Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Back in America


Just getting back to normal after nice cruise to the Baltic. 14 days on Celebrity Constellation can be a bit grueling at times, but the Ports of Call were very interesting. Bottom line is the US dollar is hurting and prices abroad are out of sight. Plus the people in this part of the world gave us a nice reception wherever we went. Meeting nice people was the norm in each place and these are probably the things we will remember the most. It is just not difficult to be nice.
Oslo, Norway
The Fjords of Norway are a sight to behold. Entering the Oslo Harbor is an unforgettable experience. Oslo welcomed us with constant rain so we did not get a chance to really enjoy the city, reported to be the most expensive city in Europe.
Stockholm, Sweden
Sweden has over 24,000 islands and Stockholm was located where it is to prevent hostile neighbors from finding the city. The islands are everywhere as you cruise into Stockholm. Everywhere you look in the city is a postcard. Enjoyed one of the best hot dogs at the Nordiska Kompaniet (NK) store located in center of the city. Why can't we have a better dog in the USA? Hebrew National just doesn't do it! Visited the Absolut Ice Bar in the Nordic Sea Hotel and had a couple vodka drinks at minus 5 degrees Centigrade for only $20 bucks apiece. The first glasses, are made from pure, clear ice from the Torne River in Northern Sweden. Now a factory makes millions of glasses each year. WARNING: Reservations (+46 8 50563124) required! The first Ice Bar was at the Icehotel located in Northern Sweden, which was first built in the autumn of 1989. Each year the Icehotel melts, and a new (bigger and better) one is constructed in the fall. Ended the day with a nice stroll through Gamla Stan (Old Town). Stockholm is a place that warrants more time.
Helsinki, Finland
We arrived on May 24th, Ascension Day, a holiday in Finland. The stores were closed but the city was alive with people. We enjoyed a nice meal at Kappeli on Etelaesplandi in the city center. Had one of the best meals ever of rare, fork-tender Reindeer with potatoes and of course some Akavit.
St. Petersburg, Russia
What a change from Scandinavia, your first impression of what used to be Leningrad is of a bleak, poor and uncolorful city with all the potential in the world but starved from a badly needed makeover and injection of funding from Moscow. Hard to believe that Putin's birthplace is being ignored by the "Family" and oligarchs of Moscow. Spent two days touring with our very accomplished guide Katrina from Red October Tours. There is a lot to see in this historic city and she made it very interesting to us as we took in the city sights. The Hermitage was impressive but in need of structural repairs, St Isaacs Cathedral was a high point as we witnessed a special service attended by the Archbishop and other Bishops from all parts of Russia, Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood was marvelous, and Catherine's Summer Palace was worth the trip to visit outside of the city. In spite of the magnificence of the Hermitage and the Roman Orthodox Cathedrals, St. Petersburg feels just like Dostoevsky describes it (before it became Leningrad) in "Crime and Punishment" (1917)-- impoverished, dirty and crowded--it's amazing that a novel written in 1917 seems to paint the a picture of what we felt currently--when we were not enclosed in the grandeur of the Museums, Churches or Palaces. I would think that a return trip to St. Petersburg is not in my future, however I would like to see Moscow and other parts of Russia some day. We had a very nice lunch at Mamep cafe. Insist that your tour guide takes you to this place instead of any restaurant catering to tours. This place is large and can accomodate big crowds. A special treat. We had Beef Stroganoff on mashed potatoes with warmup of hot Borsch.
Tallinn, Estonia
Spent the day in old town just walking and shopping. Tallinn is a city of music, cobblestones, artisan's, craftsmen and courtyards. Strolling though old town feels like the Middle Ages. The people are very handsome, pretty and nice. Enjoyed a nice meal of Elk and Wild Boar at Medieval Restaurant Olde Hansa. This was an unexpected pleasure for all of us as Tallinn is a nice place to visit.
Helsingborg, Sweden
Wonderful and delightful port city with one of the oldest shopping streets in Europe. The people of this city believe that there is nothing better than to be from Helsingborg. Plus you cannot beat the freshness and taste of Swedish food.Visited the Dunker’s Cultural House on the way to the port and were totally impressed by the QUALITY of the installations here. Truly a state-of-the-art experience utilizing the best dsigners, workmanship and technology in the exhibitions.
Berlin, Germany
Nice side trip through the former East Germany to Berlin. Visited the Berlin Wall and toured the entire city. Had a great lunch at KaDeWe Department Store at the Winter Gardens on the top floor- perfect stop for lunch! Berlin is quite a city and would love to return. Curry-Wurst and other hot dogs are also a special treat in Berlin.
Copenhagen, Denmark
Visited restaurant called “Groften” (photo) in Tivoli. One of the best eating and drinking experiences we had on our trip. We had a very popular traditional Danish dish called “Skipperlabskovs”. The dish was not pretty to look at and consisted of diced potatoes mixed with veal bits and spices, served with pickled beets, butter and rye bread. It was really shockingly tasty and was all-you-can-eat for DKK 115. Ran up a $200 tab on Akavit- as we consumed the top-of-the-line (Aalborg Extra Akavit) and it was worth the price! Groften also gets highest marks for their WC's. The Men's room has a complete Golf Museum featuring European Pro Golfers and the Women's WC has a full length wall Aquarium. Nice touch! Best to use both facilities on your visit! By far and away the Best Toilets in Europe!
London, England
Change $100 and get anywhere from 43-50 pounds! (Uug) What have we (Bush) done to our dollar! This place was expensive as well and you just had to put you head in the sand and ignore the gaffing. Highlights were certainly the shows, which we would give "Billy Elliot" the one not to miss! For nice DIM-SUM restaurant go to Royal China located at 13 Queensway. Tube stop Queensway or Bayswater.

This was our first cruise and aside from the down time cruising at sea it was a nice trip. More to follow.
Dave's Tips for Baltic Cruisers
1. Easy on the Boat Food! Not much to do so tendancy is to overeat. I stayed away from most of the meat dishes in favor of seafood. Most is flash frozen and seafood seems to be better than meat when thawed. However, while in port go with what the locals eat! European food is incredibly interest and good. From Hot Dogs to Pastry- all good stuff! I noticed that many cruisers were too cheap to eat on shore and just waited until they got back to the Boat? What a shame- to miss the good food of each country we visited. It is part of the experience!
2. Nothing does it like European Hot Dogs- first stop in port go to the dog stand. Ask someone which hot dog stand is the best! You will be pleasantly surprised.
3. St. Petersburg: Use Red October Tours instead of the crusie line tours. Less people and more flexibility. No Visa required. Our guide was outstanding, insist on Katya Chystiakova (Katerina). Very knowledgeable, flexible and good looking!
4. In St. Petersburg go to Mamep Cafe for lunch- great place and for the young people! Katerina introduced us to this nice place! We went to the Folklore Show that evening and it was a real disappointment- try to see an Opera instead or go to Mamep Cafe for a Jazz Show and dinner!
5. In Copenhagen, don't miss "Groften" at Tivoli. Order: Start with Herring and Fish Roe assortment (tell them half and half). Then main dish Skipperlabskovs and of course Aalborg Extra Akavit. This is top-of-the-line Akavit- nice bubbly feel on palate as you swallow! You can feel the difference.
6. Helsinki- Go to Kappeli for lunch in the fancy upscale sit down part of their restaurant and order Reindeer! Unexpected treat!
7. London- Go see "Billy Elliot". Skip "We will Rock You".
8. Oslo- take the Cruiseline tour as it is best way to see Oslo.
9. In most ports they have "Stop and Ride" independent tour buses that take you around the City. Usually they are waiting outside as your depart from the boat. Also very cost effective.
10. Copenhagen: Just take a seat in a coffee shop on the main shopping street, enjoy coffee and watch the most beautiful and fashionable men and women walk by. Great people watching. Don't miss the Ice Cream and a Hot Dog!
11. Copenhagen: Take a Canal Boat Cruise- don't miss it!
12. Port Strategies: Oslo, sign up for tour package. Stockholm, Sweden: take "Stop and Go" Double-Decker Bus Tour waiting outside boat. Helsinki: Shuttle into town and take "Stop and Go" Double-Decker Bus Tour. St. Petersburg: Sign up in advance for Red October tour. Rostock, Germany: Sign up in advance with tour on mini-bus to Berlin. Copenhagen, Dennmark: Take shuttle into town, then short walk (100 yards) to Canal Boat Tour. Then spend time on shopping street. Helsingborg, Sweden: Take short walk from boat into town and visit Old Town, the old fortress and the Cultural Center on the way back to the boat. Dover, England: Suggest going day early and spend night in London and then arrange car to take you on leisurely drive to Dover with countryside stops along the way. (best car is on the Internet in cruise reviews)
13. Casino on board, take it easy, bet low and try to win enough to play with their money. Don't overbet early in trip as it may bum you out. Barb and I won almost every night when we played. Barb is one lucky gambler. Play Roulette and concentrate on the numbers 2-8-15-22! Limit your losses! Good Luck!
14. Money: Get enough funds from ship bank for the day. Use credit card for all possible purchases in local currency. Visa card is best. Credit card exchange rate is best you will get. AMEX has limited acceptance.
15. Take away your wife's credit cards as things are just too expensive in Europe! Option 2: Just let her play Bingo while in Port and stay on the ship.





Many of you have asked me about the difference between European Girls and American Girls?

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