Due to ongoing difficulties with the www.marymom.com site, all new posts starting with Thanksgiving, 2018 will be at
until further notice.
Due to ongoing difficulties with the www.marymom.com site, all new posts starting with Thanksgiving, 2018 will be at
until further notice.
Jonathan comes to visit us in St. George and after a week of tennis and golf we finish off with an overnight and a fabulous dinner at Micheal Mina’s at the Bellagio.
i was flagging by the time we got to the sole so only had a few bites of the lobster pot pie, the beef, and dessert. John and Jon did a fine job eating most of everything. Jonathan was also a spectacular chauffeur!
Unlike me John does not usually get a five-star multiple event birthday celebration. But at the end of his sixth decade I think he deserves it.
We start out with a visit with Jim and Eileen Kendall, our old friends from Massachusetts days. Eileen goes out of her way to provide us with a lovely lunch and we all toast John a happy 69th birthday.
After lunch we slog through some heavy traffic up to Healdsburg for dinner out and an overnight at the BW Dry Creek Inn. The rooms at the Dry Creek Inn where we have stayed many times before are in need of a total refreshing but it is only one night so it is not a big deal.
I have made reservations at The Brass Rabbit for dinner. I am thinking that this will be a nice fine dining place on the Healdsburg square. But no, it is really more like a bistro and although the food is good the atmosphere leaves something to be desired.
In the morning the birthday boy and I stop at Stonestreet Winery for a tasting. They have great Chardonnays and although the tasting fee is steep ($40 pp) we go for it. At least they comp the fee if you buy wine. (Which of course we do.) Their wines are great!
It is a long tasting so we decide to stop for lunch before returning home. We have lunch at Taylor’s Refresher for some mediocre hamburgers but great onion rings.
Our last birthday celebration is at the Smoked Pig in Fremont with the whole family. The adults enjoy the food while Alex and Sam do not. It is hard to find someplace where everyone will be happy. But it is good to see the family and now John has been thoroughly celebrated.
Happy Birthday to my sweetie!!
Last year I discovered that for Rosh Hashanah there can be more than apples and honey. The Sephardic celebration has a whole array of symbolic foods. This year we try to combine them into a cohesive side to our main event which is Instant Pot braised boneless short ribs with vegetables and mashed potatoes. Sarah also takes the traditional challah and makes personal-sized onion and poppy seed rolls.
On the plate are butternut squash with pomegranate seeds, dates stuffed with goat cheese, the ubiquitous apple, pickled green beans with cannellini beans, spinach, and our interpretation of a ram’s head – hard boiled eggs made to look like heads. The rolls came out a little on the pale side but were delicious nonetheless. Here’s a look at the inside.
If all these foods are not enough, John makes delicious boneless short ribs in the Instant Pot and I mash up some potatoes.
We have such fun telling jokes and making puns about the food. (This is apparently part of the tradition) and wish each other a happy and sweet new year!
It is a few days after we arrived back in the U.S. The flights home seemed pretty easy and even the 10 plus hours from Copenhagen to San Francisco went by relatively quickly. Sarah was at the airport to pick us up and we are busily struggling with jet lag. I slept until 4:30 AM today, so I am making progress.
I just finished reading through what I wrote and I can tell you that without this blog I would definitely forget stuff. John and I were just trying to remember what the bathroom looked like in Oslo with quite a bit of trouble. And John remembers everything! So even if you do not want to have a blog, having a travel journal should be a must! The nice thing about a blog is that you put your pictures into it and it helps with the remembering. I have been doing this for about 13 years on WordPress and I highly recommend it. It doesn’t just have to be for vacations as you can also chronicle birthdays, holidays, and any other event that is important to you.
Of course I am probably a little obsessed. I also have a food blog that I write everyday. I have about 80 followers who occasionally will say they like something I have written or have a comment. For me it acts as a food diary and dinner inspiration. So if you think I put too many food pictures in my travel musings, this other blog is full of food only!
For instance, here is a picture from the post about dinner last night.
I’ll be posting more travel later this year when I celebrate my birthday in Italy.
I did not think I would have time to write another post until we got home but I forgot about the five hour layover in Copenhagen. Plus the WiFi in Copenhagen airport is much faster than it was on the boat.
In Bergen we spend much of our time packing and getting ourselves together. We have to put our luggage out in the hall at 10PM tonight and so you have to plan what you need and what you can do without. But we do have time for a little walk around Bergen and have a local lunch.
The first thing we see on our walk is a statue of Snorri Sturluson. Snorri Sturluson’s writings provide information about persons and events in Northern Europe during the 10th and 11th centuries. He grew up in Iceland and in his writings is information about the discovery of Vinland.
Passing by Snorri we take a look at St. Mary’s Church. We were interested in looking inside the last time we were in Bergen but inconveniently someone was getting married.
The construction of the church is believed to have started in the 1130s or 1140s and completed around 1180, making this church the oldest remaining building in the whole city of Bergen. It was at least party destroyed a few times by fire but was always rebuilt.
Unfortunately no photos of the interior are allowed. There are some pictures on the internet though. It has a very fancy altarpiece which must pre-date the Reformation. It is all full of saints and decoration which would not have played well with the strict Lutherans. The Church was under the auspices of the Hanseatic League so escaped becoming a ruin.
There is also an interesting painting from 1676 which has a very Protestant point of view.
If you look closely at the figure on the right you will see a humble man. From his mouth you see a red line going directly to heaven. He is the Protestant. Next to him is a richly garbed man. His red line goes to the Virgin Mary and the saints. There also lines to interests-money, trade, revelry and more. We asked the woman at the desk about it and she told us it was to show that Protestants could talk directly to God while Catholics had to go through intermediaries and their attention was diverted to worldly matters.
After seeing the Church we head over to a favorite restaurant of ours, Bryggeloftet og Stuene. They are famous for their fish soup.
After lunch we walk along the historic district and enjoy the sunny-ish day. In Bergen it rains 5 out of every 7 days so we are lucky in the good weather.
With our packing done we go down to the Chef’s Table for one last meal with all the people there that we have gotten to know. Tonight’s dinner has a Scandinavian theme.
Then it is goodbye to everyone and off to bed because we have to get up at 2:30 AM!
Today we are in Eidfjord, a picturesque little town in fjord country. It is so small that there are no traffic lights and are ship parked in front of the hotel here totally blocks the view of the fjord for anyone staying at the hotel.
We take a short bus ride to Hardangervidda Nature Center to learn about fjords and the flora and fauna of the area.
First we are treated to a short movie showing the beauty of the region and then we go out to explore the exhibits.
Across the street from the nature center is a restaurant and the requisite gift shop. They have a novel way of keeping the grass growing on the roof under control.
Fall is coming to this part of the world.
On the way back the mountains are reflected in the fjord.
We are back just in time for lunch! The World Cafe is quiet today because most of the excursions left later than ours. As usual we end our lunch with an oatmeal raisin cookie.
There is not much to do in the town of Eidfjord and even less so today as it is Sunday. I take the time to catch up on my blogs, look out at the mountains and fjord, and concentrate my efforts to try to shake my cold before the long flight home.
We have a really big balcony and we put it to use watching the ship get ready to depart and photographing the beauty of the area as we depart.
We think about going down to dinner but I really do not feel like getting dressed and eating fancy food. Plus I am trying not to infect my fellow passengers. So we order room service and I get a hot dog. It is weird.
We go to bed early which is a good thing because around 12:30 AM the seas are so rough that things are clanging around and we are buffeted around for the next four hours. We have to spend a portion of our time in the North Sea and it is way rougher than the Baltic Sea or the fjords.
P.S. The title of the blog today, Pining for Fjords, is a reference to the Monty Python sketch, The Dead Parrot.
As we pull into Stavanger, Norway a strange sign greets us.
It seems that Houston is Stavanger’s sister city. Truthfully the only place in Houston that I have been is the airport and that is not a fond memory. Well, maybe they are sister cities because they are both ports. However, the little port of Stavanger is nothing like the busy gulf port of Houston.
Maybe it is because they are both the fourth largest city of their countries. But there is hardly a comparison.
Houston, TX. Population: 2,296,224
Stavanger, Norway. Population: 121,610
No, they are sister cities because like Houston the oil industry is the backbone of Stavanger’s economy. In 1969, a new boom started as oil was first discovered in the North Sea. Stavanger was chosen to be the on-shore center for the oil industry on the Norwegian sector of the North Sea.
With our guide we take a walk around Stavanger.
Our last stop is the Oil Museum.
Inside we learn all about the oil industry in Norway. There are displays about how oil is created, mock-ups of oil rigs, drill bits, and a rather bleak movie. In the movie the son of one of the original oil platform workers goes to visit his father after not speaking to him for twenty years. During the ride to his father’s cabin there are flashbacks to his childhood. He thinks about all the ways that oil has ruined their idyllic country life and made them want “things!” He also realizes that all the money that Norway has now also is a good thing bringing everyone in the country great security. The film ends with father and son sitting side by side looking out at nature and not speaking to each other.
For all the “we are the happiest nation” (which Norway says is them and not Denmark) they surely make some depressing films.
So Norway is busily raking in the 78% taxes on the oil profits while becoming more and more a green energy nation. They are not interested in using the oil but have no problem with selling it. Each Norwegian’s share of the profits works out to about 1.5 million NOK. (8 NOK to $1 USD). This sum is put into a trust for the good of the Norwegian people and a percentage is spent every year for their benefit.
Later we enjoy the sail away from our balcony.
Dinner tonight at the Chef’s Table. Our menu is called Xiang and is inspired by Cantonese and Huaiyang cuisine.
We decide today to go off on our own for the short time we will be in Aalborg. We are feeling the pressure of being herded around in groups where we only get to see a quick smorgasbord of what a town has to offer. It feels rather adventurous and slightly radical to duck the groupthink and act independently.
We head into town with the plan of catching a taxi out to the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art. Avoiding the tour groups we find a taxi with a pleasant driver who takes out to the museum.
The first thing that catches my attention is an outdoor installation of clothes apparently drying on clothes lines which give the impression of Tibetan prayer flags. The point of the prayer flags is not to send prayers to the gods but to send positive messages out to people everywhere. I am feeling pretty positive that this is the right place for us to visit today.
Inside we are met by the pleasant ticket seller who gives us the low down on the art and its arrangement in the museum. On our way to see the exhibit, The Power of Color, we stop to admire a painting by Max Ernst, a co-founder of the Surrealist movement in Paris in the early 20th century. These birds on a dark background have a madonna and child vibe to them.
The main indoor exhibition is named The Power of Color. The premise being that without color there is no art and that art can be distilled down to formless works of pure color and still communicate with the viewer.
I wish I had taken a picture of the information plate next to this painting. It reminds me a lot of the work of a friend of ours work. The faces morphing into petals and the splashes of color are very reminiscent of Alison Kendall’s works.
I really enjoy this sculpture done by French American Artist Niki de Saint-Phalle who has made these colorful creations called the Nana sculptures. I could swear I have seen this Big Nana somewhere as a logo to an event or tourism.
Another favorite is Two Watchers V by Lynn Chadwick, 1967. It reminds me of the Three Sisters (or Gossips) rock formation in Arches National Park.
Here are a couple more we enjoy –
Finally as we are walking out we see out the window a group of high school kids goofing around like kids anywhere (except maybe blonder.)
The nice lady at the desk calls a taxi for us and we are whisked back to the town center and after a stop at the local church we are back at the boat before it leaves without us. We have had a lovely morning on our own.
Later we have dinner at Manfredi’s, the very mediocre Italian restaurant. Everyone raves about it so there must be a lot of bad Italian food in their hometowns. I start with a Caprese salad thinking it will be a safe choice.
But we have a nice chat with the restaurant manager and a couple glasses of grappa and finish a pretty good day.
We are in Copenhagen, Denmark where it is a good day for mermaids, and also for fish, ducks, and umbrellas. The weather has really been superb with no rain and temperatures in the upper 60’s and low 70’s during our trip. But today it is raining. We don our weather gear and go looking for the Little Mermaid.
We spend the next two and a half hours with Sherman, our guide, as he walks us around Copenhagen and lets us in on the secret of why Denmark is the world’s happiest nation. Could it be their glorious past? They have a lot of statues reminding them of it.
This is a statue about the mythological founding of Zealand, the island where Copenhagen is situated. Swedish King Gylfi promised Gefion all the territory she could plow in one night figuring she would only be able to manage one acre. Crafty Gefion turned her sons into oxen and plowed up a lot of land which they threw into the sea creating Zealand. The hole became Lake Varnen in Sweden which is about the same size and shape as Zealand.
And then there are the statues of former Fredericks.
Finally sometimes it is good to put up a statue to remind you that you (Denmark) did some terrible things in the past that you wish to atone for. This statue of the slave, Queen Mary, was erected this year.
Sherman tells us that the Swedes are their sworn enemies. It seems like Sweden and Denmark have been feuding for years. Really? It is hard to tell all these blond people apart. Even though Sherman tells us that Denmark has become very good at surrendering, we can see traces of their militarism.
Maybe churches make them happy? Denmark is mostly Lutheran although not so many people attend services.
As we wind up the morning tour we must face the fact that although they pay 50% of their income in taxes in exchange for free health care, generous maternity/paternity leave, free higher education (actually the government pays you to go to college), job retraining if you quit a job you don’t like, old age pensions, liveable wages, etc. they are not miserable. In fact they are the happiest nation in the world.
During our afternoon tour we find some other reasons they are happy, great food! John and I take the Food Lovers tour which centers around the Copenhagen Market. The guide gives us so many treats that it is hard to swallow them fast enough.
At the end of today we are feeling pretty happy too!
Today instead of taking the train to Berlin we opt for a simpler and shorter outing to Rostock. It is not so much the place that is memorable but a person, our guide, Johannes. He is a graduate student in modern German language and history at Rostock University.
Johannes’s family has lived in the Mecklenburg/Pomerania area for centuries and they have experienced a lot of history. He is very forthcoming about his family’s role in Nazi Germany. Some of his great-grandparents were Nazis, even higher level Nazis. He told a story of one relative of these great-grandparents who was killed because she was handicapped in some way. When Johannes objected to it, they said that it was too bad that their professor was no longer living because he would have been able to explain it better. In other words, they had no problem with it.
His grandfather who is still living was recruited into the Nazi army when he was 17. He has a diary that he wrote of his experiences while in the army that he will not let his family read until he is dead. Johannes is hoping to use this diary to write a book about how it was to be a 17 year old conscripted Nazi soldier. He told us people only talk about their roles in Nazi Germany within their families although it is changing with the younger generation.
As we walk through the pretty reconstructed town of Rostock his commentary puts a dark edge on the scenes.
Johannes remarks that Germans are masters of building new things to look old.
Rostock was part of East Germany. As we drive into the city the suburbs have many Soviet style apartment blocks still standing. Most Soviet statues have been pulled down although there is still a Soviet fountain in the middle of town.
Since it is a lovely day we decide to stay in town and have lunch. We can make our own way back. We thank Johannes for his frank discussion about Nazi Germany and head into the city government square. Since we are both still having cold symptoms we need to find a pharmacy for cold medications. Rats Apotheke should do the trick.
Then it is off in search of some lunch. We are hoping for “wurst und kraut und bier” but settle for beer, French fries, and a curry dog. Curry dogs seem to be all the rage in Northern Germany.
This curry dog must be 18” long! And it is swimming in this awful sweet sauce. There is a sprinkling of curry powder on the veal sausage. I try to eat the ends where there is less sauce. This is a bad experiment!
We buy a ticket for the tram and then transfer onto the S-bahn which takes us back to ship. (It is always a little scary to take transportation that you are not sure whether it will take you where you need to go.) It is a good deal for 2 euros.
Later we have dinner at the Chef’s Table where the theme is Sweet and Salty.
NOTE: John tells me that some of the pictures are reversed or upside down on his laptop. Everything looks fine on my iPad. So sorry if this is happening, I do not know how to fix it.
We drop anchor here in Gdynia at around 6 AM and our tour needs to leave at 6:45 AM. We have only a short time here in this area as the ship leaves again at 1 PM and the port where we are anchored, Gdynia, is an hour bus ride from Gdansk. Why all the leading “Gd”s? “Gd” means the place is marshy much like Marshfield, MA must be a marshy field place. John is quite excited to be in Poland since he is half Polish and half Polish Jewish and is only second generation in the U.S.
Our guide is a chipper older lady who knows a lot about Gdansk, architecture, and history. She lived through the Soviet times and is so excited about having tourists and especially about the many new shopping malls. (I want to tell her that brick and mortars are dying but do not want to burst her bubble.)
Our walking tour takes us from the Golden Gate to the Green Gate along the Long Market Street.
Here is a fact I did not know. The original Prussians ethnically were not Germans. They were Slavic Poles and Lithuanians. There was also a large contingent of French Huguenots.
Here is the original gate to the city which is now an amber museum.
When I say old city gate, I mean reconstructed old gate. Gdansk was bombed to smithereens during WWII.
And here is what the picture on the left looks like today –
And here is the modern view of the picture on the right –
Here is an interesting political development in modern Poland. A right-wing party was voted into power recently and there is a large segment of the population who are very upset about it, including our guide. She says people are slipping away from democracy. In protest these liberal groups have been putting T-shirts on monuments with a constitutional slogan.
Next we have a demonstration about amber and how to tell whether amber is real or not. Real amber, unlike plastic, floats. Real amber can burn like a candle. Or you can trust a merchant who has the “real amber” certificate in their store (such as this one.) So actually the whole amber thing is a shopping opportunity.
Since our shopping opportunity is supposed to last half and hour John and I go out into the square and look at some archival photos of Gdansk. We also take selfies.
Now it is time for pierogi making. Yay! We are all ushered into a restaurant where we don plastic aprons and are given a bunch of dough and filling. After a demonstration we are on our own!
Best part, though, is that once our group is finished making a whole lot of pierogis, the chef takes them away, cooks them, and we sit down to a pierogi feast. They are stuffed with a seasoned, minced pork and are really good!!
After a little more walking around we go to a place called Goldwasser. There we will taste a mighty spirit that has actual flecks of gold in it. Plus we get some snacks to go with it.
On the way out we have a surprise gift! Each of us gets a small bottle of Goldwasser!
It is almost noon and time to get back to the ship since we have an early afternoon departure. I spend some time washing out some items and taking a nap. We head down to the port talk about going to Berlin the next day. After listening to the port talk about the 3 hour un-air conditioned train ride in each direction and becoming increasingly concerned about our stamina for such a thing since we both have colds, we decide to pull the plug on going to Berlin and opt for a gentler tour to Rostock tomorrow.
Later we have dinner in Manfredi’s, the Italian restaurant on the ship. Tonight’s dinner is more successful than our last foray there. Here are some of things we had –
Looking forward to our visit to Germany tomorrow!
In crossword puzzles the answer to the clue “confused or bewildered” is “at sea.” But here on the ship being at sea means that we are stopping at no ports. So it is a good time to sleep in, hand wash a few things, and go to a couple of talks in the Star Theater where we are always entertained while waiting with 50’s music. Most of the people on the boat are in their 60’s and 70’s and were not bopping to “Throw Momma from the Train a Kiss” when they were teens.
And, of course, eating is a main activity on an at sea day.
I take a picture of our room service breakfast and my lunch but I will spare you.
Here is the view from the front of the boat.
We go to the Port Talk for tomorrow which is Gdansk . We learn that Gdansk was 90% destroyed in WWII and has now been rebuilt to look as it was. I am wondering if this will be a Gdansk World kind of experience.
Then later we go to a talk about the Bayeux Tapestry which we have seen when traveling in France a few years ago. It is a 70 meter piece of linen embroidered with the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings and William the Conqueror’s ascension to the English throne in 1066. The fellow talking is very informative and has interesting graphics which he stands in front of the whole time he is talking. So that is a bit frustrating.
Afterwards John gets a negroni sbagliato which is like a regular negroni but substitutes champagne for the gin and club soda. I have a sip. It’s pretty tasty.
Our dinner tonight is Venice Carnival at the Chef’s Table. With the exception of the main course the rest of the dishes are red-ish in honor of the Venetian painter Carpaccio whose paintings featured a bright red.
We start with roasted pepper and tomato jelly with a goat cheese latte foam. It is tasty but more in a gazpacho way. The restaurant is slammed tonight and I think the jelly has sat out too long and turned into soup.
Next we have the eponymous Carpaccio. We get some sea salt and olive oil to put on it. I think we improved it.
Next we have a palate cleanser of peach juice foam which they call a Bellini. Meh.
For the main course we have a cod fillet with Jerusalem artichoke risotto and a tartufo foam. It is very good.
Going to Gdansk, Poland tomorrow!
Today we are in Tallinn, Estonia. John has recuperated a little and I am only a little sick at this point. Ah, Viking cruises, on four cruises we have four units of sickness. When we travel on our own we are rarely sick. Maybe we should either stay home or only travel on our own.
Anyway, Tallinn is a lovely town with lots of medieval buildings. We do a walking tour with Eneken, a very tall Estonian. One thing we learned from listening to The History of English podcast is that Estonians are not related to Latvians or Letts who are Slavs. Estonians originated from around Siberia and split into three distinct groups after they crossed the Urals-some went to Finland, some to Hungary, and some to Estonia. So their languages are similar.
Eneken tells about the school system where children are taught four languages, Estonian, English, Russian, and German. Tallinn is about 30% Russian, a holdover from Soviet days. Russians are made up of modern Russians and Soviet Russians. The older generations still hold suspicions of each other. The Soviets (makes clear that it is not Russians) deported thousands of Estonians to Siberia due to un-Soviet thoughts. Estonia only free since 1991 and the populace seems very patriotic.
During our second free time and because we are not sure there will be enough time to eat lunch we stop at the Peppersack for a snack and bathroom break.
We get back to the ship with about 45 minutes turnaround until our next outing, Soviet Flashback. We walk back down the long pier and encounter a vintage Soviet bus.
This excursion is a tongue in cheek look at life in Soviet Estonia. Our “General” lines us up and checks our passports and makes us march around the bus in an exaggerated fashion. He is quite funny.
On the bus he shows us pictures of Katyusha rockets and his beloved leaders, Stalin and Brezhnev, and we applaud. Then we all have a shot of vodka and a gherkin.
After pulling into a parking lot we de-bus and he gets serious and talks about his experiences. His grandfather was deported to Siberia and our guide had to hide in the forest to avoid being drafted by the Russian army where he would have gone to fight in Afghanistan.
After the liberation he worked with the Peace Corp. volunteers where he learned, among other things, John Denver’s Country Roads. We all sing together on the way back.
We have a great time on our Soviet Flashback tour and now have a couple of hours until dinner. Amazingly we stay awake. I guess we are over jet lag.
Dinner tonight at the Chef’s Table is called “La Route des Indies” and is centered around spices. It is a really tasty dinner.
John has a cold and our scheduled excursion covers a lot of the same things as yesterday so we opt to just hang around the ship. Hopefully John will be feeling better tomorrow.
There is a new menu at Chef’s Table so we go and try it. It is actually the best one so far. We plan on going again tomorrow.
Today we have a BIG day. We need to be ready to go at 8 AM for the lengthy process of getting off the boat and through immigration into Russia. The humorless border agents take a long time looking at each person’s passport and giving out provisional visas. However, after about an hour of rigamarole we are on our bus and heading into downtown St. Petersburg for our tour of the Hermitage.
Even though the museum does not open until 10:30 and it is 9:30, there are scads of people waiting on line in the huge Palace Square.
ALERT! I went to a lot of trouble putting in Cyrillic characters in this next section and now I see they have come out as question marks. I am not taking out my original text.
Nothing to do while waiting in interminable lines to get into the Hermitage? Why not have a ??? ????That’s hot dog to you non-Cyrillic readers. (At last a use for my three years of college Russian!)
We have tickets that let us in early. But lots of people also have these tickets and we are shuttled from one line to the next.
It is now 10 AM but even this half hour head start means that there will be fewer people angling for a look at the masterpieces. As someone who has been here when there is no advantage, it is much less crowded.
So we have about an hour and forty-five minutes to look with time out for bathroom breaks. Our guide tells us that if you went to the Hermitage every day and looked at each piece of art for one minute during opening hours it would take eight years to look at everything. So you get an idea of how few items we can look at for less than a minute. It is a little frustrating.
Here are some things that we see –
First we walk down a hall full of czars and czarinas and wives of czars. Then there is a hall with famous generals. Next are fancy reception and throne rooms. One room has a gold peacock clock which has mechanical movement and opens its tail (but not today.) You can click through for bigger renditions if czars are your thing.
We are hurried through the medieval and early Renaissance paintings because we must get to the da Vinci paintings. I am sad that we cannot tarry at the art that I love. The Madonna and Child Enthroned reminds me of the Maesta at the Uffizi. I take a quick detour and snap a few pictures.
The two da Vinci paintings are lovely Madonna and Child works. The early one has the BVM looking barely old enough to have a child. It is very crowded and the light from the windows reflects off the glass covering the paintings. Our guide says we should not try to take pictures and just get the image from the internet later but there is something about taking your own pictures.
Next we hurry by a Michelangelo sculpture, The Crouching Boy, 1530-1534. Perhaps my picture should be titled Boy Crouching While Americans Don’t Look at Him.
Now if we can just wait another ten minutes until the bathroom break we can see a Caravaggio and then the Rembrandts.
The Hermitage has a fabulous collection of Rembrandts. While the guide talks I walk around looking for a couple of my favorites.
It is around noon and after our promised bathroom break we walk across Palace Square to the new section of the Hermitage holding Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings. People are beginning to ask when we will have a little sit down and lunch. Not until 2 PM says our guide.
I ask John if he is having trouble with allergies because he has been sneezing a lot. No, he says, I have a cold. DANGER! DANGER! Not only do I not want John to be sick but I got pneumonia on a Viking River Cruise. I do not dare get sick. Right now, though, it is just my knee that is troubling me. It has been hurting since I fell in Oslo. We have been going up and down a lot of stairs today. I am having trouble bending it.
Nevertheless we soldier on. The Hermitage has a large collection of Impressionist paintings. There were two citizens of Imperial Russia that had large collections starting from the beginning of the movement. When the Revolution came in 1917 the Soviet government kindly expropriated the collections and put them in the Hermitage. So most of the art they have was created before 1917.
Here are a few I liked –
So now it is 1:30 PM and we finally get back on the bus to ride to the Storage Facility for the Hermitage. Only about 10% of the entire collection is in the display rooms of the Hermitage the rest of it is in this state-of-the-art storage and restoration facility. But first we have lunch in the canteen.
At this point my phone punks out because it has been surreptitiously updating itself and I cannot get back to taking photos until I go through some protocol that needs WiFi. So I cannot show you our delicious (sarcasm) lunch which was done in color-blocking that Mondrian would be proud of. We had dark red borscht, a plate of white meat chicken in a white sauce with white rice, and a dark brown chocolate muffin with chocolate chips. It was the reddest, brownest, whitest meal I have ever had.
We are not allowed to take pictures at the facility so let it suffice for me to say that we saw some old frescoes, fabulous antique clothing, a bunch of old furniture, and restored royal carriages.
We are pretty tired out by the time we get off the bus, go through immigration again, and head up to our room. We decide on room service and an early bed time tonight.
Today we have a lovely day in Helsinki. I think I am going to have to put some of my pictures in a smaller format because I have so many pictures of food!!! Our excursion is a Taste of Finland! Unlike yesterday’s tour this one was much better with a personable docent and lots of great information.
We start at the Old Market which is full of wooden stalls with lots of Finlandish taste treats. There are pastries, canned game, reindeer, and all sorts of fish.
We get to have a taste of smoked reindeer and this is followed by a sit down tasting of delicate gravlax and crawfish and chili mayonnaise on Swedish rye.
We have some time to look around on our own. John and I take the time to walk around the market but also have a little sit down with a cup of cappuccino.
Then we venture to the outdoor market. There is lots for sale here. All sorts of fruit and vegetables, prepared foods, and items for the home. It is hard to imagine holding this fresh air market when the temperature is way below zero. Our guide tells us that sometimes when visiting dignitaries visit their president whose palace is right across the street he takes them to the outdoor market to sit and have a cup of coffee and a treat.
right across the street from
The outdoor market is a wonderland of berries and mushrooms plus cooked items, clothing, and housewares.
Finland is 70% forest and 20% lakes. The Finnish people are allowed to go foraging and fishing for no fee everywhere.
We now have some free time to look around the market and the surrounding area. We go to the Town Hall (free bathrooms!), the Presidential Palace, and the Uspenski church which used to be Orthodox when the Russians were in control here.
After meeting up again with our party we walk to Senate Square and either the square is so big or the population of Helsinki so small that everyone can fit in it. There is a statue to Czar Alexander II because he was nice to the Finns and let them have some autonomy. The Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral is also here.
We board our mini-bus and take off for a short tour of the city when our guide realizes she has left two people behind. This is the second day in a row that our tour has lost people. After a while they are found and we hurry back to the boat.
Dinner tonight is at the Chef’s Table where we further ingratiate ourselves by talking about Croatia with the Croatian manager. John actually hints that he may be a distant cousin of the owners of Pilato Winery. We have no shame but now we do have a standing invitation to eat at Chef’s Table. Mission accomplished.
Dinner tonight is Asian Panorama. Here are some of the dishes –
On to Russia tomorrow!
We start today with some breakfast room service which allows us to avoid the crowded early morning food scene. The food come like a big puzzle all fit into a large tray.
Today is our first excursion and we are supposed to learn about Viking life. One thing I notice here in Scandinavia is that they try very hard to paint Vikings as explorers and adventurers rather than marauders. We get on our bus and fight through a lot of morning traffic to Viking Aliv! which is kind of a hokey Viking theme attraction.
At Viking Aliv we see mock ups of Vikings, Viking houses, Viking food, etc.
A few things we do learn are that the word “window” comes from the Vikings. Their homes had no chimneys, just a triangular eye at each end for the wind to pass through or “wind eye” which morphed into window.
Two other factoids are that Viking sails were woven of wool and that Viking helmets had nose pieces but no horns. The German composer, Wagner, was the inventor of horned Viking helmets.
We also go on a ride through a Viking story, Ragnfrid’s Saga, which tries to be Disneyesque but fails.
From there we go to an actual Swedish history museum where we see real rune stones, burial sites, and gold ornamentation of the Vikings.
We would have liked to stay longer but our time is shortened due to the fact that our leader has miscounted heads and left someone behind at Viking Aliv! and we have to go back and pick her up.
Finally we go to a restaurant, Sjatte Tunnan, in Gamla Stan, the old town, which is kind of a pretend Viking dining hall. We have a glass of mead and a pate that is made in the shape of a pear with a lingonberry sauce. It is pretty tasty!
We get back in time for the mandatory safety drill and a quick lunch before we head off through the Stockholm archipelago.
The archipelago is quite lovely with small islands with summer homes upon them. We do some relaxing on our deck and watch the world go by. Until tomorrow morning we will be steaming our way to Helsinki, Finland.
Tonight for dinner we are going to the other of the Viking Seas’s premium restaurants, Manfredi’s. We have a mostly bad meal. The positive things I can say are that the bread is very good, once he got past the errant bones John’s sea bass is good, and the dessert we make for ourselves, Parmesan with honey, are all good. Here are some pictures –
Today is the day we board the ship, Viking Sea, for our trip around the Baltic. But first we head downstairs to the RBG Bar and Grill where breakfast is being served at the hotel. It is very busy in the breakfast area with mobs of Americans bound for cruises today vying for the food as if it is the last meal they will ever have. I really do not like the buffet mob scene. What I tend to do is go to the area of the buffet where there are no people, the table of the unloved. As long as I do not have to be part of the noisy, grabby rabble I am happy with whatever I can cobble together for breakfast.
Today the hordes were not appreciating some smoked meats, radishes, pickled cucumbers, and liver pate. I look at these unloved ingredients and think, banh mi!! I find a loaf of dark bread that no one is eating and cut a slice and make a really delicious open-faced bahn mi. Yay, for unloved food!
Later in the morning we head out to the ship, the Viking Sea. Since we are on our own, we take a taxi instead of the Viking bus. Our taxi driver is confused and takes us to the wrong place. When he realizes his error he turns off meter. Before you know it we are through the formalities of getting on the ship and in our cabin. Here’s what it looks like.
Our cabin steward, Jerek, tells us all the ins and outs of our cabin and life aboard in general. We spend some time looking around and figuring out where we will put stuff later when our luggage is delivered. While waiting for our bags, we sample a little lunch.
John introduces himself to the bar team and we run into Castor who was on our previous cruise in June, 2017. He recognizes John and gives us hugs. It is nice to see someone we know. They refer to us as Sir John and Miss Mary.
After a sampling of various salads I decide on the squid and shrimp salad. The baked salmon is also really good.
When we return to our room our luggage has arrived and we spend some time getting it all sorted out. It is so nice to think that we will not have to live out of suitcases and unpack and repack repeatedly. A hint that I picked up on Cruise Critic is that you can put magnetic clips on the walls and hang all your various papers up. Underneath the wallpaper the walls are made of metal. I think it will really help us to keep our stuff orderly.
Even though we are feeling much more alert today, after our afternoon room organization we spend a little email catch up and sleepy time. Today instead of feeling drugged when we wake up we are much more alert. I think we are turning the jet lag corner!
We get dressed in fancier duds for our dinner at Chef’s Table at 8PM. Since the staff will probably be all new since we were here last time, we have to make them understand that we will probably be dining at this venue every other night regardless of their “rules” of only three reservations. Everyone is very nice, earnest, and sweet so we are off to a good start.
Our dinner tonight is called a Gastronomic Journey Through Time. First course is an amuse bouche, Roman Empire Delicacy. I am not sure what is ancient or Roman about it but we are served a romaine and cucumber gelee with a goat cheese mousse paired with a tangy Riesling Kabinett, Selbach, Mosel wine from Germany. I think the gelee is weird.
Next we have an oxtail consommé paired with a San Leonino Chianti Classico Reserva, 2014. Both the wine and the soup are very good.
Next we have a palate cleanser, “medieval black and blue,” which consists of vodka, mint, and mixed berries. It is dark red and I keep expecting to taste beets. Meh.
Here is a picture of our main course plus John who is looking dapper tonight. He substitutes a glass of wine for his traditional beer.
The main course is a real standout. It is Renaissance-style lamb filet with sweet potato mash, and a glazed carrot medley. We talk to the chef about it later. It is cooked sous -vide to a perfect internal temperature earlier in the day and then quickly roasted later at service. We like it a lot. It is served with a Donnafugata Sherazade from Sicily.
Finally there is a course that we can do without, dessert. I am a real dessertaphobe and this is especially true if the dessert features chocolate. So I mostly just look at the 21st century nut brownie with pistachio ice cream and sip at the Torre Vento Dulcis in Fundo (Moscato) from Apulia, Italy. (We were there in March!)
Even though we have harangued everyone with our explanation about why we need to eat at the Chef’s Table outside of the regulated times, they are nice enough to take our picture towards the end of dinner.
Our train this morning leaves at 5:56 AM but it is no problem because John and I have been up since 2:30 AM. Oh, jet lag (shaking my fist!) We leave the hotel in plenty of time (5:10 AM) to find our train at the station which is just across a plaza from our hotel. We arrive on the platform at 5:20. Better early than late! Around 5:30 the train rolls in.
Finally at about 10 minutes to 6:00 they allow us on the train. It is pretty packed. The train takes a little over 5 hours to get to Stockholm. Oslo and Stockholm are only 250 miles apart so the train averages less than 50 mph. However the train is equipped with WiFi so I finish my blog and do some puzzles. We also get a little boxed breakfast with wooden utensils.
Shortly after 11:00 AM we are in Stockholm. Our hotel is very near to the train station and they have a room that we can have right away.
After getting ourselves settled and trying not to fall asleep we head out to Gamla Stan, the oldest section of Stockholm (the island pictured on the left above.) John is super vigilant that I not fall down today.
We have chosen Matgatan for lunch today. It is highly rated on Yelp! Even though there is zero ambiance and the stools we sit on are super-uncomfortable, the food is quite good. We each order the pulled pork “burger” that comes with cole slaw and crispy potatoes. It is quite a bit of food. We should have split one order. Even John cannot eat it all. He must still be full from our train box.
After lunch we walk around for a while but it is Monday and as is typical in Europe almost all museums and attractions are closed. We try to find a church to look at but strike out. Since we are both really tired we head back to the hotel around 3:00 PM.
As we enter the hotel we notice that their restaurant is the RBG Bar and Grill. Any restaurant named after the Notorious RBG will be our landing spot for a drink later today.
As it turns out we are really tired since we got up so early and not hungry so we make coffee and tea in the room and have an early night. Here is hoping that we will sleep better tonight.
Boarding the ship tomorrow!