Baltic Sea Cruise 2014

Roger and Allan's cruise Diary, July 16 through July 27, 2014

07/16/14 Got up at 5:00am to catch my Delta Airline fight to Stockholm Sweden at 8:05am.

07/17/14 It was a long 16 hour gruelling trip; from San Diego to Minneapolis to Amsterdam and finally into Stockholm about 10am. I was dead tired when I arrived and finally got checked into my room on the Azamara Journey Cruise ship at 1:30pm. My travelling companion Alan Rowen and I met Conrad and Kathy Evans on the ship in Stockholm for lunch. At night we ate at the Prime Steak House on board the ship to celebrate Conrad and Kathy’s 26th wedding anniversary. Retired to bed around 9:00pm.

07/18/14 Recovered somewhat from my jet lag getting up around 8:00am for breakfast. We did an excursion to the Royal Palace today. The Palace was most impressive (the best and biggest I have ever seen) and well worth seeing. After the Palace tour we were left on our own to walk the shopping district of the inner city. I really liked the amber jewelry, but the pendent necklace I liked cost $13,000 way to much. The prices in this city are very high perhaps 3 - 4 times the US prices and even higher considering the exchange rate of 1.4 US dollars for a Euro dollar. The city is very beautiful this time of the year and well worth visiting. This city is where the Nobel prize awards are distributed. One could spend a lot of time in this city visiting parks, museums, and various government buildings. It seems to have no slums. The locals seem to be very happy with their socialist government programs here.

07/19/14 Arrived in Helsinki, Finland early this morning. Another very beautiful and clean city mostly surrounded by water and just full of beautiful parks. We did an excursion of the city in the morning. Our guide had a very shrill voice coupled with a poor audio system. I could understand her fine when talking to her in person, but could understand very little when she was talking into the mike/sound powered audio system. After the excursion we did lunch on the ship and then walked to an excellent Farmers Market located right next do our cruise ship. The quality of crafts and the food was superb. Did a jacuzzi on the ship next and then rested up for dinner. (it’s a hard life on a cruise ship) Had a nice dining experience with Conrad, Kathy, and Alan.

07/20/14 Arrived in St. Petersburg Russia this morning around 7:00am. Very ornate old city. We got prepared for our excursion to the Hermitage Museum. The emigration procedure to get on shore was bit time consuming but all went find and we got on our bus to the museum, about 1/2 hour from the ship. The Hermitage is generally considered to be the 2nd best museum in the world, the Louvre in Paris only being better. We had an excellent female guide who was an English teacher in the winter and guide in the summer. She used a microphone and powered sound system to our provided receivers and ear speaker. The system worked perfect and no one in our group of 20 got lost. The tour through the museum lasted about 4 hours and we were on the move most of the time. She guided us to the most famous paintings, sculptures, and artifacts throughout the huge museum. I would guess that 5000 people were there on this day and we perhaps walked about 3 - 5 miles. Some of the more famous paintings had lines to get close to it. I photographed every painting I liked but could not use flash as it was forbidden. Most of the paintings and artifacts where procured during Katherine the Great's reign of power. There was no air conditioning and it was a bit warm and humid on this day. I was totally impressed as our guide arranged the tour such that the quality of the paintings increased as went on. The collection of Rembrandt's at this museum was astounding. I think I preferred the French artist during Monet’s time on earth the most. I would highly recommend this museum to anyone even slightly interested in art. The best museum I have ever seen so far in my life.

Got back to the ship quite fatigued. Had dinner and then rested for two hours. Next we got ready for our free excursion “AzAmazing Evening Event at Mikhailovsky Theater” a ballet called The Flames of Paris. The theme of the ballet the French revolution was not to my liking, but the skill of the performances was outstanding. The theater opera house was beautiful and the ballet was definitely a highlight of my trip so far.

07/21/14 It is another beautiful sunny day in St. Petersburg in the mid to high 70’s. Slept late until 9:30am and got to breakfast buffet just before closing time. Had lox and bagel for breakfast. Our excursion “River and canal” boat ride today left at 1:15pm. It was an open boat and excellent for photography. The canal bridges are very low so keeping your head down at all times was highly advisable. This city built on a drained swamp is very beautiful and full of history. The 2nd part of our tour was to the Yussupov Palace where Rasputim was assassinated. It was full of art and statues of the highest quality even having its own opera theater for the guests of the palace. Again our English speaking cute little guide was a superb speaker and extremely knowledgeable of the history and art collections of the city. Returned back to ship and had a nice dinner with Conrad, Kathy, and Alan.

07/22/14 Got up early for breakfast and we were all on our way via bus to the Peterhof summer palace excursion. This place, about 25 miles outside of St. Petersburg, was huge and beautiful. The grounds were really fabulous and still in great condition. Man made lakes, gardens, and ponds all over the place. Beautifully wooded and right along the ocean with man made canal access for receiving supplies. All the shrubbery was cut and manicured to perfection. Peter the Great had many impressive water fountains on the property. These fountains were built in the 1700’s and still function totally from gravity, tricky piping, and diverting valves. There was lots of walking involved and our guide really moved a long. The interior of the palace was well decorated and adorned with art mostly brought in by Katherine the Great’s reign some time after Peter the Great. Every room was decorated with very high quantity artifacts from this period. The weather was a bit warm and humid in the low 80’s. Our guide was not the best one we had but was very adequate. She did make me nervous however, as she did not keep a head count of her clients and this palace was very large and congested with perhaps 5000 people on the grounds at one time. We returned St. Petersburg via hydroplane boat on the ocean and bay. A most memorable and fun day.

07/23/14 We arrived in Tallinn Estonia this morning to another perfect sunny day. Our excursion today left the ship at 8:15am. The inner city was very old and full of history. Our guide today was the best teacher yet of European history and theology. The orthodox church of Alexander which we visited was huge and most impressive also being an active church with services every day. We visited 3 churches and our guide gave us a complete history of them and their religion. This city is very popular short term tourist destination having 5 million visiting via ferry and cruise ship. The old buildings and cobblestone streets are a photographers dream. I bought a coffee cup in old town and some local chocolate at a concession near the ship. Had another pleasant dinning experience at night with Alan, Conrad, and Kathy.

The ship has about 750 passengers and approximately 14 people contracted an intestinal virus recently. To prevent spread of this virus we are encouraged to use antiseptic lotion when coming on board or when entering any food serving area. In the buffets you must be totally served by ship attendants not touching any food, spoons, etc. This is a bit of a pain, but better than getting intestinal pain.

We watched part of a musical groups show called “Voices” in the Cabaret before going to bed.

07/24/14 This is a sea day. I am catching up on diary and photo editing today. Alan, Kathy, and I attended a wine tasting event at 3:30pm this afternoon. We had dinner at the Premium Gourmet restaurant AQUALINA tonight. I had the fresh fillet of sole (the entire fish) served and carved at the table. YUM YUM. We went to the Caberet show room to hear music from Aba which was quite entertaining.

07/25/14 Arrived in Warnemunde, Germany this morning. Weather is still acting perfect. Alan headed for an excursion to Berlin today. It is 12 hours long with 6 hours on the bus, which sounded like too much riding to me, so I opted out. Tried to do laundry on the ship today but room was full every time I went to it. Did a one hour city walk with Conrad and Kathy. At 2:00pm we did an excursion on a “Molli Steam Train” called “A Nostalgic Puff”.

07/26/14 The last day of the Baltic cruise. Another beautiful day here in Germany. Alan and I did another excursion today which was 9 hours long. The first part to Lubeck was very interesting where we walked a lot in this very historic town inspecting the old castle fortress in and out of Lubeck. We visted the very beautiful, old, and historic St. Marie cathedral which is still an active church. The two organs in the church were awesome and Bach actually played them being the lead organist and teacher during his time on earth. The smaller of the two organs were actually in use for a rehersal. Seeing this church was a real treat for me. I took lots of photos inside setting my camera to iso 5000 so I did not have to use flash. Next we walked the inner city of Lubeck. Our guide who had a PHD in German, claimed that the Marizapan candy was to die for in this city and took us to an upscale candy store which sold the confection. As I love Marizapon I bought 2 boxes of it to take home. Next we drove a long distance perhaps 120 miles to a German lake side Town called Shireen where we were provided with a sit down lunch in a very old hotel restaurant. The desert (to die for) was a rich creamy vanilla ice cream, sweet local strawberries, and clotted cream. The wine was acceptable, the bread was very good, but the chicken, boiled potatoes, and carrots were marginal and not in the slightest like a good German cuisine. Next we visited the fairy tale working castle and state building which was not even close to the quality that we have become accustomed to in St. Petersburg Russia. I would have been happy to skip the 2nd part of this excursion. The pretty green rolling hills country side was covered with mostly wheat fields, corn, and some rape seed fields. In general the country side looked quite prosperous. We returned on the Autobahn highway (which has no speed limit???) to our ship. We got back just in time for our premium restuarant reservations at the AQUALINA on board the ship. Conrad and Kathy joined us. As it was the last night on this cruise, I porked out having two main entries; a whole sole fish deboned at the table and lobster thermidor. Kathy purchased a nice Chardonay Deloach wine to drink with fish. Conrad and Alan tried the Murphys Stout beer which taste even better than Guiness. We all decided that we enjoyed the cruise together a lot and we four seemed to be a good social fit.

07/27/14 Arrived in Copenhagen this morning. Unfortunately I had to switch rooms for my next cruise to Norway and Iceland, but it was relatively painless, as the porters moved my bags and I kept my computer bag with me until my room was ready. I had no room for about 3 hours. After breakfast was over we either had to stay in our old room or in the Cabaret Theater which is what I did. I used my laptop and caught up on my diary and photo editing. My sister Joanne is joining me on this cruise and should be arriving into Copenhagen airport around 10:30am. Unfortunately the ship is being sanitized right now and they will not allow any new pasengers until 1:30pm. Perhaps they will give Joanne a free excursion of the city on her transport bus so whe will not have to wait outside near the ship.

Joanne finally arrived at 3:00pm. She was very tired from the long SAS flight from Chicago. Check-in went smooth and Joanne got to rest an hour before having the hated mandadory fire drill at the beginning of all cruises. We had a wonderfull dinner in the dinning room. My smoked duck appetizer was to die for. YUM YUM.