04.06.2011 - 22.06.2011 60 °F
Cruising the Baltic Sea
I had never cruised before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Here are some of my experiences:
1. Loved spending time with Ron, Kathy, Max and Emma! Seeing family has been a highlight for all of us of on this trip!
2. Loved NOT seeing the girls 24/7, sounds harsh, let me clarify. They had free rein on board. They ate by themselves, made their own reservations (so mature, but remember…they are officially teenagers). They had a curfew at night, and we rarely bumped into them except in the cabin. Note to self and others taking a cruise, splurge for an extra cabin. Four people in one cabin is a bit much! But I guess most would venture to say 5 months on the road sharing a hotel room is INSANE, so maybe 9 days of close quarters is doable. My need for personal space has intensified as our trip continues, so much for the saying “give it time”.
3. Loved being able to see 5 counties without packing and unpacking my backpack....bonus! We saw Copenhagen (great city where Ryan’s dad side of the family hails from). Ron and Ryan and the Oberholtzer clan got in touch with their Danish heritage, well, sort of, if visiting Tivoli Gardens and hopping on and off a double decker tour bus counts.
Our first port was in Waremunde, Germany (didn’t opt for a 12 hour tour down to Berlin, more on touring later) and then stopped in Helsinki, Finland (celebrated my birthday at an outdoor cafe overlooking a garden full of locals basking in the sun, a rarity in Helsinki). Next port of call was St. Petersburg, Russia, where we saw the Russian ballet production of Swan Lake, a cool experience in an old Russian theatre (I had a hard time not comparing the movie Black Swan to the ballet. I was waiting for the prima ballerina to come out with red eyes and real feathers growing out of her back). We also toured the Hermitage Museum which houses the works of Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Seurat, Gauguin, Monet, de Vinci, Michelangelo, to name just a few, all on display within Catherine the Great's Winter Palace, you can only imagine the opulence! We have waked the halls of the most famous museums in the world within the last 6 weeks including, de’ Or say, the Louvre, The Hermitage, The Vatican Museum and the Uffizi. This is when I have to take a breath and realize what we have been able to lay our eyes on and admire! We then ported in Tallinn, Estonia, a pleasant surprise for me. A medieval city with castles and beer gardens lining the narrow cobblestones streets decorated with bright flower boxes. Friendly people, incredible shopping, and even a Shrek and donkey sighting (can’t escape the Disney machine, even in Estonia). We also stopped in Sweden, and took a train to Stockholm. Didn't have loads of time to explore, but managed to experience an ice bar (the kids loved it as did all the adults) and peeked into some stores, took some photos of what looked to be important monuments and/or attractions and quickly headed back via train to the ship. If you are late after an excursion, the captain will leave you high and dry on land, so you must be on time!
4. Loved the cruise entertainment. I am known to take in a few lounge acts while in Vegas, so the line up on the cruise didn't disappoint. No where else can you see a show including renditions of Divo and James Taylor songs in the same set and then walk out of the “stardust theatre” down a wide crowded hallway along with hundreds of other cruisers into the next venue, Dazzles Bar, where my in laws participated in the Norwegian Suns version of the “Not So Newly Wed Game (yes, it's true...Ron and Kathy were 2 of 8 contestants selected to participate) They were awesome on stage, a crowd favorite. Little did we know that the ship recorded the game show and played it on continuous loop broadcasting on the cabin televisions. The granddaughters and Max caught the show once or twice and learned A LOT about nana and grandpa...Lets just say, TMI…. but oh so funny!
5. Loved tearing it up at the disco on my birthday. Ryan and I closed the disco down, literally, we were the only people in the bar at 1am dancing on the stage, singing into the microphone, requesting songs from the dj...we couldn’t figure out where the “under 60 crowd was”, we looked for them on the dance floor and continued searching throughout the duration of the cruise and really never found them.
6. Loved ping-pong! Ryan and I had fierce tournaments. We are both so competitive. He was making reference to my Forrest Gump skills and told me I had an advantage because I had a ping-pong table growing up. I had to clarify that by 4th grade, I was tableless. We would play until we were laughing so hard that Ryan would drop to the ground, feet in the air like a dying cockroach and I would double over, legs crossed desperately trying not to pee my pants (bladder control is becoming an issue as I push the big 40, this “new issue” has plague me throughout the trip). We even decided to take a ping pong ball from the ship as a souvenir and every once in awhile Ryan will pull it out of his backpack and we both start laughing our heads off. Maybe a ping pong table will be our first purchase when we get back home. It provided great amusement for Ryan and I!
7. Loved laughing! Feels good after 5 months of traveling that we can still laugh until we either cry or pee our pants. We laugh at our selves, we laugh with each other, we belly laugh until it hurts!
8. Baffled by the behavior at the all you can eat buffets. People ramming you with their trays, pushing and shoving desperate to get to the ice cream station and crepe bar, a crowd favorite. Cutting in line is a PROBLEM and of course Kathy and I had no problem politely calling people out if they were interfering with our pastry or ice cream intake. Yes, Ryan did marry his mother in so many ways. Not sure what that means exactly, but Kath and I were cut from the same cloth ☺!
10. Weirded out that everywhere you turned, there was a staff member with a spray bottle filled with hand sanitizer, squirting your hands while chirping “washy, washy, happy, happy”. Strange is all I can say! But at least we all stayed healthy!
9. Irritated with group tours. Not my thing. I would prefer not to be following a woman with a flag around St. Petersburg, tuning into a hardly audible head set, shuffling amongst hundreds of others, playing follow the leader. I realize that tour groups serve a purpose for many (especially when you arrive in Russia on a cruise boat with no visa), but my tolerance for large groups has all but diminished. We had a similar experience in The Vatican Museum with a large tour. When you need a sticker on your shirt to remind yourself where you belong, its time to rethink your plans!
We had a great time on the Norwegian Sun. I can now say I have cruised before. It took awhile to get back to eating only 3 meals a day! Nothing like overeating and drinking like a fish for 9 days.
We then visited Amsterdam. One of my favorite cities thus far. The canals are fantastic. The people are so open minded, liberal and friendly! It is a bicycling town. Everyone owns a bike, I mean everyone. Bikes are everywhere. It’s amazing how many children a mom or dad (saw lots of stay at home dads) can get on one bike. They have what looks to be like a wheelbarrow attached to the front of their bikes. They can cram up to three kids happily in front and many times one more child is sitting in a kids seat behind the driver. Riley and I rented some bikes for the afternoon and rode around Voltenpark taking in the sights. It reminded me of central park, endless paths through green grass, ponds, lakes, hot dog stands, fresh fruit carts attached to but of course bikes, fountains, play areas surrounded by blooming trees and springing with wild flowers. A spectacular day! We toured the Van Gogh museum and walked through Ann Frank’s House. We even toured the Heineken experience! We walked through the red light district, seeing the sights and smelling the strange smells. The girls were shocked to say the least! According to the locals, in the past 10 years, they really have cleaned up the area and it is less seedy than it use to be. Nonetheless, a culture we are not accustoming to seeing on display.
Now in London! Love the hustle and bustle of this modern, hip city! Taking in all the sights, waking up early and touring until late at night and still feel like we haven’t even skimmed the surface of what the city has to offer. Heading north to Scotland and then over to Ireland! We decided to take in the UK at the last minute!
We only have 5 weeks left of this adventure. Time flies, well some moments good and bad seemed to have lasted forever, but overall this journey has flown by!