The Dinosaur in the Baltics

Day one:
We got off to our usual start, with me trying to juggle tickets, bags and computer.   I managed to lose my passport once, but that’s because I was using a backpack rather than my fishing vest.  If I had been using my vest, I could have lost the passport a dozen times. There are times when I wish I had the dexterity to actually juggle, since I could then toss bags up in the air while I went through different pockets to find out where I put the passport this time.

Las Vegas is really a busy airport, more like an ant’s nest when you compare it to other airports.

Patsy got us started off with water and peanuts to keep us going until we got to LA.  It was actually cheaper for us to fly to LA and then to London, rather than a straight-through flight.  This would mean a seven hour layover at the airport, however.

Once we reached LA, we were met by friends Cairlasse and Riordan, who took us out to lunch at a 1950’s style diner.  We had hamburgers and old fashioned milk shakes, the kind where they give you the cup along with the milk shake, and Riordan told us a funny story about when the comedian, Stan Freberg ordering a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in Australia, not realizing jelly there meant the same thing as Jello to us.   This pleasant break trimmed several hours off an otherwise tedious sit-around at the airport.

Once we got back, after lunch, we literally breezed through security.  I am reading Steig Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire.  One of the security guards pulled the book out of our bag and started talking about Larsson, telling me things about the author and the series that I did not know.  What a great start to the tour.
We met a woman from London, a widow who had just recently lost her husband of 62 years.  We had a nice conversation with her and then helped her carry her bag to the plane.

There were little video screens set into the in front of us.  The controls for this little nifty device looks like a TV remote, and is set into the arm rest so that you can accidentally hit it with your elbow.  Several times during the night, the screen would light up and I would have to turn the darned thing off.  It worked out for the best, since I am supposed to walk every couple of hours.

Day two:
We landed in London, and suddenly it was Sunday afternoon.  My, how the time flies when you are flying.  We were told there was no shuttle to the airport, which is technically true.  There is an express that we could have taken, but it cost 25 Pounds each, and that would have taken most of the money we bought at home, so we opted for the underground at 4 pounds each.  (As an observation, they drive on the wrong side of the road, you know.)

We have used subways, tubes and undergrounds in several places, and I have to say that the London Underground is very clean and handy.  There was a little girl in the car with us.  She had dark hair and a frilly pink dress.  She was showing her mother individual potato chips, crisps I think they call them here; anyway she would show her mother the chip and then put it into her mouth whole and crunch down, smiling as she did.  I thought it was one of those things that children probably do everywhere they have potato chips, or crisps.

Dragging all the suitcases made it a bit difficult, but we soldiered on and arrived footsore but triumphant.  When we got to the hotel, we learned that there is a shuttle that would bring us near the hotel, for only 12 pounds each; oh well.

We had dinner at a small Italian place and sat outside.  The parade of humanity is really something.  We heard any number of languages besides English, and saw just about every race of people dressed in every style, from ripped fishnet stockings and shorty-short dresses to the full cover of Islamic women; no face covers however.  We turned in early and slept fairly well, although London never seems to sleep.  There was some street noise throughout the night.

Day three:
Things don’t start out well.  It seems I have lost my cell phone, which is a drag because I must have some twenty-five phone numbers in it.  We went to a T-Mobile store and got the thing suspended so nobody who finds the phone can run up a humongous bill, but it’s going to be a bear to replace.

We hiked across Kensington Garden to the Albert Hall, and I sang a bit of the Beatle’s song about knowing ‘how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.’   We walked along the Princess Diana Memorial Walk.  The walk leads across the park to the Princess Diana Memorial Garden.   I took pictures of one of the memorial plaques.  I bet Prince Charles wishes we could just forget the whole episode.

There are groups of people sitting in circles all over the park, and dogs, dogs, dogs everywhere.  At every path intersection -there are a lot of paths in the park-  there are signs telling owners their dogs must be on leads.  We never saw one on a lead, although all the owners carry them.  One big bruiser who seemed to be on his own, stopped by our bench to see if we had any wolves he might chase down for us.  We didn’t, so he left us.  There was a man walking in a cloud of small, identical looking dogs.  Probably if you rolled them all together, they would be about the size of a Basset, or maybe a Labrador.  Off behind the man with the dog-cloud, we saw the Albert Memorial.

When we first spotted the Albert Memorial, we weren’t sure that’s what it was and hoped someone hadn’t played an awful trick on the city of London.  The thing looks like an over-the-top wedding cake, with gilding no less.  I took several pictures of it just to prove my point.  I also took a picture of these little white daisies in the grass, because Ronald Johnson quoted an English folk saying in his Book of the Green Man, that it isn’t summer until you can cover twenty daisies with your foot.  I think it must be summer here.

There is a carousel in the park with garishly painted ponies.  It looks like someone took Dayglo spray paint to them.  But after that, the horses have their names painted on them.  Their names were things like ‘Leslie;’ and ‘Mike.’

We crossed the street and stopped for coffee and fairy cakes at the Albert Hall, which looks like a gigantic wedding cake itself.  (They still drive on the wrong side of the street, which makes every street crossing an adventure.)

A fairy cake is just a white cake cup cake with a lot of frosting on top, but we had heard about them on Are You Being Served, so we had to check them out.  Patsy had a lemon fairy cake, and I had a lime.  The wait-staff had a good time talking to us and we traded stories about Las Vegas and London.

From the hall, we hiked over to the Victoria and Albert Museum to look around.  The outside of the building has chunks taken out of it by the German bombs during WWII.  The scars are being left as a memorial to the suffering during the war.  Interesting though, there is also a German Institute just a block or two down from the museum.  Life is funny sometimes.  (They drive on the wrong side of the road, really they do.)

I was going to change the subject and say ‘On a happier note,’ but I don’t know that it is.  I’m talking about the several decorated elephant sculptures we saw, similar to the horse and cow sculptures in New York and Chicago.  I thought they were very cool and took pictures of them; then I read the signs at their bases and saw that the statues are for sale and the proceeds go to help preserve the disappearing elephant habitat.  They are still pretty cool to look at and I hope they raise millions.

We visited some of the exhibits at the V&A, but jet lag and old age started to catch up with us.  We used the facilities, had a quick snack and started back home.  Two interesting bits:  the urinals in the men’s room have a picture of a housefly on them, which I suppose is a target of some sort.  The other interesting bit; after you wash your hands, you stick them into this funny shaped box to dry them.  It does the job in about ten seconds, very efficient.

There is a pond in the middle of the museum complex and kids were wading through the water, having fun.  We sat and drank ginger and lemon ice tea and had mozzarella sandwiches with fresh pesto sauce, while we watched the kids.  At the other end of the pond is an odd sculpture.  It’s made from trees cut in two vertically, with woven strips of wood meeting as a kind of top.  When the sculpture is done, it will have a soft, wood-chip padding inside it, so that kids and grownups can sit there and just enjoy it.

We walked past Round Pond, which is a pond in the park that is, well, round.  Right now, it is also covered with algae and swans.  I took a picture of all the canvas lawn chairs set out on the lawn around the pond.  If you want to use one of the chairs, you sit down in one of them and a young man comes over and charges you.  You can pay to sit and look at the algae and swans.

The town is flooded with white and red ‘Cross of St. George’ flags in support of the English soccer team.  There was even a roof repair truck, the kind with the melted tar cauldron on it, and it sported a massive St. George flag.

We were bushed and decided to eat early and turn in, because we have to travel to Dover tomorrow.  I wanted real English food, so we went to the Bayswatch Pub.  Patsy had the roast with the mini-Yorkshire Pudding, and I had a steak pie complete with green peas that were not mushy.  We both had a pint of Young’s Golden Beer with organic English Barley.  Very tasty.  On the way back to the hotel, it started to rain just a little.

Day four:
It is obvious that we have too many bags to haul around.  This is mainly because the ship expects us to dress up four times during the trip, and such, so we have to drag around extra stuff.  We went to France once on a single sports bag, but this trip, we have had to drag three bags, plus the book bag and the computer.  I feel like a Sherpa.   Dragging all these bags around is part of why I lost the cell phone.

We start the morning by going to the underground to go to the St. Pancras station, where I don’t notice the spelling, and call it St. Pancreas.  I also don’t notice the wide luggage gate into the station and try to go through one of the regular turnstiles with two big bags, jamming up other travelers and requiring a station attendant to set me free.  A  jovial Scotsman sets me free as I explain my ignorance.  With a burr, he says that every day is a learning experience.

When we get to St. Pancras station, I crack a joke about the next stop being at the Islets of Langerhans, which falls flat on its face.  But then I notice the spelling and try to take back my comment, but it was too late. Patsy’s the only one who cares anyway.

Disaster strikes!  My credit card gets rejected when we try to buy tickets to Dover.  Fortunately, Patsy has another card and that one works.  We wrestle our bags through the station and finally reach a place where we can sit for a while.  The morning started with a light rain, so we dressed for that.  However, since we are inside, the humidity is high, and since I have been swinging the bags around, I am soaked with sweat.  When we sit down and rest, I take off my jacket and almost get a chill.

The British Railway trains are high speed bullet things that face both directions, so there is no need to turn it around.  We get seats and enjoy the scenery.  There is lots of green countryside and a sky full of massive fluffy gray clouds to be seen.  The train manager -we would say conductor- lets us know we want to get off at Central Folkstone rather than in Dover.  When we got to Central Folkstone, however, I do not move fast enough and the train won’t let us off.  We have to ride all the way into Dover anyway.  We explain what happened and the train manager said we could stay on the train and ride back to where we are supposed to get off.  This time, I stand the whole way back, holding on to a bar, with the bags clustered around my feet.

When we get off at the right stop, we go to find a way to get to the hotel.  This is worrisome, since I only have twenty pounds left.   We stop in a coffee place and ask the woman behind the counter if there are buses or something that could get us to where we need to go.  She tells us we need a taxi and points us in the right direction.  If you are ever in Dover and need a taxi, contact G’s Taxis at 07931957062, he’s a great guy.

On the way to the hotel, we talk to the driver about the white cliffs, and I happen to mention the White Horse of Uffington.  It turns out they have their own white horse here at Folkstone, but it is recent and was constructed by Royal Engineers.

When we get settled, we decide to go change some Dollars to Pounds, so we go to the post office.  I have several adventures along the way, due to these people driving on the wrong side of the road.  Patsy doesn’t seem to have a problem, but I think it’s because I am more adventuresome.  The Post Office is a combination of Post Office and 7-11.

I try to talk to the young man at the front desk about the white horse, and mention the Uffington Horse. We get into a discussion almost worthy of Abbott and Costello, with me saying Uffington, and him saying Huffington.  We eventually work it out.

Day five:
The adventure begins, after breakfast, of course.  We ask about a laundry room, but there isn’t one, so we haul our dirty laundry with us to the ship where it will cost us $20 for a full bag of dirty duds.  Patsy figures we could spend that much in pounds if we used a washer and dryer on land.

We call G’s taxi and get a ride directly to the ship.  The Eurodam, our ship, is enormous!  To board ship, we are herded into an auditorium to fill out paperwork and to have our passports checked.  It’s really a cattle-call, and I feel like mooing a couple of times.

After our check-in, we are issued a colored card to indicate the order in which we board.  We are given an Ivory card, probably the least popular of the colors.  Pink and Red seemed to be called over and over again, and each time a whole new group of people spring up and answer the call.  Finally, I get us taken on board by accidentally telling a lie. I said we had been in the room for an hour, when I meant to say a half hour.  The attendant takes us directly to the front of the line.

We finally get to the gangplank, where we are met by two showgirls ala Las Vegas style: lots of exposed skin, sequins, and feathers.

We get to our room on the eleventh deck (think eleventh floor), only to find out our verandah door will not open.  Our room steward, named Banbang,  gets it open and explains the bottom catch does not work well.

Once we are underway, there is a BBQ on one of the decks, planned of course.  We retire early after the BBQ, being somewhat tired from all the hurry-up-and-wait, plus dragging all the extra bags around.

Day six:
Today is an at-sea day, so not much going on.  I buy some internet minutes so I can communicate with everyone.  We also buy time in the hot room, so our time is split between the library, the Lido Café, the heat room, and our stateroom.  Doesn’t that sound grand?  Stateroom; I don’t believe I’ve ever stayed in a stateroom before.

I keep going to the wrong food service line; I keep going to the Officer and staff line.  So far, they have not kicked me out, but it could happen.

Later on after dinner, we go to the cabaret.  The show is a rollicking hour with the dancers giving their all.  Even I am sweaty after it is over.  Tomorrow, we will be in Copenhagen.

Day seven:
We are in Denmark and will be headed to Copenhagen soon.  We are going to the Tivoli Gardens, since that sounded more fun than the palace tour.
Tivoli Garden is, as the name implies, a garden, but one surrounding an amusement park.  Think of Seven Flags on a small scale with lots of flowers.  Some fun things for our SCA friends: there is a beer garden here, named Valhal, and there is a big sign across the way that says ‘Antonius.’  I take pictures of both of these for a record.

When we first come in, we see a pantomime stage that looks like an over-the-top Chinese pavilion.  We go to a large place where they have classical music concert performances, something I don’t think they do at Seven Flags.  When we get there, they give us drinks.  Wine or beer at 10:00 in the morning!

There is an aquarium built into the wall in the gents room.  I take a picture of it and then turn around and have to dodge some big guy a few steps behind me.  Well, it turns out to be a full length mirror, which I hadn’t seen coming in, but still…

I take pictures of some of the rides, especially one version of The Hammer, where the seats are in a small bi-plane with a propeller that makes a whirring sound when the plane moves.

On the way back to the bus, we pass a yacht basin and see a ship that our tour guide claimed is a yacht.  This thing is five decks high and looks like a tour ship.  At first, I was sure it belonged to the Danish Coast Guard, that’s how big this thing is, but it does indeed belong to one person, his private toy.  The phrase ‘obscene amount of wealth’ flits through my mind.

On the way back to the ship, we pass by a lot of places of interest and beauty, but aren’t stopping.  Now if I understand it correctly, the stock exchange is in an old building with a tower on it, the tower being formed by four dragons with their tails intertwined.  That seems awfully symbolic.

We stop at the royal palace and get to see the royal guards dressed like toy soldiers-big bear skin hats, red jackets, etc.  After that we come back to the ship and just loll around for the rest of the afternoon, reading and so forth.

Day eight:
Today finds us going to Lubeck, a medieval city.  We have two guides for some reason; the first guide acts as mother and keeps track of us, while the second one, a sort of gnome on caffeine, tells us about the city.  By the time the tour is over, we will have walked many miles, crawled through passages about four feet in height, and gone through people’s backyards.

Our energetic guide is named Hans.  He lives in Lubeck, but for reason, takes the train over to the boat to meet us rather than meet us in town.  The trains are running late and so Hans is also late.  Once we start the drive into town, he tells us all that we are going to see, then as the tour progresses, he has to alter things.  It reminds me of Alice’s rabbit: We’re late, we’re late.

Driving into Lubeck, we pass through beautiful countryside.  Hans tells us about when the no-man’s land ran through this area between East and West Germany.  He said that there were cleared areas through the forest so they could run patrols up and down the border.  When there were no people going in those areas, wild animals took over and flourished.  Go figure.  Lubeck was East Germany, so we learned a lot about all that.

The town is a good mixture of old and new, mostly the new having to adapt to the old.  Some people in the 1500’s were what Hans calls, ‘stone rich.’  To show off, they would built tall brick false fronts onto their houses.  (False fronts didn’t originate in the Old West after all.) Because the tall houses are built of brick, they use decorative ‘fish plates’, those bits of metal that tie off the end of iron rods that pass through the building and hold it together.

We have a rushed lunch inside a fisherman’s pub, built in 1536, I believe.  I have pictures of the inside, including the date.   Our nice German lunch, is finished off by Der Kreme Bruille…  joke.  An hour later, we sit down to coffee and marzipan cake so we can then rush off to the canal around the city for a boat trip.  The boat owner provides us with beer and wine, of course.

I have caught a slight summer cold, so feel lousy all day, but with the amount of food we are getting, I start to rally.  Maybe it’s all the sugar.

There is so much to take pictures of, I have to be selective.  Hans keeps taking us into what are essentially people’s back yards, but like the public pathways in Britain, they are indeed open to the public.

Back to the ship and off to dinner, like we really need more food.  Tonight’s special feature is… German food.  They have brought in a polka band to set the mood.  (Have you ever heard The Battle Hymn of the Republic done Oompah style with a polka rhythm?)

We also hit the hot room area, which we did need.  I think I mentioned the heated tile benches, but did I mention the swimming pool sized whirl pool spa or the special tank in the middle?  The pool is about fifteen feet across and maybe twenty wide.  There is a rack you lie back on and let the water jets beat your sore muscles.  There is also a central tank of sorts, where the water boils up and beats other parts of your body.  You need to be prepared for this, otherwise you could be in for an unpleasant surprise.

We finish off the evening watching the USA vs. England World Cup match down on a full theater screen.  I want one for our house.

Things looked grim after England’s goal, but a funny thing happened after the US goal.  First, you need to know that there were St; George banner and the Stars and Stripes floating above the auditorium, held up by several helium balloons.  After the U.S. goal, one of the balloons on the St. George banner popped and the flag gracefully dropped down to the floor.  How’s that for symbolism?

After an emotional hour and a half watching the game, we go to bed for a peaceful night’s sleep.  Yeah, right.

Day nine:
Today is an at sea day, so we try to catch up on sleep and just unwind.  We will be on a walking tour in Tallinn, Estonia tomorrow.  Tonight, we see a funny show, a Count Dimas from Romania.  Along with being a classically trained pianist, he also plays a long bamboo flute-very breathy sounding-and the accordion; not both at the same time.  He has a comedy shtick he does along with the music, but the capper is what he calls his ‘Draculaphone.’  This is a black coverall with a bunch of balls or bladders attached to it.  Each bladder has a tuned pipe inserted into it.  He plays this thing by hitting the balls with his head, knees, feet, heels, and of course, again, his head.  He has one bladder on each shoulder and one below his chin, so when he plays a tune, he looks like he is alternately kicking himself in the butt, jamming his heels into his knees, or trying to beat himself unconscious by slamming his head into his shoulders.  Absolutely funny.

We end the night with a hot tub soak and then off to bed.

Day ten:
We are in Tallinn, Estonia.  Like Lubeck, the town has a lot of medieval buildings, but there are also some newer ones.  Much of the city walls are intact, as well as the moat.  It rains off and on, so we are glad to have our rain shells.

We are walking along a cobblestone street when we hear someone with a guitar, singing a Bob Dylan song and doing a good imitation of Dylan.  Funny thing is, the song involves being out in the rain, and the singer is there, out in the rain.   Isn’t it amazing how things work out?

We arrive at a high point of the town and we have a panoramic view of Tallinn.  Our guide points toward a weather vane, a man holding a banner.  She told us this is Old Tom, the protector of the town.  I thought, with the number of times Tallinn has been occupied, Tom should get fired.

Again, like in Lubeck, the old city has been preserved and the newer stuff has been blended in.  The blue, black and white flags are at half mast, and our guide explains that this is in honor of the Estonians who were sent to Siberia in 1940, when Russia invaded the country.  Today is the anniversary of thata mass deportation.  She told us several stories about the Soviet occupation, especially letting us know that they were not able to talk about what happened while the occupation was going on.  Now that they have their freedom again, the Estonians want everybody to know what happened.

We pass a relatively new hotel, built for foreign visitors during the Soviet period.  Our guide said it was built with ‘micro-concrete,’ that is, a mixture of concrete and microphones.

At the end of our tour, we go to a church where we hear medieval music played on period instruments.  There is a five string fiddle (an instrument that looks like a pregnant violin), a hurdy-gurdy, a lute, and several tambourines or bodrin type drums.  I have never seen a hurdy-gurdy with its cover open, but the singer had it open today.  For those of you who don’t know, a hurdy-gurdy is a three stringed instrument.  It’s played by turning a crank, which rubs a wheel against the strings.  Two of the strings are drones and cannot be changed, while the third string is changed by a set of keys, so you can play a melody.  The lute player tells us the drone strings, how they act like the drones on a bag-pipe and that the hurdy-gurdy and the bagpipes are similar in nature, except the hurdy-gurdy is a musical instrument!

The woman singer’s voice is incredibly rich and ideally suited for the place and the style music.  What a way to end the tour, listening to Dylan on a rainy cobblestone street, then medieval music in a medieval church.

The buildings in Tallin are mostly brick, and like at Lubeck, they use the fish-plates to reinforce the structures. There is a magnificent Russian Orthodox church across the plaza from their parliament building.  When we go inside, a priest is chanting behind the Icon screen.  I would love to see him, because his voice is so deep and full, I think he must be shaped like a barrel.

Tallinn is another Hansiatic League town, the merchant group that dominated the Baltic during the Middle Ages. Estonia sits at a trade route crossroad, which is the reason why it has been occupied most of its existence.

After returning to the ship, we have another rich dinner, watch another bang-up review put on by the singers and dancers, and then to bed.  Tomorrow is St. Petersburg.

Days eleven and twelve:
I have been a little under the weather, so I haven’t keep up with the log like I should.  Now I am going to roll St. Petersburg into one report, which is too bad, because the city deserves more than that.  However that’s the way things wgo, so on with the log:

This is the first time I have ever felt like I was in a totally foreign environment.  Part of it is the alphabet.  In European countries, I have some clue as to what is written on a sign, but with Cyrillic, I have no such clues.  I understand that Peter the Great chose the Greek alphabet to use for the Russian language, and maybe this is so, but you couldn’t prove it by me; I don’t read Greek.  I did notice however, that the name Peter starts with a Greek letter Pi and there seems to be a backward ‘p’ for the ‘r’, so maybe this is true.  I also have worked out the word for coffee: ‘k’, an ‘a’, a letter that looks like a double sided ‘p’, and an ‘e’.  Bar seems to be a ‘b’, ‘a’, and that backward ‘p’ again.

They accept three currencies here: Dollars, Euros, and Rubles.  We work out that the Ruble is about 30 to one, so we have a reference point.  The folks here seem to have this in exchange rate their heads, but I am still having problems with the money situation.  We were told to not bring Rubles out of the country, so I should have bought more Euros when we were at home.

St. Petersburg is called the “Venice of the North,” partly because there are so many rivers and canals in the area, but I also suspect it’s partly due to the number of palaces facing those rivers and canals.  The place is lousy with palaces.

If a wedding cake ever got turned into a city, it would be St. Petersburg.  There are pillars and trim and cartouches and caryatids and other nude figures and garlands and, and, and…  The colors range from gray and white to a pale green with white columns and gold leaf on the capitals.  The church of the Holy Trinity Has a blue dome festooned with gold stars; we see it as we come into the city from the port.

The most important buildings have been refurbished, but the other places are a bit grungy.  I suppose the same thing could be said of London or LA, however.

We stop at the cathedral of The Resurrection of Christ, also called the Cathedral of the Spilled Blood, because one of the Czars got killed here.  A suicide bomber blew him up; things don’t change much, do they?

We cross several bridges along the Neva River, and down the Nevsky Prospekt.  We learn that the term ‘prospekt’ is the same as ‘boulevard,’ which, believe it or not, is something I wondered about before we came here.  I wish that we had done more research on the city and that I didn’t feel like cat-crap.  It didn’t help that we are riding in a double-deck, open air bus with the wind blowing on us.  I actually buy a stocking cap with a bobble on top to shield me from the wind on the way back to the bus.

Tonight, we go to a Folkloric presentation, with singers, musicians and dancers from the Russian Army.  The singing is great, but the dancing is incredible.  The Russians may not break-dance, but they have moves that would work with hip-hop.  As an example, one dancer grabbed the toe of his left foot with his right hand and proceeded to jump back and forth over his own leg.   It’s not enough that the guys do the splits, they also jump right back up on their feet after they do it.  My thigh muscles ache just from watching them.

When the show is over and we get back to the ship, the ship crew gave us hot chocolate and cookies while we go through the custom process.  What a swell group.

Every time we come into the country from the ship, or leave to go back to the ship, we have to show our trip ticket and our passport.  The authorities give us this little red chip that will allow us board the ship.  If you lose the chip, you can get fined.

This morning, we go to the Hermitage Museum in the Winter Palace.  The battleship Aurora is docked just a little way away from the palace, which is poignant in its own way, since the bombardment from the Aurora started the 1917 revolution.

The Hermitage is overawing, stuffed far too full with great art and too many people trying to see it.  Our guide uses an intercom system; we hang the recievers around our necks.  Although we use earphones to hear her, the static and the other noise makes it hard to hear her.  She keeps trying to show us things, and she says things like: “Over here is one of the most famous paintings by Titan,” but by the time we get close enough to see what she is talking about, she has moved on to another artist.   When it is all over, I feel like I have been mugged by a thousand years of Fine Art.  We are glad that we have seen the Hermitage and all that, but we prefer other museums like the Cluny or even the Louvre.

I do have to say the parquet floors are incredible, especially in the Throne Room.  There are plaster medallions and other decorations on the ceiling; the floor perfectly mirrors the plaster and gilded patterns above with the parquet on the floor.

The afternoon finds us back at the ship where we had a light dinner, a short rest, and then went down to the hot benches and giant spa to get beaten up by the whirlpool.  Later on, we sat in the forward observation area, drank wine and talked to a couple of doctors from Florida.

Now I am about finished with this part of the trip.  I am feeling better and will turn in here soon.  Probably tomorrow will be a healthy day for me, go figure.  If we were at home and I had this summer cold thing, I would have spent a day or so in bed, but no way was I going to do that when we only had two days for St. Petersburg.   I wish I could have done a better job for you with St. Petersburg, but I will try to make it up with the next stops.

By the way, something I should mention for our SCA friends.  They have a massage technique at the ship’s spa, involving rattan.  It seems they heat the skinned rattan and use it like a rolling pin to ease muscle pain.  This is a hundred and eighty degrees from our sport, where we use cold rattan to create muscle pain.

Day thirteen:
The morning is piercingly bright.  We are in Finland and will be headed for Helsinki and a visit to a farm later on.  I can’t say which is more amazing, the clarity of the sky after so many days of overcast and rain, or that I am starting to feel normal again.  When you talk about Norway, Sweden and Denmark, you are talking Scandinavian, but when you include Finland and Iceland, you are talkig about Nordic.

We start off early; our guide is a woman who has a great sense of humor.  She lets us know that the couple we will visit are typical Finns: she talks too much and he never speaks.  she tells us Finnish men don’t talk and are very shy around women.

Jumping ahead for a moment, our guide tells us how to say “I love you” in Finnish.  It’s a difficult phrase, but we try to say it.  Then she tells us about the Finnish wife who complains to her husband that he never tells her he loves her.  He responds that he told her he loved her twenty-five years ago, and promised to tell her if anything changed.

Our guide gives us all sorts of information about Finnish history, including how many times they have either belonged to the Russians or the Swedes.

The Finnish way to say hello is ‘hey.’  Goodbye is ‘hey hey.’  I don’t know if they say “hey, hey, hey.”

Helsinki has a few major attractions, but by and large, seems to be just a large, clean city.  We will see more of it after we visit the farm.

On the way to the farm, we stop at a church they call the Old Church because it was built in the 1450’s, as a Catholic church. There is a new church across the fields from the old church, but the new one was only built in the middle 1800’s!   When Finland became Lutheran, so did the Old Church.

The Old Church is built of stone and there are several coats of arms around on the whitewashed walls.  One of the coats of arms appears to be a round faced individual with its tongue stuck out.  After looking around and seeing another such one, we realize the round head is supposed to be a lion.   I took several pictures of the round headed arms and of a labyrinth drawing high up on the wall.  I have no idea why it is there.  I also got a good picture of the massive door lock.  This is interesting to me, because when I made my copy of the Mastermeier Chest, I made a lock that was not as massive, but similar in its simplicity.  I knew how this lock was made and how it worked.

The church has a graveyard in front of it, of soldiers who died in Finland’s last war of independence from Russia.  Finland apparently won its independence from Russia in 1917, when Lenin expected the Finns to have their own revolution.  There was a civil war, but the parliamentarians won, not the communists.  Then Russia again attacked Finland in 1940, the Finns call this ‘The War of Continuation.’  There was no ammunition or weapons to resist the attack, so the Finns made a deal with the Germans to allow them passage through their north territory in exchange for weapons and ammo.  In the end, they lost 10% of their country, but retained their freedom.  Our guide makes a special effort to let us know the Finns did not fight for the Germans, but against the Russians.

From the Old Church, we travel through gorgeous country that is mixed agriculture and forest. anywhere the land is not tilled, it is forested.  The drive is lovely and could have been the sole reason to be out there, but we are headed for a farm.

The first thing we see when arriving at the farm is a 1928 Model A Ford in pristine condition.  The car belonged to the father of the owners, and has been kept by the family since it was new.

The farmhouse is surrounded in well kept lawns, flower beds, and of course, the forest.  The fence between the manicured areas and the forest is made of rails, set diagonally to the upright posts.  I’m so used to the horizontal rails, that this bothers me.

There is a pond behind the house, with a fountain to keep the water aerated.  The pond is part of their Sauna practice; (pronounced sah-oo-na) to sit inside the sauna for a while, then go jump into the pond, then go back into the sauna, then jump in the pond, etc.  They take a little nip of vodka when they do this, so they get a little bit drunker as the session goes on.  Mind you, the fountain not only aerates the water, it keeps it from freezing over in the winter, so they can go into the sauna, then jump in the pond, and on and on.  These people seem awfully healthy and normal for such insanity, but there it is.

We are greeted with coffee, Carelian Cakes and Egg Butter, fresh Ice Cream, rhubarb cake, and bits of real rye bread.  A Carelian Cake is a small rice pudding tart in a rye and wheat crust.  The egg butter is made by blending hard-boiled eggs with butter; you smear this over the top of the Carelian Cake.  The rye bread is made with a starter that is over a hundred and fifty years old.

Did I mention that they have a howitzer from the 1917 civil war at the farm?

After our treats, we take a walk around a small lake and then back to the bus for Helsinki.  When we get back to town, we see a woman walking down the street, wearing a very colorful outfit.  Our guide tells us she is a gypsy and that the gypsies in Finland wear their traditional costumes  because they can, not because they have to.  The outfit sports a skirt that looks like it is made of scarves; the top is a golden colored vest that would have done a Las Vegas showgirl proud, and worn over a long sleeve blouse.

Our first stop in town is at what they call the Church of the Rock.  Back in the sixties, they wanted to build a church on top of a granite outcrop in the middle of town.  Two architects, brothers as it turned out, decided to build into the rock, rather than on top.  The walls and floor of the church are raw granite.  There is an open work dome over the church, which allows light into the interior.  The inside of the dome has a sort of shield made up of several kilometers of copper wire, woven together.  I keep thinking I am looking up at the Mother Ship, and expect to be beamed up one of these times.

According to our guide, a lot of Finnish life involves the use of ‘Wodka.’ The Finnish word for a hangover is ‘crappola.’  I can relate to that.

Our next stop is at the Lutheran cathedral in Parliament Square.  The square is a massive, open area, and the cathedral sits up high, with what looks like fifty stairs surrounding it.  The building has the neo-classical look that we saw so much of in St. Petersburg, but without all the gold.  There is a statue of Czar Nicholas II in the square.  Our guide tells us the statue has stayed because Nicholas was the only good guy from Russia.  They liked him.

While we are there, we listen to two young ladies singing Finnish songs.  One plays the violin, while the other plays a tin whistle and something that looks like a zither, but played more like an autoharp.  Their music is lovely, but they get drowned out by a band of Andean flute and drum players!  Andeans in Finland?  Anyway, that group makes so much noise that the quieter, and truthfully, prettier music the two girls had made, gets lost, so they leave the square.

We head back to the ship for more food and a trip to the hot room.  Tomorrow, we have another day at sea and then a tour in Gothenburg.

Day fourteen:
Today is an at sea day, so not much going on.  We had a Race For the Cure 5k walk this morning.  It was supposed to be a friendly walk, and non-competitive.   Well, I expected there would be some faster walkers, so I stayed to the far right in the slow lane.  (Some of my Wednesday Warrior friends will find it amusing that I was to the far right)

I wanted to stay somewhere toward the front of the middle pack, a comfortable place for me.  At some point, however, this anorexic creature passed me on the right and actually shoved me over.  Now granted it wasn’t a hard shove, but it was definitely a hand foul, for sure.  I said, “Good thing this isn‘t competitive,” but the wind blew my words away.

All right, I’m being petty in calling her anorexic.  She was quite tall and thin, but I’m just reacting to the corps au corps contact; I did see her jogging a couple of times, though.

Random thoughts:
It is possible to consume enough calories in one day to support a small village.  You can find something to eat somewhere on the ship pretty much any time of the day or night.

Our room steward leaves us funny animals made out of folded towels; Terrygami, I suppose.

They give us chocolate on our pillows

The US team should have beaten the Slovenia team in soccer.

We have been going to the Crow’s Nest bar to see a musician named Aaron Tessis, and having a lot of fun.

Tomorrow, we go to Gothenburg, Sweden.  We were supposed to go to Stockholm, but the tour arrangers didn’t get the message that there is a royal wedding going on and the town is pretty much shut down.  We weren’t invited.  Of course, everybody has known about the wedding for the past year except for our tour arrangers.  They just gave us the information about Gothenburg a couple of days ago.

Day fifteen:
Perspective is all.  We have noticed how, even though we are eleven decks up, the sea seems to be right at our window.  This morning, as we pull into Gothenburg, we pass several lighthouses that look like something you’d find in a miniature golf course.  It wasn’t until we come to one with a light keeper’s house that everything snaps into scale.   After that island, we pass several others, one with harbor fortification and cannons at the ready.  Earlier, the day looked gray and rainy, but now it seems to be clearing up.

I don’t think any harbor is going to be pretty, after all, this is a working area, but I do say the Scandinavian harbors are better looking than St. Petersburg. Gothenburg harbor is exceptionally clean and organized.

We are in Gothenburg, Sweden, instead of Stokholm.  I don’t remember what the Stockholm tour included, but the Gothenburg tour is just a bus ride with a short stop for the restroom in a small fishing village.  We do take a longer stop in another place famous for dried cod, and the smell proves it.  We could have gotten coffee there, but four other buses got there before us, so we don’t have time for it.  our bus had technical difficulties at the start and so we are behind schedule.  Lubeck all over again.

After four hours of riding around, we are tired and bored and decide go back to the ship to take a nap.  We could have stayed in downtown Gothenburg, but decided to not do that.  We would have only had a couple of hours to wander without a guide, and besides, we need a sandwich.

What we see of Sweden is very nice and very clean.  The country is still covered in a lot of forest, there seems to be trees anywhere there is not a house or some other building.  Of all the places we saw on the bus ride, there was only one building in need of paint, and that was vacant.  So, dear chums, apart from saying it is clean, neat, and covered in trees, I cannot tell you much more about Sweden.

Day sixteen:
This will most likely be my last communiqué, since today is an at-sea day, and tomorrow we will be in England, for where I do not have a power converter.  My little laptop does not have much of a battery, so the next message will most likely come once we are back in Las Vegas.  If anyone has questions about the cruise or the log, I will be more than happy to answer them and include them as part of the Dinolog.

To summarize then, the cruise has been a real pleasure.  We had fun, saw places we never expected to see, and ate more than we planned to.   There are places we would love to come back to and spend more time in, but that’s something we have experienced with every trip we have taken, so nothing new there.

Our visit to the Baltic States has been interesting even though we’ve only had a brief taste of each, sort of like a chocolate box sampler.  I keep thinking of Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’; we have stopped at each site, looked for a while, appreciated what we saw, and then moved on.

We are now in the North Sea, and even with the stabilizers out, the ship has quite a roll.  The water is a deep jade green, with white caps and occasional spray.  We have all been doing the Eurodam Rock ‘n Roll today, and I’m certainly glad that neither Patsy nor I are subject to sea-sickness.    The skies are gray and likely to stay that way now until we leave England.

So, I will sign off now.  I hope all of you are well, and we will talk further in a couple of days.

Day 17
Well, folks, we are in London and staying at the Grosvenor House (pronounced Grow-venor House, of course).  Let me say this is posh with a capitol ‘P’.  We have a king sized bed that you sink into, which we did while we watched North Korea vs Portugal at the World Cup.  We just had a crayfish and avocado sandwich on a baguette, sipped on Wild Elderberry Bubbly, and finished off with a fudge brownie.  My, my, what a way to live.

We will dine at the hotel steakhouse tonight, and then return to real life tomorrow morning, when they wake us up at 6:30 for our 10:55 flight.

I spoke to one young woman and asked why the English soccer team uses the Cross of St. George only.  She said it’s because it is the England team and the Scots (Cross of St. Andrew) prefers anybody wins except the English.  Who knows how the Welsh or the Irish feel.

Our dinner at the dining room was very strange.  We had an excellent Cabernet, a nice goat cheese and beet salad, and then ordered the fish and chips, that old English specialty.  The chips were about the size of small new potatoes and there was an abundance of them.  It looked like three or four full sized potatoes on our plates, topped with one poorly cooked piece of fish.  The fish was soft and the batter surrounding it was underdone.  Not enough to send back to the kitchen, but bad enough that I would never order fish and chips at that place again.  What a contrast.

Day 18
We got up and bought some croissants and coffee for breakfast.  We stepped outside to eat and met a bellhop from Madiera, which caused Patsy and me to break into a verse of “Have some Madiera, my dear,” completely baffling the young man.  He wanted to know about Las Vegas and especially the Grand Canyon.  He was told by somebody that they had closed the canyon and that nobody could go there now.  We told him that the North Rim gets closed in the winter, but South Rim is open year round.  Anyway, since we couldn’t have Breakfast at Tiffany’s, we had breakfast at Grosvenor House .

We got to the airport early enough, which is a good thing, because the lines are terrible.  We made it through in time for our flight, but we didn’t have a lot of time to spare. Coming back, I had the remote in the arm rest  worked out, so I only changed Patsy’s program four times.  Once we hit Los Angeles, we had to hurry and get our bags transferred to the Las Vegas flight, then we rushed to our next gate.  We had about a half hour wait before the plane started to load, which was good.  Coming from Las Vegas to LA, there was a young girl sitting next to me, who came from Nova Scotia, so we had a good time talking about that.  Coming back from LA to Las Vegas, there was a young man sitting next to me, who almost needed two seats.  We did the arm-rest shuffle.  I won because his back was so thick, his arms didn’t reach the full arm rest.  The young  man and I didn’t talk about anything.

Once we got home, it was a guessing game trying to figure out where our ride, Tara Bunker, was.  In the past, I called her on my cell when we were at the baggage carousel, but I couldn’t do that this time.  We did finally meet up, and were very glad to be home.

More as things come up.

There are going to be many things that float up through my mind, that I wished I  had shared with you, but didn’t.  One of those floating thoughts came to me today: there was a young man riding a unicycle on a main street in Sweden.  Our bus passed him, but we saw him downtown later on, still riding the unicycle.  I have never thought of one of those things as transportation, but I guess he did.

Now for the wrap-up.
My cell phone has surfaced, but in a strange way.  It was turned in to a T-Mobile office in St. Albans, New York.  Someone picked the phone up in London and brought it to the United States.  The SIM card has been removed, so I don’t know what I will find once I put in a new card.  I think I transferred my telephone list to the phone itself, and didn’t leave them on the SIM card.  If you get any weird telephone calls, I apologize, but I don’t think you will.  I identify everybody by first name only, and for those in-town numbers, I leave off the 702 prefix.  I hope nothing more happens, but who can say.

Anyway, this does officially wrap up the 2010 European Dinolog.  I hope you have all had fun reading my stuff.  If you have any questions, or would like more information about the trip, please contact me.

 

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