stromer" and it was great. It claims to be Warnemünde's oldest restaurant, founded in 1776.

Wismar, Germany

WismarThis was not at all part of the cruise itinerary.  As you may read in my journal, we visited Wismar with our friends, Karl and Gisela.  It's a typical small city that was, like Warnemünde, a part of East Germany.  Like all of the former DDR, it has received zillions of Euros from the united republic to rebuild it from the decay generated by decades under communism.  For the most part, it is vibrant, attractive city.  Interspersed among the restored buildings, however, are some that have not been touched.  My friend, Karl, said ALL of East Germany looked like that right after unification.  Visiting there was a worthwhile experience.

Kiel, Germany

KielI have little to say here because we saw little of Kiel, though what we did see was nice. It's obviously a port city and there is at least one shipbuilding operation. The cruise port is the ONLY one we visited on this trip that has a full terminal complete with covered gangways. Just north of the cruise port is a large yacht basin with many beautiful boats.

Kappeln, Germany

KappelnThis, too, was not at all part of the cruise itinerary as it was another place we visited with Karl & Gisela. Kappeln is on an inlet to the Baltic and home of many yachts.  There are a number of restaurants and the one we chose, "Restaurant Speicher No. 5" was a treat.  You can read more in my journal.  There is also an old windmill that serves somewhat as a tourist bureau.  I was surprised that we were able to do a self-guided tour at no charge. Having never been inside one before, I really enjoyed that.

Göteborg (A.K.A. Gothenburg), Sweden

Haga, GöteborgThe cruise port at Göteborg is directly in front of a large Volvo plant that is also the site of the Volvo museum.  The ship provided a free shuttle but both times we visited there was an enormous line for a while after we docked.  It is a long way to town, 15 km, and with traffic it took a while to get there. The area where the shuttle dropped us was a a plaza near a normal city shopping street but, given costs in Scandinavia, shopping was not a high priority.  While there were a few taxis at the port, I didn't see a single one in town so our preference of getting a cabbie to show us around was a non-starter. Hop-on / hop-off busses and boats are available and a reasonable option. Unfortunately, they ran infrequently and irregularly so tended to be frustrating.  We'd been told that Haga was a picturesque "old town" area but it was disappointing.  It wasn't bad really; just nothing special and IMHO not worth getting off the bus for.  The city did little for me but maybe that's just me; I'm sure others love it.

On the other hand, the Volvo museum was really worth seeing, whether you are a motor-head or, like me, a sailor.  For the motor-heads they had many old cars, busses, trucks, construction machines and even an airplane.  For us sailors they had a magnificent exhibit on the annual Volvo Ocean Race.  The exhibit is extensive and very well executed. 

Copenhagen, Denmark

CopenhagenI've already written that I'm not a fan of big cities so it will come as no surprise that I was not enchanted with Copenhagen. In fairness, in addition to my general prejudice, two factors came into play.  First, it was HOT.  Is in the other places we'd visited so far on this trip, the locals were all complaining on the uncommonly oppressive temperature.  If you add that to the fact that Europeans are much more energy responsible than Americans and therefore have air-conditioning systems that we would consider substandard, it was tough to cope with.  Second, extensive construction on the Metro has the city's traffic in a snarl.  Consequently, we spent a lot of time just sitting in a hot bus.

If you overlook all of that, Copenhagen is quite nice, especially when seen from the canals.  The hour we spent on a canal boat was the best hour of the visit and one of the best of the cruise.

Flåm, Norway

SognefjordFlåm is at the head of the Sognefjord which is, at 127 miles, the longest in Norway and third longest in the world. 

FlåmFlåm, itself, is GREAT. It's a tiny town and there's really not a lot to see but it's storybook pretty. In town, except for a railroad museum, the countless souvenir shops,and a few restaurants, there is not much to see other than the town itself and the surrounding beauty. While, technically, that would not take a long time to do, it's worth relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere. My one regret is that the schedule of our train tour made itimpossible to eat lunch in town; we'd have liked that.

Outside of town, the main attractions appear to be the Flåm Railway and cruises of the Sognefjord. The railway boasts that it is the most scenic in the world. While I cannot testify to that, I will say that the scenery is magnificent. We, of course, saw the fjord from our balcony and its beauty is breathtaking. I'd really love to see it from a small boat over several days so I could soak it all in. 

Stavanger, Norway

StavangerStavanger is really pretty and I wish we'd seen it under better circumstances. Though it had been unbearably hot during the first part of our trip, the day we spent here was cold and rainy. At first the rain wasn't bad and we were able to explore many charming, narrow streets. Unfortunately, the rain eventually got heavy enough to discourage further exploration and we reluctantly retreated to the ship.  As we often do, we considered having lunch in town but the prices were staggering.

Kristiansand, Norway

KristiansandKristiansand is a small, compact city located near the southern tip of Norway. It forms a neat square of about 1 km on a side. Consequently, it is quite easy to walk from the cruise ship dock into and around town.  However, a small, articulated "train" provides transportation as well as narrated commentary for a modest fee.  The city is quite attractive and, as might be expected, has an attractive pleasure harbor bordered by a pleasant park.  Near the center of town, a wide pedestrian street provides for a wide range of shopping. 

Oslo, Norway

Oslo Opera HouseThe dominant feature of Oslo's harbor is the magnificent, modern Opera House situated on its north shore.  It is complemented by a rotating "Glass Boat" sculpture in the water immediately in front of it.  The combination is quite striking.

For us, the highlights of our visit to Oslo were the Viking Ship Museum and the museum housing Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki and Ra II. 

Oslo Viking MuseumThe centerpiece of the Viking Ship Museum is the "Oseberg" ship, which, in the year 834, was used as a burial ship for two women.  It is reputed to be the world's best preserved Viking ship and over 90% of its timber is original.  It is truly magnificent and being near it was a special treat.

Kon-Tiki MuseumThe Kon-Tiki museum houses Heyerdahl's Ra II as well as Kon-Tiki.  I well remember reading of Kon-Tiki as a kid so was eager to see it.  I'm not sure why but I'd pictured it as smaller than it is; it's really quite large.  I'd read of the voyages of the ill-fated Ra and the successful Ra II later in life.  Ra, of course, was lost but Ra II is on display and was also larger than I'd imagined. In all, the museum is well worth visiting.

Roskilde, Denmark

Roskilde Viking MuseumRoskilde is the site of an outstanding Viking museum the centerpiece of which is a display of 5 partially-resorted Viking ships what were sunk in the channel centuries ago to foil invaders. They were discovered and recovered in the 1960's.  The five ships were discovered together and the various bits and pieces must have represented a challenging jigsaw puzzle.  Since many pieces are missing, a steel framework has been build for each ship, outlining the structure and the available pieces put into place.  There are three wide beamed ships that were probably freighters and two narrow ones that were warships, one of them a long ship.  It is incomprehensible that people ventured across open ocean in these small, open boats. Dimensions were taken from the ship and a replica made of each one.  You can even buy a ticket for a ride.

We saw relatively little of the town itself other than the area around the cathedral.  There is a shopping street but, as our visit was on a Sunday, the shops were closed.  Overall, our day in Roskilde was a most enjoyable one.

 

Thursday, 7/24 - Home to Stockholm, Sweden

We were picked up by Joe, our driver, at noon to drive us to Newark and we arrived at about 2:00.  We had upgraded to SAS Plus so were able to sit in their lounge where we also had lunch.  The lounge was quiet a first but eventually became a zoo so we retreated to the gate area.  The plane actually pushed back a few minutes before the 5:20 schedule and the flight was blessedly uneventful.  I used to think flights to Europe were tough but after some to Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe is a breeze.

Friday, 7/25 - Stockholm, Sweden

StockholmA tailwind got us to Stockholm at about 6:40 against a 7:25 schedule.  Alan personally met us as we cleared customs and we were quickly on a bus.  Though we got to Scandic Grand Central Hotel at about 7:30 the rooms were naturally not ready so we could not check on.  For something to do we walked to the old town & back.  Stockholm was "enjoying" uncommonly hot weather and it was hotter than hell.  Back at the hotel, we were still unable to check in so we looked for a nice place for a leisurely lunch but could not find one so settled for the Kebab House across the street; not a great experience.  I asked at the desk why so many restaurants, including those in the hotel, were closed.  The answer was that, since most offices are closed and people are away, the restaurants close as well.  I asked whether there are not a lot of visiting tourists and the answer was, "yes."  I asked if it would not make sense to be open for the tourists and the response was yes but the restaurateurs don't see it that way.  Very strange.

We finally got into our room at 1:30 which was at least better than the 3:00 promise.  After sleeping for a couple of hours, we had nice dinner at Bistro Bestick about 3 blocks away from the hotel.  I really like pickled herring so ordered it as an appetizer.  It was very different from what I'm used to but good nonetheless.  We both had meatballs along with a bottle of Sancerre.  During dinner we had a nice chat with woman from Seattle who was sitting at the next table and got back to our room about 8:00.  After getting things squared away I wrote for a while and got to bed at about 10:00.

Saturday, 7/26 - Stockholm

I slept poorly and finally gave up and got out of bed at 6:15.  After a buffet breakfast at the hotel we loafed around the room and even slept a bit until 11:00 when we had to grab something to eat before meeting the tour group at 12:15.  I'm embarrassed to admit that, with limited options, we had to settle for Burger King across the street!

UppsalaThe day's trip involved visits to the cities of Uppsala and Sigtuna, both north of Stockholm.  We were on the bus and pulling out at 12:25, five minutes ahead of schedule.  We had an excellent guide; an older woman who was a lawyer in earlier life.  She was both knowledgeable & entertaining.  In Uppsala, we visited a museum and a beautiful cathedral.  We have become accustomed to European cathedrals being Roman Catholic but here, of course, they are Lutheran.

SigtunaSigtuna, Sweden's oldest town, was absolutely delightful.  Lin and I broke away from the group and, after looking in a few shops, relaxed over some white wine in the Koppar Ketteln overlooking Lake Malaren.

Dinner was at Solliden, a traditional (if large!) Swedish restaurant.  We sat with Frank and Karen who have two homes, one north of Albuquerque and one east of Durango and Wayne and Jeanne from near Seattle.  They cruise a LOT.  Really nice people and great dinner conversation.  The ONLY bad thing about the day was the heat.  An Internet search before departure had prepared us for average high temperatures in the low 70's but this was not an average day!

Back in the room before 9:00, we repacked two bags and did some writing before hitting the rack.

Sunday, 7/27 - Stockholm

Unfortunately, it was another rather sleepless night.  I awoke in the wee hours and didn't get back to sleep until after 4:30 but then was blessedly out cold until after 8.  After putting the bags out before the 9:00 deadline, we showered and dressed, had breakfast, walked to 7-11 for Band-Aids, then returned to the room until 11:45 when it was time to meet in the lobby.  In the meantime, a storm hit with strong rain and large hail.  It didn't last long, though, but the sky remained cloudy. 

We'd been told at dinner that, since we could not board until 2:00, busses would pick us up around noon and deliver us to the old town to explore for a while.  In the lobby, we were told that, due to unstable weather, we'd be staying on the  bus for a sightseeing tour to kill the time.  That worked perfectly since soon after we boarded we were hit by an absolutely horrible storm.  Streets were flooded and tree limbs, some huge, were down everywhere. Our guide said that she had never seen such a storm in her 47 years.

Upon arriving at the terminal at 1:50, we learned that the computers were down because of the storm so registration had not even begun.  We were initially told that we could wait on our bus but were soon evicted as the driver had another commitment.  Consequently we waited in the crowded terminal and then outside of it for ages.  It was clear than there was no organization at all and these people were clearly out of their depth.  Communication of status was totally absent so frustrations were high.  Eventually I found a HAL rep and enquired about priority boarding since we had been upgraded to a Neptune suite.  She directed us to a waiting shuttle but we still had to get into a long line with no priority consideration at all.  To make matters worse, even though we had written confirmation that our passport info was in file, it was not so we were delayed while that was sorted out.  Consequently, we were not onboard until.5:30. 

Things quickly improved, however!  We did, in fact get the cabin we were assigned as an upgrade.  When we got the assignment we could not believe it was true and I was holding my breath, thinking we'd be told that it was a mistake.  Our cabin was 5186, a huge (by cruise ship standards) cabin with a large bed, sofa, two arm chairs a coffee table, a desk and desk chair. Anyone who has cruised with other than a suite knows that the bathroom is typically the size of a very small closet.  This one was larger than what we have at home with a two-sink vanity, a shower AND a Jacuzzi tub.  In addition to a separate dressing/vanity area outside the bathroom, it has SIX closets and a balcony that wrapped around from the stern to the port side.   On the balcony was a dining table and four chairs, two armchairs with ottomans, a side table and two chaise lounges! 

Among the many perks were free laundry & dry cleaning, access to a private lounge area with drinks, snacks and a concierge, and ability to have breakfast in the premium Pinnacle Grill.  I have no idea why we got it but I'm not complaining!!

Based on timing, we headed straight for Alan's desk to buy the wine & dine package then, based on Nancy's recommendation, went to Tamarind to reserve a table for the dim-sum lunch to be served on the following day.  After exploring  a little we grabbed some pizza and iced tea, ate, unpacked, rested on the balcony a bit, showered and dressed. 

We'd signed up for traditional late seating and were assigned a great table by the stern windows.  Our dinner partners were Nancy & Arlene and a couple who were absent.

After dinner I had my traditional Spanish coffee while listening to Adagio in the Explorer's lounge, read a bit on the balcony and got to bed shortly after 11.

Monday, July 28 - Stockholm

The WasaWe had set a wakeup for 7:15 and ordered breakfast to be delivered at 7:30.  As we ate on balcony it was already getting hot.  After showering and dressing, set off at 9:00 for the tour we had booked with Alan.  Our first stop was at the Wasa museum.  The Wasa is an absolutely amazing sight.  After a bit of an introduction by our talented and rather humorous guide, we had about 45 minutes to wander around. 

The Gold RoomThe next stop was the city hall, which is the site of the annual Nobel banquet.  The Blue Room, where the Nobel banquet is held, has no blue to be seen anywhere!  The Gold Room, where they dance, is covered with 23.98 karat gold mosaics! 

Next we got dropped off in the old town.  We escaped the group with Ken and Heather from Phoenix (formerly from Victoria) for a lunch on the square.  We ordered "chicken pie" that was really quiche and quite good.

The bus was delayed in leaving and I was starting to fume about people who delay departure by their late arrival.  However, we were seated near the back of the bus and did not realize that a passenger near the front of the bus had to be taken away by ambulance.  We learned later that he was OK, apparently a victim of dehydration.

Right after the lifeboat drill, I went to the Neptune Lounge to grab some snacks to enjoy with our (free) bottle of champagne on the balcony.  We left port at 5:00 and cruised for hours through an amazing archipelago with TENS OF THOUSANDS of islands. 

Before dinner we attended a reception for suite passengers in the Silk Den.  Entry involved shaking hands with a reception line of ship's offices.  It felt amazingly like a wedding (or funeral!)  We were joined by a very friendly lady from Virginia, also named Linda.
At dinner we were joined by the other couple, Dick and Joyce, from the Twin Cities area.  Afterwards, we headed for the room.  I read on the balcony for a few minutes but soon hit the sack.

Tuesday, July 29 - At Sea - Noon Position 59° 38.7'N, 23° 56.4'E

Happily, I slept well for the first time since leaving home.  We'd set the clocks ahead an hour before retiring so I awoke at 10:30 but even the 9:30 internal clock time was outstanding.  TamarindUnfortunately, breakfast was over so we got coffee and tea in the Neptune Lounge, stopped at the desk to deal with the continuing passport issue and had a delightful dim-sum lunch in the Tamarind.

Finally signed up for a 500 minute Internet package and sent the first e-mail home from the ship.  Back in the room, I'd intended to sit on the balcony but it was infested by a zillion bugs so wrote in the room.  At 3:30 we had to attend a meeting with Allen and by the time we got back they'd sprayed for bugs and most were gone. I read on the balcony for a bit and then by the pool.

After dressing for the formal evening we danced a few numbers in the Ocean Lounge before dinner.  After dinner we went straight to bed.

Wednesday, July 30 - St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Patersburg cruise portWe set the clocks ahead again.  Slept pretty well, woke to the alarm at 6:00 and had room service breakfast.  Met Alan's group at 7:20 as scheduled but the ship had not yet been cleared so there was a bit of a delay.  As we left the ship I realized that I'd forgotten BOTH cameras but there was, of course, no way to go back for them.  It was something that years ago would have put me into a tailspin but at this point in my life I was disappointed but not devastated. We'd been warned of very long lines for Russian immigration.  It was slow but not as bad as I'd feared and we were quickly loaded onto the bus.  The way Alan does tours is great; no saving of seats or waiting for friends; you must turn up with your whole party and as soon as a bus is loaded, it goes. 

While the area around the port was as stark as I'd expected, the drive soon revealed a beautiful city.  There were several stops for perfect pictures so I regretted forgetting the cameras but... 

Winter PalaceThe Winter Palace and Hermitage were the highlights and we spent two hours inside.  Again, I really missed my cameras but, oh well, at least I have memories (at least until the senility kicks in!)  The Winter Palace and Hermitage are such obvious examples of virtually unlimited wealth and excess that it is no wonder that the starving and freezing peasants saw fit to toss the Romanoffs into the well.  I'd had similar thoughts when I visited Versailles.

We were back on the ship at about 1:00 but could not sit on the balcony because of an infestation of insects so we ate in the Lido.  Afterwards, I attended to some work, checked e-mail and took a nap. 

After showering and changing we had room service dinner, then met the group at 7:15 for an Evening Folklore Spectacular by the National Cultural Society.  It was quite enjoyable though some of it was somewhat repetitive.  At intermission Alan hosted a nice Champagne reception.

Thursday, 7/31 - St. Petersburg, Russia

CatherineThe wakeup call came at 6:00 and the knock on the door from room service a minute later.  We met group in the Queen's lounge at 7:40 for our palace tour.  The bus passed through St. Petersburg again so I was able to grab some pictures.  It was a one-hour drive to the Palace of Catherine the Great in Pushkin.  While yesterday's guide was great, today's was less so.  As soon as her feet hit the pavement, she took off, leaving us in the dust and unsure about where she'd gone.  We found her at the palace gate and, once through, had to wait quite a while in the courtyard before getting into the palace itself.  The advantage, however, was that the crowds within the palace were not TOO bad.  The atypical heat, however, was a bit of a drain.  Like the Winter Palace, the Catherine palace is absolutely stunning; such opulence is inconceivable.

PerterhofOur lunch of borscht, chicken & rice, an absolutely horrible white wine and ice cream was at a very crowded banquet hall, then it was off to Peterhof for another palace visit.  The grounds of that palace are magnificent and reminiscent of Versailles.  Given Peter's admiration of the French, that is hardly surprising.  In the day's intense heat, many of us would have been happy to pass on the visit inside the palace but we toughed our way through it.  Sadly, no photos were allowed inside. I'm glad we had this visit but, having seen three such examples of excess in two days, I don't feel the need to ever see another palace.

We arrived back at the ship a bit after 5:00, only slightly ahead of the 5:30 deadline, and sat on deck for a while before dressing.  As we left St. Petersburg, we saw many hydrofoils running between St. Petersburg and the city of Kronstadt on Kotlin Island.  At that location is the only ship entrance to the port of St. Petersburg as it is protected from storm surge by a dam which stretches across the Bay of Finland.  As we reached the channel, we saw many old fortifications and, eventually, huge swinging flood gates that can be closed to block storm surge and traffic as well.  After dinner I got my Spanish Coffee, checked e-mail and we headed to bed.

Friday, 8/1 - Helsinki, Finland

The clocks were set back during the night.  With no schedule or plans for the day, no alarm was needed but I was up at 7:30 and roused Linda at 8:00 so we could enjoy breakfast in the Pinnacle.  We returned to the room for a bit but left a little after 9:30 to head into town.  I'd seen Hop on - Hop off busses from the balcony so we booked two seats on one of those.  It was essentially the same cost as a round-trip shuttle to town and gave us a tour of the city with recorded commentary in English through the provided ear buds. 

After a ride around the city, we got off at the downtown harbor to explore.  Our first stop was the marketplace where Lin bought some small trinkets in a jewelry stand.  The pieces were beautiful and affordable.  Given the costs of everything in Scandinavia, that is unusual and now that we are home, I wish she had bought a lot more; the jewelry is outstanding. 

By that time it was lunchtime so we walked along the beautiful Esplanade and had a delightful lunch at "Bubbles".  Eventually we ran out of things to see in the area and were sick of walking so stopped at another café for a glass of wine.  While there we ended up talking to the young local couple at the next table and really enjoyed that.  We were also serenaded by another couple.

As we got to the bus stop, one was ready to leave so we were quickly back at the ship, arriving at about 3:30  The temperature had fallen drastically so that it was quite comfortable walking and we actually needed jackets on the balcony after our little afternoon nap.  This is much better for touring than the sweltering heat we've been enduring!

We did a little dancing before dinner.  After dinner we stopped for my Spanish coffee, then returned to the Ocean Bar to dance a little, sitting with Wayne and Jeanne.  By the time we got to the room a few minutes after 11:00 we were already several miles out of port.

Saturday, May 2  - Tallinn, Estonia

We again set an 8:00 wakeup so we could have breakfast in the Pinnacle.  Set off for town at about 9:30 and were approached by a very nice taxi driver, Jaša ("Hasha") who gave us an enjoyable 2 hour tour of the town and surrounding area.  There were 4 ships in town, Royal Princess, us, Royal Caribbean's Legend and Norwegian Star.  That means there were potentially 10,000 passengers plus crew wandering around town.  The upper part of the old city was absolutely jammed with people, most of them being herded along in tour groups.  We even saw our agents, Alan and Nancy, with their groups.  We hurried to the lower town where it was less crowded.  Leaving the old city, we saw several other sites including the music center, the art museum and another palace of Peter I.  This one, which he built for his wife, was much smaller than Russia's Peterhof but was still spectacular and again surrounded with Versailles-inspired formal gardens. 

Jaša was delightful; friendly and informative.  He was born in Armenia but has been in Estonia for 40 years so gave us some insight into life here under the USSR and now.  He said that, under communism, the stores were all empty; things could only be had on the black market.  However, life is now hard for retirees as pensions are eaten up by living costs.  There are not a lot of jobs and many people are moving to Finland.

After about 2 hours, we returned to the ship. Jaša had quoted 70 Euros so I gave him 85.  Since the dining room was closed and therefore the room service menu was limited, we grabbed lunch in the Lido, then hung in the room.

We'd made 8:00 dinner reservations in the Pinnacle but danced a bit in the Ocean Bar beforehand.  We got our requested window table in the Pinnacle and both enjoyed the filet mignon and Chianti.  Danced a bit in the Ocean to work off dinner.  I should not have had the chocolate volcano because it, with the coffee, kept me from sleeping and I eventually got back up and read for a while.

Sunday, Aug. 3 - At Sea - Noon Position 56° 45.2'N, 18° 10.3'E

We awoke at 9:40 but still had 20 minutes to order room service breakfast. We did so and ate on the balcony.  Having a large balcony with a full table makes meals there a delight.  Walked in the ship's shops for a while and returned to the room.  The Internet connection was down throughout the ship so I did some writing and sorting of photos.

For lunch we had some very nice hamburgers by the very loud covered pool where there were many more kids than one might expect on HAL.  The afternoon was spent between our room and balcony. 

The dress code for the evening was black tie but, unbelievably, there was no dancing so we listened to Adagio before dinner and again afterwards as I got my Spanish coffee. 

Monday, Aug 4 - Warnemünde & Wismar, Germany

The clocks were set back during the night.  The wakeup call came at 6:30 and the knock from room service a minute later.  The sky was cloudy and it had obviously rained as the balcony was wet so we ate in the room before dressing. 

Gisela & LindaOur dear friends from Düsseldorf had graciously suggested that they drive up to join us during our two days in Germany and had arrived in Warnemünde the previous evening. I talked to Karl by phone and we agreed to meet at about 9:00.  Karl, Gisela and their dog, Mona, were there when we exited the tent that served as the terminal.  We had eaten breakfast but they had not so we stopped at the Grand Hotel Heiligendamm, a resort hotel where the G9 summit was held a few years ago.  They had a buffet breakfast but, having just eaten we just had some Champagne (not a horrible way to start a visit!) 

Leaving Warnemünde, Karl drove along the coast for a while before arriving at Wismar, where we had lunch at Hotel & Restaurant Reuterhaus, then walked around a LOT.  This area was part of East Germany and, while many buildings have been renovated and look beautiful, some are in horrible condition.  Karl said everything looked like that in 1989 when the country was reunified.

Restaurant Zum StromerWe eventually returned to Warnemünde, walked around a bit and had dinner at Restaurant Zum Stromer, a very nice restaurant in sight of the ship.  We got onboard about 15 minutes ahead of the 9:30 deadline.  While we'd been enjoying dinner in town, the ship had staged a beer hall party at the Lido pool.  We stopped by to have a quick look.  Lin grabbed a berliner (a jelly doughnut, not a guy from Berlin!) and I grabbed a pretzel before heading for the room.  In the meantime, Karl & Gisela set off by car for Kiel, where they would meet us at 8:30 the following morning.

Tuesday, Aug 5 - Kiel & Kappeln, Germany

I set the wake-up for 6:55 and ordered room service to be delivered between 7:00 and 7:30.  That gave me at least enough time to wake up and put on a bathrobe before the knock came. It was a sunny morning so we had breakfast on the balcony.  Karl called to say they saw our balcony as the ship came in.  By that time, however, we'd finished and were inside getting dressed. 

MonaKiel has a very nice terminal building complete with boarding bridge.  As 8:30 approached we could see Karl & Gisela outside the terminal but could not get their attention from our  balcony.  Again they had not eaten so we repeated yesterday's routine, this time knocking off an entire bottle of Veuve Cliquot.  One of the many things I love about Europe is their attitude to dogs in restaurants.  They are not only tolerated but actually catered to.  Here you will see Mona drinking from a Moët et Chandon water dish that says, "Only for dog Champagne." (Yes, I know it was filled with water!)

Linda, Karl, Linda & MonaKarl drove us north, over the Kiel canal and mostly along the coast to Kappeln, a nice yachting town.  First stop in Kappeln was a visit to an old windmill that was used both to mill grain and to saw wood.  Leaving there we drove along the dock area to select a restaurant for lunch.  We eventually chose Restaurant Speicher No. 5, where we took a table on the terrace.  Our meal started with a huge antipasto that was delicious.  I especially liked the curried cucumber.  There was no menu, per sé. Rather, inside the restaurant was a  butcher's case full of fish to be selected.  Lin & Karl had flounder, Gisela had prawns and I had schnepel, a local fish.  All this was accompanied by 2 bottles of a nice white wine.

When we were together for AirVenture in Oshkosh two years ago, Karl had told me that he's sold the Volkswagen Golf that I borrow when in Europe.  When I asked what he'd bought, he said, "another Volkswagen."  It was only when I asked, "Another Golf?" that he replied, "No, a Phaeton."  The VW Phaeton is a magnificent automobile that, probably due to its high price and VW logo, was sold for only 2 or 3 years in the US but is still abailable in Germay. Only Karl would by such an expensive car and not make a big deal about it.  Such is my friend, Karl!

Karl & his PhaetonAnyway, he'd been pestering me since we'd arrived in Warnemünde to drive it but I'd resisted; I simply didn't want the responsibility.  He finally talked me into driving it on the way back AND to try it out on the autobahn.  I was reluctant but WOW, what a treat!!!  We used the autobahn and I had it up to about 190 kph (120 MPH).  It acted like it was on rails!  I'd have gone faster but there was some traffic and we were much too soon at the Kiel exit. On the previous day he'd had it at 150 MPH.  I'll try to do better when we visit them again in December!

Got back to the ship a bit after 4:00 against a 5:30 deadline and Karl & Gisela were able to head for Düsseldorf so Karl could get some sleep before his early morning flight to Munich.

There was no dancing anywhere so after a rest we headed straight for the Pinnacle and the special "Le Cirque" dinner.  We each had chateaubriand.  Afterwards I got my Spanish coffee and took it to the room.  I waited up until we went under the truly magnificent bridge at about 10:30.

Wednesday, Aug. 6 - Göteborg, Sweden

We awoke to the vibration of the engines as we docked but loafed around long enough to miss breakfast in the Pinnacle. Breakfast, therefore was in the Lido. It's not our favorite place but it wasn't bad; certainly better than what is found on Princess. 

GöteborgWe grabbed a free shuttle at the terminal for the 15 km ride into Göteborg and walked a bit in the area where they dropped us off but it was unexciting so we took a green hop-on/hop-off bus primarily to get to the Haga neighborhood, the old town.  We got off at the fish market and walked trough that before walking the several blocks to Haga. It was nice but not terribly notable and the wait for the bus back at the fish market was interminable.  I was getting stressed as time was running out.  Normally we'd have just grabbed a cab but they were more rare than New York cabs on a rainy night.  We eventually got back to the square to board the shuttle to the ship but had to battle hordes to get on it.  By the time we reached the ship we were glad to be "home" and are unlikely to return to Göteborg.

We danced before dinner sitting with Wayne and Jeanne. After dinner we went straight to bed.

Thursday, Aug. 7 - Copenhagen, Denmark

We got up as we were docking and were in time for breakfast in the Pinnacle.  We'd planned on just staying aboard but I decided that the fact that the ship would be here overnight would make this a good day to visit the city since there was no deadline to worry about.  I'd hoped there would be a welcome center and information kiosk but there was none so we took a hop-on/hop-off bus.  There were several lines and we arbitrarily took the red and blue line.  That was a big mistake!   Little Mermaid After a few stops we were told that our bus would stay stationary for 25 minutes or more and we were encouraged to move to the bus in front of us that was "empty".  The problem was that it was, in fact, almost full and we were on the top deck so we'd have never fit.  Consequently we decided to just wait.  Eventually our tour resumed and we continued to the stop for the Little Mermaid statue which, fortunately, was the stop where we had to transfer to a shuttle bus to the ship.  Unfortunately, we had to wait for almost an hour for the shuttle so were pretty frustrated by the time we re-boarded the ship.

Danced a bit, sitting again with Wayne and Jeanne, then had a delightful dinner in the Tamerind.  After dinner we listened to Adagio for a while as I drank my Spanish coffee.  They are from Ukraine and are quite good.

Friday, Aug. 8 - Copenhagen, Denmark

Given yesterday's frustrations we were determined to stay on the ship.  After room service breakfast, we sat on the pool deck for a while, then loafed around until lunch in the dining room, then hung out again until it was time for the ^%$# lifeboat drill.  On the way back from the drill we swung by the Neptune lounge to snag some Champagne and goodies for our private sail-away party on our balcony.  By that time it was raining quite hard but we huddled under the overhang and enjoyed the "party". Eventually, the skies cleared and it was a beautiful evening.

NanSea & AlanOur social calendar being what it is, we had to choose between two party invitations, one from Alan for his tour group and one from the captain for Neptune suite passengers.  Alan won out over the captain and we attended the much less intimate gathering at the Lido Pool deck.

There was no dancing before dinner again and we lingered at dinner longer than normal so I just got a Spanish coffee to take to the room.

Saturday, Aug. 9 - At Sea  - Noon Position 58° 11'N, 05° 33'E

At sunrise the sky was rather clear but by the time we were up at 8:00 the sky was overcast and the seas were kicking up.  After breakfast in the Pinnacle we returned to the room and I sat on deck until driven inside by the cold.  Having had calm seas at Cape Horn and across the Tasman Sea on previous cruises, I had wanted a true North Sea experience. Well, my wish was granted; here we "enjoyed" leaden sky and seas, rain, strong winds and seas that I estimate being from 6 to 8 ft, though maybe more.  Lots of whitecaps and spindrift, too.  The captain came on the emergency PA to say he recommended staying off the balconies, especially on the starboard side due to winds that were from force 8 to 9. Though we are on the port quarter, it was still uncomfortable out there so we spent most of the morning in the cabin. However, Linda shopped a bit and I went to the tour desk and bought tickets for the Viking museum in Oslo.  The GPS/data channel showed winds as high as 52 MPH.

Lunch was a Mariner's Brunch in the Rembrandt on Deck 2.  We had a table near the stern with a magnificent view of the turbulent seas.  After lunch we just hung in our room and Nancy and Arlene, our table-mates, stopped by to have a look at our palace.

By the time we took a nap and started dressing for dinner, the wind and seas had backed off considerably.  This was another formal night but, again, there was no dancing before dinner so we had a drink in the Explorer while listening to Adagio.  After dinner, we grabbed a Spanish coffee & Diet Coke and headed for the Ocean Bar.  The band was on a long break, however, so we retreated to the room.  It was 11:00 when we got there and a glance from the balcony showed that we had entered the fjord.

Sunday, Aug. 10 - Flåm, Norway

FlåmWe'd left the drapes open so we would not sleep in.  At about 5:30, I got up and saw that we were in a beautiful section of the magnificent Sognefjord.  It was really cold but I could not miss the opportunity so put on a bathrobe, grabbed my kindle and both cameras and sat on the balcony until we reached Flåm at 6:30.  The ship did a 180 to back into Flåm and the wind, as it swept down from the mountains, became almost unbearable on the balcony.

I crawled back into bed in an attempt to get my blood thawed out but was up again at 7:00 to get dressed for breakfast. Before breakfast we stopped at the desk to exchange 500 SKK to NOK.  As I expected, the overhead was horrible as they had to convert first to US and then to NOK. 

FlåmAfter breakfast in the Pinnacle we headed into this tiny storybook town to look around and do some shopping.  We even looked in the grocery market.  Everything is horribly expensive here but we did get some gifts in the museum shop.  Also picked up a train timetable for Earl.

Back in the room, we ordered cheeseburgers from room service and ate them on the balcony.

Though we had booked our train trip with Alan, for some reason he was not managing the tour and we had to go to the HAL cattle call in the theater.  Over 250 people were herded to the train station where we boarded the train for what is claimed to be the most scenic ride on earth.  It certainly was beautiful and at one point it does a 360° spiral, 1/2 of which is inside a tunnel at a grade of 18:1. It is said to be the world's the steepest grade not assisted by cables or cogs.  Just after that we stopped and were able to get out to photograph a huge waterfall enhanced by music and dancing girls. 

After a ride of about an hour, the final stop was on a plateau where we were herded into a hotel for coffee and Norwegian waffles.  I pity the folks who had booked rooms in this otherwise quiet hotel as a train was disgorging its hordes of tourists every hour! 

We returned to Flåm at 5:00, just over an hour before all aboard and went straight to the room.  I'm sure the residents and especially those tourists staying in Flåm were tickled silly to see the last of us.  In fact, overlooking the town was a series of hay rolls with a large letter on each one.  The message was "NO CRUISE SHIPS".  Living in the hills only 2 hours from Manhattan, I totally empathize!

SognefjordThe scenery in the Sognefjord as we left Flåm was absolutely breathtaking and I about wore out both cameras. Thank God I was not paying for film!  Sadly, none of the pictures can possibly capture the experience but they will hopefully help us to remember it.

Since suite passengers are entitled to have room service delivered dinner from the dining room menu, I had planned on having dinner on the balcony so we would not miss anything.  However, it got pretty cold out there and since, as the captain had warned, the scenery was a little less interesting after the first 2 hours, we had dinner in the dining room, grabbed our traditional drinks, and hit the rack.

Monday, Aug. 11 - Stavanger, Norway

The seas were pretty rough during the night and we were both tired so it was 8:00 when I got out of bed and saw that we had just entered the Stavanger fjord.  This one was not at all spectacular; in fact it was an estuary similar to the entry to many ports.  We docked right in town and had breakfast in the room since it was cold and windy on the balcony.  By about 10:30 we decided to kick our butts into gear and headed into town where I bought a tee shirt and warm slippers from an open stand in the marketplace.  StavangerThe town is picturesque but it started raining so, after wandering a bit, we returned to the ship and ate lunch in the Lido.

The rain continued on and off all afternoon and the wind was horrific.  It actually tumbled an arm chair and side table on our balcony.  I sat out for a while on the port side where I was somewhat shielded from the wind but it was pretty chilly so I eventually retreated.

As usual, we danced a bit before having dinner at our normal table.  Afterwards, I grabbed my Spanish Coffee and we headed to the room.  Worth noting is that, when I got to the bar, Tina, the bartender, already had the makings and my sugar-rimmed glass ready for me!

The captain had come on the emergency PA during the day to say that the remains of Hurricane Bertha were still lingering in the North Sea as a full gale and, with waves at 23 feet, he was planning on remaining in port until 5:30 AM; a 12-hour delay.  We'd been told that the Pinnacle would not be open for lunch on the following day.  However, before heading to bed we stopped by to see if the change in sailing schedule meant that they would, in fact, be open for lunch.  Fortunately they were so we made reservations.

Tuesday, Aug. 12 - Kristiandsand, Norway

I awoke at 6:00 AM due to the ship's motion; we were just leaving the fjord and already the seas were rough.  Our cabin and the view from our balcony are fabulous but they come at the cost of being in the stern where the ship's pitching in rough weather is felt strongly.  The day's ride was a rough one with a strong wind and heavy seas.  It was hard to read without getting sick so we slept a while, had a light breakfast in the Pinnacle and then laid down some more.  It's worth noting that I actually took a Bonine; I believe the first seasickness pill I've ever taken!

Linda's desertWe had the Bistro steak for lunch in the Pinnacle.  It's a small filet encrusted with blue cheese and was, as expected, wonderful!

KristiandsandAfter docking a bit after 3:00, we took a little "city train" for a tour of the city, stopping at the city center; the last stop before heading back to the ship.  From there we explored the shops a bit before wandering back to the dock.  We had hoped to stop for a glass of wine along the way but did not find a place that turned us on so came back and just chilled.

There was again no dancing before dinner and the Explorer lounge was jammed so we got a drink in the Pinnacle Bar before dinner.  Of course, I had to first stop for my Spanish coffee and once again Tina had anticipated our arrival after dinner and was ready to make my coffee.  The ship departed port as we headed for bed.

Wednesday, Aug. 13 - Oslo, Norway

Another negative associated with our cabin's location is its proximity to the ship's propellers.  The noise is sometimes considerable, especially when maneuvering to a pier.  We slept well until a bit before 8:00 when all hell broke loose as we docked.  By the time we got our act together, the only breakfast option was the Lido so we had omelets there before retreating to read and write.

Oslo Viking Ship MuseumWe had booked a tour that required us to be in the theater at 12:45 so at 11:45 we went up to the Seaview Pool area for some pizza. 

I HATE organized tours, especially those sponsored by the ship because hundreds of people are herded into the theater and then out to the busses.  However, I really wanted to see the Viking ship museum and the scarcity of taxis in previous ports had caused me some concern about doing it on our own.  There were over 400 people booked for this one, Ra IIrequiring 10 busses!  Fortunately, we were quickly on the busses and they obviously followed different schedules because our first stop, the Viking ship museum, was not terribly crowded. Our guide was informative but excessively so.  She droned on and on so I broke away and wandered alone, taking photos.  Next stop was a small museum housing Thor Heyerdahl's Ra II and Kon-Tiki.  We saw Ra II first and as soon as the lecture began I escaped to wander on my own, taking pictures.  It was fascinating to actually see these vessels that I'd only read about.  Both were larger than I'd imagined. 

Kon-TikiOur last stop was at Vigelandsparken sculpture park but the guide said that it involved the descent of 100 steps.  Equally daunting was the fact that she said we MUST stay close to her the entire time. I would have killed myself (or her!) Consequently, though everyone else got off the bus at the upper end of the park, Lin and I stayed on as the driver repositioned it to the lower end.  We then entered the park ourselves and freely wandered around until we could see the group returning.  It was after the "all-aboard" time when we returned to the ship but, since we were on a sponsored tour, there was no issue.

We went down to dance before dinner  but Linda's ankle acted up so we just listened.  After dinner, Lin went up to the room while I stopped for my Spanish coffee.

Thursday, Aug. 14 - Göteborg, Sweden

Volvo MuseumI awoke a bit after 7:00 as we were entering the estuary to Göteborg.  Breakfast was once again in the Pinnacle, then we hung in the room until after 10:00 when I walked over to the Volvo Museum.  Though it cost 60 SEK (about $10US) to get in, it was well worth it.  Most interesting to me was an extensive exhibit on the Volvo Ocean Race and I spent most of my time there.  In all, it was almost noon when I returned to the ship and Linda was starting to worry a bit.

At about 1:00 we went for some hamburgers for lunch, than attacked the worst part of any cruise, packing.  Repacking always makes me considering staying home in the future.  In the meantime, we chatted with son Eric via Skype to stay current on his relocation trek to Virginia.  Thereafter, we just hung in the room and on the balcony for the balance of the afternoon.

TinaAt 7:30 we attended a reception for suite passengers in the Pinnacle Wine Bar and from there proceeded to dinner.  After dinner I got my last Spanish coffee from Tina and took it to the piano bar.  This was the first time on this cruise that we'd gone there and we enjoyed it but the pianist soon took a break so, considering the pending 6:15 wake-up, we headed for bed.

Friday, Aug. 15 - Copenhagen, Denmark

Wakeup was at 6:30 and we were in the Pinnacle at about 7:00 for our last breakfast aboard.  Thereafter, we hung in the room until our tag, Grey1, was called at about 8:35, ten minutes earlier than forecast.  On the pier, all we had to do was identify our bags and they were loaded onto carts for delivery to the hotel.  Since we were ahead of schedule, we had to wait for busses but were soon whisked off to restrooms and then to a boat for a one hour tour of the canals.  That was a great hour with an entertaining guide, Nicklas.  In retrospect, it was by far the best hour of the day.

Once ashore again it was back on the bus for a quick look at the famous Little Mermaid and then hours of sitting in snarled traffic broken only by a trip out of town to see the bridge to Malmo.  They are doing major construction on the Metro system and its effect on traffic is incredible.  That said, this day was even worse than normal.  Back in the snarl that is Copenhagen we had a quick look at the outside of the palace and then a miserable attempt to get something to eat in a tiny shop totally incapable of serving us all.  Lin and I as well as a few others went to a café across the street. It was not until 4:00 that we arrived at the hotel, the Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel & Casino, totally exhausted.

Though it was already 2 hours after the time rooms are supposed to be available, the lobby was a madhouse and we were fortunate to be among the 50% of the group who indeed could get into their rooms. Fortunately the bags were in the room so that was at least something.
We were scheduled to spend the evening at Tivoli Gardens and shuttle busses were to be provided but decided that one more bus trip would push us over the edge so, after resting a bit and Skyping with Eric, we showered, changed, and ate a nice dinner in the "Mamas and Papas" restaurant in the hotel.

The temperature in the room was such that we assumed they, like many European hotels, had no air conditioning and so had the windows open.  Lin had read that the hotel could provide a fan so I called down for one.  When the man delivered it he said that, though it was not like that in the US, they did have AC and it would be better if we closed the window and, anyway, we'd have mosquitoes otherwise.  In the end it was warmer than we like but we've come to expect that in Europe.

Got to bed at around 10:00.

Saturday, Aug. 16 - Copenhagen & Roskilde, Denmark

Given the heat and my concern about getting to the airport on Sunday in light of the traffic situation and a scheduled bike race, I slept poorly and finally got up at 8:00.  Breakfast was a buffet in the Mamas and Papas.  This is obviously a hotel that caters to groups so it was mobbed but we quickly got a table for 4 with another couple with whom we'd developed a passing acquaintance and breakfast was OK.

So that we didn't have to do it later, we packed the three big suitcases, then went to the lobby to change a little of our Norwegian money to Danish.  After resting a bit in the room, we walked to a nearby 7-11 (They are everywhere over here!) to get some snacks and water for the afternoon tour.

Viking FestivalAlan's included tour left at 2:00 for Roskilda, the ancient capital of Denmark and site of Denmark's Viking museum.  Our guide was Jenny, the excellent one we'd had yesterday and she had the driver take a bit of a detour so we could see some of the fjord before arriving in Roskilde.  As it happened, this was day one of the annual 2-day Viking Festival at the museum so, while it might have been more crowded than normal, there was lots to see. 

Our first stop was in the museum's main building where we saw a video about the discovery and preservation of the 5 Viking ships on display and then examined the ships themselves.  There are three channels into Roskilde harbor, two relatively straight and a circuitous one that requires local knowledge to navigate.  The five ships were sunk centuries ago to block the straight channels as protection against invasion.  There are three wide beamed ships that were probably freighters and two narrow ones that were warships, one of them a long Reconstructed longshipship.  It is incomprehensible that people ventured across open ocean in these small, open boats.

In addition to the partially reconstructed ships, the museum has made reproductions of all five and actually gives rides on them.  A few years ago, a group of people sailed the long ship to and around the British Isles.

Reconstructed trading shipLeaving the main building we had less that 45 minutes before we had to get on the bus so had to choose between the smaller display buildings and the reenactment encampment that made up the festival.  We, of course, chose the festival and enjoyed walking through it.  I was able to climb aboard the replica long ship.  At one tent I bought a beer that was heavy, smooth, and absolutely delicious.  We then got our clothes stinking of smoke by visiting a site where they were making charcoal and tar.

A major disappointment was that we didn't have more time to see the museum and enjoy the restaurant there.  Sadly, we were herded onto the bus for a short ride to the cathedral in the center of town.  We could not go into the church because of a wedding but happened to be in front as the newlyweds emerged so that was fun. After walking around the outside, we had chai lattes and shared a cookie in a sidewalk café, then climbed on the bus once again.  I REALLY wish we could have spent that time at the museum instead!

On the ride back to Copenhagen for dinner, we drove through the original Carlsberg brewery.  Carlsberg's founder, J. C. Jacobson, named the brewery for his only son, Carl.  He believed that people should work in  nice environment so the buildings are magnificent.  We drove through an elaborate arch connecting two buildings and, as we approached it, I was leaning into the aisle to get a photo through the windshield.  The guide, Jenny, told me to come forward to sit in her seat by the driver so I got great pictures.

Dinner was at an excellent restaurant, "Salt", in the Admiral Hotel.  We enjoyed a delightful meal with Wayne and Jeanne, as well as a new-to-us couple, Don & Jerre.

We were back in the hotel at about 9:00 and in bed shortly thereafter.

Sunday, Aug. 17 - Copenhagen, Denmark to Home

When the wake-up call came at 7:30, we showered, dressed, finished the packing and headed for the Mamas and Papas for the buffet breakfast.  Afterwards we met the group in the lobby and were on the bus to the airport by 9:30.  We'd once again gotten the SAS Plus seats we'd requested so check-in was a breeze.  Going through security was actually enjoyable; the agent we really friendly and even a bit humorous. 

We sat in the huge SAS lounge until it was almost time to check-in.  We might have stayed longer but we still had to pass through passport control. 

The flight was uneventful and we were served two delicious meals; a hot one shortly after takeoff and a cold one prior to landing.  Both were accompanied by wine and the first was followed with a nice Cognac.

We made good time, landing in Newark at 2:20; 35 minutes ahead of schedule.  We breezed through passport control, had a bit of a wait for the bags and breezed through customs.  All in all we were out of customs by 3:00.  The bad news was that Joe had been held up in traffic and didn't pick us up until 4:00. 

Because of construction on I-80, we drove home via I-78, arriving at home at 6:00.  Dinner was at Elmhurst Country Club and, after only one  TiVo'ed TV program, we hit the rack, exhausted.

As always, our bed felt GREAT!

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This was an itinerary that has been on our bucket list for a long time.  As such, I'm glad we did it but am not eager to do it again.  While we had a good time and saw some amazing things, the trip was grueling. With only three days at sea, and a number of organized tours, we did not have a lot of time on our own.  However, the stops at Helsinki and Tallinn and our two days with Karl & Gisela in Germany were truly relaxing. 

I enjoy creating my own pages but one of the limitations is space for pictures. If you want to see more pix from this trip (or others), check out my blog on TravBuddy.