Tag Archives: Celebrity Constellation

Cruising to Naples

Cruising into Naples means your are docked very close to the city centre, as well as close to ferries that can take you to islands such as Capri. For people with mobility issues, if you can walk a bit, there is an elevator to the main floor of the port terminal.

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Next, however, is walking past all the taxis lined up to offer you tours of Naples and the surrounding area. The tours offered did seem to be reasonably priced and included Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast and Naples (although most drivers did not understand that you might really like to see Naples). They really did not understand that I might just want to see things like this castle — and easy walk from the ship and where you can find the main stop of the hop on, hop off bus. If you can make it to the end of the port area, the hop on, hop off bus may run a shuttle to their main stop, Castel Nouvo. You can see this castle from the ship and the walk is not bad, but is slightly up hill. There was also a lot of construction when I was there.

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For me, I was ready to just explore the city. The tourist information centre in the cruise terminal provides a good map and directions. But, by the time I’d been bombarded by tour offers, getting on the hop on, hop off bus seemed to be an easy solution.

This bus has two routes — one along the coast and one up the hill that winds through the older part of Naples. I took both — but stopped along the way to try to find a specific church. The directions the bus operators gave me were a bit off, but I did see some other interesting churches and wandered through the old streets.

The Archaeological Museum is also a great place to visit in Naples. From the cruise terminal, walk to the Metro stop and get off at Museum — it is very easy! While I did not go to the museum this time, I always like to recommend it. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) had an exhibit from this museum recently. The exhibit highlighted their Pompeii collection.

I do not recommend walking around Naples if you have mobility challenges. The streets are narrow and uneven, traffic is bad, and directions are not always the best. But do find some time to visit Naples before heading off to Capri or down the Almafi coast. There are some interesting things to see on hidden streets.

 

Xperiences #AtoZ Challenge

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I love to cruise and a majority of my cruises have been on Celebrity, which they highlight a Xperiences. In fact, my favourite cruises — one around the tip of South American and one of the Baltic were both on Celebrity ships.

The staff is incredible and you feel you can stop and talk to any of the ship’s officers. During a particularly rough time at sea, one of the officers stopped me to ask if I was ok, as many passengers were not. He found me taking movies of the rough water and comparing it to surfing. He said I had to be the only passenger truly enjoying the adventure!

When not visiting ports, I love the Solarium — it is a quiet oasis on the ship and I find that it is one of the most relaxing places.

My favourite bar has to be the martini bar. It is centrally located and just a great place to meet people — and spent time “drawing” on the ice that covers the bar’s counter.

I don’t take a lot of pictures while I’m on the ship, so just go the the Celebrity website for more details!

I’ll be on the Celebrity Constellation in just a few days!

Day 16 Amsterdam to Paris

Would you believe it – it was cold, foggy and damp as we docked in Amsterdam. I could get the impression that the sun never shines here! The ship’s foghorn blared all night long. When it stopped between 2 & 3 AM, I realized the ship was already docked in Amsterdam. We weren’t scheduled to be here until 6 AM. The Master of the Constellation, Captain Tassos, did a remarkable job getting us around the Baltic, usually arriving early. After a night surrounded by fog on our cruise back into Amsterdam, it was now time for me to bid farewell to my home for the past 12 days, the Celebrity Constellation. I loved the ship, the crew, and the experiences.

At breakfast, I ran into several of the friends I’d met during this sailing experience. Then, too soon, it was time to head through the main lobby, use my Sea Pass one last time, and head into the cruise terminal in Amsterdam. My bag was easy to find – and now I was off to catch a train to Paris.

It was an easy walk from ship to Amsterdam Centraal Station. Even dragging my suitcase, it only took me about 20 minutes. Once in the station, I was able to find an ATM machine and the platform for my train. I was very early, as it was before 9 AM and my train did not leave until 11:19. While I was waiting, I met a couple from Waterloo, ON. They had been on a barge-biking tour of The Netherlands and were on their way to Brussels to meet family. 

Check out the Thalys website for information on the train to Paris. I setup an alert to let me know when I could reserve a ticket for the day I wanted – it allowed me to get a discount ticket for 35 Euros!

For some reason, the ticket I printed off did not contain all the information I needed to board, mainly the coach and seat number. I was directed to the Station Master who was able to check the barcode and give me the information I needed. Getting on the train was a bit tricky as there was a big gap and three steps to get from the platform to the train.While there was plenty of room for my suitcase, it did get very tight as more people piled into the car with enormous bags! It was pretty crazy – how can you get around Paris with bags that my bag would fit in – twice. Luckily, I was able to find a place for my luggage and I was the only person in my row, so I had a comfy seat with a table and a window. The train seemed to fly across the Dutch country side.

The train ride to Paris is about 3 hours and goes through Belgium. I wish I could say I saw Belgium – but really, there was not a lot to see from the train. Soon, we were entering Gare Nord, the final stop in Paris. I got a shuttle from the station to my hotel in the Arrondissement 7 – Hotel du Champs de Mars. This is a beautiful hotel on a pedestrian street that is just a couple doors down from Rue Cler which is a pedestrian street filled with different shops and cafes. My room was on the 5th floor – and fortunately there was a small elevator, otherwise, I would have to climb the every-spiraling staircase. My room overlooked a private courtyard, so was very secluded and quiet.

Hotel du Champs de Mars
Hotel du Champs de Mars
Hotel Spiral Staircase
Hotel Spiral Staircase

After dropping off my luggage, it was time for me to get to know my neighborhood, the 7th Arrondissement.

My first stop was just outside my door – Rue Cler. This is the heart of the neighborhood with cafes, and shops for all sorts of specialties. This is where people come to but their bread, fresh fruit and veggies, cheese and wine, meat and fish. You can sit at one of the cafes and watch both locals and tourists. There was even a chocolate shop directly across from my hotel! I loved it all! 

Rue Cler
Rue Cler

My hotel was centrally located with several major sites to see: Les Invalides, the Eiffel Tower, Ecole Militaire, Assemblée Nationale, and Musée d’Orsay, what a a perfect location! I thought I’d head first towards Les Invalides, just because I did not go there on my last visit to Paris. Also, it looked like rain, so I did not want to stray too far just yet. So, an easy stroll took me to this vast park and massive building that houses the Musée de Armee and the Tomb of Napolean.

Dome of Napolean Tomb
Dome of Napoleans Tomb
Canons at Invalides
Canons at Invalides

After a few raindrops, the sun came out and I headed in the opposite way past my hotel to the Champs de Mars and the symbol of Paris, the Eiffel Tower. So far, I had a leisurely and calm walk – then I approached the tower and the crowds of people in lines that snaked in many directions. It was confusing to see where any of the lines actually ended and it felt like the entire world was represented in this space. I decided to forgo the crowds – I have pictures of being on the tower in 2001 with the lights sparkling. This trip was about doing different things and just soaking in the energy and the magic of Paris. I enjoyed the park, people watching and taking pictures.

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower

Heading back to Rue Cler, I spent the rest of my evening at one of the corner cafes, enjoying a nice dinner, wine and espresso.

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower

Day 15: My last day on the Celebrity Constellation

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The last sea day is always bittersweet – remembering a great trip, but saying good bye to new friends and the crew who took such good care of us during our brief time on board. There were, of course, activities galore. We also had a final gathering of our Cruise Critic Roll Call members. It was great to have the chance to connect and share our experiences during the cruise.

The last day also means packing our bags and generally preparing to leave. I ended the day trying to answer the “World’s Hardest 60s music Trivia” and trust me, it was HARD! But a lot of fun.

I also took one more opportunity for a massage before leaving the ship and heading for the next part of my adventure – Paris!

Day 14: Copenhagen – Castles, Horses and Canals!

After going under the Ostbroen Bridge, we were now sailing on a northern course through the Sound that divides Denmark from Sweden. The narrowest part is 2.3 miles and separates the Helsingborg, Sweden from Helsingor, Denmark – and the Kronborg Castle in Helsingor. What’s special about this castle? It is considered the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet!

Sailing the Sound
Kronberg Castle, setting for Hamlet
Kronberg Castle, setting for Hamlet

The Celebrity Constellation docked at the Langelinie docks – a great location that has shops, restaurants and is an easy walk to the famous Little Mermaid statue. It is very easy to find your own way around Copenhagen – and I was looking forward to wandering around the city.  Of course, it is also important to have a plan on what you want to see – and I had a plan! Because of the location of this dock, there are several ways to get into the city – a port shuttle, Hop On – Hop Off bus service and local transport located an easy walking distance at the end of the pier.

The first attraction to see from where we were docked is the famous statue of the Little Mermaid. This statue has been damaged several times – and it is no wonder.  It is very close to shore. However, everyone wants a picture — and it is just expected to take one or two when in Copenhagen!

Little Mermaid at dawn
Little Mermaid at dawn
Little Mermaid
Little Mermaid

I hopped on a bus that took me into the city centre, passing highlights including Tivoli Gardens, the gardens and amusement park founded in 1843 and the Town Hall and, of course palaces. But, let’s remember, I had a plan!

Christianborg Slot
Christianborg Slot

I decided to go to the Christiansborg Slot (aka Palace). This is a very large collection of buildings that are used for official State events – and it includes my first goal of the day: the Royal Stables. I was surprised, when I got there, that the doors were wide open and I could just walk into the gardens are areas behind the façade. In the back, there was an area that looked to be a parade area. And soon, I found out what it was really used for – training horses for pulling the royal carriages! I watched as a pair of horses pulled a carriage, doing patterns like figure eights as they trotted around the area. It’s so cool when you find exactly what you are looking for so easily!

Royal Stables
Royal Stables
Horses from the Royal Stables
Horses from the Royal Stables

The entrance to the stables was easy to find – the door was open and there was a sign to mark the entrance. I followed another couple into the stables where we were met by a very tall Danish man. He informed us that they were not scheduled to do tours of the stables today, however, since there were just three of us, he would show us around the stables, then let us into the carriage house. His only request was to ensure we locked the door to the carriage house as we left. WOW!!! We learned all about the horses, where they come from, how they are trained, etc. Then, he unlocked the carriage house and left. Each carriage had a plaque with a description of the carriage and sometimes a picture of when it was used. Let’s just say, I was in heaven!

Inside the Royal Stables
Inside the Royal Stables
One of the Royal Horses saying hello!
One of the Royal Horses saying hello!
I think I'll take this carriage today!
I think I’ll take this carriage today!
Golden Carriage
Golden Carriage

After this, I wasn’t sure what I should do next – It was like I was blown away and all my plans could not match what I got to experience. So, I did what I do best – I wandered around the streets a bit where I found the gardens behind the National Library, the Senate buildings, and a church with the serpent steeple. Wandering is good, but I thought it was time to see more of Copenhagen.

Serpent Steeple
Serpent Steeple

So, I took a canal tour and saw more of the city from a different vantage point.

Sandskulptur Festival
Sandskulptur Festival
Copenhagen
Copenhagen
Canals of Copenhagen
Canals of Copenhagen

And I took a lot of pictures of things I found interesting. Copenhagen is a beautiful city. I ended my day in Copenhagen walking from the park near the Little Mermaid statue back to the ship. What a wonderful day!

Windmill in Copenhagen
Windmill in Copenhagen
Angel statue
Angel statue
Dockside in Copenhagen
Dockside in Copenhagen

Once on ship, it was our last formal night – and everything was sparkling. I met some friends at the Martini Bar before dinner and enjoyed a fabulous dinner with my regular table in the dining room. The production show was “Celebrate the World” and was a lot of fun.

Day 13: Finally, a Sea Day and a bridge!

Since this was my first sea day in almost a week, I did not have a “habit” of what to do – like I had on other cruises. But, I easily got into the pace of reading, sitting in the Solarium, and just relaxing. Of course, on the ship there are always activities galore. But the real highlight of the day happened at the dawning of our next day – literally at midnight. The sky still held traces of the sunset and our ship was passing under the Ostbroen bridge that spans the Baltic Sea and connects Denmark to Sweden. So, at midnight, I was out on the top deck in a dress that I finally had to tie the skirt so it would not blow up around me taking pictures of the bridge. Pretty cool!

The Ostbroen Bridge between Denmark & Sweden at midnight
The Ostbroen Bridge between Denmark & Sweden at midnight
Will we make it under the The Ostbroen Bridge
Will we make it under the The Ostbroen Bridge
Passing another ship at the Ostbroen Bridge
Passing another ship at the Ostbroen Bridge

Day 12 Tallinn – Getting lost in a walled city

After the whirlwind of St. Petersburg, I was looking forward to a slower pace. Unlike other cruises I’d been on, this was now our 5th port day in a row – my last cruise was a transatlantic cruise on the RCI Vision of the Seas from Brazil to Portugal and had 6 straight “sea days”. Guess I got spoiled from that!  Fortunately, this day we docked in Tallinn, Estonia and I was on my own to explore – no pushing to see all the highlights.

This is a perfectly magical medieval town that will let inspiration move you – if you are open to the experience. I was one of the first people off the ship and looking forward to visiting the old city centre of the capitol of Estonia. Once off the ship, there is little information centre and craft shops. There are many ways to get to the city centre – a port-sponsored shuttle bus, a Hop on, Hop off bus, a local bus or tram, and it was really only about a 20 minute walk. The Information Centre can help you decide the best way and will even sell a Tallinn Card which will get you all day transit and admission to many museums. Knowing I would be walking a lot within the city, I opted for the bus which stopped at a flower market just outside one of the gates into the walled city.

Tallinn
Tallinn
Flower Market in Tallinn
Flower Market in Tallinn

When I got there people were opening shops and setting things up for the day. It was quiet – a perfect time for walking and soaking in the atmosphere. I love wandering through the cobblestone streets and just being drawn to things that looked interesting or different. Wandering the nearly empty streets was a wonderfully peaceful start to the day.

Street in Tallinn
Street in Tallinn

 

Town Square Tallinn
Town Square Tallinn

I headed through the main square then up to Toompea Hill, which includes a castle that was first built in the 13th century and the Alexander Nevski Cathedral. The cathedral was built in the 19th century, but in the style of 17th century Russian Orthodox churches. Inside are the mosaic icons similar to the ones I saw in St. Petersburg. I also earned some “brownie points” by helping a lady with a baby carriage go up the stairs to the cathedral (couldn’t believe how many people pushed her aside…)

Castle
Castle
Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Tallinn
Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Tallinn

Close to this church is the Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin, which is also known as Toomkirk (Dome Church). It is the oldest church in Tallinn, dating from 1219. It has several tombs with stone-carvings and a baroque altar. I wanted to spend more time here, but it was getting organized tours for 3 cruise ships were now starting to crowd the streets and churches.

Toomkirk
Toomkirk

I decided to duck down a side street to get away from the crowds and found a little piece of home – the Canadian Embassy! And what was even better, it was close to the overlook from the wall. I then just wandered through the streets – and along the walls of the city, finally making my way to the opposite side of the city and close to the Fat Margaret Tower.

Canadian Embassy
Canadian Embassy
Wall Tower
Wall Tower
Towers in Tallinn
Towers in Tallinn

 

Wall Gate
Wall Gate

From here, I was discovered I was on Pikk Street – a main street that had several interesting things, including the Oleviste Church, St. Olaf Church, the former KGB headquarters and guild houses such as the House of Blackheads, a merchant’s guild.

At this point, I wanted to find Katherine’s Pikk – a street that was supposed to have a number of craft vendors. After a few wrong turns, I finally found it (I had to find it as it is my name!). As I walked down it, talking to some of the vendors and looking at various hand-knitted items, I saw a sign for the St. Catherine of Sienna Dominican Monastery. Leave it to me to find something dedicated to my patron saint – and discovering why this street was called Katherine Pikk. (NOTE: ok, that may NOT be the reason, but it is a good story and I’m sticking to it!)

Katherine Pikk
Katherine Pikk
Artisans on Katherine Pikk
Artisans on Katherine Pikk

 

St. Catherine Monestery
St. Catherine Monestery

 

St. Catherine Monestery
St. Catherine Monestery

The rest of my day was spent wandering through shops, grabbing a snack at a café and then heading back to the ship. At the port, I was drawn into the little craft stores for one last look. OK, maybe it was the guy wearing the Viking Horns that caught my eye! Or maybe it was a good place to take a picture of the Celebrity Constellation. All I can say is that it was a perfect day.

Celebrity Constellation
Celebrity Constellation

I would recommend Tallinn for so many reasons – but one of the best is it is so easy to do this on your own and just enjoy all it has to offer.

Day 10: St. Petersburg

The Celebrity Constellation finally docked in St. Petersburg. I wasn’t really surprised at how early we docked. According to the schedule, we should be able to disembark the ship at 7 AM; however given what we would have to go through at immigration, I figured the ship would have a lot of paperwork as well.

Also, because everyone would be trying to head off the ship at 7 (or close to 7) there was an “express breakfast” being service in the main dining room, in addition to the buffet. I figured the buffet was going to be a real nightmare, so I thought I would try the express. Not sure what I was expecting, but it was not the “express” I thought. Basically, it was one menu that included scrambled eggs, bacon sausage, toast, juice and coffee. Should be fast, right? Well, we still had a bit of a wait but at least there was none of the frantic mad dash that would be happening at the breakfast buffet. With breakfast done, it was time to try to get off the ship.

To get into Russia still takes Visas that can be very expensive and take at least 3 months to obtain. The easier option is to arrange a tour. If you opt to take one of the many offerings of the ship, that is taken care of for you. If you opt to arrange a more private tour, the tour company should also arrange for this as part of the package. Again, working with members of our Cruise Critic Roll Call, several vans were arranged with SPB Tours. This is an amazing organization and I highly recommend this tour company. Viktoria and her staff did everything to make this an experience to remember. They even told us what documentation we needed to have to get off the ship – and that we should be allowed off the ship at the same time as the ship’s tours.
Well, there was some sort of a delay and I’m not sure why but we finally got off the ship and headed to immigration. And here was our second delay. If seemed that, if we were on private tours, there were only 3 immigration lines opened – the rest were “dedicated” to the ship’s tour. Now, I could be wrong about this, however there seemed to be two streams of people going through the doors.

Russian immigration is an interesting thing. You can almost time it. It takes 60 seconds to process each person. You stand behind the yellow line until the green light indicates you can go forward to the booth where a lady that does not smile looks at your passport, immigration form, tour tickets and tour confirmation. She then takes half of the form and stamps your passport on the last page, preferably at the top corner – precisely at the top corner. Then the gate opens and you are in Russia.

Russian Passport control
Russian Passport control

SPB tour agents met us at the front doors of immigration and we were given our vans and tour guides, I was in Catherine’s group and our driver was Andrew. There were 16 people in our van – a perfect size for a tour group. Catherine has been leading tours for 13 years. She studied linguistics and knew more about the English language than most English speakers. She also had a connection to Toronto, as she was the translator that assisted a Toronto architect who designed the new opera house in St. Petersburg. And she was amazing!

Our first stop was to see the sphinxes that adorn one of the bridges in St. Petersburg – and to put our hands in the mouth of the griffon so that we would have good luck on our journeys in Russia. I love traditions like this, but trying to get a picture of the griffon without people I did not know was a challenge!

Griffen
Griffen

Next, we drove to Palace Square and St. Nickolas Cathedral which we going to be the site for a celebration for the 310th anniversary of the founding of St. Petersburg. From there, it is a short drive to the Hermitage Museum. It was, of course, packed (however if you have faced the crowds in the Louvre, it is similar). The building itself is truly over the top. This was used a palace – actually there are 5 buildings or palaces that make up the Hermitage and somehow we made it through 4 of them!

Grand Staircase Hermitage
Grand Staircase Hermitage
Throne Room Hermitage
Throne Room Hermitage
Formal Portrait Hermitage
Formal Portrait Hermitage

This is also where we learned the depth of our tour guide Catherine’s knowledge. Not only did she know the history, but she was also well-versed in art and art history. She also asked us where we would like to spend more time – with the Italian Masters or Impressionists. I was very happy that the group opted for the Impressionists (always my favorite). This did not; however stop her from showing us some of the highlights of the Italians. On our way to the Impressionists gallery, I noticed a painting that seemed to be tucked away in a corner. Something about that light made me stop and examine the description – a Caravaggio! After my first trip to Malta and seeing Caravaggio’s Beheading of St. John in the Co-Cathedral, I’ve been fascinated by his work (thanks again to another excellent tour guide who had a special love of Caravaggio’s work).

But back to the Impressionists! I was very happy and the Gaugin and Matisse pieces were especially nice to see.

Gaugin's Dancers
Matisse’s Dancers

Since this was my first museum in Russia, it was also my first experience with the “Russian grandmothers” – the elderly ladies who sit quietly in the rooms until you do something stupid, like use flash cameras or try to touch something. They reminded me a lot of the Greek grandmothers I upset so much in Athens (I guess putting a stuffed monkey on a statue to take a picture is not appropriate). Let’s just say I did not upset any grandmothers on this trip!

Russian Grandmother at the Hermitage
Russian Grandmother at the Hermitage

Next, we headed to the Church of the Resurrection, also known as the Church of the Spilt Blood. This is an over-the-top Russian Orthodox Church and was painstakingly reconstructed after WWII. Catherine’s grandfather actually worked on some of the mosaics, so we got to get a personal insight into this. It is an amazing building, both inside and out.

Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood
Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood
Dome in the Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood
Dome in the Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood

Lunch was at a local restaurant where we could get Russian “pies” (she called them perogies, but they were different from the Slavic ones I’m used to). They were more like pastry with some sort of stuffing – meat, chicken, mushroom, apple, etc. This was a place where locals would go for lunch, so it was fun to order from the counter. I tried a meat pie, which was delicious.

Russian Meat Pie
Russian Meat Pie

We next drove out of Petersburg to the town of Pushkin. This was the home of my palace (oops excuse me) Catherine’s Palace. In order to tour the building, we had to put the stylish booties over our shoes. Our tour guide said it was really to help polish the floors (I think I’ll get some of the booties for my cats and see if it helps clean my floors!). Once we were all “boot-ied”, it was time to see this beautifully restored palace. Room after room was more impressive than the next. Dining rooms were set with china, silks covered the walls, ornate furniture and carvings filled the rooms. Then we got to a room that strictly forbid ANY pictures. This was the infamous Amber Room. All I can say is WOW! To all my amber aficionado-friends, you would never want to leave. (I wonder if there is a garnet room somewhere for me?) We then walked through the gardens, after depositing our special booties, of course. I wish the weather was a little better as it was rainy and a bit cold, but I loved the lushness ad green of these gardens. As we left, there was a man playing a flute – it created a fitting atmosphere for the afternoon walk in the gardens.

Catherine's Palace
Catherine’s Palace
Catherine's Palace
Catherine’s Palace
One of the Dining rooms in Catherine's Palace
One of the Dining rooms in Catherine’s Palace
Gardens at Catherine's Palace
Gardens at Catherine’s Palace
Entertainment at Catherine's Palace
Entertainment at Catherine’s Palace

Our last stop of the day was to a Russian gift shop before more driving through the city on our way back to the ship.
My evening was topped off with vodka and a performance by a Russian troupe.
That was a long day – and there is still more. The last thing I noticed is that even with 18 hours of daylight, once the sun was down, it was still “light” outside. It never got dark. I think I kind of understand what is meant by Russian White Nights.

White Nights taken well after midnight
White Nights taken well after midnight

Day 9: Helsinki

Helsinki was never a place I thought I’d be drawn to go. It has long winters and I really do not know a lot about it. A friend of mine is now living there and told me I’d like Helsinki and I do have to say, he was right. Also, it is a very laid-back city, so a nice stop before we head to Russia.

Helsinki's Olympic Stadium
Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium

It was also had to get really good information about what to expect at the port. Not that I did not find out where we would be docked – that was easy! But not sure of what services might be available to us. Like how close is it to “town” from the dock and will there be any transportation? One of the things that most cruise ships do is push their own shore excursions. While I understand this, it would be nice to have a little information for independent travelers. [Note: On the first cruise I took on the RCI Brilliance of the Seas, the person who managed the ship’s preferred port shopping services told people who were going into Athens on their own that he was going and would help independent travelers get into the city centre – and introduce them to some of the shops that he works with. While I did not go on this, I do remember the shops he mentioned because one of them is my favorite place for Greek clothing.]

Anyway, back to Helsinki…

When I got off the ship, there was a port-sponsored shuttle bus and 2 Hop-On, Hop-Off bus companies. Also, had I known, it was a very short walk to a tram that is part of the local transit system that goes into town (I did not find that out until returning to the ship, so there is something to remember). Instead, I teamed up with a couple from Pennsylvania and we opted for one of the “HOHOs” and were soon whisked into town. We did get a nice overview of the city, going past major “hot spots” and taking lots of pictures.

Then, we settled on getting off at the Train Station (that was supposed to be a real highlight) and walking around a bit. Well, while the train station was ok and had some interesting architectural details, I expected something more. It was described as “a favourite building in town, with an unusual, dark monumental design with giant Egyptian figures out front that have inspired set designers — including those who created Gotham for the first “Batman” movie.” I think we were on the wrong side and it was time to respond to the “call of nature”. Of course the WCs were on the opposite side of the building from where we entered – then there was the dollar Euro needed to enter what was not the posh-est of WCs (I’d HATE to see what they would look like without the dollar charged!). Now, though, we were on the opposite side of the building, so when we walked out, we could see why this was a really cool building!

Helsinki Train Station
Helsinki Train Station

In fact, there is a lot of interesting architecture all around Helsinki. Senate Square is another place where people meet – and has a beautiful cathedral. The church was “busy” most of the day with weddings, so I did not go inside, but I loved taking pictures of this building.

Senate Square Cathedral
Senate Square Cathedral
Wedding at Senate Square Cathedral
Wedding at Senate Square Cathedral

From Senate Square, we walked to Market Square, which is right next to the harbour.

Market Square Statue
Market Square Statue

This is a great place for fresh fruits and veggies as well as handicrafts of all kinds. We spend a lot of time talking to the craftspeople and learning about how they made their different types of crafts. One of the artisans had a familiar accent. I finally asked her where she was from – and how she made her way to Finland. We learned that she was form Santa Barbara, California and she fell in love with someone from Finland – and now she was creating one-of-a-kind felted scarves and other accessories. Another woman was selling hand-dyed and woven clothes. I bought a turquoise scarf from her – the colour is amazing.

Knitters at Market Square
Knitters at Market Square

There were also several food vendors. One of them stopped us and offered a taste of smoked fish and smoked reindeer meatballs – and we decided to try a meal. I got the meatballs with was served with roasted potatoes and veggies – and it was more food than I could eat for only 8 Euro! My friend got a plate of Finish “paella” (never thought I’d see that). She said it was good, but could have been spicier. I think I’ll stick with paella in Spain!

Sign for Finnish  fish Market Square
Sign for Finnish
Fish Market Square
Smoked Reindeer Meatball dinner
Smoked Reindeer Meatball dinner

Across the street from Market Square was a nice park. We kept hearing music and found out there was a Big Band competition going on. The day was warming up and it was nice to spend some time in the park and listen to different bands – and just do some people watching.

Band in the Park
Band in the Park

I also saw a puppeteer and watched him as he entertained the crowd – and tried to interact with some of the children.

Puppeteer
Puppeteer entertaining the children

The street along this park has a collection of very high-end shops. It is truly a shopper’s dream. Fortunately for me, I’m not really a shopper, so I was not tempted. I just liked being out, walking the streets and seeing the sights. I also enjoyed the weather – by the afternoon, it was sunny and warm. Soon – too soon – it was time to head back to the ship.
My feet were tired and I knew the next few days would be very “walk-heavy”, so I decided to try out the thalassophy pool – a nice, relaxing pool similar to a hot tub – but larger with spaces to “lounge”. It was a nice way to end the day, especially since we were losing an hour to adjust the clocks to Russian time. I tried to sleep but I was excited and nervous about our next stop: St. Petersburg, Russia.

It was also a full moon!

Full Moon
Full Moon

Day 8 Stockholm

Day 8 Stockholm

One of the nice things about cruising is that you get to see places from a different perspective. Sailing through the Swedish Archipelago is one such journey. It is made up of 24,000 islands, many with beautiful houses.  Stockholm is created from 14 islands, so getting around by boat is a great way to see the city. In Stockholm, there are 250,000 registered private boats for people to not only cruise around the city, but to sail to their holiday homes on islands in the archipelago.

Sailing into Stockholm
Sailing into Stockholm

We were docked at the port farthest from the city centre. However there was a Tourist Information booth as we left the ship and signs that directed us to choices in travel. I chose the “hop on” boat. This boat will take you to various stops in the central area of Stockholm, but when a cruise ship docks, they do an “express” service until 10 AM from the ship’s pier to 2 stops only – the Vasa Museum and Gamla Stan (old town). For me, this was PERFECT! I wanted to get to the Vasa before the hordes of tours form the ship made their way to the museum. So, off I sailed to the Vasa!

What it the Vasa Museum? It is a specially built museum that houses the Vasa, a 17th century warship and sunk 20 minutes into its maiden voyage in 1628. Let’s just say that this beautiful ship was a bit top heavy! Because the Baltic Sea contains less salt than other salt-water seas and oceans, much of the wood was intact when teams salvaged the ship in 1961. There is a special air-lock system of doors that help to maintain proper atmosphere for maintaining the ship. It is large, and very impressive. I listened a bit to a talk about the ship where the guide pointed out the waterline of the ship, showing how much was “above” the waterline, thus making it so top heavy.  There were amazing carved sculptures that lined the back of the ship as well as a golden lion for the masthead.

Aft of the Vasa Warship
Aft of the Vasa Warship

After my visit to the Vasa, it was time for me to wander the streets – one of my favourite things to do in a new city because you never know what you will find! First, it was back on the boat for a trip to Gamla Stan. This is the oldest part of Stockholm and where the Royal Palace is. The streets are cobbled and narrow with lots of shopping and cafes to draw your attention.

Gamla Stan from the Sea
Gamla Stan from the Sea

Mine, however, was on visiting the Palace and a few of the areas you can tour. I was really lucky to get to the parade area around 11:45 so I could find a place to watch the changing of the guard.  What I did not know is that we were in for a treat. Only a couple times a month does this event also include a mounted band! Not only do I have pictures, I have lots of videos!   I especially liked the mounted drummer’s  horse which was much larger than the others – and had a bit of an attitude (or maybe the drumming just hurt the horse’s ears). We even got a bit of a concert from the mounted band.

Swedish Guards Mounted Drummer
Swedish Guards Mounted Drummer

I should have gone to the Town Hall to see the gold room that is used for the Nobel Prize banquet – but I really felt a lack of time to do everything I wanted. Our stay was very short so I will have to come back. Maybe I’ll set my plan for spending winters in Spain and summers in Sweden!

The hop on, hop off boat eventually got me back to the ship in plenty of time to take a nap and then take pictures of sailing past the islands again.

We also had our second Formal night on the cruise. Call me crazy, but I really like the formal nights. Everyone seems to have so much “more” excitement. I, of course, checked in first at the Martini Bar for pre-dinner drink and interesting conversations. Then headed in for dinner – this time I had Steak Tartar, Lobster Bisque Soup and Chateaubriand with béarnaise sauce. Dessert was a Chocolate Bombe. Usually, if it’s chocolate, it’s gotta be good, right? Well, I love dark chocolate and this was a mixture of milk and white. Such a dilemma, eh?

So remember the dragon from the Backstage tour from Day 7? Well, tonight’s performance was a Celebrity production show called the Land of Make Believe and the dragon had a prominent role in this. The show was really good and I loved the costumes, especially the hats at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.