August 4, 2008 - Stockholm to Denver

Traveling home is never really that fun. When my kids were little I was so excited to see them that going home was a treat - now I often wish I could just keep traveling. So without much enthusiasm, we put on our travel faces and headed to the Stockholm airport at 5 in the morning in order to catch a flight to London and then to Denver.

I find looking at travel pictures after you return help transport you back, so I'll leave you with a few I haven't already shared.

Slots to shoot arrows from the walls of the Tower of London
Crystal Cruises signature Guy Buffet dining room chargers

The obelisk in the center of the circle of life statues in Oslo

Pretty outlining islands outside of Oslo

Michele in Copenhagen

The royal palace in Copenhagen

Try to pronounce that! (Helsinki)

Cathedral of the Assumption at the Kremlin, Moscow

Nicholas I throne at Peterhof

Lovely buildings along the canals in St. Petersburg

Shop sign in Tallin

Flowers on a wedding car

Remains of a windmill in the park in Stockholm

View across the harbor from Gamla Stan in Stockholm

August 3, 2008 - Stockhom, Sweden

It's a shame to arrive in a city as lovely and vibrant as Stockholm on the last day of a two week trip when you've already been in 7 other cities. We tried to act enthusiastic as we boarded a Stockholm Sightseeing boat for a tour of the city by water.
Famous celebrities from Sweden live in these swanky apartments along the water - Bjorn Borg and one of the singers from Abba - and the sailboats were gorgeous.
The cruise took us out through the main harbor, past the Gothic cathedral, and wound it's way through the enormous and lovely Djurgarden Park. Turns out the Swedes are huge environmentalists and health nuts and the park was swarming on a warm Sunday with people running on the paths along the canal.

Back on land, we passed the royal guard (several of the countries we were in on this trip still have royal families with the associated palaces and guards) before heading to the Gamla Stan (old town) area for lunch.
Stortorget is the main square in the heart of Gamla Stan and it couldn't have been more charming. We found a nice spot on the square where we could dine al fresco (the incredibly great weather continued through Sweden).

Photo by John DeMaria
When in Rome...or this case when in Sweden, drink what the Swedes drink, and in this case it was the Zeunerts original lager, which interestingly they sell with 3 varying levels of alcohol content.

And lunch in Stockholm wouldn't have been complete without a traditional smorgasbord lunch. Ours included herring, salmon, reindeer, skagen, egg, shrimp, cheese and potatoes. I was amazed that I actually liked the herring, which was made more tasty with the sour cream and diced onion condiment and eaten on one of the skagen crackers. In our friend John's words. "That was just delightful!"

Next up was a pasta dish with salmon and leeks:

I managed one last photo of the city before we headed back to the ship to pack - or like John said, "Who put 8 great tomatoes in that little bitty can?", which of course means, how am I ever going to fit all of this junk back into my suitcase to go home?!

You're probably amazed that I could eat another fancy meal - I was feeling a bit that way myself - but I managed to fit one in! The first course was a delicious goat cheese terrine followed by mixed greens with buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, and pesto.

I ordered the salmon which was served with lingonberry sauce. Although I don't usually care for a salmon steak, preferring instead a filet, this one was fabulous, and Chris & Eddie managed to bring us plenty of steamed vegetables to accompany the fish.

I finished things off with sesame ice cream, which sounds weird but is actually unusually good!

August 2, 2008 - Tallin, Estonia

After three days in Russia, as interesting and pretty as it was, we were ready to move to another country, and Estonia could not have been a more perfect stop for us. Liberated from the Soviet Union in 1991, these people seemed so much more festive, happy, and alive than many of the Russians we encountered.

Photo by John DeMaria
It helped that we landed there on a Saturday when there was a huge festival going on that the whole city turned out for.

Photo by John DeMaria
The old town of Tallin was influenced by Catherine the Great, and the small winding streets of are lined with restaurants and shops.

Photo by John DeMaria
As we came into the center square we ran right into the parade, and wandered with everyone through the parade for awhile to make our way to a cafe where we could watch while eating something local. The square is situated around the oldest Gothic town hall still standing, complete with gargoyles.

I got a kick out of the menu that clearly advertised certain items only available upon a successful hunt!
Instead of traditional bread and butter, they serve it with these gorgeous spring onions. We ordered a specialty which is a small pot of dumplings served with three dipping sauces which all seemed to be some sort of mayo flavored with onion or other seasonings - all delicious.

Photo by John DeMaria
After wandering the town a bit more, our friends headed back to the ship and Greg and I ordered a pizza in a prime spot to watch the human pyramid competitions going on in the square.

On the way back to the ship, I hiked the 375 foot high steeple of the Oleviste Church for what has to be the very best views of Tallin, including the domes of the Orthodox Cathedral in town and the original fortress walls of the city.

Wandering back to the ship, it appeared almost that our ship and the neighboring one had been pulled onto the grassy field!
I climbed aboard and got ready for dinner:

  • Chicken liver pate
  • Mixed greens with walnut dressing
  • Sea bass on saffron rice with beurre blanc
  • Cinnamon ice cream (again!)

August 1, 2008 - St. Petersburg, Russia

One of the nicer things to do while you are on a cruise ship is to enjoy the ship when most everyone else is ashore. We slept in again, then I had a lovely 4 mile walk on the promenade deck before meeting Greg for lunch (hamburger and fries) in the main dining room.

After lunch we left for a tour of St. Petersburg that started at the Church on Spilled Blood, so named because it was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. The church was finished in 1907 and reopened in 1998 after 20 years of restoration.

The inside of the church is floor to ceiling mosaics in every color and type of stone or mineral you can imagine. The traditional Russian style is unusual for St. Petersburg where Peter the Great designed a city to rival the most beautiful European cities and tossed aside any ideas of traditional Russian design.

After our tour of the church, we boarded a canal cruise to wind through the city. St. Petersburg is often called the Venice of the North, and the tour showed the beauty of the buildings and design of the city. Peter the Great insisted that all of the buildings be painted in bright colors in an effort to keep people cheerful in a city that much of the year is dark and snowy.

The canal tour also took us out into the main harbor where we could see a great view of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.

This Russian kid followed our cruise for an hour - he would run from bridge to bridge and be there to wave to us as we passed under, and we figured he easily put in 6 or more miles running that day. He met us when we got off the boat, and you can imagine we were all so impressed that he made a bundle in tips.

Everywhere we went in the Baltics during our trip we saw weddings. Because the season of warmth and sunlight is to short, everyone marries during this time, and we saw more than one young groom carrying his future wife across a bridge, which is considered to bring good luck to the marriage in Russia.

From much of the city you can see the enormous dome of St. Isaac's Cathedral. I read that 100 kg of gold leaf were used to cover the dome.

After our canal tour we stopped at a shop named, of all things, Red October, where the group shopped for tourist souvenirs. The store was filled with the ubiquitous Russian souvenirs: Faberge-style eggs, lacquered boxes, and nesting dolls. I didn't really need any of these things, so purchased only a couple of egg Christmas ornaments for friends before heading back to the ship to get ready for dinner.

Greg and I had another date night on the ship and dined alone at Prego, the Italian restaurant on the ship. I began my meal with beef carpaccio followed by an arugula salad and the cream of mushroom soup that is totally decadent and served in a bread bowl.

Next I sampled some of Greg's lasagna before tearing into my own rack of lamb served with mashed potatoes. I was so excited to eat it I forgot to photograph it until I was finished - so here you have the remains!

I was entirely too full for dessert, but managed to fit in a bit of these wafer thin biscotti before retiring for the night.