Monthly Archives: September 2010

Wildlife of the Baltic

The Baltic isn’t really known for wildlife, but since I love animals, I always photograph them.There were no penguins or albatrosses in Poland, but they do have cats. This one in a closed shop window in Gdansk.

Dogs are social everywhere. This meeting in Lubeck, Germany. 

Dogs love pizza everywhere (so do people). When you travel you realize how similar we all really are. Who doesn’t love to spend a Saturday afternoon walking their dog, eating pizza and drinking a beer?

Street cats in Gdansk.

A political statement in Copenhagen.

In the Royal Gardens in Copenhagen.

Dick making friends in Copenhagen.

Why can’t we get these cute Fords in the U.S.? Okay, I know this isn’t “wildlife”, but maybe if we all would at least exchange our SUVs for one of these little models we could possibly save some of the wildlife we have left. Better yet, we should turn in our cars for a bicycle. I admit that is more attractive if you live in a small, flat place like Copenhagen or Stockholm. It would be trickier getting groceries up our mountain from Hemet on a bicycle.



September 22, 2010

Barnaby and I got off the ship yesterday morning in Copenhagen and are spending a couple of days in this wonderful town. We are so happy we did. Not only are we here at the same time as Dave and Robin (who we ran into yesterday while walking through town) and Barn is going to play with them tomorrow night, but it’s a beautiful city and I’ve never been here before. We’re also having glorious, sunny weather.

This is a city that gets around on bikes!

We aren't the only tourists.

I thought I’d just post photos for now. Too tired to write — still getting up early and we are on the go all day. We’re having a wonderful time.

Leaving Bornholm, Denmark on our way to Germany

Last night we traveled about 165 nautical miles from Gdansk, Poland across a very windy Baltic Sea to Bornholm, Denmark. I don’t know how Barnaby manages to sleep through all the rolling and pitching of this ship. I thought I might go sailing out of the bed several times, he slept like a baby.

Old town Gdansk, Poland

Bornholm is an island in the Baltic that is actually closer to Sweden, and through the years has belonged to Denmark, Sweden, Germany and occupied by Russia. But the locals wanted to be part of Denmark and so they are today.

The countryside Bornholm, Denmark

We were thrilled to have a lovely sunny day, though it still rained on us a little at the beginning of our outing, but ended without a cloud in the sky. We were even able to hike back to our ship after visiting the ruins of a fortress.

I can’t remember if it’s the oldest or biggest ruined fortress in Europe, but it is surely one of the most striking (especially on a sunny day). Perched on a hill above the Baltic, the 13th century ruins were a photographer’s delight. Both Barnaby and I were reminded of the Falklands because of the wind — only the albatrosses were missing.

We had a very interesting visit to Gdansk, Poland yesterday. Lech Walesa is still inspirational — it’s not hard to see how he could unite people.

Tomorrow is our last full day on the ship — we can’t believe how fast the days are passing. Glad we have a couple days in Copenhagen before going back to New York.

Somewhere in the Baltic

On Wednesday, we landed in Visby, on the large island of Gotland, Sweden. The Hanseatic League was at one time centered on Visby which enjoyed a huge boom in the 13th century. After roaming around the charming city a local folk group came on board our ship for a performance. The quintet included a keyed fiddle.

Yesterday, we spent the day in Riga, Latvia. I had no idea Riga would be such a beautiful city, as well as being famous for Art Nouveau architecture. The period from about 1900 to 1914 was glorious in Riga, some 800 Art Nouveau buildings have survived — more than anywhere in the world.

After a tour of the city, we attended a performance by a famous dance school. Girls and boys from about 8 to 15 performed Latvian folk dances. They were wonderful.

To top off the afternoon, we went to the oldest church in Riga and heard an organ performance on the largest pipe organ in Europe — 7,000 pipes. The concert started with Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

A few of us diehards went back out for a more in depth look at some of the Art Nouveau buildings, many of which are being lovingly restored. Many of those period buildings have not survived in other cities, having the Soviets in control in Riga had a small silver lining — the buildings may have been neglected but at least they weren’t torn down as they were all over Europe.

We’ve had a very rocky day at sea, everyone has been catching up on reading, sleeping and listening to some outstanding lectures. I sadly retain very little, though I could tell you about some fascinating shipwrecks in the Baltic. Did you know the Baltic isn’t very salty? They call it “brackish” because it’s not nearly as salty as the ocean. Why does this matter? Because ship worms don’t survive in fresh water, so the shipwreaks in the Baltic are in great shape. In the ocean a wooden ship would be eaten down to nothing in about 10 years — not here. But I’ll save that story for when we get home!

Tomorrow morning Lech Walesa is coming on board to give a talk. Hello Poland!

September 14, 2010

The Stockholm Archipelago: Uto

At about 7 this morning, we sailed out of Stockholm. It was a gorgeous sunny morning so I jumped out of bed, threw on some clothes and grabbed my camera. I wasn’t fast enough to see the old town of Stockholm, but I did get several photos of the coast and drank several cups of coffee in the process.

Old Town Stockholm

Summer homes on the Swedish Archipelago

There are more than 25,000 islands in this picturesque archipelago, this afternoon we stopped and visited one: Uto.

Uto rose from the sea about 10,000 years ago. The first inhabitants were probably nomadic fisherman and hunters. A permanent population between 550 – 1050 is documented in the graveyard. Iron was mined on Uto during the 1100s in one of the oldest mines in Sweden. Now it’s a resort for Stockholmers and the year round home for about 100 people. There’s a ferry to Stockholm that takes about 40 minutes, it took our ship about five hours but we were going at a leisurely pace, and in the winter the locals drive across the frozen sea when the ice is 8 inches thick.

Our Captain has the pedal to the metal at the moment — this is the first time our ship has rocked. We’re on our way to Gotland (doesn’t that sound like the sort of place Eric Northman on True Blood comes from?).

Speaking of Vikings — they were active in this area from about 900 to 1100, the first recorded Viking raid in Britain was in 793. After 1100 they generally mixed with the locals — so we all probably have a little Viking blood. They were so successful because their long ships were fast and efficient. They could travel from Scandinavia to Iceland in about two weeks, to Britain in one. Not bad for the tenth century.

A summer cottage on Uto

Aland, September 12, 2010

Aland, an island in the Baltic between Finland and Sweden, owned by Finland but Swedish is the language spoken.

This is a tiny island off the coast of Aland, the main feature is this lighthouse, or pilot house.

I’m sitting in the bar on our ship listening to Barnaby play the piano. A small crowd is starting to gather — there are several music lovers, and singers on board.

Speaking of singing, our visit to Estonia yesterday was amazing. What a tragic and lovely place. Estonia sits out in the Baltic and is bordered by Russia to the east and Latvia to the South, across the sea from Finland and Sweden. So it has had a long history of invaders and conquerers. In fact, it wasn’t until after WW1 that Estonia was independent, and sadly that only lasted for 20 years. Then Hilter made a pact with Russia in 1939 giving Russia control. It wasn’t until 1991 that Estonia regained their independence. They are truly amazing people though to have kept their language and if only in their hearts, their hope for freedom.

Currently only about 1 million Estonians live in a country about the size of Holland. Tens of thousands were executed by Stalin or sent off to Siberia by the Soviets. I mentioned singing because Estonians love to sing. They have a famous singing competition every five years and during that competition in 1989 the 30,000 participants ignored the Soviet rules and sang their national anthem. That act, and subsequent peaceful demonstrations, cemented their resolve to gain freedom from the Soviets.

After spending a few days in St. Petersberg and hearing our guides tell us how hard their lives were during the Soviet time, I am only reminded how lucky we are to be American. We have no idea how harsh life really is in most of the world. We certainly have never suffered in modern times, or today for that matter. Though Russia is a much freer and more prosperous place, but the divorce rate is currently 85% and the average life expectancy for men is only 60, women live another 12 years. The birth rate is among the lowest in the world, and there’s still problems with housing and health care. Our guide, who’s 40, says she’s happy for the fall of the Soviets, but her parents preferred that system since they actually had better health care and more job security. She remembers living in an apartment as a child where there were four families living together with one bathroom — imagine 15 people and one bathroom. She currently has a two bedroom, two bath apartment and her mother can’t help but say “Why do you need two bathrooms?!”. The shops are full, there are no lines, and there’s no food shortages like there were during our visit in 1986.

We visited Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin, the summer palace of Catherine the Great and the Czars of Russia. It was nearly destroyed in WW2 but they have meticulously restored it. We had a gorgeous sunny day, one of the 30 cloudless days that annually occur in St. Petersberg. The next day, our last in Russia, we spent in the Hermitage Museum. It was the winter palace of the Czars and is probably the most beautiful museum I have ever been in. We were very lucky to be traveling with this ship — our group was able to enter the palaces and the Hermitage about two hours before the regular opening times — so other than our 140 cruise mates — we had the space to ourselves.

A typical room in the Hermitage Museum

One of the many Van Goghs in the Hermitage

September 8, 2010 St. Petersberg, Russia

Just about to say goodnight to our first full day in Russia — it’s after midnight and since I’ve been awake since 4 am and on the go since 7 I’ll make this brief.

After our 1986 trip to the USSR — Moscow, Samarkand and Tashkent, I swore I would never come back — but I’m glad I changed my mind and agreed to visit St. Petersberg. So much has happened here in 24 years and it is a lovely city.

Here are a few photos — promise I’ll write more tomorrow.

The weather was dry and warm but overcast — poor for photography. My iPhone makes the best of poor conditions. This is Peterhof Palace, about an hour outside of the city, Peter The Great’s country home built in 1704. Peter was fond of fountains — there are over 100. Peter built St. Petersberg (its third name — first St. Petersberg, but then changed to Petrograd after WWI since Peter is a German name and Russians aren’t fond of Germans, then to Leningrad, even though Lenin wasn’t from here, then back to St. Petersberg), so he would have an outpost on the Baltic, it sits on the Bay of Finland. Helsinki is only 300 km away. It was swampland that they filled in and created canals, it’s a lot like Venice only much larger. In fact, it’s the only city over one million (nearly five million actually) above 60 degrees north.

After a delicious lunch and extensive tour of Peterhof, we had a tour of St. Petersberg and a visit to the old fortress and the Peter and Paul Chapel. All the important Czars are buried there — including some very interesting women, among them Catherine The Great. She was married to Peter the Third, Peter The Great’s grandson, but her “Favorite” — Lord Orlov, took care of Peter (he preferred playing with his toy soldiers to matters of state) and Catherine ascended to the throne and ruled for 34 years. She built Orlov a gorgeous palace as a little thank you gift. Catherine liked to wear pants — there was a great portrait of her on horseback — astride of course.

We walked back to our hotel after dinner — the streets are teeming with people shopping and out for dinner, nothing like Moscow of 1986.

Click on the photos to see them full size. Promise I’ll write more soon — there is so much to share.