Saturday, 26 September 2015

Rostock and a Sailing Regatta

It was Sunday and very festive when The Arcadia anchored at Warnemunde on the north German coast. Turned out that it was the last day of the 25th Annual Hanse Rostock Sail. There was a carnival atmosphere and loads of people were all heading in that direction.

Before we tourists could either go and join in the fun or relax and watch the boats sailing up and down the river, it was time to go and tour.

Our guide was excellent, especially at helping us to understand what life had been like under Communism. Although there were restrictions such as how much money you were allowed to earn, so long as people kept their heads below the parapet, life wasn't too bad. Not good but bearable. And, as the guide pointed out, his parents' generation had suffered under the Nazi Regime. Now, since reunification things have vastly improved and life is good.

The drive to see the Cathedral and town of Bad Dobenan took us through the flat countryside. Meadows, woods, farmland and pretty thatched cottages. Sounds very English, doesn't it? But a lot less traffic.

Bad Dobenan is in the state of Mecklenburg which once had close ties with Great Britain. One of their Princess's, Charlotte, married a Hanovarian Prince and they became known as King George III and Queen Charlotte. Remember the film 'The Madness of King George'?

En route into Rostock we were told that because, during World War II the Heinkel plane factory had been located there, the town had been very badly bombed so much of the old town that we were to see had been rebuilt or renovated. The guide also pointed out some blocks of flats which were the original Communist blocks but have now been very much renovated. Both inside and out, with Architectural decorations and good paint jobs. They are now very much sought after residences.

We left the coach to take a stroll through the old town and get a feel of it and admire the beautiful gabled buildings which are either in red brick or stucco painted in various pastel shades. Being Sunday the shops were closed but the streets were crowded with tourists and residents.

Back on board the ship and having had lunch I settled on deck to watch the various regatta ships passing up and down the river. Everything from many masted yachts to rubber dinghies, some pirate galleons (one flying the Spanish flag), the steam driven ice-breaker Steltin and police boats scurrying hither and yon keeping the seaways clear.

If you get a chance to take a Baltic cruise, let me recommend one with Warnemunde as a port of call. There are several other places to visit from there including the island of Lubeck, famous for its real Gothic architecture.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Cruising in St. Petersburg

A canal boat in St. Petersburg isn't quite the same as a cruise ship but it does get under some pretty low bridges. Definitely not a cruise that lets you stand up.

Getting from the Neva River into the Fontanka River is fun. The boat has to turn on the Neva to line up precisely opposite the Fontanka so that it can get through the low and narrow bridge. On this second river is Michael's Castle, Once the residence of Tsar Paul 1. Then on to the Mayka River to pass that fantastically colourful Church of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood.

Back on the Neva the boat crossed the river to the Peter and Paul Fortress. In the 18th century this was a part of the garrison and a high security gaol. Among some of the prisoners were Gorky, Trotsky, Lenin's brother Alexander and Tsar Peter's son, Alexei.

The main reason for visiting this island is the Peter and Paul Cathedral which is the burial place of all the Emperors and Empresses since Peter the Great. As with the majority of cathedrals, the interior is a bit OTT with 'gold' chandeliers and decoration all over the place but the reason people are visiting is to see the royal tombs. I've lost count but I do remember that on some of them were wreathes of white flowers.

And in a side chapel lie the family of the last Tsar of Russia, Alexander III, who were murdered by the Bolshevists in the 20th century. Their remains have now been transferred to the Peter and Paul Cathedral. There is a notice forbidding photography but as everyone else was taking photos.....

On top of the Cathedral's gilded spire is one of the most prominent of St. Petersburg's symbols. The 'flying' angel, holding a cross. Why 'flying'? It is a weathervane.

A word of warning. To get from the Cathedral to the prison the guides like to take a short cut - diagonally across some very large cobbles. If, like me, your feet are a bit delicate, take quick walk the long way round.

Incidentally, the excursion might operate the other way around - the Fortress before the canals.

The Arcadia spent two nights in St. Petersburg and this was the trip I took on the second day.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

St. Petersburg in the Sunshine.

The Church of the Saviour
of the Spilled Blood

Am I glad I decided to re-do the tour around St. Petersburg which, last year, was rather fraught with too much traffic and the rain.

This time the day was full of sunshine and much less traffic so we not only saw all of the sights we should have seen last year, but also made a non-scheduled stop to take photographs of the Hermitage.

Some domes on the Church
of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood

It is quite a long drive from the docks into the centre of St. Petersburg but as there is so much look at - from road-side flower beds to the various domes and spires of the churches - the journey isn't boring. This year at the Church of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood we had time to do more than just hop off the coach and take a photo. There was time to take a walk around the outside of the cathedral and admire its colour and architecture from different angles. And with the sun glinting off the gold and showing up the colours was a breathtaking.

The coach was also able to make a proper stop at St. Isaacs Church with its gold dome that you seem to be able to see from any direction in St. Petersburg. This is the only gold dome. The others are coated with bronze-made-to-look-like-gold. I also crossed the road to take a look at the gardens in front and watched a bride and groom posing for their photographs.

Stopping at the Stock Exchange Bridge gave us the opportunity to see the views across the river to the Fortress and various edifices along the river side - one of which was once the British Embassy.

During the drive around the city we took the road that goes between the Summer Garden which was created by Peter the Great and has 79 sculptures - but I didn't have time to count them - and the Field of Mars, once a parade ground which became a park in the late 19th century. This was a part of the tour we completely missed last year.

Of course there was the obligatory shop stop.  One thing puzzles me about the souvenirs. I always thought that Matryoshka dolls (the ones that have smaller and smaller replicas inside) were 'Mamma' dolls. If I'm right, what do they call the ones of sports people and politicians? And, no thank you, I don't want one of Putin or Stalin, thank you very much. What I did want but couldn't afford, was a gorgeous purple figured velvet cape trimmed with purple fur. Only £1,250! Oh, where is my millionaire!

Thank you, Mr. Sunshine, for a glorious day in St. Petersburg.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Seeing Helsinki - at Last

I had been in Helsinki before, but a long time ago and on business. I was to sail out on a new ship so my only views of the city were from taxi windows on the drive between the hotel and the docks. Consequently I had long wanted to return to see the city at my leisure.

Although I would have liked a few days in which to explore, I did, on my coach trip from the Arcadia see much more of Helsinki.

As well as busy streets of shops, offices and museums, we saw the Uspenski Cathedral, the Opera House and the Railway Station. The red-brick Cathedral is Eastern Orthodox and looks Russian with its green domes and gold cupolas.

And parks - great open green spaces. Although we drove past most of the sights, including the 1930s-built Olympic Stadium. It was used for the 1952 Olympics and has a stark white viewing tower. We did eventually make a photo stop. As it was at the Sibelius Park I was thrilled. Even if you have only heard 'Finlandia' you have heard music by Jean Sibelius, Finland's greatest composer. And here in the park is the Sibelius Monument called 'Passio Musicae', a stainless steel construction that resembles organ pipes. It was designed by architect Eila Hitunen and unveiled in 1967. Apparently there was a bit of an outcry over its design and there is now, alongside the memorial, a face of the great man also cast in stainless steel.

Eventually we returned to the city centre and Senate Square where the offices of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are located and across from them is the main University building. But it is dominated by the Lutheran Cathedral of St. Nicholas. This is very imposingly set at the top of a flight of steps - all glittering white and green domes. In the centre of the square is a statue of Alexander II with, around the plinth, representations of the law, culture and peasants. Many coachloads of tourists were milling about and getting in each other's way. (There were several cruise ships in). This was also, of course, the stop to let us buy souvenirs.

Later in the day I learned from some of my fellow cruisers who had 'done-it-themselves' that they had seen a band playing in the square. I would have loved to have seen that but I bet the band waited until the tour coaches had left.

For many of us, the shopping was left until the end of the tour when we strolled from the ship to the nearby very colourful market. Much more interesting to browse through and mingle with the locals.

'Passio Musicae