David and Ginna Zoellner love to travel. We live in Nice, France, half the year; the other half we live near Chicago, Illinois. We do 'home-exchanges' to explore other areas as well as taking normal trips. We'd like to share some of our experiences with you.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cruise to the Baltics and St. Petersburg, May 2009

Sailing away from the White Cliffs of Dover
Nyhavn Canal, Copenhagen

Schwerin Castle, Mecklenberg, NE Germany


Kadriorg Palace, Tallinn, Estonia



St. Catherine Palace, outside St. Petersburg




The Hermitage: the highlight of the whole cruise





Beautiful light while sailing in to Stockholm

The Lauredis drove us to the airport on April 27 where we caught our Easyjet flight to Luton. It was rainy – such a nuisance. Took the bus to Victoria and then walked to the Hotel Corona where we’ve stayed before. Immediately headed for the Tate Britain for lunch. What a beautiful place, nice linens and good food and service, but the most amazing thing is the mural, painted by Rex Whistler in the 1920’s. It covers the walls all the way around the four walls. Whistler was a young artist in England who entered WWI and was killed in Normandy.

For lunch David had grilled kidneys and sea bream (sole) with apple/rhubarb crumble for dessert while I had poached salmon with a watercress/radish salad, pasta with tomatoes and spinach, and a maple syrup/pecan parfait for dessert. We wandered around the museum for a bit – I loved the primitives of 17th century England – but then back to the hotel where we were in bed by 7 PM! Exhausted.

Luckily, the rain had cleared by the next morning and, after breakfast at the hotel, we walked the luggage back to Victoria Station and got our train to Dover. It was a nice 2 hour ride. A taxi to the port. We’d planned to head back to the Castle, but the check-in process was terrible. Ran into the Brewers and Bremers and finally were aboard. We all had a glass of champagne and then lunch in the Buffet which was chaotic. Finally got our staterooms and it was time to unpack. We all met for dinner in Tango Tapas – everyone seemed pleased with their food, although I thought it was just so-so (lobster tacos). David and I went to listen to Constantine, the pianist whom we very much enjoyed, and then to bed.

We set sail at 4 PM and it was beautiful seeing the White Cliffs as we sailed away. The next day we were “At Sea” all day long. B’fast in the Buffet, lunch in the Buffet, and dinner in the French Bistrot – my cassoulet was just OK, Ingrid’s lamb chops looked the best. David had two appetizers – foie gras and onion soup. Dessert for all the “girls” was a chocolate Napoleon that was great. The Brewers followed us up to the Star Bar for more piano music with Constantine. Then bed.

Thursday, April 30, it must be Copenhagen. Denmark is a Constitutional Monarchy; it is a Capitalist State and a Welfare State. The country includes Greenland and the Faroe Islands and is part of the Nordic States which also includes Sweden, Finland, and Norway. Denmark has more than 1400 islands, making for very expensive infrastructure. Germany is to the South; all other borders are water. During WWII, Denmark tried to protect its Jews, sending many to Sweden. They surrendered in 1940 in only 2 hours. Denmark is part of the EU, although Greenland and the Faroe Islands are not. The population is 5.5 million; they are active in NATO and the UN. They have the highest level of income equality and offer free education through college and of course free health care. Their VAT is 25%. A survey has shown that it is the happiest country in the world; it is also the least corrupt and has very low unemployment.

We were terribly lucky to have an absolutely gorgeous day – clear and sunny, about 70 degrees and a beautiful blue sky. At the port are the beautiful windmills, producing electricity. We met a lovely couple from Arizona and had an interesting chat with them, then headed into town. We walked about 5-6 miles. At first we recognized nothing and were rather distressed, but it was a lovely walk past The Little Mermaid and the Kastel Church with an interesting statue out front. Then we reached a beautiful square, cornered by impressive palaces where the royal family live – and with a statue of Frederik V in the center; down the street was Frederiks Church, also called The Marble Church, built 1749-1770 by Frederik V. Finally we found many things we remembered – the church that had had a restaurant that we liked (no longer a resto), Stroget Street – the pedestrian street for shopping and Illums Bilinghus (where I’d hoped to find a bread basket like Anne Marie has, but no such luck), several churches, and of course Nyhavn Canal, where we ended up for lunch at Havfruen. We both had the smoked salmon plate and shared a nice Pinot Blanc from Alsace; then for dessert we shared the Old Danish Cheese (served with minced red onions and radishes, Hansen’s golden rum, Maille mustard, on dark bread) and a glass of brown aquavit. Fun. Afterwards we walked to the Kong’s (King’s) Gardens; we’d thought to go to the Botanic Gardens or the Statens Museum for Kunst, but were just too tired and just headed home. En route ran into a nice couple from Texas, heading back also.

Once on the ship, we headed for the hot tub and took a good soak. Now David is sleeping and I’m trying to catch up.

Dinner with the gang in one of the free restaurants – monkfish for both of us and it was delicious. Pineapple cream cake for me and warm apple bread pudding for D – both really good. And then to bed!

The next morning we docked at Warnemunde where we had scheduled an excursion to Schwerin (pronounced Schver EEN) Castle. On the bus our leader, Margitta, gave us a lot of information. In this Mecklenburg area, there were Germanic tribes 4000 years ago. Then the Slavic tribes arrived and ruled until the 12th century. Still there are many towns with names ending in “-ow” or “-in”, which are Slavic endings.

In the 12th century (1160) the Duke of Lower Saxony, Henry the Lion, came and conquered the last Slavic king, Niclot. Henry had his daughter married to Niclot’s son who became Christian. There still is a Slavic and Germanic mix in the population.

In 1348 Albrecht I was the first Duke in Schwerin and had the first castle built. It was reconstructed in the 16th century. The Mecklenburg Dukes intermarried with European nobility, including George III of England and the Tsars. They abdicated in 1918 and lost all their property. In 1969 the last Duke died and his son ended the family in 2001 when he died.

Mecklenberg (which was part of what was East Germany) is now one of the Federal States, associated with the Pomeranian area which is nearer to Poland. There are over 2000 lakes in the area, connected by rivers and canals. A major crop of the area is rapeseed, used for cooking oil and now being converted to use as fuel for trucks.

The Hanseatic League was founded in 1329 in Lubeck, just to the west of where we were. It was a merchant league of the cities on the Baltic Sea, connected by the Via Reggia, which is now a modern route. The symbol of the League was the Griffin, a combination of a lion and a dragon; this is still the symbol of the area today.

Route 20, the road we took to Schwerin, was built with great regard for the environment. There are special bridges built for the wildlife so that they may get from one side to the other without danger. There are many windmills along the route – about 50% of Mecklenberg’s power comes from windpower. These windmills are built in Rostock, one of the few industrial ventures in the State.

Our tour bus dropped us off at Schwerin Lake where we boarded a small boat for a sunny and pleasant ride over to the town of Schwerin. As we approached, the Castle took our breath away. Such lovely views from the lake!

Schwerin has a good strategic position; it is surrounded by seven major lakes. The Castle is on an island next to Fortress Lake. In the area there is much boating and sailing, biking, and swimming. Tourism is a major industry; there is little manufacturing.

The Cathedral in Schwerin is 13th century Gothic. The Castle was last redone in the late 1800’s and today is the seat of the State Parliament of Mecklenburg West-Pomerania. We toured the beautiful rooms with their wood inlaid floors, silk wall coverings, and painted and decorated ceilings. One of the things we were shown was a pair of painted porcelain urns, a gift from the Russian Tsar. How were such things transported in those days of rough travel? They were packed in wooden crates filled with butter! Much of the ceiling and wall decoration, which looked like plaster, was actually papier mache! The gardens surrounding the castle, with the views of the lake, are lovely. We saw Ginko trees, Plane trees, a weeping beech with branches joined. Then back to the bus and the ride home. It really would have been nice to have more time here to see the full gardens and the rest of the town.

We rushed up to the Buffet on the 12th deck for a quick lunch – my usual salad and a cookie for dessert. David went off to have a soak in the hot tub and I walked in to Warnemunde where they were celebrating May Day with a street fair. I walked out to the sand dunes and watched the waves coming it – the wind had really picked up. I saw the old lighthouse and the new ones and checked out the interesting architecture of the town. Then back to the ship. Met the group for dinner at the Tsar’s Palace.

When the ship left Warnemunde, there was music coming from the outdoor restaurants below and lots of people there waved us off. Then 3 tour boats, with their lights shining, escorted us out of the harbor, tooting their whistles. It was such a gay send-off!

Saturday, a long day at sea. We all met for a “Jazz Brunch” at 11 AM – the music was a bit too loud but the food was good. Kir Royales to start; a buffet of appetizers – smoked salmon, cured salmon, asparagus wrapped in roast beef, Caesar salad, lovely Roquefort, and so on. Then eggs Benedict for me; David had an omelet. The Brewers had Chateaubriand! They really love the red meat. Peach cobbler and apple cobbler for dessert were yummy.

Then some needlepoint, some reading for most of the day. Tennis on TV. Met for supper – turkey with stuffing (just OK), cranberry sauce. David had fish. Not much entertainment going on tonight. Sunset from our room.

The Norwegian Jewel had its maiden voyage in 2005. It’s 965 feet long and travels 24 knots/hour. It carries 2400 passengers. Yuck! Never again on such a huge ship.

The next morning we sailed into Tallinn harbor to the sound of a band, all in bright blue uniforms, playing to welcome us. Not far away, we could see the many spires, onion domed roofs, and tiled roofs of the Old Town. It looks a charming place. We changed a bit of money and disembarked. There was a hop on/hop off bus right there by the ship and we got on (about $17 each). We rode around, seeing the town, and got off first at Kadriorg Palace, built as a summer residence by the Russian Emperor Peter the Great in 1718 and named for Catherine I, his wife. Nearby are many old wooden houses – seems strange to see wooden houses in a city. Tallinn has a population of about 400,000, a third of the total Estonian population.

We passed the Park and Swan Pond with its picturesque gazebo in the middle and walked up to the Palace, which is now a fine arts museum, although there is not a lot to see. The main hall, with a painted ceiling and beautiful ornamentation, is an exquisite example of Baroque architecture. Then we walked a bit in the gardens and then through the park to the sea, where we found another of the HOHO buses – this time a green one which goes out to the Pirita section of the city. (Clever idea here - there are 3 different colored HOHO buses, each following a different route; the ticket entitles you to ride on all). We went through nice parklands and saw the tall television tower, past the Song Festival Grounds and the Olympic housing, and St. Bridget’s Convent ruins, from the 15th century, destroyed by Ivan the Terrible in 1577.

Then on to Old Town, first in the Lower Town which dates back to the Middle Ages. The Lower Town was inhabited by burghers and artisans. We had lunch at Olde Hansa Medieval Restaurant – service is amazingly slow, so don’t go if you don’t have a lot of time! We were lucky to find a table outdoors on this beautiful sunny day. We talked with a nice couple from Virginia Beach – he was a pilot for TWA and she was originally German (I think). The food finally arrived – the highly recommended mushroom soup to share with a nice glass of Chilean Merlot. Then pork for David and sausages of elk, boar, and bear for me accompanied by a sort of cranberry sauce, sweet sauerkraut, and onion “jam”. Delicious.

Then off to explore the Old Town. Near the restaurant is the Town Hall Square with its beautiful and colorful buildings. There are many restaurants here with lots of locals and tourists enjoying the sunny weather.

Afterwards we made the long climb to Toompea or the Upper Town where, traditionally, the German aristocracy lived. It is named for the cathedral located on it: German “Domberg” or “Cathedral Hill”. Here we visited the 19th century Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox cathedral with its many onion domes. It is named for the duke who attacked SE Estonia in the early 13th century. It was designed in 1894 and completed in 1900.

There are so many churches in the city that it is surprising to learn that the general population quite ignores religion. Toompea Hill was the site of a 10th century stronghold and has remained the seat of the ruling power and church authorities. Estonia declared independence in 1918 and remained independent until the Soviet occupation of 1940. The Nazi occupation began in 1941 and then the Soviets returned in 1944. On August 23, 1989 they joined hands, literally, with Latvians and Lithuanians – 2 million people – forming a human chain stretching from Vilnius to Tallinn, and demanded secession from the Soviet Union. Estonia finally became independent again in 1991.

Across from the Cathedral is Toompea castle, built where the wooden fortress stood until the 1219 Danish invasion. For seven centuries, the castle was the seat of power for the rulers of the land. Now it houses Estonia’s parliament. One corner of the castle is Pikk Hermann tower with the blue, black, and white tricolor flag which flies each day.

The Dome Church (Toomkirik) (Lutheran) is nearby. It is also called St. Mary’s Church and is probably the oldest church in Estonia. It was founded in 1219 by the invading Danes. Its exterior is Gothic and dates to the 14th century, but the interior, which had burned in 1684, is newer. It is hung with numerous shields.

Then back down to the Lower Town where we passed several guild halls and saw more of the massive city walls. Then back to the ship where we both jumped into the hot tub. Met a cute young couple of newlyweds from Florida. Then dinner by ourselves in the Buffet. The ship left port and started on its way to St. Petersburg. Finally, our major focus of the cruise.

Monday. We met the Brewers at 8 AM and went down to the 5th floor, as near as we could get to the exit. Many others had the same thought, but we finally got off around 9 AM and met our tour, with only a slight delay for David going through Passport Control (for some reason the person at the gate had to leave two times while he waited to get through! Would he be sent to Siberia?). Our guide, Julia, met us and guided us to the bus and our driver, Kostya. Our first stop was Peter and Paul Fortress and the church, with its 400 foot spire, where so many of the Tsars/Emperors are buried, including the remains of the last Tsar, Nicolas and his wife Alexandra and their children. We also made a “photo op” stop along the Neva River, the main river through St. Petersburg and drove a bit on the main street of the city center, Nevsky Prospect. At one end is a statue of St. Alexander Nevsky, who was the ruler of Russia and a hero in the defeat of the Swedes and Germans in the 13th century.

St. Petersburg was the Imperial Capital from 1711 until 1918, founded by Peter I in 1703. Its first name was St. Petersburg, named for the Apostle. Then in 1914 it was renamed Petrograd; “grad” means “city” in Russian. In 1924 it again was renamed Leningrad, then in 1991 it was named again St. Petersburg.

The population is made up of Slavic (or Russian) tribes. The city has 85 rivers and canals, making 45 islands. Our guide tells us that in St. Petersburg they say that you must have 45 friends, one on each island, so that if you get stuck by the bridges opening you will have somewhere to sleep. There are 22 draw bridges (and 800 bridges in total) in the city, open only from 1:30 AM – 4 AM to permit boats to pass. They are lit at night and are quite a sight. St. Petersburg does not have ideal weather with only 60 sunny days a year, but we were extremely lucky to arrive on one of them. They celebrate Victory Day of WWII on May 9th.

We passed by Moscow Square with the large “House of Soviets” dominating it. Victory Square celebrates the siege of Leningrad.

Then we arrived at Catherine’s Palace, one of the summer palaces, in Pushkin, the town named for the most beloved of the Russian writers. Catherine’s Palace, built by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, is the most stunning blue with much white and gold. We toured the rooms, which are dazzling with the golden ornamentation, reflected even further in the many mirrors and shining chandeliers. The rooms have beautiful blue Delft stoves. There were game rooms decorated in silk, one in red and one in blue. When invitations went out, it was specified which room they would be gaming in. If it was the red room, people brought rubies to gamble with; if the blue room, they brought sapphires! And the most amazing and most famous room, the Amber Room, with walls covered in amber. (No photos allowed).

Afterwards we headed to Peterhof Palace, built in the early 1700’s, where we explored the 2,500 acre Park, the gardens surrounding one of the oldest summer palaces in the region. The Palace was, again, designed by Rastrelli. Sadly, we were too early for the many fountains to be working but we could see how stunning they would be. There are golden statues leading down a waterfall, called the Great Cascade, to a canal that runs out to the Gulf of Finland. Samson, the symbol of Peterhof, is the main statue in the fountain. We passed by the Orangerie and another fountain, this time of Triton. We walked to the small favorite palace of Peter the Great, Mon Plaisir, flanked by Catherine’s yellow palace and the boathouse. Julie told us that the pansies in the garden are called “Anne’s Eyes” in Russia.

We stopped by Peter and Paul Cathedral, near Peterhof, for photos and then headed back to St. Petersburg. We passed Putin’s Palace where many international meetings were held and also the green Triumphant Gate at the entrance to the city. And so back to the ship, where we had to go through Passport Control again and on to the boat. And into the hot tub!

For supper David and I went to the Buffet. I had a big salad and David had some chicken; we found a table on the outside deck and shared a ½ bottle of wine. For dessert we had warm cherry cobbler with a bit of ice cream on top and a cookie each. Afterwards we played a couple of games of ping-pong – each winning one. Then a long walk several times around the deck and finally down to bed.

Tuesday we were to meet Julia at 8 AM; we were all there early. We got off to an early stop, with a “photo op” at St. Isaacs and a statue of Nicholas I. Then it was on to the Hermitage, partly housed in the Winter Palace which was the Tsar’s official residence fro 1720 to 1727. AlloTour had gotten early admittance, so it wasn’t very crowded while we were there. Julia gave us a good tour of the highlights of this huge place with 3 million pieces. She tells us if we spent one minute at each piece we would still be there in 11 years. We saw works by Da Vinci, Tiziano, a famous statue by Canova that was owned by the Yusupovs (more later), Raphael, Michangelo, Sisley, Cezanne, Matisse, Gaugin, Monet, Picasso, and more. There are also copies of Raphael’s Loggias, beautiful frescoes forming a hall. The museum’s rooms themselves are stunning. I bought the option of taking pictures – the only one in the group – and I can’t imagine not doing that. Some day, I’m sure, no one will be allowed to photograph the art! No flashes, of course.

The Hermitage, also known as the Winter Palace, was built by Bartolomeo Rastrelli in the mid-1700’s. Peter the Great began the use of the Palace as an art museum. Catherine II had vast collections and she placed them all in the building next door where only she and “the mice” would see them, giving the name of the Hermitage, indicating the privacy of the collection. In 1837 a fire destroyed the Winter Palace but the imperial collections were saved by throwing them out the windows. In 1839 it was decided to open the collections to the public.

Then it was on to the Cathedral of Blood Spilled with its amazing mosaics covering every inch of wall space. Alexander II was killed on this spot and his son had the church built to honor him.

Next we headed to a restaurant for lunch. Sadly, it was Greek – not that we don’t like Greek but I was looking forward to sampling some typical Russian foods. We had a salad; mushroom soup, fish stuffed with mushrooms with a cream sauce and rice with carrots; and cake with a lemon sugar sauce.

The Russian language had the same alphabet as the Greeks so I was able to sound out a few simple words: CTO (pi) for Stop, KA(phi)E for café, etc.

After lunch we went to St. Isaacs Cathedral, the largest Russian Orthodox Church and the third largest in the world after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. The gilded dome is a beacon that can be seen all over the city. The outside is quite sober looking, with dark columns on each side. The bronze doors reminded me of the doors at the Duomo in Florence. Inside there are paintings and mosaics everywhere.

Our last stop was Yusupov Palace, the home of a very old and very wealthy Russian family of princes. Their money came from mines. It’s a very personal palace with French tapestries and Sevres chandelier and clock in the Reception Room; a Blue Bedroom with pink plaster decoration on the ceiling; a square room with a dome called the Rotunda; blue, red (called the Imperial Room), green galleries, each named for the color of the silk on the walls – in WWI these rooms were hospital rooms for soldiers; a squarish ballroom, although not as fancy as others we’ve seen; a concert room where the orchestra for the ball would be housed along with tables for a meal – the chandeliers in this room are of papier mache because the curved wooden ceiling could not support heavier chandeliers; many more rooms of art and sculpture and even an ornate theater with box seats above for the family.

Felix Yusupov, who was married to a Romanov, was the last owner of the Palace. In December 1916 he invited Rasputin, the mysterious man who had such influence over the Royal Family because he seemed to help Alexei their son who had hemophilia, to his home where he tried to poison him. That didn’t work so he shot him three times. Rasputin tried to escape, so the group of men in on the plot shot Rasputin more, beat him, and dragged him to the Moyka River where he finally drowned.

After this visit, we headed to a place for shopping. I found a beautiful box of a St. Petersburg scene for a souvenir (something similar on the ship was twice the price!). Then we headed back to the boat where there was a long line to get through Passport Control, then to get on the boat. But it was all right because a band was there to entertain us for the whole time and until the ship moved out around 7 PM. Then dinner in the Tsar’s Palace (that seemed appropriate) for all of us. A good dinner of salmon, but dessert, as most have been on this cruise, was disappointing. Very little entertainment tonight – sat with Bremers for a while in Bar City listening to guitarist. We gain an hour tonight, which is good.

Wednesday morning we arrived in a rainy Helsinki. During the Viking times, the Finns were not Vikings, but were disorganized tribes of Finna, Tavastians, and the Karelians by the 11th century. Finland was a part of Sweden for over 700 years until 1809 when the Tsar won it as reparations in Sweden’s defeat. During the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Finns tried for independence. Today the Finns speak Finnish or Swedish. The first woman President was elected for her second 6-year term in 2006.

The Finns have a passion for the outdoors and are environmentally aware. Their diet is influenced by this, including wild game and fish, berries including cloudberries, excellent rye and sweet-sour breads.

The population of Helsinki is 1.2 million. Helsinki is also called “The Daughter of the Baltic” or “The White City of the North”.

David went down for breakfast but I slept in and he brought me juice and a banana. A lazy morning. At 11:30 we had a quick early lunch and then headed into the city. We decided on the HOHO bus which we took to Stop 3 for the Temppeliaukio Church, designed by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen in 1969. It’s a low church, surrounded by beautiful boulders. The entrance door is bronze (I think) and you come into a round space, with a 24 meter-diameter copper strip roof. The struts are spaced apart, letting the sun shine in and there is plenty of rock exposed. We’re not usually interested in modern churches, but this one is a major exception.

Then we walked back to the train station which was designed by Eliel Saarinen in the Finnish National Romantic style (Art Nouveau) in 1917. Next back to the Esplanade, a lovely street of beautiful buildings divided by a grassy walkway in the middle with a couple of restaurants at either end. We stopped at Kappeli for a Daim cake (chocolate and nuts and someone said corn but we didn’t detect it) (pron. “dime”) and a glass of wine. Kappeli looks like the Tavern on the Green, but is nothing like it – really a cafeteria but pretty. We sat in one of the glassed-in rounded areas at the corners.

I quickly checked out one of the NCL recommended stores for “wooden jewelry” but nothing of interest. We walked up to Senaatintori (Senate Square). There’s a statue of Tsar Alexander II; the Finns and Russians had close ties in the 19th century. Dominating the square is the stark white Tuomiokirkko (Lutheran Cathedral), high up a series of stairs. It was designed by Carl Ludwig Engel and built in the mid 1800’s in the neoclassical style.

We then walked a couple of blocks east to view the charming red brick Uspenski Cathedral on Katajanokka island. It was built as a Russian Orthodox church in the Byzantine-Slavonic style in 1868, designed by Aleksei Govnostayev of St. Petersburg. It is very attractive with the typical onion domes soaring above the street-level.

I walked past the Kauppatori, the main market square with stalls offering crafts, knitted goods, furs, and so on. Then past the Havis Amanda, a mermaid and dolphin fountain which is the symbol of Helsinki, designed by Ville Vallgren in 1908. This statue is the symbol of Helsinki. I found Stop 6 for the HOHO bus while David took a cab back to the ship. We got back around the same time.

The group met for dinner in Mama’s Kitchen, the Italian resto on board. Everyone liked it a lot – most had the Osso Buco. I had the Veal Marsala, which was pretty good. The only decent dessert was David’s Tiramisu; everything else was a waste.

For almost the entire cruise we have not been able to touch anything because of the Swine Flu. In the buffet, we have to wait on lines for plates, then wait on lines for food, then wait on line for drinks. It’s so terribly annoying. Even Ingrid, whom I think of as a person whom nothing bothers, is going crazy!

Thursday we sailed in to Stockholm, passing by so many islands with pretty houses and boat houses and boats. Sailing in and out is stunning with beautiful views and silvery light. A great way to arrive in the city. We docked in a terrible area, very far from downtown. We took a public bus into the city and the driver didn’t even seem to know where we should get off for the Old Town, Gamla Stan. Finally, we found our way and it was quite a walk. We walked a bit in the Old Town, but David really wanted to see the National Gallery so we went over there and spent an hour or so. They didn’t have a whole lot – especially after being in the Hermitage. Then we made our way back to the bus and then the ship, where we hurried to the Buffet for lunch. A huge salad for me and peach bread pudding for dessert. Yum.

That night we just had dessert for dinner and then met the others afterwards for a talk. Off to bed.

Friday is the first of the two remaining days at sea. We had an early breakfast. We met the Brewers at 10 to talk about their trip to Paris, then nothing until lunch at noon. Met everyone for lunch in the Buffet – a huge salad and bread pudding (not so great) for me. Afterwards the Bremers and I went to the art auction for a couple of glasses of champagne, then on to the Trivia contest, where we did fairly well: 11 out of 20; the winners got 15/20. But fun. Then into the hot tub, although it’s pretty chilly out there!

Late afternoon I played Scrabble in the game room; I won the first game and did fairly well in the second. Fun. Then a bit late to dinner with the group in the Tsar’s Palace. Lobster and grouper for dinner which was pretty good; crème brulee with chocolate ganache for dessert was delicious. David had the duck and apple crumble. A late night drink in the Atrium listening to the chamber music group. Flat moscato d’asti.

The second day was taken up with packing and getting ready to head home. We all met for a “dress up” dinner in the Bistrot for the last night – lamb chops and chocolate dessert again, but the food has gotten tiresome and I was feeling a bit like a migraine was coming on.

Sunday morning I was still a bit woozy. David went up for breakfast, we finished packing, and we walked off the ship – that really is an easy way to disembark. We got a cab to the train station, got on the bus (rail work ongoing) to Canterbury where we got the train. Luckily the weather in London was good so we walked to the hotel where they took pity on me and gave us a room early. I went right to bed and pretty much slept through until Monday morning. After b’fast at the hotel, the shuttle picked us up at 9:15 and got us to Heathrow by 10:30. Back to Chicago early, landing by 3 PM and a cab home, exhausted but feeling a lot better. Laundry, shopping, and finally to bed.

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