Brief Transatlantic/Baltic review
Transatlantic, a very smooth crossing for the most part, plenty to do on board, the Cruise Director was Peter Tredgett and he was really great, always around, friendly and always ready to stop and chat, I have never met him before or indeed heard anything about him but he definitely goes to the top of the list.
We are not people for taking too many organized tours, much preferring either to do something specific that we have sorted out or just to sit and people watch, we were extremely lucky to have a destination lecturer, John Lawrence, he joined the ship in the Azores, but his talk for the Azores was on the television before we got there, a brilliant idea. His knowledge for this trip absolutely made our cruise. We had read a few travel books to get ideas of how to get around but found that they weren't entirely accurate, he put us right and was spot on everywhere. Also great to talk to and very funny. We bought the DVD that he has for the Baltic region and really wish that we had bought it before we came on the cruise.
The food in the dining room was good, service was excellent everywhere, but the Horizon Court left a lot to be desired, yes it is a buffet but everything seemed to be 'fillers' there was very little food that didn't have sauce, butter or some flavoring added. However, the salad was always fresh and as usual the pizza was great and difficult to stay away from.
After the Azores where we bravely hired a car and scooted around the island our travels took us to Cobh, which didn't seem to be quite ready for us, we had hoped to pick up a map from the tourist office but they didn't open until 1pm, we managed to get one from the Commodore hotel and quickly walked around the small town. In the afternoon we took a ships tour to Kinsale as that seemed to be the easiest way to get there (apart from a taxi), this turned out to be a mistake, the first stop was at a Fort where we stayed for nearly an hour in the cold and literally being bored, the guide obviously knew her stuff but didn't make it interesting enough to hold anyones attention, and then of course we only had about 40 minutes in Kinsale the place we had come to see. Should have taken the taxi.
Falmouth was the next stop, this was a Sunday so not much came to life until 10.30am but it was a fun place to see, very quaint and we enjoyed the local cider and a Sunday roast.
Le Havre, the gateway to Paris as they say, but a bit too far for us to travel on a bus, so we went to Honfleur which was really lovely, had lunch bought some wine and came back to Le Havre where we found these absolutely delicious macaroons in a little chocolate shop, they advised that they should be eaten within 72 hours -- no problem!
Then we arrived in Dover, well we were warned that this was a port town and not the prettiest of places, we visited the castle, using the shuttle bus from the ship, which was quite spectacular (the castle not the bus!) then started to explore the town, definitely not the prettiest of places, so we then caught the train to Canterbury that is a treasure, so glad that we did that.
In Rotterdam we were tempted to take the Amsterdam on your own trip from the ship but in the end decided to catch the train, so glad that we did that as well, according to our dinner companions the trip by bus took a very long time due to heavy traffic and it was utter confusion on the return trip as there were differing meeting points. Rotterdam station was quite hard to negotiate due to building works and the fact that the machines only take maestro cards, eventually we found a ticket office but unfortunately they also only took maestro cards, so we hunted down a ATM and went back to pay in cash. The journey took about 40 minutes and comes directly into Amsterdam central station so it was very easy to find our way around, unfortunately the weather was pretty poor and it rained on and off.
So after all of that we relaxed for a welcome day at sea before arriving for a short stop in Oslo, we followed John Lawrence's advice to the letter and managed to see everything that we wanted to see, up very early to get to the Vigeland Park to see the statues, back to the town and the ferry to the museums then back again on the ferry and a walk around the town. Of course we knew that we would be back again next cruise but we planned to go to the Holmen kollen ski run then.
In Copenhagen the wind was blowing very strongly so we abandoned our idea of walking into the city (about 3miles) and took the train instead, just ten minutes from the ship -- follow the blue line -- and then about 15 minutes into the central station, right opposite the Tivoli and really close to everything else. We did see hopon hopoff busses at the port.
Back on the ship for the Baltic leg and back to Oslo, we very easily took the metro to Holmenkollen -- well the next stop and walked back down -- how on the earth they manage to launch themselves from the top of the tower is well beyond me.
Next stop was Aarhus, I think we could have done without this port, there were no shuttle busses to get to the old town, no hopon hopoff busses (apparently they didn't make enough money last year so decided not to run this year) and really nothing to see apart from the old town and a museum with the Tollund man (or it might have been the other one the Grobald (sp) man) So a quick walk around and then came back to the ship and indulged in a little spa time.
How different Warnemunde was, aboslutely delightful, so easy to get around, we took the train to Rostock and then on to Stralsund, a place that we had never heard of until John Lawrence mentioned it in his talk, this looked to be very interesting and it was, a beautiful German town, with an amazing Oceanarium we are so glad that we went, then back to Warnemunde for some German beer -- well when in Rome..........
A welcome sea day followed and we used that to get ourselves together for the next stops of Tallinn and St Petersburg.
Tallinn was delightful, just like a Disney set and indeed at one point 'Shrek" came around the corner. Very easy to walk into the town, but I did see hopon busses at the port. As you walk from the ship there are lovely little stalls full of locally made goods, and they were much better prices than we saw in the town. Had to try the local beer here too, it was very good.
Then of course the highlight of St Petersburg, (we were on the two day ships tour), it didn't get off to a very good start, the immigration took for ever, and our bus was an hour late starting off, no-one seemed to know what the problem was, we all had the correct papers but the girls were inspecting everything at a snails pace. The traffic was pretty bad as well which further held us up but that apart what an amazing place, so much opulence, we had booked for the folkloric show at night but we were so late back and that coupled with the age that it took to get back through the immigration meant that we missed it, but all was not lost, the folkshow on board was very good so we didn't feel that we had missed anything except from seeing the city at night.
The next day was a lot easier and the traffic wasn't so bad so things ran much more smoothly, a fascinating but exhausting two days. I think it will take a while for all that we saw to really sink in.
Helsinki, we chose to go on the home visit and city tour and that was just lovely, such nice, welcoming people and a good insight into the Finnish way of life.
A very short stay in Stockholm it seemed to me, particularly as nothing opened until 10am, so we decided to go on a tour to Sigtuna a small town outside of Stockholm, that was a very pretty little town, we had a ride around the city on the way. And then a visit to the Vasa on the way back. No time to stop in the Old Town though, I would have liked to stay much longer here. What a spectacular sail down through the archipelago (sp) on the way out, I sat there for about 4 hours just enjoying the amazing scenery. Definitely a highlight of this particular port.
Then just the last day at sea before disembarking in Copenhagen. The entertainment was ok, hypnotists don't particularly enthrall us, nor singers but they were ok. There was a Beatles tribute band who were excrutiatingly awful, a right handed Paul -- come on -- and they sounded as if they had never played together before, I'm afraid we left before the end. The singing and dancing shows are 30 mins long which seems quite bizarre, no sooner are you settled in then it's over. The entertainers in the Piazza area were good, apart from the dancing couple who seemed to be very pleased with themselves but really not very entertaining. We loved the string quartet and they were playing quite often which was very nice.
This was a wonderful time and we thoroughly enjoyed every minute, even the minor annoyances didn't bother us too much. The crew were all super friendly, always smiling. So to all of you with upcoming cruises, definitely do not miss the talks given by the destination lecturer John Lawrence, you will learn so much, the string quartet, the sail down the archipelago in Stockholm and the sail out of St Petersburg, these were absolutely the highlights of this trip.
Sorry this didn't turn out quite as short as I intended.