Posts Tagged With: Norwegian Sun

Helsinki, Finland!

The third port of call on our Baltic Capitals cruise was Helsinki, Finland.  Talk about a place we don’t know anything about!  If someone were to ask us what Helsinki is known for, we would have a hard time coming up with an answer.  After spending the day there, we still can’t give a great answer to that question, but we can at least speak to it with a bit more confidence.

In order to make the most of our day, we got up bright and early, disembarked from the ship and made the lovely 30 minute walk from the cruise port into the city center.  One of the first things we noticed in Helsinki was the number of public art projects scattered throughout the city.  We came upon a park which had “knitted graffiti” covering many of the trees.  Essentially, people have knitted all kinds of patterns–stars, sunshines, flowers, etc.–and covered the park’s trees with them.  It is an interesting and surprising twist on the idea of graffiti.  We also noticed these red tags on many of the major landmarks.  A project called “Helsinki Tagged” has 80 different red tags spread around different landmarks throughout the city.  Each one has a quote which shares someone’s memory of that spot. These are designed to give insight into Helsinki as well as create a fun image for passersby who read them.  We were definitely amused by them, and it was fun trying to spot them as we roamed the city.

As we wound our way into the city center, admiring the public art, we soon found ourselves at the train station.  I should have known this was where Phil was leading us.  He loves trains and is very curious to see all these European train stations he has heard so much about.  Helsinki’s station is not quite as classic looking as Copenhagen’s, but it is still very impressive.  It was clearly designed for functionality, with large open spaces where people can easily find the train schedule or wait for arriving passengers.  Luckily for us, they had a small exhibit featuring the history of trains in Finland, including a discussion of how to build a system which works all year even through copious amounts of snow and ice.  As it turns out, it is more effective and efficient to have people maintain the signals so they stay free of ice and other obstructions.  They tried to do it automatically, but it didn’t work.  Not sure that’s a job I’d like to have, but hey, someone has to do it!

After the train station, we stumbled into the Helsinki Cathedral, a Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral which was built in 1852.  This beautiful, old cathedral is still in use today and the majority of the Finns in Helsinki belong to this parish.  As with most cathedrals, this one is filled with artwork and sculpture.  We were particularly taken with the sculptures of the 12 apostles which dot the roof.  When we endeavored to name all 12 of them, we came up short by about four.  At least we knew some! We ventured inside and discovered we had arrived just in time to wander around for a few minutes before it was closed to visitors due to accommodate a midday service.  From the steps of the cathedral we could see much of the city.  We looked on the horizon and spotted another cathedral, so we decided to head towards it and find out about it.  This red brick building turned out to be the Upenski Cathedral, the main cathedral for the Finnish Orthodox Church which also claims to be the largest Orthodox cathedral in all of Western Europe.  That is a bit surprising to me since it didn’t seem all that large.  And just like the Orthodox cathedral in St. Petersburg, there are no pews or chairs since everyone is expected to stand.  Why?  Don’t they want people to come to services?  Give ’em a chair and I bet attendance would soar!

By this point we had definitely had enough of cathedrals on our improvised self guided tour, so we headed toward the waterfront and the open air market.  As we were walking there, we heard a band playing, saw men in uniform marching and a processional of some important looking people walking into a large, gated building.  A crowd gathered around watching, so we figured something important must be happening.  We stood for a bit, watching the band and soldiers march by playing music which can only be described as patriotic.  (For all I know it could have been the Finnish National Anthem, it isn’t like I would have recognized it!)  Once the band had marched away, we headed across the street to inquire as to what we had just seen.  Apparently, this was the formal welcome for the new ambassador from Norway and this building we watched them go into was the Presidential Palace.  It was pretty awesome that we just happened to be at the right place and right time to see this event.  What a welcome!

We wandered through the market for a while, seeing that the main handicraft in Helsinki is knitting.  Sweaters, hats, gloves and socks abound in this market and I’m sure if you live in such a cold climate, these become life’s essentials.  The sky began to look ominous, so we decided to grab a late lunch and then head back to the ship.  We weren’t wrong about the Ca–it started pouring as soon as we began the 30 minute walk back.  We were wet and cold.  Luckily, Norwegian had set up hot chocolate and cookies to welcome everyone back on board.  The weather continued to get even worse and the wind really kicked up.  It wasn’t an hour after we got on board that a rumor began to spread throughout the ship–our next port of call, Stockholm, Sweden, may have to be skipped.  Much speculation and distress occurred and finally after a few hours, the captain came on and told us that due to the weather we would not be going to Stockholm.  Apparently they weren’t concerned about getting into the port, but they were concerned we might not be able to get out and get back to Copenhagen.  Of course, we were very disappointed, but after seeing the 6 meter swells in the water, it started to make sense.  Thank goodness I was wearing that motion sickness patch–there were a lot of green faces on the boat!

And so, great day in Helsinki but sadly no Stockholm for us.  That means we have 2 days at sea on the Norwegian Sun.  Free food, music, open casino and activities all day.  Sleeping, reading, hanging out in the hot tub.  I suppose there are worse things!

–Brooke

Upenski Cathedral, a Finnish Orthodox Cathedral in Helsinki.

Sittiing on the steps in front of Helsinki Cathedral.

Helsinki Tagged, public art example.

This is the inside of the Helsinki train station. Simple, functional and beautiful.

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Categories: City Visits, Destinations, Diversions, Europe, Exploring, Landmarks, Rail, Trains, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Stopping by Estonia!

Again, we apologize for the intermittent posting. Wi-fi is limited and absurdly expensive on the cruise ship, so we’re only able to post whilst at port.

Behold! Beauty!Salutations from Tallinn, Estonia! As our epic Baltic Capitals cruise continues to sail across Northern Europe, we docked in Tallinn and spent the better part of today in Estonia’s biggest city situated smack dab on the coast. Our oh-so luxurious and comfortable boat was only in port from about 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM, so we endeavored to make the best use of our short time. Tallinn is yet another city that we knew virtually nothing about prior to visiting. Our trip has been extraordinary in helping us fill in these giant gaps of knowledge we have about a ton of places around the world like Estonia, Singapore, Vietnam, etc.

Tallinn is one of the smallest cities in one of the smallest countries that we’ve spent time in thus far. The entire nation has a population shy of two million. It doesn’t take long to discover that due to it’s small size and “favorable geographic location”, this is a country that has been invaded, occupied and controlled throughout its history by nearly every major European nation including Sweden, Denmark, Germany and, most recently and most notably, Russia. The more we see of Europe, the more it dawns on us how the history of these European nations is so intertwined. Estonian is the local language, but you won’t hear it much outside of the country. It’s unique to be in the midst of a language that only 1.5 million people speak among millions of Europeans.

Rocking it in the older part of townA large part of Estonia’s history involves being resilient while fighting seemingly endless oppression by much larger nations. In fact, in the last 800 years, Estonia has only had 40 total years of true independence! And twenty of those years have been since 1991. That’s crazy to wrap your head around. The country continues to grow on its own two legs and recently joined the E.U. and converted to the Euro just two years ago. Our lunch bill had the price in both the old Estonian currency and in Euros since locals are still adjusting to the conversions. In some ways, Brooke and I were exploring an entirely new nation comprised of a centuries old culture and people. We’re seeing parts of the world in a changing time with some counties experiencing independence and peace only in recent years. Estonia has a remarkable story and it is a remarkable time to for us to visit.

Also, please refer to me as the Baltic Fox moving forwardOnce again, the ever-present Hop-on Hop-off tour bus served us incredibly well. We’re on the cusp of writing personal endorsements for these buses.  When we only have a short time to dig in and see a city, these double-deckers are perfect. For just ten Euro a pop, we enjoyed a guided ride on two different lines covering a solid chunk of the city. Plus, the bus provided transportation to and from to the cruise port. We learned about the Estonian singing culture and their giant outdoor amphitheatre that can accommodate thousands of singers (Estonians apparently love to sing), Tallinn’s role in hosting water sports on the Baltic during the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and we got a good look at a scary looking seaside prison turned museum.

Since our Norwegian Sun was one of four, count ’em four, giant cruise boats clamoring for space in the port, our first sight in Old Town was tourists and more tourists. At first impressions, you might think that Tallinn’s main population is nothing more than confused looking middle-aged tourists with cameras and fanny packs. We explored old town for a bit which was made up mainly of beautiful old preserved buildings and churches and surrounded by an ancient wall that has large parts still in tact. Old Town itself has an authentic Medieval look and is quiet, sterile and only used now for historically preserved buildings, government buildings and souvenir shops. Wandering away from the crowds and down the hill, we ambled around the corner and we discovered this great Army-Navy Antique Store. The place was a wonderful mix of antique store and history museum with Soviet and Nazi era flags, metals, propoganda posters, busts of Lenin, Matchbooks and more. Just around the corner, the Estonian History museum was one of the best we’ve seen on this trip so far. The small but mighty museum included an exhibit on a recently merchant’s chest dating from 1350 which was unearthed from the Baltic Sea just last year.  The museum also has a very entertaining, tongue-in-cheek video that gives a colorful, brief informative history of the country. On top of all that, the museum has a bathroom that talks to you. I’m pretty sure the toilet was trying to teach me Estonian one word at a time.  It was a little creepy at first.

Around 5:00 PM, Brooke and I marched proudly back onto the boat satisfied with the job we had done. We hit the city hard and fast. Our reward? A quick history and taste of Estonia. Today was a good day: spending half the day exploring a brand new country in Estonia and the other half keeping busy on our giant boat. Speaking of our time on this massive rig, cruise living continues to treat us very well! We’re meeting friendly (mostly American) new faces around every new corner, kicking tail and taking names at trivia (particularly Name that Tune Movie Trivia) and we even managed to catch a Sunday Night NFL game which was pumped in live via Satellite late night in the Sports Bar. The food has been sensational in the categories of taste, availability and quantity. And running on the treadmill is a much more inspiring activity when the view from your window is the moving, open sea. Tonight was a delicious dinner with an ocean view in the main dining room, enjoying a live version of Deal or No Deal, watching a group of shipboard singers and dancers plow their way through Broadway Show tunes, and enjoying some more good luck in the Casino. Hmmm…is it too early to look into a fifteen day cruise? Next stop: St. Petersburg!

-Phil

One last image of some of Old Town from high above. The big church in the background doubled as beacon for sailors and has burned down like five times.

Check it out! Spring Awakening is coming to Tallinn! (We think that’s what it says)

Watching some Sunday Afternoon Football (at 12:30 AM!) on the Norwegian Sun’s Sports Bar on Deck 12 with new friends. Never that far from home…

Categories: Budget, Casino, City Visits, Estonia, Reflections, Self Guided Tours, The Cruise, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Cruising Life

In order for us to quit our jobs and travel the world for almost four months we had to be very budget conscious. We write down everything we spend, we set limits to our spending and shoot for cheap accommodations whenever possible. We have now embarked on the most luxurious part of our trip: a cruise! That’s right, we are currently sailing the Baltic Sea. Three square meals a day, anytime of day. Workout facilities. More activities and entertainment than you can imagine. But most importantly, this cruise has allowed us to unpack our bags and turn our stateroom into our home for the next nine days. Nine nights in the same bed–a king sized bed. We are thrilled!

WarnemündeOur cruise left from Copenhagen heading to our first stop, Warnemünde, Germany. Never heard of it? Neither has anyone else. It is a small seaside town which is popular with locals during the summer and caters to cruise ships which frequently dock there. It is approximately a three hour ride in each direction from Berlin by train, so some people on the ship went to the German capital for the day. While this sounds great, traveling that much makes for a very long day. After seeing that Frommer’s Travel Guide has less than two pages worth of material on Warnemünde, we decided to spend a very small bit of time scoping it out, and then take the regional rail to nearby Rostock.

As with so many cities in Europe, Rostock has a very old feeling to it. We didn’t know much about the town and figured we would discover things as we went. As soon as we got off the train we spotted an old church in the center of town. It was definitely our find of the day. St. Mary’s Church was built in the 1200’s. It is beautiful and grand, and the best part is that it is still in use today. At the entrance to the church they make it clear that it is not museum, but a place of worship. They were fine with people walking around and taking pictures. There was an exhibit about the life of Jews in Germany from 1933-1945. It was all in German, but we got the gist We were even able to listen in on an orchestra practicing for an upcoming concert. The music filled the church and provided the perfect background for us.

Astronomical Clock!However, the biggest draw to St. Mary’s Church is its giant astronomical clock. This clock does more than just tell the time of day, it also gives the day, month, year, moon phase, and zodiac sign. What more could you possibly need? Over 400 years old, this clock is still wound by hand each day. At noon each day there is a procession of the Apostles on the clock (sadly, we missed that). The current dial only goes to 2017, however they will be able to replace that when the time comes. The only thing that wasn’t accounted for when the clock was originally built was daylight savings time. Twice a year they have to account for this time change.

We wandered around Rostock a bit more, watched kids play in the fountain and absorbed all the sights, sounds and smells of this small town. When it was time to head back to the boat, we opted against taking the short train ride back to Warnemünde and instead we chose to take a ferry up the river. We soon realized the ride was a cross between a sight-seeing tour (all in German) and a booze cruise. Since we couldn’t figure out if the drinks were part of the ticket or not, we abstained. All the Germans on board seemed to be having a marvelous time, shouting at other boats and toasting to their own happiness. The ferry helped demonstrate what a busy port both Rostock and Warnemünde really are. There were tons of ships–not cruise boats, but ferry’s, cargo boats and even some decommissioned military vessels. It was a great way to see these two cities from a new perspective.

Our time in both Warnemünde and Rostock was limited, but we don’t feel too bad about it since we will be back in Germany later on in our trip. Actually, we were eager to get back to the boat and our life of luxury. We ate delicious food, did terribly at some very difficult trivia and played some $5.00 Blackjack. Because it was my birthday, the casino bought a round of drinks fo the whole table and gave me a $25.00 chip to bet. Sadly I lost that hand, but we were ahead in winnings quite a bit by the time we walked out, so that always makes it more fun.

We could definitely get used to this cruising lifestyle. Our room gets made up 2 or 3 times a day. The casino is never far away. There is wonderful entertainment: last night we listened to one of the onboard entertainers do a set of Neil Diamond covers. He’s so good! He really does sound like Neil Diamond, gravelly voice and all. Besides the entertainment, we find that we are simply having a blast! On the days when we are at sea, it is like mandatory relaxation. There is no pressure to make the most of our time or to see as much as we can. It has been a nice change of pace.

Our next stop is Tallin, Estonia and then we head on to St. Petersburg, Russia. We are incredibly excited about both of these stops and can’t wait to share them with you.

–Brooke

Categories: Budget, Casino, City Visits, Europe, Hotels, Relaxing, Self Guided Tours | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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