Updated: Sep 28
After our eight days in London, we shipped out of Southampton on the Celebrity Silhouette for a 14-day trip to Scandinavia and Russia. We spent our first evening getting settled; eating at the Oceanview Cafe (buffet) and attending the evening show; Matthew McGuirk, magician, and his wife, Katia, an aerialist. Tomorrow we arrive in Belgium and we're off and running with an early start.
Note: If you click on any of the pictures, they will open to full size and you can arrow through them in each section. Highly recommend, especially for the pictures of the castles and museums.
First stop – Bruges (Zeebrugge) Belgium After some internet research, I opted to take Celebrity's City Tour to Ghent over Bruges. Ghent, they said, would have less tourists and be just as attractive. Our guide narrated on the forty-five minute bus ride in, and the tour included a boat ride on the canal. Construction of the city started in the 7th Century and cobblestone streets and medieval architecture were in evidence everywhere. After our canal ride, we had an hour to wander Burg Square. Many shops were closed as it was Sunday, but it was a sunny, warm day and as promised, it was relatively uncrowded. No narration on the forty-five minute return, which I think would have made the outing more educational.
Photos: Cruising the canal in Ghent, Belgium and Burg Square on a Sunday.
We opted for dinner in the dining room and met some lovely people from the United Kingdom. Per our cruise director, 75 percent of the ship was from the UK, with a large portion of the balance, interestingly enough, from Spain and Mexico. Afterwards, we took advantage of one of Celebrity’s offerings (for a fee, that is), and went to the Sunset Bar, where we enjoyed an hour of margarita tasting with new friends we made at dinner. The evening show, The Revolvers, was a 60's revival sing-a-long, that was definitely enjoyed by the older, sixty-plus, audience.
A "Sea Day." As tempting as it was, we decided not to attend, “Say Goodbye to Frizzy Hair,” “Adult Coloring,” or “10 years Younger in 10 Minutes." Instead, we opted for the Observation Deck Lounge to enjoy the scenery and read. In the evening we ate at the first of our three specialty restaurants, the Tuscan Grill. It was a good meal, although not quite up to our expectations, based on past experiences. In the evening, we took in the show, “Pearl," well-done by the Celebrity Silhouette singers and dancers.
Photos: We had 14 days of sunshine onboard and saw lots of sunburned Brits who were not used to so much sun; late afternoon and sunset photos from the stern, margarita tasting with new friends, Pearl extravaganza in the Silhouette Theater.
If it’s Tuesday, this must be Copenhagen. We purchased Celebrity's Charming Copenhagen – Walk and Canal Tour. Our guide, Solveig, a young lady who was working on her masters in ancient history, led a very nice, comprehensive walking tour of the city along the waterfront, before boarding on the canal cruise, which she also narrated. We saw the statue of the Little Mermaid, the Queen’s Palace and old-world meets new from the deck of our vessel. One disappointment: we made a half-hour stop at a meeting hall, where we were offered a beverage and then ushered upstairs into an old ballroom, lined with chairs and nothing else. The intent was to rest but there was nothing to see except the other tourists. We escaped to the street, but there wasn’t anything to see there, either. A better "rest stop" would have been along the canal, or as we learned later, a historic square adjacent to the canal with music and shops.
Photos: Our lovely tour guide, Solveig, bronze statue of Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid, gardens along the Langelinie promenade, St. Alban's Church, the fountain and statue of Norse goddess Gefjun driving bulls, the canal at Nyhavn, a poor choice for a 30 minute stop.
We were back at the ship by mid-afternoon. In the evening, we joined friends for our second specialty restaurant, the Murano, which featured French cuisine. I had an excellent meal of lobster tail, followed by Crepes Suzette, flambéed table side. Best meal yet.
Photos: Pour some alcohol, light it up and I'm good to go, the unveiling, and butter (I'm amused by such things).
At sea. We chose not to attend, “Wrinkle Remedies,” "What does your hair say about you,” or join others for the Blackjack Tournament. Instead, we attended the Champagne Art Auction to kill some time. It’s interesting to hear about the artists and see what others bid on and we did not come away unscathed.
With the exception of three dinners in the specialty restaurants, we chose to dine in the Grand Cuvée dining room. We never made a reservation and always asked for open-seating at tables of four or six so we could have more intimate conversations and meet new people. The topics of conversation often veered to the weather (six weeks of heat wave), the many opposing views of our President and Brexit problems. The evening's entertainment - pianist, Kim Perling, was excellent.
Photos: Things to do on a ship: art auction, dancing, specialty shows, multitude of bars, Grand Cuvée dining room, and gambling
While we find sea days a bit boring, they are restful. Good thing, because the next five days were a guided tour marathon.
Lovely Stockholm, Sweden. We docked in Nynashamn, as we couldn't get a closer port due to the number of ships in the city. From there, it was a forty-five minute ride into Stockholm, where we chose the Royal Palace and Canal Cruise, offered by Celebrity. My favorite stop so far, Stockholm was beautiful, filled with Baroque-inspired architecture. We had time to stroll leisurely through the cobblestone streets, shop and take yet another water trip, this time on the Djurgarden Canal. We also toured the Royal Palace with a few thousand friends. The Palace houses five museums and was built during the eighteenth century in Italian Baroque style, on the spot where the “Tre Kronor” castle burned down in 1697. We returned to the ship in the early afternoon, dined in the Grand Cuvée and enjoyed Phil Collins Impersonator, Rob Lewis.
Photos: Arrival into Nynashamn Harbor and the short walk from ship to shore, scenes from the Djurgarden Canal, inside the palace, Changing of the Guard, and a street in the shopping district.
The ship docked in Tallinn, Estonia at 9:00 am and our tour started at noon. It was nice to have a late start. It was a short fifteen-minute drive into Old Town, where we met our guide, Teet (pronounced Tedt, and yes, he informed us, he'd heard it all). We started with a walking tour through Upper Old Town, toured a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church and took pictures of the famous red roofs of Lower Tallinn. We had a half hour (typical shopping time) to browse some shops with the rest of the tour groups. This was the only place in twenty-one days that we were blessed with an actual rain shower!
Little Tallinn (61 sq. miles) was conquered and ruled by Denmark, Scandinavia, Germany and under Nazi occupation in the 40's. It had a strategic location and was a major trade route from the 14th - 16th Century. Tallinn's Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, Tallinn is a vibrant political, financial and technology hub and is the birthplace of many international startups, including Skype. (Who knew?)
Back on the bus, we drove through the outskirts of the city before heading to St. Mary's Cathedral, built originally by the Danes and first mentioned in 1233. Historically, this was the church of Estonia's elite German nobles and the interior is filled with elaborate funeral coat-of-arms from the 17th to the 20th centuries, as well as burial stones from the 13th to the 18th centuries. Although this was a small taste of Tallinn, it was a lovely stop and we really enjoyed it.
Photos: Arrival into Tallinn at the Old City Harbor, 13th Century City Wall and Fortress, Russian Orthodox Church (no pictures allowed inside), Russian Orthodox Church interior (Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.com), the famous red roofs of Old Tallinn, St. Mary's Church and interior, obligatory souvenir stop.
Tip: Russia requires a Russian Visa UNLESS you are on a cruise excursion or with an approved tour provider. What that means, specifically, is that if you didn't acquire a Russian Visa before leaving home, you can't get off the ship unless you are on a tour. Our ship docked in St. Petersburg for three days and we didn't want to spend any of those days stuck on the ship, so we purchased tours each day.
After lots of warnings about potential delays and the unfriendliness of the custom agents (a little true), we entered Russia without too much muss or fuss. Our first tour in St. Petersburg, with Celebrity, was 10 hours. We started early and, as it was Sunday, traffic was light and streets deserted. First stop: St. Isaac's Square and St. Isaac's Cathedral for photo ops.
Photos: Arrival into St. Petersburg and a view of Tsentr Lakhty, an 87 story building currently under construction. When completed it will be the tallest building in Russia (but only the 17th tallest in the world), St. Isaac's Cathedral (click the link for an interesting read), statue of Nicholas I in St. Isaac's Square, the Hermitage in the early morning before the crowds, no traffic in St. Petersburg on Sunday morning, and the scenic, Neva River.
Next, the impressive Hermitage Museum*, originally the private museum of Catharine the Great. It is the second largest museum in the world, includes the largest collection of paintings in the world and is home to over three million pieces of art and artifacts. We saw only a fraction in the hour and a half we were allotted, but that fraction did not fail to impress. Our guide, Tatiana, provided excellent commentary as she walked us through the gilded halls, lavish displays and original art by Flemish, Spanish and Italian masters.
Tip: *If you click on the Hermitage Museum link above, then click "Begin the Tour," you will see a jaw-dropping, 360 degree virtual tour of each floor. It was incredibly hard to pick just nine pictures to share as we took literally hundreds of photos of all the magnificence.
Photos: The gilded foyers, Jordan staircase, Pavilion Hall, the Rafael Loggia, a 200-year-old timepiece-automaton adorned with a golden peacock that still works to this day, huge Malachite urn in the Winter Palace, one of the state rooms in the Winter Palace, the Lute Player by Caravaggio, painted in1595, 19 ton, green jasper Kolyvan Vase.
After the Hermitage, it was time for a traditional Russian lunch at Mendal Restaurant. We tasted caviar (OK, Sal tried the caviar), and enjoyed borscht, beef stroganoff, and of course, a complimentary shot of Vodka; all good. Next a tour to the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood* (so named as it marks the spot where Alexander II was fatally wounded in an assassination attempt in 1881.) This incredible Russian-styled church, was elaborately decorated and claims to have more mosaics than any other church in the world.
Tip: *You can watch an amazing, virtual tour of this incredible church at the link above.
Photos: Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood, interior mosaics
Finally, we crossed the Neva River to Peter and Paul’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, located inside the Peter and Paul Fortress. It is the oldest landmark in St. Petersburg, built between 1712 and 1733. Both the cathedral and the fortress were originally constructed under Peter the Great and designed by Domenico Trezzini.
Photos: Peter and Paul's Cathedral and interior, a typical portrayal of the crowds.
Tip: This is exactly the type of setting that many travelers tell me they want to avoid by going with a group. However, whether with a group or going solo, the crowds remain. Advantage of a tour: No waiting to enter, headsets and narration by a knowledgable guide.
It was a long, hot day and our tour was accompanied by thousands of like-minded tourists, plus enthusiastic World Cup attendees. Tatiana was a great guide who navigated through the crowds expertly and kept our group of 42 together, despite her diminutive 4' 10" height. We returned to the ship about 8:30 pm and had a late dinner in the Ocean View Café.
Today began with an hour-long drive to the famous, Peterhof Gardens, the “Russian Versailles.” Originally completed by Peter the Great in 1723, it was expanded and home to Russian royalty for over 200 years. Almost completely destroyed by German forces during WWII, restoration began at the end of the war and continues to this day. We did not enter the palace, unfortunately, but had a guided walk through the gardens which included 64 fountains, 37 gilt statues and 3 waterfalls. Again, a beautiful, sunny (and muggy) day, perfect for pictures even though it was quite hot.
We were back on board by 2:00 pm. At 8:00 pm we disembarked again to join Guide Guru for an evening cruise on the Neva River. Although we were supposed to see the lights of the city, due to the time of year we only managed a long sunset. We had a pleasantly cool evening viewing the magnificent architecture from the canal.
Photos: The Hermitage in the early evening, General Staff Building - Palace Square, scenes from onboard the Neva River Cruise.
Last day in St. Petersburg. Trying to find something we hadn't seen, we purchased a tour to Tsarskoye Selo, now known as Pushkin, to see Catharine's Palace and summer residence. Russia's imperial rulers seemed to have no equal when it came to extravagance and Catharine's Palace is said to be even more opulent than the Palace of Versailles in France.
Photos: The interior of Catharine's Palace (all visitors wear shoe coverings to protect the floors), and surrounding gardens.
The main attraction at Catharine's Palace - the Amber Room. A reconstruction as the original was looted and destroyed during Nazi occupation. Pictures were not allowed, but thank you to SaintPetersburg.com for the one posted here. Click on the picture to enlarge; it's spectacular. I'm not sure which is more impressive - the original or the work that went into recreating it.
Tip: Watch a 3 minute youtube video of the Amber Room, here.
Day Ten Day at sea! After five days of touring, it was good to just kick back and relax. This is what Celebrity had in store for us today: "The Perfect Haircut and Color?" "Puffy Eye and Dark Circle Solution?" "Bean Bag Toss or 1/2 Price Bingo Cards?" We were happy to just relax and read, graze the buffet for lunch and enjoy the view of the calm, Baltic Sea. We used our last specialty dinner to return to the Tuscan Grill with friends for a delicious Italian dinner. The evening entertainment was a Broadway Cabaret by the Silhouette singers and dancers; one of the best shows of the two weeks from the onboard troupe.
Day Eleven Germany. We docked early and were off the ship by 7:30 am. Berlin was a three-hour drive and we chose to take a small group tour with Guide Guru. After two hours we made a restroom stop at what could only be called a German AM/PM, complete with a McDonalds and convenience store. I only mention it because it was so state-of-the-art.
We were met in Berlin by Wauter (Wow-ter), probably the best guide we’ve had yet. We visited the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Holocaust Memorial, and made photo stops at Charlottenburg Castle, the Reichstag (German Parliament) and Museum Island (and so many others). Wauter took us through the history of East and West Berlin, the construction and destruction of The Berlin Wall, and the rise and fall of Hitler with humanizing stories that brought that dark period to life. West Berlin left many of their historic buildings standing, scarred, complete with burned columns, bullet shrapnel and damage evident, as a constant reminder of the cost of war. We did not have time to go into any of the buildings or museums and our lunch/shopping break was only forty-five minutes. Still, it was worth getting a taste of the city as we may want to go back for a longer visit at a later time. The only thing I would have added to this tour was some narration on the three-hour bus ride breaking up the length of the drive, but overall it was a great day.
Photos: Our guide, Wauter, with Guide Guru, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church**, the remnants of the Berlin Wall and Holocaust Museum, Parliament Building, one of many buildings that exhibit the signs of fire, shelling and bullet hole damage during WWII, the Holocaust Memorial, Reichstag building, Altes Museum, Museum plaza and statue of Diana, Goddess of the Hunt, Checkpoint Charlie.
** "As the power center of Nazi Germany, Berlin was bombed heavily in the final 2 years of the war. Very few of its major buildings have survived not only the fall of the Third Reich but the difficult transition to first a divided city and now, once again, a great European capital. The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was originally constructed from 1891 to 1906 and was severely damaged in an Allied bombing raid on November 23rd, 1943. The preserved spire of the old church now rests alongside a modernist New Church built between 1959 and 1963." From article by Steve, Web Urbanist, weburbanist.com
We arrived back at the ship at about 9:30 pm. We headed up to the Ocean View Cafe for a late dinner and discovered an Oom-Pah Brass Band from Rostock providing entertainment, and an Octoberfest-German buffet just coming to an end.
Days Twelve and Thirteen
Our last two days at sea. We avoided the "Vegetable Carving Demonstration," "Secrets to a Flatter Stomach", and Bocci Ball. These were the major sale days for Celebrity and the shopping decks were lined with discounted items from the clothing, jewelry and souvenir stores. As the Celebrity crossed from the Baltic to the North Sea we had a little bit of swells, but not nearly as bad as we've experienced before on other cruises.
Since we had a tour with an independent company, we got up early, grabbed a quick breakfast and were off the ship with luggage in tow by 7:15 am. Celebrity did a good job of handling luggage and departures for the nearly 3,000 passengers. We were out way too early for our 8:15 am pick- up, so we had an opportunity to watch them direct everyone to their assorted buses and say good-bye to a few new friends we'd made onboard.
Scandinavia, Berlin and St. Petersburg Miscellaneous
The funny, weird, interesting, or unique things you can capture with a telephoto that always go into the back of our photo albums.
Photos: Left to right: Crowds - can't be helped during high season, Bikers in Tallinn, Sculpture across the bay in Copenhagen, Sausage lunch stop - Berlin, St. Petersburg, Krestovsky Stadium - Site of 2018 World Cup, World Cup crowds, entrance ticket to the Hermitage - St. Petersburg, well-covered tourists during brief rain shower, signage in Berlin - "Hate harms the soul."
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