Thursday, June 29, 2017

North Cape Cruise Post 3

June 3 – North Cape (Nord Kapp)

Seabourn Quest departed Honningsvag at 2100 and slowly cruised north along the coast of Storstappen Island, the location of North Cape.  The Observation Lounge was packed with guests waiting to see North Cape from the water.  At 2315 Quest passed about 0.5 miles north of the famous headland. Although the sun was obscured by low clouds and occasional snow flurries, the was still plenty of light for pictures from the deck.  With the 25-30 knot winds it was a chilly experience to get pictures of North Cape, but the guests all took turns and shared taking pictures of each other for the event.  Ducking back inside to warm up for a few minutes, as well as refreshing our libations, we then stepped back out and got a few photos of the real northernmost point of Storstappen Island, which cannot be reached by road, and is a much less photogenic headland compared with the high vertical headland that is called Nord Kapp.  According to our GPS we reached 71.18 degrees North Latitude.

Storstappen Island and North Cape

Off the Official North Cape Latititude 71.2 degrees North

Off the true North Cape
Rugged North Cape - Monument barely visible

More North Cape

Since we are so far north, it does not ever get dark, but it was interesting to leave the suite drapes open.  Seabourn even provides eyeshades to help guests sleep with 24 hours of daylight and avoid disrupting our circadian rhythms. However, since we are 9 time zones out from home, ours are already messed up.

June 4 – At Sea

The rough seas and heavy winds persisted most of the day, with temperatures gradually increasing.  Tonight was the last night north of the Polar Arctic Circle and we were fortunate that the skies cleared as many guests again gathered in the Observation Lounge to experience the sun approaching the horizon, never quite getting there.  This was also the last “formal” night before arriving in Copenhagen in a few days. At midnight, the lounge was full as we all watched the sun approach the horizon.  The sun then moved through north to the east reaching its lowest point at 0141 am and eventually started getting higher on the horizon.

Final night under midnight sun

June 5 – At Sea

The temperature has increased to 46 degrees and for most of the morning the skies were overcast.  A sizable swell was still present.  About 1100 the winds switched to the West and started to increase.  Other than some lectures on Viking history our day was spent relaxing.

June 6 – Olden, Norway

The Quest steamed into Nordfjord and docked at the small town of Olden, which is nestled at the head of the fjord and framed by spectacular hills.  Several weeks before our arrival the new aerial tram at Loen, just a few kilometers from Olden, was officially opened by the Queen of Norway.  Patrick headed out on his tour by Zodiac to the dock in front of the tram station.  All 35 people visiting the cable car boarded and we headed up the 1011 meter single span tram, arriving 5 minutes later.  Seven of the group, including Patrick, then headed out on a hike to the top of the mountain.  There was still a lot of snow patches on the ground which we slogged through. Keen sandals were not the best choice in the snow, since the snow packed up under the arch of the foot and soaked Patrick’s wool socks.  Returning to the top of the tram we had a cup of coffee ($7 USD) in the new restaurant before riding the tram back to the zodiac for a tour of Nordfjord.  Patrick then walked through the town of Olden looking for photo opportunities.

Approaching Olden, Nordfjord


New Lutheran Church, Olden

Patrick Hiking above Loen

Miriam boarded a bus for a different tour into the villages of Blakset, Fjelli and Holland, then on to several viewpoints, including the spectacular Nos viewpoint with a 1600 foot sheer drop into the valley below.  Her tour concluded with a visit to Nordfjordeid village before returning to the ship.

June 7, 2017 – Bergen, Norway

Since we have been to Bergen several times and have seen most of the traditional tourist sights, we had arranged to meet our friends Randi and Stewart MacKay, who live about 35 miles away on a island south of Bergen.  The Quest docked right at one end of the old harbor, an easy 5 minute walk to the center of Bryggen, the historic Hanseatic area of Bergen at the head of the harbor.  We spent from late morning to late afternoon catching up and swapping pictures of kids, grandkids and places we have been, while enjoying a nice meal overlooking the inner harbor at Bergen.  When it was time to return to the ship the light rain from earlier had turned into serious showers.

June 8, 2017 – Stavanger, Norway

Stavanger has exploded in size and has massive new construction since Patrick last visited it on business 35 years ago.  The Seabourn Quest docked right in the inner harbor at 0700, so those people hiking to Preikestollen (Pulpit Rock) could make the hike (a 7 ½ hour round trip) and get back to the ship before it departed at 1600.  Patrick was one of the 27 guests attempting the hike in steady rain and fog.  Patrick had completed the hike previously, wearing business attire.  The trail is in much better shape since the Norwegian government hired Nepali Sherpas to rebuild the trail and it now resembles the trails Patrick hiked on the way to Mt. Everest Base Camp in 2012.

The ship and tour guide enforced strict “turn around and descend” times to make sure the group could catch the correct ferry boats and return to the ship.  About half the group, including Patrick, made it to the top where the fog, rain and clouds made it a dreary place, offset by the champagne toast the guides had waiting at the top.

Our plan was for Miriam to take the cruise boat up Lysefjord and view the rock from below.  The miserable weather conditions precluded even a glimpse from below.

Mix of old and new in Stavanger

Approaching Pulpit Rock in fog

Finally on top of rock

The Seabourn Quest departed Stavanger on time, completing the Norwegian portion of our cruise, heading for Skagen, Denmark.

June 9, 2017 – Skagen, Denmark

The predicted strong winds that could have prevented the Quest from docking at Skagen never materialized, so the ship docked on schedule at 0900.  The cruise ship terminal is fairly new and within walking distance from the town center, but a free shuttle bus was provided anyway.

We met our friend Lisa Marx and her friend Jette Hertoft for a delicious and expansive Danish Smorrebrod lunch in town.  We avoided the aquavit, but did indulge in Danish beer.  After lunch we then wandered the main street which is one long pedestrian shopping mall.  Skagen is a popular tourist destination for Danish residents as well as the occasional cruise ship. Since we had visited Skagen in 2013 and walked out to the point where the Kattegat and  Skaggerak meet we did not repeat that experience.

Our lunch stop in Skagen

Another Lutheran Church, Skagen

Skagen Fisherman's Memorial

The rain held off, mostly, until departure time, and then was steady through the night as the ship travelled the 155 nautical miles to Copenhagen.

June 10, 2017 – Copenhagen

The ship docked early, at 0600, close to the center of town and just two city blocks from the “Little Mermaid “statue. Rain was predicted, sometimes heavy, with temperatures only reaching 60 degrees.  We have to be back on board by 1545 for the safety briefing before we depart and begin the Baltic portion of our cruise.  All but 38 passengers disembarked here at Copenhagen, so we will have a whole new group of people to meet.

The rain never materialized and after the hubbub of disembarkation for those guests leaving the Seabourn Quest we headed ashore and walked around the Kasstellet near the ship.  This fortress is still an active military installation, open to the public.  It is a pentagon star shape surrounded by a moat with high walls on both sides of the moat.  The moat is now the home of swans, ducks and other sea birds.  The crowds around the popular attractions such as the “Little Mermaid” continued to build, as did the tour buses, so we returned to the ship area and walked around an outlet mall right across from the ship.  Like most outlet malls there were few real bargains and nothing that screamed “take me” for either of us.

The cruise departed on schedule with a full ship and 292 passengers new to Seabourn out of the 420 on board.

Miriam and Patrick celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary with a dinner in The Grill by Thomas Keller, at a table decorated with rose petals in a heart shaped pattern.

45th Anniversary dinner at the Grill on Seabourn Quest

June 11, 2017 – at Sea

A relaxing day at sea under mostly sunny skies, with an ability to soak up some Vitamin D.  Many of the new passengers are in large family or social groups, so the interaction with the other guests is harder than on previous Seabourn sailings.  When our stewardess, Natalya, found out about our anniversary we returned to a cabin littered with hearts and kissing swans made from towels!

June 12, 2017 – Tallinn, Estonia

We did a walking tour of the old town in rain, heavy at times.  The rain and crowds made for challenging photography.  The town would be pleasant for exploring if the weather had been better.  The narrow cobblestone streets and old buildings, with many churches, old houses and upper and lower city walls could occupy several days.  Taking cover from the rain after browsing the street stalls nestled behind the old city walls during our free time we ducked into “Peppersack” restaurant for a coffee and pastry.  The building dates from 1432, but is still in good shape.

In the rain in Tallin

Narrow Twisting streets

Staircase between upper and lower towns

Steert Vendors

Center of lower town

Our food stop, built in 1432

June 13, 2017 – St. Petersburg, Russia

The ship docking location was changed from Lieutenant Schmidt’s Facade on the Neva River just a few short blocks from the Hermitage to the newer Marine Façade cruise terminal 5 miles from the Hermitage.  The Marine Façade is capable of holding as many as 7 cruise ships, and we were one of 5 when we arrived.
The bus trip to the center of the city takes as long as 45 minutes when the traffic is heavy.  The streets are complicated by the many canals winding around the city, and the relatively few bridges crossing them.  Our tour began with immigration formalities and a bus ride to the Hermitage Museum, with a photo stop at St. Isaacs Cathedral just a few blocks away.  Our tour began with an early entry (before official opening hours) into the museum, where we had to shed jackets and backpacks in the cloakroom before entering the museum.  Passing through the Egyptian Room, our first stop was the gold and diamond rooms where photography was prohibited, but where we saw much of the Romanov collection of artifacts and jewels.  Our guides could translate the explanations given by the museum tour guides, which are required in those rooms.  In fact, we were split into two groups of 10 for that portion of the tour.  Those rooms require the museum guides and they limit the number of groups in the rooms. By the time we exited those rooms, the public was streaming into the main museum and we became part of the massive crowds viewing the artwork and sculpture.  It was nearly impossible to get close to the Da Vinci’s, but with plastic protecting them, the view was not that good anyway.  An individual could spend days in the Hermitage and still not see everything.

Miriam in Hermitage Museum

Church of Spilled Blood

St Peter & St Paul

The altar inside

Catherine Palace Entrance

The Amber Room 

Amber room Detail

Ballroom and concert

Chapel at Catherine Palace

Leaving the Hermitage sometime after noon we then visited St. Peter and St. Paul Church with it’s slender 431 foot gold spire, the highest in Europe.  The church sits inside the fortress of the same name on an island in the Neva River.  The river and canal system was crowded with sightseeing boats, hydrofoils and private yachts, all traveling at relatively high speed down the waterways.
Returning to our bus, we headed back to the Admiralty Façade for lunch at “Bellini” restaurant, which included vodka, borsht, stroganoff and a folkloric show.

After lunch, our final stop of the day was at “The Church of Spilled Blood”, a massive orthodox style building commemorating the assassination of Czar Nicholas II.  The building is made to look old, but in fact was built in 1905.  After the Bolshevik revolution, the building was used for storage, and as a morgue during WWII.  The building escaped major damage during the war.  It was restored beginning in 1971 and an unexploded artillery shell was found imbedded in the dome while repairing leaks in the roof.

Returning to the ship we hurriedly changed and grabbed a bite to eat before re-boarding busses for the one hour trip to Catherine Palace, in Pushkin.  We entered the palace after hours for a special tour, putting on booties to protect the floors.  The palace was heavily damaged during the war, and is still undergoing restoration. Photos were allowed, including in the “Amber Room”, considered by some to be the 8th wonder of the world, where the walls are composed of complex and beautiful amber mosaics.

Entering the massive ballroom, which reminded us of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, but better restored, we were served champagne and then listened and watched classical music, opera arias and folkloric dancing before exiting to the main courtyard.  In the main courtyard we were treated to a military band as we slowly walked back to the main gates of the palace and got back on the buses for the one hour drive back to the ship.  The rain and wind started just a few minutes after we boarded the bus.  We arrived back at the port about 2230 and after clearing Russian immigration were greeted with a banner held by 8 crew members saying “Welcome Home”, and then offered hot chocolate with Bailey’s after we cleared security on board.  The biggest surprise were the snack plates waiting in our suite, with small sandwiches, cookies, fruit and chocolates.

June 14, 2017 – St. Petersburg

Morning arrived all too soon and after breakfast in our suite we headed for the bus, after clearing Russian immigration again.  No new stamps, just a look to see if we were on an organized tour.  Our destination was the Romanov palace called Peterhof, about one hour drive away on the Gulf of Finland.  We once again had early entry before the crowds, and after once again donning booties visited a number of rooms restored after Nazi shelling heavily damaged Peterhof during the war.  Many of the artifacts were removed before the shelling and either buried in secret locations or transported east of the Ural’s for safekeeping.  What could not be removed was either destroyed or looted during the time Germany occupied the area.  The restoration was done using the same materials, tools and techniques as in the original construction and was very beautiful.  After touring the palace itself we headed for the gardens, some 4500 acres of 150 fountains and gardens, both formal and wild.  The view from the canal leading to the sea reminded one of Versailles, only more spectacular with all the fountains in operation.

Part of gardens at Peterhof Palace

Fountains at Peterhof

Returning to the city for lunch at “Almond” restaurant we then proceeded to the Faberge Museum and looked at the collection of Imperial Eggs and other Faberge creations.  We also looked at similar enameled work by other Russian jewelers.  Following that visit we returned to the ship under sunny skies for a relaxing evening on board Seabourn Quest.

June 15, 2017 – St. Petersburg

We spent the day aboard getting our luggage ready for the next phase of our journey.  Without going on an organized tour we could not explore ashore, but we did not desire that anyway, since the ship is moored far from the city.  The skies cleared and the temperature climbed into the 70’s, a welcome change from the cool, wet weather of the last few days.

The ship held an “epicurean event” on the pool deck as we departed, with lots of caviar and other gourmet treats as we sailed away from Russia.  On the way out we passed a large Russian naval base guarding the approaches to St. Petersburg, passing through a narrow entrance guarded by fortifications on both sides.  The only naval ship of note was a submarine flying the Russian St. Andrews Cross flag, so it is apparently still in commission.

Hydrofoil on way to Peterhof

Russian Submarine as we left St. Petersburg

June 16, 2017 – Helsinki, Finland

After transiting some narrow passages, the Seabourn Quest docked near the old town shortly after 0700.  The weather was nice enough to eat breakfast outside on the aft deck.  We had arranged a “Introduction to Helsinki” tour after Patrick’s kayaking excursion was cancelled due to lack of participants (he was the only one who signed up).  After the tour which included the Rock Church and the Sibelius Monument, Patrick walked around the old harbor and looked at the many icebreakers moored close to the Quest.  The Baltic is now mostly ice free in the winter so they get little use.
The Quest departed at 1400 and headed back through the scenic archipelago to the Baltic Sea and set a course for Stockholm, where we will dis-embark the Seabourn Quest after 21 nights aboard.

Sibelius Monument - Helsinki

Rock Church - Helsinki

Rock Church - 2
Lutheran Cathedral and main square

Street Food - Helsinki

Farmer's Market

Rugs Drying in the sun

Life Boat along esplanade

Icebreakers without much to due because of climate change
Leaving Helsinki through narrow passages

June 17, 2017 – Stockholm

The approach to Stockholm was obscured by dense fog.  We could barely see the small islands lining the channel on either side of the ship.  The foghorn sounded every two minutes right up until we were backing into the slip at the cargo terminal some 6 miles from downtown.

We had ordered breakfast in the room, and it arrived early, at 0615. The Seabourn Quest actually docked at 0700 and by 0715 the first guests were leaving the ship for the last time.  Our transportation to town was set for 0900, so after a final cup of coffee in the main dining room we headed down the gangway at 0830.

The rooms were not ready at the Sheraton Hotel on the harbor in Stockholm, so we stored our bags and headed out sightseeing.  We took a harbor tour “Under the Bridges” in sunny warm weather.  The tour included passage though a set of locks into the freshwater lake that is part of the city which is a marine playground with beaches, boats, commercial traffic and apparently no speed or wake limits.  The locks were almost the best part of the tour as we watched some boats get sideways.  Most boats just hold on to lines along the side and with rafting they sometimes can not hold on and the fun begins.  The attendants there only collect the tolls for using the locks.  Just as in Seattle, there is a bridge just outside the locks which must be raised for sailboats and commercial traffic, adding to the complexity.

Gamla Stan and Palace

Modern Functionalism Architecture and old liveaboard boats

Main street Gamla Stan

Inside the Vasa Museum

By the time the 2 ½ hour tour was finished our room was ready at the hotel.  Miriam rested and Patrick headed on foot to the Vasa Museum, about 2 ½ miles from the hotel.  A detour around the island of Gamla Stan, just across from the hotel, was interesting, but on a sunny Saturday was packed with tourists. The Vasa museum was also interesting, but dimly lit for preservation reasons, so photos were hard due to both the dim lighting  and the sheer size of the Vasa inside the building.  The Vasa is basically the same length as HMS Victory in Portsmouth, but narrower.  The narrow beam and insufficient ballast are believed to be the primary technical reasons for the capsizing just 20 minutes into her maiden voyage.  The builders knew the ship was “tender”, but no one was willing to tell the Swedish King of the risks.

We have an early train to Gothenburg in the morning, so dinner happened at the hotel.  The dinner included an unusual presentation of pickled herring, which actually tasted very good.  On the other hand, the souls vide beef presentation was not, so we asked to have it put on the grill for a bit, which made it OK.

June 18, 2017 – enroute Denmark via Gothenburg

Stockholm central station is only 2 blocks from the hotel, so getting there in time for an 0810 train was easy.  The trains are modern, have wi-fi and to our surprise our ticket included both breakfast and lunch, but so close together we were still full from the first meal when the second was delivered.
The train arrived on time and the taxi ride to the ferry terminal only took a few minutes at a cost of 200 Swedish Krona, about $20 USD. We arrived so early we were the only people in the terminal for some time.  Large glass walls on the seaward side of the terminal provided good views of the many pleasure craft and tour boats going in and out of Gothenburg harbor.  By one hour before departure the large lounge was packed with foot passengers and luggage heading to Denmark.

We boarded the Stena Jutlandica on time for the 3 ½ hour transit of the Kattegat to Fredrikshavn in Denmark.  The route winds its way through the Goteburg Archipelago filled with boats under sail and power and some very large marinas.  The topography really reminds us of the San Juans.  Leaving the Archipelago the ferry nosed out into the mild seas of the Kattegat.

Arriving on schedule at Fredrikshavn we joined the throngs of other foot passengers disembarking the Stena Jutlandica.  There is a long covered walkway leading out of the ferry terminal area and crossing the main road, with escalators and elevators at the end to get back down the street level.  The car rental agency was one block away, but closed!  Several phone calls and 30 minutes later we found that the keys were at the concierge desk in the Hotel Jutlandica, right at the base of the elevator.

A few minutes later we were in the car and headed for the beach cottage in Hou, where Ted and Lisa Marx had a light meal waiting for us.

June 19, 2017 – Hou, Denmark

After a continental breakfast Patrick and Ted began assembling the 10 by 5 meter tent which was last used at Lisa’s birthday party which we attended in 2013.  That project took until noon, but fortunately the wind held off until after the roof of the tent was on.  We all went to the harbor in Hou for Danish hotdogs for lunch and then relaxed under the tent playing Mexican Train.  Dinner was at a shoreside restaurant in Hals where we had Wienerschnitsel with fresh peas and roasted potatoes in servings so  large we each only ate half and took the rest back to the cabin for lunch the next day.
The evening ended with another marathon Mexican Train match.

Lisa Marx's Cabin

June 20, 2017 – Hou, Denmark

After a continental breakfast in the sun facing the Kattegat we headed into the local fish market, which was unfortunately closed on Tuesdays.  Back in the car we headed for Voersgaard Castle, built in 1523, not far from the town of Saeby.  We had driven by the castle, which is believed to be haunted, in 2013, but it was too early in the day and was closed.  It seems every castle open to tourists in Denmark claims to be haunted, probably just to attract tourists.  Today it was open, and several tour buses were in the lot.  Workmen were building sets for the upcoming Medieval Fair in July, where everyone wears period costumes.

Returning back to Hou, we looked for items for dinner, which was to be an outdoor event with a number of other attendees, both relatives and friends of Ted and Lisa.  We ended up deciding on pizzas and shrimp salad.  The wind had picked up again, so Ted and Patrick added several of the side walls to the tent to provide a windbreak, as well as additional lines and stakes to combat the wind.
The evening was very enjoyable as we shared martinis by Patrick, the salad by Ted and the pizza by the local pizza joint.

June 21, 2017 – Hou, Denmark

After breakfast in the sun , we headed to Hou to buy fresh fish for dinner.  The fish market had a wide variety of fish, some still moving around.  Lisa picked Plaice, which is reputed to be better than Dover Sole, as well as some peel and eat shrimp,  We then went to Hals, where we were pleasantly surprised by a large flea market.  We found some gifts for Ted and Lisa and also for our upcoming lunch hosts, Jette and Mogens Hertoft.  They live next door to Ted and Lisa and have a large house and extensive gardens.  Lunch was Smorrebrod, aquavit, beer and carrot cake for dessert.  Lunch finished about 1530 and then the neighbors on the other side showed up for a visit.

Our smorrebrod lunch by Jette

Enjoying lunch at the Hertoft gazebo

Dinner was finally cooked by Lisa near 2000, with the fresh Plaice pan fried, boiled potatoes and fresh peas.  After dinner we started the final game of Mexican Train.

June 22, 2017 – Enroute Copenhagen

The night was all too short, since the game finished after 0100.  After a quick breakfast we headed out in the rain and began the drive to Copenhagen.  We took two ferries, one a high speed SWATH vessel that travelled at 40 knots and carried several hundred cars and trucks.  The ferries cut 150 kilometers from the trip and we arrived at the airport to drop off the rental car shortly after 1500.  We took a taxi back to the city to 71 Nyhavn Hotel for the evening and enjoyed a Thai style tasting menu dinner at “SEA” restaurant on the waterfront in Nyhavn.

June 23, 2017 – Enroute Bellevue

After a typical Scandinavian buffet breakfast at the hotel we took our pre-arranged transportation to the Copenhagen Airport.  It is under massive renovation and can be confusing on where to go.  After checking in we were able to use “fast track” through security.  Inside security was a massive shopping arcade which one had to walk through to get to immigration control for the flight to Heathrow.  British Airways has a new lounge next to the departure gate which we were able to use.

The flight appeared to be fully booked and the line to board was unusually long as they were trying to convince many passengers to check their carry-on bags to reduce the crowding and delays in trying to find space for the bags.  Even in business we had to search for a spot several rows back to place our bags.  There was a meal service even on the 1 ½ hour flight, consisting of a cold chicken, watercress and potato salad.

Arriving at Heathrow, we were bused to the main terminal and after clearing security proceeded to the BA Concorde Lounge, where we relaxed until our flight was called at 1500.  While in the lounge we had some salt beef sandwiches and rose champagne while we waited.  Our flight left from Satellite C, which meant an additional delay to ride the underground train to the boarding gate.  The flight was just boarding, so we were one of the first passengers on board.  After a glass of champagne we changed into our sleep suits and relaxed for the next 9 hours as the British Airways 747 flew over the middle of Greenland, Baffin Island, Northern Canada and on to Seattle. 

So ends the European 2017 Adventure.