Monica J. Pileggi
Number of Cruises: 9
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: 7th, 2005
Itinerary: The Baltics
I have always wanted to go to the Baltics, but my heart is usually in the Mediterranean. I figured, “Some day.” Well, the plans were set in motion when last July friends Jeff and Shaun invited Mom and me on this Baltic cruise. We had met them, along with their wives Robin and Toni, on our 2003 Mediterranean cruise and had a great time with them. The cost of this cruise was about double the amount of my European trips, but I felt it was worth the price. And I would be able to get a taste of the ports without having to have the extra hotel/transportation/etc. costs.
Mom had to back out of the trip in March, as she was diagnosed in December with lung cancer. Up until March, her doctor said she would be able to go with me on the trip. She had a setback with her chemotherapy and had to cancel the trip. Everyone was disappointed she couldn’t go, including our new cruise critic mates. Fortunately, we both purchased trip insurance and she was able to get all of her money back for the cruise and airline tickets. Celebrity charged me for the single supplement fee for the cabin but the insurance reimbursed me.
During these months of planning, which I love to do, I met many people on the Cruise Critic web site. It’s a great place to meet fellow cruisers in advance. I was able to organize a two-day tour with 10 others for our visit to Saint Petersburg, Russia. We also made various party plans, such as our sail away party, an open house party, etc.
I booked my flight with British Airways for my flight to London Heathrow. I decided to book a morning flight (8:10am) just do see how I would adjust with the time changes. I figured since I can never sleep on an airplane anyway, why not fly during the day, and get to the hotel at night and go to sleep.
Tuesday May 3rd, 2005 Washington Dulles
Yawn, it was an early wake up call to get to Dulles 2 hours before the flight. I packed my bags the night before since there was no time in the morning to do any final packing. Check in was smooth and quick. The flight was uneventful. The plane had been de-iced from the previous night’s frost. I had a row of three seats to myself, as the flight was pretty empty (something to consider for future flights: take a morning flight). The food wasn’t that great, but the service was very nice. All the flight attendants were friendly. I watched a couple of movies to pass the time and read my travel notes.
Since the flight arrived around 8:10pm, it took only 20 minutes to walk off the plan, go through customs, and gather my luggage. I took out some British Pounds£ at the ATM machine and went to my designated waiting area for my car service (www.justairports.com) to pick me up. I had booked online and got a great rate of 32£ (approx $63) with tip. Taxis were estimated at $90 and since I had 3 pieces of luggage, I didn’t want to take the bus or tube.
It was great driving into the center of London, as I recognized many sights I had read about, including Harrod’s, Buckingham Palace and the London Eye. I arrived at my hotel around 10pm. My hotel, Thistle Charing Cross, was in an excellent location, just a block from Trafalgar Square and right above the Charing Cross tube. I booked my hotel via priceline for $100/night plus taxes. For London, priceline is the way to go! The “regular“ hotel rate during my stay was around $380/night. I requested a non-smoking, king bedroom. My room, #904, was located in the second building. Room 904 is actually on the 6th floor. Who knows why they numbered the rooms on the 6th floor with 900 series? My room, an executive room, was very nicely decorated with a king bed, sitting area with table and 2 chairs, desk, tv, and tiled bathroom with bidet, hair dryer, and speakers to listen to the tv. The view from my window faced the Thames, but the train station building blocked my view of the Eye. The room had been renovated and was decorated in red and cream colors. It was very elegant. The closet contained a room safe, bathrobe, ample closet space, and an iron and ironing board. There was also a mini-bar, but I certainly didn’t use it, as the prices for the drinks were outrageous! Complimentary bottled water was provided. The a/c drowned out any outside noise, including the hum of the trains from the station underneath the building. For the quality, comfort of the room and the price I paid, I would stay at the Charing Cross again.
Wednesday May 4, 2005 London, England
I had a long day of walking around London and sightseeing. I woke up around 8am and was out the door an hour later. It was about 55 degrees and overcast. I took a walk to the Thames and there was the London Eye across the river. I couldn’t believe how huge and high it was! I had plans to meet friends on Friday to ride the Eye and I wondered how comfortable I would feel being that high up in one of the pods. I walked along the Thames towards Parliament and Big Ben and took some photos along the way. There were many tourists around, especially at Westminster Abbey (http://www.westminster-abbey.org/). I arrived about 10 minutes before the next Verger’s tour of the Abbey (8£). The tour of 11 people lasted about 1.5 hours and was very informative. Poets corner is especially interesting. Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to be buried in this corner and later Byron, Dickens, and others. There is also a monument to Shakespeare. And of course, many of the kings and queens of England are buried here
London is a very expensive place to visit. Lucky for me, I had a list of “budget” dining options. Near the Abbey I had a sandwich at Pret a Manger. This chain is located all over the city. My chicken and avocado sandwich was delicious and only 3.3£ ($6.50).
In the afternoon, I toured the Cabinet War Rooms (http://cwr.iwm.org.uk/) for about 40 minutes. It’s a self-guided tour 10£ which includes an audio guide. There are lots of displays, including the radio room, map room and even Churchill’s bedroom. Imagine conducting the war beneath the street level of London. Many of the items on display are original artifacts.
St James Park is lovely. I walked along Birdcage walk to Buckingham Palace. Many flowers were in bloom, while ducks swam in the ponds. I missed seeing the changing of the guards, but didn’t feel I missed anything special. On the way back to my hotel, I walked past St. James’s Palace, had a delicious pastry at Valerie Patisserie, and visited Fortnum and Mason. I loved seeing the wonderful displays of food, teas, jams, etc. It reminded me of Fauchon’s in Paris.
Piccadilly Circus is quite busy with traffic, including the famous red double decker busses and black cabs. Near my hotel, I picked up a bottle of wine, returned to my room and rested my aching feet. For dinner I dined at Chowki, an Indian restaurant decorated in a funky style with red leather stools. The food, a three-course dinner, was very good: lamb, chicken and a sweet rice dessert. The place filled up quickly. When I received the bill, the waiter had converted the cost into US dollars but used a high exchange rate. I was very angry and told them to charge me in British Pounds, that my bank would do the exchange rate. I even argued with the manager. They didn’t budge, so I left without leaving any tip.
I walked around the area, including Chinatown. There were many Chinese restaurants, some with delicious foods on display, and shops. Prostitutes hung out on another street nearby waiting for customers. Being too cold outside, I went back to the hotel for the rest of the night.
Thursday May 5, 2005 London
Oh my aching feet and legs! Today was another on-the-run day. I was out the door by 8:50am and took the #15 bus to the Tower of London. After paying the entrance fee, I went directly to the crown jewels to beat the crowds. What fabulous crowns decorated with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls, etc! My favorite piece on display was the scepter with the 532-carat diamond.
The 1-hour Yeoman Warder’s tour was fun. Our guide was very entertaining and funny. I learned that the term “severance pay” came from those that were about to be beheaded. They would pay the beheader money so that his or her death was clean and quick, hence severance pay. I don’t know if this is really true since our guide was telling all sorts of stories. There were black ravens in the area. After our tour, I visited some of the other exhibits in the other buildings. The sun finally came out, so I went towards the Thames to take a photo of the tower bridge.
I had a delicious Japanese chicken saimin soup for lunch at Wagamama’s next door to the Tower of London. The meal, with a glass of wine, was a little pricey: 11.25£. The restaurant filled up quickly with tourists and area office workers.
I decided I would walk back to the hotel via a visit to Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Well, after a 20-minute walk to the Cathedral and then a hike up to the top of the dome with its 521 steps, I was ready for the bus and a break in my hotel room! The views from the top of the dome were great. The sun was out and I could see all the way to the London Eye on one side and the Tower Bridge on the other side. Shakespeare globe was across the water. I took my time going both directions on the stairs.
About two blocks from the Cathedral, I found a wine shop with a “buy 2, get 1 free.” I purchased three bottles to enjoy while in my cabin on the ship. Thanks to the special pricing, the price per bottle was a lot more reasonable than other wine shops in London. Everything in London is expensive! Fortunately for me, there was a bus stop next to the wine shop, so I took one back to my hotel. I enjoyed a glass of wine while I rested. Later I went to the Internet café across the street and emailed some family and friends.
For dinner, I took the tube to the Mornington Crescent station where I met fellow fodorite Kavey. We had corresponded before my trip to London and planned to meet for dinner. We dined at a small Vietnamese restaurant called Bluu Grass. The food was excellent. We shared several appetizers and entrées. Near our table were about 10 young women having a bachelorette party. They were quite loud having a good time. Kavey and I had an enjoyable evening together. Back to the center of town, I got off one stop prior to mine, walked along St Martin’s in the Lane road, and headed to the Sherlock Holmes pub for a beer. I’m not a big beer drinker, but wanted to check out at least one pub while in London.
Friday May 6, 2005 London
I woke up to a nice sunny (finally), cool day. I slept well (such a comfortable bed and pillow!) and was ready for my last full day in London. My first visit of the day was to the British Museum. I walked to the museum via Covent Garden and stopping along the way for breakfast (meat pie). My one goal at this museum was to see the famous Rosetta stone. I think this was the most visited artifact. It was difficult to take any photos as many people were standing so close to it. There were other wonderful exhibits, including Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Asian artifacts. 19th Century English jewelry was on display, but nothing like what I saw at the Tower of London.
For lunch, I dined at the recommended Rock and Sole Plaice and had fried haddock and chips with a glass of white wine, all for 10£. However, the same thing happened to me like at Chowki where I was overcharged with a higher exchange rate. How irritating! I would recommend this place to anyone but pay in cash, not via credit card.
Covent Garden was packed with diners, shoppers, and tourists. I purchased some natural handmade hard shampoo for my thin/fine hair. There were other natural products too. I watched some of the street performers for a while before moving on.
In the afternoon, I took the #9 bus and headed to Harrod’s, a world famous department store. I loved the food courts, especially seeing the patés, terrines, caviar and varieties of cheese. The escalators were decorated in an Egyptian motif, given that Mohamed Al Fayed owns Harrod’s. On the lower level, the Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed memorial was crowded with onlookers.
I took the bus back to the hotel, stopping along the way to email Tony at home. I was able to use the Internet for three days, as the price was very good. I took out some additional British Pounds for the rest of the evening and to have for my transfer to/from Dover.
I made arrangements for dinner at Brown’s, which is a chain restaurant http://www.browns-restaurants.com/index.html. Plans were to meet several cruise mates for dinner, then head to the London Eye for our 8pm ride. Elise and Ed were the first to show up, followed by Deb and Robert. Jeff and his group never made it to the restaurant. They didn’t write down the address and didn’t know that Brown’s was a chain. Dinner was excellent and in fact, my best meal while in London. For 12.50£, I had their pre-theatre dinner: potato/leek soup with sourdough bread, followed by their steak, mushroom and Guinness pie, which was topped with a flaky pastry and served with mashed potatoes and string beans. It was very filling and delicious. Elise and Ed purchased a bottle of white wine for the three of us.
Elise, Ed and I took a taxi to the London Eye, while Deb and Robert went their own way. They had already had their ride a previous day. We got to the Eye just in time. Traffic was pretty bad and we probably could have walked to the Eye. There we met up with Jeff, Robin, Shaun, and Toni. The seven us of were escorted to our private capsule, which took 30 minutes to go around. Jeff made the arrangements and it was perfect timing for the sunset. I felt very comfortable in the capsule, while enjoying the views. I got a great photo of Parliament.
On our way to Piccadilly Circus for drinks, we stopped at my hotel for a few minutes. We ended up in the red light district and couldn’t find one pub that we could squeeze into. Piccadilly Circus was hopping! The Mai Tai bar had a 5£ cover charge, along with a man standing at the door in a suit and earpiece! He must have been their watchdog. Not able to find a place for a drink, we split up and I walked back to my hotel to finish packing. It was only a 12-15 minute walk, but enjoyable. I felt very safe walking alone in London.
Saturday May 7, 2005 London to Dover
It was time to leave London and board our Celebrity Constellation cruise ship in Dover. I had some time in the morning before being picked up by Woodford Chauffeur Cars http://www.woodfordchauffeurcars.co.uk/, which I had arranged prior to the trip. I walked around the area and took photographs of pub fronts so I could make a large poster at home for our bar in the basement…when it’s completed. It was nice to walk around the area on a Saturday, as there was no traffic. Everyone must have been in bed after a busy Friday night out on the town.
Jeff’s group was picked up first, then Deb and Robert, and finally me. When the car service arrived, I was told that their large car was not available and we would be split up into two cars. It was no big deal since we weren’t charged any additional fees and we got to the port at the same time. My luggage was split between both cars. The rate for the transfer was 20£ per person plus tip. The drive to Dover was 2 hours through the countryside. It was quite lovely.
Many people were checking in as we arrived at the port. It was an older crowd along with many Asians. We boarded the ship around 1:40pm (my 4 bottles of wine made it safely on board in my carryon bag) and were greeted with a glass of champagne. It was such a nice way to start the cruise! We were escorted to our rooms on the 9th (Penthouse) deck. My room, #6097 was located mid-ship about 10 doors down from the computer room and glass elevators. My room was decorated in orange and green colors, while other rooms were decorated in burgundy and dark blues. I loved my balcony! The lifeboats were located one level below me. I pulled out photos that I brought with me and placed them on the mirror in the corners. I put my bottles of white wine in the refrigerator. I had to remove some items and store elsewhere. Purwanto, from Indonesia, was my room steward. He was a petite man, very quiet, but always with a smile.
David and Larry, from Ft. Lauderdale, had left me a “welcome” note on my door and later came by to say hello. We talked for a bit, and then I headed out for lunch. I wasn’t interested in the buffet – too much food, so I had a pizza, which was made fresh in front of me. It was pretty good.
After our 4:15pm muster, a bunch of us (cruise critic friends) met in Marilyn’s room for our Sail Away party. She and Bill had a nice room with a large balcony aft of the ship. We had a nice time talking after emailing each other for several months. It was like meeting old friends. We enjoyed the Dover views as we sailed from the port. After a short visit, I went back to my room and found one piece of luggage had arrived, so I quickly unpacked it while enjoying a glass of wine.
Dinner was at 6:15pm. We had opted for early dining so we could enjoy the evening shows. On our Mediterranean cruise, we dined at 8:30pm, which was nice but we didn’t get to see any shows. I also liked the idea of early dining to digest all the food I ate before going to bed! Our dining group consisted of Jeff’s group, Deb and Robert, Sabrina, and me. Sabrina was also sailing solo as her friend had to back out and her husband couldn’t go with her. Our table was located on the 4th deck at the very back of the room, next to the window. We could look outside each time we left a port. Our waiter was Olman and I could never remember our assistant waiter’s name. Both were excellent servers. For dinner, I had the veal picatta and crème brulee for dessert.
Our daily Celebrity Today newspaper informed us to set our clocks forward one hour. We would loose a total of three hours on this cruise by the time we got to St. Petersburg.
Sunday May 8, 2005 Day at Sea
The morning started (after breakfast of course) with the Cruise Critic group party that Celebrity hosted. It was different than the one I attended on the Millennium ship in that this one didn’t have a hostess, nor did we have a group photo taken. I don’t even remember if they served any cookies or pastries. It was almost as if we were ignored. We were ushered out after about 45 minutes for another group to use the room.
After the little “party”, I watched the sushi demonstration in the Rendezvous lounge. Sushi samplings were passed around, along with their Sakatini’s. It was a delicious drink! I also attended a digital photo class hoping to learn more about my camera, but I didn’t learn anything new. Many in the room were new to digital photography.
All day long I felt seasick, so I asked Purwanto for some motion sickness pills. I felt better after an hour of taking one pill. It turned out that many people on the ship were also sick due to sailing near Denmark. I was told that the waters were only 150 feet deep and somehow affected the movement of the ship. I didn’t need to take any other pills during the trip, as the seas were quite (surprisingly) calm.
I went to the gym to exercise. The gym has bikes, treadmills, elliptical machines, as well as various weight machines. It was good to work out!
Some of us went to the Martini Bar to enjoy a drink or two before dinner. I ordered the “Goose Kiss” martini, which was delicious. Most martinis were around $9, but they were large glasses. I think for future cruises I’ll stick to the drink of the day to keep my bar bill down. I had an excellent rack of lamb for dinner. All the women received a rose for Mother’s Day, which was a nice touch.
The big event of the evening was a Cirque du Soleil Masquerade Ball, held at The Bar at the Edge of the Earth, which was located on the 11th deck, aft. This bar, created by the Cirque du Soleil, was a unique experience of a fantasy world with surreal characters, lights and sounds, and where one could journey to new imaginations. The music was fabulous, and I wish I had purchased some of the CDs. I made masks for my dining mates instead of us having to purchase the ships masks, which were outrageously priced. David and Larry, and others, also made their masks. Drinks were served while the music played and the cast of characters entertained the audience. There were cushioned seating areas and flowing drapes. There was also a female contortionist. She was amazing! It was almost as if she had no spine or bones in her body. She twisted and bent and worked herself into a pretzel. She could stand on the floor, bend backwards and place her hands on the floor with ease. Truly amazing! The only unfortunate thing about the events at the Edge was that they were held at 10:27pm, almost too late for me. This particular event should have been scheduled with a day at sea the next day. It was a fun evening mingling with everyone.
Monday May 9, 2005 Oslo Norway
Our ship arrived early since we had a short day in Oslo (7am - 2pm). We were disappointed in the schedule, as most places didn’t open until 10am. Our group was off the ship around 8:10am and walked past the town hall to the Palace. Guided tours were available at 2pm when our ship departed! We took some photographs in front of the Palace and of the guards. Nearby was a pedestrian street, which we walked along. Again, most things were closed, as it was too early. The Seven-11 was open, so we went in for coffee and sodas. Just inside the entrance were two slot machines, which Jeff tried out. No winnings for him. It was pretty funny to see gambling machines in a Seven-11. I took some money out of the ATM machine. The minimum was 500NOK. I would have preferred taking out half the amount, but ended up using the excess towards onboard tips.
Nearby was the Cathedral, Oslo Domskirke, with its bronze doors. The church was built in the 17th century. Inside was a huge cathedral organ. The architecture was quite different than the “usual” Gothic Cathedrals I visited in other countries. Next we visited City Hall, located at the waterfront of the city. There were interesting murals on the walls. This building, built in red brick, is also the location where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded.
We visited the Viking Ship museum after a short ferry (20NOK) ride and 15-minute walk. Inside the building were three Viking ships, built around 800 a.d. One was in excellent condition, which the others weren’t. There are stairs in each corner so one could see the inside of the ships. Also on display were artifacts from this era.
Back in Oslo, I did a little souvenir shopping before boarding the ship. I looked at the various sweaters, but they were so expensive! It started to rain as I boarded the ship. I had lunch in the dining room rather than the buffet place. I had the potato/leek soup and a delicious Indonesian rice dish with chicken, pork, and shrimp. The soups on board the Constellation are delicious.
Carlene hosted an afternoon open house in her cabin (aft) while we sailed away from Oslo. It was cold outside and everyone had his or her jackets on. The temperature during the day was about 55 degrees (typical of most days on this cruise).
I hadn’t been sleeping well at night so far. I had asked Purwanto a softer pillow. I like to be able to sink into the pillow. Deb had asked for extra pillows for her room for me to select one, but none of them were close to what I like. I had a plan: I asked for a pair of scissors and borrowed Deb’s sewing kit. I proceeded to make a small cut in one of the pillows, just large enough to get my hand in to pull out some feathers. Well, I did this on the balcony of my room and the feathers started to fly everywhere! I ended up standing in the shower with the curtain closed to contain the feathers. In my undies, since the feathers clung to me. I took out several handfuls. I had a zip lock bag that I placed the feathers into to throw out. I slept well the rest of the cruise. And I’m sure someone on the cruise right now is enjoying the softest, mushy pillow!
After an entertaining dinner with Marcel, our assistant maitre D, Robin and I went to the evening show – a flutist. He was very good, but it lasted too long in my opinion. The rest of the gang was in the casino, either at the bar or the slot machines. Deb came to the bar and we decided to do a little window-shopping for Amber, which I purchased a beautiful ring. The Amber store was not officially open for people to purchase anything until the next day, but the saleswoman let me purchase the ring. Later, I went to The Edge and hung out with David and Larry and their friends. I got the chance to dance to one song, but since it was getting late, I headed back to my cabin.
Tuesday May 10, 2005 Day at Sea
This was another relaxing day at sea with a leisurely buffet breakfast, followed by more amber shopping. I also used the computer room to download my digital photos. The photo of the rain cloud I saw the other night out at sea was fabulous! Using the computer for downloading photos or using it as a word document was at no cost. I did use the computer to send Tony and Mom an email message and that was very expensive! If I ever do this again, I’ll type my message in Word, then just copy/paste when I’m ready to get on line.
This evening was our first formal night. As I walked into the dining room, I saw three Japanese women who were beautifully dressed in Kimonos. They were part of a group that was sitting at the table next to ours. As I passed them, I said, “You look beautiful!” I was so pleased to see them in their native dress. They all bashfully smiled at me, thanking me with small bows.
Toni and Shaun were dining at the Captain’s table. We found this out in the morning. Well, Jeff wanted to “do” something for them while they were having dinner. One was to have a large glass filled with ice delivered to Toni. She can’t get enough of ice for her tea. He was going to wear his bunny mask that he bought while in London. Jeff called me and said he had passed the area where a fruit carving demonstration had taken place. There sat on the table a rabbit carved from melons. He somehow arranged to have the bunny delivered to our table. Once the guests took their seats at the captain’s table, Jeff had the ice filled glass delivered. After everyone placed their food order, Jeff put on his bunny mask and carried the carved bunny to the captain’s table. I was already standing in the corner to capture the moment. It was hilarious! Toni and Shaun laughed. Some at the table did the same, while others just didn’t have any sense of humor. Jeff made a quick return to our table. We all had a good laugh.
I enjoyed the filet mignon for dinner. I had a steak the previous night and it was overcooked. I like my meat mooing. Olman had the chef cook my steak. It came out medium-rare, which I would have preferred rare. But it was pretty good.
Robin and I wanted to go to the Captain’s Gala Toast and Introductions and then the Spotlight Broadway show. We first changed into casual clothes. As we entered the theatre, bar tenders were serving wine and champagne. Just as we each took a glass, one crew host said we couldn’t go in (lower level) because we were not formally dressed. We were told to go upstairs. No big deal, but we still thought it pretty petty that they shooed us out. The captain didn’t greet everyone personally, so he wouldn’t have seen us at all. We grabbed a second glass and headed up one level. The captain was introduced, and then he introduced his staff. After, the Broadway show began. The show was excellent. Songs from West Side Story, Chorus Line, Lion King, etc. were performed. The dancers and singers were quite talented. After a short visit to the casino and later a slice of pizza for a late night snack, I headed to my room for the night.
Wednesday May 11, 2005 Stockholm Sweden
Our ship arrived at Stockholm at 9am, an hour earlier than planned. I had breakfast at 8:30am with Jeff and Robin. David, Larry, Marilyn and Bill joined us. We always sat at one area of the ship, which made it easy to find each other. We were off the ship just after 10am. Courtesy busses were on hand to take everyone to the center of town, next to the opera house. The day started out as a cloudy day, but the sun did come out. The temperature was mid to high 50s.
It was a very disappointing day for us. The palace was closed, the ferry to the Viking ship museum wasn’t running, and other sights were closed. We did visit the Cathedral, which was quite beautiful inside along with the statue of St. Charles and Dragon from the 1400’s. After walking around part of the old town section, we went to the palace to watch the noon changing of the guards. Along with the guards was a marching band. The ceremony lasted 40 minutes, and then the announcer stated there would be a Part 2 after a short break. Forty minutes was long enough, but enjoyable.
We met up with Deb and Robert and found a little café for lunch. It wasn’t what I wanted but we were hungry. I ate a huge chicken curry stuffed potato and salad. It was quite tasty but certainly not a typical Swedish dish. After lunch, our group split up. Jeff and his gang headed to the ice bar, while I walked around the old town, Gamla Stan, area with Deb and Robert. We visited a coin museum, which was interesting. We took a leisurely walk back to the ship. I had read on cruise critic that the walk would take 10-15 minutes. No, it took us about 40 minutes. It was a nice relaxing walk where we enjoyed the views along the way. The ship left at 5pm and we sailed along passing lovely homes and boats. Four ships had docked in Stockholm and all sailed out in a row at the end of the day.
Deb arranged for a very special birthday evening for Robert. She invited everyone at our dinner table plus David and Larry to dine at the beautiful Ocean Liners restaurant. We met at 8:30pm in the lobby and I had the host take our photo. Deb treated everyone to dinner, along with wonderful champagne. I started my meal with the famous goat cheese soufflé. It was excellent but I wish I had ordered the foie gras. Larry let me have a bite of his. Divine! For my entrée, I ordered the veal chop, which was encrusted with breadcrumbs and seasonings. It was a huge chop and quite delicious. Deb ordered the Steak Diane, which she gave me a bite. It was excellent! Three waiters served our meals in unison. The grand mariner dessert was light and delicious and I enjoyed the selections from the cheese tray. It was a wonderful night!
Thursday May 12, 2005 Helsinki Finland
We had lost another hour last night. I never like to wish my vacation to go by quickly, but I was looking forward to gaining back the hours we lost. Our ship arrived an hour earlier than planned. Helsinki was a very nice visit and one of the nicer days, weather-wise. In fact it was the only day I wore my light jacket, rather than the heavier one. Our group got off the ship around 10:15am and we took the courtesy bus to town. From there, it was a 10-minute walk along the Esplanade to the market square (about 5 city blocks). Toni and Shaun had decided to do a bus tour and went on their way. I loved the market square! Many items were for sale, including fur hats and coats, fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and meats, souvenirs and local crafts. Jeff had gone off to find an ATM machine, so Robin and I checked out the shopping options. I already had some Euros from a previous trip. We took a short ferry ride to the Soumenlinna Maritime Fortress, which was founded in 1748. There was a museum, but we didn’t go in. We just wandered around the fortress and underground corridors. In one area, a WWII German sub was dry-docked. In addition to the fortress, about 900 people actually live on the island. The island is a nice place to walk around and relax.
We took the wrong ferry back to the market square and ended up paying another 3 Euros. Our next stop was to the onion-domed Uspenski Orthodox Church. The church sits at the top of a hill near the market square. Inside it is absolutely beautiful. It made me think of our upcoming visit to St. Petersburg Russia!
Near the market square is the old market hall. Inside were food stalls. I purchased a shrimp dish along with a reindeer stuffed pastry. It was mixed with potatoes, so I didn’t really get to taste the meat. But it was delicious.
The Senate Square sits behind the palace. From there, we walked to the train station. The design of the building is gothic. In fact, I read that design was used in the Batman movies.
We ran into Sabrina as we started to head to the center of town, when she told us that the Church in the Rock (Temppeliaukio Church) was only 10 minutes away. Our feet were getting tired, but being only a 10-minute walk, we decided to check it out. The small church is literally built into the rock with a copper/skylight dome. I sat for a few minutes to rest and look a round. It was a unique Church.
The walk back to the bus stop took about 20 minutes. We were glad to be on the bus, as we walked quite a bit.
Again we lost an hour, but it was the last. It was pretty cool to be up late at night but still light outside.
Friday May 13, 2005 Saint Petersburg Russia
This was one port I was looking forward to visit and expected it to be the highlight of the cruise. It was! My cabin faced the port side and outside at the customs building was a band playing a variety of music. It was a dreary, cold day, but I was ready to see the riches of Saint Petersburg. Since this was an early wake up call, I ordered breakfast in my room. I specifically stated for ONE person, but received double of everything! I kept my balcony door open and listed to the band while I ate.
I had booked a 2-day tour in advance with Denrus for a group of 11 people (Jeff, Robin, Toni, Shaun, Deb, Robert, Elise, Ed, Simone, Ed, and me). Ilya, my point of contact at Denrus, was wonderful. He helped me with the itinerary for the two days and was very open to some of my suggestions, especially when it came to choosing places for lunch. The document I received for the tour stated to just walk off the ship; however, we were all told to meet at The Edge with a departure time at 8am. I told the woman at the desk our tour started at 8am. It would take 10 minutes to get off the ship. I know we could have just walked off the ship, but some in the party felt we should just wait to be called. Everyone had to go through customs with his or her passport along with a copy of the passport. We also received a red ticket, which we kept with the passport.
Outside we met our guide for the two days, Ludmila. Our driver was Nicholai. He didn’t speak a word of English. It was about a 10-minute ride to get from the ship to the port entry. The port is huge and ugly with its many cranes and ship containers. Our first stop of the day was to the Catherine Palace located at Pushkin (Tsarskoye Selo – Tsar’s village), about an hours drive from the city. The traffic was horrible. We waited outside for about 15 minutes for the palace to open. It was drizzling and quite cold (about 48 degrees). I met Ilya, who was giving a private tour to Marilyn and Bill. It was great to meet him in person after corresponding for a few months.
The palace was incredible! The rooms, décor and furniture in the palace were fabulous and quite opulent. The inlaid wood floors were beautiful. Everyone had to wear booties to protect the floors. We think it was to help polish the floors! Large chandeliers hung in many of the rooms. We visited the re-created Amber room, which the original was lost during WWII – stolen by the Germans. I read that they contributed money to reconstruct the room. The Amber panel walls were incredible. No photography was allowed, but I did sneak a few photos with my digital camera using the “museum” mode (no sound, no flash). I didn’t understand why no one could take any photos. In all the other places we were allowed to photograph paintings. We toured for about 1.5 hours, and then headed outside. I wanted to see some of the gardens, but it was raining, so we headed back to the city. Robin and I did purchase some of the nesting dolls, package of 5 for $10. Great deal.
As we were heading back to the center of the city, the traffic was just as bad as in the morning. Ludmila suggested we take the metro to save time. We didn’t have the chance to see some of the beautiful metro stops. No one was allowed to take any photos of the metro. I asked why not and Ludmila only stated, “It’s transportation.” Ludmila wanted to keep us on track so that we could remain on time for our tours. We had an excellent Russian buffet lunch ($16) at the Grand Hotel Europa located on the busy Grand Nevsky Prospekt Street. Some of the items on the buffet included: cream of mushroom soup, hard boiled eggs, halved and topped with mayonnaise and red caviar, marinated mushrooms, eggplant, herring, smoked salmon, a beef type stew, dumplings, and a nice variety of desserts including bliny’s.
It rained on and off as we continued our tour, first passing by the war ship cruiser Aurora on the Neva River, famous for its blank shot, which signaled in October 1917 to storm the winter palace, now the Hermitage museum. It was also used during the Russian-Japanese war. The Hermitage is a place where one really needs a week to visit all the rooms in the 6 buildings. The amount of paintings, sculptures, is mind boggling, over 3 million works of art.
One place that I really enjoyed visiting was the Peter and Paul Cathedral, located in the Peter and Paul Fortress. This is where the tsar’s are buried, including Peter the Great, Alexander III, Catherine the Great, and even Nicholas and Alexandra with three of their children. An interesting note about Nicholas and Alexandra: Their remains, along with two of their children, a few servants and their doctor, were given a proper burial in July 1998, 80 years to the day of their execution. The sad thing to learn was that the Russian Orthodox Church does not acknowledge them as the Imperial family, even though DNA tests resulted at a positive 99.5% match with living relatives. Ludmila said the Priest stated, “God knows who you are.” Their remains are actually located in a side chapel, rather than with the rest of the Romanov dynasty. Ludmila also told us that President Yeltsin was planning not to attend because of the controversy with the Church, but in the end he did attend the burial service.
We had the opportunity to listen to four monks singing in a small room. They even had CDs for sale.
Our last and short stop of the day was to the Church of the Resurrection. I had hoped for a sunny day to take photographs of this fabulous Church but it was still raining. Robin and I went across the street to the flea market and purchased a nesting doll. Only 2 stalls were open.
Our tour ended and we were back on the ship around 5:30pm. The same band was at the dock playing away with American and Russian songs. Some of the ships crew was dressed as Russian police and we had our picture taken with them. One opened by bag as if to inspect inside. It made me laugh!
Dinner was open seating, so our group planned to meet after a break in our rooms. It was a long but wonderful day.
Saturday May 14, 2005 Saint Petersburg Russia
Our day started the same with an hours drive outside the city to the Grand Palace of Peterhof (the Russian Versailles). On the way, close to Peterhof, we stopped at a Russian Church. I didn’t get the name of the church. I went inside, which services were being held. Everyone stood during the service. I quietly walked around as I listened to the priest and looked at the various religious treasures in the room.
Peterhof Palace was just as beautiful and opulent as Catherine’s palace. Again we had to wear the booties to help polish the floors. The rooms were beautiful with chandeliers, dining tables with fine china (Deb was in heaven), and gold trim everywhere. Outside was the tiered fountain terrace, with statues all in gold. Gardeners were planting new flowers and bushes.
While driving back and forth to the palaces on both days, we all noticed the poverty in Russia. Huge apartment complexes abound and Ludmila told us that several families shared the small and expensive apartments. The scene is very depressing and even the people went around looking depressed. It was such a sharp contract to the riches we had seen. We also drove by a large statue of Lenin.
Back in the city, we were taken to a wonderful food hall. I was quite surprised at the quality of the food and the amount of food on display. There was packaged salmon, fruits and vegetables, fresh made cheese, and large containers of red caviar – bulk food! This is a great place for someone to pick up foods for a picnic. I sampled some pickled salmon, which was very good. I would recommend this place for any traveler to Saint Petersburg.
For lunch I selected restaurant Bliny Domik from the Fodor’s web site. It was excellent and very inexpensive! I enjoyed the chicken and mushroom bliny, along with a glass of red wine. The others enjoyed the salads, borscht, bliny with red caviar and sour cream, and croquettes. All of the portions were large and everyone walked away happy with their choices. Ludmila was quite surprised at my “find” and at how good the restaurant was. She said she would take future tourists there. Service was excellent and friendly and we were the only tourists in this small place. I was able to use my charge card since I didn’t have any rubles.
Following lunch, we visited Yusupov’s Palace (where Rasputin was poisoned, shot and later thrown into the Neva River where he died from drowning) with its fabulous two-story private theatre, and St. Isaac’s Cathedral. It is the third largest domed Cathedral. It is magnificent inside. There is a large stained glass of Christ, a dove painted at the very center of the dome and other wonderful religious artifacts. I wish we had time to climb the dome for city views. Jeff’s camera crapped out so I took a bunch of pictures with his ticket. This was one place were you had to pay to take any photos.
We had the chance to stop and shop for Russian souvenirs. I bought a lovely nesting doll, some pins, and Christmas ornaments. I also purchased a bottle of vodka at a liquor store for Tony. It was dirt-cheap and if I had the space in my carryon bag, I would have bought a few bottles.
It was time to head back to the ship and leave Saint Petersburg. We had a great time on our tours and would recommend Denrus in a heartbeat. The price for the two days (per person) came to $251 plus tips for Ludmila and Nicholai. After saying my goodbyes to Ludmila, I went through customs, had my passport stamped and got on the ship.
For the entertainment of the evening, Jeff wanted to do something patriotic and asked everyone at the table to wear something red, white, and blue. Jeff was wearing an American flag tie. Robin wore a blue dress trimmed with r/w/b ribbon. The three of us went to the Rendezvous lounge for a round of drinks. Many people looked at us wondering about our r/w/b colors. I brought mini flags for everyone to carry. We walked into the dining room waving our flags. One woman said, “God Bless America!” so Jeff gave her one of the extra flags I had. Some cheered, while others just stared at us. I decorated the table with the flags, while Toni dumped r/w/b confetti around our glasses and plates on the table. Our waiters got a kick out of us. The funny thing was Toni didn’t realize our “USA” theme night wasn’t the ships idea but Jeff’s.
Our ship left at 6:30pm. We were able to see Saint Petersburg disappear since our table was at the aft window. We also sailed passed a small island where discarded ships and submarines are kept. I also saw apartment buildings.
After dinner, we headed to the Martini bar, as usual. David and Larry were having their nightly martinis before dinner. After several evenings with them and their friends, we were officially declared “Friends of Friends of Dorothy.”
Sunday May 15, 2005 Tallinn Estonia
Tallinn is a lovely walled town with colorful buildings. I spent most of the day walking around the town with Deb and Robert, while Jeff and his gang took one of the ships tours. It was a beautiful sunny day with blue sky’s….finally! We window-shopped, visited the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral located on Toompea hill, had a nice lunch, and later I walked along the town walls, while the other two went to a café for coffee. One Chinese couple didn’t have any local currency to tour the walls, so I paid for their tickets, equivalent to .82$ each. The couple told me they were on the Constellation and when I told them “me too,” the man said he would pay me back once on board. I had to laugh and said, “No thank you, but you can pay me back by taking a couple photos of me with my camera while walking along the walls.”
Back in the center of town, I purchased a beautiful Russian nesting doll for myself at a shop that Deb and I checked out earlier (excellent prices compared to the other stores). It was expensive but cheaper than on board the ship. I also bought a small watercolor print of Tallinn.
On the way back to the courtesy bus drop off point, I walked by the flower market. Also nearby was an outdoor market with many local products and souvenirs. I had some Tallinn money left to spend, so I purchased 4 linen napkins for Mom.
For the evening, we had our second formal night along with the Captain’s club party. We also gained back an hour! The Captain’s club party was typical: Drinks all around, the usual speech of who sailed the most on Celebrity, then more drinks.
Clocks were set back one hour!
Monday May 16, 2005 Day at Sea
Thank goodness for our day at sea after five port days. I think everyone was very happy to do nothing and just relax all day! I went to the Russian lecture in the Celebrity Theatre. Most of these port lectures were after we visited them. I thought that was ridiculous! They should have the port talks before we arrive.
I went to the gym again. There were several others working out.
For the evening, Robin, Jeff, and I went to the Martini bar and had their martini tasting. It consisted of 5 or 6 samplings of various martinis. I liked most of the fruit flavored ones. The chocolate martini was very good.
Tuesday May 17 Warnemunde/Rostock Germany
I met David and Larry after breakfast around 9:20am so we could meet my friend Oliver who was waiting for me just outside customs. Oliver is from Gelnhausen, near Frankfurt and he spent a few nights in Warnemunde on a short holiday, and to spend the day with me in Rostock. Oliver was kind to give David and Larry a lift as we headed to Rostock. It took some time to get to town because of the morning traffic. From there, we split up but made tentative plans to meet in the afternoon.
Rostock is a beautiful port town! Oliver and I walked along the pedestrian street, visited the City Hall and St. Marien Church (with a fabulous astronomical clock dating from the 1400s – and it still works!), climbed the tower in St. Peters Church (took the elevator down) for great town views all the way to Warnemunde, and had a nice lunch in the center of town. The weather was on the cool side but comfortable enough to dine outside while in the sun.
After more walking around the town and passing by the University (beautiful façade), we sat outside and had drinks (well, I had a glass of wine and Oliver had coffee since he had to drive home that afternoon). We never ran into David and Larry, so I figured they headed back to the ship. It was nice day with Oliver as we talked about different things, as well as my cruise. With his help, I purchased a tram/train ticket, said my goodbyes, and headed back to Warnemunde around 4pm. The tram took me to the train station, where I picked up the train. It was about a 15-minute ride and only cost me 1.80 Euros.
Back on board, I went to my cabin for a while, and then headed out to tour Warnemunde. It’s just a few minutes walk from the port to the town. Fishing boats were docked along a water canal, while many tourists were out enjoying the late afternoon. I walked to the beach and saw many people enjoying the ocean views. I started walking back to the canal area and I purchased some battered fried shrimp from one of the docked boats, which were excellent, although a little pricy.
Later, I met David and Larry and we sat outside for a round of drinks. Several young crewmembers were celebrating as they were getting off the ship soon for their 1-2 month vacation. One gal seemed pretty toasted. It was getting colder as the sun was setting, so we headed back to the ship. I met up with the rest of the gang for dinner, which had gone to Berlin for the day. Shaun had organized a private tour, which they thoroughly enjoyed. I’ll save Berlin for a future trip.
Clocks were set back one hour!
Wednesday May 18, 2005 Copenhagen, Denmark
Our ship arrived in Copenhagen at noon. Celebrity had courtesy shuttle busses to the center of town near the Nyhavn canal. Our usual group took a one-hour canal boat ride around the city. Prior to leaving, a man was selling beer and wine on the boat. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride seeing the city from the water. There is one area, Christianshavn, where houseboats are docked, along side beautiful sail boats. The homes along this canal are quite colorful. We passed by many sights, including the royal yacht, Holmen (naval base), the Little Mermaid statue, Amalienborg Castle, the Henning Larsen opera house, a very contemporary building jutting out on the water, Our Savior’s Church with its spiral tower, and Christiansborg Palace.
The weather was perfect for our canal ride, at least for us! Soon after, we found a place for lunch next to the Nyhavn canal. About 15 minutes after settling into lunch, it poured! Some cruise friends told us later they got caught in the rain and hail! Some of us ordered the chicken club sandwich, which was very good. David ordered a specialty dish with various Danish foods.
I loved Copenhagen! Outside the wonderful sights of Saint Petersburg, I think Copenhagen was my second favorite city on this trip (well I did love Tallinn and Rostock). The architecture of the buildings and palaces, the perfectly manicured gardens, and statues seemed so regal. There is a pedestrian street, Strøget, about a mile long, that the group walked. There were many exclusive shops, including the famous Royal Copenhagen with its china and porcelain. I purchased a blue/white Christmas ornament at a reasonable price.
After dinner on board the ship, many people from the ship headed to Tivoli. I went with Deb, Robert, Shaun and Toni. We took the ship’s shuttle, which cost $20 per person, but included round trip transportation and the entry fee to Tivoli. Hundreds of tulips were in bloom. It would have been wonderful to take photographs of them during daylight. The buildings and trees were lit with lights and many people were enjoying the park. The evening entertainment included a fairy tale show with larger-than-life puppets, music, light, and fireworks, for the celebration of the 200-year anniversary of Hans Christian Anderson. It was a wonderful show for both children and adults. I was glad that I brought my scarf and gloves, as it was very cold outside.
May 19, 2005 Copenhagen, Denmark
This was our last port day of the cruise. The ship was scheduled to leave at noon, so I got up early, had breakfast, and then headed out to catch the shuttle bus to town. I wanted to walk around the city and possibly visit one palace. I ran into Jeff and Robin, so we went to town together. Since it was early, the stores and sights were closed. We just wandered up Strøget. Jeff was looking for a particular shop to purchase some items. We took a walk to the Rosenborg castle and saw some guards practicing with their rifles. The guard at the gate wouldn’t let me walk in, but when I told him I just wanted to read the sign that was on display several feet inside the gate, he let me, keeping a close eye on me. We walked along the street passing the castles’ gardens, which were immaculately kept. I found a photo shop to purchase a roll of film, as I forgot to add a couple of rolls to my purse.
Looping back to Strøget, the stores were opening up. Jeff went to his store and after a while, I headed out alone for the rest of the short morning. I ran into 2 crewmembers that somehow either recognized me or just guessed I was a passenger, and told me the ship would now leave at 2pm. What a relief! I felt I was rushing, but could now slow down a bit. I headed back to see Jeff and Robin to tell them the good news when I ran into one of the Japanese couples who sat at the dinner table next to mine. I explained the time change, which the woman didn’t understand any English as she kept repeating, “No thank you.” The husband understood, smiled and thanked me. By now, he knew who I was since we had eye contact throughout the cruise at dinner.
After telling Jeff the news, I headed out again. I decided I wanted a light lunch along the Nyhavn. The day was beautiful, like the previous day, so I selected a place with outdoor seating. I waited almost 15 minutes and the waiter never came outside to take my order, so I got up and left. It was getting close to noon and I remembered that the changing of the guards took place at the Amalienborg palace so I headed there. The changing of the guards was not as impressive as the one in Stockholm!
I headed back to the ship at a leisurely pace along the waterway. I found many people having their photo taken with the Little Mermaid. I was not impressed with the statue, but did have the obligatory photo taken. The souvenir shops near the ship were much higher in price, so I didn’t buy anything. Hell, all of the Baltic ports were expensive (except Tallinn).
After lunch, I headed to the upper deck as we sailed away from Copenhagen. One small fishing boat was returning from sea and hundreds of birds were hovering around the boat hoping for a bite to eat.
The evening started at 5pm in Deb’s room for the “Royal Order” event. She had purchased sashes, white gloves, tiaras, and made pins and ribbons for our costume. It was our last formal night and knowing the antics of Jeff, came up with the Royal Order. I was the Empress, while the rest had his or her own title. Jeff’s pins consisted of a pizza and pizza cutter (he owns a franchise of Domino’s); Shaun was the duke of Las Vegas with dice on his lapel, and so on. Deb wanted a “grand entrance” so we headed via the champagne bar on the 5th level, down the staircase in the dining room, and to our table. Boy, did we get the stares, smiles and questions! When someone would ask, “Who are you?” Jeff replied, “The Royal Order!” “The Royal Order of what?” His response: either nothing at all as we kept walking or “Of course!” It was too funny. Deb had two extra ribbons, so I presented one to Olman just after dinner and I told him he had to wear it throughout the evening, including at the grand buffet. Carolyn and Jess, sitting at a table near us, laughed as we walked by.
After dinner (with the usual baked Alaska parade), we all headed to the Martini bar for our nightly greetings to David, Larry and their gang for their Friends of Dorothy get together. They loved our royal wear. Albert walked by and saw us and proceeded to take our pictures. An older couple, on the way to dinner, stopped and just stared at us for a good five minutes, then the husband took out his camera and took pictures too. We had a blast! The last thing we did before changing to casual wear was to have our portrait taken at the grand staircase. Deb found Scotty, one of the ships photographers. He took several photos. Two Scottish men watching us from the level above took our photos too.
After changing my clothes (still wearing my tiara), I headed to our usual evening spot: the Casino bar. Jeff had brought a bottle of white wine among his many bottles of red, which he graciously shared with me. Robin was in for the evening, Shaun sat with us at the bar, and Toni was at one of the gambling machines.
At the grand buffet, I ran into Deb. We both filled our plates with delicious foods: shrimp, roast beef, lobster medallions topped with caviar, baked salmon, etc. Jeff didn’t have anything. The buffet food was beautifully displayed. The chefs and waiters were in the room, including Olman with his ribbon. It was a great evening. Clocks were set back one hour!
Friday May 20, 2005 Day at Sea
It was sad to think this was our last night on the ship. I had breakfast with David, Larry, Toni, and Shaun. On one of our other days at sea we all had breakfast, sat at the table for a couple of hours, then had lunch! It was great to just hangout and talk and not have to have any plans while at sea. It was quite foggy throughout the day. At one point I saw a ship sailing past us. It