Immediately following our brief, yet flat out 'Desert Dunes to Dungeons' sojourn, we continued this holiday by stepping aboard our home for the next 2 weeks; the "Navigator of The Seas", to take us north through the Baltics.
Denmark, Norway, Finland, Estonia and Russia...bring it on! No northern lights at this time of year...we will have to come back for that adventure another time!
Being berthed close by the historical Dock 44 at Southhampton, where the Titanic left from in 1912 on its fateful trip...it still feels sadly nostalgic as you sail past.
Perhaps not something best dwelt upon, as you proceed to sail north through the chilly waters of the North and Baltics Seas...
It has been a hectic past week...with a jam packed schedule in Abu Dhabi and London, we have finally found time to chill out onboard this rather large Royal Caribbean ship.
Very late in the evening, or perhaps even the wee hours of the morning - hard to tell as it never truly gets dark here at this time of year...I was woken by that deep,
throttling sound of a ship's foghorn...
Was it ours?
I bloody hope so!
I had never before experienced a sea fog, so this was very new to me. It was eerie, especially at night, yet a little thrilling at the same time. A very 'Jack The Ripper at sea' kind of sensation.
The horn went off every minute or so for what seemed quite a few hours. At least no one sounded back!
We welcomed a sea day ahead as we sailed past Scotland and towards Norway...time for us to check out our new ship, find the best spots to eat, and sample the cocktail of the day. Life is so tough at sea...
I think it was at this time, during a happy hour trivia session at one of the 'pubs' on board, that we met a couple, who we just called 'Wales'...and they called us 'Oz', (for the whole cruise) for obvious reasons...besides, at our age, it was easier to remember than names! LOL.
Just one of those lucky moments, and we spent quite a bit of time with these awesome guys (aka funny bastards) onboard, and sometimes ashore as well. New friends for life now...like I say in my 'cruising travel tips'...you never know who you are sitting right next to on a cruise...so say g'day, introduce yourselves, and you may have new friends for life.
First stop: Oslo, NORWAY.
Low and behold, we had a friend here to catch up with too!
So funny, this travelling business...but the more you travel and meet people, and of course only if you choose to - which we do...you get to meet up with them again!
Liné, (we pronounce it Leena, hope that's right, Liné??...lol), we met on our Galapagos Island trip last year, and as she travels a lot herself, (she is an avid wildlife photographer), we were lucky that she was going to be at home in Oslo, (even though she is Danish), on the one day we were there. Woohoo!
That meet up was organised for the end of the day, so we disembarked and headed off to find an 'Off/Off Bus to take us around the sights of Oslo.
(Oh, tip: Keep your On/Off Bus ticket receipts, as you get a discount after 3 or 4, valid in any city, just stick to the same company.)
Such a quaint, quiet little city, I mean, really, it's a capitol but not crowded, except for all the tourists at the restaurants and bars come lunchtime, and for the entirety of the afternoon.
Again, the weather was kind. It was sunny and warm...warm to us Aussies, but I'm think perhaps a hot day in Oslo...the locals were out in force grabbing the rays, and man, can these guys get tanned or what?! No hole in the ozone over here...not like us in Australia, where we basically put sunscreen on to go to sleep. ;)
Heading out on our city tour, we hopped off first to check out the Palace...but apparently there was a visiting head of state from Croatia, I think, and it was closed, so we wandered around, annoyed a few guards and moved along. :)
Never mind, it was such a glorious day and I was looking forward to seeing the famous sculpture park. To be honest, all I knew about this park, was that it was famous for one particular totem of naked bodies, a crying baby sculpture, and aside from that...I had no idea. Poor Trev was thinking, 'Oh crap, a sculpture park?'
Low and behold, life's little surprises. This turned out to be an absolute TREAT!
Vigeland Sculpture Park should be on everyone's list who visits this city. And, on a blue skied day like today, nothing was finer. Allow yourself a couple of hours, really, it's spectacular, it's free, and it deserves your time.
Disclaimer here: Nude sculptures ahead..
My favourites are here...but there were so many more...hundreds!!!!
Oh, before anyone gets shocked...yes...they are all nudes.
So scroll down fast if nude sculptures offend you.
I was watching a school excursion of 5-6 year olds, being held up to touch both...the giggles of laughter from their efforts was adorable.
Sadly leaving, I think a picnic rug and a little spread of food and wine would have sufficed the day here ...but moving on, we jumped back on the bus to head around the various sights, but ending up nearby the Oslo Ice Bar...our meeting place with Liné. It's cute, that when I said to Liné that I'd like to visit the Ice Bar...she said something along the lines of; "Do you really want to go in, that's just for tourists"... Hellooooo? That's us! No ice bars Down Under! You just wait till you want to cuddle koalas...zzzzz...haha. x
Finally finding the place, unfortunately a few minutes too late, as a tour from our cruise ship walked in just in front of us...and as it's really small, someone exiting said "Don't waste your time, it's so tiny in there..."
Well, NOT to be deterred... we followed onto the line of cruise shippers, who had paid more than their fair share to be there...well, well, well, they got to us and gave me a ticket to go in, and apologised to Trev the there weren't any more... We kind of shrugged and said 'that's ok, I'll just go in'...lol!
So I donned the fluffy lined parka, and headed in for my free vodka in a glass made of ice... It was fun and novel, but to be honest, it wouldn't have been worth the $100AUD or so for us to both go in.
I'd like to do The Ice Hotel further north one day, but today was a quirky little treat. And, when I came out to dump my coat off...there was Liné, smiling away, ready for a big hug - it's been a while!!!
As we needed to be back onboard by 5pm, we all headed down towards the beautiful waterfront for a few bevies and good catch up.
It was great sharing travel stories, and hearing that Liné was heading a lot further north shortly to photograph polar bears, and in a few months off to Brazil to look for Jaguars. She has also photographed the limas of Madagascar as well as the sloths of Costa Rica. A girl after my own heart!
I love her zest for nature, and we invited her to come and visit us in Australia next year. I have a dear friend who works with koalas, so she should be able to get up real close and personal with our fluffy icons.
Next stop: Copenhagen, DENMARK
From Hans Christian Anderson's famous Little Mermaid Statue, to the Tivoli Gardens, and all the beautiful waterways between, this city enthralls you with it's cleanliness, it's efforts to be carbon neutral, and it's overall charm and beauty. No pollution, just clean clear skies, much like Norway.
It is huge compared to Oslo, so again, we opted for the On/Off bus to take us around for the day, which included a canal boat cruise.
Driving past the very crowded Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world - opened in 1843 - (the oldest is also here in Denmark...these guys love to have fun)...we thought we'd leave that for the hundreds of kids that were pouring through the gates. I imagine it would be so pretty at night.
We found ourselves at the spot to catch the canal boats, it often seems like we get off one boat just to get back onto another!
This was the best move, wow...what beautiful canals they have.
The Nyhavn Canal is the most famous, (sorry, I had never heard of it), but now, I won't forget. With picturesque coloured buildings lining the waterways, crammed with wooden sailing boats moored bow to stern...restaurants, bars...tourist heaven.
A fabulous place to eat lunch and drink some Rosé under an umbrella, and just enjoy people watching. Every photo is a picture postcard.
Don't NOT come here, next time you visit.
Plenty of time relaxing whilst cruising the harbour, motoring quietly past beautiful old church spires and equally impressive modern arty buildings, all the while I had one last stop in mind.
The Little Mermaid Statue.
We sailed behind her from a distance, which didn't impress me all too much, however, at our last stop to get back on the bus to take us to the ship...I had a sneaking feeling that she wasn't that far away...So I scrambled down the rocks, and low and behold, amongst a myriad of other tourists, I managed to muscle in and get my selfie with the wee bronzed beauty.
Next Stop: Tallinn, ESTONIA.
One more country to visit before we get to Russia...the former soviet state of Estonia, now proudly independent, and a fabulous stopover!!!
You can get an Off/OFF Bus around here, but basically all you need to do is get yourself up to the 'Old Town of Tallinn', and you'll be set.
It's picture perfect.
Old, cobblestoned, castles, turrets, craft stores, glass blowers, little taverns, onion domed orthodox churches, town square lined with restaurants and filled with market traders... Breath in..., continue... Flower markets, petunia boxed restaurants, gorgeous men in long leather boots...;) horses with carts, and Gin and Tonics in giant glasses!
We did choose an amazing restaurant for lunch...one that traditionally served stewed bear, stewed wild boar and stewed elk ...no thanks - not for us...however, what I did order, was the most delicious plate of mushroom dumplings known to man...wow...Sometimes, you truly remember a place for their food. This was one. Main square, 'Olde Estonia' restaurant, Tallinn. YUMMM!!!
Need I say any more?
I should. I could elaborate, but sometimes, a picture is worth 1000 gabbles of mine.
Sadly, our day draws nigh, and it's time to hop back on our ship to head to Russia.
We loved Tallinn, and if you could stay overnight there, it would be great seeing it come to life in the evening. That's the draw back with cruising...often leaving before the lights come on.
Next stop: St Petersburg, RUSSIA.
This is the port stop most of us onboard are super excited about. It's a two day stopover thankfully, as there is SOOOO much to see here!!!
It's also the only place where we had purchased tour tickets from the ship, actually, months prior, as to not miss out on seeing as much as possible, and also to see it as safely as we could. It's not the place you want to be left behind, after your 'short stay off ship visa' has expired!
When you haven't visited Russia before, it's such an unknown quantity with regards to culture and security these days.
But it was COOL!
Aside from the border security off the ship, where you are warned not to smile at the guards or they can refuse you your temporary visa...clearly it was a challenge for Trev and I NOT to giggle and make light humour...it was hard, but we wanted that Visa! Our Russian tour guide actually poked fun at Putin and 'Red Russia' most of the time.
He was hilarious.
Formerly named Leningrad, and once Russia's capitol, St Petersburg is most definitely worth a visit, and you couldn't possibly do it in one day. You could easily spend a whole day just in The Hermitage Museum, which on it's own is grand and palatial, being the former Winter Palace, but it's what's inside that makes it amazing.
It is the second largest art museum on Earth, (having over 3 million pieces) as well as having the largest collection of paintings in the world, including 2 rare Da Vinci's, which were a privilege to admire, (as there are only 24 known pieces of his in the world, I didn't know that - whoa...), as well as a whole room dedicated to Rembrandt, with 14 of his Masterpieces.
With over 1500 rooms, you best get a plan, and map out what you wish to see. You could spend a week in here and still not see it all, and you'll be leaving a trail of breadcrumbs just to find your way out! :)
Besides paintings, there is so much more. There is a fabulous Egyptian display, complete with sarcophaguses. Take your time. Expect crowds.
Note: Have a big drink of water before you go in...you can't take any fluids in with you since someone threw sulphuric acid over a Rembrandt 12 years ago. How could they??!! Astonishingly, they have restored it.
I am unashamedly a Renaissance fan, and with works by Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Raphael, Monet, Rubens, Van Gogh and Renoir inside, if you are a fan, or even not... you are in for a treat.
Our guide described the Masters so brilliantly by saying this: "How do can you tell if it's a Masterpiece?"
"By hanging it next to another painting."
The perfect analogy.
Sadly, we had to leave.
We would definitely like to revisit one day.
So, we all know the Boney M song..."Ra, Ra, Rasputin, Lover of the Russian Queen"... Yes? Okay, wanna see where it all happened? Come to St Petersburg.
Oddly...the male singer of Boney M, Bobby Farrell, died in St Petersburg, on the anniversary of Rasputin's assassination...December 30. Coincidence? Hmmm...
You get to walk through the former Royal Palace, where Rasputin was a regular guest of the Queen...and they have life sized characters placed as they were in the day...also, in a macabre fashion, photos of Rasputin's dead body on display. I won't post photos of that...one for you to see...or google. However, the rest of the Palace upstairs, of course, was elaborate, to say the least. Our funny, 6 foot 5 tour guide with a wicked sense of humour, and even stranger 'igor styled' laugh...often would say..."Put on your sunglasses for this next room, as the gold is blinding", particularly in the Royal Home Theatre.
Right, moving along...
My favourite church, visually, and one that had been my Mac screen saver for quite some time...was our next stop.
The iconic Church of The Savior on Spilled Blood...or 'Spilled Blood Church'. This was built on the site of Alexander II's
Excited much to see it?
You betcha !!!!!
As expected these days, it's pretty much par for the course... there is often scaffolding masking the beauty of such iconic buildings. This was another one...that said, it IS for the preservation of the building for future use and joy, and I must admit, they really try to do one bit at a time, as not to be covering the whole structure. Oh alright, once past my initial shock and wailing, I was ok...and chose to seek my glass half full, instead of empty. There was another side to take photos...
But hey, have you ever seen inside?
Oh my goodness! This by far, in my humble opinion, is the most ornate, and most visually incredible church interior I have ever seen, (not counting extraordinary places, like the Vatican and Sistine Chapel...)
This was not about paintings or murals...this was 100 % tiny mosaic tiles. As colourful as I'm sure they were when they were first laid...and still, in my photos, they look like paint.
Breathtaking, is an understatement.
So many Cathedrals and Palaces....so little time!
Another great historical Cathedral to visit, is St Isaac's ...the tallest Orthodox Cathedral in the world, and the fourth largest Cathedral in the world, and not without quite a history. Under the Soviet rule during the 20th century, it was changed from a church to the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism.
With the fall of the Soviet regime, it was returned to a place of worship, and from 2017, it has become Russian Orthodox.
The front columns are engineering feats, but I think the giant carved wooden door inside certainly took our attention. But the paintings inside, wow...much like St Peter's at the Vatican. Frescos everywhere, so very beautiful. Wish we had the time there to climb the dome. Do it, if you go!
(One last church to add here...we actually did this one the following day, but it's easier to group them all together.) Tomorrow is a visual treat as well!
Sometimes, you may feel, " Really? Another church?" Don't stop...keep going, they are all amazing, and their individual stories make them all so unique and well worth visiting.
This one, Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral, is the burial sight for nearly every leader since Peter the Great.
The Russian Royal Family who were brutally murdered in 1918 are there, including Anastasia, who was originally thought to have escaped. Prince Phillip, the Queen of England's husband, even gave a DNA sample, as he is a distant relative of the family, to help identify fragile remains.
A very brutal act, at a very dark time in Russian history.
Another very ornately decorated Church...the extravagance sometimes is overwhelming...and kind of spoils you for other, more simple churches in future.
Phew, what a day of sightseeing, I didn't even add we had a wonderful boat cruise through the city's many waterways...and we still have much more to come tomorrow!
Back to the port - so nice to have an overnight stay here.
As we passed back through the ship terminal, we noticed passengers all dolled up, as they were heading out for an evening of Bolshoi Ballet...
Swan Lake no less.
Lucky ducks! :)
After seeing all these incredible Cathedrals and Palaces, I was wondering if there was any gold left at all...
Clearly yes, as you are yet to see Catherine the 1st's Summer Palace, and the amazing Peteroff Palace and Fountains. Both heavily damaged during WW2, they have been painstakingly restored, and yes, perhaps using the last of the gold...? I still can't believe there's any left! ;) Put on your sunglasses.
Firstly, Catherine the 1st's Summer Palace... Because every girl needs a Summer Palace, right?
Catherine the 1st is often referred to as a 'Cinderella', as she was a commoner and a maid...who married extremely well!. Her story is fascinating, have a read...
Located in the heart of Pushkin, only 25 km's outside of St Petersburg, this Palace, is one of dreams. Like I said, restored to its former beauty, inside and out...just wait till you see the interior. The Germans occupied this during WW2, and burnt it to it's shell when they left. The famous 'Amber Room' was the most famous of rooms, and it's solid amber panels have never been found. Once again, the restoration work is amazing.
This gemstone (actually, fossilised tree resin, but classified a gem) was found in abundance at the time, on the sea floor of the shallow harbour.
We helped with the parquetry floor polishing, as we had to pop disposable slippers over our footwear.
Fair call. I wonder if I could get my family would do this at home...? Hmmm.. :)
It's a privilege to be able to enter such a place. These Royals sure had there share of real estate!
Inside, well...room after room after room of opulence, of gold,
of 'Let's be the Best' in every aspect. The greatest example of outdoing the neighbours you'd ever see.
This definitely was a deliberate attempt to show off their wealth to visiting dignitaries. It's no wonder the people rose up eventually, don't you think?
Such a stark difference between the rich and poor...
Being Royal didn't help them in the end though. :( ...
The grounds, particularly on a day as glorious as this, were an absolute pleasure to stroll through.
Saving the best till last, I think.
I'm an outdoors girl, and the grounds of the Peterhoff Palace, are nothing short of spectacular.
Another incredible feat of post war reconstruction. This Palace had been annihilated during WW2.
The fountains are all gravity fed, and lead your eye all the way down to the Baltic Sea.We didn't venture inside this Palace, as the true beauty are the fountains and landscaping.
'Wow' doesn't even come close.
(I posted the video over on the Video page.)
You just imagine the beautifully dressed people at the time, wandering around enjoying garden parties, under parasols, horses and carriages awaiting them at the front entrance... Oh, to have been a fly on the wall back in the day.
Plus, we had another glorious day to enjoy this place.
Do NOT miss this if you visit St Petersburg!
So, who wants to visit Russia now?
All this, was just in and around St Petersburg, in only 2 days!
Might be time for a sea day as we head to our next country...
Next stop: Helsinki, FINLAND.
The one thing I sometimes don't understand whilst cruising, is the fact that occasionally they only stop for a very short period at a particular port. Hard to capture a new city, let alone a new country, when you are only there for 5 or so hours.
This was one of these times.
Helsinki is quite close to Russia, Stockholm and very close to Tallinn, and there is a fair bit of holiday traffic between these four countries, I wish we had more time.
Nevertheless, we got off the ship as soon as we could, jumped on yet another On/Off Bus...these are just so convenient, and most often they have a stop right by the cruise ship terminal.
You can always Google ahead of time to check out those details.
(Good to do that anyway, and see what stops are offered. Be prepared, then there are no surprises or disappointments.)
Sometimes you have to get on a private bus provided by the cruise line, to usher you out of a port, particularly if its a working container port, where a lot of big ships must berth.
Helsinki still feels like a bit of a sleepy seaside port, that is expanding more than ever. I had never seen so many cranes, so much new construction, well, aside from China... Good for them, shows a prospering economy...
I'm sure they will be lovely waterfront apartments once they are all landscaped and finished... (Finnish-ed, dad joke...lol).
We did pass their main building here, the Helsinki Cathedral...but like I said in St Petersburg...we have been somewhat spoilt for choice, so I took a quick exterior snap and headed to the Waterfront to catch our canal cruise around the town.
We always prefer the Old Town sector of a foreign city..., and proceeded to the main waterfront area, where there were quaint market stands, selling amazing salmon rolls as well as Kransky styled sausages, along side pewter, furs and various assorted Nordic souvenirs.
I did buy something, shock horror...I fell for a pewter moose head wine aerator that you place on your bottle of red.
(5 months home now and I still haven't used it...)
We had limited time, so we chose to spend it, yes, on a boat... There are so many canal cruises around the cities of Scandinavia...we love it. It's relaxing, it's scenic, and there are always plenty of photo opportunities. A lazy way to see the place, and we were all for it.
Sometimes we hike, and sometimes we sit.
Bye bye, Helsinki...perhaps another time?
We will be back for the Northern Lights in the not too distant future. xx
Next stop: Skagen, DENMARK.
Picture a sleepy seaside village... The aroma of the day's catch still lingering in the air...
The very pinnacle of Denmark...where the two seas, the Baltic and the North, collide in sometimes spectacular fashion. Both different colours, and both going in different directions.
Check out ancient bunkers in the dunes...
The first, or maybe last line of defence in many a war... The beautiful natural scalloped cut outs in the shoreline...
The gorgeous lighthouse, as well as the barefoot church.
Add to that a quaint town, almost Seaside European/Russian orthodox...
(Is that even a thing?)
Restaurants and cafes bursting with fresh seafood, ice creams, and ice cold lager. Welcome..., to Skagen.
Here, we had organised to hang out for the day with our new 'old mates'...
Our Welsh buddies. Bloody brilliant.
Casual, carefree, and no agenda. The perfect last shore day on holiday!
It was as quiet and scenic as it looks. Us four were the only ones there in some areas.
Seriously, we just ordered a chicken and bacon sandwich. Owner delivered it with a ciggy hanging out of the corner of her mouth. I love it...She didn't give a rat's ass about workplace health and safety...she's a fisherman's daughter...and we were her guests!
Fine by me...when in Rome!
So there comes the end of another cruise.
We are blessed to be able to travel like this...and even more so, we are so fortunate to be meeting such fun and like minded people on our journeys. The destinations are amazing, but celebrating them with new found friends, and further plans with them down the road, we find so rewarding, and exciting.
Let me just add, that the cool Welsh friends of ours, the evening of the day we all left the ship...they were working the Rolling Stones concert in Cardiff, Wales. Ya reckon we asked them if they could get us in?
Yeah, of course we tried.
Bugger, it was impossible.
What an end of the holiday THAT would have been!!!! Anyway, we will definitely see you again, Wales.x
Now we are off to London for one last hoorah, and you can read that at the end of my Dubai to London blog.