The Great Auntie Adventure: European Edition – Installment #3

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Day 4: At Sea

I spent the majority of this day chatting up the crew members, particularly our favourite bartenders Leo and Edi, as well as our waiter and assistant-waiter: Adrian and Freddy. I love the staff on the Celebrity Cruise ships. They are interesting, kind and when treated like human beings rather than part of the ship, usually incredibly funny.
I went out with Rosario for a second date and the boy is smitten. Frankly, it’s sad. He suffers from a good case of boring (likely caused by his having nothing else in his life than his job because cruise ships are very demanding of your time and energy) and i am managing to avoid him as much as possible over the next couple of days in the hopes that he will realize how unrealistic the appraisal of the situation is. Firstly, he is going to get himself fired. Secondly, he hardly knows me well enough to be inviting me to visit him for a month in India next time he’s on vacation…
The meal this evening was completed with the most wonderful hot chocolate i have ever had. Freddy returned to our table and proved himself the king of pampering Heather by making me an orange hot chocolate. The smell drew the attention of everyone else at the table. Yum.

Day 5: Stockholm

Stockholm is just teeming with activity and culture. There are no skyscrapers, so the view is fantastic. The architectural styles change between one floor and another – this is called the “national romantic” movement. The best example was City Hall, best known for being where the annual Nobel Prize banquet is held. The famous “blue room” is not blue at all! It is, however, very reminiscient of an Italian palazzo and the natural light streaming in from the windows in the roof.
We wandered to the Winter palace, took a picture, and then went to Riddelholm – the oldest building in Stockholm (13th century). A Franciscan church on its own island, Riddelholm is also where the Swedish monarchs were buried for over 600 years. We were lucky enough to get a private guided tour from one of the most knowledgeable tour guides i have ever met. I knew a little about Swedish history from my Imperial Russia class last fall, but it was greatly added to in the hour this beautiful, blonde young woman spent walking around with us explaining the order of the Seraphim, the royal houses and how Swedish aristocracy works.
While waiting for the shuttle bus to take us back to the ship, we were lucky enough to watch two swans preening in the harbour.

Day 6: Helsinki

My guidebook described Helsinki as a meld of ultra-contemporary and neo-classical style architecture. We spent the entire day in churches and the three we visited (as well as a department store which we went into to finally buy me some socks – there was a lingerie sale! whoot! and they have lots of different products we don’t get in North America) supported this description.
Our first stop was the post office where i got stamps, a couple of postcards and a spoon. This the first, but not the last, pay toilet we would encounter. We then meandered through a residential district to Temmpeliaukio Kirkko – a church hewn out of solid rock with copper wiring for a ceiling. Fortuitously, there was a piano concert being held and the light shining into the large, circular room accompanied by classical music was just so peaceful. We stayed in our sights listening for about an hour until the pianist took a break.
We headed over to the Udenski Orthodox cathedral, a massive brick structure on top of a hill with a detour through “Senate square.” We stopped for an apple in front of a huge white building which we discovered to be a church when a bride and groom came down the front steps. Up we went. The inside was “simple, but not plain” to use Aunt Lorraine’s description. It reminded me of Brunneleschi’s Santo Spirito – which is saying something because that’s my favourite church. We were grateful not to have missed the stately, muted magnificence of Tuomikirrko (Dome Church).
Udenski cathedral was very much the opposite. Ornate (with only four patches of undecorated wall in the entire structure) we were overwhelmed by the colour and detail. The interior was being restored and we got to watch some interesting maneuvering of heavy machinery and a worker attempted to pack up for the day without driving his equipment directly on the marble floor. It looked like it was going to be a long, tedious process.
We stopped for a beer on the second harbour while i wrote postcards. We then walked through two more markets (and found a mailbox) before heading back to the shuttle by walking through the lovely Esplanade park where Aunt Lorraine deprived me of the joy of napping under a lilac tree under the grass.

Baltic (Saturday June 9-Tuesday June 12)

Day 1: St. Petersburg

This day began poorly. At 1 in the morning we rec’d a call from Canada that apparently everyone was worried about us and had not heard from us in over a week. I had blogged two days prior, but i guess that didn’t count.
The port exit was forty-five minutes (walking) from our dock. There were no taxis.
It was a long, scary walk though we knew we were not lost. Being in a country and having no idea how to communicate with the population is not pleasant. I have never been so happy to see someone as when i could finally make Ilya out in the distance waving to us as we dragged our sorry butts towards the second passport inspection. For the record, we had absolutely NO problems with immigration. When they saw we had visas and were Canadians, we got waved through. Once they did not even check to make sure the passports were OURS! If only crossing the border into the U.S. was so simple.
Ilya once told me that the person he admired most in the world is his father. At the time, i thought this was sort of an odd statement to make (though by comparison to Ilya’s other comments sometimes, it isn’t), but after meeting his father i understand what Ilya meant. Mr. Popov is a gentleman in the true sense of the word. Providing a hand as you decide out of the bus, polite compliments, a jolly sense of humour, and a wealth of knowledge on many subjects – he and Ilya were the best tour guides two Canadians could ask for.
We took the bus into the city, walked down Nevsky Prospect (the main throughfare) stopping at Kazan cathedral and the monuments to the generals of war against Napoleon: Kutuzov and Barclay. We then went to the WInter Palace (aka the Hermitage), walked down the side of the Neva to the park in front of St. Isaac’s, climbed up to the top of the coppola of St. Isaac’s for a stunning view, went for an authentic Russian lunch (salad [potato, tomato, onion], Siberian dumplings in sour cream and German beer [Kronenburg]), the old harbour, the admiralty buildiing, a sailing boat race and Peter and Paul fortress/cathedral. By this time i was exhausted. I fell asleep sitting on the stairs waiting for the rest of our small group to walk through an exhibit.
We decided to really live like St. Petersburgites and take the metro back to the ship. The metro in St. Petersburg runs under the rivers and canals – this means it has a very steep pitch and the escalators continue for over five minutes. I could never have navigated it on my own. We took a taxi from the port authority back onto the ship, took direly needed showers (it was a beautiful, hot and sunny day) and went to pick up drinkies before going to dinner. We collapsed on our respective beds upon getting back to our rooms. For the third night in a row i had problems falling asleep.

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