Following our time in St Petersberg, we have made our way back to Finland & Sweden. On Saturday (14th), we spent a day in Helsinki, Sunday (15th) was in Stockholm and today (16th) we have been in Visby.
Helsinki immediately struck us as a pleasant city. It was bright and sunny and the city is modern and open. It had a good feel to it. We had docked early in the morning by the container port which, compared to the one in St Petersberg, looked as though it had just been swept! There were three other cruise ships in port on the same day so the city was pretty busy with tourists. We started with a city tour which took us to a number of sites – Senate Square with the rather plain (and more appealing) Lutheran cathedral compared to the ostentatious ones of Russia. We then went on to the stadium built for the 1952 Olympic games, the Sibelius monument, and the Rock church. These seem to be the stand-out attractions in Helsinki and left us with the impression that there is not a lot of ostentation here. Most of Helsinki’s beauty seems to be in the harbour and the parks. Because of the nice weather, the parks were full oif people sunbaking.
We jumped off the tour and stayed downtown to do some shopping. We found the Stockmann Department Store where we had lunch in the café. From there we walked down to the harbour and through a very noisy group that appeared to be protesting against the fur trade. There is a very active market in the square at the harbour which sold everthing from reindeer meat to Spanish strawberries. We went on from there to a cruise around the harbour which passed an island with an old fort, some wealthy harbourside suburbs and the dock where the icebreakers are moored. In winter, the sea here freezes over to a depth of up to 5 metres. The ice breakers are essential for keeping the harbours open. They are huge ships and we understand that the harbour still had one metre of ice just six weeks ago! We caught the last shuttle bus back to the ship and ontheway passed a Latin American ‘Salsa Parade’ which was very musical and colourfull although I am not quite sure of the connection between Finland and Latin Amerca. and had another nice dinner with our lovely dinner partners. We have assumed some proprietal rights, now calling Cindy and Rebecca ‘our girls’.
By Sunday, we had reached Stockholm. It was another lovely day and one in which it was easy to get a little sunburnt (as I had on the previous day in Helsinki). Our tour took us to the city hall where the Nobel prizes are presented. It is a very impressive building and the main hall is decorated in floor to ceiling gilt mosaics that describe Sweden’s history.
The highlight of the day had to be a visit to the Vasa Museum. In this museum there is a complete medieval warship that sank on its major voyage. The king of the day had ordered that an extra gun deck be added which made it top heavy. It is in a darkened museum building that adds a special feeling of mystique. Over 90% of the original structure of the ship has been salvaged and restored.
We had some free time for lunch and shopping and then a visit to the Royal Palace. The sentries are young national servicemen. Many had collar length hair and I noticed that thay carried their rifles (similar to our SLRs) in their right hand, rather than their left as we do. Inside the palace was a very stunning display of the dresses that the queen had worn to the Nobel presentations over the last thirty years. She is a tiny and very attractive lady.
We had a lovely dinner in the up-market Pinnacle restaurant on the ship with Beth & Peter from Perth who are part of our scenic tours group. The Maitre’ D was nice enough to keep us in touch throughout the night with scores from the Australia – Brazil world cup match but it was easy to tell from his glum look as he returned the second time for us to already know that we had lost.
This morning, we spent a few hours in the little town of Visby in Gotland. This is a island in Sweden. The harbour was far to small for a cruise liner to be able to enter, so we went ashore by Tender (not nearly as exciting as travelling from the ship in Zodiacs in Antarctica).
This town is famous for its medieval buildings. It is small enough to walk around in a couple of hours. The old town is still enclosed in the original walls that were built in the 1300’s. There are a number of medieval buildings still in existance and the ruins of four or five churches from the same era. The town is now a world heritage site and was also a Hanseatic town. The streets are all paved in cobblestones and there are lots of litle laneways that run between them. It’s a very pretty city indeed.
Anyway, now that we are back on the ship and are underway (at the moment in fog and with the ship’s fog horn sounding). We were invited to an afterrnoon tea in the dining room this afternoon. It was a silver service event with waiters wearing white gloves and serving cakes, scones and cream. I made the mistake of asking for coffee, only to be told by the waiter that this was ‘afternoon tea’. Oh well, a pot of Earl Grey made a good substitute. Funny people, these Americans. It just wasn’t the same as having afternoon tea with Auntie Phyl.
We are off to Warnemunde in Germany and a trip to Berlin tomorrow by train. We Australians have arranged to meet for a drink in the top bar tonight to catch up.