Category Archives: Cruising

Helsinki, Finland JUL 6, 2023

The last port of our last cruise was Helsinki, Finland. This country’s geographic position has led to competition between Sweden and Russia for domination over Finland in the 18th century. After 1807, Russian influence prevailed in Finland. Finland declared its independence in 1917, resulting in an uneasy relationship between the two countries. The relationship was in bitter conflict during WW2 when the two countries were on opposite sides. After the war ended, Finland tread a careful path during the Cold War. Today, Finland is a member of both the European Union and NATO. Russia said Finland, by joining NATO, was making a mistake and hurting its relationship with Moscow. Interestingly, six percent of Finnish residents speak Swedish exclusively. Swedish is a mandatory subject in schools. Most of Finland’s signs and street names appear in Finnish and Swedish.

We decided to take the Hop On Hop Off Bus in Helsinki which conveniently picked us up at the port. 

We visited Senate Square with a Lutheran Cathedral on the hill. Built from 1830 to 1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia.

Helsinki Cathedral

Grand Duke of Finland Alexander II

The City Hall was built in the 19th century.

The Presidential Palace had guards standing watch. It is one of three official residences of the President of Finland. It was built between 1820 and 1845.

The Parliament House was constructed between 1926-1931.

In 1952, the Summer Olympics were held in Helsinki. The stadium is mainly used for concerts.

The tower of the stadium is 238.5 feet, the measurement of the length of the gold medal win by Finnish Matti Jarvinen in the javelin throw of the 1932 Summer Olympics.

We visited the beautiful Uspenski Cathedral. It is the largest Greek Orthodox church in western Europe and was constructed between 1862-1868.

The sea fortress of Suomenlinna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built on six interconnecting islands. It was first used by Sweden in 1748.   It was surrendered to Russia in 1808 and remained in Russian control until 1918 after Finland proclaimed its independence.

The Sibelius Monument is made of more than 600 hollow steel pipes welded together in a wave like pattern. It is dedicated to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The design of the monument is to capture the essence of his music.

K. J. Stahlberg played a central role in the drafting of the Constitution of Finland in 1919.  He was also the first president of Finland from 1919-1925.

On Market Square you can find vendors selling fish, vegetables, fruit and crafts.

After finding a geocache, we caught the bus back to the port. Helsinki was a nice city, but it did not have the wow factor of many other European cities. 

Next up: Lisbon, Portugal 


Tallinn, Estonia JUL 5, 2023

Early in the morning of June 5, the ship entered the Gulf of Finland and sailed into the port of Tallinn, Estonia. For a change, we actually arrived 90 minutes early. Estonia and Finland are separated by the Gulf of Finland. The cities of Tallinn and Helsinki are only 50 miles apart. 

Tallinn is the capital and most populous city in Estonia with a population of 454,000.  It is 200 miles west of St Petersburg, Russia. Unlike Stockholm, Copenhagen or other metropolitan cities in Europe, Tallinn has an old, medieval feel that was a nice change.

Tallinn’s Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe, but it also has the highest number of startup companies per person among all the capitals and larger cities in Europe. It is the birthplace of many international high technology companies such as Skype.

Parliament Building

The first archaeological traces of a small hunter-fisherman village here was from 5,000 years ago. It was part of the kingdom of Denmark in the 13th century. In 1285 it became part of the German alliance cities and was fortified with city walls and 66 defense towers. In 1561 it became part of Sweden.  During WW1 and WW2 it was occupied by Germany but after extensive bombing it became part of the Soviet Union. In 1991 it received its independence from the Soviet Union.

We took the ship’s shuttle to the city center. Once again the ship charged 10 euros per person for something I think they should provide free of charge to their guests. 

We decided to explore on our own rather than taking a Hop On Hop Off Bus. Tallinn was an interesting, beautiful city. We can usually judge how much we liked a city by the number of pictures we have to sort through when doing the blog. We had lots of pictures for Tallinn.

Tallinn’s Old Town is an intact medieval 13th century town dating back to the Middle Ages, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The cobblestone streets are very hilly and there are lots and lots of steps.

We were able to enter the St Olav Church, built in the 12th century and then rebuilt in the 14th century. It is named for King Olaf II who was king of Norway from 1015-1028, also known as Saint Olaf.

The Alexander Nevaky Cathedral was our favorite church and Bill took a great picture of the outside.

It was built to honor Russian soldiers who died during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877.  It was built between 1894-1900 when Estonia was part of the Russian Empire.

We walked to the top of a hill with a fantastic view of Tallinn.

The Town Hall is the oldest town hall in the whole Baltic Sea region and Scandinavia.

Tallinn also has the oldest pharmacy in the world, opening in 1422.  It is still a pharmacy today.

When the bus got back to the entrance of the port, a guard got on board and we all had to show him our ship identification card. We have not had that happen at any other port this summer. Usually security just checks us at the port gate as we walk back to the ship.

By the way, all the plastic drink bottles throughout Europe and the United Kingdom have an attached cap that doesn’t come off.  Think how many billions of caps, separated from their bottle, are littering the planet. Wonder why this hasn’t caught on in our part of the world??

Next up:  The last port of our last cruise, Helsinki, Finland

Copenhagen, Denmark JUL 3, 2023

On July 3, we visited Copenhagen, Denmark. We left our last port three hours late due to high winds, but the captain managed to make up one hour and we arrived in Copenhagen only two hours late. The wind followed us with winds gusting up to 40 mph in Copenhagen. More on that later. 

We decided to do the Hop On Hop Off Bus and fortunately they came right to the pier to pick up passengers. It ended up being a good deal since the ship was charging 16 euros round trip to take their shuttle bus the 20 minute ride into the city. Personally I think this is a service the cruise line should provide free of charge. Anyway, for just a little more, we got the ride into the city and the benefits of the Hop On Hop Off Bus. 

I read that even though Denmark is the smallest of the four Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland) the country of Denmark is one of the most advanced and progressive in the world. They have set the goal of being carbon neutral by 2025.

Denmark is just over 200 miles long and 75 miles wide. Very little of Denmark is much higher than 100 feet above sea level, with its highest point only rising to 567 feet. 

Copenhagen, pop 605,000, is a city of monuments, statues, steeples, squares and pedestrian only streets. When crossing the street you need to watch out for the bike lane as well as the traffic lanes or you might very well be knocked over by a bike.

Christian IV (12 April 1577 – 28 February 1648) was King of Denmark and Norway

In the above statue Christian was know for many buildings with towers. In the statue the towers turn upside down are the reflections of the towers in the city’s canals and moats.

Christiansborg Palace

Copenhagen City Hall

Copenhagen, like many of the Scandinavian towns and cities, began as a small fishing village. By the middle of the 15th century it was the capital of Denmark. Today it has a very efficient bus service as well as electric trains and a subway.

Major Mode of Transportation is Bicycles

To us, Copenhagen did not have the WOW factor of many other cities we have visited such as Vienna and Stockholm. Perhaps if we had visited Copenhagen at the beginning of our trip instead of near the end, we would have felt more dazzled by the city. Instead the buildings, including the churches and palaces, seemed rather drab. There were many statues, but mostly of men on horses. Felt rather redundant by the end of the day. It was a day of contrasts.

We met the nicest employees of our summer travel at the Hard Rock Cafe, and the rudest bus driver of all our travels. My jaw dropped at his rudeness. 

Our tour began by riding on the bus listening to the commentary about the city. Several headphone outlets didn’t work leaving people scrambling for seats with working outlets. Don’t get me started on that aggravation throughout the day as the buses were crowded making it more difficult to change seats. Bill said he counted five cruise ships in port today.

Lille Langebro a cycle and pedestrian bridge

We got off at the stop with the Marble Church and Rosenborg Castle.

Rosenborg Castle

The Marble Church, also called Frederik’s Church, is not really made from marble, even though that was the original plan. The foundation was laid in 1749 but when the architect died, the plan was abandoned. In the late 1800s construction was started once again but due to a tight budget they were forced to switch from marble to limestone. The church finally opened in 1894, 145 years after the first stone was laid.

We then walked over to the Amalienborg Palace because at noon every day they have the Changing of the Guards. Each day the Guards leave Rosenborg Castle and make the 30 minute walk over to Amalienborg Palace for the Changing of the Guards. By the time we got there, the crowd was three deep with people waiting to see it.

Lonely Guard Waiting For Replacement

Three Guards In This Area were relieved

The  Amalienborg Palace is really made up of four identical palaces around an octagonal courtyard built between 1750 and 1760. The buildings are plain and not very attractive. Queen Margrethe II lives there in the fall and winter. Queen Margrethe has reigned as Denmark’s monarch for over 50 years and is Europe’s longest serving current female head of state. She was Denmark’s first female monarch since Margrethe I ruled from 1376-1412. 

Frederick V (1596 – 1632) was King of Denmark–Norway

After leaving the Castle we walked down to the harbor. It is here that we found the colorful houses along the water that Copenhagen is known for.

1,400 Seat Opera House

It was about this time that a sudden rainstorm came up. We had raincoats and umbrellas but it was raining so hard and the wind was gusting with such force, we still got wet. The wind was blowing so hard it turned our umbrellas wrong side out and they were almost yanked out of our hands but not broken. We managed to take refuge under some trees. People scattered and those sitting at outside cafes struggled to stay dry under umbrellas as waiters attempted to keep everything from blowing off the tables. It didn’t last long, just long enough to get everyone and everything soaked. Not pleasant with temperatures in the low 60s and a cold wind. The wind did help our pants dry quickly.

Statue of Christian V (1646 –1699)

What is peculiar about this equestrian statue is the material could not hold the weight on three legs. The construction had to be strengthened, so a figure of a naked man crouched underneath the horse’s hoof was added.

After lunch we walked to the Hard Rock Cafe for Bill to get his tee shirt. If you are wearing a Hard Rock Cafe shirt, they give you a small discount on a new shirt. Bill forgot to wear his shirt but the cashier gave him the discount anyway. She was so nice. I laughed and told her I had plenty of pictures of him wearing a Hard Rock Cafe shirt to prove he owned one.

After finding a geocache for Copenhagen, we caught the next HOHO bus at the closest stop and got off at our last location of the day, the famous statue of The Little Mermaid, inspired by Andersen’s fairy tale. Hans Christian Andersen lived in Copenhagen most of his life and wrote many of his fairy tales while living there. We had been warned the famous statue was small and it was.

On July 4th we had our last day at sea. We wondered if the ship would do anything to recognize our Independence Day. The ship had an American flag cake on their dessert display in the lunch buffet and at dinner a nice display at the entrance to the dining room. It was nice to see they recognized an important American holiday. Especially considering there are very few Americans on this voyage. I think MSC is working hard to build up their American clientele.

Next up: Tallinn, Estonia 

Stavanger, Norway JUN 30, 2023

Our final port in Norway was Stavanger, population 131,000. We booked an excursion in this port because the places we wanted to visit were not accessible by foot. The excursion was okay but not great. They combined English-speaking people and Italian-speaking people on the same bus with two guides. One guide would speak in English and then the Italian guide would speak. This is the first time this has ever happened on an excursion and it was rather annoying. On the ship they announce everything five times; in English, Italian, French, Spanish and German. I guess on our excursion there were not enough Americans or Italians to fill a bus so they combined them.

We learned quite a bit from our guide even though he only spoke part of the time. Like many towns in Norway, Stavanger has over 6,000 old wooden homes, mainly from the 18th and 19th century. They are viewed as important historical places that are protected and they cannot be torn down. If the owner wants to renovate or change either the inside or outside, it cannot be done without permission.

This area of Norway is very green because they receive over 200 days of rain each year. There is a lot of farming in this area, but only 5% of Norway is farmed. We passed a large strawberry farm on our tour.

When children turn seven years old they begin to learn English. When they turn thirteen they may pick an additional language. They may pick from Spanish, German or French. Our guide said Spanish was the most popular choice. 

By 2030 Norway’s goal is to be carbon neutral. They also want to have electric airplanes for short distance flights by 2040. Norway is a very wealthy country because of its oil and gas production, which is largely owned by the Norwegian government. There is a 75% tax rate on oil and gas profits. The money goes back to the people through pensions and good healthcare. The most popular car in Norway is Tesla. At one time there were large incentives when buying an electric car such as no sales tax on the purchase of the car, free tolls on roads and being able to use the truck or carpool lanes at all times. Those perks have been cut some as more people buy electric cars. They still get a 50% reduction in tolls if they are driving an electric car. 

We went to see the “Swords in the Rock”, three bronze swords standing 33 feet tall planted into the rock of a small hill next to a fjord. They commemorate the Battle of Hafrsfjord when the Viking king gathered Norway under one crown. The largest sword represented the victorious king and the other two the defeated kings. The monument also represents peace since the swords are placed in solid rock and can never be removed.

We visited the Sola Ruinkyrkje church, dating back to the mid 12th century. It was in use until 1842. The church was left in ruins until 1871 until it was acquired in 1907 and then discarded again. It was torn down by German occupation forces in 1940.  Reconstruction began in the 1980s and completed in 1995.

We passed ancient reconstructed long houses from an “Iron Age Farm” dating from 350-500 AD. It is the only one of its kind in Norway. It shows what life was like in Norway 1,500 years ago.

We rode past the Stavanger Cathedral on the way back to the ship. Unfortunately not only was it closed, but we couldn’t see any of the church itself since it was shrouded in scaffolding and tarps since it is undergoing a significant renovation.

Near the Ship was Vice Admiral Thorne Horve (1899- 1990)

The harbor where our ship was docked was having a Food Festival.  Our guide said they are expecting 25,000 visitors to this popular festival over the weekend. It is called the “Happy Festival” because food makes people happy.

Many Food Tents

And with that, our time in Norway came to a close.

That evening we headed south in the Norwegian Sea. The first people to sail in these waters were the Vikings in the 1200s. They were the ones who drew the first nautical charts of the area. Bill thinks we both have ancestors who were Vikings. 

During the night we will leave the Norwegian Sea and enter the North Sea.  During the sea day on Saturday we will once again enter the Baltic Sea. 

Next up:  Copenhagen, Denmark


Nordfjordeid + Olden, Norway JUN 28, 2023

Leaving Bergen, we sailed throughout the night to Nordfjordeid, Norway, pop 3,000, situated in the fjords of western Norway. This was a tender port (our ship is anchored in the harbor). Not a lot to do here but the scenery is breathtaking. 

On Thursday, June 29th we reached Olden, Norway pop 479.  It is a popular cruise ship destination with over one hundred cruise ships visiting in 2019.  It is popular because of its glaciers, fjords, waterfalls, and natural beauty. Again, not much to do here but we enjoyed the beauty of the area, which is just fine with us.

Some Pylons to Anchor Our Ship Actually Float

Here are pictures of the fjords as we traveled between the cities.

It is usually dinnertime when we pull away from the port and we enjoy seeing the view from our table by the window. Birds are always flying around the wake of the ship.

The entertainment show cast dazzled us with another unique performance.

Next up: Stavanger, Norway


Bergen, Norway JUN 27, 2023

When we booked this cruise which included four ports in Norway, we wondered if it was going to be too much Norway after visiting three Norway ports on our last cruise. After seeing the beauty of Norway, we knew there could never be too much of. This gorgeous country. These four new ports are all different from the Norway ports on the previous cruise. 

Our day at sea from Kiel, Germany to Bergen, Norway was chilly and rainy. Disappointing for those who had embarked yesterday and were hoping to lounge by the pool.  During the morning we crossed the “Skaw Point” of the Danish peninsula of Jutland. This is a famous point because it is where we leave the Baltic Sea and enter the North Sea. We thought perhaps the water would be a little rougher here but we noticed no difference. In the early afternoon we approached the part of the North Sea known as “Skagerrak”. This sea area is famous for being a junction point between the Gulf Stream originating in the Gulf of Mexico and the cold Jutland Current from the Baltic Sea. Around dinnertime the sea became very rough and continued to get rougher during the evening. We went to the nightly show and I wondered how the dancers managed to keep their balance with the movement of the ship. We noticed seasick bags had been put by the stairs on each deck. It doesn’t bother Bill but definitely bothers me. Thank heaven for seasick pills! 

On Tuesday, June 27th we arrived in Bergen, Norway, (pop 286,000) to chilly, rainy weather. Bergen is the second largest city in Norway. It was the capital of Norway in the 13th century. We waited until after lunch to go out and it was a good decision because the weather was warm and sunny. Located between the Hardangerfjord and the Sognefjord, Bergen is nicknamed “Gateway to the Fjords”. We had researched the town and decided to walk around on our own.

The old Hanseatic Wharf at Bryggen, a World Heritage Site, is located by the city’s fish market.  The wharf was built around 1070. We walked through the fish market.

The wooden houses in Bryggen are very old. There are 61 listed historic buildings here. The Bryggen area of Bergen is the third most visited tourist attraction in Norway. As to be expected from wooden houses, there have been many fires in this area so there has been much reconstruction and preservation done throughout the years. The  UNESCO designation was awarded because the area is seen as an illustration of 14th century  merchants and housing which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Above one of the Doorways

Seven mountains surround the city center. You can get to the top of Mt Floyen by funicular Fløibanen and the highest mountain, Mt Ulriken by cable car. In the Klosteret district of the city, narrow alleys and cobblestone streets are found.

The Bergen Cathedral includes the remains of two older churches dating back to 1150.  The church is a long stone church which has been damaged in several city fires. The cathedral was hit by a cannonball in 1665.  The cannonball is still visible in the wall of the church tower.

The Maritime Memorial has twelve male bronze statues of sailors beginning with the Viking Age to the present.

Above the statues are bronze panels representing the spiritual and imaginative aspects of seafaring ranging from Christ to Viking ships to native Americans to sea monsters.

The National Theater, built in 1850, is one of the oldest permanent theaters in Norway.

Ole Bull (1810-1880) was a famous Norwegian violinist and composer. Developing violin skills during his early years in his hometown of Bergen, his reputation secured him concerts throughout Europe.

Narrow streets and alleys are found throughout the city.

We stopped in McDonald’s and each got a chocolate milkshake. Not available on the ship! Even the McDonald’s building is quaint and charming.

The Rosenkrantz Tower is where one of Norway’s most important kings, Magnus Lagabote, lived in the 13th century. The 16th century dungeon is in the basement and the cannon loft is in the roof. The cannons were used only one day, the same battle that left the cannonball in the side of the cathedral.

We also managed to find two geocaches.

Bergen is perhaps the prettiest Norwegian town we have visited so far. 

The ship departed as we were beginning dinner and we got a picture of the Askøy Bridge as we were leaving.  The Askøy Bridge is a suspension bridge that crosses the Byfjorden between the municipalities of Bergen and Askøy in Vestland county, Norway. It is 1,057 meters (3,468 ft) long and has a main span of 850 meters (2,789 ft). Its span was the longest for any suspension bridge in Norway, until the Hardanger Bridge was opened in August 2013. Now the bridge is the third longest in Norway.

The show that night was flamingo dancing. An excellent show. By the end of the evening we had logged seven miles on our watches. We were tired!!

Next up: Nordfjordeid

Kiel, Germany JUN 25, 2023

On June 23rd we embarked on our 4th and final cruise of our Europe vacation. We checked out of our apartment in Stockholm and took the city bus to the ship.  Evidently this cruise has multiple embarkment ports. Most people got on the ship in Kiel, Germany six or thirteen days ago and they will be getting off the ship in Kiel on the 25th.  We just got on the ship in Stockholm and are just beginning, while they are ending their cruise. There were actually only a few us getting on in Stockholm so the embarkment process was different than we had ever experienced. In some ways simpler and others ways frustrating. During the wait times we had time to meet two nice couples. One couple was from New Jersey and the other couple from Virginia (Yorktown area). We actually met the New Jersey couple on the city bus on the way to the port. We recognized that we all had the same ship tags on our luggage. 

When we got on the ship everything was quiet and peaceful because most of the people were on excursions in Stockholm. We were able to have a nice leisurely lunch in the buffet. Then it was time for unpacking. We have become experts by now!

At dinner we were surprised to find that our assigned table for the next fourteen days was a table for two by a window. 

Saturday, the 24th, was a sea day. Time to pack for those people getting off tomorrow in Kiel. Breakfast had good and bad surprises. On the past two cruises, what they called bacon is really ham (the British idea of bacon). But today when we ordered crispy bacon, it was really bacon! They bake it so it is drier and a little hard to chew than bacon back home, but much better than English bacon. The bad news was they don’t make the sticky honey buns that I have loved on the last ships. I had looked forward to them every day at breakfast. In all honesty it is time I stopped eating them anyway. Strange how each ship can be different though part of the same cruise line. 

This is an older ship and doesn’t have the newer elevators we loved on the last ship. We have already noticed this ship’s elevators are slow with longer wait times and they are more crowded. We have made a mental note to check the age of the ship before booking future cruises. This ship also doesn’t have the ship’s app where you can see menus, check your account or look at daily activities. But so far the food is good and everyone is friendly and helpful. 

On the sea day we worked on this blog and did some reading. Later in the evening we attended an invitation only Captain’s Champagne Reception. We had already attended these on other MSC cruises. They are pretty much the same on every ship: with champagne, two of the ship dancers doing a tango and the introduction of the ship’s captain and officers.

The officers are given glasses of champagne and the captain makes a toast while we all raise our glasses. This time the captain went around to each of us and clinked our glasses. A very nice touch.

The Captain is in the Middle

Next we attended our first evening performance by the ship’s singers and dancers. It was an outstanding show and the finale performance for those leaving the ship the next day. Impressive and well done. MSC certainly puts on nice shows. We have been impressed with them on every ship.

One act of performers spun tubs, eight at the same time!

During the night we sailed in the Baltic Sea. During the winter ice develops first along the shoreline making the ports unusable without the use of icebreakers. We sailed between the islands of Gotland and Oland, the two biggest Swedish islands. Late in the evening we approached the Danish island of Bornholm and its capital, Ronne, which was a famous commercial center during Medieval times. 

Sunday, June 25th found us in Kiel, Germany. The day was sunny and very warm. We took our time going to breakfast, giving the people disembarking time to eat early.

Kiel is a large port city, being the starting and ending point for cruises to Northern Europe for more than 100 cruise liners Our waiter told us last night that 3,000 people would be getting off the ship and 3,400 more getting on in Kiel!!  This ship has a capacity of 4,300 people. Amazing. The majority of the passengers on this ship are obviously German. Just imagine the luggage alone. Our room steward told us he would go to bed at 3:00 AM and get up at 6:00 AM. He would have to help take luggage left outside cabins down for the departing guests, get cabins ready for the arriving passengers and then help get the arriving luggage delivered to the cabins. Talk about a long, hard day!!

We waited until 10:00 A.M. to get off the ship to explore Kiel, waiting for those disembarking to clear out first. 

Kiel, Germany, population 248,000, began around 1233 and received its town charter in 1242.  The town exploded with growth in 1865 when it became the headquarters of the Prussian naval station and the realm’s naval port in 1871.  Boat yards followed with workers and within a few decades Kiel had grown into a large city. Because of its naval location, it was one of the principal targets of the Allied Forces during World War 2.  After more than 90 air raids, almost 80% of Kiel destroyed. The population, including a large number of refugees, rebuilt almost the entire city. It has one of the first pedestrian malls in Germany.

Our ship was parked at a port too far from the city to walk to, so we rode a shuttle for a small fee. It let us off at the train station a short walk from the center of town. Central Station was completed in 1899 when train travel symbolized a prospering German empire. The train station was considered a temple of progress and was dedicated to the emperor. Located near the water, from here the emperor had direct access to his yacht via a large flight of stairs. The renovation of the station combined historical and modern construction.

We had considered taking the Hop On Hop Off Bus in Kiel, but research showed there was not that much to see. Since it was a Sunday, many things, including stores, were closed. 

We walked along the pedestrian mall where there were planters of pretty flowers. There seemed to be lots of live entertainment in the parks and surrounding areas. Perhaps a summer festival or it had something to do with the Summer Solstice like in Sweden.

A major disappointment was not being able to enter St Nikolai Church, a Protestant church built around 1242. It was completely destroyed during World War 2.  The altar from 1460 was preserved and is Kiel’s oldest art treasure.

In front of the church is a large 1928 sculpture, Spiritual Warrior, symbolizing victory of good over evil. We were told the church is closed for renovation until October.

We walked over to Town Hall Square where the Town Hall is located. It was built between 1907 and 1911.  The 348 foot tall tower has an elevator to the top which wasn’t accessible on Sunday.

A music Festival Was In the Courtyard

The Kiel monastery, founded prior to 1227, was also destroyed in WW2 with only a part of a walkway, a medieval vault and the tower remaining.

Located near the Town Hall Square was Hiroshima Park. We never found a monument or plaque about Hiroshima, but we did find a statue of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck for whom the German battleship Bismarck was named. In 1867 Bismarck created the North German Confederation, a union of the northern German states under the hegemony of Prussia. Several other German states joined, and the North German Confederation served as a model for the future German Empire.

It was a hot day and we were very tired by the time we walked back to the port shuttle pick up point. We did manage to find a geocache on the walk to the shuttle. 

By the end of the day we had logged almost eight miles on our watches! We are looking forward to the sea day tomorrow!! 

In Kiel this weekend was many sailboats.

Next up:. More Norway

Goodbye Norway, Hello Sweden JUN 16, 2023

As the ship sailed from Flam, Norway, we went to an upper deck to take pictures of the amazing views of the fjords. Just breathtaking. Norway is everything we expected and more.

The Sognefjord or Sognefjorden Fjord, nicknamed the King of the Fjords, is the largest and deepest fjord in Norway. Located in Vestland county in Western Norway, it stretches 205 kilometres (127 mi) inland from the ocean.

We had one more day at sea. Mid morning they had a parade down the promenade of some of the ship’s crew and officers. Our captain was at the back of the parade on the right. With over 1,700 people working on the ship, the parade represented only a handful.

The roof of the promenade changed motifs often, see the tulips. On disembarkation day the roof displayed photos of different crew members waving goodbye.

Each evening they had live music on Deck 5 near Guest Services. It varied from classical music to modern ballads. Since our cabin was on Deck 5 we often passed through that area and enjoyed the music.

In the late afternoon the ship passed by the white cliffs of Dover as we sailed through the English Channel. Too far away and too much sea mist to see anything.

June 17th found us back in Southampton, England for disembarkation day. It turned into another long, tiring travel day. Up at 6:00 A.M. for breakfast and off the ship by 7:15, MSC is to be commended for an efficient, quick disembarkation. Easiest we have ever had. We were impressed. After a wait, the ride we had booked from Southampton to Heathrow Airport arrived for the 90 minute drive.

Things fell apart at the airport. We arrived by 11:00 A.M. for our 3:30 flight. Plenty of time to have a relaxing lunch and get through security. The first hint of trouble was British Airways had our flight listed on the board but no gate number. As time for departure inched closer, still no gate number. While other planes departed, no gate number for our flight was displayed. Long story short, our flight was delayed for two and a half hours. When they finally announced a gate, from the gate we took a bus to the tarmac and used steps to board the plane. The captain had multiple excuses for the delay. Our seats were unbelievably tight in leg room. British Airways should be ashamed. Bill had to almost sit sideways in his seat for his legs to fit. It was a long two and a half hour flight to Stockholm. After delaying our flight for two and a half hours, they offered us a tiny bag of pretzels. Nothing to drink. They should be ashamed. 

Stockholm is an hour ahead of England, so with the long delay, we arrived in Stockholm at 9:30 P.M. instead of the 7:00 P.M. we had planned for. We got in a long, slow line at Passport Control with only two officers working. After making our way to baggage pickup, we next had to find our way to the train station under the airport. After walking forever we found the train station and bought two seven day passes from a very nice railway worker. His English was a little rough but he kindly told us step by step how to get to our hotel. He even brought the map up on his phone with each connection and had us take a picture with our phone. That was the good news.

The bad news was that due to some rail repair, we would have to take a bus to another rail station to catch the train. By now it was well after 10:00 P.M. Fortunately, this time of year in Sweden it doesn’t get dark until almost midnight. Since it was a Saturday night, there were lots of people out and about and it felt very safe. Sure enough, following directions, we took the bus to the train station, found the right train, got off at the right stop, found the right subway line, and got off at the correct subway stop near our hotel. Our day went from ship to car to plane to bus to train to subway!! And plenty of walking!! We walked from the subway to our hotel and arrived shortly before midnight. We had an electronic entry into the hotel and our room since the hotel had emailed us all the codes earlier in the day. For dinner in our room we had crackers and a Snickers bar with soft drinks from the vending machine at the subway station. To say we were tired is an understatement. When my watch went to a new day at midnight, I lost all the data, so I don’t know how far we walked, but it was a lot

The next day was Sunday. We slept late and then walked to a nearby large grocery store. It was multiple levels and took us a while to find things because everything was in Swedish. We liked the escalator/ramp that takes people with their grocery carts up and down. We bought some things for breakfast, drinks and snacks. We are finding food, especially restaurant food, is very expensive in Sweden. 

Next up: A day exploring Old Town, Stockholm

Flam, Norway JUN 14, 2023

Before we get to today’s port we would like to start with some pictures taken last night as we sailed away from Maloy, Norway.

Never Enough Glaciers

Wind Turbines and Lighthouse We Went To

Today we entered Flam, our last port of this cruise and our last port in Norway. Flam is a tiny village, pop. 350, located at the end of the Aurlandsfjord, one of the world’s longest and deepest fjords. The fjord is surrounded by high mountains with heights over 4,500 feet.

A Tall Waterfall as Seen from the Ship

One of the popular things to do in this area is ride the Flam railway constructed in 1923.  We looked at the excursion before leaving home and even viewed a YouTube video of the trip. We decided to pass considering all the train trips we made in Austria, Slovenia and Italy.

We wanted to explore Flam on our own which meant we could sleep late and let the crowds eat breakfast and get off the ship ahead of us. 

We were delighted and surprised to find the temperature in the low 70’s  Perfect! First we found two geocaches in the area.

We then took a walk to see a large waterfall near town.

We looked through the Flam Railway Museum and went by the Visitors Center. We finished the day with a little shopping. No Hard Rock Cafe here but Bill found a nice Norway tee shirt. I am not a fan of souvenir tee shirts. I was very happy with a refrigerator magnet. 

We noticed yesterday and today how the front of a boat was used as decoration by hanging on the wall. Here a old locomotive front is attached to this wall to appear as it is coming out.

Norway makes it very easy to get the tax back that nonresidents spend. There is even an office located right next to the ship. If you spend at least $30, they refund the tax (25%) back on your credit card. You just have to have a receipt from the vendor, fill out a form and have your passport number. There was quite a line of cruise passengers in the harbor office waiting to get some tax money back. It could add up to quite a bit if you bought lots of souvenirs and gifts.

Trolls Are Famous in Norway

We were back on the ship in time for a very late lunch. A nice day in beautiful, tiny Flam, Norway. 

Next up: Two days at sea before disembarkation back in Southampton, England

Maloy, Norway JUN 13, 2023

We left Alesund and after sailing the Norwegian Sea all night, we arrived this morning at the tiny port of Maloy, located in southwestern Norway pop 3,200. It is an important fishing port in Norway. The town is so small the streets are not named, merely numbered. There are only elementary and secondary schools in the town. 

We read there is basically nothing to do in port, so we chose to take an excursion to see the area. We booked a three and a half hour excursion called “The Highlights of Maloy”. They had so many of these tours booked throughout the day, we were in the first group and left the ship at 7:15 am. We had to get up at 6:00 and have a quick breakfast. Fortunately the temperatures were in the upper 50’s, not bad.

This Church is Designed To Withstand Strong Winds

We went to three places and calling these “highlights” really seemed a bit of a stretch, but seeing the gorgeous scenery more than made up for ho-hum places. Norway is without a doubt a beautiful country with unbelievable views around every bend in the road. Speaking of roads, the roads in Maloy are very narrow (at times one lane) and the bus driver often had to stop or back up to give the car going in the opposite direction room to pass. Seat belts are mandatory in Norway and you certainly don’t mind wearing them on these narrow mountainous roads.

The first stop took us to Kannesteinen Rock. This mushroom shaped or whale’s tail shaped rock, was formed by loose stones and strong westerly winds which caused the pounding waves over thousands of years to erode and shape the rocks along the shore, including this one. The stones split loose and knocked at the rock face until it became polished and rounded. Loose stones worked themselves deeper into the rock. Over time the holes near the center have been polished for so long the sides have rubbed away, leaving just the middle section. It is a favorite spot of photographers and is a protected location under Norwegian law. An unusual rock in a beautiful location.

Hendanes fyr Lighthouse

We quickly learned that even though we only had three locations to visit, you didn’t get anywhere fast in Maloy, having to backtrack where you came from to get to the next location. That requires time and patience on the narrow mountain roads. Along the way we saw quite a few goats along the roadside.

Our second stop was the Krakenes Lighthouse. This was the most disappointing destination of the day. There was a rather long, uphill climb from the parking lot to the lighthouse, only to discover once we were there that we really couldn’t see the lighthouse at all! The 33 foot tall lighthouse is attached to the seaward side of a wooden lighthouse keeper’s house. The way the keeper’s house and lighthouse are built into the rocky shoreline, it is impossible to see the red lighthouse unless you are seeing it by boat. Originally first lit in 1906 and automated in 1986, it emits a white, red or green light depending on the direction every six seconds. It can be seen for up to 14.7 miles. Interestingly, the original lighthouse was destroyed by fire following an Allied air raid in 1945.

Once again we backtracked and ended up at our third destination, Refviksanden Beach, a 1.5 mile beach with white sand. It is also a popular place to camp and the location of a big music festival each summer. Our guide said the wind is so strong in this area, homeowners build the wall of their homes that faces the southwest out of rock or thick concrete to protect it from the strong wind. As we rode around we could see one wall on the houses made of rock. Once again, the beach itself wasn’t spectacular but the surrounding views were amazing.

As I said, the highlights were a bit underwhelming but the scenery was beyond our highest expectations. What a beautiful country!!

These three pictures where made from our ship.

The Maloy Bridge connects the town center to the mainland.

Next up: Flam, Norway