A Travellerspoint blog

St Petersburg, Russia - Day 1

Friday, 5 September 2014

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The ship arrived at her berth in St Petersburg right in schedule. We were the fifth ship to occupy a berth at the extensive passenger terminal facility. A great percentage of the ship's passengers were up and making an early breakfast.

We had a Ship's Shore Excursion booked and proceeded to the Theatre as directed. The process of linking passengers to the correct one of many tours departing at about the same time is a well practised routine. Each 'tour' has an assigned coloured sticker and within each colour there are stickers with a number that is a coach worth. This morning we were Pink 2. Regardless of when we arrive at the check-in we are then assigned a section of the Theatre where we wait until called forward. Our group was joined by Pink 3 and Pink 4 indicating that there were three coaches doing the same itinerary. We were kept informed of progress and advised of delays at the passport checking stations. Once clear, we were escorted in assigned groups down to Deck 4 and the gangway. Following others in the group we proceeded to the Russian Border Control desks where our passports were examined and stamped. We then proceeded to the long line of coaches where we found one that matched our colour and number, ie. Pink 2.

We toured through various neighbourhoods while our guide regaled us with details regarding the history and architectural style of the various buildings. Our driver negotiated some impressive twists and turns amidst the early morning commuter traffic. Unexpectedly most of the cars were well maintained and quite modern, not what I'd expected.

At various points along the route there were glimpses of the golden domes and ornate features that one associates with St Petersburg in particular and Russia in general. At various points our driver managed to find somewhere to park so that we could leave the coach to take photos. Not as easy as it may sound given that the other four ships in port had their tour buses doing the same thing. Add to that mix a number of smaller buses taking 'independent' travellers to the same places.

One of the most impressive stops was at the "Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood" (their spelling). Our stop was for only ten minutes so there was just enough time to try and capture the facade and domes, I can only speculate at what ornate treasures were inside. Back on the bus and off to another area of architectural or historical significance. At one stage traffic appeared to have come to a complete halt. Eventually we discovered why, there had been an altercation between a car and a tram. No great surprise given the chaotic state of traffic, I was much relieved at the skill of our driver.

One of the promised features of this tour was the opportunity to buy authentic Russian Souvenirs. The place we stopped at had the most amazing range of articles that could be imagined. Furs, amber jewelry, Fabergé eggs and Marmushca dolls. Back to the ship in time for lunch and a nap to make up for a short night.

Woke up in time to get dressed and grab a quick meal in the Horizon Court before meeting our Shore Excursion group ashore. We are attending a Folkloric Show. Along with three other bus-loads from our ship there were crowds of people from the other ships there as well. The show started at 20:30 and for the next two hours we were richly entertained by a troupe that comprised a Military orchestra, a male choir of 20 voices, numerous solo male tenors, a dozen male dancers (gymnasts, acrobats) and 12 gorgeous tall women who appeared to have been cast from the one mould.

Singing, dancing and performing acrobatic feats that defy description. We were universally mesmerised and the performances were received with thunderous applause.

We left the theatre and were shepherded back to our bus by our ever-watchful guide. Our drive back to the ship was accompanied by the many gorgeous vistas of the many beautiful buildings and lights reflected in the water of the river. Back at the pier we were again scrutinised by the Passport Control officers before making our way back aboard our floating hotel.

We've had a fantastic day and were lucky to enjoy one of only 30 sunny days experienced in St Petersburg. Our guide describes the climate as "Nine months of expectation and three months of disappointment".

It was too late to complete this blog last night so these final words were added on Saturday morning. Another day in St Petersburg before sailing to Helsinki.

There's an image of a portion of the "Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood" at http://365project.org/tonydebont/365/2014-09-05
Have a great day and stay well.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 21:55 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

Tallinn, Estonia

Thursday, 4 September 2014

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The sky was totally overcast as I started my walk around the exercise track on deck 18. As we approached Tallinn we were enveloped in a thick fog, not an auspicious start to a port day. We assembled in the Theatre for the 09:15 start of our tour of the Upper Old Town. The young lady who was our guide provided a continuous narration as we drove to our drop-off location.

With multiple ship's tours, some local tour operators and tours from another ship in port the area was soon massively congested. Eventually our group was able to gain a small degree of separation. The guide was frequented confronted with the need to account for all her charges, some of whom were notoriously slow at arriving at the agreed meeting points.

There is a rich history of architecture, some very very old, some 19th century and also some built during the Soviet era. Our guide was most informative but I lack the ability to retain much of it. By about 10:30 the fog had burnt off and the sun was making a valiant effort to break through. Back on the coach and we were driven through a variety of neighbourhoods ranging from historic wooden buildings in parkland settings to the Soviet Era drab concrete tower blocks. These old towers present a growing problem for the City Administration, they were built with a designed life of only 25 years, they are well beyond that and require extensive renovation.

The population of Estonia is a mere 1.5 million and about 1/3 live in and around Tallinn. School attendance is compulsory from age 7 and from Grade 3 English is taught to all students. The 'first' three-year university degree is free. Study at university beyond that is paid for by the student. Along our way back to the Wharf we stopped at the site of the Sailing Regatta for the Russian Olympics this provided a distant panoramic view of the port in general and our ship in particular.

We were told that one measure of how far Estonia has progressed since independence from Russia is the number of ferries to Helsinki. Soviet Era -one per month "Why would you want to leave the Soviet Paradise ??" to currently one every hour !!

Back on board for a late lunch and a few more photos as the afternoon clouds increased. Back in the cabin to record the events of the day so far and review the 110 photos captured today.

Spent time reading and adjusting to the time change- ie. we both had a nap !! There was some delay in departure as the ship's administration tried to track down two individuals, eventually resolved and we sailed off at 17:15. Off to dinner and afterwards the show in the Theatre. Three young men singing mainly Spanish and Latin songs. The volume appeared a little too loud despite the size of the venue.

After the show we returned to the cabin spending some time planning tomorrow's visit to St Petersburg, Russia and finalising this brief report. Clocks go forward another hour tonight and we have an early start in the morning.

Today's photo is an image captured from the Royal Princess and attempts to provide a view of the Medieval Section of Tallinn., see http://365project.org/tonydebont/365/2014-09-04.

Have a great day and stay well.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 11:43 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

A Day @ Sea

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

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Just to finalise last night's entry. We stayed up to watch the ship leave its berth. An interesting manoeuvre with the ship backing out into the river then sailing upstream to a wider section where she performed a 180° pirouette before heading downstream and out to sea. She was the largest vessel ever to enter the port.

This morning's sunrise was due at 06:59 and was nothing spectacular when it did arrive to brighten the cloudless sky. Brilliant sunshine all day and apparently a complete contrast to the previous week.
A lazy day in contrast to the more hectic past few. We filled in the morning with a visit to the Future Cruise Consultant which resulted in a booking for a 46-day cruise out of Fremantle in January 2016. Looks like a great itinerary sailing around the Indian Ocean including three days in Cape Town, South Africa.

Attended a lecture on the sights of St Petersburg, Russia followed by a Traditional British Pub Lunch in the Wheelhouse Bar. Great fish and chips for me and a steak and kidney pie for Jenny. After lunch Jenny viewed the movie "Saving Mr Banks" in the Princess Theatre while I was seduced into attending a complementary 'Wine Tasting' in the Symphony Dining Room.

We 'dressed up' for the Formal Night and we both looked pretty sharp if I do say so myself. After dinner we decided to avoid the mad scrum of the Captain's Champagne Waterfall Party, instead spending some time in the cabin planning tomorrow's visit to Tallin, Estonia and putting together this brief report.

Today's photo is a collage of the inside of our 'state-room', see http://365project.org/tonydebont/365/2014-09-03.

Have a great day and stay well.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 10:32 Archived in Estonia Comments (1)

Warnemünde, Rostock, Germany

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

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We were blessed with an almost clear sky on our arrival at the Port of Rostock where the Royal Princess just managed to fit herself alongside the newly built cruise terminal at Warnemünde. With breakfast out of the way we made our way to the theatre for an 08:15 meeting with others for our Shore Excursion.

Once ashore our delightful guide directed us along the pier to a small craft which transported us up the river to the old port of Rostock. Throughout the 45 minute cruise we were informed of the many changes that have occurred to the waterfront over the years. Our final destination being the site of the original 'overseas port' now relocated to Warnemünde. From here we were transported by coach to the 'Old Town' section of the city. We spent an amazing three hours wandering past many ancient buildings most of them extensively restored after being damaged during WW2.

Our guide kept us entertained and informed with many facts and colourful stories about he history of the city. The local university is 'free' and has a current student population of 60,000 with many of them not only from other parts of Germany but also internationally.

As with many places in Europe the public toilets require a small payment or coins to operate them. As I had no local currency and an urgent need we decided we'd use the facilities at McDonald's. Great idea but you need a code to operate the keypad and you need to buy something to obtain the code. Two small size Cokes please. 2.38 Euro thank you. Do you take US$ ?? Sorry, no. Credit card OK ?? Yes sir, no problem. It will be interesting to see the FX fee on that transaction.

Off to the New Market, a square lined on one side by the restored Town Hall and by the historic homes of the wealthy merchants on two other sides. The final side of the 'square' was totally destroyed and the East German authorities were not prepared to fund the rebuilding. Our guide was confident that funds will be found to complete the 'square' within the next 10 years.

Next 'official' stop on our tour was St Mary's church which features many attractions, from the 85 feet tall stained glass window, a massive ornate organ and an astronomical clock built in 1472 and still working with its original clockwork.

Back onto the coach and off to the Trotzenburg Micro-Brewery where we were treated to free samples. The master brewer explained that they brew about 10,000 litres of beer annually, all of which is sold directly to the public in their bar and restaurant.

Back to the ship in our coach and in plenty of time for a late lunch. After lunch we made a short foray into Warnemünde, a very charming settlement with lots of shops, cafés and bars. Clouds gathered and obscured the sun and it became quite chilly.

Jenny had an interesting encounter with a guy who was made up like a white statue, as she walked past he lent over and with his walking stick tapped her on the behind. Her reaction was priceless !! On the way back she decided to get even and tap him on the backside. She managed to 'get' him but his reaction was to tap her on the backside as she tried to flee.

Too much to eat again tonight, meals were fantastic but much too generous. Surprisingly even I resisted the dessert menu. Back to the cabin and trying to decide what to do for the evening. At the moment it looks like seeing the ship leave her berth is the most likely.

Clocks are to be advanced by an hour overnight and tomorrow is a 'sea day', one of only three on this segment of the cruise. Tomorrow is also the first 'formal' night, an opportunity to drag out the glad-rags.

There's a photo of some of the restored buildings in Rostock at http://365project.org/tonydebont/365/2014-09-02.

Have a great day and stay well.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 10:48 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

Gothenburg, Sweden

Monday, 1 September 2014

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An almost clear sky as we sail into the Container Port of Gothenburg, the largest container port in Sweden and the home of the Volvo brand. Volvo's car division was sold to Ford some years ago and more recently on-sold to China. The truck and bus division is still Swedish owned.
Our shore excursion explored the Northern Archipelago, a chain of inhabited islands connected by bridges to the West of Gothenburg and accessible by a 15 minute vehicular ferry service.

Our very comfortable coach left right on time at 07:45 and we drove generally North West to cross on the ferry. These low rocky islands are almost treeless and have many lovely houses based on the original fisherman's cottages. Our Northernmost destination was the village of Öckerö where we viewed a 560-year-old church and a charming old resident explained the history - he spoke Swedish so our guide had to interpret what he was saying.

Across the street from the church is a collection of old cottages restored and furnished in the style of 200 years ago. Local ladies of the Öckerö Homestead Association provided coffee, tea and cake in the 'meeting hall'. All extremely friendly and charming and with sunshine for a change a very pleasant time.

Back on the coach we traveled South to the island of Fotö which is the Southernmost island in the archipelago. We spent some time exploring the local village before boarding the coach again for our return journey.

The 'All Aboard' time today was 13:30 and with dozens of tour buses returning at almost the same time they created somewhat of a traffic jam. There were two gang-planks in operation with two security scanners on each line but despite that the queues were extensive. We were thankful that the weather was fine and the delay not too long.

A general observation of travelers with limited mobility. They are often selfish and rude. They 'demand' the front seats in the coach - fair enough but do they have to also have to be the first off ?? By blocking the exit for just a few minutes they reduce the 5 minute photo stop to almost zero for the rest of the passengers. I mention this phenomena to our guide, she confirmed it happens more often than not and regardless of the nationality of the individual. End of observation.

From the check-in directly to the Horizon Court buffet on deck 16 for lunch. After lunch we attended the port lecture for Warnemünde, Germany and Tallinn, Estonia. Made an error in walking out of the theatre and into the 'Market Stall' where we couldn't resist buying some great 'bargains'.
we followed an enjoyable dinner with a walk down to the Vista Lounge (deck 7 Aft). Tonight's performance was a 'Pommy' comedian by the name of Jo Little. Great legs, lovely face, fabulous singing voice, jokes just so so. All in all not a bad show.

Today's image is a hint of the sunrise as we approach Gothenburg http://365project.org/tonydebont/365/2014-09-01

Tomorrow we dock at Warnemünde, Germany. Next report from there.

Have a great day and stay well.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 12:32 Archived in Sweden Comments (2)

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