Archive for July, 2011

First of all, let’s be clear, the updates for the remainder of this adventure are being written, post event, that is to say after we returned home. I make no apologies for this. I was just having too darned good a time. Also, airtime while abroad and especially on a ship is ludicrously expensive and I’m trying to to be frugal. 🙂

After yet another night on the flattest seas ever, we arrived at Copenhagen conscious that we had been stupid enough to book an early start excursion. Even though we had the luxury of putting the clocks back an hour so getting an extra hours sleep, we had failed to capitalise on this and so stayed up an extra hour instead. So, breakfast at 07:30 when on holiday was a chore but hey, us adventurers laugh at such hardships.

The excursion was to view the Little Mermaid, some Palace and then onto Tivoli Gardens.

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The statue of The Little Mermaid sits on a rock in the harbour of the capital of Denmark. Based on a tale by Hans Christian Andersen, the small and unimposing statue is a Copenhagen icon and a major tourist attraction.

The poor little mermaid has been the subject of numerous attacks of vandalism including having her dead sawn off twice, one arm chopped off, one failed attempt to cut off her head but left a deep cut to the neck: She has had paint thrown over her and she has even be blown off the rock by dynamite [it is believed]. Why!
After checking that she remains intact and buying the inevitable souvenir statue we moved on the Amalienborg Palace.
Amalienborg Palace is the winter home of the Danish royal family (we never saw them). It consists of four identical classicizing palace façades with rococo interiors around an octagonal courtyard (Amalienborg Slotsplads); in the center of the square is a monumental equestrian statue of Amalienborg’s founder, King Frederick V.
Amalienborg was originally built for four noble families; however, when Christiansborg Palace burnt down on 26 February 1794, the royal family bought the palaces and moved in. Over the years various kings and their families have resided in the four different palaces.

The palace seems to be guarded by Trumpton Town Guards. Mind you they have a loud shout if you dare to sit on a doorstep of the Palace. Very Scary.

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Then, it was off to Tivoli Gardens. Debbie had been really looking forward to this visit as, she said, they were beautiful and just had to be seen to be believed: Seeing as she had never been there I felt she was being a little ambitious but had no reason to doubt her. I’m sure therefore that you can imagine our concern when we were told that the gardens, and Copenhagen for that matter, had endure the most torrential rain and subsequent flooding just 48 hours before and as such some of the gardens will not be at their best.  What the tour brochure failed to highlight however was that Tivoli Gardens was also a bloomin theme park with noisy adrenalin rides, etc..

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Deep Joy!

That said however, the gardens were quite photogenic and lets face it, no one can control the weather, though I’m not sure about them surly Russians Smile. We had a couple of hours during which we were able to explore the whole site and get some good photos: We even had the opportunity to listen to a band playing the bandstand.

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By the end of the tour we were all pretty much ready for the return coach ride to the Ship. The trip back was pretty uneventful except for the sight of a police car with lights and sirens cutting through dense traffic by using the special cycle lanes (Denmark caters for cycling unlike back home). Now, remembering the floods of 48-hours ago, many of the buildings were still pumping water out of flooded basements onto the road.  Inevitably, these created rather large puddles which the Police Car just had to go through at speed, seemingly oblivious to fact that he promptly sent most of the water back down into the basement covering two pedestrians as well. Naturally, we never found it funny at all (how childish).  Eventually however we reached the port and subsequently the ship.

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On boarding the ship, we headed straight for our cabins to leave our bags and purchases and headed for the top deck by the pool where I was once again tempted by those nice little ladies from the bar to a nice cold San Miguel followed by a large Gin & Tonic – Nice. Best of all, we had boarded in time for afternoon tea of a variety of rolls and sandwiches and cakes and ice cream: But then we had had no lunch so felt justified and ‘digging in’. All to soon, the day started to enter its closing phase and mutated into evening. This signalled the time for Brandy while getting ready for Dinner. Which, as usual was faultless with some of the best food (as always) on offer. Better still, tonight’s offering included Mixed Grill [dig in Podge] – Nice.  Desert options as usual were scrumptious, but, I had to lose weight, so again I opted for a Sorbet. All of this was accompanied by rather a nice Sancerre and after dinner coffee but no port this time Sad smile.

As usual, after dinner, we went to see the show before retiring to the Observatory for some well earned brandy. Another day down, another country conquered. I / we felt satisfied.

As for weight loss, what the heck, I’m on holiday……

What can I say about a day at sea  other than to say it is probably the most effective way of relaxing. No matter how hard you try,there is only so much you can do before you have to concede defeat, sit back, accept the harsh reality of life at sea and r_e_l_a_x. Enjoy a cocktail of the day, enjoy a G & T, or enjoy, dare I say it, a cup_of_tea! (I skipped the tea).

One of the consequences of too much time on your hand is that you can lose control and give into reality. As such, today, I officially became an old man. I bought a beige zip up jacket as it was both comfortable and practical, and, I looked forward to the opportunity to wear it and extol its virtues. In the mean time however, I had to contend myself  with a day of idleness. But be fair, over the last four days we have conquered Russia and Estonia.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that given that it was a sea day, there is going to be little to report, save that of the sight of sea after sea after sea under sun after sun after sun.  

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In the afternoon however we did have the opportunity to go along to a Tea Dance and I thought well, I have bought the obligatory beige jacket (I already have Velcro shoes by the way), so going to a Tea Dance is probably the next logical step. The choice was made even easier with the promise of non stop cakes of all sizes, shapes and flavours [including  a chocolate fountain to dip cakes and marshmallows into]. God I felt sick but god wasn’t it yummy.

After the tea & sticky buns, I think I might have had a glass of wine as well though that’s not important, we returned to the sun deck up top and just chill a little bit more where a nice little lady from the Philippines persuaded me to have a couple of San Miguel’s. Eventually however I had to be strong and get off my backside and walk round the Prom Deck at least four times (four laps equals 1-mile).  As I walked around the deck I looked out to sea (there was nowhere else to look) and noted just how flat the sea was. This was Day 9 and still we hadn’t experienced the slightest ripple. It was unbelievable. Never have I known such calm sea’s. The English Channel can be horrendous; the North Sea can be dramatic; the Baltic Sea can be unpredictable and yet so far, all had been like a mill pond. Such luck can’t hold though. After Kristiansand in Norway we have to drop down across the North Sea again but over a greater distance and in bigger seas. Until then however, we can all sit back and enjoy the sunshine, the idleness and the calmness, after which we must prepare for dinner.

As usual, dinner was excellent, with marvellous staff and wonderful company of fellow travellers.Choosing from the menu was just like any other evening on the Balmoral; difficult. The choices were so varied and all so delicious. Blimey, even the stand by options for those that couldn’t decide were worth plumping for. Eventually I plumped for the  Norwegian Gravadlax to start, followed by Beef & Mushroom Consommé, followed by Green Salad with Italian Vinaigrette. For the Main Course, I elected for the Rack of Lamb. Desert options were just too wonderful but knowing I had to lose weight, I opted for a Sorbet. All of this was accompanied by rather a nice Chablis and after dinner coffee with a small glass of port. How so very civilised. 

After dinner, we retired to the Observatory for some well earned brandy safe in the knowledge that yet again, we could put the clocks back one more hour.

Still not lost any weight but hey, who’s going to mention it.

After a night sailing on what must be the flattest sea known to mankind, we sailed into Tallinn just in time for Breakfast. As we approached the port, I got his feeling that this was going to be a happy place. I don’t know why, I just did. Things did darken a bit however the the Holland – America Eurodam ‘block of flats’ Cruise Ship parked right next to us. Why is it that wherever we go, we are followed by foreigners?

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This morning did however find both Debbie’s Mum and I feeling tired and listless. We were both down to visit the Kadriorg Palace just outside of Tallinn itself while Debbie and Nick were to enjoy the Wildlife Treasures of Estonia. Debbie felt that her Mum and I wouldn’t be able to cope with the Wildlife tour on account of our advancing years and frailty(!) On reflection she was probably right as neither actually felt up to the Palace Trip and so we both opted to take a rest and stay on board.

Even though I didn’t visit the Palace, I can still say a bit about it. The Palace is an exceptional example of Baroque architecture  with an outstanding main hall decorated with superb stucco work and ceiling paintings as a primary but not only feature. The Palace itself used to be a residence of Peter the Great. The name Kadriorg means Catherine’s Valley  being named after Catherine I. Used as a summer residence, it was visited by most of the Russian Rulers. These days however, the Palace acts as a home for the Western & Russian Art Museum: I wish I’d gone now.

Debbie and Nick arrived back from the Wildlife Adventure absolutely full of it, saying that it was probably the best trip they had been on, even better than Rasputin. This really didn’t make me feel any better about missing the Palace. Apparently, they walked through forests, over peat bogs and onto a nice lunch stop which they’re still going on about now. Nick tried the local alcohol free bread based beer but was denounced as horrible buy both Nick & Debbie (tee hee) before they strolled down to the beach for a while before heading back and disappearing into a local market.

While they were away, Peggy and I did manage to stroll into town if only to say that we had at least visited Tallinn / Estonia where we also visited a local market where, like Debbie, we managed to purchase yet more essential items (Fridge Magnets, Tourist books, etc) to take home.

The one thing we did notice was the smiles and happiness about the place and how welcoming everybody seemed.

All too soon however, the time came for us to leave Tallinn. This meant another sail away party, though this time, there was no dunking, though still much drinking. Before we could leave however, the Eurodam, fully of jolly foreigners, had to depart. Naturally we cheered her on her way with much waving of Union Jacks and much singing of patriotic songs lead by our very own bass-baritone Anthony Stuart Lloyd.

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As soon they had left, we realised just how much they had been shielding us from the wind when a large number of parasols went flying along with flags and hats. Ah well, at least we had seen off another ship.

And so, it was our turn to sail away with a party atmosphere something akin to Last Night of the Proms mixed with that of a Great British Knees Up.

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And so, Debbie and I headed back to our cabin to prepare for Dinner (tonight was a formal night so we had to wear our posh frocks (Debbie) and DJ’s (me) which would require some preparation). On the way however, we met the couple we had been sharing our evening Dinner Table with, who invited us to stay and have some Gin & Tonic first. Well, why not. So we did, and very soon afterwards, Debbie was a giggly little girl again: Uh Oh.

We eventually made ourselves ready and so off we went for Dinner and fizzy pop. This was when Jerry admitted to being on a previous cruise when the Eurodam had ‘parked’ next door and he became confused at how many same sex couples there seemed to be coming off the [Eurodam] ship until it was pointed out to him that it had been chartered in its entirety by the gay community. Poor Jerry. He became so worried when it turned up again this morning. But then, every ship has it’s peculiarities!

After dinner, we had to endure, sorry, enjoy dog racing which seems to have hooked Debbie, her mum and Nick, before retiring to the Observatory for some well earned brandy safe in the knowledge that yet again, we could put the clocks back an hour.

Still not weight loss. But, there’s still time. 🙂 Isn’t there?

Today was the third and final day in St Petersburg and you know, despite all my moaning and protestations about Russia and the, apparent, surliness, I have really enjoyed the visit and have found the tours really interesting. I know some of the tours may have been a little long but overall, I would definitely recommend the trip to anyone and would even come again. Maybe next time, it might be possible to arrange an overnight excursion to Moscow. Hint to Uncle Fred Olsen.:-)

So, this being the last chance to go ashore in Russia, we naturally stayed on board in the morning which allowed us the luxury of a leisurely breakfast while most of the passengers were already ashore. It also allowed us time to check out our new neighbours. Having  got rid of the Italians yesterday, we awoke to find The Emerald Princess and the Crystal Serenity had moved in. There was also another ship called the Gemini but it wasn’t one I’d heard of so it was of no consequence.

After lunch, which we knew would need, we (Nick & I) set off to check out the Yusupov Palace while Debbie and her Mum went off souvenir shopping, cash & credit card at the ready.

Now for the educational bit:

Yusupov Palace was where Rasputin the ‘Mad Monk’ finally met his untimely end. Nicholas II and his wife Alexandria saw Rasputin as a Holy Man who had been sent by God to protect their boy Alexis (heir to the throne). This was because he was the only person who could apparently stop their sons bleeding (he suffered from haemophilia).After a while however, there became an underlying air of concern that Rasputin was too close to the family and as such held potentially too much power.  Given these concerns, a group of aristocrats in league with the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich (a cousin of Nicholas II) and Prince Felix Yusupov got together in 1916 to ‘save Russia’ by assassinating Rasputin by meeting him for a drink and for his to be laced with Cyanide. Unfortunately, they didn’t know that Cyanide was neutralised by the drink they put it in!

The images below show the recreation of the room under the Palace where the assassins waited for Rasputin to die after being [unsuccessfully] poisoned with Cyanide and then shot at point blank range.

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Even the shot failed as Rasputin managed to get out of the room and into the courtyard before being shot again. This time, satisfied the monk was dead, they wrapped him in a blanket and through him into the river. Unfortunately, they forgot to weigh him down and he was discovered two days later (he was definitely dead by this time). After the body was retrieved, the doctors performed an autopsy and found that there was water in his lungs indicating that he did in fact eventually die from drowning.

The images below are just a few samples of the Yusupov Palace. The Palace, located on the Moika Embankment is seen as a fine example of Russian Classicism influenced further by it’s owners, the Yusupov Princes. The Princes were indeed wealthy and comparable to that of the Romanovs. They were great collectors of art although most of what is now in the Yusupov Palace are in fact replicas with the originals having been relocated to the Hermitage after the revolution. 

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Anyway, tour over, we had 20 minutes to browse the adjoining souvenir shop for making those last minute essential purchases. Knowing that Debbie was already hunting down those items we never knew we needed, I opted to buy a book on St Petersburg plus a cheap Russian Doll, decorated for Christmas (you can never be too prepared for the festive season) and some nice Russian Chocolate for any little people we may see when we get back home.

When I got back to the ship and showed my bounty to She Who Must be Ignored, I mean, Obeyed, she enquired as to why I had bought another book on St Petersburg, showing me the identical book I had bought yesterday (oops, another senior moment methinks). As for the chocolate, well that was met with approval and of the four bars purchased, only one now remains. She didn’t think much of my doll saying that it looked strangely evil and cheap, which actually it was (cheap that is): It was only 180 Roubles which is about £4 so I couldn’t argue that it was cheap. Her doll however was exactly the blooming opposite. Hers cost 6000 Roubles which worked out to be, a_lot more than mine.

After this, Smug Debbie and Dejected Moi, went up to the Sun Deck for a drink and a sticky bun. While there we enjoyed the Sail Away party where free drinks were flowing freely the music was playing and the crew were dancing. Now bearing in mind that all this was taking place around the pool, the inevitable was inevitable and sure enough one of the crew went in the pool. Better still, he was followed by the Cruise Director. Unfortunately, her blouse was inappropriate wear for being in the pool but luckily some concerned passengers offered her towels to cover herself. Still it was all in good humour. Eventually, as the Balmoral sailed onwards, St Petersburg disappeared over the horizon and all went off to prepare for Dinner.

Dinner itself was well received and made all the more enjoyable in the knowledge that we had to put our clocks back 1-hour so getting an extra hours sleep. Yippee.

After dinner we ‘retired’, again, to the Observatory Lounge for a couple of rather large brandy’s safe in the knowledge that we had an extra hours sleep but forgetting that tomorrow brought us to Tallinn in Estonia and an early start for our tours. Eventually however, we realised and off we went to bed.

Did I lose weight today? Did I heck. Maybe, I’ll lose some tomorrow. Then again, maybe I wont!

We awoke to find we had new neighbours in St Petersburg. While we were asleep two more cruise ships crept in, these being the MSC Orchestra and the Costa Atlantica. This cheered Debbie a bit as she presumed they would be full of Italians (she is a bit of a tart where Italians are concerned). With ourselves and the Jewel of the Seas already in port, this was going to make for a very busy time in town. With each ship effectively despatching 30+ coaches into the early morning rush hours we just knew it was going to be congested. Thank god therefore that we elected for an afternoon tour [to the Cathedral of Spilt Blood]. After a spot of lunch of course.

Now for the educational bit:

The Cathedral was built over the place where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 when a bomb was thrown into his carriage. Where he fell fell and his blood spilt [on the cobblestones] the Cathedral was built while retaining the actual cobblestones where he fell within an alter as a memorial. The building itself is an absolute marvel golden domes, coloured spirals and textured cupolas.

The interior is embellished with over 7000 square meters of mosaics including more than 20 types of semi-precious stones including jasper, rhodonite, porphyry and Italian marble.

That’s the nearest you’ll get to education from me today. The pictures below are just a few samples.

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After visiting the Cathedral, we were awarded some shopping time in a local market where you could buy all manner of genuine Russian artefacts such as Russian Dolls, hats, tableware, etc, etc. A quick look at some of the dolls convinced me that we were not in a good place: they ranged from 1000 to 8000 roubles: In a shop maybe, in a market? no way. But I did find myself a nice little hip flask with the hammer and sickle and CCCP on the side, so I bought that instead. You can imagine my dismay when I got back to the ship, clutching my nice shiny spoils only to see imprinted on the bottom [in English] ‘Stainless Steel’.Obviously, it wasn’t a genuine Russian artefact at all. Boo Hoo.

The journey back to the ship through St Petersburg was interesting. The traffic was a nightmare though I doubt all the coaches from the ship wont have helped, but at least we got a chance to see the town in a little more detail and the better side of town at that. As I said, it was interesting: while earlier the town seemed very drab, grey and uninviting, now it was very much the opposite, with MacDonalds, Pizza Hut, Subway and Irish Bars plus well know high street stores such as Zara and Ikea. And here, the traffic consisted of new Merc’s, Range Rovers, Porsche, Land Cruisers, etc. there was even the occasional Roller and Ferrari. This was a stark contrast to the fading, ageing Opels, Lada’s, Moskvitch’s, etc. Eventually however the journey ended and we had to leave the coach and face the Russian Passport Control.

What a miserable bunch of buggers they are.

I’m sure they are deliberately slow just to annoy us. They seem to check everything before grunting and pressing a button to let you through. Either they want tourists or they don’t. If they do, will somebody tell them it’s not a sign of weakness to smile.

At last, we got back on board, so we headed to the bar for a much needed drink and something to eat, just to see us through to Dinner. We then retired to our cabin for a rest and a pre-dinner brandy. Sitting out on the balcony, watching the Italian ships leave (not before time) we were entertained by the sight of couple of military aircraft who seemed to be practicing for an air display. I’m tempted to say they were Migs but that’s only because I don’t know otherwise and I certainly don’t know how to spell any of the other types. But they were good what ever they were, doing loops and cross over’s, laying smoke trails and formation fly by’s. All too soon it was over and so we had to get ready for our evening meal which was to be washed down with a rather nice bottle of a Spanish White Rioca.

After dinner we ‘retired’, again, to the Observatory Lounge for a couple of rather large brandy’s. I’m afraid we stayed a little later than planned as we were deceived by the lightness of the evening. Sunset was at 23:31 and at 00:30 it was still light (sunrise by the way was to be at 04:01). Eventually however, we realised the time and off we went to bed. At least tomorrow, as today, our excursion was an afternoon one so we could have a lie in.

Maybe, I’ll lose some weight tomorrow. Maybe: Just Maybe!