Our Baltic Sea Cruise started with a pre-cruise trip to Amsterdam. It turns out that our hotel was located in an area labeled one of the coolest place to go in Amsterdam, De Hallen Amsterdam, a cultural complex converted from a former tram depot. The complex houses a multicultural food hall, three restaurants, a library, a bike workshop, a cinema and a boutique hotel, Hotel de Hallen. The hotel is a 57 room historical building with industrial decor. The hotel restaurant, Ramez 24 served a great breakfast and lunch.
We had other meals at FoodHallen, a covered food market where there are over 20 food stalls, serving everything from dim sum to jamon iberico. It has a very international vibe with each stall selling street food dishes from around the world.
August 22 - Anne Frank Museum
Another great thing about DeHallen was its proximity to the center of downtown Amsterdam. We were within walking distance to the Anne Frank Museum and other tourists attractions. The other times we were in Amsterdam, we did not take the opportunity to visit the Anne Frank Museum. It was now at the top of the list of things that we wanted to do. We purchased our tickets a couple of months in advance. I had recently read a few books about that period of time so I was very curious about how it was portrayed in the Museum. It was well worth the visit.
After touring the Anne Frank Museum we walked around downtown Amsterdam. We walked through the Red Light District and even during the day, it was full of interesting people and sites. We found a nice restaurant for lunch where Jim thought the ribs were pretty good. I had a mushroom crepe, which was pretty good.
August 23 - Port of Amsterdam
After a couple of days in Amsterdam, the jet lag was gone and we were ready to cruise. We boarded the Brilliance of the Seas, excited about our interesting Ports of Call. We sailed out of the Port of Amsterdam, the 3rd biggest cruise port in Europe. It is connected to the North Sea through the North Sea Canal. Sailing through the canal offered many opportunities for great pictures.
August 24 - Sea Day
We had a day of cruising before our first stop in Skagen, Denmark. Our day was spent participating in various ship activities. This included walking breakfast in dining room, five mile walk on track, lunch, an hour in gym, Bingo, shopping, lounging, dinner and live entertainment. This is a typical day at sea for us. There were a few naps included, too. Some activities were just the two of us and others were spent with members of the group.
August 25 - Skagen, Denmark
Our first shore excursion was to Voergaard Castle. The drive there allowed us to see scenic views of Denmark's coastline and countryside. Voergaard Castle is a moated Renaissance manor house located in north-western Denmark. The castle houses Denmark's largest private art collection with artifacts as varied as Napoloean's dinner service to valuable Ming vases. Voergaard is one of the largest estates in Denmark with just under 4,800 acres of land. The landscape was beautiful, with a few unusual scenes.
August 26 - Sea Day
Our second sea day was very similar to the first, a day of relaxation. It was a formal dinner day so most of us ate together in the dining room and took pictures afterwards. Some of the group met for karaoke after the evening show. Jim sang his favorite karaoke song by Beatles, "Hey Jude".
August 27 - Tallin, Estonia
We enjoyed a walking tour of Talinn's historic Upper and Lower Old Town, which is known as one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. Our guide was very knowledgeable about her city and was willing to share the good, bad and ugly about the Communist occupation. She warned us several times to be ware of pick pocketers, but even after all the warnings, one of the tourists had his pocket picked. She felt very bad for him and apologized profusely for the incident, even though it was not her fault. The Estonian are a very proud people even though throughout history they have been occupied by Danes, Swedes, Finish, and Russians because of its strategic location.
August 28 - St Petersburg, Russia
Jim and I were looking forward to our next Port of Call. Neither of us had ever been to Russia and we were going to spend two days in St Petersburg. Most European countries that we've visited do not require a Visa from US citizens, but Russia does require one. For that reason we had to book our excursions with Royal Caribbean. Most of the time we do book through the Cruise line just for convenience, but sometimes we venture out on our own or with other members of our travel group. Russian customs did not allow this, but we enjoyed our excursions so it was not a problem. The first day our excursion was Panoramic St Petersburg with Peter and Paul Fortress Territory.
The first day in St Petersburg consisted of a panoramic view of the city by motorcoach ending with a visit to the Peter Paul Fortress, the first citadel of St Petersburg. It has functioned as a museum since 1924. The Peter and Paul Catherdral, one of the notable buildings at the Fortress is the burial place for Russian tsars.
August 29 - St Petersburg, Russia
The second day was spent at Peterhof: Grand Palace and Fountains, the spectacular summer residence of the tsars, founded by Peter the Great.
August 30 - Helsinki, Finland
City of Helsinki, Finland's "Daughter of the Baltic" was impressive on this panoramic bus tour, which highlighted towering Helsinki cathedrals, Parliament House, museums, an opera house and rock church. The city has one of the world's highest urban standards of living. It is the most populous city in Finland and the most important center for politics, education, finance, culture and research. Helsinki is a city I would like to visit again.
August 31 - Stockholm Sweden
We enjoyed a narrated sightseeing drive around Stockholm's best city sights, landmarks and a visit to the world-renowned Vasa Museum on the next excursion, Stockholm Highlights and Vasa Museum. The Vasa ship is very impressive although it sank on its maiden voyage after sailing just 1300 meters. It is the best preserved 17th century warship in the world. There are several exhibitions, which tell in different ways about the ship, the time she was built and her recent history. These exhibitions are in the form of paintings, models, retrieved items depicting life on board and the arsenal of weapons on board. A visit to the Vasa Museum is time well spent.
September 1 - Sea Day
After five days of shore excursions, it was time for a day of rest and relaxation. On this day, Gina and I met in the library to compare genealogy notes. Other than that, it was a typical day at sea.
September 2 - Copenhagen, Denmark
We experienced Copenhagen's charm and history on a walking tour and boat