Archive for September, 2010

Lille to Courtrai to Ypres to Zonnebeke and return

September 10, 2010

Following our decision yesterday to stay another night in Lille and visit Passchendaele (note the spelling changes a little depending on your origin; British, French, Flemish) we were to catch the 9:08 train to Courtrai (Kortrijk) then change to get to Ypres (Iepers).  However we were a little tardy and did not get to the station on time so had a delayed start at 10:08.

Train to Courtrai was, as usual, a very smooth and interesting journey.

Crazy tankers Tankers with back problems!  Don’t know what they were carrying.

Along the way we saw a couple of windmills, lots of farms as well as allotments, with the best being a vegetable patch beautifully tended and grown directly alongside the train track.


This idea should be encouraged everywhere!  After making enquiries at the station we got on the right train and managed the transfer at Courtrai onto the train to Ypres.

war graves War graves alongside the railway line Courtrai to Ypres

Arrived in Ypres and did our usual thing of walking a little bit further than expected but got to the information centre to enquire regarding Passchendaele and possible trips to the battle field etc.  However found a brochure on a Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917.  This is situated in the town of Zonnebeke, some distance from Ypres on the road toward Passchendaele.

The main square in Ypres The main square in Ypres

So onto a local bus which took us all the way out to Zonnebeke and to a very interesting museum covering all of the battles around the whole Passchendaele area from 1914 to 1917.  It was based on a number of exhibits supported by a number of very good light and sound shows with a mix of still and moving pictures taken at the time augmented by commentary and some added movie clips using actors.   The whole experience was very moving and in the end somewhat upset Roy.

Entrance to museum Entrance to Museum park at Zonnebeke

remnants of trenches Trench remnants in park

in the basement of the museum they have constructed a model of a bunker to walk through

bunker 2

bunker 1

We had taken our lunch along with us (purchased at a Boulangerie) so we decided to eat it seated outside the museum in front of a large pond.  Here on the other side of the pond were two men fishing.  Well, we decided that this was what is in fact called “coarse fishing”, one man seemed to be having a little luck although we are unsure what they were actually catching.

coarse fishing Coarse fisherman

In trying to determine exactly where Abrahams Heights was located (this was the location Dad was wounded on 4th October 1917) it turned out to be in a field just off a crossroad some six kilometres from Zonnerbeke and the same distance from Passchendaele with no marking or recognisable feature.  So we decided not to proceed any further (which would have been difficult as there was no public transport to or past the location).

Whilst waiting for the bus to return we took this shot specially for Mike and Ann

tractor Green tractor

We then proceeded back to Ypres and spent time at the Menin Gate

menen gate Menin gate

To give some idea of the scale of the gate here is a picture of a bronze model of it.  Every vertical surface inside and out is covered with the names of soldiers who fought in the Ypres salient from 1914 to August 1917.  There are no New Zealand names on the memorial these are honoured elsewhere.  Apparently the arbitrary cut off date for the names listed was because there were just too many to list.

bronze model

and then the museum at Ypres.  This again was extremely well done, showing the progress of the war around Ypres and the Ypres salient from 1914 to 1918.  Again this used mixed media, reconstruction and also covered all aspects of the war. Again, very sobering and moving.

They had a model of a bunker which gave some scale to the one already seen in Zonnebeke

bunker model 1 Model of bunker surface

bunker model 2 underground features

Some random shots around the square

For Paul these are the type of jars you  should display in your Chemist shop window


Picture of shutter retainer

shutter holder

FoR Mike a picture of dynamo which almost every bike in Ypres and Lille has.  Also almost every bike is of the sit up and beg variety as evidenced by the one in front with the ever present child seat.


And finally Snow in St Nicolas Street

Snow in St Nicolas Street

We then proceeded back to the train station, of course after the mandatory additional kilometre through navigational difficulties, resolved by the male member of the group asking lots of people for specific directions after the navigational error was discovered.  The female member of the group was suitably placated by the purchase of Belgium chocolates!!


Placated!!!!  Who got us misplaced in the first instance??

Back on the train to Courtrai, change train to Lille and thus home.

At this stage it was after 7pm so had a quick bite at a local brasserie, we shared a Flammekueche which was very nice indeed.   Interplay with waiter who insisted that he speak English and we speak French added to the evenings light relief.

Present plans are that we move on to Reims tomorrow, but who knows we could end up anywhere.  It has been known to happen before.

Unusual sign of the day.  I wonder if they get any customers?

sign of the day

France at last

September 9, 2010

This morning we arrived in Dover to a typical morning of low cloud and drizzle.  Not a great way to be greeted.

Dover As much of Dover as could be seen.

After breakfast on board we made our way off the ship and into a cab for the ride around to the Dover – Calais ferry terminal.  We made the first crossing of the day and arrived in Calais just after 11:30am.

FranceFrench soil

Then because we lingered to see if we had wifi at the wharf we missed the bus into town.  So a half hour wait twiddling our thumbs at a bus stop in the rain.  Finally boarded the bus and made our way to the rail station expecting an information desk to guide us on our way.  I should say at this stage we had no idea where to go or what to do next, all we knew was that we wanted internet access and to get a new sim card for the phone as the other one had not given us any service for the past week.

When we got to the station there was no information service and no one who even looked interested.  So Roy went walkabout to find what was going on.  Found the Tourist Information office down the road but all we got from there was a map of Northern France.  Could not find any information of wifi locally.

So after sitting down with the map decided Lille looked a likely spot as it appeared much bigger than Calais and also looked central to the North of France.  Once decided it was off to buy a ticket.  Had a great train trip again from Calais to Lille.

Snow on the train to Lille Snow on the train to Lille

It was not the TGV service but was interesting and comfortable.  Arrived in Lille to pouring rain not knowing anything.  Went to the exit from the Station and asked a man if he; spoke English and  knew where the Tourism Information Office was.  Well what happened next was a real surprise after all the tales of French disinterest and rudeness one hears.  He started to direct us but then said as it was raining we had best take a tube train and then walk fifty metres instead of a fifteen minute walk in the rain.  He then surprised us by taking us in hand, guiding us to the tube station, showing us where to, and what ticket to get and then actually took us down to the specific platform and directed us to get off at the next stop.  Now that is what I call going the extra mile. C’est magnifique!!!

Hopped off the tube, out into the rain, across the square into the Information Centre where again the young woman there was very pleasant and helpful and booked us into a small hotel and then directed us to where to buy the sim card for the phone.  So off we  trot with luggage in tow along cobbled streets to find the store for the sim card.   She had directed us to the local Tabac, but unfortunately the person there did not speak English and no amount of hand waving on the part of either party managed to resolve the issue.  However a customer stepped in who had at least one or two words and between us we figured that we should go to a shop at the end of the next Place.  Again, we were greeted by a very pleasant young man who not only helped us with the language, but then filled in the application for the sim, put it in the telephone, added on some extra credit for me, explained and showed me how to top it up, explained all the information regarding the number and what our number is for calling from within France and from outside France, then he updated the date and time on the phone for me before sending us on our way.  Again we say c’est magnifique!!! Although I shall be revisiting him again tomorrow as now all the instructions on the phone are in French and although we are managing with it, it would be better if we could reset the language to English….and I can’t figure that out!

With working phone in hand, we put a call into Alex to make sure it was working ok, caught up with her before we again braved the rain to head to our hotel.  We found it quickly and went up the four flights of stairs to our very comfortable room which overlooks the street.  Caught up with blogs and mail before we headed out for dinner.  We stepped out onto the street and walked the 50 metres to the end of the street which intersects the main street….what did we find at the end of the street?  The main Rail Station…so instead of walking/tube half way round Lille…we could have walked 50m straight to the hotel!!  Typical.

View from Hotel windowView from the Hotel window

We had a lovely simple dinner at a Bistro just along the street, where I did have to pinch myself as here we were, in a French restaurant………… in France!!

French cafe In a French restaurant

Tomorrow we are off to Paschendaale for a visit as this was where Roy’s father was injured during WW1. Then we think we will have a couple of days in Rheims (the Champagne region), where we will no doubt do some serious tastings….damn, someone has to do it! Then Sunday we will be off to Charleville-Mezieres to meet up with Roger and Ruth on their canal boat Romany which we are really looking forward to.

Oh by the way came across another interesting sign around the corner from the Hotel

Imteresting sign

Forgot to add new phone number: from mobile +33687682678  from landline 0033687682678

Last two days at sea

September 9, 2010

Well, that’s that.  We have survived, well nearly, our first and probably our last cruise.  We don’t think we are built for this type of travel.  We are too restless, or at least one of us is.  The consequence is we perceive this trip as being periods of boredom on-board broken by intense periods of activity in various locations.  Would not have missed it but will be a long time before another.  This is being written prior to disembarking at Dover somewhat early in the morning.

We left Stockholm in smooth conditions, and this continued throughout the Baltic Sea. 

Dawn in the Baltic Dawn in the Baltic

First day at sea woke to a nice sunrise and then proceeded to update blog, finish accounts etc.  Later in the day managed to clean up at the trivia quiz again with a couple from Chicago.  Our third win so far.  Also managed to relax a little and read a book. 

Not Dover yetNot Dover yet just an island in the Baltic sea

We approached the island where Copenhagen is situated from the other side this time and passed under the bridge that links the island of Zealand to the mainland

suspension bridge 1 Under the bridge


DSCF1581  Looking back at the bridge, that span is 1.6 kilometres long

Next morning we awoke to somewhat rough conditions in the North Sea.  This left one of us slightly off but, thanks to the magic earplug, in not bad condition for the first seven or eight hours of the day.   After that the sea moderated quickly and we were back to plain sailing.

 Wind turbines off the coast on Denmark Wind Turbines off the Danish coast

Once again had a win at the trivia quiz, this time with an Australian couple with whom we had won one previously.  The quiz provided a distraction from the sea conditions.  We also took part in a movie theme quiz where we at least got greater than half right but not enough to win.  So in some eight quizzes we entered we won four and had it not been for the bias to American questions we should have won more.

Had an interesting evening watching two shows.  The first was put on by the crew who displayed an array of talent.  Then we had a Beatles tribute band which was not bad and certainly helped pass the time.

We have to state that in the long term Bernice took both the Crib and Backgammon titles.  Obviously as a result of better sailing legs!!!

Other insights in cruising; They have a person standing at the entrance to EVERY restaurant on the ship with spray bottle of “sanitiser” which they then spray your hands as you walk past.   Static stations of sanitizer are also located on every lift, and entry into every public area…you will be pleased to know that we are now well sanitised!!! Staff were mainly of Filipino and Central American extraction, the head dining room man was the spitting image of Gomez from the Addams family with the gait of Uncle Fester! And he was always publicly berating the staff, which made for fun sideline entertainment.  The whole cruise we felt as though they were trying to extract money from us at every single opportunity and the prices were just silly – we figured this was a good trip to do if you wanted to dry out as the price of drinks were just ridiculous!!


Anyway, an experience and we really did enjoy visiting the capitals of the Baltic.


September 9, 2010

sunrise Stockholm Sunrise approaching Stockholm


We arrived on shore via tender by 8.30am ready to make our way to the train station. 

Inside the tender Inside the Tender

We passed the shoreline on the way in and thought it particularly reminded us of Tasman National Park.

Tasman National Park Tasman National Park relocated

Armed with helpful information from locals we got to the train station fairly quickly to await its arrival, by 10.30am we had arrived in Stockholm.  Nynasham is a one hour train trip from Stockholm and although we only had a short day in which to visit, we thought it was an opportunity we should not miss.  The train trip through scenic countryside was an extremely pleasant way to travel (please note NZ Rail!!). 

Train to Stockholm Train to Stockholm

After arriving in Stockholm we exchanged some money to krona and then made our way to a cafe which had free wifi available.  This enabled us to update email, Facebook and the blog including the ability to go back through some of the older entries to add photos, so if you have been following our latest entries, some of the older entries now have photos included. 


Then it was off into the old part of Stockholm to explore the city’s original heart. 

Snow and the Lion Snow jumped on a Lion as we walked to the Old Town

Entrance to old town Entrance to Old Town

This is also where the Royal Palace and Cathedral are located but we made a beeline for the Nobel Museum.  Roy went off to explore the museum by himself whilst Bernice did her own thing only to meet up later. 

Lunch time Bernice doing her own thing

The Swedish Academy The Swedish Academy, Nobel Museum inside

Around the square in front of the Academy building there were a number of colourful buildings.

coloured houses

As we were leaving the museum we heard a band strike up so it was off around the corner to watch the changing of the guard at the Palace. 

changing the guard 2 Changing the guard in front of the Palace

Snow at changing the guard Snow looks on


Soon it was time to head back toward the rail station as we were all told that the last tender would be leaving at 5pm for the boat.  Adding in the time for the train plus the half hour walk from the train station to the dock we were back in time to be on the boat by 4.30pm along with a long line of others. 

back to the ship Back to the ship

We saw a number of interesting signs in our travels and here are three of them:

another sign



We saw the last on on the train going back to the ship.  A local young man told us that slut meant end, so this meant end station.  The end of the line.

Now we have the “pleasure” of two days at sea before we dock again in Dover.  We have frequented the onboard quiz when we can, and have done reasonably well each time finishing in the top two or three , we won this mornings quiz.  This two days at sea give us an opportunity to tweak the blog, add in photos and an opportunity to do some research on the next part of our trip. 


Keep the emails, comments and facebook notes coming in!


September 5, 2010

Helsinki appeared amidst a string of small islands requiring a rather convoluted path for the ship to dock at quayside.  However this was accomplished in the usual efficient manner. 

arrival 1

Kayaking Helsinki 6 am Kayaking at 6am you have to be keen

Our first stop in Helsinki was to find wifi so we could check on news from home as we were woken to the news of a devastating earthquake in Christchurch.  The whole of downtown Helsinki seemed to have free wifi so we settled in with a coffee and the laptops.  Antony had send a message telling us that he had spoken with Grandma & Grandpop and that all were OK and in fact they had slept through it!  Instant reassurance, thank you Ants for checking on Grandma & Grandpop.  We then read all the news reports and saw all the photos, we hope that all are safe and well.

The place where we were dropped off from the bus was a main square in the city in front of the legislative building.  In this square there was an exhibition of large bears which were painted in the national colours/patterns of the 142 member states of the United Nations.   Each had been painted by a person from the country to reflect their interpretation of the country. 

Bears on parade 1 Bears on parade

The bears were arranged in alphabetical order and so it was an easy matter to follow them around until N for New Zealand.    WRONG!!  New Zealand does not begin with N in Finnish.  Eventually found the NZ Bear, of course New Zealand begins with a U it is in fact spelt Uusi-seelanti  how silly of us not to know this, particularly as it is not too different from the Estonian spelling.

Snow nz bear Can you see Snow with the New Zealand bear?

nz name plate Now that’s how to spell New Zealand in Finnish, Swedish, English and German

There was also a very nice large bear whom Snow took a liking to.

Snow takes a ride

Met with an interesting approach to cobbles and road marking particularly for pedestrian crossings.  A lot more permanent and saves on paint.

How to save paint

Helsinki could not be a more different city to the city of the previous two days.  Instantly noticeable was the general atmosphere, the people friendlier and the overall air was of safety, a sentiment echoed from all other passengers we talked to.   After dealing with emails etc we headed off to wander around the market square.  It was so refreshing being able to wander around and check out the abundance of wares on offer, from the usual souvenir stalls to the fishmongers, the myriad of fruit & vegetable stalls where we tried fresh peas still in the pod, ligonberries, cloudberries and every other berry you can think of.   The food stalls selling local delicacies such as fried small fish, crepes, other fried foods and baked goods were all welcoming and looked delicious. 

boat The square abutted the sea so some people just pulled their boats up and sold from them.

berries Berries

Fungi Fungi

sampling peas Sampling peas

hat Still looking for the right one

Next we took a tram trip around the sights of the city, checking out a few stops around the city. 

Central Rail Station Central Station

We stopped to take in the sights of the grand Central Railway Station, mistake!!  We thought that it was only a matter of a few blocks back to Market Square, and it may well have been, if we had turned the right way!!!  After some debate, not too violent, we boarded a tram going to the Square, having had a briefing from a local.  This proceeded to cover a substantial distance, certainly more than expected but finally ended in the right place. 

We then had a belated lunch of local crepes, delicious, followed by fresh fruit and then we had a final few minutes of wifi before boarding the bus back to the ship. 

farewell Farewell Helsinki

Tonight we travel to Nynashamn where we can then proceed to Stockholm.  This will be the first and only port where we proceed to shore via tender, it should be ‘interesting’!

St Petersburg: Day 2

September 5, 2010

We were again picked up by Michael & Anna. We must mention at this point that Anna is a very beautiful (and intelligent) Russian woman who has immaculate style and presents herself very very well, today she is wearing a stunning black military style coat cinched in at the waist with asymmetrical hemline, red & gold scarf, black leather boots topped with a little fur and the outfit completed by her red leather gloves and red & gold earrings.

Anyway, back to the trip, first we stopped by twin marble columns at the point where the Neeva splits in two to go around an island, one of the 40 odd islands that St Petersburg is built on. The columns are sited on either side of the point of the island and acted as light houses..  They are characterised by the boat prows attached to them.  These supposedly represent the victors spoils as they supposedly cut off the prow of the defeated boat and displayed it.


From here we had good views  across the River Neeva to the Winter Palace/Hermitage and to the Peter & Paul Fortress which we would be visiting today.

The Hermitage The Hermitage

First the Fortress, an amazing fortress built on one of the many islands (Vasilyevsky) that make up St Petersburg. Within walls up to 10 metres thick a fortress was created to defend the city.  Within the walls the St Petersburg mint is still in operation today – no free samples though dammit.

Plan of fortress Plan of fortress

Then on to the church of Peter & Paul which is within the redoubt.

Interior St Peter and Paul Interior St Peter and Paul

At this point disaster struck.  Someone, who shall remain nameless had left the memory card in the PC after downloading yesterday’s pictures.  But that is not all, they, whoever that may have been, had forgotten to charge the battery in the camera.  A double catastrophe.  However all was not lost as there was an extra card and battery (fully charged) in the backpack in the car.  PHEW!!!!

Here most of the Russian Royal family are buried. Each has their own large sarcophagi, most of Carrera marble. These are all within the main body of the church. In a chapel at the rear of the church lie the remains of the Romanoff family. This contains the remains of all but two of of the family whose bodies, at the time of the incarceration of the others in the chapel, had not been found. However their remains have now been found and they are awaiting burial with the rest of the family.

Anna explained expertly the line of the royal family over the centuries before gaining us entry in to a small side room where 5 male singers sang a Russian hymn – wow – they had such wonderful powerful voices. She also pointed out that it was a feature of Russian Orthodox churches that the choir was often in a hidden side room so that their voices could be heard but they could not be seen. This was apparently to create a sense of angels singing, hence our mystification as to the source of the voices in the church in Tallin.

Back to the vehicle, reload the camera with all its supplies, and then off to Remembrance Square,  where we saw the eternal flame.  We also had a great view through to the Church of the Resurrection aka Saviour on the Spilt Blood, back into the car and off to visit the said church. 

model of the church Model of the church

Wow,  cannot adequately describe this amazing church.  The whole of the inside is lined with mosaics in the Russian style depicting religious scenes and people. 

Painting Painting?

Closer 1 Closer


closer 2


And it is not as if this is a one off.  Every surface of the interior is covered with mosaic pictures including the dome.  Floors of intricately patterned marble abound. 

We then walked outside where it seems as though today was the day that many people had chosen to be married so everywhere there were limos (Hummers!!), brides and bridal parties. Apparently it is tradition that brides visit all the sights of St Petersburg on their wedding day! As well, of course, as rubbing various statues to make wishes.

At the back of the Church is a very fine example of a wrought iron grill railing in an art deco style


Off for lunch at a Russian restaurant, lovely food and company before back into the car and off to the Hermitage. Anna works in the Hermitage in the winter season so she got us in via a side entrance beating off the main entrance and queues which we saw later and they stretched forever! The Hermitage was sensory overload… is unbelievable what they have, in fact there is so much that as we briskly walked past large Titians, Caravaggios, original Greek sculptures etc etc, they almost became just another piece of art!  Anna took us on a tour of highlights away from the crowds, explaining everything to us in detail including the stories and legends behind the scenes depicted in some of the art and displays. 

column 1

column 2 Another example of mosaic in a different context

Peters instruments 1 Peter’s sailing and surveying instruments

Detail ivory chandelier Detail of solid ivory chandelier

We were also able to get our noses directly up to two Da Vinci paintings (did you know that Da Vinci only painted 11 paintings??!), just absolutely mind blowing that we were able to study these paintings at such close range and without huge crowds around us.

detail Leonrdo painting 1

It was not only the exhibits which were spectacular but even the parquetry on the floors was exceptional.

parquetry 2

parquetry 3

Then of course the small vase carved out of three solid blocks

a small vase

But at the end of the day we were all very tired so had to sit for a rest

resting Snow resting at the end of a long day

There are three flights of stairs here each of 24, 23, 22 stairs.

After a good few hours at the Hermitage it was then across Palace Square and back to the car. 

The square is where many events take place including visiting rock concerts.


We returned to the ship hardly able to believe what we have experienced the past two days.  Finally a photo of our intrepid guide and driver

Michael and Anna Michael and Anna

Time to write this all up before we forget it all, we cruise overnight to awake in Helsinki in the morning and hopefully some time to find Internet connection.

Finally, our overall impressions of St Petersburg; A city full of culture, history and museums but what we could not get our heads around was the extreme dichotomy between the haves and the have-nots.  The over the top opulence and exhibition of wealth is quite obscene in the face of those who have nothing. The rebuilding of palaces and the like after total devastation in WWII is utterly amazing, the amount of money spent on gilding, glitz and restoration whilst the general populace had to queue for the basics in life seems very strange indeed.  We did not feel completely safe in St Petersburg either, we wondered who would help us if anything untoward were to happen as the Police Force appeared to be a left over relic of the communist regime – totally indifferent but at the same time authoritarian.

St Petersburg: Day 1

September 4, 2010

The day dawned overcast and cool with forecast of showers.

Arrival at St Petersburg Arrival at St Petersburg

We were up early and ready to go before 8am which was scheduled disembarkation time.  Hiccup number one, we were not allowed to leave the ship as the ship had “not been cleared by Russian customs”.  Along with hoards of others waiting in hallways and stairwells becoming increasingly impatient, it was noted that streams of people were in fact leaving the ship – but only those who had purchased their trip via the cruise line.  The rest of us (and there were hundreds) were made to wait …. until a few of us registered our complaints with reception, not that they took much notice, but after a while and people being made aware of just what was going on (45mins later) the doors were suddenly opened.  So we all tripped off the ship only to be met by Russian passport control.  This is the first port that we have had to go through passport control.  It should be noted here that at every other port the ship has its own control whereby you present your room card and are quickly allowed off the ship, and for each return, room cards are swiped and then bags go though scan to check that you are not bringing fruit or alcohol back onto the ship, in particular alcohol as they want you to purchase their alcohol at exorbitant prices!!

With paperwork/visas/passports checked we were soon through and off to meet our tour guide.  We were the only ones on our tour, so along with guide Anna and driver Michael we set off first for a quick tour around the city then onto our first stop by the River Neva and the Sphinx statues.

Sphinx beside the Neeva Sphinx beside the Neeva

This was our first experience of the Russian/St Petersburg penchant for rubbing various statues for a wish to be granted. There were two lions below the Sphinx and one rubs their paws and wishes.  So we did our own wishes and hoped for the best.  Another St Petersburg feature was apparent here, as soon as we pulled up and stepped out of our car we were accosted by people trying to sell all sorts of items.

We followed this stop with photos of the many gold covered domes in the city. By this time the weather was turning rather cool and the rain had set in rather steadily.

Golden domes Golden domes

On to Catherines Palace.  Surprise of the day was arriving to a small brass band who started playing the NZ National Anthem as we approached!

Brass band at Catherine's Palace Brass band

Through amazing gold gates and into the grounds and then the Palace. What is truly amazing is how this has been restored after its destruction by the Germans in WWII, from the artwork, to the amazing ballroom, to the famous amber room.

Entrance to Catherine's Palace Palace Entrance

Domes on Catherine's Palace Domes on Catherine’s Palace

One of the first rooms we entered was the ballroom. This was absolutely amazing.

Ballroom at Catherines Palace

A room of approximately 1000 square metres, 286 mirrors surrounded by 696 candles. There are no chandeliers, but there is a magnificent mural on the ceiling. This is in fact a large canvas, originally in three pieces. Along with this canvas, almost all of the items from the original palace that were rescued before the German invasion, were rescued by women who worked in the Palace after the men had gone off to war. The items were returned after the war, although some were lost forever notwithstanding the women’s best efforts.

We then proceeded through a further seven rooms each decorated differently but as faithfully as they could be to the original.  Each ahd a heating unit in a corner or along one wall.  All of these were works of art in their own right.

Heating unit Heating unit

From here we went out into the gardens for a walk back to the car before moving on to the next destination. It is hard to give an impression of these rooms so you will have to wait until we return!!

marquetry on floors Parquetry on the floors


We exited the Palace into the gardens but really did not linger as it was continuous rain at this stage.  However there was time for one photo.

Snow in the gardens  Snow in the gardens

On the road we passed a large number of Dachas.  These are like a weekend house where people retire to at the end of the working week from their apartment in the city.  A lot are being used to grow kitchen gardens, apparently a very widespread activity in St Petersburg.

We proceeded through Strelna to Peterhof and the amazing gardens and fountains. We first walked through the upper gardens which were very precisely laid out and presented in exceptional order.

Upper garden Peterhof Upper garden fountain

We then made our way to the front of the Palace building where a magnificent view of a plethora of fountains, in a setting involving a series of steps, into a large pool at the base, then a canal leading into the Gulf of Finland.

Fountains and canal Peterhof Fountains and canal

Each of the individual fountains was gilded, each was different from any other, and each was not driven by pump.  The whole of the 147 fountains in the grounds were driven by a gravity feed from a source above the palace some three kilometres away. 

Detail of fountains

We then moved through what is known as the lower garden and spent time looking at the female side of the garden. The garden is effectively cut in half by the canal with the female side being on the right as one looks to the sea and the male being on the left.  

Snow at the canal Snow at the canal

We stopped at a cafe in the gardens for lunch and then continued our walk. The grounds were maintained meticulously which reminded us of someone at home.

Anne Sim was here Anne Sim was here

Also we saw a number of Squirells on the paths.  .  They were not at all afraid as apparently they are well fed by people waliking in the park.

Bernice's squirell Bernice’s squirell

We passed a large number of the fountains including three which were trick fountains. These were controlled by semi hidden people who switched the fountains on when people walked by, or they were driven by pressure switches so when people sat or walked on certain points the fountains would erupt and spray water on them. There was also a unique children’s fountain where there were a series of ducks chased by a dog swimming around and also one could hear the duck’s quacking all done through water pressure.

Duck fountain Duck fountain

We had been told earlier in the day that the metro stations in St Petersburg were exceptionally decorated. So our next adventure was a metro trip through three of the stations. Although not the oldest metro in the world, it is the deepest at over 100 metres below ground level so that it can pass below the Neeva River. We boarded at the first station built which was lavishly decorated with marble pillars, walls and ceilings, ornate chandeliers and statues, we went to the next station where we hopped off and looked around, mosaics, chandeliers and pillars in yet another style before boarding the train to our final destination. We were not allowed to take photos of any of the stations so will see what we can find.

We then paid a visit to the obligatory souvenir shop, where we obtained free coffee and a free sample of Russian Vodka (very good in the eyes of a couple of ex professional vodka drinkers). After looking at numerous Russian dolls (in fact they were first made in China), lacquered boxes, Faberge style eggs, icons and folk art of all descriptions, we bought several postcards and called it quits.

We then proceeded to St Isaac’s church. This was a building surrounded by mammoth pillars each of which was made from a single granite piece weighing 20 tonnes.

Not quite Not quite able to span

These were then lifted into place using a specifically designed scaffold.

Model of scaffold

The most amazing sight here were some of the “paintings” on the walls and ceiling of the interior. Whilst they looked for all the world like paintings they were in fact mosaics.

A painting A painting

No a mosaic No a mosaic

But one had to look closely to see that this was the case. Also in this church were very large columns of porphyry and malachite. These were in fact again a type of mosaic invented by the Russians in the 1700s. We could not get close enough to see the detail of either of these techniques but were promised that we would see them tomorrow.

Our guide was particularly knowledgeable about the Russian Orthodox religion and the history of the Royal family of Russia. This led to in depth presentations on all aspects of both subjects which were of course entwined with the palaces and churches that we visited.

This ended our first day in St Petersburg. Entirely impressive.


September 4, 2010

We left Warnemünde late in the evening in rain and windy conditions, which had been par for the course for our time in this port. Great to look forward to a full day at sea, NOT.

Next morning awoke to a fine outlook with calm sea conditions, and this is the Baltic Sea.

Now that is calm Sea of glass

I guess you take what you get. The day continued to improve as it went on, with the sea like glass toward the end of the day. We even managed to have a barbeque for lunch. The fine weather, hot sun and lack of wind almost made up for the boredom, but still not quite. Sheesh some people are hard to satisfy!!!!!!

Sunset in the baltic sea  Sunset in the Baltic

So after a lovely day, and a great sunset, as well as putting our clocks forward one hour, it was off to sleep looking forward to a land day in the morning.

Morning dawned calm, overcast, with a hint of rain, until I figured that the water running down the Observation Lounge windows was in fact the window cleaning system spraying water over the windows!!  In fact the morning continued to improve over the next couple of hours until it was time to disembark at eight thirty.

Arrival Arrival in Tallin

Now for a change we had actually done some homework on the city of Tallin, particularly we were looking for wifi connection, and had almost a plan of action from the moment we disembarked. We have watched the boards go up outside reception with the next days offerings to those who are part of package tours. It finally clicked that if we took a photo of the maps (reception will not give out maps as you are supposed to buy a guided tour from them!), downloaded the map onto the iPad, we could then zoom in on the maps and utilise them throughout the day. The same for the guide books available in the library, we just photograph maps we need and then put them on the iPad!

Map of Tallin Map of Tallin

Within fifty metres off the ship we found that there were a host of stalls set up offering all sorts of goods, mostly locally made. But also there was a set of stand up bar type leaners under a canopy advertising free wifi. And so it was. And it worked. And we took advantage. Then decided we had best head into town.

Whilst getting to the an example of how tetrapods should be used for sea protection.  Take a look Oamaru.

Use of tetrapods


Off we went to board the hoho bus, first on board, everybody else walking past or going on their ship based tours, oops had we done the right thing. Well the bus did eventually fill quite quickly and we were off into Tallin.

Now which one should we use Which bus?

We thought that the second stop would place us at the top of the city in the “Old City”, a walled area, hundreds of years old. We were right, off the bus and a short climb to a beautiful church. Well worth a visit it was our first exposure to Russian Orthodox churches where there was a deep sense of reverence and an obvious regard for strict rules of behaviour. The other noticeable item was when we heard a very good choir but could not identify the source of the sound and assumed it was from some form of recording, but the affect was very impressive. Outside the church there were a number of older women obviously openly soliciting for funds, why or for whose benefit was not made clear so one must assume that they were begging on their own behalf.

Church Church at top of old town

Around the corner to a vantage point with an extremely good view out to the ship and over some interesting old buildings. You could even see the ship our ship in the background.

View from outlook point View over part of Tallin

From there we wended our way, through narrow cobbled alleys, through gated openings in the old city walls down the hill to the town square.

Down to wall gate wall gate open


Arrivinbg at the lower town we found ourselves in the Town Square where there was a market set up with a lot of stalls in front of the Town Hall.  This was decorated with a number of dragons set high in the front wall.

Snow and the dragons close up of a dragon

Snow and the dragons                Close up of Dragon

There we found an outdoor seating area (associated with a bar), sat down and immediately found at least five free open wifi connections. The first we tried turned out to be fast and high quality. This enabled us to upload a number of photos, get our email and generally catch up.

Full of alcohol Full of alcohol


After a couple of hours we moved on to further parts of the city. At this stage we were feeling rather warm as the day was improving as it went on. Next thing it started to rain, lightly to start with, but then getting somewhat harder. Thanks to Hilda and Burnie for the ponchos as they were just the thing for this eventuality. We then took the only course possible, find a covered curbside cafe, coffee, tea and roll later, found another different free wifi point and carried on until the shower passed.

Back on the hoho bus for another drive into the outskirts of Tallin, enjoyable and showed a city rebranding itself and going forward at a good pace. Then back to the ship to recharge the laptop before a final onslaught using the quay side wifi point.

A head of the rest Definite looker

General impressions of Tallin were entirely favourable, very clean, very tech savvy. All of the people we had contact with were very friendly, obliging and went out of their way to assist. It is an impressive achievement in a relatively short period since the Soviet withdrawal. It has to be the most tech savvy nation with bill payments, bus and train fares all being able to be paid using phones, they were also instrumental in the development of Skype as well as the first nation to have election voting done via the Internet.

We met a number of people on the way back to the ship who were mightily peeved that they had not realised that Estonia was so tech savvy and were ruing the fact that they had not taken advantage of it. There were also some very grumpy people moaning about the cost and the very slow internet available on the ship (US$55 for 100 minutes).

We finally got back to the ship just before time was up. We headed off to get ourselves a cuppa and on the way through the ship we came across a small bar where there was a Trivia Quiz about to start, so we perched on bar stools and the Kiwi Team of Two proceeded to win the quiz!! Well, we were first equal with another team of 5 players, but no play off required, so we were feeling quite chuffed after that.

A great day, now we are off to St Petersburg where we have organised a private tour at half the cost of the ship organised mass tours. Again, we have done our homework and engaged a tour company that came highly recommended on all the sites we visited. We will see.

Clocks go forward another hour as well.

Into Tallin

September 1, 2010

A day in Warnemunde and Rostock is almost a day too much!!! Not only was the weather miserable, so were most of the people!! First was a train trip to Rostock with all the early morning local commuters and then to find a shop to buy a wind proof/water proof jacket which was duly done. After a wander around for the morning looking at the local high?lights, including elephants wandering down the main street, and desperately trying to find any Internet connection, which we were told there was none, we hopped onto a ferry to travel back to Warnemunde. A pleasant trip back to the jetty which just so happened to be directly in front of the cruise ship. Then a ‘short’ walk to the town of Warnemunde, well, it would have been short if one of us could read a map properly and not take the walk to the end of the pier then have to turn around and walk the long walk back and this time to the bridge into the town. A nice enough time was spent in the town, again no internet connection anywhere. This surprised us somewhat as we expected the Germans to have a reasonable service. A nice apple was found at the market – NZ Pink Rose, mmmm.

Back onto the ship for the evening of playing crib and backgammon and put our clock forward an hour ready for a day at sea.

Woke late to a stunning day. There was a poolside BBQ for lunch on offer today so we headed poolside for a change of scenery and food. I guess at this point we should mention the food, there is plenty of it, constantly, but the quality is just not there. So we tend to keep things simple and have the fresh fruit and salad on offer with whatever is on offer from the carvery. We have tried a few of the different restaurants with varying success. Another day of lying in the sun reading, interspersed with crib playing and backgammon. I guess we are very slowly getting into the cruisy lifestyle!!

We really love hearing the snippets from home…..sorry to hear that Benny has gone walkabout tho, thanx for trying tho Helen & Don, you never know, he may just wander back in.

Next stop Warnemunde

September 1, 2010

A day in Copenhagen is hardly enough. We were first ones in the line to escape the ship this morning, and straight onto a HoHo bus. A quick trip to see the highlights of the beautiful city of Copenhagen before we find a free wifi internet site to update email, blogs etc. A hasty check on emails and then back to the bus stop for the next bus to arrive. We decide that we want to go to the Tycho Brahe Planetarium and as it is only ‘just around the corner’, a walk is the answer. We only had to ask for directions once along the way before coming across a lovely large park and lake with the Planetarium at one end.

The famous Little Mermaid is not in situ as she has been relocated to the Shanghai Expo but there is plenty to see. It was back on the bus to the centre of town, a bite to eat washed down with one of the best coffees I have had since I left NZ, and a wander around before heading back towards the ship. We had enough time to check out the shops along the Langelinie Pier before embarking.

Next stop is Warnemunde in Germany, we cruise all night and should be docked by 7.30am. We do not have to be back on board until later in the evening, we will probably take a ferry to Rostock and explore that region rather than take the 3hr train trip to Berlin and 3 hrs return. Roy has had a sore back the last two days which we are convinced is as a result of sitting for long periods.

Photos today include some signs which we have no idea what they mean but we thought they were funny!