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Sail Date: May 2015
12 night Celebrity Silhouette of Baltic ports (including 2 days in St. Petersburg) The ship is great and everyone was super friendly. We were Concierge class in Stateroom 1076 (midship balcony on 10th floor) and thoroughly enjoyed the ... Read More
12 night Celebrity Silhouette of Baltic ports (including 2 days in St. Petersburg) The ship is great and everyone was super friendly. We were Concierge class in Stateroom 1076 (midship balcony on 10th floor) and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We have cruised many times on various lines including Celebrity. (I agree that they have been cost cutting. Years ago the cruise would have had actual Ports of Call talks to give us the history and background. Now they mainly have "shopping talks"). The itinerary makes up for the cuts in entertainment and history talks though. This itinerary is great for people who are active and want to see things every day. I would not call this a relaxing cruise (like a Caribbean) but rather a fascinating learning cruise due to the Ports of Call especially if it leaves from Stockholm rather than doing it in reverse from Amsterdam. Passengers on this cruise have 5 very busy, long days before a sea day. We actually loved it though but are fortunate to be active and fit. For passengers who have flexible dates and need a bit slower pace doing this cruise when it leaves from Amsterdam (rather than Stockholm) would be a better choice since there is a sea day on the second day. Also Copenhagen (which becomes the second port if leave from Amsterdam instead) is a bit more relaxed since St. Petersburg tours are typically 12-hour days but that port of call is why we booked this cruise. The only change Celebrity should make is to drop Fredericia, Denmark (nothing there) and adda 3rd day in St. Petersburg. WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN BEFORE THE CRUISE (or tips in general): 1) Our cruise left May 27. Subtract 10 degrees Fahrenheit from whatever the temperature says. Our weather indicated 60 -62 degrees. However, in reality, it felt like 50-52 degrees due to the chill near the water. Many passengers were smart and had down jackets or vests. I read to “layer up” so I brought my spring jacket (fine for 60 degrees in New England but not the Baltic) and a raincoat. I ended up buying a wool sweater AND a down jacket in Helsinki (Finland). I was SO thankful I had the down jacket in St. Petersburg and wore it through most of the cruise. 2) We did not have rain. However, it rained on and off the cruise before us which I read online so had packed a small light-weight umbrella. 3) Because of the itinerary and cold weather, I never wore a swimsuit (but would have packed one anyway in case). Think of this as an Alaska cruise when planning. A light weight fleece top that I brought was very useful for both in the cabin and occasionally around the ship. I normally pack only one pair of jeans (or wear them on board) and pack a nice skirt for touring and 2 dresses. HOWEVER, I lived in my 2 pairs of nice jeans and alternated them for touring every day. Those 2 pairs and a nice pair of black pants to dress up or down on the ship would have been all I would have needed. (A dressy sweater jacket or similar over the black pants is what many people were wearing for “formal” nights. It was not typical to see many very dressed up people as you might on a Caribbean cruise. They just looked nice without being over the top.) 4) Be sure to bring “cold medicine”. A bad cold went around the ship with many passengers getting it including me (and I rarely do). People could into their hands and then touch the serving spoons or if you go into the computer room. Cold medicine on the ship cost $17! 4) Because this is such a busy cruise, I would definitely recommend IF possible getting to Stockholm at least a day before the start of the cruise. 5) It was VERY helpful that I had a chip in my credit card AND had a card with no foreign transaction fees (which saves the 3% fee for every charge.) I generally use a Capital One card when overseas since they have no foreign transaction fees. However, I called my regular credit card company and they upgraded me to one for a very slight incremental cost. Without a chip in your card, many readers in Europe including train machines cannot handle those swipe credit cards. (I had to pay cash 2 years ago and got chip cards last year when available in the US. Banks will send it to you upon request now.) 6) Was happy I brought 4 clothespins for the drapes in the hotel in Stockholm (20 hours of sunlight) and on the ship. Worked great. 7) We wore hidden waist wallets (learned to do this years ago because of travelling in Italy) with our cash, credit cards and passports. We were surprised that a few people did not know to do this and were robbed in St. Petersburg, Berlin or Amsterdam. It can happen anywhere in Europe. It’s recommended that if men want a wallet to keep only the equivalent of 20-30 euros they can afford to lose and keep an elastic around it so more difficult for pickpockets. I have my zipped purse that I wear across my body with only about 20 -30 euros in it so not an issue if ever taken. 8) We learned the hard way several cruises ago to keep our iPhones in airport mode (even when in the safe so they don't pick up wireless signals and charge us). Even in airport mode, you can use your phone at free internet cafes to check emails. You can also send photos by email with free wifi (just not as texts). If you do buy an internet package on the ship, your iphone (still in airplane mode) or iPad (also in airplane mode) is MUCH quicker than using the computers on the ship. Stockholm We took the Arlanda Express train from Stockholm airport to Central station. It was very easy since it leaves from the station and cost $33.20 total for my husband and myself. [1 SEK was .12 US dollars] At Central Station, however, we had to take a cab to our hotel about 15 minutes away (fairly close but traffic) for $20. Hence the total cost was $53.20. We liked that the train was fast since traffic in Stockholm was heavy when we arrived. However, finding a taxi in advance would have cost less per another couple we met on the ship who arranged transportation beforehand. TIP re taxis: Look at the yellow price sticker clearly shown per law on the outside window of the cab. SEK 290-390 is average from the airport to Central Station. [1 SEK was .12 US dollars. Hence, 330 SEK = $40.23 so a bit more to the hotel from Central station and a bit more for the second passenger.] We found the Hotel Rival online and loved it. Absolutely wonderful hotel, beautiful location and great staff. Stockholm was great too. We did the HopOn, HopOff bus including the ferry. The busses did not come every 20 minutes as promised which was frustrating at times although we did take it to the port and enjoyed the ferry ride to the Vasa Museum. If you do the green HOHO bus, know that you can also use the red busses IF it says “city siteseeing” on the side. We did not know this and missed a few busses since the other red busses are a different company! Stockholm sights: Everyone in Stockholm was very friendly, helpful and spoke English. Vasa Museum has a guided tour in English. It houses a ship (compared to the Titanic) that sunk 45 minutes into its maiden voyage in 1628. It is the only preserved 17th century ship in the world and was salvaged in 1961 from the water. Gama Stan is the medieval city center (near our hotel). This was the original island. It has a town square called Stortorget. One can see the German church with its steeple jutting into the sky and was said to remind all of the power of the Germans in Europe. Sweden is made up of islands so they call it the archipelago. Most of the places we went to are connected by bridges. History Museum With the Reformation in 1527, the King made Sweden a Protestant state and services were now in the people’s language instead of Latin. Hence, every nationality now had its own church and the Swedes got the Cathedral. Sweden was originally Catholic but has been Lutheran for 5 centuries. Will see a prominent statute of St. George who overcame their archenemy, the Danes. Stockholm is said to be the birthplace of social security and dynamite. Gustavus Adolphus (Lion of the North) was said to have made Sweden one of Europe’s top powers and helped Protestants turn tides against Catholics in the 30 years war. Royal Palace contains museum (warfare and wedding dress of Queen Sophia). Walk past it. However Royals actually live out of town at Drottningholm Palace. (They call this palace Sweden’s Versailles). The gardens are open and one can tour the palace although we did not. Nobel Prize museum. Alfred Nobel invented more than 300 patents including dynamite. 1st ceremony was in 1901, videoclips and pictures. [Someone said if you turn over the heavy chairs you will see they are signed.] Helsinki We paid $12 for the ship’s easy commuter bus. Very convenient (although others used the HopOn, Hop Off bus.) When you exit the ship, you will see the ship’s bus but not the HOHO bus. It comes to/from port all day and is located minutes away, just on the other side of the terminal. (Get a discount if keep receipt from previous HOHO bus.) It was cold in Helsinki but nice to walk around and see the city. We went to the National Museum about 3 blocks from the drop off site. Very interesting to see but wish there was more history about Finland rather than primarily objects. (English explanations were provided). Great coffee shop on first floor of the huge Stockman’s Department store with free internet that is close to the drop off site in Helsinki. St. Petersburg BOOKING a St Petersburg tour: ALL tour companies will arrange for your visa when you provide your info & passport number. Payment was not expected until the tour! Only need to pay for a visa if going unescorted (not advised due to language barrier & logistics on a cruise). If going on a ship's tour, ship also arranges your visa. We researched Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor and found the best private tour companies to be Alla Tours, TJ Tours, SPB Tours and Denrus. Check Trip Advisor for Reviews! Most private tours do groups of 14-16. However for about the same price, you can negotiate a private tour with some companies (including Alla & others on Trip Advisor) with groups of 4-6 due to competitiveness & falling rubble situation. Be SURE to indicate you do not want to be in a group with anyone who needs a walker, cane or scooter (which happened to us!) if you are able bodied and want to see as much as possible. This is an issue especially on ship cruise tours too since often 28 people leading to frustration for some people. Slower moving tourists should be accommodated separately. Also, if someone is late, vans can be held up. Ask in advance how handled. Ship arrived at 7am & cleared by 7:10am. However, people started lining up at 6:30 am to get off. One couple came down around 6:55am & held our van up by 35 minutes waiting for them. Even the couple w scooter & cane got there 10 minutes before them. SPB had 100 groups. They pre-assign names w a guide & vans leave when all assigned to that van arrive. Companies should have vans for latecomers AND put people doing evening activities in the same van vs multiple phone calls coordinating it all day. Ditto for walking impaired who need some assistance or extra time. Saying it’s an active tour in their promotions is not enough. Be sure to ask ANY tour company re this before booking your tour if concerned. Incredible opulence everywhere. We did a private tour with SPB but other equally great tour companies include Alla Tours, TJ Travel and Denrus. All of these private tour companies arrange for your visa to Russia after you send them your passport number. We did not pay until the 2nd day of our tour and chose to pay cash for safety. Cruisecritic.com/boards is a fantastic site for hints re any cruise and people on your same cruise arrange private tours and look for others or you can post there. (It is necessary to register the first time you use this site.) Our tour operator was fine but we had to wait outside the Hermitage in the cold for 30 minutes. Also we had someone in our group of 14 who needed a motorized scooter so found ourselves waiting often. (This happens easily on any ship’s tour but it’s helpful to ask if a private tour.) Given the situation with the Russian ruble, a family of 4 whom we got to know had a private tour with Alla tours for less than we paid. We also passed on a private tour for less money thinking that SPB would be better. They’re the same and we wouldn’t have had to wait in the cold for so long. Companies get a preferential time to enter the Hermitage. They said we did but we had to wait. Other friends including a group with TJ Tours got right in. It depends on your guide also. Overall though, we were happier with ours than doing a huge group ship’s tour. Unlike other ports, when you exit the ship in Russia, you need your passport and your tour ticket along with reservation confirmation which works as your visa to Russia. (Being on a confirmed tour is a visa since they’ve made arrangements for you and are expecting you.) We were told the ship would dock at 7am. The lines starting forming to exit the ship at 6:30pm, and the ship opened the doors at 7:10am. If people showed up at 7 or even 5 of 7 to leave the ship, they would have held up the private tour. It only took us about 30 minutes to clear immigration but allow for an hour in case. Our bus passengers were all there by 8:15am except for 2 couples. A couple with a motorized scooter and cane said it took them longer to clear immigration and they arrived at 8:20. HOWEVER, one couple (perfectly able) arrived at 8:40 and then our guide had the driver go over to SPB administrator to talk about the last couple’s plans to visit the ballet that evening with SPB. Hence we did not leave until 8:47am which might account for why we had a long wait outside at the Hermitage. (There were also numerous phone calls throughout the day between our guide and an SPB administrator trying to coordinate the couple in our group’s evening ballet tour with people in another SPB group. Apparently it was complicated and these people were not put together since the people going except for the couple with us wanted their own private tour of St. Petersburg.) Sites seen: [Note: normally the Hermitage is on Day 2 but they switch days when Day 2 is a Monday because the Hermitage is closed on Mondays.] Overview of the city drive Hermitage Museum (approx. 1.5 hours inside) called the Winter palace built by Catherine the Great in 1764. (Can recognize it by its distinctive green coloring). VERY opulent. Cold 30 minute wait outside. Some people did not bring coats as advised since we were told there is a wait at clockroom to pick up coats later since coats typically not allowed inside museum. They froze. However, exceptions were being made and coats could be worn in the museum we found out when inside. The Hermitage is closed on Mondays so 2-day tours generally flip the itinerary if Day 2 is a Monday. The Hermitage (Winter Palace) is distinctive with its green & white coloring. DETAILS RE THE HERMITAGE: The Hermitage is an impressive Baroque-museum located on the bank of the Neva River (very cold waiting in line outside for 30 minutes or so) built in mid 1700s as main winter residence of Russian Tzars. Only 7% of collection (over 3 million art items) is displayed per our guide due to space. Catherine The Great & princes under her direction purchased much of the artworkstarting in 1763 & continued for 23 years. Because of collection the original Winter Palace was expanded and is now 5 buildings. Interesting to note on our tour (Apprx 90 minutes): Main staircase called The Jordan Staircase, (I read called that because the tzar descended it for Ceremony of a Blessing of Waters (Neva River) Orthodox celebration of Christ's baptism in Jordan River). Stair hall w 18th century depicting the Gods of Olympus. Peter's Room--Peter the a Great Memorial Hall built for Tzar a Nicholas 1 in 1833 & recreated after fire in 1837. Opulent w red velvet throne with painting of a Peter The Great over it & lots of gold. Gold is EVERYWHERE throughout the Hermitage & other palaces. UNBELIEVABLE! Malachite Room (malachite dark green pillars contrasting w crimson velvet of furniture & lots of gold ornaments). Malachite is like Russian mosaic since they do this artwork to make the stone look like one piece--dark green flecks of gold--reminds me of an opulent piece of granite! Peacock clock--automated clock w 3 mechanical birds--peacock, rooster& owl-- made of gold & gemstones in cage. Made in UK & given to Catherine the great by one of her lovers (Prince Potemkin) in 1781. Amazing Crystal chandeliers everywhere. I overheard someone say it gets animated every half hour but didn't see that. Leonardo da Vinci Room has 2 original masterpieces you can quickly view & move on. One is Madonna Litta bought in 1865 from Count Antonio Litta in Milan. Also saw gallery (huge hall) replica of Raphael loggias like The Vatican w depictions from the Bible. Briefly saw Knights room w armour. (The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak is an interesting quick read novel that will provide background on Catherine the Great and the Winter Palace. Paperback can be purchased used online like new for a few dollars.) Also saw on Day 1: St Isaacs Cathedral, Church of the Spilled Blood, Fortress of Sts Peter & Paul. Yusapi Palace was amazing & not to be missed! More wealthy than royals. Family of Muslim descent originally. Bought a palace in Florence just so he could have thestaircase & move it to his Yusapi Palace & abandoned the Italian one. St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Recognizable by the huge gold dome on the top (similar to the US capitol dome but plated with pure gold) and the columns in front. Incredible, lifelike mosaics that look like oil paintings are throughout the interior. Originally oil paintings hung there but dampness and humidity were destroying the paintings. Largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city dedicated to the patron saint of Peter the Great. Built by Tsar Alexander I (and the 4th church standing in this place). Took 40 years to build from 1818-1858. During World War II the dome was painted over in gray to avoid detection. With the fall of communism worship has resumed in the left-hand side chapel although still considered a museum. Inside visit to Church on Spilled Blood. Will recognize it with the colorful blue and gold onion dome on top as well as gold domes and mosiacs. Russian-style church was built by son Alexander III (and other imperials) on the spot where his father Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881. (He was assassinated in 1881 by a group of revolutionaries, who threw a bomb at his royal carriage.) It is officially called the Resurrection of Christ Church). He was assassinated because they felt he would not sign a constitution. Ironically, he planned to sign it that very evening. The interior of the church is decorated with incredibly detailed mosaics, designed and created by prominent Russian artists. Lunch Great lunch with slices of meat pie and fruit pie with a beverage (water, soda, coffee or beer). Inside visit to Yusupov Palace (super wealthy family, even more so than the Royals). Large, long yellow building on the canal (Moika River). Grigory Rasputin was murdered here and there is an exhibit to show how it was done. The tsar’s son had hemophilia. Grigory Rasputin was a self-proclaimed holy man with supernatural powers whom the tsar hired to heal his son. He then heavily influenced the Tsar through his supposed powers while knowing nothing about war to the detriment of Russia. In 1916 a group of the city's noble elite, including one of the Grand Dukes and led by Prince Felix Yusupov, conspired to kill Rasputin in his palace by poisoning him. The poison didn’t work so eventually he had to shoot him. Rasputin was murdered at the Yusupov Palace on the night of December 16-17 1916. The recreated interiors of this palace are opulent and there is an interesting exhibit with the story of Rasputin. Prince Yusupov bought a palace in Italy because he wanted the staircase in his Yusupov Palace. He moved the staircase to this Palace (and basically abandoned the Italian palace). Gold & crystal everywhere. Photos of the last tzar’s family on one wall towards the end of the tour. Inside visit to Sts Peter and Paul’s fortress and cathedral (burial place of Russian Emperors). Gorgeous mosaics and interesting re the tsars. Day 2: City sightseeing tour on canal boat ride was WONDERFUL to see these huge palaces from the water. Highly recommend! (Some difficulty getting a passenger’s motorized scooter on board.) Peter the Great wanted St. Petersburg to be like Venice so he initially didn’t have bridges built. He gave every citizen a boat and directions for how to use it. There are bridges now but they only upon up at night to let ships through. It’s amazing looking at the gorgeous palaces along the river and as the canal boat passed under numerous stone bridges before returning. Hydrofoil ride to Peterhof (summer royal residence). [Note: The hydrofoil ride is not anything special but rather a faster way to get to Peterhof than by bus. Some private tours do not use the hydrofoil ride which would not have been a deal breaker for us.] Gardens were renovated in 2012. At 11am the huge fountains in the gardens of Peterhof start and the music plays with this start. It was amazing to see, and fortunately our guide got us there by 15 of 11am in time to see it! We like most people recorded it on our iPhones. This was a highlight of visiting Peterhof. We didn't go inside the palace since not as special inside as other palaces we'd see but grounds are spectacular. The gardens were MUCH nicer than Versailles (esp Versailles these days) and the wooded areas near the paths were beautiful. Nice lunch at a local café. (Beet soup with sour cream, chicken with salad and ice cream). Inside visit to the Catherine Palace (including the Amber Room). Summer residence of the Russian tsars. Built in 1717 by Catherine I of Russia. Her daughter, Empress Elizabeth, in 1752 had it demolished (felt outdated) and a new one much grander one was finished in 1756. There is gold everywhere you look. Catherine the Great came and had personal apartments of the Empress added to it. The palace was abandoned upon Catherine’s death in 1796 in favor of the Pavlovsk Palace. In 1817 Alexander I had the interiors of his grandmother’s residence refurbished. The Germans destroyed the palace in WW2 leaving only the shell behind. Most of the reconstruction was done by 2003 but work is still being done. Fundraising events are held in the Grand Hall including concert by Elton John in 2001 and a party in 2005 with guests including Bill Clinton, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston and Sting. NOTE: About a 20 minute wait even with our guide rushing in order to get a passenger’s motorized scooter up to the waiting group to tour the palace. The elevator was quite far away and she had to get through a huge mob of people also. The palace was worth the wait though since it was unbelievable splendor. We saw other passenger’s photos of a St. Petersburg subway stop decorated and with a chandelier. However, our group did not have the time to do that. ADDITIONALLY, please note: Another group [SPB had 100 groups] had a passenger robbed during their subway stop. He was at the end of his group of 16 taking a photo and 3 Russian guys pushed him against the subway and emptied his pockets including his wallet. (He had credit cards and $300 in his wallet and wasn’t wearing a hidden wallet). Fortunately, he was able to call and cancel his credit cards and looked at the loss of the money as the cost of a tour. He was upbeat and didn’t let him spoil his trip especially since he didn’t lose his passport. Tallinn, Estonia It has a walled, cobble-stoned old town with a fairy tale atmosphere. (It helped that there was a street celebration going on with interesting vendors everywhere.) There is an Estonian History museum dedicated to 20th century history. Long interesting history and also great views of the harbor from a lookout point near the wall in the old town. We did a great 3.5 hour tour with Andrew Meeker who owns EstAdventures Tours (Australian who studied in Tallinn and lives there). We’d told him we wanted to see the old Russian sites since we could walk around and see the Old Town ourselves. He was terrific and took us to a “burial site” where lots of old Russian statutes are broken and thrown behind a building. Think of Stalin and Lenin lying on the lawn and also some with their heads broken or off their necks. We also saw some other interesting sites before he brought us to the Old Town and gave us some directions and pointers about it. We had lunch by ourselves in the Old Town and did some sightseeing before we walked (about 15 minutes or so) back to the ship. It looks confusing upon returning since the Docks are labelled A-D. (We weren’t sure which one was our ship). However, we could enter the first dock A and keep walking towards the back for Dock D for Celebrity. Berlin, Germany (Warnemunde port) Besides St. Petersburg, the other reason we booked this cruise was because we wanted to see Berlin and its history firsthand. However, I was SO concerned re the 3-hour drive from the port since I dislike long car rides but it did not turn out to be an issue for us. We did a private tour with SPB (booked together with St. Petersburg) but those other tour companies also do Berlin. The bus was comfortable and I (along with everyone else) slept until the bus stopped 1 hour before our destination. I’d had 3 cups of coffee and am sensitive to caffeine so couldn’t believe I slept almost the entire way but the cruise is a very busy one. We were SO fortunate to have Arjia (Arja?) as our SPB Tour guide. She was absolutely FANTASTIC and could tell us about things first hand since her grandfather was in the Soviet Army. Both he and her mother were from East Berlin. (She graduated from Hamburg University with an MA in history and is passionate and articulate. Nothing is off limits.) She also gives private tours with Berlin locals. The Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was so very moving especially with Arjia’s insights. Her grandfather was a **** soldier so she has the inside scoop but totally disagrees with racism and what was done in Berlin to people. There is a phrase on the concentration camp entrance gate “Work will Set You Free” in German. This was to offer new people hope so that they would not rebel and would think working hard would make a difference. (It didn’t). To outsiders this meant it was a prison and not a concentration camp and they strived to make it appear so. (Appears are very deceiving.) It was primarily used for political prisoners from 1936 until 1945. Among the prisoners, there was a "hierarchy": at the top, criminals (rapists, murderers), then Communists (red triangles), then homosexuals (pink triangles), Jehovah's Witnesses (purple triangles), and Jews (yellow triangles). Having two badges would be even worse. Walking around it appears serene except for the barracks. However, we saw a deep trench where they would line people up against planks and shoot them and then push their bodies aside to store—mostly POWs here. Towards the end of the war, over 13,000 Soviet POWs came here and over 10,000 were murdered there. No one would have known how many except on their way to execution Soviets dropped 10,000 dog tags that other prisoners found. There could have been many more killed. (It is estimated that 30,000 people died in this camp.) This was a male camp but approximately 2,000 female inmates might have lived here. In WW2 there were no men left in Germany to work. Companies started hiring (no pay) some of these prisoners for workers but they were in poor health because of the way they were treated and fed. This eventually was not successful. Her grandfather was brainwashed and felt justified as a **** because ****s believed that the Polish invaded Germany (and not vice versa). In Germany they always follow the rules. Hence, they would kill someone. Because autopsies are required, they would do a 2 minute autopsy before they would cremate a person who had been just murdered. Sachsenhausen was originally not intended as an extermination camp. This was conducted mainly in camps to the east. In 1942 large numbers of Jewish inmates were relocated to Auschwitz. However the construction of a gas chamber and ovens by camp-commandant Anton Kaindl in March 1943 gave them the ability to kill larger numbers of prisoners. The prisoners thought they were being sent to a medical facility within the camp so they would walk in willingly. The camp was also bordered by an electrified fence upon which some prisoners would throw themselves. In the Spring of 1945 with the Red Army approaching, 33,000 inmates were evacuated and forced to march Northeast. Most were physically exhausted and thousands did not survive this death march. Those who collapsed en route were shot. In April 1945 the camp’s remaining 3,000 inmates were liberated. On August 12, 1961 a barbed wire fence went up overnight between East and West Berlin. (On November 9, 1989 the Berlin wall finally came down. You can still see pieces of it covered with graffiti.) A man on our cruise said that his parents left East Berlin just before the wall went up. His father was outspoken, and they could see things tightening up. If a spouse/parent went to West Berlin for the day, the other spouse/child had to still be at home in East Berlin. Both spouses could not leave East Berlin at the same time. Guessing what was about to happen, each of his parents went to the two different police areas to leave East Berlin “for the day”. Since this was before computers and it was thus not coordinated, both parents fortunately made it out of East Berlin before the wall went up. In East Berlin before the wall came down everything was for show. Museum Island was to show off their cultural heritage even though people were hungry. Propaganda everywhere. An outsider with a passport could come into East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie but couldn’t leave a specified area or they would be shot. Construction cranes were visible for appearance of prosperity but were not working or moving. There is a phrase, “The enemy of the enemy is my friend.” The Cold War saved the ****s because they were united with the U.S against the Russians. Overall it was a very fascinating day. Many of us were awake on the way back but the drive didn’t seem too bad especially with a kindle. It would have helped though if the bus had internet though which it did in St. Petersburg. Providing water on the bus would have also been helpful. Fredericia, Denmark Just a little town with shops to get off and stretch your legs or use internet. (Some people took a tour to a castle but it would have been exhausting and repetitive after everything we have seen.) It was nice to have some relaxing time on the ship though. Copenhagen, Denmark We had been to this city previously for a week so just did the Hop On, Hop Off bus from the port. It ran frequently. Some sights we saw now and previously were: Denmark’s National Museum The Little Mermaid (located fairly close to the ship)on Langelinje Pier. It is quite crowded around it in June. You can look across the water from it to the graduation hat rooflike building (futuristic) which is the Opera House. Gorgeous inside with sparkling crystals at night. Opened in 2005. Amalienborg Palace museum (Queen lives in Amalienborg Palace). Located about a 5 – 10 minute walk from the Little Mermaid. It consists of four identical buildings spread around the octagonal courtyard. Christiansborg palace-- houses the Danish Parliament, Supreme Court, and Ministry of State. It is also used by the Royal Family for various functions and events. This is where foreign ambassadors and heads of states are welcomed by the Prime Minister and the Queen. The Great Hall contains the Queen's tapestry series, which depict 1000 years of Danish history. Rosenborg Castle is in the center of Copenhagen. It was originally built as a royal pleasure retreat by King Christian IV, but today it is a museum, displaying 400 years of Royal history. Round Tower --17th Century Tower and Observatory. It now has a floating glass floor. Nyhavn is the boating area on the canal with bars and restaurants everywhere as well as the canal cruises. Kronborg Castle was made famous by Shakespeare's royal tragedy, 'Hamlet'. This is a drive out of the City but we did it two years ago. It is a striking Renaissance castle and monumental military fortress. The grand ballroom and the castle dungeons are impressive. Amsterdam, Netherlands It is about an 8 minute walk up the ramp from the ship to Central Station with luggage. (It is visible from the dock in the distance.) Be careful if you are staying in Amsterdam. We booked a highly recommended hotel online which was great but turned out to be in Amsterdam West which meant we had to take the train one stop from Central Station and then a tram. (Alternatively we could have taken 2 trams.) Although Amsterdam is noisy and busy, it would have been far more convenient to stay in the downtown area but we did not look closely enough at the location and went solely by reviews. What to see/do: Anne Frank house (IF you can book it AT LEAST 3 months in advance so you don’t spend 2 hours waiting in line). It was sold out almost 3 months in advance. If the Anne Frank House it sold out, you might be able to look online and book a tour that includes the no wait line for the Anne Frank house. Canal tour. Our Lord in the Attic (museum house previously called Museum Amstelkring) which shows what it was like in the 16th Century and has a secret catholic church into the attic. Originally built in 1663 when Catholics lost the right to worship in public. The lower floors of the building became a museum in 1888 and today contain refurbished rooms, as well as a collection of church silver, various religious artifacts and paintings. It can be a bit hard to find but note that it is #40 Oudezijds Voorburgwal. They are expanding the building to the house next door so there is construction plastic in front of it (but not the actual entrance). It is confusing since the Salvation Army tiny church is #14 about a block away and a large church is a block in the other direction. Amsterdam (History) Museum was great. The Amsterdam Museum has two entrances: Kalverstraat 92 and Sint Luciënsteeg 27. It can be a bit tricky to locate but around the block is the Tourist Information Center who directed us. The central library (not far from the Central train station past the Double Tree Hotel) has a public café with sweeping views of Amsterdam on the 7th floor. Located at Oosterdokskade 143. Take the elevator to the 6th floor and walk up the stairs. The self-service food is quite good and there are beverages including beer and wine as well as frozen yogurt. Another interesting restaurant across the street from the train station directly on the canal is Loetje Centraal, Stationsplein 10 where you can sit outside and watch the boats go by. On your canal tour you will notice the pink and white umbrellas on the outside eating patio where the canal boats turn around. More upscale (but no view of the water) is the Hotel Pulitzer. It is a beautiful hotel located on the Canal fairly close to the Anne Frank House. They have a Tea Room and Bar that is open to the public. If you like art, the Van Gogh Museum is great. The Rijksmuseum (National Museum) has an interesting collection of Dutch art including Rembrandt’s painting Night Watch. Rembrandt’s House was recommended but we did not go to see it. We didn’t go but Waterlooplein Flea market is a big outdoor bazaar that was recommended as a fun event to attend. (300 stands, much but not all junk). It is in Waterloo Square located behind the town hall located in the proximity of Rembrandt House. This square was created in 1880 on the place of 2 canals and has a long history as a bazaar starting in 1893 as a Jewish market. As always in Amsterdam and tourist places, be aware of pickpockets. Read Less
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