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Sandi

Age: 56

Occupation:Project Manager

Number of Cruises: 14

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Crown Princess

Sailing Date: 2008-08-8

Itinerary: Baltic Sea

We had a great time on this cruise. It was more excursion intensive than I had realized so we were glad towards the end of the cruise when we had a little more time at sea to relax. The ports of call were phenomenal. We saw enough palaces to last a lifetime. The churches are works of art. The winding cobblestone streets were fun to explore. All the people we met in port were friendly and helpful. Rick and I would love to go back to Tallin, Gdansk and Berlin. They are beautiful cities and we didn't have near enough time to enjoy them. We only had a few sunny days and most of the time it was cloudy and rainy but it didn't really stop us from doing things on the tours. Because of the cool rainy weather we never used the pools nor were out on deck at night. Travel in Scandinavia is extremely expensive, so although we didn't have much time in each port it was definitely more economical to eat and sleep on the ship. The Crown Princess is a huge ship but we didn't feel that there were too many people, even though the ship was completely booked with 3,200 passengers. We chose anytime seating for dinner which gave us the opportunity to meet many people as we joined a different group every night for dinner. I've been a bit disappointed in the food, but I will no doubt gain weight even though I am trying to be careful. There was always an option to get a steak or salmon if you didn't like any of the menu options. We had a cabin with a balcony. It was a standard cruise cabin, nothing special, but it was always clean and not overly worn. The bed was too hard for me but our cabin steward put a foam mattress on the bed for me and that made it comfortable enough for me. They had the same activities we've experienced on other cruises -- trivia games, ice carvings, cooking demonstrations, etc. We only had one day when it was warm enough it sit out on the deck without an extra layer of clothing. This cruise was port intensive which is what we like. The St. Petersburg excursions are very expensive but you have to have a Russian visa to get off the ship if you are not with a Russian tour guide. You don't need a tour to explore Tallin or Helsinki. You can also do Stockholm and Copenhagen on your own if you plan ahead and have a tour book. We always learn a lot from the tour guides, especially in history rich cities like the ones on this itinerary so we tend to go on excursions. We arrived at our hotel in Copenhagen about 4 pm and immediately headed out. Copenhagen is an interesting city in that the very old buildings are intermingled with very modern ones. The city library is a stark example where the original royal library from the 17th century built in red brick is attached to a newer section that is all black glass. Copenhagen is a city of bicycles. It is definitely a major form of transportation to work and to get around the city for many if not most of the people. There is a separate bicycle lane on all the roads between the sidewalk and roadway and it is dangerous to walk in the bike lane. The bikes are not the racing variety we see most often in the US. They have wide tires, fenders and upright handlebars. Hundreds of bicycles are everywhere in front of the train station, office buildings and on the street. It is also interesting that very few were locked. We ended up in an area called the Nyhavn which means new harbor. It is actually a canal that was built in the late 17th century to bring shipping into the city. This area has lots of restaurants and was a hubbub of activity. We found the little restaurant recommended by our hotel concierge and had a pleasant dinner in the restaurant's courtyard. Everything is very expensive in Copenhagen. The meal was about twice the price you would pay in the US. After dinner we found the canal tour boats and took an hour tour through the many canals and waterways of Copenhagen. We also saw many of the islands that had both historical buildings and modern residential areas. Unfortunately we were so tired and jet-lagged that it was hard to stay awake. Rick slept through most of it. The next day we headed out to Rosenborg palace was built by King Christian IV in 1606-34 as a summer castle. It was designed in the Dutch Renaissance style and the next three generations of kings lived there. King Frederik IV built Frederiksberg castle in 1710 at which time Rosenborg was used only occasionally. As all the palaces we saw, Rosenborg is now a museum. The first two floors had many paintings and collections from the royal families that demonstrated their wealth. The third floor was the long hall that was probably used for balls but had the thrones for the king and queen now. The cellar holds the treasures including a gold crown that weighed 7 pounds. From there we headed out to see the changing of the guard at the Amalienborg Palace. By the time we got there the crowd was already very large, however we actually ended up a good place to watch the guards walk in. They were very majestic with their tall black fur hats. A woman next to us shared with us that her son was one of the guards that we were watching. We walked to the royal pier and it started to pour rain so we walked over to the Nyhavn and ate lunch. Next to us at the sidewalk cafe were two couples from Canada who had just left the ship that we were going on. They had a great time but their ship wasn't able to go to Gdynia because of strong winds. We arrived at the ship around 2 pm. The embarkation process was quick and easy and our luggage arrived promptly after we went to our cabin. We left Copenhagen at 8:00 pm and headed off on our 10 day adventure at sea. We went to the welcome aboard show and they gave some interesting information about the nationalities of the passengers. Forty-nine countries were represented. Of the 3200 on board 1800 are Americans, 380 Brits, 260 Canadians, 65 Israelis, over 200 from Mexico. At Sea August 9 The first day was a day at sea. It was sunny outside but it was also a bit chilly. A number of people sat out on deck in the areas protected from the wind thus there was no shortage of deck chairs, which is often a problem on warmer cruises. There are 3 pools which at least one was heated. I was surprised that none of the pools were covered since the ship we were on for our Mediterranean cruise had a covered pool. We kept busy the first day taking part in a number of activities. We went to the first port lecture on Stockholm. The port lecturer, John Lawrence, was very good. He had a good sense of humor and gave a lot of practical information about transportation options, how to get certain places, some history on each port city and some background on the major points of interest. We participated in a trivia game. We went to the casino where we won a little money. After dinner we went to the show in the main theater. The entertainment has been plentiful. Each night there are two different shows, each with two performances so that we could generally see both. They also have recently released movies on the big screen over one of the pools. They were sparsely attended because it's either been raining or too cold to sit on deck to watch them. Stockholm, August 10, 2008 The city of Stockholm was established around the year 1250 when a fortified town was built on the island of Gamla Stan (old town). Stockholm is build across 14 islands. The Swedes have not been at war since Napoleon's time so Stockholm has been spared the destruction that occurred in many of the other cities we visited. We didn't take an excursion in Stockholm but I had done some research ahead of time and had identified several things for us to see. We first went to the Royal Palace where we joined a tour of the Royal apartments. The rooms were numerous and covered with beautiful murals, especially the ceilings. Gustov III had a state bedroom where people were given a special honor to watch him get dressed in the mornings. He was killed in 1792 because he was a harsh ruler. Sweden still has a King and Queen but they no longer live at the palace. They do, however, use the palace for state business. We next went to the City Hall. The City Hall is the home of the civic government as well as the place where the Nobel Prize ceremony takes place each year. The City Hall was built between 1911 and 1923 and is a large, red brick imposing structure. Alfred Nobel was a chemist that invented dynamite in the late 19th century. He became quite wealthy as a result of this invention and others but was disappointed when it was used for destructive rather than useful purposes. He never married and had no heirs so he established the Nobel Peace prize leaving his fortune to fund it. Inside City Hall we took a tour. As we entered, the first floor is designed as an Italian Renaissance castle square. The Nobel laureates walk down into the hall by way of a magnificent marble staircase carefully designed to safely descend wearing a robe.The next room we visited was the city council room. The city council consists if 101 members, currently 52 women and 49 men representing several different parties. The room has an intriguing ceiling that looks like the inside of a Viking boat. The City Hall is also a popular place to get married. The small room where the ceremonies are conducted is adorned with 17th century tapestries depicting romance and wedding scenes The next room we saw was the reception hall where the Nobel laureates meet the royal family. It is adorned with blue columns and magnificent frescos on the walls. It is called the Prince's room since he funded the artwork on the walls. The most impressive room was the Gold Hall used for the Nobel laureate ball. It can also be rented for private functions. This huge hall is covered with mosaic tiles depicting the history of Sweden. The gold tiles actually contain a thin layer of gold sandwiched between 2 layers of glass. The wall at the end of the hall has a mosaic of Queen Maletta, the mythical patron of Stockholm who guards the city to provide peace. This depiction of the character was controversial because the features are somewhat grotesque. Our last stop in Stockholm was the Riddarholm church, a 700 year old monastery chapel where past monarchs are buried. Religious services no longer take place here and it is a memorial and burial church only. The floor is covered with over 200 graves. Several side chapels also had the sarcophagi of past monarchs and their families. On the walls hang the coats of arms of the Knights of the Seraphim Order. When a knight dies, his coat of arms is put up. It has a cast iron spire since several previous wooden ones were destroyed by fire. We walked the narrow cobblestone streets on the Gamla Stan, crowded with tourists as well as locals since it was Sunday. We didn't buy anything since things were very expensive. So we bought some ice cream, which was a popular thing to do, and made our way back to the cruise shuttle bus. Another popular site that we didn't have time to visit is the Vasa museum. It holds a 300 year old ship that sank on its maiden voyage in the Stockholm harbor. It was raised in 1956 and put on display in this museum. Our ship sailed at 5 pm. It was formal night with the Captain’s reception which means they had complimentary albeit watered down cocktails in the main atrium. We had dinner and met more new people and enjoyed a musical review as well as a somewhat crazed juggling comedian who used Rick's shoe in his act. Helsinki August 11 We had an excursion reserved for Helsinki, but it is an easy city to get around on your own, especially the old historic part. Our guide today was Lisa. Helsinki has a population of 500,000 in the city and 1 million in the metro area which is 20% of Finland's population. 85% of the population is Lutheran. Finland was annexed by Sweden in the 13th century. As a result most street signs are in both Swedish and Finnish. In 1809 Finland passed from Sweden to Russia by treaty. Many of the buildings in Helsinki were built during the Russian rule and they are built in the same baroque style as in St. Petersburg. During the Russian revolution of 1917 Finland declared its independence and has remained so ever since. Helsinki was founded in 1512 and became the capital in 1812. The Russians invaded Finland in 1939-40 but the Finns successfully repelled the Russian army through the leadership of Marshall Gustav Mannerheim, a popular figure in Finland. The climate in southern Finland where Helsinki is located is more temperate that I thought. They have only a few weeks of snow last winter. In Finland, Copenhagen and Russia our guides said that over the last few decades the weather has been getting warmer. The upper third of the country called Lapland, is in the Artic circle and it is much colder there. Only Laps are allowed to own reindeer which they raise for the meat. Our first stop was Senate Square which is dominated by the Lutheran Cathedral of St. Nicholas. From there it was a short walk to Kauppatori Market located on the water front. Here vendors have stands of fresh foods, handicrafts and souvenirs. While we were perusing the various goods, it started to pour down rain. By the time we were able to get our rain gear out we were already soaked. Our next stop was at the Temppeliaukio Lutheran church carved and blasted into solid granite in 1960 to create a below ground sanctuary. It is a modern church with an impressive organ and walls of granite. We made our way back to the bus through the crowds and rain to proceed to our lunch spot on the way to the town of Porvoo. On the motorway we saw many trucks carrying new cars headed to St. Petersburg and Russia. The countryside was fairly flat with many rivers and pine trees. 10% of Finland is lakes, 70% forest and 10% farm land. They grow enough food in southern Finland to feed themselves, although some items are imported. We stopped for lunch with several other bus loads of people from our ship at a farm that had converted a large barn into a banquet hall. We were served a mystery meat described as a beef roll but it wasn't very tasty. We chatted with the people from the cruise where one of the frequent topics, after the perfunctory questions about where everyone lives, is a discussion about how many cruises you've been on, which cruise lines and itineraries, and what you liked best. Almost everyone we met had been on several previous cruises. We proceeded onto the town of Porvoo which is the second oldest city in Finland, founded in 1346. Porvoo means Castle River. It has been rebuilt several times with colorfully painted wooden houses. It is a picturesque little town of cobblestone streets. The rain had let up so we roamed the two main streets looking in shops and buying a few souvenirs. They had a candy store with wonderful locally made chocolates crowded with other members of our tour and we bought some bags to bring home. We ended our tour back in Helsinki at a memorial to the famous Finnish Composer John Sevalius. We returned to the ship around 5 pm. St. Petersburg, August 12 The first day of our 2-day tour of St.Petersburg started very early. This was the only port that we had to go through passport control when we left the ship. We also had to leave a photocopy of our passports with them. We met our tour guide, Irene, and boarded the bus. The quality of the bus was very similar to the ones used in all the other ports. This was also the tour where we were given a receiver and headphones and our guide used a headset to talk to us. This equipment made it easier to hear her as she walked ahead of us and explained things. The city of St. Petersburg was established by Czar Peter I, also known as Peter the Great, in 1703 as a seaport to provide access to the Baltic Sea. Russia had become isolated when the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453 and closed the southern access. Peter the Great wanted to modernize Russia when he became Czar in 1689. When he established St. Petersburg as the capital in 1703 he had forests cleared and swamps drained to form the new city. When he built the Peter and Paul fortress to guard the river mouth, he hired the best Italian, French and German Architects to design palaces and buildings in the baroque style. Outside the city he built Peterov Palace to rival Versailles. Peter's daughter, Elizabeth, and granddaughter, Catherine II, were powerful rulers who continued to build the city and the Winter Palace. St. Petersburg was renamed Petrograd in 1914 when Russia went to war with Germany. It was renamed again in 1924 to Leningrad and after Lenin's death the name was restored to St. Petersburg in 1991. St. Petersburg has been referred to as the Venice of the north since it is a series of islands connected by bridges. The main river is the Niva. Our first stop was Peter and Paul fortress. The cathedral was designed by the Italian architect Trazini. Although it was a Russian Orthodox church, it does not have many of the traditional features of that faith's churches because the designer was not Russian. The bell tower is 122M and is the highest point in St. Petersburg. The tombs of most of the Russian Czars are in this church including that of Peter the Great. There is a special chapel for the remains of Nicholas II and his family who were murdered by the Bolsheviks. Their bodies had been left at the house where they were killed but their remains were brought here in 1998. The fortress was never attacked and at times was used as a prison. Peter I banished his first wife to a convent and imprisoned his son from that marriage here. His son was tortured and eventually died. The jail was closed in 1920. Our next stop was the Winter Palace and the Hermitage. The Winter Palace was built by Elizabeth who wanted a grand palace with 1,000 rooms. She also had over 15,000 dresses at the time of her death and depleted the state treasury. Elizabeth died before the palace was completed. Catherine II completed the palace and was the first monarchy to live there. In the mid 1800's fire destroyed much of the palace but it was rebuilt. Catherine II loved to collect art and The Hermitage is now a museum containing more than 3 million works of art including the works of most famous artists such as Di Vinci, Rafael, Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir, and Van Gogh. As we toured room after room of art, gilded and painted ceilings, and jeweled furniture I could understand why the Bolshevik revolution occurred. We had lunch in a large banquet hall with several hundred other people from our cruise ship. The soup was good but the beef stroganoff was mostly gravy. Everyone was given a shot of vodka but few drank it. Musicians and a vocalist entertained us singing Russian folk songs. We continued our tour with a canal boat ride. It was a nice sunny day and we were given a glass of champagne as we glided through the canals and Neva River. As we passed under a bridge a boy about 16 years old waved and smiled at us. When we returned to the canals from the river he was there again on a bridge, waving and smiling. We watched him run along the canal just in time to meet us at the next bridge and wave. As we looked ahead we saw another boy keeping pace with the boat in front of us. It became clear that they were looking for tips at the end of the cruise. After putting out that much effort, he earned a tip from us! On our canal tour we also saw the WWI cruiser Aurora that fired the shot that signaled the start of the Bolshevik revolution. After the boat ride we went to St. Isaac's cathedral which has a large gold dome. St. Isaac was the patron saint for Peter the Great. It is the fourth highest cathedral dome in Europe. It was built between 1818 and 1858 but was actually the fourth cathedral on this site. As in most of the cathedrals we saw, the paintings that cover the walls and ceilings are actually mosaics because canvas paintings don't fair well in the high humidity. In the apex of the dome is a silver dove. The walls are made of marble. 48 Kg of gold were used in the dome. It was built to accommodate 10,000 standing worshippers. During the communist era everything of value was taken, the beautiful mosaics were covered and it became an anti-religion museum. As with most of the historic sites we saw, it was returned to its former glory after the end of communist rule. Our final stop of the day was at the Church of Spilled Blood. This magnificent church is very different from St. Isaacs. It has onion shaped spires and the colorful exterior associated with Russian Orthodox churches. Czar Alexander II carriage was bombed in 1881 on this site. His son, Alexander III, built the church as a memorial to his father. The mosaics were reconstructed starting in the 1970's and was completed in 1998. Services were held here only once a year on the anniversary of Alexander II's death and were attended only by the Romanov family. St. Petersburg, August 13 We started our day with a tour of Peterov Palace outside the city. It was built as a summer palace in 1714 by Peter the Great and enlarged by his daughter, Elizabeth. It is an enormous structure built to rival Versailles on a 300-acre park and a series of spectacular fountains. We went through a dozen or so of the magnificently decorated rooms. A separate large building was the residence for the Queen's ladies in waiting. The palace also had its own St. Peter and Paul cathedral. The grounds are even more spectacular with 100's of fountains. Since the tour company arranged to have our group tour before the museum usually opens, not all the fountains were on. The canal on the grounds goes out to the Gulf of Finland. Our lunch on this day was a little better. We still had the shot of vodka waiting for us but we also had potato cakes topped with caviar, soup, potatoes and fish. We were again serenaded by musicians and a singer wearing traditional Russian costumes. We next went to the Yusupov palace which was not as spectacular in its furnishings as the Winter Palace but is known as the place where Rasputin was assassinated by Felix Yusupov and other relatives of the Romanov royal family. In 1910 Felix Yusopov invited Rasputin to a dinner at his home and poisoned his food with cyanide. When he showed no signs of getting ill, Felix shot him twice. Rasputin was a large man and he ran from the palace even after being shot. He was shot several more times and then dumped in the river. They thought his body would be washed out to sea but his body was found and Felix Yusopov was sent into exile to France. We again toured room after room of expensive furnishings including a bedroom with an onyx fireplace and another room with a malachite fireplace. The Yusopov palace has a music hall where we were serenaded for a few minutes by a group of 5 men. The acoustics were very good. The palace also had a home theatre that was very ornate and held about 200 people. Members of the family enjoyed writing and performing in plays. Our ship left St. Petersburg at 6:00 pm and we headed towards Tallin. Tallin, Estonia, August 14 This is a delightful city that has maintained the old city center as it was in the 16th and 17th centuries. In some ways it reminded me of Disney World with its spires and colorful buildings. The Danes conquered Tallin in 1216 and built the walled fortress on Toompea Hill. The city has an upper level with the citadel and a lower level where the shops and craftsmen lived. The German Teutonic Knights followed in 1346 giving Tallin the look of a medieval German town. The Swedes ruled from the mid 16th century until Peter the Great from Russia captured Tallin in 1710. Estonia received independence after World War I, but lost it again in a pact between Hitler and Stalin in 1945. It wasn't until 1991 that Estonia became an independent nation again. This diverse history is reflected in the different churches in town. St. Nicholas served the German community while St. Olav was for the Danes and Swedes. There is also the Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral adorned with the typical onion bulb spires. We took a bus to the upper part of the city and got to see the remaining fortress wall that still surrounds much of the old city. 26 towers still exist along the wall, including "Fat Margaret" and "Tall Hermann." On Toompea Hill is Palace square, the home to the pink Baroque Toompea Castle which is now the Estonian parliament. Across the square is the Russian Orthodox Nevsky Cathedral, still a functional church for Russians who still live here. We visited the Dome Church which was built by the Danes in the 13th century as a Catholic church but became Lutheran later under German rule. Many German noblemen are buried inside. We left the tour at this time because they were going to see another palace outside the city and we wanted to see the lower town. On the way we saw some enterprising individuals encouraging tourists to try archery. There were also carts where people dressed in medieval attire were preparing sugar coated almonds for purchase. We went to the Woolens Market where locally made sweaters and hats were sold and where I bought a sweater for myself. We sat at the large town square and had some refreshments while watching all the tourists scurry around. The city hall on the square is 600 years old. We visited the Cats Well, where they used to throw dead animals and cats into it because they thought it would make the water better. On our walk back to the ship we passed the house for the brotherhood of Blackheads. This was an organization of single men established in 1399 that raise money to take care of widows and single women. Another building was the office of the KGB during the years of Soviet rule. The ship was only in port until 1 pm so we had lunch in the dining room. We listened to the port lecture on Gdansk and had some rare down time before dinner. The only time we experienced rough seas was that night on the way to Gdansk but it was calm by the next morning. Gdinya/ Gdansk August 15 Like Tallin, this city was ruled by the Teutonic Knights in the 14th century. The German name for Gdansk is Danzig and it went by this name during much of its history. It became a free city under Polish kings in 1466. The city flourished as a center of maritime trade and many beautiful homes were designed and built by the wealthy merchants in the 17th century. This area is also known for the mining of amber, a stone used in jewelry. The wars of the late 17th century hurt Gdansk's prosperity and it was occupied at different times by the Swedes, Russians, French and was a part of Germany until 1919. After World War I it became a free city once again until Hitler's army attacked the harbor September 1, 1939 starting World War II. The city was essentially destroyed by the Russians during WWII. It took many years to restore the buildings to their previous glory. They attempted to use the rubble to rebuild wherever they could but you can often see where the original foundations or partial facades were and where new materials had to be used. The port where we docked was Gdinya which is about a 30 minute drive to Gdansk. Gdansk at one time was an important port, but was not large enough for modern ships so a larger port was built in Gdinya in 1920. It was a holiday in Poland the day we visited. We were given two different explanations for the holiday. We were told it was a religious holiday to honor the ascent of Mary into heaven and it is also a political holiday for the anniversary of the battle of 1920 when the Poles were victorious in a battle against the Red army. Many of the shops were closed due to the holiday but there was also a festival going on with lots of street vendors and the main street was blocked off for a marathon race. Our tour guide had a long unpronounceable name so she told us to call her Agnes. Her English was not great, but after awhile I figured out her accent and was able to follow what she was saying for the most part. Once we departed our bus Agnes tried to move our group quickly towards St. Mary's Church since we could only visit before a religious service started. When we got to the church the service was starting, but we went in through the back of the church so she could show certain aspects to us. It is the largest church in Poland and the largest brick church in the world with a capacity for 25,000 people. The church was built as a Catholic church between 1343 and 1502 but later became Protestant. In the church we saw the wooden sculpture, Madonna of Gdansk, from 1404. In the same alcove with the Madonna was the Last Judgment painting by Hans Memling painted in 1470. The church has several other interesting works of art including an astronomical clock. We existed onto St. Mary's Street, the oldest street in the city. Many of the homes were built using stone and brick in the 15th century. As we walked the streets she showed us the stone gates to the original walled city, the armory, and many beautifully restored homes along Long Street. The Town Hall carries the coat of arms of Gdansk, 2 crosses and a crown. Long Street was blocked off for the marathon race finish line and it was hard to hear our guide due to all the announcements on the loud speakers and music from the bands. We had about 40 minutes of free time and decided to check some of the souvenir shops to find Gold Vassar, a local form of vodka with gold flakes in the bottle. We found some in a little deli/ convenience store and then went to find our group. On our way back to meet our group we heard cheers from the crowd so we watched anticipating marathon runners. What we saw were people racing on roller blades. Later on when we were headed to the bus we did see marathon runners returning into the town. We met our group at a bridge by the Green Gate and saw the buildings from the 15th and 16th century along the river used to load cargo off and onto ships and the warehouses for storage. Our next stop was at the Solidarity Museum commemorating the uprising on the shipyard docks of Gdynia and Lech Walesa. During Soviet rule after WWII much of the food produced in Poland was being shipped to Russia while the Poles didn't have enough food to eat. Walesa and others organized a shipyard strike in 1980 and crafted 21 demands. The government responded to most of the demands but martial law was established 16 months later resulting in many protesters being arrested, injured or killed. The first election for a prime minister was held in 1989 and Walesa was voted in as the first president. From the Solidarity museum we went to the port where there is a monument that looks like a sword marking the spot where the Nazi Navy bombarded the Polish harbor defenses starting WWII on September 1, 1939. The small Polish garrison held the Germans off for 7 days but were finally beaten. The last stop on our tour was at the beach town of Sopot. In the 18th century Joseph Hoffner, a general in Napoleon's army was injured. On his return to France he came across the healing mineral waters of Sopot and stayed to recuperate. He stayed after recuperating to establish a clinic to help others. It is now a resort area with a massive Grand Hotel built in 1924. Many famous people have stayed at this hotel including Hitler. There is also an extensive white sand beach, but it was raining so not many people were out. We returned to the ship and enjoyed a late lunch. This was also the only day I had time to use the fitness center. We had made late dinner reservations at the Italian specialty restaurant and enjoyed a nice relaxing meal. We saw another show and headed to bed. Berlin, August 16 The ship docked at the port town of Warnermunde, Germany, but most of the passengers like us had excursions into Berlin. The cruise line had reserved a train for us that left from the pier, and went directly into Berlin. The 2 ½ hour ride went much faster than I had anticipated. I stayed busy talking to other people in our car and worked on this journal. The tour company also had representatives on the train to give us information and to answer questions. We arrived in Berlin around 11:45. Our guide on the Jewish heritage tour was Olav. Our first stop was the Berlin wall. Portions of it still stand in different parts of the city. It has been painted by many different artists and looks like high class graffiti. The wall was a 96 mile circle around East Berlin and was put up almost over night in August of 1961. The wall came down in November of 1989 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. We quickly drove by a number of famous Berlin landmarks such as the East Berlin TV tower, the Berlin Cathedral, and the Alexanderplatz. Our first stop was at the monument to Victims of all Wars which is next to the University of Berlin. Across the street is the Opera house plaza where books on science, democracy and liberal philosophies were burned in May 1933. In the center of the plaza is a window that looks down onto empty bookshelves as a memorial to the event. This memorial was designed and built by an Israeli in 1994. As we rode the bus to the synagogue, Olav shared with us the Jewish history of Berlin. We visited this Ryger Street synagogue but were not able to go inside since it was Saturday. It held about 3,000 people, and was most likely a reform congregation. It was set on fire during krystal nacht but the fire department put the blaze out before it was severely damaged. In 1940 the Nazis made it an Arian museum. It was damaged by allied bombs during WWII but repaired. Today it is a small synagogue and mostly the offices for the Jewish community. Today there are 8 synagogues in Berlin. Our next stop was the Jewish Museum. The building itself is a very unusual shape. The designer Daniel Liebscon, says it represents a broken Star of David. The museum has 3 major parts - the holocaust, exile, and continuity. We visited two exhibitions that were quite impressionistic, the holocaust tower and the Garden of Exile. Walking into these areas there are no items exhibited, but the design is supposed to give you a feeling of what the holocaust and exile were like. We had a little time to walk through some of the halls that provided more history about the Jews in Europe and we also had lunch there. Our next stop was Check Point Charlie, the only gate to the Berlin wall where people could pass between West and East Berlin. From there we went to the Holocaust memorial which was also unusual. It is about one square city block of rectangular blocks of concrete. We had two more quick photo ops at the Brandenborg Gate and the Reichstag. The Brandenborg Gate was one of 18 gates to the city built in 1791. The Reichstag is the German parliament. We returned to the train station and took our train back to Warnermunde. We enjoyed a German beer and conversation with others in our car on the way back. Copenhagen, August 17 Our final day of the cruise was back in Copenhagen. We signed up for a tour of castles, but they were more like palaces of which we had already seen plenty. Our tour guide, Florica, started our tour with a stop by the statue, the Little Mermaid, in the Copenhagen harbor. It is a small statue that has been vandalized many times over the years, but remains a famous landmark. From the harbor we had a pleasant drive along the sea north to Kronborg Castle. We saw many nice homes along the seafront although they had very small yards and were not extremely large considering that they were worth. Some of the houses had thatched roofs. Kronborg Castle was built in 1557 by Frederick II along the narrow passage between the North and Baltic Seas. Taxes were collected from ships to pass through the Oresund, making the royalty quite wealthy. Shakespeare wrote about it as Hamlet's Castle although he had never been to it. When the Swedes conquered Denmark in the early 18th century the castle was looted and it is in the process of being returned to its previous glory, thus it was not the most spectacular palace we saw, however it was the only one with a moat. From Kronborg Castle we went to Fredenborg Castle where the royal family stays when they are not in their primary residence in Copenhagen, the Amalienborg Palace. It has a large grounds and we were able to walk up fairly close to the main building although the royal family was away in China enjoying the Olympics. The last palace we visited was Frederiksborg castle built by King Christian IV. It was a magnificent palace but it was very close to closing time so we had to rush through it. We visited the chapel which was larger and more ornate than many cathedrals. The other impressive room we visited was the ballroom with many paintings on the walls and ceiling. Our last stop was Tivoli Gardens back in the city of Copenhagen. It is referred to as an amusement park, but it is not like the amusement parks in the US. As you stroll the walkway there are stages for performances. There were musicians and singers on two of the stages. Many restaurants are available for dining and there are beautiful gardens. There are a few amusement rides in one corner for the more daring. We only had 45 minutes inside the park before our tour returned to the ship. We saw a couple that we had met earlier in the week, Jay and Christina, at a sidewalk restaurant. They invited us to join them so we had a quick beer and heard about their one-day private excursion to Moscow while we were in St. Petersburg. We returned to the ship, had dinner and packed up. We put our luggage out before going to bed. The next day the cruise line had the departures well organized so that it was not crowded in any of the waiting areas or as we departed the ship. Instead of claiming our luggage on the pier, they took us to an area at the airport where our luggage was under a tent. We claimed it and went into the adjacent building to check it in for our return home. They then had a bus to take us to the main airport terminal. Since there was only one busload of people going through this process at a time, it was far less hectic than we've experienced with other cruises. While we waited in a lounge for our departure, I worked on this journal, although I finally completed it 3 weeks after we returned home. We had a great time, saw some places that I would not have thought of going on my own and met some really interesting people. I would like to go back to several of the places we visited some day.

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