September 10 5:00pm
The ship’s whistle just blew so we’re off to sea again. The last few days have been an interesting introduction to cruising – though I wouldn’t recommend you start out this way! We left Amsterdam on Saturday afternoon. We sort of wasted our time Saturday morning. We had to check out of the hotel at 10:30 but wait ’til 2:00 to show up at the docks. We walked around, had breakfast/lunch, window-shopped. You can imagine it, I’m sure.
We picked up our luggage and took a cab to the docks. (Everyone thinks we have so much luggage though we have just one checkable piece and one carry-on per person! I guess when you put them all together it does look like a lot.) Our luggage was whisked away and we went upstairs to wait for the check in. It was all new to us – so we were both excited and anxious, at the same time.
Finally, we got to our rooms and they are wonderful: The lighting was just perfect to make them seem luxurious and large. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t small, windowless, and easily filled by our junk, but at first glance they weren’t! We explored the ship a bit. It is pretty confusing and easy to get turned around, but there are plenty of places to go, each with a different atmosphere, so again, it seems like the ship is very big.
For our launching (?), take off (?) Gerry Sr. and I went out onto the upper decks to watch the city of Amsterdam disappear. One fun thing: We saw a person bungee-jumping from a crane. That alone made me feel seasick!
Actually “sea sick” was the word for the entire ship for the first 24 hours of our cruise…As soon as we hit the North Sea, we encountered a lovely little gale (58 knot winds with 20 ft seas…) Not fun, thank you! Fortunately, Gerry Jr. and I had taken the seasickness pills Bonine before getting on the ship. We were fine, though sleepy. Dad took one too, about 7:00pm when we realized what we were in for. We gave Oscar a Dramamine at 8:30, but he couldn’t make it through dinner. The ship was really rocking and rolling! By bedtime, it was bad. During the night, things fell off the tables in our rooms, drawers were opening and closing. Lying down it wasn’t so bad, but trying to walk was a challenge. At the buffet breakfast, we didn’t even attempt to carry our trays. Fortunately, there were waiters at the ready to carry (and drop) them for us. Gerry Jr. didn’t make it to breakfast at all. I spent the morning in the area around the (emptied) indoor pool, dozing and drawing. The motion of the ship and the seasickness pills are a perfect sleep inducer! Finally we went to lunch but Gerry Jr. couldn’t stay and left without eating. Afterwards Oscar and I went to the Stratosphere (and it feels like it too, on 12th floor of the ship) to sit and play games and look out the windows. We even walked outside on the 12th floor deck in the gale force winds. Pretty fun, though a little scary. We had to hold on to the rail when the big gusts came! It didn’t feel so rough up in the front of the ship and the sea calmed a little during the afternoon, so it was very pleasant.
By dinner, we were “dancing on the waves” again, but this meal everybody made it through, sleepily to be sure since we are in the second seating (8:30 pm).
Today was our first port day. The sea was as flat as a table! And the sun was shining! We were in Aarhus, Denmark. We saw some interesting sites: Something called Den Gamle By, which is a place where they have reconstructed old houses from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. They actually take down the old houses, piece by piece, and rebuild them in this special place, creating the streets and a town as it might have looked about 300 years ago. The kids didn’t seem to like it and were a little restless. We didn’t get to see as much as we would have liked. We walked back to the historical center and visit the Domkirke (the main church) with its ancient tombs under the gothic arches; the Viking Museum, which is really just an exhibit of the excavations under one of the central square banks, which revealed the Viking era city of Aarhus beneath the streets of the modern city. That was a good introduction to the really old history of Denmark, so from there we went to a museum of Denmark’s pre-history and looked at Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Viking Era artifacts and exhibits. The highlight of the museum was the “perfectly” preserved body of a man who had been sacrificed (throat cut and thrown naked) into a peat bog. Try to imagine that you are out one day, minding our own business, cutting yourself some peat, and lo and behold! you find the body of someone who’s been there since 80 BC, hair and skin intact! (Same effect as seasickness, I think!) It was pretty interesting to see him in a museum, but I would not want to find someone like him in my backyard!
Other things worth mentioning: We had the MOST delicious hot dogs for lunch from a kiosk on the street. First, the hot dog skin was really taut and the hot dog was tasty. It was served to us with ketchup, mustard, remoulade, fried onions, raw onions and sweet pickles. Try to duplicate it! You’ll be surprised at how delicious a hot dog can taste!
The second thing worth mentioning is how the taxi drivers treated us. (I tried to imagine this happening in San Juan or New York…) Each driver got out of his cab to open the doors for us. (Not enough?) The cabs were spotless. The shock absorbers had been installed recently and were functioning. Each asked us about what we had seen in town and what else we planned to see. The driver who brought us from the museum back to the ship made sure to bring us on a different route than the one we had taken to the museum to show us some other neighborhoods and areas of the city. Both drivers were very knowledgeable about Aarhus’ history and important sites, and spoke impeccable English. They were nicely dressed. Of course it helps that both here and in Amsterdam the cabs are Mercedes, BMWs, Volvos and other luxury cars…just like San Juan, eh?
The weather on this trip has been so unlike San Juan, that it is only the years spent living there, where we never pay attention to the weather, that makes me forget to describe it…It’s cold. In fact, this morning, getting off the boat in Aarhus, it was 50 degrees (F) with the sun shining. When it started to rain just after lunch, the temperature dropped and we were all shivering in our fleeces.
The countryside around Aarhus is really pastoral. Everything is quite lush. The fields are green and gold and the hills gently roll down to the sea. The Queen’s summer residence is in Aarhus, up on a high hill. She has a spectacular view over the green parkland and forest, and the roof tops of the city as she looks out to the sea.
I bought some handmade glass items in a little artisan’s market set up just for our ship…Spent $13 total to buy a Christmas tree ornament and a stick pin. They were also selling sweaters (hard to resist, especially in these temperatures), paper, ceramics, wood items and other hand-loomed wools.
So here, we are back on the boat, steaming southward toward Copenhagen – though we aren’t going to visit it for another 8 days. We are on our way to Helsinki, Finland but have another day at sea tomorrow, before we get there. As we head out of the port, I am thinking I’ll take another seasickness pill – just in case!
September 13 9:00pm
An emotional few days! September 11th was an at sea day for us on the ship… a fairly routine and quiet day. We read, and studied some, but basically did “ship” things. Early in the evening, I went to Guest Relations to ask some mundane question that now is meaningless. As I went through the lobby, I noticed the television had pictures of the World Trade Center – but, on fire? I stepped closer to see and I felt as if I were watching some sort of movie…Planes flown directly into the towers? Impossible! Hollywood! I looked around me at the grim faces of the other passengers watching and I realized I needed to go up and find Gerry and the kids and be with them to figure out how the world could get turned upside down like this.
I can tell a better story about how this happened: I was actually wasting my time and exploring when I went down to Guest Services, and had thought up some useless question to ask more for something to do than anything else. When I saw the TV screens, I was curious and walked over there. I did look from the TV to the people seated on the couches watching. No one said a word to me. The people were ashen and seemed turned to stone. I walked a little closer until I could hear the commentary from the TV. I was in total disbelief! When I went upstairs, I told Gerry “The World Trade Center has collapsed!” He just looked at me in disgust and said, “Oh, Betsy! Don’t exaggerate!” Then we turned on the TV.
They were as shocked as I was. We watched the films over and over and over again on the BBC in our cabin and never did it seem to become any more real. It was like a dream, a sickening dream. Ironically, it was not only a “formal night” on the ship but a night in which we were to have a reception with the captain…A reception that had already been postponed once because of the gale. It was hard to get any kind of a party feeling, but we dressed and went to the reception. We sought out other Americans and talked about the attack. It still seemed unreal, but when the captain of the ship took the stage and offered his condolences to all the Americans on board and the American nation in general, it was real… and fortunately, we were not alone in our shock and horror. At dinner, our neighboring tables (Brits to one side, Germans to the other) also offered their condolences. Everyone was as shaken as we were. For us, the tragedy was very close to home: Gerry and I lived in NYC before we moved to Puerto Rico. Gerry worked at the Municipal Building, just blocks from the WTC. We lived in Brooklyn Heights – just the river’s width away. The towers seemed as permanent a part of New York as Manhattan Island itself.
Yes, we walked the streets of Helsinki the following day and visited the sites. But if I tell you we were like walking dead, I would not be far from the truth. I felt like a person who is in that time between the death of a loved one and the funeral…In many respects, I think that is true. Do I know anyone personally who has died in NY or Washington or Pennsylvania? (At this moment I don’t know, but I think not.) But, at the same time, I knew them all … My people, my country…attacked by who knows who, and why?
In Helsinki, yesterday, we visited the sites – Senate Square, the Rock Church (beautiful!) and walked around the City. After lunch, we found an Internet cafe to check our email and check the wire services for more info on the attacks in the US. The pictures and videos on the Internet were even more graphic than those on the television! How could this have happened???
After our day’s tour, we returned to the ship, hungry for more information. How I hate the TV! (We heard someone comparing internet news and newspapers to television, comparing the linearity of TV and radio to the “non-linearity” of the internet and print…How true!) We are desperate for more information, but the TV keeps repeating the same old same old – nothing new for hours! It is horrible to be dependent on what (even) the BBC thinks we want to hear and see!
Today, when we boarded the bus in St. Petersburg, the first thing our guide did was to give her condolences to the Americans and the American people… The expressions of condolence and horror of the other nations has been some comfort…we do not feel so isolated in our grief. Truly, the savagery of this act against innocent people has shocked the entire world.
We spent the day in St. Petersburg…What a grand city it must have been! It is like something out of a historical movie set – So incredible! Yet, up close – so run down. We had a bus tour of the city, a tour of St. Isaac’s Cathedral (a museum, not a church), lunch and a tour of the Hermitage. All were spectacular. The tour of the city showed us all the major sites and buildings, but perhaps it was good that we couldn’t see them up too close. St. Isaac’s was spectacular, as I said earlier…Rivals St. Peter’s in Rome – but is stripped of so much of its majesty by the fact that it is regarded as a secular building and not a church.
Lunch was good – and copious! We had cold appetizers of salmon, sturgeon, black caviar and red caviar…hot appetizer of mushrooms Florentine (in sour cream and with onions), borscht (super good!!!!), and then potatoes and salmon with caviar in cream sauce. I didn’t dare eat the caviar, having suffered an allergic reaction in the past. That was okay since the borscht was so delicious I ate mine and Oscar’s!
We spent the afternoon at the Hermitage museum…It is way too much to describe here but suffice it for now to say that it is incredible that so many of the world’s art treasures are here and sad that St. Petersburg is not more accessible to the rest of the world.
September 14 3:30pm
Today we got up early again to go on another tour. On today’s docket “Peterhof, St. Isaac’s & Russian Art Museum” but unfortunately the Russian Art Museum was cancelled earlier, before the cruise, and St. Isaac’s we visited yesterday… So for a whole day trip we were only seeing one new thing and having the same lunch we had yesterday. We tried, successfully, to get out of the day trip and went on just a half-day trip to Peterhof. Now let’s see if we can get our money back! I hated to give up an afternoon in St. Petersburg and off the ship, but we are actually getting very tired. We go to bed late every night no matter how we try not to, and we’re up early in the morning, touring all day. This makes three days in a row and tomorrow we are in Estonia! So the rest will be good for all of us, I think.
Peterhof was so enjoyable. First the place is beautiful. We drove about 50 minutes outside of St. Petersburg and saw some of the residential areas and the countryside. Everything was much neater and cleaner than in the center of St. Petersburg. Peterhof itself is impressive – not quite Versailles – probably because the restoration is so incomplete, but it is immense and richly decorated in gold gilt and silk. The grounds are beautiful too. Can you believe the trees are already turning colors here (the temperature has been in the upper 50s every day for the last week.)?
The gardens are Italianate, with lots of fountains and statuary, long walks that suddenly open up on spectacular views of the palace (This is the Summer Palace; part of the Hermitage is the Winter Palace) on the Gulf of Finland. Oscar was particularly interested in the “joke” fountains, hidden fountains that would suddenly squirt you with water when you walked by them! To think that all the fountains were built in the early 18th century, so no motion detectors as we know them…He needed to know just how they worked, what else?
We were late back from the trip due to a large traffic jam near the entrance to the port. We, of course, needed to have our passports checked getting back on the ship and then the search of our bags for bombs – consequence of Tuesday’s attacks in the US. We had a bomb drill on Wednesday evening and security on the boat is much stiffer now than before. People are glad about it and patient with the long lines and waits.
Tonight we sail for Estonia – Everyone says it is quite a treat and very special. It is only 195 miles away so I imagine we’ll cruise fairly slowly since we dock at 7:00 am and leave here at 5:30 pm. Also we will set our watches back 2 hours when we go to bed tonight…That I need to see on a map. Coming up here we lost an hour on two consecutive nights (which adds to the reasons we are tired), but we are going to make them both up on one night… We’ll get to sleep late tomorrow by hook or crook, I guess.
Off to pry the children away from their newest computer game – something about building empires between the end of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the age of empires – Does this count as history?
September 21 7:45am
The grief caused by the attacks in the US is with us wherever we are and never far from the main topic of conversation. I made a list of some of the ways in which we saw the support and concern of the Europeans for all Americans caught up in these events. Many of them brought tears to my eyes, and I hope they can bring to you the knowledge that Americans are not so disliked in Europe, as the some would have us think…
Well, lots has happened since I last sat down to write in this journal. I have learned a lesson though: Each day you delay, it becomes harder to get back to it.
I left you sailing towards Estonia. Yes, it lived up to its reputation and was charming and interesting. We started out in the rain, which fortunately cleared up as the morning rolled on. We had a really good lunch in this nifty little restaurant. The restaurant was below street level in the basement of an old “hops” (as in beer) warehouse. The ambience was rustic, but the food was anything but! I had a delicious salmon ceviche-type dish with vodka, and a fish soup that was just perfect for a cold wet day. Gerry Jr. had garlic bread – not what you’re thinking but if you come to my house for dinner after I get home I am going to make it for you: It was some type of dark (black) bread (though not rye) cut into strips that looked like french fries. These had been fried in garlic and oil until they were almost crunchy, and then were served hot with mayonnaise laced with garlic. Believe me – you want to try this!
The next day was another sea day. We had fairly nice weather – at least the sun was shining, so we were able to sit outside on the deck, wrapped up in wool blankets! Yes, some people braved the cold to get in the hot tubs, but we were not among them. After living in Puerto Rico, you can tell bathing suit weather from non-bathing suit weather… I did go to the gym with Gerry Jr. They have these neat exercise bicycles that have a computer screen. On the screen you see what looks like a video game track and you ride along it making turns and going up and down mountains. You control where you go and you can even go under water! It certainly takes the boredom out of exercising. Again, as in all sea days, we also try doing some school work. The kids are showing an interest in their studies and it is certainly a long lesson in patience for mom and dad.
It is now September 17th and we are in port in Rostock, Germany. Most of the passengers have gone off to Berlin, but we are planning to visit Berlin in December so we stayed in Rostock. Our ship docked in a place called Warnemunde, which is a seaside resort town. We did take the train to Rostock and visited the city. Had a nice lunch in an outdoor cafe…But when we got back to the ship, we split up. The Gerrys went back to the ship and Oscar and I walked through the town and down to see the beach.
It was again, like a movie set – but a foreign movie this time! The beach was wide and broad, set behind high dunes so that you could not see it from the promenade. It was a sandy beach with some stones. Dotting the beach were the wicker beach chairs I associate with England. They have the big canopy that comes up over your head and side wings that protect you from the wind. I don’t think I had ever seen them in real life before, so it was interesting to see that they have drawers under the seat to keep your belongings in.
We walked on the beach for some distance, picking up stones and just talking, and came back along the promenade. From the beach you can see that there are lots of hotels that face the beach from the other side of the promenade, so walking along we were able to see them up close. Though some were modern, many were just made from houses that seemed to have been there a long time, as if the village had grown up around the bathers as this became a more and more popular place to come. Still it retained its charm as a small village. We walked back to the lighthouse point, and then along the first section of the canal that leads all the way to Rostock (about 20 km away). The canal was lined with boats – some for excursions, some houseboats and some even with the owner-artisan selling her wares aboard. The street side was lined with very nice little shops and cafes. I loved it! If I ever disappear, look for me here. My head will be wrapped in a long white chiffon scarf and I’ll be smoking a cigarette in a long cigarette holder, in an upper window of one of these quaint seaside hotels.
The next day, now it is Tuesday the 18th, we arrived in Copenhagen. We didn’t leave Rostock until 10:00 the previous night, as we had to wait for all the Berlin-visitors to return. As a result, we arrived in Copenhagen at noon. As soon as the ship was cleared, I tried to figure out how to use the phones and after more than 45 minutes finally bought a phone card and met with success. We were trying to call friends who used to live in San Juan, to spend the day with them, as we had been planning for months. The weather again was lousy (raining and windy!) but Tim picked us up at the ship and took us for a driving tour of Copenhagen. We saw the Little Mermaid, of course, but many other buildings and plazas, both old and new. After our tour, we went home with Tim to see Mary Anne and the baby. What a wonderful afternoon we had! It was great to see our friends and spend the time talking about their lives in Denmark. Baby Isaac is adorable and a super well-behaved little person. I think his behavior balances out the rambunctious other younger member of the household – Jacob, a year-old boxer! I lost count of how many times Jacob’s tail knocked the glasses off the coffee table! The kids were the happiest we have seen them on the whole trip. They loved playing with the baby and animatedly recited for Tim and Mary Anne the ins and outs of tobogganing in Northern Wisconsin… All in all it was our best day in port!
Wednesday, we were at sea again and yes, back in the North Sea, and yes, unfortunately, back in the waves. It was not as bad as the first time, but it was bad enough that both kids got sick. Truly, the best position is prone! I spent the afternoon dozing in the same spot near the indoor pool on a chaise lounge that I did on the way up. This time the pool was full of water, and the sloshing was something else. On two occasions the splashing and shuddering was so strong that everyone was startled into sitting up!
As it was our last day, we packed in the evening and said goodbye at dinner to the many friends we made during the trip: The Crawfords, who sat next to us in the dining room and whose lectures on the Romanovs were wonderfully informative; Alisha and Jerry, from Madison, WI; Jean and Jeff, Barbara and Roy, all from London area; and the two German couples who sat on the other side of us; Paul and Patty, from California…
Just a little aside here about the Crawfords: They were on the ship as special guests to give a series of lectures on the Romanovs before we reached St. Petersburg. I attended two of the lectures and learned a great deal. Probably 2 or 3 years later, at a flea market in Boulder Junction, WI I found a book: “Michael and Natasha; The Life and Love of Michael II, The Last of the Romanov Tsars” By Rosemary and Donald Crawford – my cruise ship dinner neighbors! It was a very good book!
Thursday morning we were up early and off the ship by 9:15 even though we were the second to the last group to disembark. By 10:30 we were in our little Amsterdam apartment, just basically decompressing and preparing to update the website for our friends!