Published: October 19th 2006June 25th 2003
12-NIGHT SCANDINAVIA & RUSSIA CRUISE
June 12-24, 2003
Our fabulous cruise to Scandinavia and Russia began on the evening of June 11, 2003, with a direct overnight flight to London, first class on Continental. Arriving at Gatwick around 7 a.m., we were met by a bus that took us the 2 ½ hour-drive to the English port of Harwich, where we arrived just as embarkation was beginning. The well-organized process took about ten minutes, and we were on the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines’ GRANDEUR OF THE SEAS by noon! We ate lunch, found our way around the ship, checked into our stateroom, unpacked, took naps, and participated in the mandatory lifeboat drill—all before sailing at 5 p.m. Tonight and tomorrow would be spent at sea, doing all the fun activities a cruise offers. We were really fortunate in our dining companions--they are absolutely delightful: two Americans and 7 Brits.
On day 3, we arose around 5 a.m. to experience three pleasurable hours of cruising the 60-mile scenic Oslo Fjord with its many pine-clad islands, bays, forest-covered hills, and villages. Fjords are among the world’s most spectacular geological formations—long, narrow inlets stretching deep into surrounding mountains. We also saw the
Viking ship from 800-900 AD in the Norwegian Seafarers Museum, which taught us about Norway's thousand years of maritime heritage
historic Oscarborg Fort and the Holmenkollen Ski Jump, which was used for the 1952 Olympics. Arriving in Oslo around 8 a.m., the GRANDEUR OF THE SEAS berthed just under the cliff where Akershus Castle is situated. This impressive medieval fortress dates back to 1300 and guarded Oslo against invaders. We had a beautiful view of it from our cabin window.
The tour we selected was called “Norwegian Adventure,” during which we experienced the history of the Viking people and their culture. For more than a thousand years the Vikings have roamed the high seas, and their mastery of shipbuilding and knowledge of navigation took them great distances beyond their country’s coastline. This tour traced the history of these hardy adventurers and taught us about Norway’s maritime heritage.
First, we drove through the city of Oslo, past City Hall, the National Theater, and the Royal Palace as we made our way from the ship to Bygdoy Peninsula. Along the fjord we saw the pleasure boat harbors, the King’s personal farms, and a thirteenth century wooden stave church. (Staves are narrow pieces of wood that form the hull of sailing vessels). Our first stop was at the Norwegian Seafarers Museum, which was
View as we leave Oslo via the fjord
located on an attractive setting astride the Oslo fjord and provided a unique insight into the Norwegians’ relationship with their marine environment. We had very little time to appreciate the many exhibits and model boats, but we did view their newest attraction, a wide-angle super-video over 5 screens, which offered a fascinating perspective on the collections in the museum.
Next, at the Kon-Tiki Museum, we saw the balsa raft used by the modern-day adventurer and scientist Thor Heyerdahl to cross the Pacific from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. He and his crew crossed 5,000 miles of the Pacific Ocean in 101 days and proved that Polynesia was indeed within the range of possible early settlers from South America. We also saw the papyrus boat RA II, which he sailed across the Atlantic in 1970 to demonstrate that the aborigines of Central America could have been visited by Old World sailors in pre-Colombian times.
We also visited the Viking Ship Museum, where we saw three authentic Viking long ships, as well as well-preserved artifacts of sleds, implements, and gold and silver jewelry, all dating from 800-900 AD, that were recovered from the burial mounds of chieftains around the Oslofjord in the
Stockholm, Sweden, is often called "Beauty on Water" or "Venice of the North."
19th century. The ships were excellent examples of the Viking period’s daring initiative and shipbuilding artisanship
Upon our return to the ship, we wandered about the gorgeous grounds of the Akershus Fortress, once used as the main defense for the city of Oslo, now used mostly as a museum with a small part remaining for military use. The Resistance Museum in the fortress illustrates the intense story of occupied Norway during World War II. The Norwegians still seem to be quite bitter about their war history; for example, our guide Inger told us that she refuses to lead any group of German tourists.
The Stockholm Archipelago of 24,000 islands and islets welcomed us to Sweden. We slowly maneuvered through the 50-mile archipelago for over 4 hours, enjoying the expanse of breathtaking natural beauty created in the last Ice Age, a visual feast of ever-changing natural scenery, plus summer homes and chalets reachable only by boat. We finally arrived at Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, often referred to as “Venice of the North” and “Beauty on Water” because it is a beautiful city of lush parks and majestic buildings that occupies 14 islands which are connected by over
Sailing away through the Stockholm Archipelago, which consists of 24,000 islands.
Our tour was called “Medieval Stockholm,” and it led us a step back in time to see what the lifestyles were like in the old days. It started with a short drive from our ship to Riddarholmen (Island of the Knights), from where we had a beautiful view of the harbor and the stunning Stockholm City Hall, located on the shores of the lake, where the Nobel Prize banquet is held each year. We then took a tour inside the Riddarholms Church, dating from the 13th century and where all of the Swedish kings except one are buried. It has a distinctive open-work metal spire.
Next, we took a walking tour of Gamla Stan, the Old Town of Stockholm, dating back to the 14th century with its winding cobblestone pathways that took us past quaint houses and unique shops. The Gamla Stan still has the character of a medieval city with its narrow twisting lanes and cobbled squares. It is a living historical monument with Bohemian atmosphere and a sense of age in houses dating from the 16th and 17th centuries with baroque doorways and coats of arms.
Bill and I relaxed with cappuccinos in the
Sibelius Park in Helsinki, Finland: monument to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius
Great Square, the heart of the original town of the 1300s, with 17th century gabled houses, the Nobel Museum, and the Great Church around its perimeter. We also shopped for Swedish crystal at Runstenen Crystal and Crafts, and we paused to watch the ceremonial procession of the Changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace.
Our next visit was to the Medieval Museum, a new museum of a remarkable archaeological find that was discovered when the Parliament building was being renovated some years ago. When the builders started to excavate the terrace of the Parliament building to form an underground parking lot, they discovered layer upon layer of the past, including part of the medieval wall and the cellars of an apothecary shop some nine meters below ground. The museum incorporates the old wall from 1530 and other treasures uncovered during the excavations. It was the perfect way to see what life entailed in Sweden over 400 years ago, as we experienced medieval Stockholm through re-created brick houses, sheds, workshops, and gallows. After more shopping, we returned to the ship and found a comfortable spot on deck to enjoy the natural vistas of the Stockholm Archipelago once again as
One of the more unknown attractions in Moscow is the metro, or underground transit system, often called the "underground palaces of Moscow." The stations are richly decorated with mosaics, sculptures, murals, chandeliers, and marble.
we sailed away from “Beauty on Water” toward Helsinki.
Our excursion in Helsinki offered an overview of the city and some of its major highlights. From the pier we passed the Helsinki Shipyard, where our ship had been built and where a huge Carnival Cruise Line ship was in the finishing stages. Continuing along the coastal road, our first stop was Temppeliaukio, one of Europe’s most unusual modern churches. Carved out of solid rock and topped with an unusual copper-wire dome, the “Rock Church” is a Helsinki landmark and is also used as a concert hall due to its magnificent acoustical qualities, which were demonstrated to us by an organist.
A photo stop was made at the Olympic Stadium, site of the 1952 Olympic games. In front of the stadium, we saw the famous statue of the “flying Finn,” Paavo Nurmi. From there we journeyed to Sibelius Park, where we photographed the unique stainless steel monument erected for the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Continuing to the heart of the city, we passed the Parliament House, National Museum, and Finlandia Hall, a unique glass structure that is the concert and convention center of Helsinki. Our final stop was
Cathedral of St. Basil
The multi-colored Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed sits at the eastern end of Red Square in Moscow.
at the neoclassical Senate Square, surrounded by the University, State Council Building, and, perched above the square’s wide steps, the Lutheran Cathedral. Time for shopping followed, and we visited “Santa,” who of course lives in Finland’s Lapland.
Then came two glorious and wonderful days in St. Petersburg, Russia. One of the highlights of our entire trip was our “Journey to Moscow” on the first day. We left the ship as soon as it docked at 7 a.m. and were taken to the St. Petersburg airport where we boarded a Russian plane (not Aeroflot, more like “Baby-flot”) for the 50-minute flight to Moscow. The plane seemed to be held together loosely by nuts and bolts, and the rows of seats were very narrow and close together. It was an interesting experience, to say the least.
Our day in Moscow, however, was a fabulous experience—educational, enjoyable, and enlightening, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. During our drive into the city with our local Moscow guide, we learned first-hand how the years of communism have affected the people’s way of life and the architecture of the city. We also saw the exuberance and energy as Russians are rebuilding, restoring, and reinvesting in their own
Cathedral of the Dormition
Cathedral Square is the Kremlin's main square with four major cathedrals, one of which is the Cathedral of the Dormition.
culture and history with a renewed vigor. The sickle is gone, and the Russian Orthodox Church is slowly regaining some of its pre-revolutionary power and moral influence. New office buildings are coming up, and old ones are being given a fresh coat of paint or a new façade. The Russian people, with their cell phones, foreign cars, and trendy clothes are engaging in activities that are normal to Westerners, but a decade ago were illegal or impossible for them. The extent of the changes in ten years is remarkable.
We passed many of the city’s famous landmarks, including the KGB headquarters building, the communist party offices, the Bolshoi Theatre, and the massive Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which can accommodate 10,000 people. We crossed Gorky Street (now called Tverskaya), the main street of Moscow, which has seven lanes of traffic in each direction.
We took a ride on one of the more unknown attractions in Moscow, the metro, or underground transit system, often called the “underground palaces of Moscow.” It is not an exaggeration, as their interiors demonstrate almost royal splendor. We saw how the stations are richly decorated with mosaics, sculptures, murals, crystal chandeliers, and columns and walls
Behind us you can see the Kremlin, the Kremlin Wall, and some of the churches in Cathedral Square.
made of 20 varieties of marble from all over the world. The system is quite efficient, with trains running every 45 seconds.
We left the metro at the doors of the famous GUM, Moscow’s “State Department Store,” which takes up almost the entire eastern side of Red Square. Its three stories of 1,200 elegant shops reminded me of the Galleria in Houston. As we stepped into Red Square, we were breathless for a moment to realize that we were really there—that place we had feared for so long during the Cold War. We had remarkable views of all of the buildings on its perimeter: the world famous St. Basil Cathedral with its multi-colored onion shaped domes, the Kremlin walls, Lenin’s tomb and mausoleum, and the Troitskaya Tower entrance to the Kremlin.
Few buildings in the world possess the historic resonance of the Kremlin, first erected in the 12th century. Our walking tour of the Kremlin grounds included the State Armory Chamber, which houses a staggering collection of priceless artifacts and royal treasures of Russia, including royal crowns, precious gems, jewel-encrusted robes and dresses, thrones, and a magnificent collection of Imperial carriages. The incredible wealth of the Russian rulers
The Hermitage in St. Petersburg houses the most remarkable collection of art in the world--3 million objects. If you pause for only one minute at each exhibit, it would take 7 years to see everything.
from medieval times to the 18th century is unbelievable. No wonder the peasants revolted.
From the Armory we proceeded to Cathedral Square, the Kremlin’s main square and one of the oldest squares in Moscow. This unique architectural complex of Old Russian 14th-15th century design features the Cathedrals of the Dormition, the Annunciation, and the Archangel Michael, as well as the Church of the Deposition of the Virgin’s Robe and the Ivan the Great Bell Tower. The interior of the Cathedral of the Dormition, the main church in Russia and the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church, was breathtaking, as the walls and huge stone pillars are covered with fresco paintings forming a continuous story. It also contains a rich collection of 12th-17th century Russian icons, the lavish royal throne of Ivan the Terrible, and incredible chandeliers.
An afternoon break of coffee and apple strudel at one of Moscow’s finest hotels, the Hotel Baltschug Kempinski, was followed by a drive to the socially upper-class area of Vorobyovy Hills, where we had a panoramic view of Moscow and passed the impressive main building of Moscow University. We returned to the city for a delightful dinner at a prestigious restaurant housed
The extravagance of the Hermitage Palace is jaw-dropping, and it is huge--1,100 rooms.
in an old mansion called The Writers’ Club. It was elegant and relaxing, as we dined on black and red caviar, beef Stroganoff, wine, and vodka.
The remarkable day ended as we boarded our flight back to St. Petersburg, arriving around midnight to experience the “White Nights,” the period from about June 11 to July 2 when it never gets completely dark in St. Petersburg because of its northern location. People are out and about all night, downtown is full of people, and the romantics stroll along the numerous waterways and canals watching the drawbridges rise.
Our second day in “Peter,” as Muscovites call it, gave us an overview of this magnificent city of imposing grandeur and stylish sophistication, an Imperial city of gleaming palaces, gilded domes, and candlelit cathedrals. It is a combination of East and West--too European to be Russian, and too Russian to be European--founded by Czar Peter the Great 300 years ago to open a “Window to the West.” We visited the fabled Winter Palace and Hermitage, truly one of the world’s greatest museums. With the possible exception of the Louvre, there is no museum in the world that rivals the Hermitage in
Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood
This strikingly beatiful church was one of the few not destroyed by the Communists.
size and quality. It encompasses the most remarkable collection of art in the world—3 million objects. It is said that if you pause for only one minute at each exhibit, it would take 7 years to see everything. The extravagance of the Winter Palace interior is jaw-dropping, and it is huge—1,100 rooms! Catherine the Great had lavish tastes.
Lunch followed at the Astoria Hotel (where visiting heads of state stay). Champagne and vodka accompanied our meal of caviar & beef Stroganoff (again, ho-hum). Following lunch we strolled around St. Isaac’s Square, admiring the magnificent St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Its dome, coated with more than 200 pounds of pure gold, dominates the city skyline. We were then taken on a tour to see the obscenely lavish interior--heavily ornamented walls of marble and precious stones as well as 200 mosaics and paintings in an enclosure large enough to hold 14,000 people.
A drive along the mighty Neva River took us past the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Cruiser Aurora, the Bronze Horseman, and the Palace Square before arriving at the city’s most exotic edifice, the memorable and breathtakingly colorful Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood, only recently restored and re-opened
Church of St. Alexander Nevski, with beautiful gold icons and mosaics inside
after being closed for decades under communism and used as a storeroom, as were all of the churches at that time. The church is built in the neo-Russian style with its gilded and faceted onion domes that look like psychedelic pineapples and its façade inlaid with hundreds of mosaics and ceramic panels. It was a fitting culmination of our two days in Russia, but it is impossible to comprehend the country in two days. Most people who get a taste of its rich history and culture are fascinated for a lifetime by its myriad paradoxes and unanswerable questions that cannot be understood by any rational criteria.
Our next port was the adorable fairy-tale city of Tallinn, Estonia, one of the most picturesque and best-preserved medieval cities of Europe. Ours was a walking tour of the jumble of hidden courtyards, cozy nooks, crooked cobblestone streets, and romantic cafes. We began with a short drive to the ancient walls and tower gates (Tall Herman and Stout Margaret are the gate names) of Tallinn’s Old Town, which is virtually a living museum. A short walk up Toompea Hill took us to Upper Town and Palace Square, where we viewed the baroque
Wandering through the Old Town of Tallinn
Toompea Castle, which now houses the Estonian Parliament. We visited the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Alexander Nevski with its interesting gold icons and mosaics inside and the famous 13th century Lutheran Dome Church, inside which more than 100 medieval coats of arms are on display. A short walk took us to a beautiful panoramic view of the Lower Town with its towers and steeples rising above the cluster of red-tiled roofs. We entered the Lower Town through the 15th century Short Leg Gate, passing the Holy Ghost Church of 1316. In the Lower Town, we spent some time in Town Hall Square, the center of Tallinn’s network of old streets, for shopping and to see the 1404 town hall, preserved almost fully intact in its original Gothic form.
The country of about a million and a half is divided ethnically into Estonians (70%) and Russians (25%), and the two groups do not get along at all. In fact, there is no inter-marriage between them, and the Estonians are quite critical of anything Russian. They are also quite proud of the fact that they were the first country to separate from the old Soviet Union after the fall of
Sights along the canals
communism. Quite a fascinating and spunky little country!
We arrived at Copenhagen, Denmark, the next day around 7 p.m., and spent the evening strolling around at the world famous Tivoli Gardens, situated right in the heart of the city, a tantalizing combination of amusement rides, flower gardens, food pavilions with over 30 restaurants, carnival games, and open-air stage shows ranging from pantomime to concerts to jugglers. It is a delightfully varied, genteel entertainment park that dates from 1843.
The next morning we enjoyed 850 years of Danish history as we glided along the waterways on our Copenhagen Harbor Tour. We boarded our canal boat at Gammel Strand, the former fish market, for a scenic tour through the narrow canals and tunnels while passing many of the city’s quaint houseboats, Christiansborg Palace (built in 1167), the Old Stock Exchange, the picturesque Nyhavn canal area, the Royal Library’s new building called The Black Diamond, and of course the famous bronze sculpture of the endearing “Little Mermaid,” the symbol of Copenhagen. The colorful Nyhavn area was the sailors’ quarter 300 years ago, but it has today been converted into a fashionable promenade of shops and gabled townhomes while retaining the
The 1913 statue of the "Little Mermaid," commemorating the fabled, lovelorn creation of writer Hans Christian Andersen
atmosphere of the sea and past centuries. The 1913 statue of the “Little Mermaid,” of course, commemorates the fabled, lovelorn creation of writer Hans Christian Andersen.
The final full day of the cruise, day 12, was at sea, and it gave us time to enjoy all the fabulous amenities of the ship one last time. It also allowed us to exchange addresses with our new friends, especially our dinner tablemates. Although the ports of call and the ship itself were absolutely spectacular, truly one of the most pleasant and enjoyable parts of the cruise was each night at dinner with our tablemates! We looked forward to each evening and the lively conversation, laughs, camaraderie, and jolly good fun with our 7 new British friends and 2 new Reno, Nevada friends!
We disembarked at 8 a.m. upon arrival at the port of Harwich, England, and once again took the transfer bus into London’s Gatwick Airport, where we boarded a noon flight, Continental first class, into Cleveland, and from there to Houston, arriving around 8 p.m. on June 24, 2003.
The ship, the ports, the people—all made our cruise perhaps the best we’ve ever taken! By our
count, Russia was the 50th country that each of us has visited, so now we each have been to 52 countries.