Bel and Phil's Adventures

Our adventures through Europe, America and Asia

Posts from the ‘Cruise’ category

Cruise – Day at Sea

3rdJuly 2018

Wow! We really needed this sea day! We had been on the go every day and were grateful for a day where we didn’t need to do a great deal at all. We woke up, without an alarm for once, and went to breakfast. We had a nice leisurely breakfast and then decided where to sit for the day. We wanted to find somewhere nice and quiet. Phil was keen to sit outside, but I was too cold, so we found a cosy nook inside. It was perfect. I got a little caught up with photo editing and blog writing, whilst Phil also did some photo editing. We had Moderno booked for 6:00 so opted not to have lunch as we had all had a big breakfast. We just got some snacks to eat whilst working on the computer.

Phil and Kim had both wanted to go in the spa, but they were full. It was a very nice, relaxing calm day. We got to Moderno at 6:10 to be told that it wasn’t part of the complimentary package. Apparently the Cirque dreams and jungle fantasy counted as one of our free dining packages (even though we paid $15USD each on top of the dining package). We decided to go to the Manhattan Room instead, which is a complimentary option. Owing to the early hour we didn’t need to wait at all.

We had a lovely final meal on board the ship and then headed to Syd Norman’s Pour House for our final time. We had the best time. The Rock of Ages cast members who play in there were playing for the whole time. It was one of the cast member’s birthdays. It was just lots of fun. It was a great final night on board our first cruise.IMG_3997

Stockholm, Sweden – Cruise

Monday 2ndJuly 2018

It was an 8:00 am start today, so up early. We had breakfast at Moderno and then headed out to meet our group. Our tour guide was Jenny and she was amazing. She was explaining different things on our way in to the city (as it was an hour away), however the bus had free wi-fi so most of us were checking mail and sending messages home.

We drove through different parts of the city and Jenny explained that Stockholm was built on different islands. We went to a lookout and the view was unexpectedly brilliant. The view looked over the Old Town and other areas of Stockholm as well, including an amusement park. The sun was shining (and it wasn’t cold!). It was such a beautiful sight.

We then drove into the city, with Jenny pointing out different buildings all around us. We stopped at the Town Hall. This also afforded us a view across the lake. The view that we had before was on the side of the Baltic Sea, whilst this view was on the freshwater lake that fed into the Baltic. The water in the Baltic is less salty than other oceans due to the amount of fresh water that flows into it. The city is undertaking some major renovation and infrastructure works so there is construction taking place everywhere. Jenny also explained that the relationship that the Scandinavian countries – Denmark, Sweden and Norway have is like sisters – love each other very much, but fight like cats and dogs.

After the Town Hall, we did some more driving to see some sights and then stopped at the Vasa Museum. Initially, I felt we needed more time, but then realised that once you had gotten over seeing a ship the way that it was built in the 16444? and read some of the exhibits and walked around it a couple of times, an hour a half was fine. Phil and I ended up having morning tea as well.

We joined our group and headed to the Old Town. This was so surprisingly pretty. Jenny showed us where our group would meet at the agreed time. We walked up to the Big Square which was the back area of the gorgeous palace. There was some netting on some of the statues at the back of the palace. Jenny explained that the statues were made out of sandstone and were starting to crumble. The netting was there to prevent large pieces falling onto people below.

After this, we walked through some narrow alleys to get to this tiny little statue – The Iron Boy. Jenny explained that it was famous for being the smallest statue in Europe (it wasn’t a sculpture but a statue). It was so cute. Apparently if you rub his head and make a wish, you will work to make it come true. Jenny was also explaining that at night, there is a spotlight on him to make it look like he is sitting in a bed and gazing out at the moonlight. I thought he was pretty cute as he was.

After this we headed to the Town Hall and had about 45 minutes to wander on our own. We were checking out some souvenir shops and just taking it all in (well taking photos too). Wow! Another wow moment was that we had found some Diet Coke – well Coke Light over here anyway! Our ship only has Pepsi – no Coke at all!

We then went looking for some more to take back with us, but we didn’t want to be back late for the group and couldn’t find anymore. LWe met the group and headed back to the ship, once again enjoying the free wifi, with many people nodding off and having a snooze.


We got back to the ship early and we asked at the port for directions to the closest place we could get Diet Coke and Coke Zero. We headed up the hill into town and found a shop called Lido. It looked like a supermarket – which it was – but it was an Aldi type of supermarket. No Coca-cola at all!


We headed back to the ship disheartened. Kim got back shortly after us and we relaxed until 8:00. We had our final show – it was dinner and a show called Cirque Dreams and dinner jungle fantasy.


Our ship docked in Stockholm, Sweden

The show was absolutely amazing and the people performing were spectacular, doing feats that I couldn’t believe. It truly was fantastic. The meal on the other hand, was at best ordinary.


We were all so tired after the big days out, that we all just went to bed. Sea day tomorrow so no alarms!

Tallinn, Estonia – Cruise

Sunday 1st July 2018

After our massive days in St Petersburg, we just had an early night because we were so shattered. We were meeting our tour guide in Tallinn at 8:00 am so no time to sleep in. Up early for breakfast and to get organised before getting off the ship. Surprisingly, there were no massive queues to get out and we were through the port fairly quickly. We met the Alla Tours person and got onto the transfer bus to our meeting point very quickly. It was SO cold. Two of our St Petersburg group were with us on the tour. The town that we were driving through looked so pretty. The tour guide who met us at the port got onto the bus and welcomed us to summer!

We got to the top of this hill and the bus pulled over. We were then split into two groups. This was a walking tour, so I’m glad we started at the top of the hill and not the bottom!


Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

This was the site that greeted us at the top of the hill! Wow! However, there was scaffolding on the front! Again! I would presume that it is way too cold in winter to do any repairs to the churches, so they have such a short window to get things done that they have to do it in the warmer weather. I’m not so sure that today would qualify as warmer weather though! Don’t be fooled by that blue sky the wind was so freezing.

We started with a talk about the history of Estonia. Our tour guide was Julia (we think) and she was quite young, but enthusiastic about her city. Both of the tour guides were quick to tell us that Tallinn was in the list of places to go for Lonely Planet and we can certainly see why.

We then went walking through the streets of the town up here in the Upper Town. There were many old buildings with a lot of history. Tallinn has been under many countries rule. It was independent during 1918 – 1940 until it then again came under Soviet rule until 1991, when Tallinn regained independence. Due to all of the different countries influences, there are many different building styles.

After this interesting walk, we then went to a viewing platform looking out over Tallinn’s Lower Town. It was amazing – but SO cold!

The view was amazing, but so cold so we couldn’t sit out there and enjoy it. We headed into the closest souvenir shop. Julia had arranged to meet us in 15 minutes. She was then explaining different things to us as we walked around to the next viewing platform.

As we were walking down to the next stop, I had massive problems with one of my legs with a massive cramp. It hurt so much to walk. Phil managed to source a bottle of water so I could take some Voltaren and Panadol. I managed to soldier on. Although my ability to take in what our guide was saying had diminished significantly.

Our walking tour concluded and we did some shopping. This city is so beautiful, yet modern too (although we didn’t make it to the modern area).

Coming out of the Port area they had some information displayed. Skype was developed in Tallinn and the people developing languages for Game of Thrones used Estonian as one of the languages to develop the Dothraki dialect.

An early afternoon back to our ship so that we could relax, which we needed! We have tickets tonight to see Rock of Ages onboard the ship. I can’t wait.

St Petersburg, Russia Day 2 – Cruise

Saturday 30th June 2018

Day 2 in St Petersburg. I had asked Phil to set the alarm for 5:45 am so we had time to have a nice breakfast and ease our way into the day. I woke up at 6:30 am (because Kim had knocked on our door) and freaked out. We had set the alarm for 6:45! I jumped up and got dressed and raced down to Moderno. No omelettes today, just scrambled eggs that are already cooked. Phil joined me and we had a very quick breakfast. We went back to the stateroom and got ourselves organised. We managed to be off the ship by 7:00am – so we were pretty happy about that. It didn’t take any time to get through customs today (only about 10 minutes) and we also learnt to line up behind the women custom officials (as they are much quicker).

Elena was waiting for us on the other side of customs and we boarded the bus. The San Francisco Americans were there and the last to arrive were the South African Americans (who weren’t late – but they had been waiting for an hour or more for us yesterday).

We got away on time and headed into the city. Our first stop was a metro station. We got on one near a sports stadium. When we went into it we were surprised to see that it had beautiful mosaic artwork decorating the station depicting sports events. We enjoyed seeing the beautiful artwork. We headed down another set of escalators and caught the train. We got off at the Admiralteyskaya which is the train station near the Admiralty House. It is also the deepest station almost 100 metres underground. The mosaics are beautiful all depicting naval scenes. We then went up the world’s steepest and longest escalator. It took 4 and a half minutes from the bottom to the top. We thought it would never finish.

After this, our driver picked us up and managed to navigate our mini bus through these tiny streets. We then headed to the boat trip. This could have been a highlight, however it was freezing! Not technically – but it felt like it. The temperature itself wasn’t so bad, but the wind chill dropped it dramatically and being on the water made it even colder.

The river was quite high, also due to the wind as the wind was pushing more water into the river from the Baltic Sea. We went down the main channel and were able to see St Peterburg from a different perspective – a cold one – no from the water. We went up a little canal and Elena told us the story of a famous law school with distinctive uniform that were called little birds. There was a statue dedicated to them, but we couldn’t see it.

We didn’t go into too many canals, which was disappointing, but I think that that was due to the high water rather than anything else. I imagine on a sunny day that this would have been a highlight. We then headed back to the dock, which I was grateful for as I was freezing.

We got back in the bus and headed to a photo stop of the bronze horseman. Phil got out and took some photos, I was way too frozen.


The Bronze Horseman

Our next stop was The Hermitage. It was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great. It joined the Winter Palace and served as a private gallery for the art that she had collected. It was open to the public in 1852. Following the revolution of 1917, it became public property. This museum is massive. Elena told us that if you spent just one minute looking at each piece of art housed in the Hermitage, it would take you 6 years to look through it all. She had picked certain areas to see – the most popular items. We saw a lot of paintings by Rembrandt, paintings by Leonardo Da Vinci and the artefacts from Russia’s past, including the rooms themselves -especially in the Winter Palace (which forms part of the Hermitage Museum). There was also a sculpture by Michelangelo titled ‘Boy Crouching’ and was just exquisite, considering it was created from one block of marble.

One of the pieces that stood out for me was a mechanical clock, that when it is wound would have several different things happen simultaneously. It was gold in colour and very detailed. Unfortunately, the museum was VERY crowded. There were several large cruise ships in and the World Cup Celebrations were happening too. The museum was quite crowded and at different points was uncomfortable with so many people there.

We made it out of the Hermitage and headed to the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood. It was also hosting a fan site for the World Cup right next to it.

This church stands on the site where, on March 1 1881, Emperor Alexander II was mortally wounded whilst walking on the Embankment. The church has a special monument to this event and actually has an area where he was mortally wounded separated. Elena was explaining that he was a very forward thinking Emperor who had brought in great reforms for all Russians. He was well loved. The rest of the church was amazing as well, however, once again, it was very crowded. It was so beautiful with mosaic art works everywhere.

Our next stop was lunch at a ‘Stolle pie shop’. This was not that great. We had some kind of Greek salad to start, borscht (which was served warm unusually), then we had this kind of dough on the outside with minced meat inside (which surprisingly was served cold). For dessert was the same kind of dough with apple inside (served warm). It was okay except for the dessert – that was great.

After this stop, we headed to a stop for Starbucks as some of the Americans wanted to get coffee mugs from Starbucks that had St Petersburg. Next stop was the Faberge museum. After learning about the history behind the eggs, I was looking forward to this museum. Elena explained that Malcolm Forbes was a massive collector of Faberge artefacts and especially his eggs. When he passed away, his children sold the collection to a Russian oligarch. He then donated the entire collection to the Russian people. This museum only allowed a certain number of people in at a time to stagger the number of people.

We got up into the museum with Elena. The museum is housed in the Shuvalov Palace. When you walked in and looked up there was a dome. We felt that it looked like an egg, but we aren’t sure if that is a coincidence.


The dome in the foyer of the Faberge Museum


The detail of the balustrade in the foyer of the Faberge Museum

We walked through some rooms to see some of the items that Faberge designed, but all of  us were wanting to see the eggs. Elena had explained that there were could have been 69 created for the Tsars of Russia between 1885 – 1917, however there are only 57 that are known of today. This museum has 9 of these original eggs housed in one area. They were amazingly exquisite. Carl Faberge used enamel (with many different colours that he could create – over 100 from memory) and then used small pieces of precious stones to decorate and create these stunning works of art.

After we were finished looking at the eggs, we had a look at the other pieces housed in the Museum. These were the pieces that Faberge actually made his money from, although this was due to making his name through his creation of the exquisite eggs for the Tsar.

After we finished at the Faberge Museum (with our heads bursting with information overload), we headed to a reasonably priced souvenir shop to finish our shopping. To my surprise, Phil bought me a replica of the egg commissioned by the Emperor representing the love for his new wife. Yes, I got a little emotional – as those who know me well would expect. It is exquisite.

After this stop, it was back to the cruise ship. We had a stop at Alla Tours offices to pick up some paperwork and had a photo with Elena.


Kim, Elena, me and Phil

We then had to farewell our Mother Elena and our driver. It was much harder than I thought it would be. She had touched my heart and was so passionate about St Petersburg and Russia. We won’t ever forget her. She was one of the best things about St Petersburg. Us sputniks (travellers) then went back to the ship.

We had a great time in St Petersburg although it was definitely a whirlwind 36 hours. We made the most of our time in this unexpectedly pretty city that is full of history. We both feel as though we would like to come back and explore this city more fully, when there aren’t 5 massive cruise ships in port and a whole swathe of World Cup fans in the city. Also when there isn’t any scaffolding around The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood.

Farewell St Petersburg – for now!

St Petersburg, Russia Day 1- Cruise

Friday 29thJune 2018

St Petersburg!

Today was a combination of amazingly good and amazingly bad. The bad – People had to book their time off the ship. As we had an 8:30 start to the tour, we had booked to get off at 8:00 am – so Group A. We had been told that this group had to be in the Breakaway theatre by 8:00 am. We had planned to be there at this time, however they made the announcement at 7:45 am. We weren’t ready for that. We headed downstairs at 7:55 am and it was bedlam. There were people everywhere! The cruise staff were directing people through a line around O’Sheehan’s Bar into the auditorium. This was only for people who had booked private tours. The people who had booked on the ship’s tour had customs process them on board the ship and I presume that they were fast tracked off the ship.


Anyway, for the rest of us peasants, the cruise staff were filling up the auditorium and going through some explanations. Kim was ready a little earlier than us and so she had gotten into the auditorium and saved us some seats in an earlier area – thankfully!

They let out the first part of the group – about half of the auditorium. There was about a 20 minute wait and then we got to go out of the auditorium. We walked out of the auditorium, down to the gangway and off the ship. We headed to the customs building and walked in the door and stopped! There were massive lines everywhere. We got into a line and it was a big mistake. Phil had wanted to go on another line, but this line was shorter. Now we knew why. The customs guy for our line was taking SO long. It was already after 8:30 when we arrived into the customs area. We didn’t get through customs until 9:30. When it was FINALLY our turn to go through the customs area. The guy scrutinised us and our passport photo – twisted our passport (we are presuming to ensure that it was genuine). It was so weird. He then gave us a piece of paper that he left in the passport. Kim had run into some Americans in the line who declared that they didn’t have a tour booked but they couldn’t force them to stay on the ship! No the ship can’t force you to stay, but customs can refuse entry. Luckily for us they weren’t in front of us (there were 15 of them). We all finally cleared customs and made it through. We found a lady holding an Alla tours sign who directed us outside of the terminal to the main group.


This was where we met Elena – who was one of the best tour guides we have ever had. She was amazing! We had a group of 14 so far – one couple from South Africa / London initially who were now living in Florida and a group of 9 Americans who travelled together frequently and the 3 of us. We waited for about another 30 minutes as our group was supposed to have 16, however Alla Tours made the decision to send us off and the other 2 people could join the next group. We were off with mother Elena and father (the driver). Kim was sitting at the front and Phil and I were in the back seat. Our first stop was a souvenir shop (that had clean rest rooms as the next stop was an hour to get there).

We headed straight to Peterhof. This was the site of the summer palace. The grounds were amazing. The palace wasn’t open to the public, just the grounds that were exquisite. There were amazing fountains that were created after Peter the Great toured the great gardens of Europe. They were founded in 1704. There was a flood in 1777 which destroyed the original system of pipes and fountains.

Elena was explaining that the flowers, that were blooming, were changed out every 3 – 4 weeks so there was always flowers that were blooming in a particular section of the garden. Other sections of the gardens were designed in an English style fashion in terms of woodland style. As we were walking through different areas, Elena was explaining different things. She explained how the ladies of the era would walk through the gardens with young men or with other ladies. Peter the Great, would hide behind bushes and have trick fountains hidden. When the young ladies and men walked through he would turn on the fountains and get soaked. The ladies were not happy as it ruined their dresses and hair. The men weren’t particularly happy either, however Peter found it hilarious. He had several of these trick fountains strategically placed throughout the grounds, that he operated at his whim, including trees, out of seats – that one of our group got wet by. He seemed to like it when the joke was on other people.

We then finished in the gardens and headed to a local restaurant. It was very grand, but clearly only caters for the tour groups. They had the table set up with our first course already on the table. It was some kind of egg salad. We then had mushroom soup followed by minced chicken in the shape of a chicken breast with mashed potatoes. We then finished with dessert. It wasn’t a fabulous meal -but was ok. Elena had explained that lunch is their main meal of the day.

After here we headed to the Tsars Village – Tsarskoye Selo – this was where the Catherine Palace was. The building was so imposing from the outside! It was so opulent. You can seriously see why there was such a revolution when the Tsars spent money indiscriminantly and most Russian people were struggling to put food on the table.

We went into the Catherine Palace. The rooms were stunning and were designed to impress – which they did. The highlight for most people was the amber room. I liked it, but wasn’t that impressed. Elena was explaining that amber was found naturally throughout Russia. It’s a natural stone and is the sap of a tree that has been petrified. The high quality amber is only found in certain places in Russia.

The Amber Room jewels were removed from the walls and stored somewhere safe, during WWII to prevent the Nazis from getting them. The problem was that after the war, they were unable to find the original panels. They spent some time searching for it and then decided to replicate the walls from photos and memories of people who had seen it prior to the war. During the restoration, a panel of the original wall was found and you could not distinguish between the original and the restored panel. They decided to use both of the panels in the restored room.

The different coloured amber was used to create patterns and to decorate the room. One of the reasons of the importance of this room was due to the supposed healing powers of amber. It was pretty, but not a highlight for me. Unfortunately no photography was allowed in this room. Whilst we were walking through Catherine Palace, Elena had been talking about different Tsars and emperors. She then referred to Putin as Emperor Putin. We all cracked up laughing, including Elena, even though all of the old ladies in the Catherine Palace (the workers) were telling us to be quiet. It was so funny.

After the Catherine Palace, we headed into the city and had a drive through different areas. The South African / American couple had heard about the second oldest Jewish cathedral in the world was in St Petersburg.

Elena and the driver took us there and let us go inside. It was so pretty. We were in awe of how lovely it was. It was pretty late by now. We had pushed the evening tour back to 7:30, but we weren’t dropped off at the restaurant until 7:00.

Just before Elena left us, Julia arrived – our guide for the evening. The restaurant was called Sadko and was exactly what we wanted. Kim and I each had Draniki (pan friend potato pancakes) with sour cream. For main meals Kim and I had another entrée – Kim had Russian vegetarian golubtsy (cabbage rolls) stuffed with vegetables and rice, oven baked with tomato sauce. I had mushroom julienne in pancakes. Phil had lamb in spicy herbs with grilled vegetables. The food was amazing. Whilst we were there the waiters and waitresses sang a song and played traditional music. Our waiter played some kind of instrument. Julia joined us for a drink and explained about her family and life in St Petersburg. She has just finished university and studied English and German. Her English language was excellent, but she feels that her German needs work, so she is looking for work in Germany maybe as an au pair.

We had a lovely meal and then started our tour. We headed to the Church on the Spilled Blood as I wanted to try and get low light photos of it, but it was still daylight. We were in St Petersburg during their white night time. That is when the sun doesn’t set until after 11:00 pm and then not really set at all as there is still blue sky in the distance and then rises again about 3:30 am. We did manage to get some photos, though with hardly any people around, so that was a win. We didn’t go inside the church, as we are coming here tomorrow – although in hindsight, we probably should have as it would be less crowded than during the day. I was disappointed as there was scaffolding around one of the domes, which meant that I couldn’t get great photos. We asked Elena the next day and she said that they were cleaning it. I was surprised that they wouldn’t have it finished given that June / July were their most popular tourist months and also the World Cup was on, bringing in even more tourists.

When we were finished here, we headed to St Isaac’s Cathedral. We had seen this church from the outside when we were driving around and Elena had indicated to Kim that it was beautiful on the inside. Julia and our driver took us there. We pulled up to get tickets, with Julia assisting us. When we were lined up, there was a bit of a problem. Firstly, it appeared as though some guy had pushed in, although we weren’t really focused on where he was beforehand.


Then this big guy comes up and wants to fight him. Phil was worried that one of them would try to pick his pockets (which we had been warned about all throughout Europe as this is the high tourist season – so also high pickpocket season). Kim (and Julia) were asking the guy at the ticket booth to get security. The guy buying tickets walked away and then the drunk guy started on Phil. Julia told him to go away – in Russian. We then looked around and realised that the bus driver had seen what was going on and he had gotten out of the bus and was also standing there. Security arrived and they asked him to move on. The drunk guy get a little aggressive with the security guy, however the drunk guy walked away.


The entrance to the church was around the corner and we were prepared to walk, but Julia and the driver insisted that we get on the bus and they would drive us to the entrance, as the drunk guy was walking down where we would need to walk. We got into the church, without any further incidents, and were absolutely stopped in our tracks. It was stunning! Honestly! Jaw dropping – even Phil was speechless (again I know!). There were mosaics decorating every surface. We were gobsmacked at just the entry, then we turned the corner and saw the altar. Wow! It was exquisite. It was a Russian Orthodox church. We were all surprised with how stunning it was inside. After we had finished here we asked Julia to take us where we could buy some souvenirs at a reasonable price.

We had a stop at McDonald’s so we could use the toilet and get something to eat. She took us to Nevsky Prospect (the main shopping area – near the Church on the Spilled Blood) and went to go underground, however all the shops were shut down there, which was unfortunate – although it was almost 10pm on a Friday night by this stage.

Instead she showed us this beautiful store across the road. It was an old building that was owned by a successful merchant. The building itself was grand and then we saw the windows. They had animated characters depicting well known fairy tales. We went inside and were blown away by the opulence. It is currently a very fancy shop catering mainly to tourists and very well off Russians. Everything was exquisite and the prices reflected that. They had edible shoes, delicatessen area, ice-cream and cakes that made your mouth water.

We were all pretty tired after the massive day (and it was almost 10:00 pm). Julia asked if we wanted to add another hour for 30 USD, but we decided to call it a day and headed back to the ship. Julia left us and our driver took us back to the ship.

We got to bed around 11:00pm, because it took some time to get through customs again. It was almost dark. We plan to be off the ship at 7:00 am tomorrow as our tour starts at 7:20 am.

Cruise day at Sea

Wednesday 27thJune 2018

We had a late start today – thankfully as we needed a sleep in. We got up and had breakfast at a buffet in Moderno. We all had an omelette – cooked to order with your choice of fillings. Totally fabulous. There were other hot and cold options too. It was a great start to the day.

Kim opted to have a snooze, so Phil and I headed down onto some tables and chairs on the deck to try to catch up the blog and download our photos from yesterday. We ended up chatting to another friendly American.

There was a presentation of the History of Faberge that I attended. It was really informative and will be great for when we go to the Faberge museum in St Petersburg.

Phil and I had lunch together at O’Sheehans Bar and Grill – another complimentary option. He had fish and chips, I had fajitas. We decided to get the blog updated to today and relax.


We had an early show of Burn the Floor, which is a dance spectacular with its roots in ballroom dancing. They had a live band and two singers, who were spectacular. The dancers were extraordinary. The whole show was super energetic and just amazing. We then headed up to the Syd Norman Pour House – but the Beatles tribute was cancelled due to the singer being ill. The normal band we see did an extra set to compensate. We were really tired and I was a little peckish, so we headed to the garden café to get something to eat. We then went to bed and had an early night, which was needed. Helsinki tomorrow.


Helsinki, Finland – Cruise

Thursday 28thJune 2018

We weren’t meeting our tour guide until 10:00 am today, so we decided we’d head off the ship at 9:30 am. We got off really quickly and headed over to where the tour guide will meet us. We found Jenny, our tour guide for the day, and got on the bus, ready to wait for the rest of our group. We set off right on 10am. We went for a drive through downtown Helsinki. It looked very pretty. Our first stop was Sibelius Park, which is a monument to the famous Finnish composer. The monument looked like steel organ pipes, but was meant to represent trees as they are all different. It was very pretty, made more so by a violinist playing classical music (I’m assuming that it was music created by the composer).


Monument for the composer – Sibelius


Violinist playing music composed by Sibelius – I’m assuming

Our next stop was the Rock Church. This was very impressive. Jenny explained that people who are religious pay a 1% tax and have the right to have a place to worship locally. The original church design was massive and would cost a lot of money to build. Two brothers came up with a design to use the rock that was there, initially to go underground a little so that the roof can be extended. The church was amazing, using the original granite for the walls and then glass and copper for the roof. The acoustics are amazing.

After this, we went to the Senate Square to see the White (Helsinki) Cathedral. It is a Lutheran church and looks very imposing on top of the stairs. We also saw the Senate building and the Helsinki University. We then went to the Market Square. Phil bought an ice cream and I had some strawberries. There were signs everywhere about the seagulls attacking to take the icecream out of the cones / cups. Phil was very vigilant, but we saw one guy who wasn’t and the seagulls got all of the ice-cream.

We ended up getting the bus further back towards the main shopping centre, not far from the central train station. We wanted to check out the Marks and Spencer sales. The other people from our group went back to the bus, but Phil, Kim and I decided to get the tram back. Jenny had told us that Tram number 7 that went west would take us back to the port.

We had a great time shopping, although Kim didn’t find anything that she liked, I did.We went to the tram station and got a ticket, and the tram came really quickly. We got on and went to the ship. It was really easy and cheap – only 2.50 Euro each.


Our cruise ship – Norwegian Breakaway

We got back on the ship and headed to movie album trivia. Kim and I lost. We had dinner in the Manhattan Room, with a mini performance by the Burn the Floor dancers (Kim didn’t come last night).

We are having an early night tonight as we are going to St Petersburg tomorrow. We need to be in the theatre in the morning, ready to go by 8am. The tour is starting at 8:30, so hoping all goes smoothly.

Rostock and Schwerin, Germany – Cruise

Tuesday 26thJune 2018

We got up and had breakfast at O’Sheehan’s bar and grill. It was fabulous. This restaurant is a complimentary one and opened 24 hours a day. Kim went to a breakfast buffet on the same level as our cabin. We have our cabin on deck 8, which luckily is the same level as the evening entertainment. We were able to get off the ship very quickly and were waiting for our tour group.

They arrived without incident and we headed straight up to Schwerin. The weather didn’t look great, but Phil had checked the weather report and it was going to fine up. We travelled on some Autobahns with the cars almost flying past. Unfortunately the bus could only travel at 100 km/h – whilst the cars have no speed limit at all – hence the almost flying. Our tour guide was Karen and there was another tour guide on the bus as there were two groups on the bus (groups were about 20 in each group and there were 40 people on the bus). They were alternating between each other to explain the things that we were seeing outside the bus.

They were explaining that the government had made a commitment to close all of the nuclear power stations by 2020 and that was why there were lots of massive wind turbines and solar panels in fields next to the autobahn (highway). They were also explaining that this area of Germany is the least populated area so there is still lots of forest around that people enjoy hunting in with wild animals.

We arrived in the outskirts of Schwerin and drove around the massive lake towards the town centre. The driver pulled over so that we could have our first sight of the castle out of the bus window with the gardens in the foreground! Wow! The sun had come out just as we pulled into the city. It is stunning.


Schwerin Castle in the distance with the gardens in the foreground

We then went into one of the garden areas and split into the 2 groups. We walked through the gardens with Karen explaining different things. This area where we were walking was also used by the Grand Duke (who built the castle)and his family to walk. Any further away and it wasn’t considered a ‘leisure walk’ and so was done on horseback or horse and carriage.

We went into the castle and did a self guided tour – directed by roped off areas. The items in the castle were gorgeous and we enjoyed it, but a lot of the windows were filthy so we couldn’t get many photos of the castle from within the castle. This was disappointing. We couldn’t go into the courtyard as there was a theatre group rehearsing on a purposely build stage. We had an hour to explore the castle.

Phil, Kim and I spent 40 minutes inside and then went outside to take photos of the gorgeous grounds and the magnificent castle. The views across the lake were just stunning.

We met our tour guide and headed into the town of Schwerin, walking through some of their streets. Karen mentioned something and we realised that this northern area of Germany was in East Germany and under Soviet rule until the reunification of Germany in the late 1990’s?. We walked through the square and saw the beautiful church. We then headed for lunch (which was included in the price of the tour). We had decided in advance what we would have – Phil and I had herbed chicken, roast potatoes and some vegetables. Kim had slow roasted pork, spaetzle and some vegetables. We each also got a soft drink, beer or wine complimentary with the meal. Kim went out hunting for Coke zero. I ordered a Diet Coke.


We had a lovely meal sitting in the beer garden of this gorgeous old hotel in the sunshine. It was perfect! We then had some free time to explore this beautiful area prior to getting back on the bus. Phil found a place selling ice cream. Kim went shopping and bought a beautiful leather pouch that she can put her passport and other cards needed for overseas travel. It is gorgeous.

We walked back through a different area to get to the bus. Karen was showing us the different styles of buildings, including the ones that were built by the communists. Luckily they ran out of money and didn’t knock down too many beautifully historic buildings.

We got onto the bus and travelled back to Rostock. We had a walking tour through Rostock next, after a quick bathroom break. This is another stunning town. We were amazed by the church and the whole town square. Karen was telling us that Rostock had celebrated their 800 year anniversary last weekend. Eight hundred years old!!!! Wow!

Karen explained different things about the town and then we headed to the church. It was gorgeous. Karen had said that the town of Rostock had been bombed heavily during World War 2 and she showed us some images where every building around the church was bombed, except the church. They were manufacturing planes near the harbour.

The church was beautiful and exuded a feeling of peacefulness. Within the church there were many amazing features. We walked behind the altar and there was an astronomical clock. The clock was created in 1472 and provided the people of the city with amazing information that was advanced for the time. The clock was vitally important so that the bell could be rung at the right time, so the people in the city knew what time it was, as most people didn’t have watches. There was also information for the month, the date, how many hours of daylight and dark, the moon’s phase, which date Easter will fall on and the zodiac.


It was astounding that they were able to create something like this so long ago and that it continues to work today. There are a group of volunteers who upwind the clock manually at 8:00 am every day and have done so every day in recent history. During WWII the clock was protected by building a wall around it to protect it in case of bombings, however the people who are upwinding it still needed to access it. Luckily, the church was not bombed during WWII, although other buildings around it were flattened.

Karen explained other points of interest in the church and then we walked out towards the fountain in the town square. Kim opted to stay in the church and spend some more time there and meet us at the bus. The square is gorgeous with lots of open air restaurants and bake houses – although none that sold black forest cake – perhaps it was too late in the day or too hot a day for it. This was the biggest disappointment for me.

We all got back onto the bus, including Kim, who was so happy. Just after we had left, an organist and soloist came into the church and started singing. She said it was so amazing. The acoustics were unbelievable. This is such a beautiful city.


The driver and guides opted to take us on a scenic drive through Warnemunde (where the other group’s cruise ship is). It is such a pretty seaside town. We dropped the other people off at their cruise ship and then they dropped us back to ours. We got back about 7:00pm. We walked past Guest Services and so Kim spoke to them about some questions that she had. We then went to dinner at Savor, which is a complimentary restaurant. We ordered off the menu and the food was cooked for us. It was lovely.

After dinner, once again, we headed to Syd Norman’s Pour House for some great music. We had had a few drinks (luckily we have the unlimited drinks package) and we were singing along with the band. No karaoke tonight though – thankfully. We headed back to the cabin and needed to put our clocks forward one hour.

Sea day tomorrow, so time to relax and recharge. We organised to meet for breakfast at 9:00 am

Copenhagen / Cruise

Monday 25thJune 2018

Our cruise day is here! We woke up at 9 am and had breakfast with Kim. We headed back to our rooms to wash my hair, get the blog up to date and for Kim to pack her bags. We checked out and got the cab to the terminal. As we turned the corner in the cab and saw the ship for the first time, we were all astounded! This ship is massive! It is by far the biggest ship that I have ever seen! It’s crazy massive.

The cab dropped us off at the right terminal and we checked in. Everything is organised so well. They had people helping you through security and heaps of stations to check you in. We were on board much quicker than we had anticipated. Unfortunately, the rooms weren’t quite ready, but we dropped off our cabin bag and met our person who will be looking after our room – Eugene.


The first thing we wanted to do was a tour of the public areas of the ship at 1:30 pm. He showed us where a lot of the restaurants and shows were and what was available, including the World Cup matches and where you could see them. We were all hungry by this stage and so made our way to the Garden Café on Deck 15. This was a buffet style complimentary restaurant. Everything here is massive. I’ve walked into the restaurant and couldn’t believe how big it was. There were so many choices! It was so hard to choose what to have. We also discovered that they have Prosecco included in our drinks package – although it’s a Pepsi ship – not Coca cola – so Prosecco could be the drink of choice for me.

We headed to our rooms and got sorted and had some down time. I tried to send messages home, but the free wifi isn’t great. We have just left Copenhagen and are heading out into the Baltic Sea. We have our own private balcony with Kim in the cabin next to us.

We had already booked our restaurant for tonight months ago and so we are going to Cagney’s Steakhouse. This was part of our Dining Package as we can choose 3 specialty restaurants over the course of the cruise.  We have decided our entertainment option for tonight as well – Syd Rock Blast – essentially rock favourites from Aerosmith to Van Halen with Bruce Springsteen, Linda Ronstadt and Styx in between.

We have had a rest day today, with not so much walking (luckily my legs and feet are a little sore) although we have walked around the ship quite a bit.

We had a great night out! Cagney’s Steakhouse was absolutely amazingly delicious. The food was brilliant and the service exceptional. We absolutely loved Syd Rock Blast. All three of us were singing along to all of the amazing songs. We had a great time.

We will be docked in Rostock tomorrow morning. We are meeting our tour group at 9:15 am.

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