Category Archives: 2013 Baltic and Britain

2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Hamburg, Germany)

Hamburg was our last port of call on our 16-day Baltic Cruise.  We did another all-day tour with a 90-minute drive into the countryside to the Hanseatic City of Lübeck, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We had a two-hour walking tour of the Old Town. One would almost think you were in Dubai with all the unusual shaped buildings. Lübeck is still very much like it was in the late 19th century when the Hanseatic League of Merchants was in full bloom.  The League was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds.  The league began in a few towns in the 1100s and dominated the Baltic maritime trade for three centuries.  They protected economic and diplomatic privileges in their affiliated cities and worked with other communities to regulate and protect trade routes by land and by sea. They had their own legal system and private armies.                                               The Holsten Gate St. Mary’s Church was built between 1250 and 1350 and has always been a symbol of power and prosperity in the city of Lübeck.  It is built on the highest point of the island so dominates the city from all directions. We had time to wander the city streets and check out some of the shops. The Hospital of the Holy Ghost was built in 1280 and is one of the oldest social institutions in Europe.  It was still in use in the 1960s.  It was founded by the Lübeck merchants as a home for the poor, the sick, and the orphans.

These were the tiny little rooms occupied by the widows. We had lunch at the Maritime Club; a very posh place.  Beautiful woodwork.  It was a good lunch too. Back in Hamburg we relaxed before dinner and our sea days back to England.


2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Cruising the Kiel Canal)

Before we reached our last port-of-call on this cruise we sailed through the Kiel Canal.  The canal is 98-kilometers (61 miles) long and links the Baltic Sea to the North Sea.  The canal cuts off 250 nautical miles (460 km) of distance by allowing ships to avoid having to go around the Jutland Peninsula with its storm-prone waters.  It was finished in 1895 but was widened between 1907 and 1914.  Our ship, being a small cruise liner was able to navigate the route and we spent the day wandering on and off the deck to see the countryside slowly pass by.We lost our lovely sunshine and the day was wet and cool.  There were many pleasure boats and cross-canal ferries to watch. There were also some really nice homes along the canal route.   It’s called the “Flying Bridge” for a reason.  The Captain can get a good clear view of where the sides of his ship are at all times which is pretty handy going under some of the bridges and bringing the ship into ports.
I have no idea what the value of these homes might be in Germany but they would be very expensive in western Canada.                    We passed some lovely, lush farmland. This looks a little tight.  Probably looks tighter than it actually is though.                                             Not a lot of room to spare.Out the lock at the far end and off we go into the North Sea on our way to Hamburg.

2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Stockholm, Sweden)

The light during the early morning sail-in to Stockholm was just glorious.  I had a great time standing on the deck taking photos. We had a drive around the city and then were allowed time to stroll the medieval Old Town before we were driven to the island of Djurgården and dropped off at the Vasa Museum.  The Royal Palace is on one side of the huge central square.                  The town of Sigtuna, which dates from 1744.We visited the oldest creamery.  The building definitely has a lean.These ancient stones were located in various parts of the town.St. Mary’s Church is the oldest building in Sigtuna.  The earliest part of the church was built in 1247-48 and the building contains artifacts and religious furnishings dating back 700 years.  A restoration undertaken between 1966 and 1971 turned the medieval church into a building suitable for contemporary needs.All of the pew rows had different carved symbols on the aisle end.The 64-gun Vasa was the pride of the Swedish navy when it was built in 1628.  Unfortunately some major design flaws (it was top-heavy with too much weight on the upper structure, a lot of which was tons of ornate carving on the stern) caused the ship to capsize in the harbour 1300′ into her maiden voyage.  The ship was buried in the mud of the cold northern waters and faded into obscurity until it was discovered in the 1950s.  333 years after she sank she was painstakingly raised to the surface almost completely in tact.  A huge museum building was built nearby and the 4-storey ship was towed into it during December of 1987 and the next summer over 20,000 people toured the half-finished building.  Since then about 2,000,000 people have visited the museum.  Vasa is the world’s only preserved 17th century ship. There were cases of models that demonstrated how they ‘floated’ the Vasa to the surface.  It cost the Swedish people practically nothing.  All of the preparatory work, diving and tunnel digging to get ropes under the hull, and rigging to lift it, were done as part of the naval and coastal artillery proficiency training.  The salvage company that did the actual lift did the work at no cost in exchange for being able use the project in their advertising.  Only a few salaries and incidental expenses were born by the government.We really enjoyed our Swedish day.  I have Swedish blood.  My paternal grandparents both emigrated from Sweden to Canada in the early 1900s so it was nice to be in their homeland.


2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Helsinki, Finland)

In Finland we did something a little different.  We took a drive into the countryside and visited a Finnish house.  Of course, it is mandatory for the bus driver to first take you on a short tour around the city.

And, what would a tour be without checking out at least one church?          This one is the Helsinki Cathedral.There was a great view of the square from the top of the church steps.                                            This is a great use of space.  It was the 10th of June when we visited Finland and all the lupins and other flowers were blooming.  It was a very pretty country drive. When we arrived in the village of Sipoo we first went to view the very old St. Sigrid’s church. Lupins, lupins, lupins blooming everywhere.  So very pretty.                  The countryside looked very much like home.Our host and hostess were very friendly and welcoming.                                            I liked the posted rules.

We were given refreshments and had time to relax and wander the property.                         This old car was a popular item to check out.For some reason which even our hostess could not figure out her husband decided it was necessary to buy an old rocket launcher.   Not your usual garden ornament.They even had their own small lake.  It really was a lovely spot.Back in Helsinki we wandered around the waterfront for awhile before the ship set sail again.The flight patterns of gulls can be quite comical.  It’s a wonder they don’t collide all the time.  Not my favourite bird by a long shot, but….they can look pretty against a nice blue sky.

2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – St. Petersburg, Russia – Day 2 – Part 2)

The second half or our second day in St. Petersburg was spent touring Emperor Paul I’s Palace.  It was much smaller (but still very impressive), than his mother Catherine the Great’s palace that we toured in the morning.  The palace was built on the orders of Catherine for her son in the 18th century.

. This palace too, has undergone extensive restoration to repair all the damage the building sustained during the Second World War.  All of the Imperial residences were victims of wanton destruction by the Nazis during the time of occupation of St. Petersburg. Thankfully, all of these beautiful rooms had been photographed many times so there were ample images to show how they looked.  Most of the art treasures had been removed and hidden as the German army neared the city.

 No neo-classical mansion would be complete without an Egyptian Room.

We were certainly blessed with beautiful weather for our two days in St. Petersburg

. We had a short rain shower near the end of the day and I took the photo on the left below through the wet glass of the bus window.  I kind of like the effect.

Fire Departments are recognizable anywhere.  I think the apartment building (close-ups below) could use some serious renovating.We set sail at 6 o’clock and had a nice view during dinner of several mini-man made islands, which, I am assuming, were created for defense of the harbour.The good weather continued as we sailed overnight to Helsinki, Finland.

2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – St. Petersburg, Russia – Day 2 – Part 1)

On our second day in St. Petersburg during the 16-day Baltic cruise we began on June 1, 2013, we were driven one hour to the town of Tsarkoye Selo 30 km (18 miles) from the city  in order to tour Catherine’s Palace.

When we arrived there was a mix-up about our pre-arranged tickets and the whole group had to stand around for about a half hour until a lady from the tour company came running up to straighten things out.

This huge building and park-like grounds were almost completely destroyed during WWII and throughout the building they had images of what the various rooms looked like before they were restored. 57 of the massive halls were ruined and  over half of the building has now been painstakingly restored its former grandeur. Thankfully, unlike the Summer Palace in Peterhof, we were able to take photos inside.

You cannot get a sense of the massive scale of this place except from the air.  I found these two photos on a tourist information site so hopefully I haven’t infringed on someone’s copyright.  I couldn’t find a credit for the images and the site was in Russian. Obviously we did not come close to seeing even the entire main building let alone the rest of the complex. And, yes, if you see something that looks like gold it is gold. There was originally over 200 pounds of gold on the exterior alone – today it is gold paint, not gilt

.  The magnificent Grand Hall is over 154′ long and 56′ wide (47m X 17m) and has a beautiful parquet floor and elaborately painted ceiling.  Between the light coming in from the windows and all the mirrors the room fairly sparkles.Magnificent artwork and treasured masterpieces are everywhere.                  Each chair is a different pattern of hand-painted silk.The blue and white dutch-looking columns in the rooms are fireplaces or heating stoves.

After our tour inside the palace concluded we had some time to wander around the grounds.                                                               The ChapelFrom Catherine’s Palace we were taken the short distance to Emperor Paul I’s Palace at Pavlovsk.

2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – St. Petersburg, Russia – Day 1 – Part 2)

After our tour of the Imperial Summer Palace we were taken by hydrofoil from Peterhof back to St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg is the cultural and tourist capital of Russia. The population is about 5 million.  The city was founded on 101 islands and was built by Peter the Great in 1703 to take the place of Moscow as the Russian Empire capital.  In 1914 the name was changed to Petrograd so it didn’t sound so German.  The name was changed again to Leningrad in 1924 five days after the death of Soviet leader to honour him.  When Russia broke from the USSR in 1991 55% of the people voted to restore the name to the original St. Petersburg.  Much of the water between all the islands has been filled in over the years and now there are about 44 islands connected by many bridges.

   There is certainly no shortage of impressive buildings along the shore. From the launch dock it was a short walk across the square to the Church on the Spilled Blood.                       There are lots of ‘photo ops for a fee’ available. I loved these shoes but can you imagine wearing them to walk on cobblestones?

Officially called the Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is known locally as the Church on the Blood because it was built on the spot where Alexander II was fatally wounded in an assassination attempt March 1, 1881.

There must be a rule that Orthodox Churches cannot have any ‘unadorned’ spots.  Inside and out every single bit of surface is painted and decorated.

                             Looking up inside one of the many domes.                                             Loved the chandelier!    And then it was back to the ship for dinner and a quiet evening after a long, beautiful day.  The next day was also a palace day when we again left St. Pete’s to go see Catherine’s Palace and Pavlovsk (Paul’s Palace).


2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – St. Petersburg, Russia – Day 1 – Part 1)

One of the tours offered on our stop in St. Petersburg was a “Night at the Hermitage.”  I seriously considered doing it because we love to visit the Hermitage in Amsterdam whenever we are in the city.  We chose instead to do the 8 1/2 hour tour that visited the Imperial Summer Palace at Peterhof.  This turned out to be a good choice.  We heard later that people were not pleased with the rushed pace through the galleries at the Hermitage.  I understand time constraints on these type of packaged tours but I too, do not like to be virtually chased from one place to another.  I am bad for being the last person to leave a room, but I hustle to catch up to the group so I don’t cause a delay. Peterhof (which means Peter’s court) is 25 km (16 miles) from St. Petersburg and is located along the shores of the Gulf of Finland.  The Summer Palace was constructed by Peter the Great.  His daughter Empress Elizabeth also loved the site and ordered the expansion of the Grand Palace and the magnificent grounds.  As with most of the Imperial residences the Summer Palace was ravaged by the Germans during WWII.  The grounds with its famous fountains were restored by the end of 1945 and the palace was re-opened in 1952.

There were no photographs allowed inside which was a bummer as the rooms were truly incredible.  Most people spend the majority of their time wandering the extensive park and gardens which were enlarged by successive Emperors and Empresses over several generations. The best approach to the palace grounds is by the sea from where you get a spectacular view of the Grand Cascade, comprised of 64 different fountains with 200 gold statues and bas-reliefs.  Below is the view from the top of the balcony looking out toward the coast.  Pretty easy to envision how beautiful it would be from the other direction.The Summer Palace has been called the “Russian Versailles” due to the 150 fountains, and the park was certainly the inspiration for the new residence when Peter began construction in 1720.                                                     The Chess Cascade A very popular area is the Joke Fountain where the unwary are drenched in water when they step on certain rocks.  Looking back at the palace from the end of the grounds.  After our time at the Summer Palace ended we boarded a hydrofoil and were taken back to St. Petersburg.  There is no shortage of impressive buildings along the shoreline. To be continued….


2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Tallinn, Estonia)

We spent a day at sea between our ports of call in Germany and Estonia.  Tallinn is the capital city and the country’s cultural hub.  Estonia was part of the former U.S.S.R. but declared independence  August 20, 1991.  The nation is located across the strait from Finland and its very strong ties to that country helped create a firm foundation for stability.

At the top of a steep-sloped hill called Toompea, the Danes built a castle in 1219.  Nothing remains of the original fortress, but the Knights of the Sword rebuilt the structure in the 13th century and some of their towers still stand.  Some of them were damaged during a Swedish raid in the 16th century but are nevertheless impressive structures.

 The Parliament Building of Estonia is located within the grounds of Toompea Loss.

Across the square from the Parliament building is Alexander Nevsky Cathederal, a Russian Orthodox Church that is 120 years old. St. Mary’s Church (below), known to the Estonians as their beloved Toom Kirik (Dome Church) is the country’s oldest cathedral.  Still in use, parts of the Lutheran church date from 1219. There are over 100 intricately carved coats-of-arms on the walls of the sanctuary.

We walked back down the hill into Old Town.                  We also took a look inside St. Nicholas Church. Our guide told us about the St. Olva Hotel.  It is built of micro-concrete they say.  Every Soviet official coming to Tallinn during the years Estonia was part of the USSR had to stay at the St. Olav.  There were microphones everywhere, embedded in the concrete so every conversations could be recored and listened too.  After Estonia declared independence all of the microphones were removed. The upper floors of the building now house the KGB Museum. In our wanderings around town we came across part of the massive 16th century Fat Margaret Tower that was built for protection.  It has been restored several times and currently houses the Estonian Maritime Museum. Our next port-of-call, where we would spend two days was St. Petersburg, Russia.

2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Berlin, Germany – Part 2)

On our 16-day Baltic cruise out of Tilbury, England our second port of call was Warnemünde, Germany.  We took an all-day tour (12-13 hours) with our first stop at the former Nazis Concentration Camp of Sachsenhausen.  Once we had seen toured the former camp we got back on the bus and were driven into Berlin. What cool artwork on this building! Big Brother is indeed watching.  We were taken first to the site of the infamous Berlin Wall.  It seemed to me growing up that the Wall was always there dividing  socialist East Berlin and East Germany from West Berlin’s democratic part (supposedly to protect it from “facist” elements that would “conspire” to prevent the will of the people in building a socialist state).  What it did in reality was cut off, by land, the West Berlin part of the city from the rest of the world.  The city was cut in half but the free western portion was surrounded by East Germany so you could only get into West Berlin by air.  Construction of the wall began August 3, 1961.  As well as the wall itself there was a very wide open section on the Eastern side of the wall.  This became known as the “death strip” as anyone who was seen there was shot.

The wall was erected primarily to prevent further emigration from the east bloc policies of East Germany.  Prior to the construction of the wall 3.5 million East Germans circumnavigated the East Bloc emigration restrictions by defecting from the German Democratic Republic; many of whom crossed from East Berlin to West Berlin to do so.  Since most of the emigres tended to be young and well educated the GDR then built the wall to prevent any further “brain drain” from the east.

There was a great many additional factors going on in Germany and the rest of the world (Cold War era) that also contributed to the creation of the inner border wall.  It is estimated that between 136 to over 200 people died trying to escape in and around Berlin.  From 1961 until November 1989 when the border was re-opened over 100,000 people tried to escape East Germany and about 5,000 succeeded.

The demolition of the wall began June 13, 1990 and it was completely removed by 1992.  However, the history remains.  There is a copper strip in the pavement that marks the former location of the wall.

                        One foot in the East, one foot in the West.

At the location of the famous American “Checkpoint Charlie” border crossing there is an opportunity (for a fee, I am sure) to have your photo taken with some men posing as American soldiers.

Many of the concrete sections of the wall have been painted by local artists and are on display.

From the site of the former Berlin Wall we were driven to the Holocaust Memorial.  This huge sculpture in the middle of Berlin commemorates the millions of Jews who were executed by the Nazi’s during World War II.  It is constructed on part of the Death Strip of the Berlin Wall in an area that housed many former administration buildings of the Third Reich. The official name is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and it covers 4.7 acres (19,000m²).  I found the image below on the internet which gives an idea of the size.  We, obviously, only wandered amid a small portion.
                     By Orator – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

There are 2,711 concrete slabs (called stelae) in a grid pattern on a sloping field.  They are all the same length and width, but vary in height from less than 8 inches (0.2m) to almost 15 1/2 feet (4.7 m). They are also not perfectly aligned, nor all precisely vertical.

 A block away from the memorial is the Brandenburg Gate, another iconic feature of Berlin.Then it was time to make the 2 1/2 hour drive back to Warnemünde and the ship.