California Bill\’s Travel \’n Other Stuff

Travels and occassional rantings of an old guy.

Target – St Petersburg, Russia, with many stops along the way!

Nyhavn, CopenhagenOk, this was our first large ship (1600 passengers, 700 crew) cruise and we were a little trepidatious about it.  On previous trips, we avoided contact with those “cruise hordes” and planned daily activities around them.  Now here we were, part of “them.”  But we should not have worried.  It was fantastic.  We were on the Celebrity Century, a ship that supposedly maintains a higher than normal level of service. Service was superb.To view pictures of this trip, please visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/calbillstravnstuff/sets/72157594258507060/ .  There are 108 pictures, but if you wanTallinn's Viro Gatet to see a couple hundred more, I’ll be glad to oblige.Amsterdam Canal

Our target was St Petersburg, Russia, which we have wanted to see for some time.  The itinerary also took us to Copenhagen (Denmark), Stockholm (Sweden), Helsinki (Finland), Tallinn (Estonia), and Oslo (Norway).  We sailed from and returned to Amsterdam, so we got to return to a city we liked very much. They were celebrating Rembrandt’s 400th birthday. We enjoyed the Scandinavian capitals, especially Copenhagen, where we lunched (above) on Nyhavn, near Hans Christian Anderson’s home, and Stockholm, where there were scores of children out and about.  Tallinn was a medieval jewel to behold.

As for the ship, well all that we had heard about the vast quantities of fine food still did not prepare us for the daily gourmet dining experience.  It was truly amazing.  Thankfully, they had a wonderful gym; otherwise they would have needed a crane to debark me.  (Debark – a nautical term for getting off the boat.)  I actCenturyually debarked a few dollars FROM THEM in their small but efficient casino.

We had been mysteriously upgraded from the engine room to a stateroom with a sliding glass door to a cute little veranda. Magical.  The ocean and the bourbon were both smooth. Three of the dinners were formal, requiring tuxedos, etc., three others coat and tie, and, well, you get the picture.  We loved it.  Baltic Sea Midnight

Shortly into the cruise it dawned on us (excuse the pun) that it really never gets dark. We awoke with sun streaming through the curtain, and jumped up fearing we had overslept our shore departure time.  Throwing open the curtain, we saw sunlight on the tops of trees and houses on the island in the Swedish archepelago we were passing.  Looking at the clock, it was only 4 am.  The sun had been up for about ½ an hour.  It didn’t set until 11:30.  It never really got dark.  We were at 60 degrees north, and stayed around that latitude most of the trip.

St Petersburg is said to be mOnion Domed Church on Spilled Bloodore European than Russian. Peterhof, with all of its fountains and gardens, rivals, and some say exceeds, the grandeur of Versailles.  Catherine’s Palace is remarkable, even more noteworthy in that most of the rooms have been restored after WWII, when the retreating Germans inflicted horrendous damage on the buildings and their contents.  The churches are stunning with their onion domes and ornate forms of architecture.  In St Peter and Paul Cathedral, we got a special treat in a separate room when 4 priests sang a Capella for us, bringing tears to our eyes.  All very impressive.

We saw Swan Lake ballet in the evening.  We had a Russian feast of a lunch, complete with vodka that tasted more like pure grain alcohol.  And the Hermitage, the world famous museum, while a glorious thing to behold, was way too crowded to truly enjoy.  Our little tour group of 11 became instant friends, and we had a lot of fun with our guide Elena.

With all the grandeur of the attractions we saw, there were no children. (“Oh, no, they gPeterhof Fountainso to the country for the summer!” said Elena.) And  maybe it’s just us, but we didn’t sense that the Russians were a very happy lot.  And getting in and out of the dock area was pure  cold war – esque.  We felt friendship and warmth in all of the countries we visited, except Russia. 

We saw many wondrous things, and visited cities we we will never return to, including St Petersburg.  But we would like to return to Sweden and Norway some day.  They seemed a very happy lot with some wonderful looking countryside to see.  Hopefully we’ll make it.

We finished our trip off with North Sea mussels in a white wine cream sauce in the Gran Plac of Brussels.  For desert, Belgian waffles with ice cream and chocolate sauce.  Then home.  We have lots of wonderful memories after a really great trip.

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August 29, 2006 Posted by | Travel | 4 Comments