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Friday, 20 September 2019

I have been to ... Norway, Denmark, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, and Germany

Monday 2nd September: Southampton
Sue and I were both awake by 6.30am, as a result of which we had loaded the car and were on our way by 8.30am. We already knew that there were some holdups on the usual route that we use, and almost as soon as we set off, the car’s satnav began to direct us onto a route that avoided joining the M25 at the interchange with the A2. Instead its route took us through Eltham and thence along the A20, and we joined the M25 further south.

At first, traffic on the M25 was not as heavy as we had expected, but the variable speed limits were in force, and the speed limit dropped as low as 40mph on sections of the motorway in order to reduce congestion. This did not enable us to avoid coming to a halt on several occasions, all of which helped to delay us somewhat.

At one point the satnav wanted to take us down the A3 towards Portsmouth, but just before the junction we needed to use to do so, the satnav recalculated our route and we remained on the M25 until the junction with the M3. By this time, we were about thirty minutes behind schedule, but once we were on the M3, we were able to move at 70mph for most of the time.

We stopped at Winchester Services for breakfast at just after 10.35am and were on our way again by 11.00am. We reached to outskirts of Southampton a little after 11.20am ... and then had to take a diversion to avoid roadworks in the centre of the city. This was yet another delay, and we did not arrive at the Ocean Cruise Terminal until midday … at which point our luck seemed to change.

On our arrival, we were immediately directed unloading area outside the terminal, and whilst I booked the car in with the valet parking service, a porter whisked our luggage away. Sue and I entered the terminal building and were immediately sent to one of the check-in desks, and five minutes we had passed through the security checkpoint and were aboard P&O's MV Arcadia. Once aboard we were directed to the Meridian Restaurant (Deck 2 Aft) where we were given a much-needed drink and a snack lunch.

Sue and I stayed in the restaurant until just after 2.00pm, and then made our way up to Deck 7, which was where our suite was located. Our luggage was already there, and we were soon unloading our bags and stowing our stuff in the suite’s numerous wardrobes and cupboards.

From our balcony, we had a view across Southampton, and of the Ocean Cruise Terminal in particular.


Several other large ships were also nearby, including Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas, …


… P&O’s Azura, …


… and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Lyme Bay (L3007).


During the afternoon our butler and cabin steward both visited us to introduce themselves, and other than a short break to return to the Meridian Restaurant for the statutory safety drill and to go to the Aquarius Bar (Deck 9 Aft) for a drink, we stayed in our suite until it was time to get ready for dinner.

We had a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar from 8.00pm until it was time to go down to the Meridian Restaurant for dinner at 8.30pm. The food and service were both excellent, and by the time we left, Sue and I were both feeling in need of some fresh air before going to bed. We returned to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar, and sat there for about fifteen minutes before going back to our suite to sleep.

Tuesday 3rd September: At sea
After a very sound night’s sleep, Sue and I woke up at 8.00am. Whilst Sue was using the bathroom and dressing area to get ready, I took some photographs of our suite …



… and our huge balcony.



We took our time getting ready for breakfast, which we ate in the Sindhu Restaurant (Deck 11 Midships). We had finished eating by 9.45am, and then went down to the Reception Desk (Deck 1 Midships) to pick up a copy of the ship’s daily bulletin, HORIZON. This was followed by a swift walk around the ship’s shopping area (Deck 3 Midships) and a short spell on the Promenade Deck (Deck 3) before we returned to our suite.

By this time the in-cabin TV system – which had not been connecting to all the available channels – was fully working and we were able to see that Arcadia was already off the coast of the Netherlands, sailing northwards towards Norway and Denmark.



At 11.00 am Sue and I made our way to the Palladium Theatre (Decks 1, 2, and 3 forward) to listen to a talk entitled ‘Britain and Denmark’s Historical Connections’. It was given by Patrick Cherry, and covered such topics as the Danelaw in England, the Battle of Copenhagen, Danish imports to Britain, and Queen Alexandra ... who had been born a Danish Princess. The talk ended at just before midday, at which point Sue and I decided to go up to the Crow’s Nest Bar (Deck 10 Forward) for a drink. We stayed there until 1.15pm, when we returned to our suite.

By 2.15pm, we were both beginning to feel hungry, and went up two decks to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant (Deck 10 Aft) for a snack lunch. Once we had eaten, we went out to the undercover area near the Aquarius Bar for a drink. Sue and I stayed there until after 3.15pm, by which time the earlier blue skies had begun to get cloudy, and the air temperature had dropped.

We spent what remained of the afternoon reading and resting until it was time to get ready for the first formal event of the cruise, the ‘Welcome Aboard’ cocktail party. This was held around the Neptune Pool (Deck 10 Midships), which is not the best place to hold a formal event as it is frequently hot and rather humid if the moveable roof is closed, or cold and windy if it is open. Luckily it was neither, and for a change it was quite pleasant there. We listened to the ship’s captain – Captain Ashley Cook – introduce the senior officers, and tell us a little about where we were going and what to expect when we got there.

Once the party was over, Sue and I went down to the Meridian Restaurant for dinner, which was – as usual – of a very high standard. The menu was devised by Marco Pierre White, and included lobster, roast forerib of beef, and Baked Alaska. After dinner we went up to the open deck area near the Aquarius Bar for a chance to get some fresh air before returning to our suite to sleep.

Wednesday 4th September: Kristiansand, Norway
Sue and I woke up whilst Arcadia was still making her way inside the harbour entrance.



It was raining quite heavily, and it looked as if it was not likely to stop for some time to come.


After eating breakfast in the Sindhu Restaurant, we went down to the Reception Desk to collect a copy of the HORIZON daily bulletin. In doing so, we had to negotiate our way around the large number of people who were queuing at the Excursions Desk (Deck 1 Midships) to buy tickets for tours.

We then returned to our suite, where we stayed until 11.00am, hoping that the rain would cease so that we could go ashore without getting soaked. As it was showing no signs of abatement, we went up to the open deck area near the Aquarius Bar for some fresh air and a hot drink from the nearby Belvedere Self Service Restaurant. We had a short chat with one of the other passengers before returning to our suite to keep warm.

By midday the rain seemed to be about to stop … and then it came back with even greater intensity. In the end we decided to postpone any decision about going ashore until after lunch.

At 1.00pm Sue and I went down to the Meridian Restaurant for lunch. We shared a table with two couples who were also experienced cruisers and who had put off going ashore because of the rain. We had finished eating by 2.15pm, and after a quick visit to the Promenade Deck to see what the weather was like – and finding that it had stopped raining – Sue and I decided to go ashore.

It was raining again by the time we had disembarked, but it was not as heavy as it had been, and we were soon walking around the revitalised area around the old fish market.




This area contains many restaurants and cafés and is close to the local marina.




We crossed the bridge that connects the fish market area to the main town of Kristiansand, and in a local park we saw several sand sculptures, some of which had suffered weather damage.




The rain had begun to get heavier, and Sue and I decided to return to Arcadia. We were back aboard and in our suite by just after 3.35pm, and once we had taken off our wet outer clothes, we both had a reviving drink. The rest of the day was spent reading in our suite before it was time to have a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, followed by dinner in the Meridian Restaurant.

Thursday 5th September: Copenhagen, Denmark
Our overnight voyage from Kristiansand to Copenhagen was relatively untroubled, and Arcadia was manoeuvring alongside the quay at Langelinie at 7.30am.



From our balcony we could see a panorama of the city of Copenhagen.




In the distance we could also see another cruise ship …


… the Norwegian Getaway.


Whilst Sue and I were eating breakfast, the weather began to change, and by 9.30am it had begun to rain. In fact, at one point we even had hail landing on the balcony! We decided not to go ashore until things improved, which they had done by 11.00am.

After some discussion, we decided to take the shuttle-bus into the centre of the city as we did not want to risk getting caught in a sudden downpour. The traffic was a lot heavier than we had expected, and it was 11.45am before we had disembarked and were walking towards the main shopping street, the Strøget. We then took a very leisurely stroll up the Strøget







… stopping a several times to investigate shop windows and once to buy some jewellery. Eventually we reached Jorcks Passage …


… where there is a games shop. I bought a couple of dice bags and a set of blank dice (or Platonic Solids). When we left the shop, we found that the rain had started again, and were able to shelter in Jorcks Passage until it stopped … twenty minutes later!

We retraced our steps back down the Strøget and reached the shuttle-bus pickup point just in time to see one leave. It had begun to rain again, but the staff at the pickup point found us somewhere to shelter until the next shuttle-bus arrived.

When we arrived back at Langelinie, Sue and I decided to look at the outlet shops there as it was obvious that the linen jacket I had brought with me was just not capable to keeping me dry and/or warm when it rained. Luckily, we found a Norwegian fleece jacket in my size on sale for Kr.499 (£37.50), and we bought it.

We were back on-board Arcadia by 1.30pm, and after changing into some drier clothes, we went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for lunch. We then ventured out onto the covered deck area near the Aquarius Bar, where we stayed until 2.30pm. Sue and I then returned to our suite … where we read and rested whilst it rained intermittently outside!

During a lull in the rain, a twin-engine seaplane landed nearby, …


… and then taxied to a landing pontoon several hundred metres behind Arcadia.


At 5.30pm, Arcadia slipped her lines and began to sail out of Copenhagen and towards the north in order to sail around the northern end of Zealand before sailing southwards through the Great Belt. The ship took this course in order to avoid having to pass under the Oresund Bridge, which we could see quite clearly on the horizon.


Sue and I had booked dinner in the Ocean Grill Restaurant (Deck 2 Midships), one of the alternative dining venues on Arcadia. We had a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, and by 8.30pm we were seated in the restaurant.

The menu was very extensive, and in the end, we ate the following:

Amuse-Bouche
Mushroom Soup
Starters
Devonshire Crab Cocktail, with Tomato Mayonnaise and Spelt Bread (Sue)
Rillettes of Iberian Pork, with Madeira Gel and Sourdough Toast (Me)
Main Course
16oz Onley Grounds 28-Day Aged Côte de Boeuf, with Madeira Jus, Triple-cooked Chips, Onion Rings, Griller Baby Tomatoes, Asparagus Spears, and Broccoli for two
Dessert
Taster for Two, including Marco’s Warm Chocolate Brownie, Eaton Mess, and Sherry Trifle Wally Ladd
Tea, with Handmade Chocolates in a Sugar Basket

We finished eating just before 10.30pm, and after a chat with several of the staff whom we had met on previous cruises, we went out onto the Promenade Deck for some fresh air … only to discover that it was raining again and the wind was very strong!

By 10.45pm we were back in our suite, where we took our time getting ready for bed because we were both feeling rather full and because the ship was moving about quite a lot thanks to the bad weather.

Friday 6th September: At sea
Overnight the weather improved, and when we awoke at 8.00am, the sun was shining, and Arcadia was sailing off the north coast of Germany.



After eating breakfast in the Sindhu Restaurant, Sue and I paid a visit to the Excursions Desk to check if a tour of St Petersburg that we were on the wait-list for (A tour of the city in a vintage Volga limousine that came with a driver and guide, and that included tea at a five-star hotel) was likely to go ahead. Unfortunately, it wasn’t … so we booked an alternative, which was a tour in a modern car with a driver and guide that did not include a refreshment break.

As the weather looked quite pleasant outside, Sue and I went up to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar for a drink. We stayed there until 10.30am, when we returned to our suite to read. Just before midday we returned to the Aquarius Bar for another drink and then went to the area next to the Neptune Pool, where the ship’s Food and Beverage Department had set up a special ‘light lunch’ buffet. Having selected our food, we then looked for somewhere to sit, but due to the number of people who had opted for this option, we could not find anywhere. In the end we took our food back to our suite, where we were able to eat it in comfort.

At 2.45pm, Sue and I went down to the Promenade Deck for a walk … only to discover that it was raining quite heavily. Luckily, we were able to find somewhere dry to sit, after which we went to the Palladium Theatre to listen to a second talk Patrick Cherry. This dealt with the history of the Hanseatic League and proved to be much more interesting that we had expected. This talk ended at 4.15pm, and we returned to our suite after walking along the now dry Promenade Deck.

The second formal dinner of the cruise took place that evening, and we decided to have a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar. It was still raining, but not very heavily, and we were able to sit under cover and chat with another passenger. At 8.30pm we went down to the Meridian Restaurant to eat and had returned to the Aquarius Bar two hours later for some fresh air before going back to our suite to get ready for bed.

Saturday 7th September: At sea
Overnight the ship’s clocks were put forward another hour as we were going to pass into another time zone. When we awoke at 8.00am, Arcadia was in the middle of the Baltic, with Gotland to port and Lithuania to starboard.



After a light breakfast in the Sindhu Restaurant, Sue and I went down to the Reception Desk to collect another copy of HORIZON before going up to the Aquarius Bar. It was quite cold up there, and we only stayed for about fifteen minutes before we returned to our suite to read until it was time to get ready for the midday Peninsular Club Lunch in the Meridian Restaurant.

This was a special lunch for regular cruiser passengers, and forms part of the reward package for loyal customers. Each table is hosted by a senior member of the ship’s staff, and on this occasion our host was the ship’s Staff Chief Engineer, the most senior member of the engineering team.

The menu was specially created by the ship’s Executive Chef, and we ate the following:

Starters
Crispy Fried Goat Cheese & Prosciutto, with Honey Figs, Vinicotto, and Spiced Whole Almonds (Sue)
Chicken and Chickpea Soup, with Brioche Croûtons (Me)
Sorbet
Raspberry Sorbet
Main Course
Poached Loch Duarte Salmon Supreme, with English Peas, Chorizo and Tomato Dressing, and Crushed New Potatoes (Sue)
Roasted New Zealand Rack of Lamb, with Crispy Bacon and Onion Potato Cake, Glazed Parsnips, and Lamb Jus (Me)
Dessert
Cheeseboard, with a selection of Regional, British, and Continental Cheese with Biscuits (Sue)
Warm Flourless Chocolate Pudding, with White Chocolate Fudge and Coffee Ice Cream (Me)

Our table companions were two couples, one from Scotland and the other from Lincolnshire, and the proved to be excellent company, so much so that we were almost the last table to leave the restaurant. Sue and I then went for a walk on the Promenade Deck to get some fresh air, and despite the light rain that was falling, it was quite pleasant on deck under cover.

We were back in our suite by 2.30pm … and then we crashed out for a couple of hours, with periods of reading interspersed with the occasional snooze. By 5.00pm we were both feeling in need of a break, and even though it had been raining during the afternoon, we were able to go out onto our balcony for a breath of fresh air.

Although neither of us was feeling particularly hungry, we did manage to eat dinner in the Meridian Restaurant at 8.30pm, having had a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar beforehand. We went straight back to our suite after dinner, and prepared what we would nee ashore in Russia before going to sleep.

Sunday 8th September: St Petersburg, Russia
Arcadia had moored in the large St Petersburg Cruise Terminal during the early hours of the morning.



Just behind Arcadia was the MV Marina


… and across the harbour was the MV Sapphire Princess.


We were awake even earlier than normal so that we had plenty of time to pass through the immigration checks and be inside the terminal by 9.00am …


… for our first tour of the day, which was in a private car that came with its own driver and a guide. Our guide and driver – along with a Mercedes limousine – were waiting for us, and somewhat ahead of schedule, we set off.

Our first stop was at the Field of Mars …


… which was originally the parade ground for the Imperial Guard regiments, but which is now a public park that contains several monuments and an eternal flame that commemorate those who died during the various revolutions up to and including the October Revolution of 1917.



When then ventured across the road to the Summer Gardens that were created for Peter the Great.


Outside the very small Summer Palace that Peter the Great had built in one corner of the gardens is a statue that commemorates the Russian victory over the Swedes in the eighteenth century.


The palace only had seven rooms on each of its two floors and was originally accessible by boat. The mooring has now been filled in and serves as a patio outside the main entrance to the palace.


The gardens are famous for their numerous fountains, …





… the Chinese-style pond, …


… its varied statuary, …



… and tree-lined paths.


The gardens were a haven of peace, and when inside, one had difficulty realising that one was in the centre of a large and very busy city.

The next stop on our tour was the Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood, which was built on the site of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. The outside of the church is undergoing restoration …


… but the inside – which is almost entirely covered in intricate mosaics that are so fine that they look like paintings – is magnificent.











The latest icon to be added to the church is of the last Imperial family, whose bodies are now buried just across the River Neva in the Peter and Paul Cathedral.


We then drove to Finland Station, …


… which has a garden full of fountains in front of it, …



… and a statue of Lenin. (This is referred to by the locals as ‘Lenin hails a cab’ but is supposed to depict him atop the turret of an armoured car.)



Our final stop was on the other side of the River Neva. The Alexandrovsky Park is situated behind the Artillery Museum, and not far from the Peter and Paul Fortress. Within the park is a sculpture of all the main architects who designed and built St Petersburg …



… and detailed models (in 100th-scale) of the city’s most important buildings. These include the Kazan Cathedral, …


… the old General Staff Building, Palace Square, and the Winter Palace, …




… the Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood, …



… the Peter and Paul Cathedral, …


… the old Stock Exchange with the Rostral Columns outside it, …



… and St Isaac’s Cathedral …



The tour returned to the ship at 12.45pm, and after thanking our guide and driver – both of whom had done a magnificent job – Sue and I went inside the cruise terminal for a quick look at the shops before we went back aboard Arcadia.

The immigration checks were thorough and swift, and by 1.00pm we had dropped our stuff off in our suite and were on our way up to the Aquarius Bar for a drink. This was followed by a snack lunch from the Neptune Grill, another drink in the Aquarius Bar, and then a spell chilling out in our suite.

At 5.00pm Sue and I went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for snack prior to getting ready to go back ashore for an evening visit to the Hermitage Museum. We went ashore in plenty of time and were seated on our coach by just after 6.00pm. Unfortunately, we did not leave until 6.30pm as one person who had booked a place on the tour did not turn up, and we had to wait to find out if they were coming. This was not a major problem, as the traffic on the main roads was lighter than it had been earlier in the day, and by 7.00pm we were queued up outside the entrance to the museum, waiting to go in.


Once we had all passed through the security checks, we ascended the stairs to the first floor.




We then passed through several large rooms that had once been used for formal Imperial state ceremonies and occasions.



We eventually reached a gallery that was dedicated to the generals who defeated Napoleon.



Amongst the larger portraits was one of the Duke of Wellington …


… and General Barclay de Tolly.


We then passed through another impressive room …



… and then entered the room where the Peacock Clock is on display.


The windows in the room also overlooked the roof garden.


Our tour then entered the part of the museum where many of the major works of art owned by the museum are on display.


These included an entire corridor gallery that was copied from one in the Vatican.



The museum’s collection of Rembrandt paintings almost took one’s breath away, especially when one realises that they were bought as a cheap job-lot by Catherine the Great!


Our tour ended in a room that was decorated with Italian works of art. There we were entertained by the Festival Orchestra of St Petersburg …


… that was conducted by Valentin Bogdanov.


The musical programme comprised:

Overture to ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
‘Pavane’ by Gabriel-Urbain Faure
Overture to ‘The Barber of Seville’ by Giochino Antonio Rossini
Intermezzo from ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ by Pietro Mascagni
Hungarian Dance No.5 by Johannes Brahms
‘Sunrise at the Moscow River’ by Mussorgsky
‘The Blue Danube’ by Johann Strauss

Once the concert was over, we returned downstairs, …


and attended a short champagne reception in one of the large ground floor rooms.


We then went outside, where our coach was waiting, and by 10.00pm we were back aboard Arcadia … and on our way to the late-night buffet via our suite.

After having something to eat and drink, Sue and I returned to our suite feeling exhausted. We even decided to switch off our alarm clocks and have a lie in, and by 11.30pm we were both sound asleep.

Monday 9th September: St Petersburg, Russia
Despite planning to have a lie in, we were both fully awake by 7.00am, and by 8.45am we were eating a light breakfast in the Sindhu Restaurant. After breakfast we collected a copy of HORIZON from the Reception Desk before going up to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar for some fresh air. From there we could see that another cruise liner – the MV Norwegian Getaway – had moored where MV Sapphire Princess had been on the previous day.


By 10.00am we were back in our suite, where we stayed reading and resting until just before 11.30am. Sue and I went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant to see what was available for us to eat for an early lunch, but as they were still serving breakfast, we went out to the Neptune Grill, where we both ate a cheeseburger.

We went ashore at 11.45am, and after doing some shopping in some of the terminal’s souvenir shops, we joined coach that was to take us on a tour that included a river cruise on the River Neva and a visit to the Yusupov Palace. It was raining quite heavily as the coach left the cruise terminal, but the rain had stopped by the time we reached the river cruise boarding pontoon near the Admiralty Building.


Our cruise took us past the Winter Palace, …


… the old Stock Exchange and the Rostral Columns, …


… and the Peter and Paul Fortress, and its associated cathedral.



We were just about able to see the cruiser Aurora


… and her foremost gun, which is reputed to have fired the signal to storm the Winter Palace, …


… although this might not be totally true!

The cruise boat then turned towards Peter the Great’s Summer Gardens …


… before going under the oldest stone bridge in St Petersburg …


… which is located next to Peter the Great’s Summer Palace.




As we sailed along the Fountain Canal, so named because it supplied the water used by the fountains in the Summer Gardens, we passed one of the Garden’s tea houses.


The cruise boat then turned right, and we sailed past Michael’s Castle, which is also known as Engineer’s Castle, having been – in turn – a royal residence for a prince who was assassinated almost as soon as he moved into his newly built impregnable palace, and then the home of the Imperial Army’s engineers.


Soon after passing the end of a canal that led back to the River Neva, …


… the cruise boat turned around and we returned to the boarding pontoon. We disembarked, and re-boarded our coach, which took us to the Yusupov Palace.

The Yusupov Palace is famous for belonging to the richest family in Imperial Russia and as the location of the murder of Rasputin. After waiting in one of the smaller rooms in the palace …


… we descended a flight of narrow stairs to the basement. In the first room we visited, there was a tableau depicting the preparations for the murder of Rasputin.



The next room contained a second tableau which showed the second attempt to kill Rasputin using poisoned sweets and finally a pistol.




An adjoining room contained several photographs that depicted the life of Prince Yusupov after Rasputin’s murder …


… as well as one of Rasputin’s dead body after it was recovered from the River Neva.


Before leaving the palace, our tour went through several rooms used by the Yusupov family.







Along the way we were treated to a short programme of acapella music that was performed by four singers.


We then made our way through one of the rooms in the house that was used to display the family’s collection of paintings …


… before visiting the palace’s small theatre …


… which included its own box for members of the Imperial family when they visited to watch a private performance.


By the time we emerged from the palace to return to the ship, we were already thirty minutes late, and we did not get back to the cruise terminal until 5.30pm … by which time Arcadia was supposed to have sailed. As it was, our tour was not the last to return, and Arcadia did not leave until 6.30pm.

This late departure meant that the ship did not pass Kronstadt until nearly 8.00pm, and this made it difficult – but not impossible – to take some photographs of the Russian Navy’s ships that were in port.

Sue and I managed to have a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar before we ate our evening meal in the Meridian Restaurant. Once we had eaten, we then went up to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar to rest in the fresh air before returning to our suite for a much-needed sleep.

Tuesday 10th September: Tallinn, Estonia
During the night we were awoken by an announcement about a medical emergency. Despite this, Sue and I managed to sleep quite well, and we only woke up as the ship moored alongside the dock in Tallinn.



The Old Town of Tallinn dominates the surrounding area, and the spires of its numerous churches show the importance of religion has had to the city’s history.



Sue and I went ashore just after 10.00am and caught the shuttle-bus into the centre of the city. It dropped us off a few hundred metres from the road that led up to one of the ancient city gateways.


A section of the restored city walls could be seen down one of the nearby side streets.


Sue and I walked uphill towards the main square, …


… although we took a minor diversion in order to look at examples of the local architecture …


… and the rebuilt St Nicholas Church.


(The original church was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War, and the building was rebuilt and restored in the 1980s. It now functions as a museum dedicated to religious art.)

It only took us a few minutes to reach the main square in the centre of Tallinn, three sides of which is made up of ancient houses, most of which now serve as hotels and restaurants.


The fourth side is occupied by the eight-hundred-year-old Town Hall.


Sue and I then explored several of the streets leading off the main square (and doing some souvenir shopping along the way) …


… and came across Maiasmokk, the oldest coffee shop in the city.


By this time, it was getting quite warm, and Sue and I decided to return to the ship. We caught the shuttle-bus back to the harbour, and by midday we were drinking cold drinks in the Aquarius Bar.

Suitably refreshed, we returned ashore to pay a visit to the local craft and souvenir market …


… where some further shopping took place!

We finally returned on board Arcadia just before 2.00pm, and after a quick visit to our suite, we went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for a snack lunch. This was followed by another drink in the Aquarius Bar, after which we again returned to our suite. We read and rested until it was time for Arcadia to leave Tallinn at 4.30pm, at which point we went out on our balcony to watch the unmooring take place.

Whilst we were out on the balcony, a minesweeper of the Estonian Navy was sailing towards the country’s main naval base …


… at the same time as the local Tallink Shuttle ferry Star was leaving port.


Sue and I then read until it was time to get ready for our second dinner in the Ocean Grill Restaurant. The food was excellent as usual, and we ate:

Amuse-Bouche
Carrot and Orange Soup
Starters
H Forman & Son’s London Cured Cinnamon and Citrus Salmon, with Avocado Salad
Main Course
Battered Salt & Pepper Dover Sole Goujons, with Marco’s Great Chips, Minted Crusted Pea Fritter, and Homemade Tartare Sauce (Sue)
Truffle Roast Black Leg Chicken, with Wild Mushrooms, Chateau Potatoes, Greens, Crackling, and Real Chicken Gravy (Me)
Dessert
Champagne, Rhubarb and Custard Cheesecake, with Breton Shortbread (Sue)
Banana & Caramel Eton Mess, with Chantilly Cream and Rum & Raisin Ice Cream (Me)
Tea, with Handmade Chocolates in a Sugar Basket

In some ways this was an even more enjoyable meal that the one we had eaten in the Ocean Grill Restaurant earlier in the cruise. After leaving the restaurant, Sue and I went out onto the Promenade Deck, only to discover that it was raining yet again! We therefore returned to our suite and spent some time reading before getting ready for bed.

Wednesday 11th September: Riga, Latvia
Overnight Arcadia experienced a prolonged spell of bad weather, and as a result, the ship’s movement was quite violent at times. It certainly woke us up several times, and when we finally awoke at 7.30am, we were both still feeling tired.



By 8.00am Arcadia was alongside the quay in Riga.


Sue and I were booked on a tour around Riga that included a refreshment break in a local hotel. We ate breakfast in the Sindhu Restaurant, and after a quick visit to the Reception Desk and a short spell on the Promenade Deck, we went ashore to join our coach tour.

The first stop was at the Freedom Monument …



… which is in a park …




… near the Latvian National Opera House.


The second stop was in the Town Hall Square. As we walked there from where the coach had dropped us off, we passed a statue of the Latvian Riflemen that dated back to the Soviet era.


This made an interesting contrast with the statue of St Roland that had been erected in the square.


The main building we looked at in the square was the so-called House of Blackheads, which was located just behind the statue of St Roland.





This dated back to the days of the Hanseatic League, when younger, unmarried merchants who were not yet established would meet and indulge themselves. They wore black caps to identify themselves ... hence the name, the House of Blackheads.

The coach then took us to Riga Castle, which serves as the home of the country’s President. It is currently under restoration.





The more modern part of the castle faces onto Castle Square, where the first stone-built Catholic church in Riga – the Church of Our Lady of Sorrow – was built.


The square also contains some excellent examples of local buildings.


Our coach then took us across the River Daugava to the Islande Hotel (a former student dormitory block!) where we were able to sample some local savoury and sweet dishes and sample the local Riga Black Balsam drink … if you wanted to! (It looked like diesel oil and smelt of a mixture of strong alcohol and herbs … so I decline the opportunity to try it.)

We had returned aboard by 1.30pm, and after a drink in the Aquarius Bar, Sue and I had a snack lunch in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant. We returned to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar for a time after lunch before going down to our suite to read and rest.

When Arcadia left Riga at 5.30pm, we went out on our balcony to watch the ship’s progress down the river. Because of the high wind, Arcadia needed two tugs to help her move away from her berth.



Once Arcadia had turned around, we were clearly able to see the older part of the city …


… and the main road bridge over the River Daugava.


It eventually became too cold to stay on the balcony, so Sue and I retired inside and did not go outside our suite until it was time to go for a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar. As it was a ‘tropical’ night aboard ship, we both wore appropriately decorated clothing, as had many of the other passengers as well as most of the crew.

After dinner Sue and I went out onto the Promenade Deck, but the wind was quite cold, and we only stayed there a short time. On getting back to our suite we found two surprises waiting for us; an invitation to attend a special tea for the twenty most travelled passengers and tickets for a tour to Wismar which had previously been fully booked, and which I particularly wanted to go on*.

Thursday 12th September: At sea
Although we had expected a quite night, the weather was not as good as predicted, and both Sue and I woke up at various times during the night. It had improved somewhat by the time we got up, although the sky was rather grey.



After breakfast and a short spell on the Promenade Deck, Sue and I went to a specially organised Russian-themed sales event in the Meridian Restaurant. It was like a rugby scrum, with passengers pushing and shoving each other to find a ‘bargain’. From the cursory look that we had at what was on sale, it all looked overpriced and of no better quality that what we had seen on sale in St Petersburg.

We returned to our suite and stayed there until it was just before 11.00am. Sue and I then went to the Palladium Theatre to listen to an ‘Audience with Captain Ashley Cook’. This took the form of an interview, which was conducted by the Entertainments Manager. It was very interesting, and the captain proved to have a varied career on his way to becoming the captain of one of P&O’s cruise ships.

We then went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for a cup of tea, after which we went out to the covered deck area near the Aquarius Bar. We sat there chatting until 12.30pm, and then went down to our suite to read until it was time to eat lunch.

As we had been invited to attend an afternoon tea organised by the Cruise & Loyalty Team, Sue and I decided to go to the sandwich bar near the Neptune Pool for lunch. We arrived there at 1.45pm and ate some freshly made baguettes. We also had a drink, which we took with us when we went out to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar. Sue and I then chatted with another passenger for quite some time and did not return to our suite until 3.15pm.

At 4.00pm we went down to the Meridian Restaurant for the ‘Top Twenty Most Travelled’ afternoon tea. This proved to be an interesting event, and we met several people who had been on even more cruises than we had.

Sue and I were back in our suite by just after 5.00pm, and after reading and resting for a while, we began the leisurely process of getting ready for the third formal dinner of the cruise. Just after 6.00pm, Captain Cook made an announcement about Arcadia’s arrival in Warnemünde. Apparently the weather ahead of the ship – and in particular, the wind speed and direction – was beginning to change, and that unless he managed to get Arcadia alongside by 4.30am rather than at 8.00am as planned, docking might be too difficult, even with the assistance of two Pilots and two tugs.

We had our usual pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, and then made our way down to the Meridian Restaurant. After dinner and a short time on the Promenade Deck, Sue and I returned to our cabin to get ready for the tour we were going on to Wismar.

Friday 13th September: Warnemünde, Germany
Surprisingly, Sue and I both managed to sleep better than we had expected, although we both woke up when the ship docked in Warnemünde, turned over, and went back to sleep.



When we finally got up at 7.30am, rain was falling, and it made the whole place look rather dull and uninteresting.



Arcadia was moored behind another cruise ship, the MV Marina, …


… which we had last seen in St Petersburg.

As we had pre-booked champagne breakfast in our cabin so that we could sit on our balcony and watch the sail in to Warnemünde (which had taken place whilst we were still asleep!), we did not go up to the Sindhu Restaurant for breakfast as we usually did. Instead we ate as much as we could of the huge breakfast that was delivered to our cabin at 8.00am. (The breakfast included a plate of fruit, a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, and a fruit yoghurt each plus a plateful of cheese, ham, and salami as well as a selection of croissants and pastries, all washed down with a half bottle of champagne!)

Stuffed to the gills, we got ready to go on the tour that we had booked to Wismar, and by 10.00am, Sue and I were seated on the Promenade Deck, hoping that the weather was going to improve. Whilst we were sitting there, a Latvian Navy minesweeper (the Talivaldis (M-06)) sailed past Arcadia, heading in the direction of Rostock.


We joined our tour coach at 10.30am, and within fifteen minutes it was on its way towards Wismar.

The journey to Wismar took just under an hour, and the first stop was in the town’s main square.






Our walking tour then took us towards St Mary’s Church. As we did so, we passed one of the buildings that had been badly damaged during the Second World War, but which had been restored to its original condition.



Only the tower of St Mary’s Church remains. Most of it was destroyed by Allied incendiary bombs, and the walls were demolished in the 1960s. The tower remains, however, and serves as a local landmark.


Just along the road from the church tower was the former palace of the Dukes of Mecklenburg, which is now used as the local courthouse.


Next door to the former palace is the Church of St George.


This was also badly damaged by Allied bombs, but is currently being restored, a process that began in 1990.


After visiting the church, we continued our tour through local streets that were lined with restored old buildings …


… until we reached the Church of the Holy Ghost, to which was attached a medieval hospital. The inside of the church was very impressive, and it was lucky to have survived undamaged during the Second World War and the period of Communist rule.










Opposite the church was the former house of Hans H Schumacher, which built in a very different style that contrasted with the older building around it.


Our guide then gave us some free time to wander around on our own in the pedestrianised area in the centre of Wismar …





… before taking us towards the harbour. Along the way we cross one of the local canals …


… and gave us the opportunity to look at the Church of St Nicholas.


The canal from the harbour into the town had a water gate or toll house that was built in around 1450.


Our final stop of the tour was the only remaining brewery in Wismar.


At one time Wismar had been famous for its beer, and had had over 180 such breweries, but with industrialisation, the smaller breweries could not compete and they all eventually closed down. This one was revived in the 1990s and brews a variety of beers, tow of which we were able to sample.


Just across the road from the brewery was the Old Harbour …


… where an old cannon was on display …


… amidst more restored Hanseatic-style buildings.


The drive back from Wismar to Warnemünde took just over an hour, and when we got back, Sue and I decided to walk into the town to have a quick look around.


It proved to be a very lively place, and a typical seaside resort, …


… and we decided that if we ever returned to Warnemünde, we would spend some more time there.

By the time we got back from our walk into Warnemünde, Sue and I were very thirsty, and after a detour via our suite to drop off our coats, bags, and cameras, we went up to the Aquarius Bar for a drink.

We returned to our suite by 5.30pm, the time when Arcadia was due to depart, and had only just got comfortable when the captain made a special announcement. Apparently, the ship’s satellite link – which is housed in a large dome amidships – was due for replacement, and an opportunity had arisen to do this during the time that the ship would be in Southampton. As a result, Arcadia would be arriving back in Southampton at 11.30pm on Sunday evening and not 6.30am on Monday morning. Passengers would therefore spend the last night of the cruise in Southampton, and would be able to disembark as normal on Monday morning.

As this meant that we were guaranteed a last night of undisturbed sleep, Sue and I were quite happy with the situation, although some passengers did complain that they could not get off on Sunday, but had to remain on the ship until Monday morning.

Although we were both feeling rather tried, we decided to go to dinner in the Meridian Restaurant, and after a reviving drink in the Aquarius Bar, we did so. After dinner, Sue and I had a short spell on deck before returning to our suite to sleep.

Saturday 14th September: At sea
By the time we woke up at 7.30am, Arcadia was already well on her way up the east coast of Denmark, heading for Skagen, the country’s most northerly point.



Sue and I ate breakfast in the Sindhu Restaurant, and then went to the Palladium Theatre to listen to Patrick Cherry’s talk entitled ‘Fisher, Dogger, German Bight – The UK Shipping Forecast Map’. This was a short history of meteorology in the UK and the development of the British shipping forecast. It was full of anecdotes about the main shipping areas, and explained how the got their names.

By the time that the talk finished at 10.50am, Sue and I were feeling thirsty and in need of some fresh air, so we went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant to get ourselves something to drink, which we took out to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar. Once we had finished, we returned to our suite to read and rest before it was time to eat lunch.

Sue and I decided to try to find space near the Neptune Grill so that we could get lunch there. Luckily, a table became vacant as we arrived there at 1.50pm, and we were able to get a sustaining snack from the Neptune Grill. Afterwards we went out into the covered area near the Aquarius Bar, where we had a long chat with a passenger we had got to know quite well during the cruise.

We were back in our suite by 3.00pm, but went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for a cup of tea at 4.00pm, and then out into the covered area near the Aquarius Bar, where we stayed until 4.30pm. After returning to our suite, we remained there until it was time to go to the Peninsular Club Cocktail Party in the Crow’s Nest Bar. During the period from 4.30pm until 8.00pm when we went to the party, the sea conditions became worse, and the ship began to experience a considerable amount of erratic and often violent movement.

After the party – during which we had an interesting conversation with one of the junior engineering officers – we went down to the Meridian Restaurant for the last formal dinner of the cruise. At 9.30pm, the ship’s Chefs and the main Galley Brigade paraded through the restaurant, accompanied by suitable musical accompaniment. (The music used was ‘Tonight’s going to be a good night’.) After dinner – which left us both feeling rather full – Sue and I went up to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar to sit in the fresh air until we felt ready to go back to our suite to sleep.

Sunday 15th September: At sea
Overnight the ship continued to sail back towards the UK at approximately 18 knots, which, when combined with the prevailing sea conditions, meant that there was quite a lot of movement. This woke us up at least twice during the night, but as the ship’s clocks had gone back an hour overnight, the extra hour of sleep more than compensated for it.

By 7.45am, Arcadia was off the north-west coast of the Netherlands, and looked likely to reach the English Channel by late afternoon or early evening.



Sue and I ate breakfast in the Sindhu Restaurant, after which we went to the Reception Desk to collect a copy of HORIZON, followed by a visit to shops to buy some chocolates to give to members of the ship’s crew. We took these back to our suite before making our way up to the covered deck area near the Aquarius Bar.

After a brief spell in our suite reading, Sue and I returned to the covered deck area near the Aquarius Bar for a mid-morning drink and a chat with other passengers. Sue and I returned to our suite at 11.30am to begin the process of packing, and this was finished by just after 1.00pm. We then relaxed for about an hour before going up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for lunch.

As it was quite sunny, Sue and I ventured out on deck for a while before returning to our suite … just in time to realise that we were beginning to approach the coast of Kent. Although it was some way off, we could see the cliffs and one of the lightships that mark the dangerous sandbanks in this part of the Channel.


At 3.30pm the Officer of the Watch made an announcement that Arcadia was passing through the narrowest part of the Dover Straits …


… and it was possible to see Dover Castle …



… and the old Chain Home radar masts atop the White Cliffs.



As the afternoon turned into evening, we could see the south coast of England just a few miles away to starboard. By 5.00pm, five of our six bags had been left outside our suite for collection, with the sixth to be packed for collection from outside our suite after we had gone to bed.

Sue and I went to the Aquarius Bar for our last pre-dinner drink of the cruise before going down to the Meridian Restaurant for dinner. After dinner – and before going back to our suite – we said goodbye to the waiters who had served us so well during the cruise. We also took a turn on deck to get some fresh air, and to watch the lights of Southampton and the Isle of Wight as Arcadia began to sail towards her berth.

By 10.30pm – when Sue and I finally turned in for the night – Arcadia had picked up a Pilot from the Nab Tower, and was already sailing along the north coast of the Isle of Wight.



Monday 16th September: Southampton
Arcadia was moored at the Mayflower Cruise Terminal by just after midnight, and once she was secured alongside, there was so little movement that one would have thought that one was sleeping in a hotel room and not a suite aboard a cruise liner.


Sue and I woke up at just after 6.30am, and began the process of getting ourselves ready to disembark. After eating our last breakfast of the cruise in the Sindhu Restaurant and saying goodbye to the staff who had served us, we picked up our hand luggage from our suite, and went to our disembarkation assembly point, which was the Globe Lounge and Bar (Deck 2 Midships).

By the time we got to the Globe Lounge and Bar at 8.20am, almost everyone had already left to disembark. Sue and I followed them out to the gangway, and by 8.30am we were in the baggage reclaim hall looking for our bags. For the first time we can remember, most of our bags were close together, and by 8.45am we were through Customs and collecting our car from the valet parking service.

Because the Southampton Boat Show was taking place, we had to take a different route out of the dock from the one we usually take. Despite this diversion, we were soon on the M271 and on our way to the junction with the M3. During our drive home, we stopped off at Winchester Services to buy some food from M&S Simply Food and to have a short comfort break. The rest of our journey was uneventful, and we reached home at 11.20am, less than three hours after leaving Southampton.

* Before my father’s dementia became too bad, I promised him that I would visit Wismar if the opportunity ever arose. 6th Airborne Division – with whom he served – was sent there on at the express wish of Winston Churchill and Field Marshal Montgomery to prevent units of Marshal Rokossovsky’s 2nd Belorussian Front from reaching Denmark. They got to Wismar just ahead of the Russians, and after an uneasy confrontation, both sides waited until for their respective government’s sort the situation out. As a result, it is where he was on VE Day. In the end, the 6th Airborne Division had to withdraw as Wismar had been allocated to the Russian sector. This took several days, during which time many of the local inhabitants fled westward before the Russians moved in.

The situation during the 6th Airborne Division’s occupation of Wismar was marked by two events. The first occurred when several drunken Russian soldiers tried to enter the town with the intention of ‘entertaining’ some of the local women. When their entry was refused, they levelled their guns and prepared to fire at the British Paratroopers who were stopping them. The Paras responded by opening fire, and several Russians were killed.

As a result of this confrontation, both Field Marshal Montgomery and Marshal Rokossovsky met in Wismar and were given a gun salute fired by my father’s unit, 53rd Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery (Worcestershire Yeomanry). This was intended to smooth over the situation and was a precursor to the British withdrawal from Wismar.

During my cruise I did some reading, including:
  • BERLIN by Antony Beevor
  • THE GIRL WHO LIVED TWICE by David Lagercrantz
  • OPERATION BARBAROSSA by David M Glantz
  • FIGHTERS OVER THE FLEET by Norman Friedman
  • THE SHIP by C S Forester

6 comments:

  1. Hi Bob,
    Well- with this Cruise you and Sue certainly did cover a great deal of territory- have enjoyed your photographs Bob and I must say you've done a great job of presenting everything. It would be hard to top this Cruise for variety and grandness- pity you encountered a lot of rain at the beginnings of your journey. Thanks for posting. Regards.KEV.

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    1. Kev Robertson (Kev),

      It was our fourth visit to the Baltic, but our first time in Riga and Warnemunde. We usually go earlier in the year when the weather is generally better, but considering the fact that it was September, the rain was to be expected.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. Bob, was your visit to the Hermitage some kind of special deal where you were let in after the normal closing time? Maybe a loyalty bonus as they clearly could not offer this to a whole liner full of passangers.

    I ask because the museum looked remarkably empty - and civilized - when it is normally a seething mass of people at this time of year (something the local guides blame on the mass of tourists from the cruise ships, this being a very popular way to get a glimpse of Russia without going through the messy rigmarole of getting a visa).

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    1. Mike Hall,

      This was an exclusive P&O tour (there were only 60 people on the tour), and took place after the museum had closed. It wasn't cheap ... but it did mean that we had the museum to ourselves. The ship's captain accompanied us as tour escort, and I understand that he did so because this tour only takes place occasionally.

      The tour guides are right about the Hermitage Museum being overcrowded due to tourists. If you are on an organised tour, you enter the museum an hour earlier than the normal public. When we drove past the museum on our private car tour, the queue to get in ran along the length of the front of the building.

      The car tour was expensive, but we got to see things normal tours don't cover. The guide we had was very knowledgeable (his normal day job was teaching English at St Petersburg University) and he recommended that the next time we go back, that we go to Pavlosk, which is as beautiful as Catherine's and Peterhof Palaces, but much less crowded as it isn't included on most tours.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Fantastic trip Bob. Some amazing sights. Great set of photographs.

    I was half expecting to see that church in Copenhagen that is modelled on the famous churches of the Duchy of Tradgardland.

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    1. Nundanket,

      Cheers! It was a very enjoyable cruise, and one that we may well repeat in the future.

      We did see some of the churches whose style has been copied from those seen in Tradgardland, but unfortunately we did not photograph any of them.

      All the best,

      Bob

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