Flashback: Baltic Cruise on Azamara Quest

Rob finally finished our Scandinavia trip photos. They are posted here. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10100293523992391.1073741840.3002574&type=1&l=113e644672. We’ve been pretty busy recently but hope to finally be more up to date next week.

Here are my recollections from our Baltic Cruise on the Azamara Quest.

Monday, July 27: Left Seattle at 5 pm

Tuesday, July 28: Arrived in Oslo at 11 pm. We met Rob’s parents returning from Bergen at the train station and they kindly helped us carry our luggage to our hotel in the rain.

Wednesday, July 29: Fjord tour/Rick Steves Norway in a Nutshell. (We booked our Norway in a Nutshell tickets in advance via the DIY route and which was almost 50% cheaper than the package deal). After arriving late, we caught the 6 am train toward Bergen. This was one of the most beautiful train rides we had ever been on, rivaling the Swiss Golden Panorama train route from Lucerne to Interlaken. It travels through miles of tunnels and snowsheds, offering peeks of lakes frozen well into the summer dotted with homes.

Taking the train from Oslo towards the west coast of Norway. Up in the mountains the lakes were still mostly frozen

Taking the train from Oslo towards the west coast of Norway. Up in the mountains the lakes were still mostly frozen

Upon reaching Myrdal, we transferred to the Flam railway. This tourist train descends down a steep river valley towards the fjords using several different braking systems. It even made a 5 min waterfall stop so everyone could get a nice photo.

It is a short 20 km railroad line from the mountains at 4000+ ft to sea level, surrounded by waterfalls.

It is a short 20 km railroad line from the mountains at 4000+ ft to sea level, surrounded by waterfalls.

In Flam, we joined a fjord cruise with a boatload of Chinese tourist to Gudvangen. The top deck was chilly, but we braved the cold in our down jackets and hats. Waterfalls abounded on both sides of the fjord. Little white specks turned out to be a flock of sheep.

It was pretty cold and a little rainy, but the landscape was still beautiful.

It was pretty cold and a little rainy, but the landscape was still beautiful.

At the end of the cruise, we bused to Voss then continued on the train to Bergen. Arriving at 5pm, we explored the town for several hours, visiting the old Hanseatic warehouses, eating fish cakes and enjoying the sunset before catching our overnight train back to Oslo.

Giant fish sculpture in Bergen, Norway.

Giant fish sculpture in Bergen, Norway.

Thursday, July 30: Oslo, Overnight ferry to Copenhagen

Arriving early in Oslo, we joined Kathy and Bob for a fabulous breakfast at their hotel. We had a chance to try many types of fish and local cheeses in addition to the normal breakfast foods. Afterwards, we rolled out to tour Oslo on foot and attempt to digest our massive meal. Strolling around the waterfront, we eventually meandered to the Parliament building for the first tour of the morning. The tour included a look at a variety of Norwegian artwork done before and after WWII, including some abstract paintings of the current monarchs. Then, we returned to the hotel to assemble the tandem and do a short ride to a sculpture park to make sure it was working fine. By this point, it was time to ride to the port and catch our ferry to Copenhagen with Rob’s parents.

The family met up in Oslo and we took the overnight ferry to Copenhagen.

The family met up in Oslo and we took the overnight ferry to Copenhagen.

Friday, July 31: Copenhagen

Biking off the ferry, we almost beat Rob’s parents, who took a cab, to the hotel. Rob and I were amazed by the bike infrastructure. Wonderful bike lanes, bike signals and bike park and rides. We spent the day biking and walking around the city to see all of the highlights – New Christiana, City Hall, the old Stock Market and then Tivoli Gardens at night.

Saturday, August 1: Cruise departs from Copenhagen

Rob and I visited the Rosenborg Castle. The neatest part was seeing all the narwhal furniture and the ridiculous crown jewels including a crown that weighed 7 pounds.

Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen

Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen

After lunching in surrounding park, we grabbed our luggage and headed to cruise ship pier next to Kasteel Park near the Little Mermaid Statue. We parked next to ship and started disassembling the bike. A couple of cruise ship folks asked if we were boarding the ship. When we replied to the affirmative, they took it in stride and told us to let them know when the bike was ready for them to collect. Then, they delivered it to our room. Azamara is awesome!

Disassembling the tandem to carry it on the cruise ship. I think we might be the only people to ever bring a tandem bike on Azamara, but they were very accomidating.

Disassembling the tandem to carry it on the cruise ship. I think we might be the only people to ever bring a tandem bike on Azamara, but they were very accomidating.

Sunday, August 2: Travemunde and Lubeck, Germany

For the first morning of the cruise, we arrived in the German beach town of Travemunde. The ship docked right in downtown and we caught the first bus to Lubeck, a historic Hanseatic trading town. We followed the Rick Steves’ tour around tour visiting a number of churches and an old city gate then took the train back to the boat. Rob and I set out on bike, while everyone else went for a walk. On the warm Sunday, the beach was quite popular. We biked down the packed streets and boardwalks lining the beach. We eventually reached a dirt trail that we followed for awhile through a number of other beach towns then looped back to Travemunde.

The city gates in Lubeck, Germany

The city gates in Lubeck, Germany

Monday, August 3: Wismar, Germany

After wandering around Wismar for the morning, Rob and I grabbed the tandem and headed out for an afternoon ride to a Insel Poel, an island connected to the mainland by a bridge over a small spit. We navigated a route on country roads and gravel paths to a set of beaches along the coast. Reaching the beach, it became clear where everyone else with tents was biking to, it looked like the entirety of Germany had migrated here to enjoy the sun, water and sand, bringing a campful of things with them. Each family staked out its own territory with shade tents and temporary walls (to hide the naked people sunbathing we quickly learned).  We waded in the water for a bit before continuing our bike loop back to Wismar.

We took the tandem off the cruise ship in the afternoon and biked to this beach outside of Wismar, Germany.

We took the tandem off the cruise ship in the afternoon and biked to this beach outside of Wismar, Germany.

That night, we had dinner reservations for the nice steakhouse on board the ship, which was unfortunately coincided with the Electric Light Orchestra-esque performance put on as part of a night of entertainment for the ship by the port of Wismar. Rob and I did at least catch the mens choir performance and the fireworks at the end of the night.

The cruise ship spent one day in Wismar, Germany and this port must not see too many cruise ships: the town held a concert right next to the cruise ship and then put on a fireworks show for us.

The cruise ship spent one day in Wismar, Germany and this port must not see too many cruise ships: the town held a concert right next to the cruise ship and then put on a fireworks show for us.

Tuesday, August 4: Bornholm, Denmark

With only 6 hours in port and over 50 miles round-trip to Svaneke, a fishing village with a brewery and smokehouse, we were in line with the tandem ready to disembark right at noon. The island of Bornholm is known for a plethora of bike trails that encircle and cross the island. Unfortunately the route circling the  island was too long for our time, so we had to choose a section the was shorter and mostly paved. Since Svaneke had the most interesting places to visit and an easy bail route, we decided on that. The brewery had the best local brew of the trip. We also visited licorice and toffee makers. Rob’s parents with Brian rented e-bikes and did a separate loops. The e-bikes got rave reviews from them.

Quickly enjoying a few beers before we had to bike back to the cruise ship.

Quickly enjoying a few beers before we had to bike back to the cruise ship.

Wednesday, August 5: Gdansk, Poland

Poland was definitely our cheapest stop on the trip. A big festival was going on at the time so all the streets were lined with food stalls. Rob and I saw these corn-shaped bread things all over and finally asked what they were. They turned out to be cheese. Heated up on a little grill, they were one of the best things we ate that day, better then the open-faced lard sandwich with grilled onions and pickles. We also tried pirogies and a breadier version for lunch.

The main attraction of Gdansk besides being a wonderfully rebuilt Hanseatic trading town was the Solidarity Shipyard whose worker revolt began the road leading to the fall of Communism. The newly built Union Center housed a large and incredibly well-done museum described the events of the revolt and how it lead to the formation of the shipyard union. Neat fact: people wore resistors as symbols of support for the resistance.

Monument to those who were killed in the Shipyard Uprising of 1970 in Gdania. The workers were rebelling against the terrible conditions on communist Poland.

Monument to those who were killed in the Shipyard Uprising of 1970 in Gdania. The workers were rebelling against the terrible conditions on communist Poland.

Thursday, August 6: Day at sea

Finally a break! After sleeping in, Rob and I headed to the Jazz brunch, where the ship’s great jazz band was playing. Since we got there at opening it was pretty sparse and we managed to snag our normal window dinner table for the family. In addition to a pasta station, they had a fruit carving station and I noticed this weird spiky fruit that I had never seen before. It turned out to be a dragon fruit and one of the chefs cut it up for us to try. The flesh inside was a beautiful fuchsia color and darn tasty. Somehow, I think I ate most of it. Then, we hurried off to the bridge meet up where an older couple humored us for an hour of bridge. After bridge, Rob, Brian and Bob toured the ship’s bridge, while Kathy and I played Mahjong. After winning the first hand, I quit to let another women played and managed to catch up with the bridge tour.

Seeing the bridge was pretty neat, especially learning about how things are managed on the ship behind the scenes. They are constantly doing maintenance on the ship through the cruises and they often are not running the all the engine/generator capacity in order to allow some portions to be serviced.

Friday, August 7: Tallinn, Estonia

KGB Museum. Rob and I managed to join a tour of the KGB museum which occupies the “hidden” 23rd floor of the Hotel Viru. Built during the Cold War out of a new building material micro-crete (40% microphones, 60% concrete), this hotel was where foreigners stayed when visiting Tallinn and included a hard currency bar and fabulous food and shows. The 23rd floor housed the KGB listening post.

One of the KGB spy cameras used to photograph guests through tiny holes in the wall.

One of the KGB spy cameras used to photograph guests through tiny holes in the wall.

Saturday, August 8: St. Petersburg

Rob and I ordered room service breakfast to enjoy the cruise into St. Petersburg from our balcony. The large boat route to the city piers winds through the industrial port, so it was an interesting journey to the heart of the city.

One of the many names of St. Petersburg

One of the many names of St. Petersburg

We saw what looked like submarine dry docks along with cargo ships, ice breakers and coast guard vessels. Disembarking from the ship, we met our tour guide, Elena. After a drive around downtown to see a few sites, we headed to Catherine’s Palace and the amazing reconstructed amber room. It was pretty amazing despite the hoards of tourists. The same can be said for the Hermitage. We whizzed through all the historic rooms dodging other folks, but when we finished those and started on the paintings, I started to get museumed-out. The Hermitage has an amazing collection, but the Russian history and related artifacts were what I was more interested to learn about. We finally left the Hermitage after 3 hours.

Sunday, August 9: Moscow

On this day, we caught the train at the crack of dawn to visit Moscow. Seeing Red Square, the Kremlin and St. Basils Cathedral was pretty neat. They actually used evergreen trees in the landscaping around the edge of the Kremlin, which isn’t common here in the States.

The Russian Orthodox churches are awesome, so many colors. This is St. Basils, in Moscow.

The Russian Orthodox churches are awesome, so many colors. This is St. Basils, in Moscow.

Monday, August 10: St. Petersburg

We began the morning with a hydrofoil ride our to Peterhoff just in time for the ceremony where they turn on the fountains. Our tour guide ushered us to the best view and told us to stand our ground from the other tourist at all cost. All the fountains are gravity fed with water piped from nearby mountains. It was pretty impressive to watch the sequence of fountains coming online. There were also a few fountains that had an operated hiding in the bushes that would spray folks (mainly kids) who wandered into or through their fountain. I decided to hop in with my umbrella.

There were fountains for kids to play in, where the fountain would turn off until someone walks through, and then it would shower them. Amanda defeated this prank using an umbrella.

There were fountains for kids to play in, where the fountain would turn off until someone walks through, and then it would shower them. Amanda defeated this prank using an umbrella.

Our St. Petersburg tour concluded with a visit to the church of the Spilled Blood. One of the most impressive churches we’ve seen, every surface was covered with beautiful mosaics. It was built on the spot where the last tsar was assassinated.

Tuesday, August 11: Helsinki, Finland

After doing Rick Steves’ walking tour, we visited the free Helsinki City Museum. They had one neat exhibit that featured an exhibit about the Mermaid Hall (essentially a dunk tank). At first only women were dunked, then they added men to make it fair. The exhibit was essentially a dunk tank with a screen that had old video footage of women getting dunked that would play when you hit the target. They also had a survey where you could vote on why you came to the museum. I tied my string next to free bathrooms, a rarity in Helsinki.

Helsinki City Museum surveys visitors as to why they came.

Helsinki City Museum surveys visitors as to why they came.

Rob and I also visited several interesting places of worship and the Sibelius monument in addition completing a quest to find stamps for our postcards.

The Chapel of Silence is a small chapel in the middle of Helsinki

The Chapel of Silence is a small chapel in the middle of Helsinki

Wednesday, August 12: Stockholm, Sweden

We wandered around Stockholm finishing up at the Vasa museum where we spent hours checking out the old preserved warship. The Vasa was recovered largely intact and all new pieces added during restoration were left a lighter brown to show the completeness of the find.

The Vasa was a huge ship!

The Vasa was a huge ship!

Thursday, August 13: Departed cruise ship, left on bike tour.

Putting all of our luggage on the bike and leaving the cruise ship for the last time. One of the ship's employees asked to take our photo, as we might be the only guests to ever bike away from the cruise ship.

Putting all of our luggage on the bike and leaving the cruise ship for the last time. One of the ship’s employees asked to take our photo, as we might be the only guests to ever bike away from the cruise ship.

Saturday, August 22: Return to Stockholm

Sunday, August 23: Departed Sweden to Seattle

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