Baltic Cruise - 2008
Baltic Cruise on Azamara Journey June 25 to July 7, 2008
This is a long blog but it was a long, fantastic cruise.
Pauline & I had our best cruise ever. We took a 12 night cruise of the Baltic on the Azamara Journey. This is a small ship, about 700 passengers, so she can go into ports the big ships can't which cuts time off of shore trips. It also allows you to walk into many city centers. The Azamara is the friendliest ship ever – the crew spoke to you every time you met them; and, this seems to make all the passengers more friendly. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and hoped you were too. Dress was very casual. I only wore a coat a couple of nights and never a tie. Food was very great. The shore excursion people were interested in you having the best experience and not selling you a shore excursion. The photographers were around a lot but they were not intrusive.
Best of all they solved problems. Pauline has cataracts and has trouble seeing. It was nearly impossible because of the lighting in the cabins to put on her makeup. We asked the cabin butler to see what could be done. They tried putting in brighter bulbs but this didn't work. The electrician went to shore at the next port and purchased a lamp to put on the table so she could see. You won't get this kind of service on many ships.
The ports-of-call were truly outstanding. We boarded in Copenhagen, Denmark. We had a couple of days to see the city before boarding. Tivoli Gardens have been existence for about 100 years. It is really a amusement park with dozens of food establishments. The have parades with marching soldiers and brass bands – really like an old fashioned Disneyland. An expensive city to visit but lots of history. We used the hop-on hop-off bus to travel around the city. We saw the little mermaid, the palaces of the kings, the armory with the crown jewels, and most of the city highlights. Has a very lively restaurant/bar road where every one seems to gather in the afternoon. Everyone was very friendly and accommodating.
First, port-of-call was Warnemunde, Germany. This port city is acclaimed as a resort today but we went on into Berlin about 1 ½ hours away. We were surprised to find the city tree laden with wide boulevards. We visited a section of The Wall and got a much better feel for the atmosphere during the Germany division after the war and the airlift in 1948. It is amazing that Berlin survived the turmoil. The tour guide gave much of the credit to the Marshall Plan and the 1948 airlift. It again is the capital of Germany but the population is just beginning to get back to 1940 population. The contrast in the city between East and West is noticeable. East Berlin seems more antiseptic.
After a day at sea on to Helsinki, Finland. They had a wonderful market the day we were there. We walked about ten minutes from the ship to the town square to do some shopping. While there we tried the vendor food of which there were many types. In particular, I enjoyed a plate of very small fish – fried that you eat whole - called White Bait or White Fish. The salmon was marvelous. They fried it on a large flat grill. I did not expect it to be tender and juicy but the salmon was. It is a much milder flavor in all the Baltic countries than the salmon we get in The States. Of course, we made a few souvenir purchases but left the reindeer skins and fur coats.
Then we had three day in St. Petersburg, Russia. St. Petersburg was the capital of Russia from 1720 to 1917. It was founded in 1702 by Peter the Great who was looking to make a capital in a more the style Europe. Between him, his daughter - Elizabeth, and Catherine the Great they created a magnificent city.
The first day we took an eight hour tour of the city. The high mark was the Hermitage Museum which is really four buildings – the Winter Place, decorated in golden baroque style with lots of gold leaf, the original Hermitage Museum, the Hermitage Annex added by Catherine the Great and Catherine'sprivate theater. The original Hermitage and annex hold the second largest collection of Rembrandt paintings, after Amsterdam, and they had two Da Vinci paintings plus thousands of others mostly collected throughout Europe by Catherine.
The cruise ships have negotiated an early opening of the Museum to give you a start on the crowds. This help to see the paintings. In addition, Azamara negotiated a special evening with the Museum. About 100 people from our ship paid for an evening in the Hermitage that began with one hour in the galleries, then, champagne, followed by an hour of ballet in the Catherine the Great's private theater. It was a evening we will never forget. .
Catherine forced all the wealthy in Russia to build palaces in St. Petersburg. As a result the harbor is lined with large beautiful buildings. There are many Eastern Orthodox churches in their ornate decoration and onion domes from the 18th century.
The second day we visited Catherine the Greats summer palace. The amazing thing about the summer palaces of Catherine and Peter the Great is that they were burned to the shell by the Germans at the end of WWII. Russia has completely rebuilt the two palaces complete with all the gold leaf. They are amazingly beautiful. Catherine's palace is about 30 minutes south of the city while Peterhof is about an hour to the Baltic coast. Peterhof, where Peter the Greats palace is located, has the most magnificent fountains. The fountains are feed by gravity from the surrounding hills. Fountain statues are covered in gold leaf and the main fountain shoots water about 20 feet in the air. The surrounding grounds are beautiful with cascades fountains, canals, and small structures.
Next port was Tallinn, Estonia which is nestled on the Baltic coast between St. Petersburg and Poland.The city is well preserved from the 12th Century. The central square by the City Hall had a market that day where they were selling local crafts. It was enjoyable to just walk around the city inspecting buildings and people and stopping for coffee or beer at cafes on the side streets and the town square.
Next came Stockholm, Sweden for two days. Sailing into Stockholm is a beautiful adventure. The archipelago includes thousands of islands. The ship had to maneuver through this maze tp dock next to the palace. . Stockholm itself is located on 14 islands connected by 50 bridges, water taxis and ferry services. The main shopping street is probably over a mile long being in two parts – old town and the new city. Of course, we walked the entire length and entered nearly every shop -so it seemed. The Vasa Museum was very interesting. A new ship of war, the largest at its time, capsized and sank in Stockholm's bay on it inaugural sailing in 1628 and remained in the water covered by mud for 330 years. It was raised, restored and is now on on display.
After Stockholm we had a day at sea to rest up from all the touring. Then we spent the day in Lubeck, Germany. Lubeck is a port city dating to the 12th Century. Unfortunately, it was Sunday and nearly all the shops were closed. The cathedral was of interest to me because of the buttress supports of the massive central section. The cathedral is still in use and we had to wait until services were over to go in. While waiting we sat in the central square, behind the 12th century City Hall, and had coffee. We had an interesting conversation with a family The husband was born in Lubeck and is the Harbor Manager. The wife was Russian and son German. They came to the square every Sunday to give their son the chance to practice languages he was taking in school.
When we arrived back in Copenhagen our cruise ended. We were surprised to find such beautiful cities. I have wanted to visit the Hermitage for many years and was not disappointed. The other cities were built much earlier, in the 12 century, and were very enjoyable. We enjoyed every bit of the sightseeing and the cruise ship.