Finally getting around to sorting out the pictures and reliving the wonderful time that we had aboard the Emerald Princess.
We flew in the day before the cruise started and stayed at the gorgeous Phoenix Hotel, what a lovely place to stay, nothing was too much trouble and it is conveniently situated for walking to all the major sites.
So fully refreshed we set off for the ship at around 2pm, straight through the suite line and on to the ship in 20 mins.
We had been planning for this cruise for 6 months and had listened avidly to the wonderful DVD sent by John Lawrence who incidentally was on board lecturing as well. A truly lovely man with a wicked sense of humour.
Anyway we thought that we knew exactly what to expect but boy were we blown away by all the wonderful sights.
Firstly the ship, it was clean-ish, our room wasn’t the cleanest I have ever seen but I had brought the ever trusty Clorox wipes so it was soon sparkling and clean.The bedroom steward Alan was nice enough but did seem a little distracted at times. We are not high maintenance so really didn’t bother him after getting things sorted the first day. We did not find the food to be to our liking, a very subjective subject I know so won’t dwell on it, but I have never been in an Italian ‘restaurant’ that didn’t have aglio olio e peperoncino or tiramisu. Ah well. The Horizon court we tried once, and then opted for the International cafe. Still the good thing was we certainly didn’t gain any weight and had fun trying restaurants ashore.
We managed to ‘do’ most of the ports on our own following Johns advice and excellent directions. Not people for rushing around trying to see everything, as long as we get a feel for the place thats good enough. Quite funny to watch people with their maps on street corners turning themselves round and then the map.
We loved Estonia and plan to go back to explore, what a gem of a country and such lovely people. Tallinn is extremely ‘touristy’ but thoroughly enjoyable. Found a wonderful Italian restaurant here.
Helsinki we walked into the town which took about 40 minutes followed the water and enjoyed lovely scenery, we wandered around the market square and looked at the senate cathedral, then stopped for a quick bite in one of the lovely cafes on the esplanade. We walked back a different way and found some lovely antique and second hand shops.
Stockholm was another longish walk into the town, the Gamla Stan was lovely to stroll around, Nobel Museum fascinating but as this was such a short stop we didn’t venture further afield
Oslo was not quite what we were expecting, it seemed quite dirty to me lots of paper and garbage on the streets and many homeless people begging, I hadn’t expected that at all.
We took the train up to the ski run which was fun and then on to the sculpture park and caught the tram back to the harbour, it was a full day.
Aarhus was a shambles, firstly the ship docked in a container port, so no-one was allowed to walk off everyone (apart from tour people) had to get on a shuttle bus which went around to the cruise terminal which in turn was about 10- 15 mins from the town, no transport available. So that seemed to take for ever and the last shuttle back was 1.5 hours before the ship was due to leave which made the stop quite short. The city itself isn’t really geared up for tourists, no HoHo bus and very little in the way of tourist transport, we walked over to the ‘must see’ Den Gamle Bye and it was very interesting, quite long lines waiting to get in though, and then strolled back through the town. I must say that this place could be replace by somewhere a little more interesting, many, many place seem to have alot more to offer than Aarhus.
The stop in Warnemunde was probably our favourite, we took the efficient train to a lovely town called Stralsund, a truly Gothic place, absolutely lovely, then came back an wandered around Warnemunde. Since we were staying in Europe after the cruise we couldn’t see the sense in travelling 3 hours each way to Berlin. We had a lovely day, Warnemunde is just charming and such a lovely promenade and beach area. Good food too!
Now for St Petersburg, We had a visa for the first day so set off map in hand on the local bus to the metro station, bus was very crowded and went all the way round the dock area squeezing more and more people in, still it was good practice for the metro. Luckily the nearest metro is the end of the line so although busy as least we got a seat. The trains are an experience in themselves, they hurtle along seemingly very close to the walls and stop suddenly, the doors aligned exactly with the doors on the station. It was only two stops to the main street - Nevsky Prospect, so we left with nearly everybody else and were swept out into the street. A short walk to the right we found a HoHo bus and spent 2 hours travelling around the city. That gave us a good overview. Then off to the Hermitage (just from the outside) and the enormous square, over the bridge to the peter and paul fortress and on to the Aurora battle ship, which unfortunately wasn’t accepting visitors for some reason, never mind we got great pictures of the outside, then on the walk back we stopped at Tsar Peter the Greats original log cabin, this was amazing, apparently it had been preserved by Catherine the Great and as we had loved the experience of the metro we studied the map, (they have help points with maps in English and other languages at all stops) and travelled on the red line, fascinating to watch everyone and we managed to squeeze into a seat at one point. Back on Nevsky P we stopped for a quick bite at a fun blini cafe very cheap and good. Suitably refreshed we went to the church on the blood and then off to St. Isaacs. Both amazing experiences.
As we didn’t have to get back to the ship we thought that we would have dinner ashore, so remembered that we had passed the St Petersburg Cafe close to the Church on the Blood, so went in there, very nice food and there was also a floor show, so it was a very nice day. We walked to the Grand Hotel to pick up a taxi back to the ship, cost the equivalent of $50.
Second day we opted to take the ships tour to Peterhof, and we really wish that we had done it ourselves on the first day and then explored the city on the second day. Loads of busses arrived at the same time and we were rushed through the gardens, certainly not enough time to enjoy the fountains, and then whisked through the main house. We were back at the ship with 5 hours to go before sailing, a very disappointing waste of the afternoon.
So we had a great time, but are so glad that we did the research so we could do our own thing, I would have hated to be confined to ships tours and rushed everywhere.
We didn’t see much of the entertainment, there always seemed to be a crowd outside the theatre when we went near, so mainly just listened to the bands and relaxed. It certainly is a strenuous time but oh so enjoyable.
We left the ship under our own steam as we were staying in Copenhagen for one more night before heading off to Germany and the rest of our tour. There were plenty of Taxis despite the warnings from the tour office that there would not be many there.