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August 8 to August 24, 2010 - Baltic Cruise & Denmark

This year, with the Christening of baby Isabelle to be held in Denmark, we decided to do a Baltic Sea cruise plus a few extra days in Denmark.  A sample of 58 photos out of nearly 700 that I took is presented below.  And below that is a log of the trip.  The itinerary page is here.  You can watch the slideshow below, or on the Picasa page, where you can make the pictures full-screen - click here, then click on "Slideshow" at the top left, just below the title.



Sunday, Aug 8 - Travel day - The day started out with final packing and a ride to Tampa Airport from Jim.  Our flight to Atlanta was on time, and once in Atlanta, we found the Nielsen-Refs in the Delta Lounge, and stayed there until the trans-Atlantic flight.  That long flight was delayed for a few minutes to allow for special meals to be loaded before departure.  The nine-hour flight was smooth, I caught a few winks, and we actually arrived in Copenhagen a little early.

Monday, Aug 9 - Copenhagen - Except that we arrived at the same time as all of the other trans-Atlantic flights and it got crowded, going through passport control and baggage retrieval was a breeze, and we caught a taxi to the hotel for a few hours of sleep.  Then it was off to Kaspar's apartment, where the Nielsen-Refs were staying, and Andreas and I went for a little walk through a local park to the zoo.  Then we all went for our first Metro ride to the home of Signe and Erik, Kristoffer's sister and brother-in-law for a fantastic dinner.  Both Kaspar and Andreas were there.

Tuesday, Aug 10 - Copenhagen - The day started slowly with breakfast at Kaspar's apartment, followed by a Metro ride to the center of the city and an hour-long boat tour of some of the canals in the city.  We caught our first glimpse of the Star Princess along the way.  It was the 500th anniversary of the Danish Navy, so there were some tall ships and other special boats in the area.  Next was a Metro ride back and a walk to the shop operated by Signe and Erik, specializing in gourmet food items, including excellent olives and olive oil.  After all that, it was back to the hotel to retrieve our bags, get a taxi to the boat and go through the boarding procedure.  It was pretty efficient and we were relaxing on our balcony in a few minutes.  Our bags arrived promptly, we did the life boat drill, had dinner and ended the day with the first show - not a great one, but acceptable for the first day.

Wednesday, Aug 11 - At Sea - It was interesting to me that, even though smaller boats can go south from Copenhagen to get to the Baltic Sea, our boat was too big for the channel, so we had to go north and west and around the island of Zealand before we could head to Stockholm.  We had been underway for over 12 hours before the turn to Stockholm, and we were something like 50 miles from where we had started.  So, this was a relaxing day at sea.  Click here for a map of our approximate course around Zealand

Thursday, Aug 12 - Stockholm - This city is located about 40 miles inland from the sea in an archipelago of islands and it took about 5 hours to negotiate the waterways to get to town from the Baltic.  Upon arrival, we found the Hop-on/Hop-off boat taxi and rode it to the Vasa Museum, a showcase for a Swedish warship that sunk in 1628 on its first voyage, and was underwater for about 333 years.  It is an interesting museum with the boat itself and displays of what life was like at that time.  Next we found the Skansen Museum, an open-air museum of Swedish life in the 19th century.  A highlight for me was a glass-blowing demonstration, where we watched artists actually make wine glasses that were on sale in the shop.  We caught a nice photo of our cruise boat during our walk.  We then decided to ride the HOHO taxi boat all the way around its route and found the place to hop on only to learn that there are two companies operating boats, and you have to get on the right boat.  Once on the right boat, we were told that it was going out of service, so we got off and caught the Princess shuttle bus back to our boat in time for dinner.

Friday, Aug 13 - Helsinki - After riding the shuttle into town, we got tickets for the 3T tram and made our way to the Temppeliaukio Church (Temple Church) or the Church in the Rock, a church built into the side of a huge rock.  It is interesting that it has no bells and no spire.  Next we walked through the streets to the site of the Sibelius Park, which contains a monument to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.  We continued on and found the 3T and headed away from town until it magically turned into the 3B and headed back to town and the Market Square where we had started.  We had time for an hour-long tour of the harbor and some of the canals around Helsinki.  One prominent feature of the tour is Suomenlinna, a sea fortress built in 1748 as protection against Russian expansion.  After getting off the boat, we walked to the Lutheran Cathedral for a photo.  Finally, we found the Princess shuttle bus and got back in time for dinner.

Saturday, Aug 14 - St. Petersburg - We had done all of the stuff so far on our own, but Russia is a different place.  It requires an expensive tourist visa, unless you are on an organized tour, so we used Princess sponsored tours for this stop.  First today was a bus ride to the Peterhof Palace and Gardens.  This was the summer palace for Peter the Great, with construction beginning in 1714.  The fountains in the lower garden are interesting in that they operate without pumps - water is stored in pools in the upper garden and released daily at 11:00 to operate the fountains.  The palace is about 40 km from St Petersburg, and traffic was bad on our return, so we missed lunch, but did make the second tour of the day, which went to three spots.  First was the Yusupov Palace, a residence for a family of Russian nobles.  It is famous as the place where Rasputin was murdered in 1916.  Next, we visited the Cruiser Aurora, a 100-year old warship, whose guns were used to start the October Revolution in 1917.  The final stop of the afternoon was to the Peter and Paul Fortress, built on an island in the Neva River to protect the city.  This is one of the earliest projects of the city, started in 1703.  This was the most tiring day of the trip - we were out for over 12 hours and missed lunch, so it was good to finish with a good dinner.

Sunday, Aug 15 - St Petersburg - After staying overnight in port, we set out today for another two tours.  The first was a bus tour of the city with photo stops at St. Isaac's Cathedral, the Cruiser Aurora, again, and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.  Construction on St. Isaac's started in 1818 and took 40 years.  And while here, we were not far from the Bronze Horseman, a monument to Peter the Great.  It is unique in that it shows the horse on only its hind legs, while every other statue of a horse shows three legs down.  The other church was built on the site of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II; started in 1883 it took 24 years to complete.  This one is interesting in that it contains over 7500 square meters of mosaics, which may be the most of any church in the world.  Each stop included a chance to spend money at souvenir shops, but we pretty much just looked.  After lunch back at the boat, we again bussed into town for a tour of the canals.  This one-hour tour showed us a different view of many of the sights that we had previously seen.  Very near the end of the hour, it started to rain heavily, and we had to run through rain to get back on the bus.  And this reminded me that this was the first weather we had experienced in a week - the sky had been clear and temperatures had been in the 70s most of the time.  We returned to the boat and another fine dinner.

Monday, Aug 16 - Tallinn - For this city, we went back to touring on our own, generally following the walking tour route, but backwards.  We only spent about three hours on the tour, but walked up one gigantic hill to get to the old city center.  Back on the boat, this was the second formal night, so extra time was required to get ready.  If I remember correctly, this was also Surf 'n Turf night, and the meat was superb.

Tuesday, Aug 17 - Gdynia - The boat docked in the port city of Gdynia, and we took a bus tour to Gdansk, about 30 km away.  Along the way, we stopped at the spa town of Sopot for a photo opportunity.  Once in Gdansk, we stopped at an underground museum of the Solidarity Movement, which played a major role in ending Communist rule across central Europe.  Later, we continued on to the old town, with entrance through one of several gates, like the Green Gate.  Inside the gates, we saw the huge St. Mary's Church from both outside and inside.  This thing just happens to be the largest brick church in the world.  We then moved on to the Long Market, a huge open-air marketplace for some free time, and home to the very large Town Hall and Neptune's Fountain.  Just across the river from all of this, there is still evidence of buildings that had been bombed during WWII.  The bus returned us to the boat, dinner, and planning for tomorrow.

Wednesday, Aug 18 - Warnemunde (Berlin) - If one does enough touring on their own, one can gain confidence to try something more challenging than just walking around town.  To prove this, we rented a car for today's adventure.  The car was in the parking lot right at the boat terminal, but getting away was a little problem because I don't do German and the clerk didn't do much English.  We did finally get away, and found the autobahn for the 260 km drive to Berlin.  It was a little rainy so I held back to between 120 and 130 kph (75 to 81 mph) on the way there.  I had previously located a spot near Berlin that had both a train station and a park 'n ride lot very close to the highway, and we found it right where it was supposed to be.  A short 10 km ride on the train brought us into the city, and what a city it is, way more than we could see in a few hours.  So, we set out walking and saw such things as Museum Island, Unter den Linden, the Brandenberg Gate, the Reichstag, the path of the Berlin Wall, and Checkpoint Charlie.  It being late in the afternoon, we stopped in a local restaurant for a bite and a beer.  Refreshed, we made our way to the closest Metro station, then back to our parking spot, and back up the highway to the boat, at times near 140 kph (87 mph).  It was a good day.  Two notes - I found the roads, especially the autobahn, to be smooth, well maintained and easy to navigate; and gas is very expensive there compared to back home.

Thursday, Aug 19 - Helsingborg - After a week of early mornings, we decided to skip this stop.  It also was the only stop that required the use of tenders, an additional hassle getting to and from the city.  Since it was the last day on the boat, it also was packing day, which is usually not much of an event because we usually go home from the boat, but complicated this time because we would stay in Denmark for an additional four days.  So, the task was to pack most of our stuff in the bigger bags, leaving stuff for the last days in the smaller bag.  We finished that task in time for dinner, and the Princess signature desert Baked Alaska.  Since the ride from Helsingborg to Copenhagen was only about three hours, we were back on our balcony for the arrival and sunset.  We finished the day viewing a DVD of Hamlet (the play), which was set at Elsinor Castle near Helsingor, Denmark, which is only 4 km across the Oresund Sound from Helsingborg.

Friday, Aug 20 - Copenhagen - We had previously purchased transfers from the boat terminal to the central train station in Copenhagen, so all we had to do was be ready to get off the boat at the scheduled time.  After breakfast, we were ready to depart.  Once at the train station, we figured out track locations, specific car locations and got on and to our seats like we knew what we were doing.  A short three hours later, we got off in Aarhus to find Kristie and Kristoffer waiting.  This city is the second largest in Denmark, so it was a popular stop.  We actually stayed in Trige, about 12 km from downtown.  We had a wonderful dinner, and sampled some Denmark brew as the day ended.

Saturday, Aug 21 - Trige - This was the day for Christening the baby Isabelle, followed by another wonderful meal, lots of visiting, and more brew.

Sunday, Aug 22 - Trige - After a late start, we all piled into the car for a tour of Aarhus.  The tour was ably conducted by Kristoffer, who grew up in this area, so it included the houses he lived in and the schools he attended.  A stop for a cold Carlsburg, and another for a local hot dog were part of the itinerary.  Another wonderful meal awaited us in Trige.

Monday, Aug 23 - Trige & Copenhagen - Another re-packing job was finished in the morning, followed by a tour of the university and a ride back to the train station.  The train ride back to Copenhagen was uneventful, as was the taxi to the hotel near the airport.  After snacks provided by Hilton, we were back on the local Metro for a ride downtown for the final two sights.  The shops on the Stroget, a pedestrian walking mall, were mostly closed, so there were not too many people strolling about.  We walked from the Kongens Nytorv end to the City Hall Square end, and ended up at Tivoli Gardens, which opened in 1843 and is the second oldest amusement park in the world.  After strolling around the park for a while, it was back to the Metro and return to the hotel.  At least that was the plan.  While walking back on the Stroget, we saw Kristoffer's brother Andreas, and sampled a little more of the local brew, before our return ride to the hotel.

Tuesday, Aug 24 - Travel Day - A departure of 11:15 gave us time for breakfast at the hotel before dragging our bags to the airport terminal.  The flight actually pushed back from the gate a few minutes early.  Nine hours later, we were back in Atlanta, where we had to go through passport control, retrieve our bags, go through customs, and finally put our bags back into the system for the second leg to Tampa.  The one-hour flight to Tampa made it through the accumulating weather before it matured, and we had our bags and a reservation on the Shuttle before the sky opened with rain.  That Shuttle ride marked the end to another wonderful adventure to places we had not seen before.

Special Note - Since many of our shore experiences were on our own, we relied heavily on maps.  Patty gets all of the credit for reading the maps, knowing where we were all the time, and getting us back to the various pick-up points on time.  We did enter a deposit for another trip, but the time and place were not specified.

Thanks for reading.  And, if you are interested, here is the ship's log for the cruise - you'll notice that there were 2755 passengers at departure.