Written by Keith and Audrey Wilson.
We flew Northwest business class to Frankfort. It was our first business class trip so I made a lot of notes. First, the new seats were installed that allowed you to recline to a bed level if you wished. I never did get back quite that far but appreciated the fact I could change my body’s attitude at the touch of a switch. In addition they had lumbar support and massage built in which Audrey used extensively. We also had personal TVs which neither of us used but which offered a number of movies and different categories of music. There were 30 seats in business class and a single restroom which was also utilized by less fortunate passengers. This resulted in occasional competition for the facilities.
We had four very small glasses of chardonnay before dinner that consisted of beef tenderloin, tender but too well cooked. Overall it was a good meal with lots of coffee. We arrived at Frankfurt at 1:30 a.m. US time and 7:30 a.m. German time. I managed to get about 1½ hours of sleep and Audrey about the same.
We had to clear customs so we took the skyway to the other terminal. This involved an electric train that operated above the terminals and was quite fast and comfortable. We cleared customs with little problem and made it to our flight to Stockholm.
We took a train from the airport to the City, a trip that took about 20 minutes and cost 100 krona each. We ended up about 1½ blocks from our hotel, the Radisson Royal Viking and took a cab which also cost 100 krona. Stockholm has a zone system for cabs similar to that in Washington so travel anywhere within a single zone is the same price.
The hotel was nice but not air conditioned, as we learned is the usual case in Scandinavian countries. We checked into the hotel and went to our room that was on the small side but otherwise comfortable. Once in the room we found we couldn’t turn on the lights and hunted all over for the reason. We finally found a slot near the door where you had to enter your room pass to turn on the electricity. This is also standard in area hotels.
We walked around town a bit but Audrey’s shoes were bothering her so we didn’t get far. We did notice a MacDonald’s directly across the street from the Hotel as well as a 7/11 store in the next block. We thought it would be appropriate to have dinner at Mac’s but we also learned we were visiting in the middle of the prime holiday of the year, Summerfest, which celebrates the summer equinox. As a result, MacDonald’s closed at 6:00 p.m. and we were denied the opportunity to have dinner there.
We spent some time in the lobby looking at people walking by. Quite casual dress was in evidence as was the fact there were very many very blonde people and many of the girls were especially attractive. Audrey watched for blonde hair while I also noted other characteristics and was not surprised at the many there were. In fact, I can flatly and honestly state I have never seen so many very lovely girls and women as I saw in Stockholm. If only I had made that discovery 60 years ago!
The next morning we had a breakfast buffet that came with the room, also something that is apparently the custom in Scandinavia.. The buffet is open from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. so we had a full breakfast and then about 11:00 a.m. a sandwich. We took a bus tour and were greatly impressed with the City. We liked the architecture and the fact the City was almost obsessively clean. The City consists of 14 islands with a population of about 700,000. Some 20% of the City’s area is given to parks, some of which are very lovely. It appears most of the City inhabitants live in apartments although we were told there are suburbs where private residences are in evidence.
We were told Sweden has 100,000 lakes and some 25,000 islands. The total population is 9,000,000 and the country is the size of California. It is a socialist country that offers cradle to the grave care for everyone. Taxes, including health care and their equivalent of social security, take more than 60% of income but everyone looks happy and healthy so apparently they have adjusted to this form of life.
I saw several marinas and yacht clubs that offered relatively primitive floating docks which appear to be removed from the water for the winter. Most had no catwalks but either had piling or used anchor buoys to hold boats off the main pier. I can’t understand using piling if they have to lift the floating docks to avoid ice problems but didn’t have time to talk to anyone about their practices.
We took a cab to the pier to embark on the Seven Seas Voyager, owned and operated by Radisson. The ship is 670′ long, has a beam of 94′, a gross tonnage of 49,000 tons and a draft of 23′. Its cruising speed is 20 knots and it carries 700 guests who are served by a crew of 447, mostly from the Philippines. The ship has dolphin pod propellers that are capable of being rotated 360 degrees, making docking and departing a much simpler operation.
At 5:15 p.m. we had a lifeboat drill that is more or less mandatory on cruise vessels (I am told). It ended about 5:45 and the ship departed immediately thereafter. We sat on our balcony drinking champagne provided by our travel agent and watched the islands go by. After an hour or so, we became a bit peckish so I ordered cheese and crackers from room service which, along with the champagne, made for an enjoyable cruise. However, at one point Audrey decided to offer a seagull some cheese by throwing it into the air and within 10 seconds were besieged by about 500 seagulls. She didn’t do that again.
About 8 p.m. we went on a tour of the ship, ate a light dinner in the La Veranda restaurant, and then returned to the cabin. We watched television a bit because the ship had a camera aimed at the bow so that we got a good view of what was coming ahead. We had a queen-size bed and our own temperature control system that Audrey promptly took charge of, so we slept well. I woke about 2:30 a.m. to go to the bathroom and noted it was still light out. Again, sunrise was about 3:45 a.m. and we quickly became accustomed to both going to bed and getting up again in sunlight.
We had breakfast served in the room and found it a very desirable practice. As a result, we did the same every day we were on the ship. I went on a three hour tour of the City that included a visit to a manor called Vaana. It is now used as a school and is in rather poor condition. We were regaled by four women playing recorders in the middle of the yard that made me wonder where they played in bad weather.
From there we traveled by bus to an open air museum, visiting some of the scenic wonders of Estonia on the way. After Stockholm, Tallin wasn’t too impressive or notable. Audrey did not make the trip with me but I managed to have a good time with some of my fellow travelers. That night we met Larry and Sue Nelson of Ft. Lauderdale and had an interesting evening with them. She is one of the leading realtors in Florida while he is presently trying to sell his 70′ yacht. They were originally from Bloomfield Hills so we talked a bit about boating in Michigan, but it turned out he hardly ever left Lake St. Clair with the boat he owned then, only some 60′ long.
St. Petersburg, Russia
We cruised all night and arrived in the harbor about 8 a.m. Again, had breakfast in the room and I left for a 9 hour tour of Peterhof’s Palace and St. Petersburg. This is the summer palace built by Peter the Great who wanted to have a palace and garden even more impressive than Versailles. The palace was occupied by the Germans from 1941-44 and they did great damage to everything. When they were driven out by the Russians, the Communist Party decided to restore the palace and grounds so that the common folk could see how the Tsars lived in their heyday. According to the experts, the restoration was very well done so that the palace and grounds look about the same as when they were used by Peter.
The palace is gorgeous and heavily decorated with gold gilt. We learned (several times) how the gilt was applied and I am pleased to pass on this information to the reader. First, linden wood is carved into the desired, intricate shape, and then is brushed repeatedly with a brush made from the hair of a squirrel’s tail. This creates static electricity and the gilt is brushed on and thereafter is held in place through the electrical charge. There is gilt everywhere, both inside and outside the palace. It was so ornate it was overpowering and I never stopped wondering how the Tsars and family could live in such opulence while all around them were peasants either starving or otherwise having a hard time of it.
The grounds of the palace are unbelievable! There are three waterfalls, 37 gilded statues, and a canal with a walkway along each side containing more statues and 64 fountains. The fountains receive their water from a reservoir some distance away and the entire system operates without a single pump. When you are on the path and look back at the waterfalls and the palace, it is a very impressive sight. We walked to the end of the canal where at a dock there were hydrofoils that returned us to St. Petersburg and the bus.
I had lunch at a local restaurant with my fellow travelers and we were entertained by a group of five female and three male singers who belted out balalaika music as well as any group I have ever heard. We also were served wine with the meal that helped the music a bit as well.
We toured the City and visited the Peter and Paul fortress that has a cathedral that houses the tombs of the Tsars of Russia. We moved from there to St. Isaac’s Cathedral that has one of the largest domes in the world. They have a model in the church showing how the dome is constructed that is interesting in itself since it shows the dome being hollow, thus solving the mystery of how they built a structure strong enough to support a supposedly 60 ton dome. I returned to the ship quite tired, remembering that tonight was ballet night.
After dinner we were transported to a ballet theater that is probably popular and well known but I can’t remember its name. The Nutcracker Suite was presented, very ably I might add, although I did fall asleep for a portion of the first half. The second half, however, captured my full attention and was much enjoyed.
Tuesday, St. Petersburg
Had breakfast in the suite (not cabin, you will note) and made ready for a visit to Pushkin and Pavlosk. The main treat is St. Catherine’s Palace that began to be used as a summer palace in the early 1700s. In 1756, the Palace was expanded with construction of a turquoise, white and gold facade that stretches 978 feet. The palace is again overly ornate with a room made entirely of amber. Attached to the palace is a building of perhaps 4,000 square feet that is the lyceum where Pushkin, Russia ‘s most famous poet, studied and spent much of his time.
From there we traveled to Pavlosk and Paul’s Palace where we visited the building and the grounds. We had lunch at a local restaurant that served a fixed menu. Even more important, they served wine and vodka with the meal. We were divided into two tables and ours pretty much stayed with wine but the other table went heavy to vodka. The result was a very happy group returning to the bus for the rest of the trip and some rather loud conversation on the bus. I’m surprised nobody suggested singing!
I should note here that each tour has a guide and their abilities vary greatly. For Peterhof, we had a male guide who was great-his English was understandable and his knowledge of Russian history would qualify him to teach the subject at any university in the world. For the Pushkin visit, we had a female guide who purportedly taught English at some local school during the winter although I would hate to try and converse with anyone she taught since I could hardly understand her. Also, every time she was short of words or thoughts, she would say “well” and never follow it up with anything. Made for a long day. On the other hand, we met Helen and Ned Bechthold of Waukesha, WI who turned out to be a fine couple, so the day wasn’t entirely wasted.
St. Petersburg is called the Venice of the North because of its numerous islands, canals, and rivers. The boats used on the waterways are all powered and most capable of holding 25 or more passengers. We noticed no private homes but thousands of apartments and, if it is Russian as they say, it is large. The apartment buildings were generally four stories or more and constructed of concrete or brick. This reduced maintenance quite a bit which is a good thing because we noticed a lot of the windows were rotting or at least badly in need of paint.
It appears St. Pete has an atmosphere problem because all of the buildings were darkened from contact with the air. It did not appear that a single building had ever been power washed even though virtually every one of them would benefit greatly if they were. Even the newer apartment buildings were built in the same fashion and were already suffering from exposure to the atmosphere. It appears you either live in a palace or an apartment building!
We attended the evening show where I was pleased to see the balalaika singers I had enjoyed at lunch the day before. They were joined by a dancing troupe that performed traditional Russian dances and, all things considered, it was a good presentation. It was also the only evening performance I saw other than the two Captain’s cocktail parties.
Wednesday, St. Petersburg
Began the day with breakfast in the room and had to leave early for my tour of the Hermitage and Winter Palace. All of our tours began with a bus trip from the dock to the site and every morning we would look out on the dock to see how many buses were in the area waiting for us. Today there were 17 and during the entire voyage, the most we had on any bus was 36.
The Hermitage is the largest art museum in Russia and its collection of Western European art is second to none, containing more than 2.7 million objects. (Only about 1% of the collection is on display at any one time.) It began as a private collection by Catherine the Great and evolved into the current museum. We were told the Tsars and Tsarinas would find an artist they liked and immediately buy everything he had remaining in his collection. As a result, they had large numbers of various artists’ works that they would alternate for display.
The Hermitage is located at the Winter Palace that in turn is located on Palace Square, a huge open area that greatly enhances the structures around it. Only a few rooms of the Palace are shown to the public in addition to the Hermitage and I never did learn what the rest of the building is used for. The Hermitage consists of five different buildings including the Winter Palace and I was in four of them on our tour. To protect the floors I had to put plastic booties over my shoes that greatly reduced the friction and made walking somewhat of an experience until I got used to it. Most of the time I felt like I was cross-country skiing. The tour took four hours and we were on our feet for most of it-in fact, two of our less conditioned guests left early by cab for the ship.
I returned to the ship for a leisurely lunch, a nap, and then out on the balcony to supervise the departure for Helsinki. We then moved to the forward lounge to join the Nelsons and watch activities from the bow. Then to dinner, the Voyager Lounge, and bed.
We arrived in Helsinki at 8 a.m. and, again, lots of islands. We were told Finland has a population of 5 million with 500,000 living in the City. The country is the size of Montana and contains 200,000 lakes! Most people live in single-family homes in the suburbs. The average salary is about $50,000 and taxes are over 35% plus they have a tax on State-supported churches that are the Orthodox and the Lutheran. Other churches exist but must survive on contributions from their members. Current unemployment is 10% but they are happy because it was 20% just a short time ago. If you are out of work, you are supported by the government indefinitely.
I visited the Savijari Manor where three generations of the Simensen family run a horse farm. They also teach horseback riding, carriage driving, and dressage. We saw a 23-year old champion that is now at stud along with a 21-year old producing mare. 17 family members live in five houses on the 700 acre farm, 300 of which are used to produce hay, oats, and wheat. They pointed out the senior members of the family are in their early 70’s which made me feel ancient at nearly 78. I looked better than they did, however,
Audrey walked into town to visit the shopping center and found Stockmann’s, the leading and largest department store in Finland. They say if you can’t find it at Stockmann’s you probably didn’t need it in the first place. We watched departure from the harbor at 5 p.m. from the forward lounge and then dined at The Veranda Lounge.
Friday, Visby, Gotland Island, Sweden
Arrived at 9:00 a.m. and anchored out because the harbor is too shallow for our draft. They launched four tenders to ferry us back and forth to shore and I left about 9:45 for a tour of Visby. I learned the island has been inhabited for 5,000 years and has served as a major Viking trading center. There is an inner city surrounded by a wall and another city that has developed beyond the wall. The inner city has 2,000 inhabitants, the outer 20,000 and the total island 58,000.
We had an excellent guide who taught us the history of the island and the city. We learned the island has a major cement producing plant that actually supplies California with most of its cement. At one time in history the island had more churches than any where else in Sweden and they have restored the Cathedral of St. Mary that was built in the 12 th century.
I rode back to the ship with the captain who had been shopping in town. We talked about the ship and its equipment and I found him to be very entertaining. He is a single man in his late 40’s, a Norwegian, and he told me the story of the Norwegian woman who had been married 30 years but only told once by her husband he loved her. When she brought this to his attention, he said he told her once and he would tell her something else if he ever changed his mind. Sounds like a Garrison Keillor joke. I told him we had a neat woman living in our neighborhood who would make him a fine wife and that we would even offer the hospitality of our home should he desire to visit and meet her. He declined.
This was the final night on board and we had a Captain’s Cocktail Party at 7:00 p.m. where we visited with a number of people we have met on board. Earlier, the Captain opened the bridge to visitors and we both went up to see the equipment and visit with the Captain. It turned out to be a good way to end the cruise.
We left the ship about 10:30, picked up our luggage and took a cab to the car rental office. They upgraded us to a Peugeot station wagon, diesel, and I had some great moments getting reacquainted with stick shift driving. As we loaded our luggage into the trunk we discovered one of the bags was not ours and had to return to the ship to exchange it. Finding the ship was an act of exploration that is difficult to describe but we accomplished it and then left for Fredrickshaven.
The trip was about 500 kilometers and we decided to drive straight to our hotel and do our sightseeing the next day as we wended our way back to Copenhagen. The road was four lane divided highway all the way to Fredrickshaven and was in excellent condition. The speed limit was 110 km/hour or about 69 mph and was generally exceeded by at least 15 kms by a majority of the drivers (including me).
We arrived at the Radisson Jutlandia Hotel that is located immediately opposite one of three ferry docks in the City. We were amazed at the number of ferries operating out of the harbor as well as of the size of several of them. They ran to both Norway and Sweden as well as to an island offshore.
Sunday, July 3, Fredrickshaven
We left the next morning after a sumptuous breakfast and headed to Saeby, about 20 kms South, expecting it to be a very small and very old city on the seashore. It turned out to be on the seashore but was relatively large and contained very new houses and buildings. It was quite a surprise and made Audrey proud that the City had produced her father.
From there we proceeded to Silkeborg in hopes of visiting Inger Reicke, a relative of Jack Rasmussen’s, but were unable to locate either a telephone number or an address. We did note in the process that we saw Tom Rasmussen and/or his son Casey at least 10 times a day in various parts of Denmark. We stopped at a MacDonalds for lunch and found it doing a thriving business. We had trouble finding a table to eat at and people came and went in large numbers all the while we were there. Americans can be proud of their contribution to the Danish heritage.
We also visited Braedstrup where one of Audrey’s relatives at one time operated a hotel which we located and photographed. (Later research identified the relative as Audrey’s father’s sister, the only Lagesen who didn’t emigrate to the United States.). From here it was off to Copenhagen and the Radisson Falconer Hotel where we checked in after wandering around the block for a half hour trying to find the entrance to the hotel. I finally pulled up to the curb and went in to learn where I should be located only to be told I was fine where I was. I returned to the car and moved in over the curb to the edge of the bicycle path where Audrey was nearly run down by a speeding cyclist as she got out of the car.
It turns out that every street and highway in Denmark has a bicycle path along side it and this requires caution when you park on the street and exit the vehicle. The cyclists have the right of way and are aware of it although you would think they would be more concerned than they evidenced about running into an open car door. Next to the cycle path is a sidewalk for the walkers so every street occupies a considerable amount of property to accommodate all of these diverse uses.
We went to our room after a lengthy checkin only to discover the room was hot and was on the West side of the Hotel. I went back to the lobby and changed our room to one that was on the East side of the Hotel in hopes of getting some escape from the heat.
Monday, July 4, Copenhagen
We left a call for 4:30 a.m. at the front desk and decided to set our own alarm clock to be on the safe side and it turned out to be a wise move since we never did receive the wake up call. We left the hotel about 5 a.m. via taxi that took us to the airport and I am proud to say used up my last krone. We boarded the SAS flight to Frankfurt and arrived without incident. At Frankfurt, we passed through customs and then were given boarding passes, a portion of which had to be surrendered to get to the gate area. When our flight was called, we were to produce the small remnant of our boarding pass to get onto the aircraft. As one might expect, one of us couldn’t find her boarding pass and panic ensued. She took almost everything out of her purse and then out of her black bag without luck and then headed back to our seating area in hopes it was there. While she was gone, I took a look at her other boarding passes and found the missing one so that she was allowed to join me on the flight to Detroit. A fitting end to our trip!
We arrived in Detroit about 8½ hours later that was 1:30 p.m., cleared customs, and then flew to Lansing and home, sweet home, which never looked better.
Our friendly travel agency, Classic Travel, performed very able for us. All of the reservations made ahead of time were honored and all the information provided most helpful. We believe the Radisson Line will be tough to beat because everything about the cruise was simply great. Flying business class was also a considerable improvement over coach and I probably will never again get Audrey into the cheap seats of an airplane.