Archive for the ‘Baltic region’ Category


Saturday, June 16th, 2018

Disembarkation.  We had a good time on the ship—friendly crew, excellent food.  Now for our last day.  Copenhagen.  How appropriate that the Royal Yacht which we saw in Ronne followed us to Copenhagen and moored not far from us.  On the pier were the two pavilions where the royals wait to board their yacht.  Also on the pier was a fascinating sculpture  but neither of us can remember the name!  And of course as we left the pier Neptune gave us his farewell.

We walked along the water and the edge of The Citadel, one of the best-preserved star fortresses in Northern Europe (1664).  In the shape of pentagram with windmill, King’s Gate, soldiers’ barracks and outside the embankments of the citadel, the Gefion fountain (named after the goddess Gefion who plowed Zealand out of Sweden with her oxen.)  Zealand is the island on which Copenhagen is located.

We visited another large market and always drool over the selections possible!  Coffee is also available everywhere!

Visited The Church of Our Lady, the cathedral of Copenhagen for Church of Denmark.   It is in the neoclassical style of 1829, so much plainer than many churches we have visited.  It is located next to the main building of the University of Copenhagen, outside of which is a statue of Neils Bohr.

We stopped in the Church of the Holy Trinity which is near the Round Tower.  This was in contrast to the previous church.

Other interesting spires or buildings which we saw.  The Church of Our Savior with its helix spire (spire completed in 1752).  The Old Stock Exchange (1625) with its dragon spire, is one of the oldest buildings in Copenhagen.  The four intertwined dragon tails are topped with three crowns, symbolizing the Scandinavian empire (Denmark, Norway, Sweden).  The Royal Library was established in the 1660s and in 1999 the Black Diamond extension was opened.  The Black Diamond is covered in black marble and glass and tilted slightly to reflect the water.  The 8 metre tall fountain celebrates the written word.  The tower behind the current parliament building.  The spire of St. Nicholas Church – we had a nice lunch of open-faced sandwiches (typical of Denmark) in its plaza.  (There are warm blankets placed on all chairs in outdoor cafes.  I was using one!)

A few other views: former military housing now made in individual flats, bicycles everywhere!  The Stork Fountain was given to King Frederik VIII for his silver wedding anniversary in 1888.  In the same square are many old Dutch-styled buildings of the 1600s.

Nyhavn is a cobble-stoned street with colourful town houses and many cafes and restaurants

Our last morning we visited Amalienborg Palace, home of the Queen and Prince Consort, built in 18th century.    There are four mansions around an octagonal plaza.  Frederik’s Church (The Marble Church) with its green dome is outside the plaza.  It is Evangelical Lutheran.  While in the plaza we saw interesting sights!

We end with a photo of our hotel.  Built in 1787 the warehouse was constructed as  a granary with grain drying facilities.  The granary was at the heart of the bustling harbor in 1780s.





Thursday, June 14th, 2018

Ronne is the largest town on the Danish island of Bornholm with a population of about 14,000.  The town began about 1000.  It was established by Danish but Germans gained control in 1525.  It later was returned to Denmark and then was ceded to Sweden and later returned to Denmark.  The town was bombed by the Soviets in 1945.  When we arrived  we saw three special ships — U.S. navy, Netherlands navy, and the Danish royal yacht.  We learned later that NATO was holding some sort of activity in the area.  We also learned that the royal Prince was on the island to open a special school.

The town has a number of timbered buildings.  Our first stop in the small town was at the ceramics museum.  Ronne developed because of the fishing industry but when that declined, ceramic industry grew and continues today.  The old factory was the leading producer of design and stoneware of Bornholm back to 1859.  (The pelicans are made for a Red Cross organization that gives them to people for donating a lot of blood.)

Four of Denmark’s seven medieval round churches are located on Bornholm.  Originally built around 1150, these churches were used as places of worship, storage for passing ships, and fortresses to protect against attacks.  We visited Ny Kirke (New Church) in the village of Nyker.  The round pillar in the centre of the church is about 3 ½ yards wide and has an interesting frieze around the top with paintings of the Passion of Christ.

Nearby was Bente Hammer, a Danish textile artist and fashion designer, who has designed dresses for Queen Margrethe and a Danish actress, Ghita Norby  She demonstrated screen printing on silk fabric and showed us her workshop.  There are only three crafts people working with her.  Beautiful clothing!  She allowed us to visit her home which was originally an old smithy workshop.

We visited The Church of St Nicolai, the first church built in Ronne, dedicated in 1275.  It was renovated after the Reformation and thoroughly restored in 1982 and again in 2012.  The large ship in the center of the church is from 1873 and the altarpiece was painted in 1990.  The scene is Jesus calming the storm at sea—very appropriate for an island.

A refugee Syrian family came on board and told us their story of escape from Syria and journey to reach Bornholm.  They have been here about 2 years, are learning Danish, and trying to find work.

This was our last night on the MV Clio so there were many farewell activities.  We did not get pictures of the crew but did get one of our four tour leaders.  (Not a great photo, though!)  There were about 85 on the tour, divided into four groups each with a tour leader.  The housekeeping staff had a display of their “zoo” which often appeared on our beds at night.  Our cabin attendant was Jabir from Indonesia.  In fact, 12 members of the ship’s crew were from Indonesia!

And we needed to end our time on the ship with a sunset!


Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

Gdansk, an old Hanseatic port city, was heavily bombed in World War II, and known for the shipbuilders’ strike in 1980s.  Its history is complex (like many of the places we have recently visited) with times of self-autonomy but also domination by Poland, Prussia, and USSR.  On our bus ride into town we passed by older Soviet era apartment buildings and the shipbuilding areas for which Gdansk used to be known.

We took at walking tour around the old town.  We passed the Upland Gate (1588), the main city gate.  It was used for welcoming ceremonies for monarchs who came to visit.  The next gate/tower we passed through was at one time used as a jail with visible evidence of implements of torture.

Golden Gate is the second gate of the “Royal Walk” or Long Lane which ends at the Green Gate.  (The story our guide told was that this last gate was named Green because on the other side was where all the garbage and sewage went and the smell was so bad that one turned green!)  (No photos of the Green Gate.)  We were impressed with all the reconstruction that has happened since the War.  Much has been returned to the old style.

Neptune’s Fountain was constructed in early 1600s.  It was constructed in front of the Artus Court or the meeting place for merchants and the centre of social life.  It is topped by a statue of the sea god.  Many school children were also touring the city near the end of their school year!

Amber is one of Baltic Sea’s most prized souvenirs.  Gdansk has been one of the centers of the amber arts.  Amber is fossilized tree resin.  There are several colors of amber but it seemed as though the yellow/brown was the main color found here.  As our guide said—there are two types of amber – real and fake!  Fake amber sinks in salt water and real amber floats.

We had a lovely lunch in a Polish home.  The woman was an excellent cook but was unsure of her English.  Her father-in-law was there to do the talking.  He had worked with the Polish government and with the UN and had excellent English.  He also wanted to talk a lot of politics!

We ended our day at the Solidarity Museum, devoted to the Polish trade union and civil resistance movement.  It opened in 2014.  The walls remind one of the hulls of ships built at the Shipyard.  It provides a wonderful history of the movement and what it meant.



Visby, Gotland

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

Gotland—the island of a hundred churches!  No, we didn’t see all of them!  Many were built on Gotland, a part of Sweden, during the Middle Ages due to the prosperity of the island.  Visby was the centre of the Hanseatic League from the 12th to the 14th centuries.  It also has a well-preserved town wall, almost completely surrounding the city.  We entered one of the defensive towers which served as a jail.  The ram is the symbol of Gotland island.

Narrow streets and lovely old houses.  St Lars (Lawrence) Church, built in the 13th century resembles the Byzantine style.  St Clements Church was also built in the 13th century.

We visited a museum which showed what the town was like during the Hanseatic League period.  But it also had some rune stones from the Viking age.

On our own, we visited a lovely botanical garden and St Maria Cathedral, built 1225 but still active today.  Near the altar was a stone shaped boat ready to carry our joys, our sorrows, and our wishes.

Off to Gdansk, Poland.  We had a visit to the bridge with the captain of the ship.  Fascinating.


Monday, June 11th, 2018

Another city/country of the Baltic Region, formerly under Soviet Union domination, now independent–Riga, Latvia.  We had a city bus and walking tour with some time on our own.

Riga has one of the highest concentrations of Art Nouveau architecture with about 1/3 of all buildings in the centre built in this style.  Most built between 1904-1914.  Art Nouveau features natural forms and structures—flowers, plants, and human form.

On our walk we also saw the “Cat House.”  The building was built in 1909 and has two cat sculptures, with arched backs and raised tails, on its roof.  The story is that the owner wanted the tails (rear ends) to face the Great Guild which was nearby because he had a grudge against the members.  Later the cats were turned to face the guild house.

Some years ago the Mayor of Berlin presented Riga with a small section of the Berlin Wall.  For Latvian’s it is a symbol of the difficult times under the 50-year Soviet occupation.

We visited a very large market.  In groups we were given strips of paper with names of local foods in Latvian language and were asked to buy it.  We were asked to buy “zefir.”  Turned out it was sort of like marshmallow.  The market was fascinating.

There were outdoor musicians in the city squares.  There are a few remaining visible pieces of the medieval city wall.  Many churches in Riga — Protestant, Russian Orthodox, Catholic.

St Peter’s Church (Lutheran) is Riga’s tallest church.  We took a lift to near the top and had some great views of the city.  (in second photo below, our ship is the tiny white dot to the right of the church steeple.)  Inside the church also had interesting items.  It was built the beginning of the 13th century but burnt and was rebuilt and reconstructed over centuries.  On top of the tower, starting in the 15th century, there have been a total of seven different wind vanes—roosters.  The first was bent by a storm, the second was blown down, the third was removed because it was damaged, the fourth fell during a storm, the fifth collapsed, the sixth came down when the tower collapsed, and in 1970 the seventh was erected!  (Photo of the sixth.)

“Singing together brings nations together” is on the Peace Bell reminding all of the World Choir Game’s mission and goal: singing fosters understanding and peace amongst all people and cultures around the world.  The World Choir Games have been taking place since 2000 and occur bi-annually, each time on a different continent.  It was held in Riga in 2014.  The Chapel for Victims of Repression was meaningful.

A favorite drink of Latvians is Black Balsam made with many different natural ingredients mixed in pure vodka.  The drink is also used in traditional medicine.  We tasted some and decided it tasted like cough syrup!

Freedom Monument symbolizes independence.  At the base is the motto: For Fatherland and Freedom.  At the top is a young woman holding three stars above her head, symbolizing the three historic provinces of Latvia, and national unity.  Nearby is a lovely park.

In the evening a small group of young Latvians entertained us with traditional songs and dances.

On our second day in Latvia we took a 1 ¼ hour drive to Rundale Palace.  It was especially nice to be in the countryside for once.

Rundale Palace was built for the Duke of Courland in mid-18th century.  Since then it has served as a hospital during World War I, a grain storehouse, and a school.  In the early 1970’s it was decided to restore it as a museum and work continued until 2015.  The grounds include a French baroque garden which as been restored to its original layout.  At the time of our visit, the rose gardens were in full bloom—about 2 weeks early.  Lovely.

In the evening we got to visit the galley.  After dinner entertainment was “Baltic fairytales.”  Hilarious.  Ron played the part of the White Horse who carried the prince and later the prince and princess to safety!  (Sally Jo didn’t have her good camera so the photos were not good.)

Set sail for Visby, Gotland, Sweden.


Tallinn (2)

Saturday, June 9th, 2018

Our tour stopped in Tallinn, Estonia.  The ship was late in arriving because we were late in leaving St. Petersburg.  It was stormy weather and the captain was trying to time our voyage to miss the worst of the storm.  We had only about 4 hours in Tallinn.  We were very glad that we had spent 2 days there previously.  We still did not get to see some places that we had hoped to see.

We went to the Song Festival grounds.  There have been Song Festivals in Estonia since 1869 and is one of the largest amateur choral events in the world.  The present stage was built in 1960.  A joint choir of more than 30,000 singers perform for an audience of more than 80,000.

We stopped in to see one of the oldest continuously running pharmacies in Europe; it has been in business in the same building since early 15th century.

We did enjoy strolling the streets again to see the sights and the people.

St. Petersburg

Saturday, June 9th, 2018

We had a bus tour of St Petersburg with a local guide.  We have many photos but we don’t remember the names of all the buildings!  So much history.  We felt that nearly everything was either a palace or a museum!

We visited the Hermitage, one of the oldest and largest museums in the world.  It was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been open to the public since the mid-1800s.  The collection has some three million pieces, including the world’s largest collection of paintings.  It is said that if you spend one minute in front of each piece, it would take you at least eight years to see everything.  Obviously, we didn’t see everything nor did we spend one minute in front of many items!  The visit was highly regulated—as we guess it needs to be in order for more than 4,200,000 visitors to pass through every year.  We were given an exact time to enter as a group. And everywhere we went, there were staff to make sure we kept moving.  The exhibits were fabulous.

We passed the Narva Gate which commemorates the victory of Russia over Napoleon in 1812.  And another Peter the Great statue!

We visited St Isaac’s Cathedral, the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city and the fourth largest in the world.  It is dedicated to St Isaac of Dalmatia, a patron saint of Peter the Great.  It was completed in 1858.  Here again, it was very crowded, we were given a time to enter, and were rushed through!  It is listed as both a cathedral and a museum but it would be very difficult to find any quiet place to pray!  The original paintings deteriorated due to the cold, damp conditions so that many have been reproduced as mosaics.

On our second day in St Petersburg we drove an hour to visit Peterhof Palace.  This is a series of palaces and gardens designed by Peter the Great.  He visited Versailles, France, and wanted the same here.  German troops captured Peterhof in 1941 and destroyed much but most has been restored.  Here was another palace we were given an entry time and “herded” through.

Looking out over the lower gardens from the palace, one sees the Sea Channel to the Baltic Sea.  (Some guests used to arrive by boat.)  A popular part of this scene is the Grand Cascade.  This huge water installation begins spouting at 11:00 and everyone gathers to see it start.  Samson Fountain is at the center.  The sculpture is of Samson tearing opening the jaws of a lion.  This represents Russia’s victory over Sweden.  One amazing feature is the fountains operate without the use of pumps.  Water is supplied from natural springs which collect in reservoirs and the elevation above the fountain creates the pressure.

One last visit that we made on our own was to the Church of the Savior on Spilt Blood.  This is Russian Orthodox completed in 1907.  The church is built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was killed in 1881.  It is really a museum of mosaics.  The outside is very colorful and looks very different from other churches in St. Petersburg.

Our ship was docked close to the shipyards.  We left St Petersburg late hoping to miss a potential storm in the Baltic on our way to Estonia.

Helsinki (2)

Friday, June 8th, 2018

We returned to Helsinki – after a stormy night on our ship.  We had left Helsinki 5 days before but in completely different weather.  Then the skies were sunny and temperatures were in the low 80s.  This time it was cloudy, rainy, windy with temperatures in the low 50s.

We visited the Uspenski Cathedral, an Eastern Orthodox cathedral built in the 1860s.  It had been closed when we were in Helsinki before.

We then visited the City Hall where they were having a special exhibit of five decades of film production in Finland.

We returned to the Esplanade Park & Boulevard just to watch people.  And completed our time in Helsinki at the Market Hall.


Thursday, June 7th, 2018

We began our next journey in Stockholm.  (We took an overnight ferry from Tallinn to Stockholm.)  We walked around parts of the city and enjoyed the buildings and people.

We had a tour of the Stockholm City Hall.  The Nobel Awards banquet is held here every year in the “Blue Room” and the formal ball after the dinner is held in the “Golden Hall.”

We had a typical Swedish meal of meatballs and lingonberries.

We continued the tour in the Old City.  Colorful buildings.  Sometimes residents gained space without paying tax for land by building rooms between buildings on 2nd and 3rd floors.  Narrow streets.

We also watched the changing of the guard at the palace.

Finally, we headed to our ship, boarded, and sailed toward Helsinki.  Our room is the 4th window from the front of the boat on the lower level.

Tallinn (1)

Monday, June 4th, 2018

Between our two organized tours we spent two days in Tallinn, Estonia on our own.  We had a wonderful time.  Tallinn is fascinating, especially the Old Town—which is the only part we saw.  We happened to arrive during Old Town Days which are held every year at the beginning of June and celebrate the city’s cultural heritage.  In addition, this year they are also celebrating 100 years of being a Republic.  There were lots of street stalls with foods and crafts, many street musicians along with a number of stages set up for musical events, and other activities, such as medieval sword fighting, bow & arrow shooting, etc.  We didn’t see all the activities. Long ankle-length dresses seemed to be favored by many women. We don’t know if that is just current fashion or related to tradition.

Tallinn is a medieval walled city with much of the wall still intact and many corner towers.  And cobble-stoned streets.

We searched out several less-touristy streets and courtyards and many churches.  We also saw of the major sites.  There is the lower town and the upper town.  The Alexander Nesky Cathedral in the upper town dominates many scenes.  It is an orthodox cathedral building in the late 1800’s.  (And all tourists visit!)

Dome Church nearby dates from the 13th century.  (Most likely, we will have more photos of this church when we return with our tour.)

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was fascinating with all the icons.  It serves more as a museum than a worship center.

St Olaf’s Church was lovely.  It is believed to have been built in the 12th century.  It was Roman Catholic, then Lutheran, and now Baptist.

Freedom Square is in memory of the 1991 fight for freedom from Russia.  In August 0f 1989 there was a human chain of 2 million people peacefully holding hands across the countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (about 420 miles).  There was an interesting photo exhibition on the square with photos from the bombings of 1940’s and what the present-day site looks like.

The Short Leg Gate was to keep the lower town and upper town separate.  The gate was locked at night to keep the common people from bothering the nobility.  It is supposed to be one of the most haunted places in Tallinn.

We stayed in the heart of Old Town in a small apartment.  (Carried our suitcases up–and then down–four flights of stairs.)  Because we stayed in area we could visit key spots in the evening after most tourists had returned to their cruise ships.

We will return to Tallinn during our next tour so may have more to say about the city and country.