Sunday, September 4, 2011

Stockholm, and a Smidge of Helsinki

Stockholm, the land of the Nobel Prize (well, all except the Peace Prize, which apparently was given to Norway as a sign of friendship). Our ship's approach to the city involved about four hours of navigating thousands of islands that surround the city. The Captain opened up the helipad to guests to allow us front row views of the amazing scenery as we ventured slowly through the islands. As always, I'll pass along the disclaimer that there are pictures forthcoming.

Stockholm is made up of the mainland, and 14 surrounding islands, the smallest of which is just big enough to fit a hotel. The "Old City" dates to the 1200s, though the oldest buildings still standing date to about 1400 or so. Its a constitutional monarchy and has one House of Parliament (though, the House of Lords still meets once a year for social functions).

To backtrack just a bit, I should tell you that we were slated to take a Segway tour in Germany (none of us have ridden one before). Apparently, we were the only three people who booked the Segway tour, so it got cancelled. Sad. So yesterday morning, we show up in the theatre, tickets in hand, excited about our Stockholm tour...Sweet Stockholm. It involved a tour of the city, of course, but also a visit to a chocolate shop. Chocolate, people. Best tour ever. When we got up to the table, there were three stickers left. I asked the guy, "Are we the last three to check in?" His response? "You're the ONLY three. We would have cancelled it, but we'd already cancelled your Segway tour and didn't want to do that to you again." The result? Private tour!

So we loaded up the mini-bus, Kent, Margaret, myself, our tour guide and the bus driver, and set off to the city. After navigating through a bit of the city, getting a brief history, and making our way to the first stop: Chokladfabriken. Here, we learned how chocolate is made, including the difference between dark, milk and white choclate, and sampled a good bit of each, as well as six chocolate truffles. Of course, I brought some home.

Next, our mini-bus took us to the Royal Palace, where we walked around the Gamla Stan, the oldest part of the city. We wandered with our tour guide, who obviously was used to having a much larger group, as any time one of us wandered off in the slightest, he'd draw us back in. He shared with us the history of the city, and the Royal Family. Following our city tour, we had a bit of free time to shop, and then our tour guide bought us a delicious Swedish pastry before we made the short trip back to the ship.

Following dinner that night, Margaret and I decided to play some craps (you know me and my love of the game), while Kent played some slots. Just when we had finished losing my gambling budget for the night, we saw Sue, our Cruise Director, walk out of the casino. At this point, Margaret and I literally ran after her, shouting her name. We then invited her and the Hotel Director Julian to dinner, since its just the three of us sitting at a table for eight. Unfortunately, there wasn't a night that the two of them will be able to join us, but they did join us for drinks before dinner one night.

The following day, we arrived in Helsinki, which I'm sure was beautiful, but so far, its the one day that has been a complete wash-out. We briefly walked through the city, walked through the church on Senate Hill, and went back, wet, to the ship. I'm afraid there's not a whole lot I can share about Helsinki, except that, when we were there, it was the beginning of classes at the universities. So all first-year students were being initiated, which meant they were dressed in animal costumes and performing random tasks throughout the city. It was all very odd.

Coming up will be St. Petersburg, though I'm not sure I'll get that post done before the end of the cruise. There's so much to talk about, so many stories to share. And, really, I haven't shared much of anything about the cruise itself.

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