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Monday, September 05, 2005

Stockholm-Helsinki-Tallin-St. Petersburg-Berlin-Copenhagen- Military Tattoo (Edinburgh)-Belfast-Dublin-to London--August 2005


Crystal Serenity



Mary-Dancing in the Palm Court on Crystal Serenity


I boarded the Crystal Serenity in Stockholm by 12:00 noon and just had my lunch in the dining room. I am taking this opportunity to email you while we wait for our staterooms to be ready.

First of all, I don’t think I will ever travel again in the summer. I waited in line at least an hour to check in at Lufthansa. Then I waited in line another hour to go through security. This is quite a contrast to traveling last October, November, January and February. The flight itself left on time and arrived on time in Munich; the food was satisfactory. There was a toddler in the row in front of me who cried, or rather screamed, almost the entire trip. Perhaps she was sick. The airport in Munich is very modern and beautiful. With my carry-on on wheels it was extremely easy to navigate to my connecting flight. I already had my boarding ticket for the connecting flight, but out of curiosity, I went up to the desk to ask about the symbols on the monitor. The agent answered my question, and then he asked to see my boarding pass and said he could give me a better seat. When I boarded the plane, to my delight, I was in Business/First Class. The leather seats are definitely wider and more comfortable, and lunch was served on china and water and drinks in stem glasses! Unfortunately, this was only a two hour flight as opposed to the overnight flight. The Arlanda airport in Stockholm is very modern and beautiful. To my surprise, I was the only Crystal passenger on this flight along with one entertainer. We were met by Crystal representatives and taken by taxi to the ship. Meanwhile, many, many passengers were sent on various flights to Newark, which means they left home early in the day, and then on a connecting overnight flight on SAS to Stockholm, arriving at 7:00 AM. They had to hang around a hospitality room until noon and then they were transported by bus to the ship. This is exactly what I did not want, and I had requested my travel agent to ask for an evening overnight flight, then the connecting flight in the morning, and Crystal honored the request. At least 35 people on British Air flights were diverted to other airlines at the last minute because of BA’s strike, but their luggage remained at Heathrow! As it turned out, they did not receive their luggage until we arrived in Berlin.

We arrived at the pier, and, after checking in, we boarded the ship and were ushered into the dining room for lunch. We were allowed to go to our staterooms by 2:00.

Stockholm

We were in Stockholm overnight Friday. The time difference is 6 hours later than Boston. On Saturday I took the complimentary shuttle into town. Stockholm is very beautiful…wide streets, parks, clean, no graffiti. The architecture is beautiful. The Palace is rather stark, but the Opera House and the original Town Hall are spectacular. They all overlook canals. Characteristically, I chose a luxurious hotel, the Grand Hotel, to use the ladies' room. I was tempted to have lunch at their beautiful covered outdoor terrace, but I decided to return to the ship. Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera into town.

Tonight was formal night and the Captain’s Welcome Party. There are 2 Ambassador Hosts who are good dancers and the other 2 are fair. I had a chance to be in the spot light with the 2 good dancers.


Sunday...Helsinki, Finland


Sibelius Monument-Helsinki

We are now 7 hours later than Boston time. Again, I took the complimentary shuttle into town. Surprisingly, they still have trolley cars. It is a gray day, with London drizzle, so I wore my windbreaker with the hood which was far less cumbersome than using an umbrella. I asked someone in a Spanish group of tourists to take my picture with the Parliament House in the background. I also took a photo of a demonstration against anti-torture in China against people who have different religious beliefs.

At lunch today I met a lady from Cologne, Germany, who is 90 years old…sharp mind, wears glasses only for reading, no hearing aids, and she added that she has her own teeth!

I have been invited to so many parties and dinners that I have the invitations taped to the mirror over the desk in my stateroom.


Monday, Tallin, Estonia

We are 8 hours later than Boston time. Again, I utilized the complimentary shuttle into town. We were told that we have to have our passports in our possession when we go ashore in Estonia, Russia and Germany. In addition, in Russia we can go ashore only on Crystal excursions (ship group visa) unless we had procured an individual visa before leaving the States. Tallin is very quaint, picturesque, easy to walk about and a very old European village.  Many passengers set out to look for amber jewelry in the many jewelry shops.

At Sea

I had a glorious 3 days in St. Petersburg, Russia. Through Crystal I arranged for a private tour with a driver and guide. My guide was a delightful, informed, intelligent young lady. Her English was excellent, and she had never been outside of Russia! Would that my French, Spanish and Italian were as fluent! We toured Peterhof, the summer palace of Peter the Great. It was heavily damaged by the Nazis, but they have done a magnificent restoration. In their gift shop I spied a beautiful evening purse large enough to accommodate glasses, program, fan, etc. However, they would not accept a charge card, only cash in rubles or dollars. Julia, my guide, said that Alex the driver could lend me the cash. I accepted the offer as I had been searching back home unsuccessfully for an elegant evening purse.

That evening we had an included excursion: a canal boat ride to the Last Palace, built by Prince Abamelek-Lazarez, the last palace to be built in Imperial Russia at the very beginning of the 20th century, designed for receptions and balls. Our enjoyable cruise was followed by a reception in one hall and then dinner in the elegant dining hall, followed by a cabaret performance in the palace theatre.

On the following day Crystal again arranged a private tour of Catherine the Great’s summer Palace and my guide was again the delightful Julia. Of course, with the private tours, we were able to eschew the throngs of tourists waiting to enter the beautifully restored grounds and palace, which were heavily damaged by the Nazis.

That evening we had an early dinner on the ship, followed by a private tour of the Hermitage, the Winter Palace, without the daytime crowds, followed by an exquisite performance in the Italian Skylight Hall by the State Hermitage Orchestra. The Nazis were never able to occupy the city itself; therefore, the Hermitage did not sustain heavy damage. On the third day I booked an excursion of the newly opened Gold Room at the Hermitage, along with a tour of its major art works.

A side note, the immigration, custom officials, guards, sales people at the various sites never smiled; they were abrupt, curt and laconic in their responses...not very different from the last time I was here. Perhaps they think that they are still in the once powerful Soviet Union!



St. Petersburg--St. Isaac's Cathedral 





Peterhof--Peter the Great-Summer Palace




St. Petersburg--Cathedral Smole


Berlin



Brandenburg Gate 






Berlin Airlift


 

I didn’t get up until 9:30 this morning and had to rush to get to breakfast before 10:00. Right now the atrium lobby is packed with people for the Grand Buffet, so I am taking this opportunity to utilize the Computer Room. Yesterday I was up at 6:00 AM to be ready to leave before 7:00 for our excursion to Berlin. The ship docked at Warnemunde, Germany. The weather forecast was not encouraging. I wore a sweater, a windbreaker and I carried an umbrella. By the time, 2 ½ hour train ride, we arrived in Berlin the weather was beautiful, sunny, temperature in the 80’s. Fortuitously, I had stuck my large straw hat in my tote bag. So I shed the sweater, windbreaker, etc. into the tote bag, and I was able to leave them all on the bus that took us from the train station into the city center and to various points of interest. I saw all the places that we have heard about: Brandenburg Gate; the remnants of The Berlin Wall; Checkpoint Charlie; we walked over the bridge from the West to the East where on February 10, 1962, the captured U-2 pilot Gary Powers was released to the Americans in exchange for Rudolph Ivanovich Abel, a Soviet spy held by the US; a monument of the original planes that the Americans used in 1948 in the airlift of food and supplies to West Berlin when the Soviets blockaded the city in a failed attempt to take over the city. We viewed the Holocaust Memorial opened only this past May—over 2,000 concrete slabs of various sizes, arranged as a labyrinth, no inscriptions, nothing. At the Allied Museum there was a beautiful bronze sculpture to commemorate the tearing down of the Wall in November 1991: 5 horses stampeding the wall; also on display were the original building of Checkpoint Charlie, tributes to JFK for his famous speech in 1961, which he ended with “ Ich bin eine Berliner.” We had lunch at the Kempinski Hotel. You would have loved it….lots of sausage, noodles, rice, some kind of meat balls that were too salty for my taste, some kind of turkey mush. As a result, I had a lunch of 2 salads and 2 servings of apple strudel! The Pergamon Museum houses an impressive collection of ancient world artifacts. A highlight is the altar from the Zeus Temple, a monumental Greek temple, shipped to Berlin in the late 19th century. We had a view of Tiergarten Park, Bellevue Place and Charlottenburg Palace, the impressive summer residence of Prussian emperors.

We arrived back at the ship at 11:00 pm; I washed my hands and went into the dining room where they served a light supper for us, and then I went to bed.


Copenhagen


Monday and Tuesday we were in Copenhagen. I found the city beautiful, very walk able, wide boulevards and clean; the weather was sunny and comfortable. Naturally, I went into the Palace Hotel to use the ladies's room. Palace Square is impressive. I walked over to world-famous Tivoli Gardens. This is really an elaborate amusement park with beautiful gardens, restaurants, games, etc. I talked with one of the guards, and he claimed that the Queen (Denmark) periodically visits and rides the roller coaster! Also, he said that Clinton, George #1 and George W., Queen Elizabeth and a host of other well-known figures have visited Tivoli. I imagine that it is very beautiful all lighted up at night. Stockholm and Copenhagen are 2 cities in which I could spend more time.


Edinburgh, Scotland



Military Tattoo

We arrived in the port of Rosyth (an ugly pier) for Edinburgh, Scotland, early yesterday morning after a very rough day at sea on Wednesday on the North Sea. I was feeling just fine, attending lectures, conversing, etc. until I went to my stateroom to get ready for Formal night, when, to my surprise, I felt sea sick. I took 2 Sea Calms and promptly upchucked, twice, followed by a couple of dry heaves. I finally called the nurse for an injection; it worked immediately; however, not to my surprise, it kept me wide awake! Strangely enough, a few medications do that to me. I finally had room-temperature ginger ale and some crackers and took 2 ibuprofens; I had a decent night’s sleep. The next morning I learned that many, many people were sea sick as well and had missed the Captain’s Party and Dinner.

I took advantage of the complimentary shuttle into Edinburgh, a 45 minute bus ride. The monument to Sir Walter Scott is massive and very impressive as is Edinburgh Castle. However, I found the city noisy, congested, streets narrow, gray, rainy off and on; the buildings very old and massive. The houses and apartment buildings are all of sandstone and dull. On the way into the city, the countryside was pretty with lots of sheep grazing, but the houses all looked alike, all in a dull grey or red sandstone, a few with a very small green patch and garden. I didn’t see a single structure in wood, but I imagine that is due to the climate here. We were told that in the winter the sun rises at 9:30 AM and sets at 3:30 PM! And many days the sun remains on the horizon. The traffic was unbelievable with the streets congested with cars, tour buses and construction. Of course, it is festival time, but this is a city I do not care to visit again.

Last night we went to the Military Tattoo in the stadium of Edinburgh Castle. This is a magnificent spectacle with military marches, bands from Norway, Australia, New Zealand, and many other countries, fifes and drums, bagpipes, dancers, motorcycle riders in formation, fire works, etc. I was wearing dockers, 2 sweaters, a scarf around my neck, my windbreaker with the hood over my hat, and I brought along a blanket from my stateroom to sit on. I was sorry that I had not brought the 2nd blanket to cover my lap. However, we were so packed in together that it provided some warmth. I couldn’t believe that I was sitting there in a light rain and a cold wind in an open stadium. We were told ahead of time that umbrellas were not allowed, which is understandable. They would obstruct the sight line and perhaps we would poke each other’s eyes out! I thoroughly enjoyed the pageantry; however, like Carnavale in Rio, once in a lifetime is enough for me. Although we were seated as a group from Crystal, leaving the stadium was chaotic, and I was very glad that I was with my friends as we walked arm-in-arm among the throngs of people, down a very steep cobblestone hill with the momentum a little frightening. If someone had tripped ahead of us, we would all have gone tumbling down. Eventually we found our guide waiting at the bus. There were 14 Crystal buses! Two people from our bus were missing, but I assume that they were able to board another bus.

Incidentally, Edinburgh is properly pronounced ED-in-burruh. We are still in Edinburgh, but I slept until 9:30, and just made it to breakfast in the Lido, which I prefer, but there is always somewhere open that you can get breakfast, lunch or dinner, and there is always room service available. In fact, last night when we returned from the Military Tattoo at 11:30 PM, there was a grand buffet in the Crystal Plaza, but I went straight to my stateroom and got ready for bed after drinking a glass of skim milk, which my stewardess leaves in my refrigerator each night, and a few crackers.


Oban, Scotland

Today we anchored off Oban. With the cold, driving rain and wind plus having to tender into port, I decided to remain on board the ship. So much for Oban and Edinburgh! Indeed, I’ll leave Scotland and its weather to Queen Elizabeth and to Prince Charles and his mistress...oops, his Camilla to enjoy! Incidentally, a lady from London was at my dinner table. She said that she went to school with Camilla. I asked her what she thought of the royal marriage; her response was, "She makes him happy." Hmm....We can read lots into that!


Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK


It was a perfectly beautiful sunny day, comfortably warm with a gentle breeze. I found Belfast beautiful and the people lovely. Everyone I spoke with was warm and friendly and delighted to meet us. I usually do not shop, but there was a little dress store with the most attractive window display which piqued my interest. Inside, I found the most extensive collection of elegant dresses/gowns, not inexpensive, but still affordable, that I have ever seen in one store, Saks and Neiman Marcus notwithstanding. Unfortunately, I was not properly dressed to try anything on in addition to the lack of time. The shop has a web site, but, of course, I would never be able to buy without trying the garment on. I’ll just have to fly back to Belfast! And in time for the next gala at home!

Naturally, we have been kept abreast of the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina. We receive a daily bulletin of world news. Additionally, we have TV with CNN in our staterooms and in the Fitness Center.


Dublin, Republic of Ireland
 
I received a complimentary excursion to the Irish National Stud Farm in County Kildare, a region famous for its horse racing, breeding and training. In particular, the National Stud Farm is famous for the breeding of thoroughbred National Hunt Race Horses as well as its famous Japanese Gardens, which are designed to illustrate the life of man in traditional Oriental symbolism. . It was really fascinating to see some of the famous race horses which are now used as studs. Our guide, a very recent college grad, blushed constantly as he explained the process. He told us that he once had a group of nuns to guide through the premises. Oh, what fun that would have been to witness!

Are you ready for this? We had lunch at the Kildare Country Club, a spectacular property along the River Liffey covering 330 acres of magnificent manicured gardens, landscaped grounds, woods and lakes. We dined in the Arnold Palmer Room overlooking the 18th green and the 10th fairway. This will be the site of the September 2006 Rider Cup! I picked up a score card and a cap for you in the pro shop. I wonder if Meg's infamous Edward will be attending the Rider Cup on behalf of his boys VJ and Chis DeMarco!

After lunch we visited the Trinity College Library, founded by Elizabeth I in 1591. The college is the home to the famous Book of Kells, a beautifully illustrated manuscript produced by Irish Monks and dating from approximately 800 A.D., making it one of the oldest books in the world. It was a very long, exhausting day; after dinner and the show I showered and went to bed.


Waterford, Republic of Ireland


Again, the weather was perfect….sunny, warm, but comfortable, with a gentle breeze. Again we had to tender, but it was a pleasant ride to the pier. Another passenger and I walked about. Waterford is a delightful resort town. We went into the Granville Hotel to use the ladies' room and to have a look-about. To our surprise, we found a charming, quaint, delightful property. No, I did not buy any Waterford crystal.


Guernsey, the Channel Islands

We are in port today….anchored off Guernsey, one of the islands occupied by Nazi Germany! Can you believe the coincidence!. A month ago until we watched Masterpiece Theatre’s Island at War, neither you nor I realized that the Nazis occupied any part of England! Victor Hugo lived here in exile with his wife from 1855 to 1870. During this time he wrote his masterpiece Les Miserables. His home, Hauteville (high town), is now owned by the City of Paris; it has been redecorated with a collection of beautiful French antiques. The view from the top floor includes the French coast, just a few miles away, as well as a voyeuristic peek into the former home of Juliette Drouet, Hugo’s mistress. The German Occupation Museum tells the story of the German Occupation from June 1940 to May 1945. The Channel Islands were the only British soil to be occupied by German forces.

Tonight is my last night on board, and I understand that I will receive a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, which I will have sent to my dining room table for all to enjoy. We have been a table of eight congenial companions and have had nightly lively, stimulating conversations. One of my dinner companions was the guest lecturer on Drama in NY and in the West End. He highly recommends 2 new shows: Billy Elliott, music by Elton John, and Woman in White, which is scheduled to open in NY in November. And I just received word that I have received from the Concierge a voucher for the VIP room at Heathrow to await my non-stop flight from London to Boston.

I am ready to go home! It is September 3rd.

PS The VIP Lounge turned out to be a significant disappointment. The air conditioning was not working; the snacks were junk food; however, there were soft drinks, TV, newspapers and magazines, and all the alcohol anyone could want!

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